I’m counting calories. How can I maximize flavor while dieting?
First, best of luck to you, and I hope you’re considering calorie counting to be more of a game than a burden. In any case, there are some tricks and tips to make food deceivingly tasty. Invest in flavored oils, extracts and seasonings. Oils are much more pungent than extracts, but both will add flavor without adding calories. When selecting premixed seasoning blends, make sure salt/sodium isn’t the first ingredient. Salt-free seasonings are also available. Limiting sodium is critical in reducing water retention and maintaining blood health. Fresh herbs are also useful in adding flavor to meats, fish and even pastry. And remember, just because a food is sugar free doesn’t mean it’s calorie free. Read labels!
What else can I do with a crock pot?
Uh oh, this is dangerous ground for a chef to tread. My peers detest crock pots/slow cookers due to their inability to discern and maintain texture, and their tendency to “stew” flavors into a muddled mess. They much prefer a pressure cooker, but if you’re on the slow cooker path, I’ll tell you how I use mine. (Gasp! I use one.)
I use my slow cooker for chili all the time. No stirring, no tending, but I do avoid using steak or chicken because it dries out no matter how long it’s plugged in. Just ground beef, beans, tomato, seasoning, slow cooker. Other than that, I make baked potatoes and sweet potatoes in my crock pot. How? Wash and poke them with a fork, then lay them in the cooker, ensuring the lid lays flat. Cook on high 3 hours or low for 6, then test for tenderness. I also use my slow cooker for potlucks, and as a way to keep larger portions of moist food warm when I entertain. For example, spray your crock well and add your prepared mashed potatoes, turning it as low as possible. It’ll stay warm until you’re ready.
Also, FYI, the crock is oven safe up to 450 degrees in most cases (check your manufacturer instructions for your particular unit). I’ve prepared a pot pie filling or shepherd’s pie filling in there, then topped with either puff pastry or mashed potatoes, finishing it in the oven just before service.
How can I encourage my kids/family to eat veggies?
I’ll preface by saying that I was the pickiest kid in my family. Until just recently, many vegetables were still on my “no way” list. Adults that don’t do veggies are even harder to convince. In my experience, you have to hide them.
It’s a popular theory that zucchini and squash hide well, but they do have distinct tastes that stand out in places they’re not welcome. Instead, try hiding pureed carrot, onion and celery in places like pasta sauce, soups and stews. In the past, I’ve blended pot roast veggies into the gravy, just to keep them under the radar. I’ve also blended softened, steamed vegetables and added them into casseroles, salad dressings and condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce. If you’re not feeling that extra work, try pairing condiments they do like with veggies they don’t. Masking flavors may just save the day.
What is raw milk? Is it healthier than nut milk or goat milk? So many choices!
For the vast majority of the gallons you see in the dairy section, cows are milked, pooled from multiple farms, then homogenized and pasteurized before it’s bottled and sent to sale. Homogenization involves mixing the fat particles in the milk evenly, leading to a product that won’t separate when it sits. Pasteurization involves heating milk to kill pathogens. This is also how creams are processed for the American market.
Raw milk refers to cow milk which has not been pasteurized. Proponents of the raw movement state that pasteurization denatures and destroys some nutrients in milk, making the final product taste worse. Science is still showing similar nutrient levels in both pasteurized and unpasteurized milk, and many consider drinking potentially bacteria-laden, unpasteurized milk not to be worth the risk. It is still cow milk, and still carries with it the same health benefits as expected.
Nut milks and goat milk are totally different products. First, let’s address nut milks. These products are animal-free alternatives for those who can’t or won’t consume animal milk. Cashew and almond milks are common, as are other alternatives like hemp, soy, coconut and rice milks. Nutrition labels will demonstrate which product best meets your dietary requirements. And then there’s goat milk. Goats have been milked for millennia, but this product is relatively new in American marketplaces. Goat milk is a good source of protein, contains less lactose, 13% more calcium, 25% more vitamin B6, 47% more vitamin A, and 134% more potassium than regular cow’s milk, per the label I found at my local vendor. It’s definitely a different taste, more “gamey” and thicker, so beware.
Choose what works best for you and your family, and consult your physician or nutritionist for advice.
I keep hearing that animal protein and products are unhealthy and that, in the future, we’ll be more reliant on non-animal sources. How can I start adding them to my diet?
For those that are unfamiliar with this concept, I’ll provide some background. It’s become a popular narrative that animal sources will deplete over the next few hundred years, leaving the human race looking for alternative sources of nutrition. Many are purporting benefits of consuming insects, converting to soy and adding in more vegetarian options in preparation for these diet changes.
I suggest that most people familiarize themselves with non-animal proteins for many reasons, including reducing cholesterol and diverse meal-planning potential. And I’m not just talking tofu, either. Personally, I dislike tofu’s texture. But beans, lentils, quinoa, amaranth, bulgur, barley, oats and peas make great substitutions for recipes. I add red lentils, which cook faster and contain a ton of vitamin C, to soups for texture and nutrition, especially when the weather turns bitter. I use beans where I’d normally use ground beef, including taco filling (black beans) and spaghetti sauce (navy beans). Tempeh, seitan and soy-based crumbles are also options, and are worth a try. Prepare a small recipe of each in ways you normally enjoy chicken, beef or shrimp. My vegan fiancé loves Gardein®, especially their Porkless Bites and Beefless Tips. When they’re on sale, try them out.
I’m hosting a party and have no idea what liquors/wines to serve. Help!
No worries, help’s on the way. Before you head to the store, consider your diners. How much are they drinking? Do they prefer white or red? Are they wine drinkers at all? You can spend a ton on liquor and host a bunch of dry dinner guests, so do a little research. Coming in blind, I’d suggest picking up a Zinfandel (the red kind) or a Grenache, either a northern California or Italian, as they tend to be fruitier. If your guests prefer white, stay sweet with a Chardonnay or even Chablis from those same areas. Grab an employee in your store and have them show you the brands they like best. And for dessert, if you’re looking to serve a cordial, I’d recommend going with a chocolate liqueur like Godiva®, Disaronno® (amaretto), Chambord (raspberry), Grand Marnier (orange) or Frangelico (hazelnut), depending on your preference. Mix them for a fun and unique experience.
Check out Jill’s other articles and great advice here!
Jill Marie is a classically-trained French chef, certified by Le Cordon Bleu and possessing both a Grand Diplôme in culinary arts and Pastry Certification. She’s been cooking professionally in hotel,restaurant and catering kitchens for fifteen years, and specializes in comfortable, everyday food. She also earned a Master’s degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s degree in Finance. In addition to running Delivery Dinners of Delaware, she works full-time in Human Resources. Jill is also a published author of women’s fiction/romance, and her current series, Second Saga, is in print. Visit her site jillmariedenton.com for book info and writing samples.