The holiday season is finally upon us. It’s a time for enjoying family, friends, and food!
You can make healthy habits this holiday season. It’s not only a single meal but rather an entire season of parties, events, gatherings festivities, and unhealthy choices that add up to that holiday weight gain we resolve to lose when January rolls around. As the holiday season begins its rapid approach, take time and consider those eating habits that set your new year off on the wrong foot. Why not make a resolution now to eat healthier this holiday season?
Just a few simple strategies can help make the difference and keep those unwanted pounds away. Here are some suggestions:
Don’t skip meals. Eating healthy on a regular basis will keep you from overindulging at holiday gatherings.
Use smaller plates for meals and gatherings and be mindful of portions
Choose more vegetables and smaller helpings of entrees and desserts
Drink more water and minimize alcoholic drinks and eggnog
Make healthier recipe ingredient substitutions when cooking and baking
Take a mindful approach to keeping your personal health goals in-check. We can all still experience the joy of the holiday season, without making food the focus. Make a resolution to be mindful and eat healthier this holiday season, and your waistline will thank you!
Since I can recall, I’ve liked to read cookbooks. Old cookbooks, famous cookbooks, church cookbooks, regional and seasonal cookbooks, and cookbooks hot off the press! I read the forward and the preface (… if there is one). I don’t just look at the pictures, but I read the recipe for yield (number of servings), ingredients and amounts, and the way the ingredients are combined. I read about the equipment required to prepare the recipe and the amount of time it takes to complete the task.
A narrative format is common with many older or handwritten recipes. Photo credit: Heidi Copeland
Generally, I have found that old cookbook recipes often seem different and that handwritten, handed-down recipes tend to be vague. I also have found that the product does not always turn out like the picture. Yields – the amount a recipe feeds – has certainly changed over time and recipe ingredients have become more and more varied, as has their use. Who knew toasting spices completely changes their flavor profile and that umami is important?
It used to be that people learned to cook by watching someone else. However, that seriously changed as more and more folks became literate. In fact, the first cookbook published in the United States, American Cookery (Hartford Connecticut 1796), has been designated by The Library of Congress as one of the 88 books that shaped America. This first cookbook used uniquely American ingredients of the time and provided American cooks with quite a litany of receipts, the old-world way of documenting what we now call a recipe.
Recently, I listened to a radio interview with Adrien Miller, a cookbook author who has been on a quest to document uniquely African American cooking histories.
I chuckled to hear Adrien Miller describe a handwritten recipe from a friend or a relative as a lesserpe… his terminology for the unexacting nature of a recipe given from someone who really doesn’t need an exact rendition because they know what they are doing and assume you do, too.
Recipes are a great way to hand down our own historical traditions. However, having been charged with giving out a lesserpe…, I find it is critically important to be as exacting as possible when sharing recipes with friends or family.
A good, standard format for a recipe includes:
Name of product
Yield of product (how many it serves)
Ingredients in exact amounts (in order of use is helpful)
Step-by-step instructions, in detail
Time and temperature specifics
Important information about pan size, etc.
Remember, too, that a recipe is a history. History evolves. Aunt Margaret might have written a narrative format (paragraph) recipe but today that form might be seen as hard to follow.
Here is an example from Aunt Margaret:
Apple Pie (2 crust)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a 9-inch pie pan with your favorite crust. Combine and sift together 1/2 – 2/3 cup white sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Combine and sift over apples (about 3#, cut up). Stir apples gently until well coated. Place in pie shell and dot with butter. Cover pie, slit or prick crust. Bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake until done.
The typically formatted recipe:
Apple Pie (Aunt Margaret)
Serves 8 to 10
2 pie crusts, purchased or homemade
3 pounds Granny Smith apples, approximately 8 large apples
1/2 cup white sugar, more if you like it sweeter
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, firm, sliced thin
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cream
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Wash, peel, core, and slice the apples thinly.
In a large bowl, toss sliced apples with sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
Line 9” pie pan with 1 piecrust
Mound the apple mixture in the center of the pie crust.
Dot the apple mixture with sliced butter.
Cover apples with 2nd pie crust.
Crimp edges of the pie crust. (Press the top and bottom dough rounds together as you flute edges using thumb and forefinger or press with a fork.)
Mix egg yolk and cream, brush all over the pie crust top.
Stick with fork tines in a dozen places or vent with small knife-made slits.
Bake 15 minutes in the preheated 425°oven.
Reduce the temperature to 375°. Continue baking for 35 to 45 minutes, until apples are soft and the crust is golden brown.
Transfer the apple pie to a rack to cool for at least 1 hour.
Serve warm or cold.
Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips before you bake it.
At any point during the baking, if the top of the pie begins to brown too much, just tent it with aluminum foil.
Your dad does not like nutmeg. I add a splash of vanilla, a bit more cinnamon, and omit the nutmeg.
Don’t forget the vanilla bean ice-cream. It adds a nice touch!
This holiday season, don’t be blamed for sharing less than the whole recipe. Recipes can be a valuable tool for passing on important family food traditions, now and into the distant future. Learn to write a good recipe with details. You might just be the talk of the table for eons.
If baking were a feature film, flour would be the lead actor. While there are a lot of important supporting castmates, flour is the star. It serves as the foundation upon which baking masterpieces are built, providing structure, texture, and mouthfeel (the physical sensations food provides in the mouth) to the final product.
But here is the thing: Not all flours are created equal. There are many types of flour out there, but not all of them will provide the same results. Different types of flour have different levels of protein, gluten, and fiber, and react differently with their companion ingredients. Need all-purpose flour but only have rye flour? Expect a nuttier, grainier outcome – or even possibly a disaster!
Depending on the type of flour used, different quantities of other ingredients may be called for, such as water or oil, salt, butter, sugar, baking soda, or baking powder. Not all flours are easily interchangeable, and some flours can only be partially substituted for others, or the final product may be dramatically different.
For example, want to substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour? Sure, it’s possible, and is much easier to pull off in quick (non-yeast) breads such as muffins, pancakes, and biscuits. However, in yeast breads, switching out 100% of white flour for whole wheat without adjusting other ingredients will inevitably result in a final product that is less airy and more dense (less rise), which may adversely affect the flavor and texture.
What to do? Since whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white flour, for every 1 cup of whole wheat flour substituted, increase the liquid by 2 teaspoons, and then let the dough rest for 30 minutes before kneading to allow the liquid to be absorbed. This will result in a softer, more malleable dough that will yield more favorable final results.
There are many more substitution tips out there – more than could possibly be covered in one article. But here are a few common types of flour that may be called for in baking:
All-purpose flour is a common, highly versatile type of flour that can be used successfully in many baking recipes. (Source: Samantha Kennedy)
All-purpose flour: Made from the soft, chewy internal part of the wheat kernel – the endosperm – it is a highly versatile type of flour that can be used in just about any baking recipe. This type of flour generally contains about 10-11% protein.
Self-rising flour: I like to think of this as all-purpose flour with a kick. Why? Because it already contains the salt and baking powder that would otherwise need to be added to all-purpose flour to make the final product rise. While it can be substituted for all-purpose flour, it is important to remember to leave out the additional salt and baking powder called for in the recipe.
Bread flour: This type of flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour – about 12% – and produces a dough with more gluten, resulting in a light, airy loaf with good volume. All-purpose flour can be used instead with positive results.
Cake flour: This type of flour contains about 7.5% protein and results in a final product that is crumblier than bread, which is desirable in a cake or cupcake. If using all-purpose flour instead, substitute 1 cup minus 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour for every 1 cup of cake flour called for in the recipe.
Flour is a vital ingredient in nearly all baked goods. Using too much, too little, or a different kind than called for can result in an unsatisfactory final product. Learning the differences between common types of flour and how they can be interchanged with one another will go a long way towards achieving baking success.
For more information about this or other baking topics, please call Samantha Kennedy at (850) 926-3931.
July in National Watermelon Month. Watermelon is a sweet, low-calorie summer treat. The taste and fragrance of a cool, juicy slice of watermelon can’t be beat. Celebrate by trying this different recipe using nutritious, delicious watermelon.
I have just wrapped up my three-day Kitchen Creations camp and am happy to report that it was a big hit with the campers. Each day had a different country theme. Day 1 was Italian, Day 2 was Mexican, and Day 3 was American. All the dishes the kids made, including dessert, represented that day’s country.
The recipes ranged from simple to more complex, allowing the kids to build on basic skills to learn more advanced ones. For some campers, boiling a pot of water was a daunting task. For others, they learned how to caramelize and julienne. The campers worked in teams to create two main dishes, a salad, and a dessert each day, which was shared with the entire group.
I am pleased to announce there were no leftovers. The kids either ate it all, or wanted to take their culinary creations home to share with their families. If that is not a testimony to the camp’s success, I do not know what is.
I also was impressed with the campers’ willingness to try new things. Many of them were skeptical about the vegetable lasagna we made on Day 1, but nearly all the kids were willing to at least give it a try. And just like the baked ziti, Caesar salad, and chocolate biscotti we made that day, there was nothing left at the end of the day.
Kids can be eager helpers in the kitchen, even when it comes to cleaning up. Photo source: Samantha Kennedy, UF/IFAS Extension
Kids are eager learners in the kitchen. All the campers in Kitchen Creations were enthusiastic and ready to learn. They were proud of their creations, wanted to learn new skills, and were excited to use new tools and practice using familiar ones.
It is understandable that some parents may be reluctant to have younger kids in the kitchen. Maybe they are wary of possible injury. Maybe they are just so busy they do not have time to teach and supervise their children in the kitchen. It is a hectic world out there! But I know from personal experience with Kitchen Creations camp that kids, especially those interested in cooking, are more trustworthy and less accident-prone in the kitchen than some might expect.
The campers in my cooking camp are between the ages of 10 and 12 and in the four summers I have offered it, I have had only a few minor mishaps. The campers are aware of possible dangers in the kitchen. Things are hot. Things are sharp. Things are heavy. They are very conscientious about safety and handling things the correct way.
Kids who cook grow into adults who cook. Cooking is an important life skill that will be useful through someone’s entire life. Whether it is a student putting together quick, healthy meals and snacks to help them study, a busy parent trying to balance the responsibilities of everyday life while planning and making nutritious meals for their family, or a doting grandparent making something special for their grandkids, cooking is vital and brings people together.
Cooking is life.
I encourage you to support the budding chefs in your life. Instead of turning them away, allow them to help. Taking the time to prepare a meal together and then sharing that meal with loved ones builds stronger relationships while teaching important skills for a successful life.
I would like to continue on the theme of reducing food waste by talking more specifically about ways to use food scraps effectively to prevent them from ending up in the landfill.
As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of a funny scene from the 1982 film Night Shift, where Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blaze, says into his tape recorder, “Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper. You see, you eat it, it’s gone. Eat it, it’s out of there. No garbage.” Think about how much less waste would go into our landfills if we could just eat paper!
It is the same concept for food waste. As much as 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten, destined to end up in the landfill. That is literally thousands of tons of food wasted each year. But what if we could help reduce that amount?
Got leftover veggie scraps? Instead of throwing them away, save them for a delicious veggie soup. (Photo source: UF/IFAS)
Here are two great ideas for using leftover food scraps instead of throwing them away.
Cook with them. Leftover vegetables are great ingredients for a simple and delicious soup. Simply take the leftovers, combine them with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, and celery, add a liquid such as stock or broth (or water and white wine), throw in a generous helping of herbs, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then use an immersion blender or food processor (or stand-up blender) to blend into a creamy soup. Any type of vegetable works for this type of soup, from greens and cauliflower to parsnips and sweet potatoes, which makes it an ideal way to use up those scraps.
Another great way to use vegetable scraps is to make homemade stock. Vegetable parts such as carrot ends and peels, celery ends and greens, corn cobs, pea pods, and all the other bits trimmed off during food preparation can be used to make stock. Not in the mood to make stock right away? No problem! Veggie scraps can be saved in a zippered bag and kept frozen for up to six months.
When the time comes, simply dump the scraps into a large stock pot (that is why it is called a stock pot!) or Dutch oven, fill the pot 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor.) Strain it all through a sieve. The remaining liquid is the stock. Fresh stock can be stored 3-5 days in the refrigerator or frozen up to three months. Here is a simple resource from Cornell University Extension on how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps. (Here is another one from Tasty.co.)
Hold on! There are still scraps left over. What about those? Well, that brings me to the second great way to use kitchen scraps.
Food waste such as vegetable scraps can be added to compost to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for home gardens. (Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
Compost them. Creating compost at home takes a little work and perseverance, but it can certainly pay off in the home garden. Nutrient-rich compost can add oomph to flower beds and vegetable patches and turn any garden into a showcase.
Vegetable scraps are perfect additions to any compost pile. Any vegetable scraps can be added to compost. Just remember to remove the little stickers, as those are not compostable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are many benefits to compost. It enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And it encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. These fact sheets (this one and this one) from UF/IFAS Extension are a wealth of information about home composting.
The reduction of unnecessary food waste begins with us, the consumers. By learning how to use those scraps in useful ways, such as cooking and composting, we can help eliminate the excess food waste filling our landfills.