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New Year, New Diet.

The Facts About Top Diet Trends

diet plan

Anyone on a new diet this year, err lifestyle plan?  New Year’s resolutions are all about losing weight, getting healthy and making changes.  There is certainly no shortage of diet trends out there but picking the right one for you can be tricky.  Not everyone has the same goals, or the same budget.  So, I thought I’d help you narrow down the choices based on facts.  Here are the top diet trends, a list of some important info, and a link where you can find more information.  (*Disclaimer: this list is in no way comprehensive or meant to cure or treat any disease or illness.  You should consult your doctor before beginning any new diet plan.  Also, I do have my degree in dietetics and have studied food, nutrition and culinary arts for the entirety of my adult life.  But I’m not a doctor.  The statements below are a collaboration of my opinion (the list itself) and researched facts (specifics pertaining to each diet plan).)  There are a zillion diets out there.  If the one you are interested in is not on this list, email me and I can help!

 

Paleo:  www.thepaleodiet.com

The basic premise is to eat like a caveman.  There are some conflicting ideas about whether the intention is to eat only foods found in the paleolithic era.  But since woolly mammoths and cave lions are now extinct, we have to be a little flexible.  While finding food is a smidge easier, i.e less hunting and gathering, more loading up the cart at Whole Foods- the idea is that the foods should be about the same; whole, nutrient dense, not-processed foods.

 

 

Foods Allowed:

  • Grass Fed meats, Eggs, Fish and Seafood, Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts Seeds, Healthy Fats and Oils (olive, walnut, coconut, flaxseed, grapeseed, and of course avocado). Organic, non-GMO as much as possible.

Foods to Avoid:

  • Grains, Preservatives, Dairy (though some raw dairy is sometimes allowed), Refined Sugar, Refined Vegetable Oils, and even a few surprising foods like Legumes, Beans and Potatoes.

The various foods allowed and not allowed are not just based on what was available when our stone-age ancestors walked the Earth, but also about potential health benefits and harmful properties inherit therein.

 

Whole 30: whole30.com

You can do anything for 30 days.  And 30 days is just enough time to cut out the junk, let your body heal, establish healthier habits with food and get to a better you.

Foods Allowed:

  • Moderate amounts of meat, seafood, eggs. Lots of vegetables.  A few fruits.  And plenty of natural fats.  The idea is to consume whole, natural foods that are not processed, as minimally processed as possible, or to be able to read and understand every ingredient on a food label.

Foods to Avoid:

No Alcohol

  • Added Sugar- of any kind. So, no honey, agave, date syrup, coconut sugar, stevia or maple syrup.  Basically, if it makes the food sweeter, it’s a no-go.  I see you sneaky fruit juice!
  • Alcohol, even for cooking.
  • All grains.  Glutenous or Gluten Free.  Period.
  • No one really knows what legumes are (just kidding, we do!), but things like beans, lentils, soy and peanuts qualify.
  • Eggs of all forms-raw, pasteurized, fermented, frozen or soured.  If it comes out an animals mammary glands, it’s dairy.  And just to be clear, eggs are not dairy…they are just usually found in the diary section of the grocery store because that’s where the refrigerators are.
  • Some popular preservatives like Carrageenan, MSG and Sulfites.
  • And they also discourage the creation of “junk like foods” made from approved foods. Trying to make a chicken breast and broccoli brownie just misses the point altogether of avoiding junk food, doesn’t it?

Weight Watchers: www.weightwatchers.com

This oldie, but goodie, just got a face lift!  Their new Freestyle program offers greater flexibility with food choices, but still keep the accountability and tracking features that have scientifically proven to contribute to overall weight loss success.

Foods Allowed:  

  • All of them! Each food is assigned a point value, and based on your goals and current stats, you are assigned a certain number of points each day.  Spend, or rather eat, the points as you like, but track it all for greater success.

Foods to Avoid:

  • The usual- highly processed foods, added sugar and unhealthy fats.

 

Mediterranean Diet:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

mediterranean dietAnother classic, this diet has been on the top 5 list for decades.  Developed after the eating habits of Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy, it mingles moderation and foods proven to help reduce risks for chronic and acute illness.

Major Points:

  • Eat primarily plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Replace butter and other saturated or trans-fats with heart-healthy fats like olive oil.
  • Limit red meat to a few times a month.
  • Eat fish and chicken several times a week.
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Get plenty of rest and enjoy meals with friends and family.

 

Ketogenic (aka Keto) Diet: https://ketodash.com/ketogenic-diet

First, it is important to note that ketosis is not the same as ketoacidosis.  They are related, but the latter is very dangerous and can lead to serious complications.  Ketosis is the precursor to ketoacidosis, and while it is technically considered an adaptive nutritional state, it does have some important medical benefits.  The diet first started as a treatment method for epileptic patients to reduce seizures in the brain.  Previous therapies included outright starvation, which produced the same result.  However, the body suffered greatly as there was no nutrition to support the rest of the body.  What is now called “fed starvation”, the body gets the nutrition it needs thru the high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet, and the brain gets the relief it needs thru the production of ketones.

Keto Diet

So what if you don’t have epilepsy?  Here’s where the science happens.  I’ll try to keep it simple.  Basically, the human body “prefers” glucose as a fuel source.  Think sugar and carbohydrates.  That’s why when you are hungry, I mean really really hungry, you unconsciously go for the sugary snacks and drinks.  They work fast because it is an efficient fuel source.  But what would happen if fat was the primary source of fuel for the body, and carbohydrates the last?  Well, that’s the Keto diet!  In a nut shell, the body doesn’t use fat directly as a fuel source, but instead has to convert it to glucose for use.  In that process, ketones are produced, and the body uses them for energy.

So how does someone lose weight eating mostly fat, if they already have excess fat?  Great question!  The answer, it takes some time.  Being in ketosis doesn’t happen overnight.  It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on activity level and other factors.  But once you reach that stage, your body has basically converted its primary fuel source from carbohydrates to fat.  And just like ALL FOOD you consume, taking in too much will lead to the excess being stored as fat- so you have to find the ratios that work best for your body and your activity level.

Foods Allowed:

  • Fat, like olives, avocados, bacon, fatty meats, butter, full fat cheese and other dairy, nuts. About 70% of your total calories for the day should come from fat. (As good an excuse to by the Wagyu beef as any!)
  • Moderate amounts of protein like red meat, chicken, eggs, fish and seafood. About 25% of your total calories should come from protein.  (This can be tricky to calculate since most protein is not just straight protein, but also contains some fat.)
  • Net Carbohydrates. Net, meaning total carbs minus the dietary fiber.  You can find it on a food label.  But remember, vegetables are technically carbs, albeit high fiber carbs.  But only about 5% of your total calories should come from carbohydrate food sources.

Tracking is key until you find a rhythm.  I suggest the My Fitness pal app, #notsponsored, because it does all the work and math for you.  Also, it is really easy to select foods from a list or add your own with the barcode scanner feature.

Foods to Avoid:

  • There isn’t a specific list of foods to avoid. Although high sugar foods like sweets, sodas, candies, etc. should just generally be avoided.  Also, high glycemic index foods like potatoes, pasta, rice, etc. are going to be hard to factor in because of their high net carb value.  That 5% will go fast!
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Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Jonelle Luchsinger

This month’s Chef’s Spotlight: Meet Chef Jonelle!

Chef Jonelle Luchsinger
Chef Jonelle Luchsinger

Raised in Anchorage, Alaska and Upstate NY, Chef Jonelle began her informal culinary training at a 100-year-old restaurant on one of The Finger Lakes. She quickly fell in love with cooking and decided to continue her education at Johnson & Wales University.  She graduated in 2007 with an associate’s degree.

Eager to practice her skills and further her education through experience, she worked for a variety of restaurants ranging in Middle Eastern, Modern American and Italian cuisines. She took pride in starting from the bottom, working her way up each station, absorbing everything she could along the way.

An opening in the in-house bakery of Rosalies Cucina, where she worked on the line, led to a full-time head baker position and a new love for bread and pastries. She would later go on to work under Maurizio Negrini, of Izzio’s, learning the art of Artisan Italian Bread.

Restaurant and bakery industries can be rough. They generally require working long hours on your feet during nights, weekends and holidays. In return, the pay is low, the benefits are few and the turnover is high causing for stressful working conditions. Even in the best managed restaurants, it’s hard to find a work/life balance while working opposite schedules as the rest of society. The high demands paired with few rewards of the industry can quickly turn the passion you once had into resentment.

Five years after switching gears to Quality Assurance and Food Safety Roles, she found herself once again on her feet, in her kitchen most nights and weekends. This time cooking not only because she wanted to, but because she had to.  An artist needs a creative outlet and a chef needs to cook!

Chef Jonelle is currently one year into her dream job at Friend that Cooks!  She is able to spend her days cooking; doing what she loves all while having endless creative freedom, a desirable schedule, a great management team supporting her, and amazing clients to cook for! Chef Jonelle currently lives in a north suburb of Denver.  She likes to grow her own vegetables and is planning her wedding that will take place later this year.

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Super Bowl LII Game Day Food

Our Favorite Super Bowl Recipes

It’s time to start thinking about your super bowl eating strategy because let’s admit it – you’re only here for the food. Sure, two great teams are going up against each other for a shot at that ring. But we’re here for the tasty, tasty food. And maybe the commercials too.

Whether your keeping things simple, heading to a potluck party or hosting a huge gathering, we’ve got some great recipe ideas that are sure to keep your guests satisfied from kick off to MVP pick. Check out our personal chefs’ favorite game day food below!

BLT Bites – Chef Brandon O’Dell

1 pkg     cherry tomatoes
¼ lb       crisp cooked bacon (substitute turkey bacon for a low-fat recipe)
1 cup     parsley leaves
½ cup    mayonnaise (you can substitute fat free mayo to make this low fat)

This is a stuffed cherry tomato recipe that resembles the popular flavor of BLT sandwiches. Start by using a sharp paring knife to cut a flat base on the bottom of each cherry tomato. Don’t cut off too much, just enough to give the tomato a small, flat base. With the same knife inverted downward, cut out the stem area of the tomato creating a circular opening ¾ the diameter of the tomato and hollowing out at least half of the inside of the tomato without cutting to the bottom of the tomato. Place tomatoes to the side to drain while you prepare the filling.

Break the bacon into pieces by hand and place in a food processor. Add the parsley and the mayonnaise. Blend until all pieces are small enough to be piped through a 3/8 inch opening. If the ingredients seem too dry to pipe, add mayonnaise until the filling is the correct mixture. Depending on the thickness of your bacon, you could also have to use less mayo than the recipe calls for. If you’re unsure, add half the mayo and blend, then continue to add more until the mixture reaches a consistency that can be piped, but not so loose that it is runny.

Put the filling mixture into a pastry bag, or create a makeshift pastry bag by putting the mixture into a one gallon plastic storage bag, cutting just enough of the tip to make an opening a little less than half an inch. Pipe the mixture into the openings of the tomatoes and chill until it’s time to serve. These tomatoes add beauty to any food table, and are incredibly flavorful while still being very simple.

 

“Banh Mi” Sliders – Chef Mark Maybon
Banh Mi Sliders

1 lb ground chicken thigh
1 lb ground pork
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tbsp lemongrass, finely minced (only tender core)
2 eggs
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 cup breadcrumbs

 

  1. Saute first 4 ingredients until translucent and fragrant. Cool slightly.
  2. Gently mix sauteed veg and the rest of ingredients in a large bowl until just combined and homogenous.
  3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray or oil. With wet hands, roll meatball mix into 1.5 oz balls and slightly flatten before putting on prepared sheet pan.
  4. Roast at 375 F until cooked through, approximately 12-15 minutes.

Cilantro Lime Carrot Slaw
3 cups shredded carrots
1 bunch minced cilantro
1 lime, juiced

  1. Toss to combine.

Oyster Sauce Aioli
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup oyster sauce

  1. Stir together in a bowl.

To assemble, split slider buns and spread aioli on top and bottom. Placed carrot slaw on bottom and top with meatball. (Optionally add super thin sliced fresh jalapeno rounds.) Place top buns on and skewer sliders to hold together for presentation. (If using jalapenos on all or half of sliders, place a slice on top to warn guests of spiciness)

 

Shredded Chicken Taquitos – Nate Lane

1.25lbs chicken breast, cooked & shreddedShredded Chicken Taquitos
4 ounces frozen chopped spinach
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
one packet Williams taco seasoning
20 corn tortillas
oil for frying

Method:

Mix chicken, spinach, cream cheese, and taco seasoning. Heat tortillas in microwave till warm and flexible. Divide chicken mixture among tortillas and wrapped tightly. Use toothpick to hold in place and pan fry over medium heat till each side is slightly browned. Best served with guacamole!

Teriyaki Wings – Chef Karie Baima

2 lb wing drummettesteriyaki wings
1 tbsp minced garlic
1tbsp minced ginger
1/3 c low sodium soy sauce
1/3 c brown sugar
2 tbsp aji mirin
3 green onions sliced
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Salt to taste

Method:

Heat oven to 350 °. Toss the wings with salt to taste and spread on a sheet pan. If the wings are touching, then use 2 sheet pans. This way they get crispy. Bake for 25 minutes, flip them and rotate the sheet pans and bake another 15 minutes, or until very tender. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, simmer the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and mirin for 10 minutes. Toss the sauce with the wings after their 2nd part of cooking. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds.

 

Buffalo chicken dip – Chef Travis Shaw

3-5 stalks celeryBuffalo Chicken Dip
1 onion
2-3 chicken breasts
2 cups buffalo sauce
1 package cream cheese
Blue cheese to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1) Sear chicken, remove, bake in 350F oven till cooked through
2) dice vegetables and add sauce or pan to deglaze
3) add buffalo sauce, cook till simmering, remove from heat, S&P to taste
4) beak apart cream cheese into pan and mix with till melted
5) pull chicken and add to pan
6) sprinkle blue cheese to taste
7) bake to melt cheese
8) enjoy with chips or veggies, great as lettuce wraps

 

Vegan cheese dip – Chef Emilie Newcomb

1 large carrot, peeled Vegan Cheese Dip
2 medium sized Yukon gold, peeled
3 cups veggie broth
1/2 onion
4 cloves garlic
3/4 cup cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
Paprika, cayenne, curry powder, black pepper, salt (to taste)

Method:

– Cut potato and carrot into 1-inch cubes
– In a pot, cook potato and carrot with veggie stock until soft
– While that’s cooking, chop the onion and garlic and sauté on medium/low until translucent
– Pour everything into blender
– Add cashews, nutritional yeast, and spices
– If it is too thick, add more stock. If it is too thin, add more cashews and nutritional yeast
-blend on high for one minute
– Add all spices
– Taste, then adjust to your liking
– Enjoy!

 

For more fun party foods ideas, follow us on social media for daily meal posts! Or check out our website here to learn more about our services.

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Countdown to Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Eve: What you should be prepping 1 day out 

 

turkey

We are one day away from the big Turkey day! Do you have everything ready to go? Are you frantically running around wondering what needs to be done today? Here’s a few things you should be prepping one day out from Thanksgiving!

-Today is the day to start making any sides that will reheat well, like casseroles.

-Start chopping and prepping for garnishes, toppings, salad greens and stuffing ingredients.

-If your stuffing recipe calls for stale bread, cut the bread now and set the cubes on a baking sheet to dry out.

-You can also bake your pies, so they have time to cool overnight before serving.

-Finish all your baking and store it in the fridge or on the counter over night

-Set the table

-Complete light housecleaning

What other tips and tricks do you use to prep the day before thanksgiving?

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Countdown to Thanksgiving

What to prepare for 1 Week out from Thanksgiving

We are 1 week away from Thanksgiving. Hopefully your guest list is finalized, and your menu has been planned. But what should you be prepping for one week before the big day? Here are a few tips to make sure you are on the right track to a stress-free day!

Pick Up Your Turkey
If you’ve ordered a turkey, now is the time to pick it up so you can be prepped to defrost it. If you haven’t planned for your turkey yet, purchase a frozen bird today so it will be able to defrost properly in the fridge.

Shop for Non-Perishables
Divide up your shopping list into perishables and non-perishables and get the latter out of the way now. Non-perishables include equipment, decor, paper goods and cleaning supplies – but could also include baking ingredients like flour, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, canned pumpkin and cranberries. Wait until the day before Thanksgiving to buy fresh vegetables, seafood and bread.

Prepare a Cooking Schedule
Being organized is the key to keeping stress at a minimum on turkey day. Review your recipes and create a day-by-day schedule for the week leading up to Thanksgiving as well as a day-of plan.

Follow Friend That Cooks on Facebook for more daily tips and tricks to prepare for Thanksgiving.

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Get Ready for Cooking Season

Cooking Season is right around the corner, folks!  None of us are ready.

Every year, we see it on the calendar.  And as if we are daring ourselves to see how long we can procrastinate, the week before Thanksgiving always ends up a flurry of planning, cleaning, shopping and cooking, and it all goes downhill from there.

This year, let’s do something different!  Let’s all start planning a little earlier.  Of course, I am the one that ends up cooking the majority of the T-Day meal in my family.  I’m ok with that.  I like it.  But it never fails that I get down to the day before, make my list, and decide I need a new insert-favorite-kitchen-gadget-here and I either can’t find it, or it’s too late to order it.

There are a lot of kitchen gadgets on the market that can help you do a lot of really fun things.  But there is also some ridiculous stuff out there too that ends up cluttering your cabinets and drawers more than it is helpful.  Each dish will require different equipment to get it ready.  But there are some universal basics that all chefs swear by, and we want to share them with you.

Sheet Pans:  aka, rimmed baking sheet

What these are good for: EVERYTHING! Not just for baking, the multi-purpose bad boys will become your new favorite.  Ever wonder how to make your baked fries crispier?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake 10 chicken breasts at the same time?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake thin layers of cake for a dozen tiered cake extravaganza?  Sheet pans.  Don’t worry about if they are non-stick (though I rarely recommend non-stick anything), shiny or dark metal, or if they have handles or not.  You can usually buy the aluminum ones in a three-pack at your local big-box store on the cheap.  Or you can busy super fancy ones at the restaurant supply store or online.  Line them with parchment paper or aluminum foil when you are using them (unless you are baking cookies, then don’t use anything!) to keep them clean and shiny forever.

 

Cutting Boards:

The bigger the better. If it came as a free gift with purchase of tequila, leave it in your bar cabinet.  At least 18” x 12”, minimum!

You need more than one, because sometimes you are prepping meat at the same time as veggies and you don’t want to cross-contaminate.  Two or three is recommended.

Wood or plastic, those are your only two options.  Glass is not a cutting board.  It’s a trivet.  And so is that extra piece of granite your countertop guy gave you.

Sometime that little divot that goes all the way around the edge to catch juices is handy.  But you should let your meat rest long enough that you don’t need that.  Just sayin’.

 

Mixing Bowls: To put your prep in

Cooking is 80% prep work.  So, you need something to put your prep into before it gets cooked.  A 5-piece nesting set is a great space saver.  You want a really big bowl, like 5qt or larger, a couple of medium sized ones, and a smaller one or two.  Or something like that.  Digging around the Tupperware cabinet is never fun, and generally what you find there is not very helpful.

 

Knives: The most important tool!

It’s self-explanatory, but your hands and a good knife set are the two most important tools in any kitchen.  You don’t have to have the most expensive set either.  But if you are using your grandmother’s hand-me-downs, that haven’t been sharpened since 1952, it’s probably time for an upgrade.  There are 3 knives you should always have on hand: a large chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and a serrated long blade for slicing bread, tomatoes, etc.  Also, you need a honing steel.  These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, but you should learn how to use it properly, and use it every time.  If you take good care of your knifes, they will take good care of you.  As in, not cut you.  And who knows, you may even be able to pass them down to your grandchildren.  Just kidding…don’t do that!

If you really want to get serious about it, there are about a hundred different decisions to make before purchasing which knife is best for you.  Do you want German made, or Japanese?  Carbon or stainless steel?  Full tang or partial?  Handle material?  Handle fasteners?  And on it goes… The point is, find a cutlery store near you and go talk to a pro.  A really good knife will last a lifetime.  And if you like it, you are more likely to use it.

Next to not putting them in the dishwasher, sharpening is the number one most important way to take good care of your knife.  Not honing…that’s different.  I mean really sharpen the blade.  At least once a year if you don’t use them often.  Up to once every few months if you are a pro.  You can take them somewhere to have them professionally sharpened, or you can buy a stone and do it yourself.  But now is the time of year to do it!  Most places charge a minimal fee per knife, so there is no reason not to do it.  Most cuts happen because the blade is too dull, and you must compensate by using more force to push the knife thru the food.  Also, most Thanksgiving Day ER visits are from self-inflicted knife injuries.

 

Plastic To-Go Containers: think deli-counter macaroni salad.

One of the restaurants I worked in early in my career used these for all of their prep.  We had several different sizes.  And at the end of the night, we put all of our station prep into the appropriate size to store overnight.  They are stackable, disposable, dishwasher safe, and great for prepping several days ahead.  

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Chef’s Spotlight: Nikki Murillo

Chef Nikki Murillo

This month’s chef’s spotlight comes from our Chicago market. She has been with Friend That Cooks for just over a year after making a career change to pursue her passion for food. Meet Nikki!

In her own words.

Growing up in an Italian household, food has always been an important part of my life.  I used to watch and cook with my grandma, and that is what inspired me to become a cook. Ever since I can remember, food has been my passion. I honestly never thought that cooking would be my career. After several years of schooling in various majors, and never really feeling happy or satisfied with what I was doing, I decided to go to culinary school. While working overnights as an ER Tech, I attended Kendall College and graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts. I went on to work mostly in corporate catering on a very large scale. I’ve worked for companies such as Google, Yahoo, Uber, Pinterest and Walt Disney World and eventually on to Friend that Cooks.

I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world.  Food is my passion. It brings people together, makes people happy, and gives us the nourishment that we need. I’m happy that I can provide that for people. Whenever I’m not cooking, I love going out to eat in Chicago, one of the greatest food cities in the world! I also love traveling and exploring new places!

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The Great Pumpkin Adventure- Beyond the PSL

IT’S PUMPKIN SEASON!!

And beyond the ever loved PSL, there are about a million things you can do with the delicious gourd.  A friend recently told me that she isn’t a huge fan, because she has only had it prepared super sweet.  She didn’t even think of the gazillion other spices she could put with it.  But trust me, if you like butternut squash, you will love pumpkin.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind before you begin your Great Pumpkin adventures (see what I did there!)  First, don’t use the jack-o-lantern that has been sitting on your front porch for the last several weeks.  One, it’s rotten.  Two, it’s not the right kind of pumpkin.  Three, it’ rotten.  “But we just carved it last night?”  Yeah, and about a bazillion flies and other bugs have already made it a fun little breeding and feeding ground overnight, if the squirrels didn’t get to it first.  Plus, you’ve had it for several weeks, or days, sitting in the hot, direct, daytime sunlight.  Not an ideal storage place for vegetables.  Trust me, it won’t be good.  And it’s not even the right kind to begin with.  What you want is called a pie pumpkin.  They are small-ish, cute and have a much sweeter and more tender flesh than the big guy you bought at the pumpkin patch.  You should be able to find them at your local patch or grocery store pretty easily.

“So how do I cook it?”  They are quite easy to prepare, actually.  You can either cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and roast it in a 400-degree oven for about 30-45 minutes.  Or you can prick the whole thing with a fork or paring knife and roast the whole thing, same way as above, for about an hour.  Save the seeds though!  After a quick scrub, some olive oil and sea salt, and quick toast in the oven, they make the best salad toppings and granola add-ins!  You can save the seeds from your carved pumpkin too, if you haven’t already thrown them away.

“Now what do I do with it?”  Well…whatever you want, really.  Think of it just like any other squash.  It makes a velvety creamy soup, is perfect to hide in chili and sauces for picky-kids, pancakes, French Toast, muffins, breads, cakes, pastas and even cocktails.  The sky is the limit.  Your pumpkin may yield more than you need for whatever recipe you decide, but it freeze well.

If cooking a whole pumpkin isn’t your things, no worries!  The canned stuff is delicious too.  And most brands are simply ‘just pumpkin’, so you don’t have to worry about getting a bunch of extra stuff you don’t want.  Check out this link from Food Network Magazine for 50 ideas to get you started.  And if you aren’t a big fan of cinnamon and nutmeg, you are in luck.  Because pumpkin pairs well with lots of other spices and herbs.

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Upgrade Your Tailgate With A Fresh Menu

tailgate foodFor some, tailgating is more important than the game itself.  It’s the smell of burgers on a grill, the chill of an ice-cold beer, face paint and community gathered together to cheer on the… whatever your mascot of choice is.  Sometimes it’s an early morning game though, and a burger just doesn’t sound delicious.  Or maybe you are just looking to spice things up!  Whether it’s the booze or the food that keeps the parking lot party going for you, there are a few simple things you can do to make your next tailgate a real hit.

First, the menu.  It doesn’t always have to be burgers and hot dogs!  Mexican, Italian, even bacon and pancakes are all great ideas to change it up.  Think outside the bun and get creative with your menu.

Second, the equipment.  Whatever you are using to cook your tailgate foods now will work for other menus too.  You may just need to think about it a little differently.  We use water baths, or bain maries if you are fancy, to heat up foods that are awkward or have already been cooked.  All you need are two disposable aluminum pans like this.  One that is deep to hold the water, and another that is shallower to hold the food.  Fill the deeper pan with about 2 inches of water and use the fire from your grill to heat it up.  The steam from the hot water will heat the shallow pan on top and provide a non-direct heat source for your lasagna, quesadillas or scrambled eggs.  Best part, when you are done, everything can be recycled, or even reused!

If you are a purist, and want to cook all your food on-site, think about packing a griddle or skillet.  For foods that don’t grill well, like bacon, pancakes, pasta sauce… you get the idea, your flame from the grill will act like a gas stove and you can cook just like you do at home.  Don’t forget about a good-old-fashioned Crock Pot.  Cook your dish at home and pack it up.  You don’t even need electricity.  Those things will hold heat for hours!

Third, the CHEER!  Tailgating is supposed to be fun, not fussy.  So above all else, relax and have a good time.  If you are happy, your guests will be too!  Just don’t forget the ice.  No one like a warm beer at a tailgate.

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Save Your Summer: A Guide To Sun-Drying

sun-dried tomatoesIt’s the end of the growing season for most of our summer herbs and vegetables, or at least close to it.  Maybe you were really lucky and able to eat everything you grew, or gave it away.  Or maybe you are like the other 99% of the population and you ended up with a bumper crop of all of your favorite things.  It happens to the best of us.  Our eyes are bigger than our proverbial garden stomachs and we buy too many plants.

But what happens to the extras?  After your neighbors and co-workers have had their fill, you’ve canned, pickled and preserved until your shelves are full but you can’t bear to see the precious hard-work go to waste.  There is still one easy, and very tasty way, to save the last bits of summer.  Sun-Drying!

I was thinking about this during the #SolarEclipse2017, when everything was all about the sun.  And it’s an excellent way to preserve fruits, veggies and herbs!  It also lends them to your favorite fall and winter recipes different than canning would.  So, what is good to sun-dry?  Almost everything!  But before you toss your produce on the back porch and call it good, there are a few things to keep in mind.

The whole point of sun-dying is to remove as much moisture as possible from the produce in order to preserve the flavor and nutrients for later use.  Bacteria and mold need moisture to survive and grow.  Remove it, and no more bacteria.  Some produce is going to take longer than others to achieve optimal dryness, so you have to pay attention.  Hot, all-day sun is best, and pay attention to humidity levels.  We want water leaving the produce, not going back in!

Equipment.  Tossing some tomatoes on a sheet pan and calling it good is only going to get you a big, moldy blob of tomato goo.  You need to make sure there is plenty of room for air to circulate around the entire vegetable or fruit to make sure it dries evenly.  Use a sheet pan, lined with parchment and a drying rack.  This will elevate the product to allow even air flow.  Also, unless you plan on standing over the product for a day or two, you might need to protect it from critters; bugs, squirrels, birds and the like.  You can easily make a cage of chicken wire or other wire grafting material and cover it with cheesecloth or some other kind of netting-like fabric.  Remember, sunlight is key, so make sure you can see thru it well.   You can also purchase something like this from Amazon.

Size.  In this case, it matters.  Just like when you cook food, it needs to be of uniform consistency and shape.  Also, the smaller the food, the faster it will dry.  For tomatoes, slice them in half or quarters and remove the seeds.  For zucchini, squash, peppers, etc, slice them into ¼ inch rounds or strips.  Slicing is a good idea for fruits too.  You also want to cut your produce to allow air inside the flesh.  The skin is there to keep air out.  So you need to break the skin to allow air in.  For berries that you would want to keep whole (because who wants to slice a million pounds of blueberries?!), blanch in boiling water for a few seconds to crack the skin.  This could work for cherry tomatoes too.

Oxidation.  You know when you’ve cut into an avocado and it starts to turn brown?  That’s called oxidation.  It’s when air mixes with the molecules of the flesh of the fruit and makes it turn an icky brown color.  It’s still delicious, just not delicious to look at.  It mostly happens to fruit and there are a couple of ways to prevent it.  Soaking the fruit in a mixture of lemon juice and water will usually do the trick.  Ascorbic acid and citric acid work well too.  You can buy them in powdered form to sprinkle on the flesh of the fruit.

Leafy greens and herbs.  Air drying herbs is my favorite way to preserve them.  I can only eat so much pesto by January before I wish I had some plain fresh basil.  Freezing in olive oil, or making an herb oil is good too, but limiting to how I can use it in a finished product.  Pick the leaves from the stems of the herbs and lay out on a parchment lined sheet pan.  You don’t need a drying rack in this case because of the flat, thin nature of the leaves.  Spinach, kale and chard are all great to air dry too.  You want the leaves to be as separated as much as possible.  And thicker, curly leaves like kale will take longer than the tiny leaves from herbs like thyme and oregano.  Dry whole, chop later.

If you don’t have a lot of direct sunlight, or maybe you don’t have the space to sun-dry, the oven works well for drying too.  Set it to the lowest temperature setting possible, and apply the same rules as above.  The oven will most likely take less time, as it is a more direct heat applied in a smaller space, but the results should be the same.

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After School Snack Attack

healthy snacksAfter-school snack.  Let’s face it.  It’s basically the 4th most important meal of the day.  And between a full day of school, homework, sports, band, dance and chess club, it should be!  Kids are just smaller versions of adults, and if you want them to make it thru the day without a sugar crash or major meltdown, good nutrition in the middle of the day is a great place to start.

You don’t have time to make your own Greek-style yogurt and beef jerky, or maybe you do.  But a box of Cheez-Its does not a healthy snack make.  The trick to snacks is having options the kids actually like, and getting them to eat it.

Unfortunately, pretty much anything on the shelf at the grocery store with the word SNACK on it is full of sugar, fat and loaded with empty calories.

 

There are 4 things to keep in mind when considering a snack choice for kids.  After all, the whole point is to keep their brains and bodies moving for another 4-5 hours.  What should you look for?

 

  1. Calories. Depending on your child’s activity level, calories matter. But most kids don’t need a 550-calorie cheeseburger happy meal.  Keep it between 200-400 calories.  That’s plenty to get them thru until dinner.
  2. Nutrition. We gotta keep them moving, so the snack should provide a good balance between protein, fat and carbohydrate.
  3. Timing. Scrambled egg sandwiches are a great option to keep your kid fueled up for sports. But maybe not 10 minutes before swim practice.
  4. Easy. Good news! You don’t have to spend 40 hours each week sourcing organic hemp seeds and crushing your own almonds for almond butter.  That’s what you have Friend That Cooks for! 😉 And for those of you that don’t, we put together a list of 15 awesome choices that go together in a flash.
  • Celery, Dried Fruit, Peanut Butter: 2 stalks celery- halved, palmful of small dried fruits- think raisins, cranberries, or chopped banana pieces, 2 tablespoons peanut butter- or almond, sun-nut or other butter of your choice.
  • Peanut Butter and Pretzel Sticks: Again, whatever kind of nut or non-nut butter you want, just a couple of tablespoons, and about ¼ cup of pretzel sticks.
  • Clementines and Dark Chocolate: For a lighter, sweeter snack idea, pair the easy-to-peel citrus with 1 ounce of dark chocolate. This one makes a tasty dessert for adults too!
  • Zucchini Bread Muffins: Add some plain flavored protein powder, or a handful of chopped nuts on top, for an extra protein kick. Check out this recipe here.
  • Snack Mix: Avoid unwanted sugars and extra calories and make your own!  Trader Joe’s is a great place to stock up on nuts, dried fruits and seeds.  Portion out the mix into ¼ cup individual snack bags for even more portion control.
  • Granola Protein Bites: There are literally hundreds of recipes on the internet for something like this. But here is one that we’ve tried and our clients really enjoy.  The flavor combinations are endless, so feel free to play.
  • Fruit and Coconut Water Popsicles: This one is great while the weather is still warm. The electrolyte boost is also perfect for your sports players and dancers.
  • Peanut Butter and Banana Toast: It can’t get any simpler than this. Once slice of whole grain bread, 1 Tablespoon PB and a half a banana.
  • Hard Boiled Eggs: These are great to have on hand as “add-ons”. Pair with the zucchini bread muffins, or even some hummus and veggies for a protein punch.
  • Hummus and Veggies: Sabra makes handy individual cups for even less prep! Sub the hummus for guacamole for something different.
  • Tuna Salad and Veggies: 1 can tuna packed in water- drained, 1 celery stalk- chopped, 1 hardboiled egg- chopped, 1 Tablespoon plain Greek yogurt or mayo, 1 tsp yellow or Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Celery stalks, carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes are all kid friendly and easy to prep ahead.
  • Cheese and Crackers or Fruit: 2 ounces of cubed cheese and 5 crackers is all it takes. If you can get away with it, pick a whole grain cracker option for maximum nutrients.  1 small apple or a handful of fresh berries to change it up.
  • Yogurt and Fruit: a small palmful of fruit goes really well with Greek yogurt.  The natural sugars in the fruit will flavor plain yogurt nicely, so don’t be afraid to give it a try.  A few chopped nuts go a long way too.
  • Tortilla Roll-ups: Think small, fajita sized tortillas, wrapped around some leftover meat from last night’s dinner, a smear of hummus, guac or spreadable cheese and voila!  Sliced bell peppers fit nicely inside that roll-up if you want to sneak in some veggies.
  • Nuts and Everything: 1 ounce, or about a palmful of roasted almonds or pistachios pair nicely with fruit, cheese or just about anything else.  The protein and fat content of the nuts keep the energy flowing until dinnertime.
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Chef’s Spotlight- Elizabeth Armstrong

 

This month’s Chef’s Spotlight features our new admin and office assistant, Elizabeth Armstrong.  Elizabeth was born and raised in Olathe, Kansas. She graduated from Olathe South High School in 2006 and went on to receive a Bachelor’s in Mass Media Advertising with a minor in fine arts from Washburn University in 2013.  Elizabeth spent a period of time designing websites and teaching drawing classes to elementary school kids.  She has also worked in the service industry for 14 years.

Elizabeth has a passion for all kinds of art and helping others. Staying creative is an ongoing outlet for her. She enjoys going to art exhibits, being out in nature, spending time with her niece, going to concerts and binge watching Netflix.

WELCOME ELIZABETH!  Not technically a chef, but definitely an important addition to our Friend That Cooks family, Elizabeth started with us in early May.  She works in our new headquarters office in Shawnee as our office assistant, website tamer and social media guru.  Check out her work on our Facebook and other social media platforms.