Archives for February 2011

Maintaining sanity in your tiny kitchen

Ever feel like there just isn’t enough room to comfortably work in your kitchen? Maybe your kitchen really is small or you have given up stationary life for one in an RV? Does the thought of cooking without much counter space cause you to single-handedly keep a local Thai place in business with all your delivery orders? Does putting away leftovers into your tiny fridge make you feel like you’re playing the most annoying version of Tetris imaginable? Well, you can stop daydreaming about that 150 square foot kitchen because with the right checklist and a little planning you can grow to love even the tiniest space. This this is the checklist I follow when I work in my RV’s kitchen:

  • Before anything else, start with a clean sink. Wash any dirty dishes or utensils from previous meals, then set them to dry in the drying rack. You can go a step further and dry everything with a towel so you can put away the drying rack, thereby giving you even more counter space while cooking.
  • Read the recipe twice, then tape or tack it up in a place where it can be easily seen. Do you have all the required ingredients? This would be the time to check by gathering them up in preparation for measurement and set up. Does the recipe mention specific cooking tools or vessels and do you have these ready to go? Gather these items as well. Finally, make sure to check over any cooking times mentioned in the recipe to make sure you aren’t starting a five-hour roast at 6:00 p.m.
  • Check to see if you have enough room in your fridge or freezer to store what you are about to cook. If leftovers keep taking up too much room, try using an elastic recipe to reuse them as ingredients for something new.
  • Try to anticipate how many ingredient cups you’ll need to hold chopped and prepared ingredients, then gather them up and place them nearby. I like to reuse margarine/butter-spread containers for this task. Also, now would be a good time to search for bigger plastic or glass storage containers for the expected leftovers. If something in the fridge can be transferred to a smaller container, I do this now so I can wash and reuse a larger one.
  • Now that you’ve got an empty sink, it’s time to take care of any cooking ingredients that need washing. Scrub down vegetables and have a towel or two ready for drying. While optional, this would also be a good time to prepare a large bucket with hot soapy water for holding any used cooking utensils once they’ve been dirtied. Keep this nearby, but out of the way of your feet.
  • Measure out any non-perishable ingredients into the ingredient cups mentioned earlier.
  • Begin prepping any vegetables. Chop them according to the sizes mentioned in the recipe, then measure and place in additional ingredient cups.
  • Prepare any meats for the meal, chopping them according to sizes mentioned in the recipe, then measure and place in additional ingredient cups (I like to use paper plates for this).
  • Wash and dry any cutting boards or knives used during prep so they are ready to go by the end of cooking. This is so the finished product will have a nice place to land for any slicing or further prep.
  • Time to maximize counter top space. If you live in an RV, you’re probably familiar with sink covers. Since everything has been washed and you no longer need the sink, you can set these up now to add even more usable work area. This would also be a good time to set up a folding table in your kitchen to use as another useful surface.
  • Cooking time!

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t exactly have this checklist printed out or anything, but these tricks are ones I try to keep in mind whenever I begin preparing something big (rather than, say, weekday breakfast).

Do you have any tricks like these for staying sane in your tiny kitchen?

Questions for cooks: Tips for reducing salt

Reader Rose submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

My doctor told me to cut back on my salt. This inspired me to start cooking more, and now I have a couple questions.

I see a lot of recipes call for salt. Initially I thought I would just leave the salt out and add in a dash at the end if I think it needs the flavor. But, I see it so often in recipes and in such quantities that I’m wondering if it does something more than just add flavor. And does it really matter if I add it at the end of a recipe or at the beginning?

Are there situations where I should not leave out the salt? (One recipe I’m specially concerned about is home-made bread.)

The easiest way to cut a large amount of salt out of your diet at home is to stop eating foods with complex ingredient lists on their packaging. Aim to eat foods that don’t come in packaging (fresh fruits and vegetables) or foods with only one or two ingredients (milk, salt-free frozen vegetables). Consider switching to kosher or dry-processed chicken and turkey that haven’t had salt water pumped into their skin at the meat processing plant.

Also, stay away from bitter foods that require a lot of salt to taste better — foods like brussels sprouts and mustard greens. Salt chemically reacts with the molecules in bitter foods to make them more palatable. Actually, salt makes almost all foods taste better, which is why humans use it.

Invest in some wonderful fleur de sel. Fleur de sel is a finishing salt that is only used immediately before eating. It has large crystals that give off a strong “salty” flavor, so you use less of it (barely any at all) and it can reduce or eliminate the need for using salt during the cooking process. If your doctor recommended you consume less than 1/2 a teaspoon or a teaspoon of salt a day, you can measure out the fleur de sel each morning and then limit yourself to only using that specific amount.

According to food scientist Harold McGee, adding salt to boiling water helps vegetables retain their flavors and nutritious substances. As a result, you may want to saute or roast your vegetables instead of boiling them. And, you can completely eliminate the salt when boiling water for grains and pastas. You can replace any lost flavor from these foods with herb-intense sauces and seasonings.

Addressing your question about bread, McGee also answers this question:

Salt contributes to a balanced taste and intensifies aroma in bread, but it also affects structure and texture. Salt makes a dough less sticky, the gluten more stretchy, and the finished loaf lighter. In sourdoughs, salt helps control the growth of acid-producing, gluten-weakening bacteria.

In short, you can probably reduce (but not eliminate) the amount of salt in homemade bread as long as you’re using a high gluten bread flour. Make some test loafs, adjusting the amount of salt in each one, and see where your lower limit lies. My bread recipe only requires 1-1/2 teaspoons for the entire loaf, containing only trace amounts of sodium chloride in each slice.

Substitute canola or olive oil as much as possible for butter, make your own salad dressings and soup stocks, and start using fresh herbs for alternate seasonings. Fresh herbs pack a greater punch than their dried brethren, so the stronger flavors won’t make you miss the salt. Oh, and avoid seasoning mixes unless they specifically say they are salt free (like Mrs. Dash). I’m not fond of fake salts because I think they have a bitter aftertaste.

Good luck on your new reduced salt adventure. Your eating experience doesn’t have to be bland from this point forward as long as you make good decisions about when to use salt. Thank you, Rose, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Hummus, on standby

If I can avoid it, I won’t call my mother in the evenings. She is retired, loves to cook, and each night is a culinary adventure in her home. I’ve had to call her twice in the past week after 5:00 p.m., and both times I’ve hung up the phone envious of her dinner plans. Monday night she made fried chicken with roasted potatoes, chicken gravy, and green beans with almonds — I don’t even like chicken very much, and I wanted to hop a plane to Kansas to get my hands on the leftovers.

This month has been overwhelmingly busy for my family. Mealtime has stopped being adventurous and has been nothing but tried-and-true standbys. When I was a kid and my mom worked three jobs, her cooking repertoire wasn’t all that varied, either. Monday night was taco night, Tuesdays we had ham and cheese casserole, Wednesdays were homemade pizzas, and so on and so forth throughout the rest of the week. We only had things like my mom’s famous fried chicken when stress levels lifted.

My family isn’t yet at the point where we have the same meal each Monday night, but we are only having things made from recipes I’ve committed to memory. I’m not trying anything new — I simply don’t have the mental energy right now.

One of our family’s standby recipe is hummus. We’ll have it as a side to an entree, an appetizer, or an afternoon snack. It doesn’t look incredibly appetizing (and I am far from being the world’s best photographer), but it’s yummy and nutritious. It’s rich in protein, dietary fiber, folate, copper, calcium, and iron. Best of all, it is incredibly easy to make.

Hummus

  • 19 oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic — either raw, minced and sauteed, or not included if you use garlic salt instead of the previously listed Kosher salt
  • For finishing: 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil and an 1/8 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

Pour drained chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and salt into your blender. If you want a strong, almost stinging quality in your hummus, toss two raw cloves of garlic into the blender, too. If you want a mild garlic flavor, first mince and lightly saute the garlic in a teaspoon of olive oil, strain, and then add the garlic to the blender. If you want a hint of garlic, use garlic salt instead of Kosher salt.

Blend the ingredients together until smooth, it should have a similar appearance to a milkshake. If you don’t want to use your blender, you can also use a food processor or a hand blender.

When serving, garnish with 1/2 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and an 1/8 teaspoon smoked or sweet paprika. Use as a spread or a dip with pita or raw carrots. From start to finish, this recipe should take less than 5 minutes to prepare. This recipe makes approximately 2-1/2 cups of hummus.

Optional additions

  • Olive lovers might want to add 1/3 cup Kalamata olives, drained
  • Use cooked white beans instead of chickpeas for a white bean dip
  • Roast or grill a poblano or jalapeno pepper, remove the skin, and blend it in for a peppery kick
  • Add 2 teaspoons massaman curry powder for a Thai influence
  • Add 2 teaspoons Indian curry powder for an Indian influence

What are some of your standby recipes? Tell us your favorites in the comments.

Assorted links for February 23, 2011

Interesting and informative news relating to food and cooking:

  • The past month’s events in the Middle East and northern Africa are impacting the trading price of wheat, corn and soybeans. Expect to see lower prices on these goods in U.S. grocery stores in the coming months. However, conflict in the Ivory Coast is making the price of chocolate hit a 32-year high. Learn more: “Middle East turmoil fuels sell-off in some food prices.”
  • Coffee prices are rising, and you’re going to start noticing them at the grocery store and at coffee shops.
  • PBS Kids television has launched a new section of their website called Kitchen Explorers. The blog has specific advice for getting kids interested in cooking and child nutrition.
  • Ellen Tarlin at Slate.com has recently published a fantastic series exploring why she doesn’t eat well: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

Share your favorite food-related news in the comments.

Elastic farmers market vegetable soup

If you are anything like me, you enjoy that warm feeling when you come home from a farmers market with a reusable grocery bag stuffed full of fresh produce. I guess I just get excited about the possibilities of what I can make out of my newly acquired bounty. That, and I helped some local farmers earn a living.

However, sometimes I buy too much stuff. I’ll get to chit chatting with one of the nice vendors, and more often than not I’m compelled to purchase at least a few dollars of stuff from their table. It all adds up. Other times I take home more than I planned because the prices are so good. How can I pass up spinach at half the cost I’d find at the grocery store?

Sometimes I’ll get home, look at the newly purchased pile of healthy harvest, and feel stumped about how to use it all. Sure I’d have little recipes in mind for this and that, but until recently I didn’t have a good way to utilize the majority of my bounty in one fell swoop. That is, until I tried making a soup out of purely miscellaneous vegetables. The goal is to have a way to use up everything, no matter what I end up purchasing at the farmers market.

But, can any mix of produce turn into a delicious soup? After researching many vegetable soup recipes, asking questions from trusted family sources, and a little testing, I’ve decided that it’s hard to go wrong with a good base. For French cooking, chefs use a combination of onions, carrots, and celery (also know as a mirepoix) to create a foundation for flavor used in many dishes. However, you don’t have to have all three vegetables from a mirepoix to form a good base, and you can certainly substitute the sweetness of red bell pepper instead of carrot. By using these vegetables in your soup, you’ll create an established starting point to build character, helping along the additional ingredients from your farmers market bounty.

There are several cooking methods used to develop flavor in vegetables before they hit the water of a soup, but each technique takes some time. You could always add your ingredients raw, but the soup will taste a lot less complex when using uncooked vegetables.

Turning up the background flavors can be done in a number of ways. Roasting vegetables brings out loads of flavor brought on by slow dry heat. I like this approach, but it means dirtying a baking tray or cookie sheet, along with an hour of roasting time.

Another approach is to sauté the vegetables at the bottom of a deep stock pot, which is also where the rest of the cooking takes place with added liquids. I like this method because it’s faster and there’s less clean up, but the process takes a little attention because the sauté has to be done in batches. Adding all the vegetables at once would steam them into gooey mush instead of allowing for a true sauté, giving them that nice browned exterior. That browning will help the soup develop complex background flavors.

When all the veggies have been sauteed you’ll have a now empty cooking vessel with lots of browned bits on the bottom. Now is the perfect time to deglaze those bits and concentrate some flavor. This is also when it makes sense to crank up the heat and add a stock, broth, or wine so it reduces in volume and maximizes flavors. You’ll want to include this step especially when using water for the main cooking liquid. Since water adds no flavor, adding some reduced wine will bring welcome entertainment to your taste buds when the soup is finished.

If you bought tomatoes at the farmers market, this is when you can add them as a puree (done in a blender or food processor) to your pot along with some oil. As the tomatoes cook at the bottom of the stock pot you are bringing them closer to a cooked paste, like what you might buy in a can. This step allows the tomato flavor to concentrate while building flavor and acidity, both of which will be a welcome addition to the soup.

Toward the end of the reduction process you add water, stock, or broth as the main cooking liquid. Then, bring the liquids in the pot to a boil. When you see that soup churning, it’s time to bring the heat back down to a simmer for the duration of cooking. Yes, this means your soup will take longer than if you just boiled it until the vegetables got soft, but such high heat can easily lead to overcooking and it gives less time for the broth to develop a rich hearty flavor.

Finally, I enjoyed the soup even more when I added thinly sliced aromatic vegetables right at the end of cooking, giving it a much needed foreground flavor. For one trial, I used thinly sliced fennel, and enjoyed the strong licorice tones. I never would have thought of adding fennel to soup had I not picked up too much at the farmers market.

Elastic Farmers Market Soup

  • 2 cups of at least two mirepoix vegetables, 3/4 inch dice (onions, celery, carrots or red bell pepper)
  • 4 cups other vegetables, 3/4 inch dice (green or bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes, fennel, zucchini, squash varieties, parsnips, turnips, green beans, leeks )
  • optional: 2 cups leafy greens, rough chop (spinach, swiss chard, kale, collard or mustard greens)
  • optional: 3 cups tomatoes, pureed
  • optional: 2 cups wine, stock or broth
  • 3 garlic cloves, rough chop (or more depending on your taste)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 Tbs canola oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • main cooking liquids to cover vegetables by one inch, roughly two quarts (water, broth, or stock)
  • optional: 1 3/4 cups thinly sliced aromatic vegetables (bell peppers, fennel, sweet onions)

Place all vegetables (excluding leafy greens and tomato puree) in large mixing bowl and toss to combine.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, add oil and heat until simmering. Add vegetables to cover bottom of pot, try not to overlap vegetables. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, stir, and cook for four minutes. Stir again after another four minutes, or when you see browned edges starting on the vegetables. Using a large spoon, remove browned vegetables and reserve.

Continue this process with additional batches until all vegetables have been browned.

If using wine, broth, or stock, add to pot over high heat and boil rapidly until reduced by half. Reserve.

If using tomato puree, add to empty pot with 1 Tbs oil and cook over medium high heat for 6 minutes or until pasty and sticky, stirring constantly. Scoop out using a large spoon and reserve.

Add more oil, adjust heat to medium, then dump in chopped garlic and sauté for one minute or until fragrant.

To the garlic, add all browned vegetables, bay leaves, tomato puree, and reduced liquids, then pour in your main cooking liquids to cover by one inch and adjust heat to high. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat to low or until just simmering. Cook uncovered for one hour.

If using tougher greens like kale or collards, add them to the soup after 40 minutes. If using tender greens like spinach or swiss chard, add at the end of the hour. This is also the time to add any thinly sliced aromatic vegetables.

For a thicker soup, use a stick blender to briefly puree vegetables until it reaches a desired consistency.

Lentil soup (sans ham)

When I’m sick, I want a bowl of lentil soup. When the weather changes, I want a bowl of lentil soup. When I’ve had a good day, I want a bowl of lentil soup. Honestly, most every day I have a craving for lentil soup.

In addition to their scrumptious nutty and woody flavor, lentils are rich in dietary fiber, iron, and protein, and they’re also low in calories. They are one of nature’s healthiest foods, and are inexpensive with a long shelf life. As far as I’m concerned, lentils are a perfect food.

Most lentil soup recipes call for diced ham, but ham isn’t usually something I have stocked in my refrigerator. Also, if you use vegetable broth, the soup can be enjoyed by vegetarians and vegans. It’s a simple, delicious, and nutritious soup that cooks up with little attention needed by the chef and usually in just an hour.

Sans Ham Lentil Soup

  • 1 Tbl canola oil
  • 2 large cloves of shallot or half a small white onion, finely diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely diced
  • 8 oz vegetable, chicken, or beef broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup dried green lentils
  • For finishing: A pinch of Kosher salt or smoked garlic salt and a tsp of balsamic vinegar

Warm the canola oil in a soup pot on the stove over medium heat. Add the shallot (or onion) and garlic, and lightly sauté them for 2 or 3 minutes. When the shallot and garlic start to turn transparent, add the broth and water and turn the burner up to high. Bring the liquid up to a boil.

Add the lentils and bring the liquid back to a boil. Once the liquid is boiling again, turn the burner to low and simmer the soup, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Every 15 minutes during cooking, give the soup a stir and check the liquid in the pot. Until the last few minutes of cooking, you want the lentils to be slightly submerged in water. You may need to add water, 1/4 cup at a time, during the cooking process to make sure this happens. You’re more likely to have to add water during the winter and in dry climates.

When the soup is ready, the lentils should be moist and a little mushy. You don’t want al dente lentils, but you also don’t want to overcook them into a paste.

Serve the soup with a pinch of Kosher salt or smoked garlic salt and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar added to each bowl. Don’t add the salt earlier in the cooking process or the lentils will have difficulty getting soft.

I prefer to use Kiawe Smoked Garlic Sea Salt from the Aloha Spice Company, which I order from Hawaii (yum!):

In addition to the ingredients listed above, you might also want to add diced carrots or celery. If you do, add these at the same time as the shallot and garlic, and increase the sauté time until it’s easy to pierce the carrots with a fork (about 5 to 7 minutes).

Questions for cooks: Measuring foods that don’t fit in measuring cups

Reader Ziegler submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I’ve been wanting to make more attempts at cooking and I keep looking at healthier recipes. My problem is, sometimes recipes tell you to use a cup of fresh spinach or romaine or some other lettucy type thing, how am I supposed to measure that? If it doesn’t fit in a measuring cup I’m clueless!

Also, I’ve seen recipes that ask for something like 2 cups of “cooked” pasta. How am I supposed to figure out how much dry pasta to use in order for it to end up as 2 cups once it’s cooked?

The easiest way to measure foods that don’t conveniently fit into measuring cups is to use a digital food scale. Then, find an ingredient conversion list that provides data on the specific item you’re using. Lately, I’ve been relying on the ingredient conversion list at the back of the Canyon Ranch Cooks cookbook because it’s extensive, incredibly specific, and I already own it.

For spinach, Canyon Ranch Cooks lists 1 pound of raw spinach to be equivalent to 10 cups raw or 2 cups cooked spinach. For all types of lettuce, it lists 1 pound of lettuce to be 6 cups of chopped or torn lettuce or 4 cups of shredded lettuce.

Doing a little math, this means a cup of raw spinach is 1/10th of a pound, which is 1.6 ounces or approximately 45 grams. (1 pound = 16 ounces, 1 ounce = 28.3495231 grams) And a cup of torn lettuce is 1/6th of a pound, which is 2.7 ounces or approximately 77 grams.

Now, to answer your question about how much uncooked pasta becomes cooked pasta, I turned to the National Pasta Association for an answer. (I’m not kidding, there really is a National Pasta Association.) According to their website, 8 ounces of uncooked pasta is usually 4 cups of cooked pasta. So, you would need 2 ounces (approximately 57 grams) of uncooked pasta to get 1 cup of cooked pasta. For an exact measurement, again I recommend using a digital food scale and weighing out the uncooked pasta.

Many recipes in cookbooks are now starting to list weight measurements, which eliminates the need for doing math. If you’re not a numbers person, I definitely recommend checking out these types of cookbooks.

Thank you, Ziegler, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

The smell of a slow cooker

I love my slow cooker so much because it’s like a little robot chef who prepares meals for me while I’m away, happily laboring so I can be off living life. I also dig how it fills my home with the smell of whatever it contains while cooking. As I’ve learned, this can be both good and bad, especially when living in an RV.

Living in such a small space means things that have strong odors tend to collect and intensify in the RV, creating some funny stories as a result.

For example, there was the first time I made black beans in my slow cooker. After a day of soaking in water, I put them in to start cooking on low as I went to sleep. When I woke up, the distinct smell of farts surrounded me. It was everywhere, like I’d risen from sleep to find myself in the men’s restroom at a chili cook off. That’s when I remembered the beans slowly cooking away in the kitchen. With a very thankful nose, I now keep a window cracked when using my slow cooker to prepare dried beans.

More positively, on my way to Zion National Park, I stopped in Glendale, Utah, as apple season was in full swing. The RV park where I stayed was surrounded by an orchard, and guests could pick as many apples as they wanted. With my trusty slow cooker at the ready, I picked about two dozen fresh apples right off the tree, then after being cored they began a slow trip to sauceville. I added in plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg, which eventually became the primary scents emanating from the slow cooker. The RV became saturated with a rich perfume and suddenly I was living in a giant apple pie. It was pure heaven.

My favorite smells are those that trigger a taste memory powerful enough to start me salivating. Since slow cookers are so great for slowly braising meat, I was pretty enthusiastic when I found this great recipe for carnitas. Big chunks of deliciously spiced pork shoulder cook with braising liquid for five hours on the low setting, turning them into the most tender, fall-apart filling for tacos or burritos you’ll ever eat. The smell of them cooking has combined with the ecstasy of that meal to create an intense connection somewhere in my primitive brain. Now, whenever I cook carnitas, that rich smell of pork and spices coming from my slow cooker sets off that scrumptious taste memory. I love it!

On the opposite side of the spectrum are recipes that use a slow cooker for aromatic ends without any expectation of a delicious meal to follow. These potpourri creations use ingredients like citrus, cloves, cinnamon, and vanilla to pump out scents that are sure to make your mouth water while transforming your home into grandma’s cozy warm cottage.

Is your slow cooker having an affair with your nose? Tell me in the comments!

Time-saving steps in the kitchen

I’m always on the lookout for ways to save time in the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite tips for shaving a few minutes off my chores:

  • The trash can and compost pail are the two most important devices in your kitchen. Make sure both are at the center of everything when preparing a meal. If you store your trash can and compost pail under the counter, pull them out while you work so you aren’t constantly having to touch a knob to open the cupboard door with dirty and full hands.
  • During the day, we load dirty dishes into the dishwasher immediately after a meal. Before heading to bed, we run the dishwasher. Then, first thing the next morning, as I’m waiting for water to come to a near-boil for my coffee, I unload the clean dishes. Dishes won’t ever pile up on the counter because everyone in the house knows the load is dirty. If you wash dishes by hand, immediately wash them after a meal to avoid attracting bugs and pests.
  • It won’t work in every kitchen, but in mine it is best to open all the cupboard doors and drawers before unloading dishes from the dishwasher. I leave the doors and drawers open during the entire process, and then close them when I’m finished. You don’t waste time opening and closing doors.
  • When cleaning the counter after a meal preparation, I wipe all the crumbs directly into the open dishwasher instead of into my hand.
  • Store the items you use most often in drawers and on shelves that are easiest to reach (usually between your knees and your shoulders). You don’t want to bend over or grab a step stool to reach high shelves every time you’re working in the kitchen.
  • Store items where you use them. All coffee supplies should be near the coffee pot. All pots and pans should be near the stove. Protective oven mitts should also be near the stove so they’re easy to grab right when you need them.
  • When you know you’ll be cooking foods that tend to splatter, wet a washcloth or sponge and add a dollop of dishwashing detergent to them before you begin cooking. Then, wipe up splatters off the stovetop as they happen so you won’t have to invest a bunch of elbow grease later scrubbing down the mess.
  • If you have an electric stove, lay a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil under the coil on the oven floor. Replace the foil once a month or more often if you know something spilled during baking. This simple trick makes oven cleaning a lot simpler.
  • When waiting for water to boil, the oven to preheat, your tea to steep, or the timer to run down on something you’re making, use those spare moments to clean the toaster or another quick kitchen chore. Over the course of a week, your kitchen will get cleaner without investing any extra time.
  • Instead of wasting time scrubbing pots with stuck-on food, pour a tablespoon of baking soda and a few cups of water into the pot. Bring the baking soda-water mixture to a rolling boil and then turn off the burner and let the water cool. You shouldn’t have to do much intensive scrubbing on the pan after that.

What time-saving steps do you take in the kitchen? Share your tips in the comments.

What food represents you?

Whenever I’m in my hometown, I insist on stopping for at least one meal at a particular Mexican-American restaurant. The place is family-owned and operated, the food is always fresh, the restaurant is clean, the service is good, and the recipes haven’t changed much in 29 years.

The restaurant isn’t fancy — you tell the person at the counter what you want, you pay for your order, and a few minutes later a woman next to the beverage dispenser calls your number when your food is ready. This isn’t a place you take someone you’re trying to impress. It’s the equivalent of your corner bar or a favorite book. It’s a known quantity that makes you feel at home.

I have my standard order, as most people do at their hometown haunts. I get two Light Tacos (Tacos Ligero) without lettuce, but add black olives, and a medium root beer. The “Light” in Light Tacos is a bit misleading, as it means the flour shell is deep fried and flaky, not that it is light on calories.

To be honest, the Light Tacos are as much nostalgia as they are beef, cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce. I remember eating these tacos every day for lunch during the second semester of my senior year of high school, while crowded into a booth with my best friends. I remember eating them before football games on Friday nights and on Sunday afternoons with my family. On a recent visit to my hometown, my son had his first bites of Mexican food here.

If I were to identify one food as the food to best represent who I am, it would be the Light Taco from Tortilla Jack’s. It’s the food I am at heart.

What food best represents you? Share your stories in the comments.

Learning basic baking ratios

I recently made a batch of scones from a recipe a friend gave to me, and something was wrong with the scones. They were fluffy — they rose like a cake — and very, very bitter.

I reread the recipe and instantly knew what was wrong with it. There was a mistake, and the recipe asked for far too much baking powder. I hadn’t been paying close attention when I was adding ingredients to the mixing bowl, and I blindly followed the recipe without questioning it. When used correctly, baking powder is a great leavening agent and lifts cakes and other baked goods to beautiful heights. When used in overabundance, it makes baked goods bitter and metallic.

The recipe from my friend called for 2 tablespoons of baking powder for 1-1/2 cups flour.

Usually the ratio is just 1 to 2 teaspoons of baking powder for 1 cup of flour. (If you weigh your ingredients, it’s about 5 to 10 grams of baking powder for 140 grams of flour.)

Mistakes like writing tablespoons instead of teaspoons are very common. Knowing what to expect in a recipe can help you to identify these typos before adding ingredients so you don’t waste your time and money.

I’ve found Irma Rombauer and her family’s Joy of Cooking to be good for teaching these basics, especially the “Know Your Ingredients” section. Knowing these baking principles also are wonderful for creating your own recipes and creations.

What resources have you turned to for helping you learn these baking basics? Share your resources in the comments.

Questions for cooks: Non-alcoholic substitutions for wine in recipes

Reader Lisa submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

My question in short form: What can I substitute for wine in recipes?

The longer details: My husband and I are not big drinkers. We don’t have any objections to alcohol, but we probably only have a drink two or three times a year. So we never have wine in the house. I don’t want to buy a bottle for the half cup that a saute calls for. Is there something I can use when a recipe calls for wine that will taste good, can be found at the grocery store, isn’t too expensive, and won’t end up having most of it thrown away?

There are a number of liquids you can substitute for wine in recipes. The key is to determine why a recipe calls for wine, which will then help you to figure out the best substitution.

And now you’re probably wondering: “How do you know why a recipe calls for wine?” Well, it’s not always the case, but you can often determine the reason based on when in the recipe you add the wine. If you use the wine early in the recipe, it’s often to influence the cooking method of the food. If you use the wine late in the recipe, it’s to add flavor.

If the recipe calls for wine to influence the cooking method, you’ll want to use an acidic liquid similar to wine. I’ve had good luck using white wine vinegar and plain white vinegar for white wine, and balsamic vinegar for red wine. These vinegars do influence flavors a little, so they won’t always work. Other liquid substitutions I’ve tried and had work: carbonated water with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice, tomato juice (like V8), and vegetable stock with a couple teaspoons of lemon juice or white vinegar.

If the recipe calls for wine for the purpose of flavor enhancement, unsweetened grape juice is usually a perfect replacement. Use white grape juice for white wine and red grape juice for red wine. Sometimes it’s difficult to find unsweetened juices, so if you can’t find unsweetened juice look for a brand that has sugar closest to the end of the listed ingredients instead of toward the beginning. Don’t use sparkling grape juices because the sugar content is too high — however, sparkling grape juice is good for recipes that call for champagne or vermouth (though not all).

When making a substitution like this, be sure to have back-up dinner options on hand. It might take you two or three times to find the perfect substitution for your recipe. You’ll be able to find a substitution, just not always on the first attempt. Keep a good sense of humor and think of it like an adventure, and you should be fine.

Thank you, Lisa, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Good luck!

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Questions for Cooks

One of our favorite features on our sister site Unclutterer is Ask Unclutterer. Readers send us questions about uncluttering, organizing, and simple living, and once a week we pick one from the pile and answer it.

We would like to start a similar feature here on SimpliFried. Send us your unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen, and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something!

To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

We look forward to reading your questions.

Rice pudding millet makeover

My grandfather was a farmer who spent most of the year in a tractor or combine, tending to thousands of acres west of my hometown. I remember him from my childhood as the quiet, but friendly giant we visited every weekend. He was well over six feet tall and had a wicked sense of humor.

Whenever my brother or I were sick on a school day, my mother would drop us off at our grandparents’ house. My grandmother would let us spend the day on the couch, watching game shows, and drifting in and out of sleep. By 4:00 in the afternoon, my grandfather would come in from the fields or the barn and make us rice pudding. He loved rice pudding, and a sick grandchild was enough of a reason to get him to stand in front of the stove after a long day of hard work.

My freshman year of college, I convinced him to give me his recipe. This is what he dictated to me from memory:

Grandpa’s Sweet Rice

  • 3/4 cup of rice
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole milk (only whole milk)

Cook for 45 minutes to an hour in a double boiler with lid. Stir every five minutes. At first, to keep rice from sticking and getting lumpy. Bring to a boil, then turn to low. Stir occasionally until done. YOU’VE GOT TO KEEP STIRRING!

My grandfather wasn’t kidding with the “keep stirring” advice. If you don’t tend to the pot every five minutes, the milk burns, the rice sticks to the double boiler, large clumps form, and not every piece of rice is coated in sugary, milky goodness. The work is worth it, though, as this dessert is perfect warm and cold.

I recently came upon my grandfather’s recipe at the back of my favorite recipe binder. His beloved words had moved to the back of the folder because I stopped eating and buying white rice about a decade ago. I had some millet in my cupboard, though, and wondered if I could recreate the recipe with a more nutritious grain.

I fired up my double boiler, added the milk, sugar, salt, and millet, and started stirring. The recipe worked perfectly and tasted as wonderful as it did when my grandfather had made it for me.

It might not look like much, but the flavor is truly delectable. But, as wonderful as the dessert is, I can’t imagine making it very often with a toddler running through my house. An hour of stirring is difficult, even without a toddler afoot. So, I decided to try the recipe again, but in the crock pot. Much to my surprise, it worked perfectly.

Sweet Slow Cooker Porridge

  • 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 3 cups Whole Milk (skim milk and soy milk also work)
  • 3/4 cup Millet (use 1 cup Millet if using skim or soy milk)

Set crock pot on high and add Sugar, Salt, and Milk. Stir, cover, and warm these ingredients for 20 minutes. Add Millet and stir well. Return cover and cook for an hour. Stir and check consistency. Return cover and cook for half an hour. Stir and check consistency. The sweet porridge might be finished at this point. If it’s not, return cover and cook for another 15 minutes.

A word of advice, from a lesson I learned the HARD way, don’t abandon your sweet porridge for three hours. Bad things will happen. Very bad things:

Cleaning burned sweet porridge out of a crock pot is a horrible way to spend half an hour.

When cooked appropriately, this recipe is also great with additional ingredients, added to the crock pot at the same time as the millet. The optional ingredients can also be added as toppings when serving.

Optional Additions

You may enjoy one or more of the following:

  • Crushed pineapple
  • Banana slices or mashed banana
  • Vanilla-flavored soy milk (instead of whole milk)
  • Unsweetened almond milk (instead of whole milk)
  • Maple syrup or agave juice (instead of sugar)
  • 1 Tbl rum
  • 1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Toasted almonds (as a topping)
  • Granola (as a topping)

Our favorite cookbook and electronic device holder and protector

Cookbook holders aren’t necessary for cookbooks, but they can be nice to own if you’re a messy cook. Spills on pages can build up over time and turn a book into a feeding ground for mold, mildew, and pests. If you like to use your laptop, iPad, or ebook reader (like a Kindle) in your kitchen, holders and protectors cease to be optional and become a necessity. No one wants to lose a $500 (or more) investment to a few drops of milk.

As far as cookbooks, ebook readers, and iPads are concerned, an adjustable cookbook holder with an acrylic shield is inexpensive and well-suited for the task:

Holders like this are easy to clean, work with all different types and sizes of cookbooks, ebook readers, and iPads, and fold flat for storage when not in use. It keeps the book or device off the counter in case of spills, too.

For individual recipes and pages I print from websites, I stick them in vinyl sheet protectors so I don’t have to reprint the recipe whenever I want to use it again. After I’m finished, I wipe off the sheet protector and slip it back into a three-ring binder.

Finally, we actually don’t recommend bringing laptops into the kitchen. Instead, put them near the kitchen and pump up the text size on the screen so you can read it from a distance. To zoom in on a Mac, hold down the Command key and press the +/= key. To zoom out, hold down the Command key and press the _/- key. On a PC, it’s the same except you hold down the Control key instead of Command.

We strongly advise against wrapping plastic wrap around your machine or sticking it in a large zip-top bag to try to protect it in the kitchen because your computer needs air circulation to function properly. You can overheat and ruin your computer in just a few minutes if you stick it into a bag with no circulation. Keyboard and screen protectors are okay, but they won’t protect your machine if you spill liquids on it or near it. Plus, small particles from grains like flour and corn starch can be sucked into your computer and also do damage. It’s best to leave your computer out of the kitchen unless you have a secure and protected place for it to reside.

Elastic recipe: Hash

I remember my first successful hash with great vividness. On that day the clouds parted, I could see the light, and I made a truly epic hash from leftover meatloaf and green peppers.

You see, there’s no real recipe for making this hearty dish of simplicity and comfort. The ingredients you can use are as flexible as Gumby at a yoga class. There’s no strict list directing you to add X of some ingredient, or that you need to have spices Y and Z to make it work. The room for substitution in creating a hash is really what has cemented the nature of elastic recipes for me.

The accommodating nature of hash also makes it a terrific way to churn through a fridge of leftovers. Make too much broccoli last weekend? Have it join the party. Is that a Tupperware container full of roasted chicken from the dinner you made for friends? Perfect. It’s like re-heating your leftovers, only you get to create something far tastier than a gray soggy version of what you ate last night.

How does this happen? It’s the magic of maximized surface area crustification. If you are familiar with the Maillard Reaction, you know that browned food equals delicious food. The definition of “to hash” is to chop into pieces or mince. By breaking up the food, you produce greater surface area, and thereby more room for Maillard to happen, which means more delicious!

These are my suggestions for how to put a beautiful hash together.

Elastic Hash

Note: when added to the pan, all ingredients should create a layer no taller than one inch. Otherwise, the browning process will be difficult to manage.

  • optional: fresh bacon and/or sausage
  • potatoes: raw or cooked, half inch diced
  • water (if using raw potatoes, you’ll need enough to cover them by a half inch)
  • butter for browning: 1 Tbsp (more if you need to pre-sauté raw vegetables, could also use canola oil)
  • vegetables: raw or leftovers, quarter inch diced (onions, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes)
  • leftover meats, chopped into small pieces (roast or corned beef, steak, pulled pork, pork chops, chicken, turkey, sausage, meatloaf, meatballs, salmon, tofu, tempeh, seitan)
  • optional: sauces (steak sauce, ketchup, mustard, Sriracha, salsa, creamy horseradish)

While the ingredient list is incredibly flexible, the methods involved in cooking a hash are more fixed. As I mentioned earlier, the idea will be to create maximum browning through increased surface area.

I also feel it’s customary to cook hash in one pan — preferably a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. This means no boiling potatoes in a separate pot only to chop and add them in later. I want my hash to be super simple, requiring as little cleanup as possible. However, if you’ve got leftover boiled potatoes to use, by all means please do.

If you’re using fresh bacon or sausage, you will want to cook that off and use the rendered fat as lubricant for the rest of the cooking process. Just brown your breakfast meats, drain off the fat in a separate container, then transfer meats to a paper towel lined plate for later use.

Next, adjust heat to high, then add in your diced potatoes and enough water to cover the potatoes by a half inch. When the water comes to a boil, drain the water off the potatoes and begin your sauté. This is where you can use the reserved cooking grease if using breakfast meats in the earlier step. It will turn out amazingly delicious results. Continue the sauté until brown crispy edges are just starting to form on the potatoes (about four minutes), then set the potatoes aside for later use.

Add in the butter and any fresh vegetables to sauté on medium-high heat until they start to soften and become translucent (about five minutes).

Adjust heat to medium and add in all other ingredients, including any reserved breakfast meats, potatoes, and/or sauces. Using a spatula, flatten everything as much as possible and cook for five minutes. Remember, you’re seeking the greatest amount of surface area you can get.

Chef John of Foodwishes describes the process well in his video for making corned beef hash: “cook, turn, crust … cook, turn, crust.”

Working your way around the pan, flip your ingredients in sections, turning over the browned bottom bits so the areas that were on top can get a chance against the brown. Cook for another five minutes.

Repeat this process once more, then serve with poached or over easy eggs and fresh herbs. I love my hash with a slight hangover and a nice cup of black coffee.

Elastic Sweet Marshmallow Bar Treats

I don’t know how it happened, but I was in middle school before I had a Rice Krispy Treat. I took my first sweet bite from a treat I picked up at a school bake sale, after which my taste buds commanded my brain to seek out more of this delicacy whenever possible. It’s a testament to a young boy’s willpower that I didn’t go back to steal more from those nice ladies at the bake sale table.

Having never made them myself, I was in college when I first learned how easy it is to put together Rice Krispy Treats. However, I only made a few batches before my sweet tooth took a back seat to cravings for more adult flavors, like a good hoppy beer or the exotic taste of Indian food.

Somewhere in there I also started watching Good Eats, which is when I first saw Power Trip, the episode about crafting homemade granola bars, protein bars, and brown rice crispy bars. This episode really caught my attention, mostly because I was becoming more health conscious and never thought to cook up my own granola bars. Along with that, I was really intrigued with the recipe Alton provides to make a more wholesome version of Rice Krispy Treats. I just had to try it.

His recipes were delicious. They tasted a lot healthier, with the dried fruits providing a more balanced sweetness than just marshmallow, and the puffed brown rice added a nutty depth of flavor that was very much welcomed by my taste buds. I was hooked.

Only recently did I make them again, and boy was my brain firing this time. The possible variations for both healthy(ish) and decadent versions of this classic treat were really flowing, and that’s where my elastic recipe originated.

Healthy(ish) Elastic Cereal Bars

  • 3 Tbs oil (use one with low saturated fats, like canola oil)
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups low sugar cereal (puffed brown rice, puffed kamut, puffed wheat, Kashi, Wheaties, Total, Special K)
  • 1 Tbs honey (keeps it moist and chewy)

optional additions:

  • 3/4 cup nuts (slivered or chopped almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds)
  • 1 cup dried chopped fruit (raisins, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, apricots, apples, dates, bananas)
  • 2 tsp extracts or flavorings (vanilla, almond, maple, lemon, orange, cinnamon, anise)
  • 3 Tbs nut butter (soy, cashew, almond)

Decadent Elastic Cereal Bars

  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 6 cups miniature marshmallows (up from 3 cups in the previous version)
  • 6 cups cereal (use any from other list, or something that will give you a sugar rush like Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Golden Grahams, Pops, Froot Loops)

optional additions:

  • 1 cup candies (milk, white chocolate or butterscotch chips, M&Ms)
  • 1 package pudding mix

Begin by lining a rectangular baking dish with plastic wrap. Add one tablespoon of a neutral oil (like canola) to coat the plastic wrap.

If using puffed brown rice, wheat, or kamut, I recommend toasting your cereal in a 400ºF oven for four minutes, stirring once half-way through. This will give it a nice deep flavor.

Heat your oil, marshmallows, and honey over a double boiler (any wide metal bowl over a pot of simmering water will work) on low heat. Stir until marshmallows have melted into a gooey consistency.

Add in liquids or anything that needs to melt, like chocolate or flavored chips, nut butter, pudding mix or extracts, and stir to combine with a rubber or latex spatula. Turn off heat and add in any other ingredients and your cereal, then continue stirring until well combined.

Using cooking oil, lubricate your hands and scoop out mixture, pressing it into the prepared dish. Flatten with your hands, pushing ingredients into the corners of the pan. Set aside to cool for at least an hour, then pull out hardened mixture using the plastic wrap as a handle. Cut into bars and store for up to two weeks.

Yummy Combinations

  • (pictured above) puffed wheat, almond slivers, dried blueberries, dried cranberries
  • (pictured above) golden grahams, chocolate chips, extra layer of melted marshmallows in the middle
  • Cheerios, nut butter, raisins, cashews, M&Ms, mini pretzels
  • puffed kamut, toasted chopped nuts, maple flavoring
  • puffed brown rice, sliced almonds, dried cherries, almond extract
  • Rice Krispies, toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds

Deciphering nutrition recommendations

One of the unfortunate things about The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 released on Tuesday is that it doesn’t give many concrete examples of its dietary recommendations. This is actually a complaint I have of many nutrition guides. Telling readers to consume fewer than 2,300 mg of sodium a day is pointless if you don’t also explain what 2,300 mg of sodium actually looks like on a plate.

I’ve gone through a handful of items from the section of text that I quoted yesterday on the site, and put into common examples the advice. Feel welcome to look through The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 and add your translations of additional recommendations into the comment section of this post.

  • The guide says to reduce sodium (salt) intake to 2,300 mg a day. This means you need to consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Not only is this salt you might add to food once it has been served, but also salt used in the cooking process of all of the foods you eat. Baked goods and commercially canned soups and vegetables use very large amounts of salt in their preparations. Chefs in restaurants also add lots of salt to their meals because it reduces bitterness and enhances flavors. Cooking all of your meals at home, using salt-free ingredients, and diligently monitoring how much salt you use is the best way to keep your salt intake to less than 1 teaspoon per day.
  • The alternative 1,500 mg suggestion of sodium (salt) per day for “persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease” is about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per day. Truth be told, this number is extremely difficult to achieve unless you are vigilant at monitoring your intake.
  • Less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol means you should be eating very little fats from animals. Dietary cholesterol is in red meats, lard, milk, cheese, butter, and egg yolks. It’s also present, but in lower amounts, in white meats (like pork loin and poultry). A single egg yolk contains a little more than 200 mg of cholesterol, so if you have two eggs for breakfast you’ve already exceeded the limit — before you’ve had lunch, dinner, or put some milk in your coffee. Since butter, milk, and eggs are prominent in baked goods, a slice of cake can put you over the 300 mg per day recommendation. Abstaining from egg yolks and red meats most every day, consuming only skim milk, and using canola oil instead of butter are good first steps to getting closer to the recommendation. Also, diligently read nutrition information levels to evaluate cholesterol in packaged products.
  • The suggestion to “use oils to replace solid fats” is a more specific suggestion than other ones in the report, but fails to mention that not all oils are created equally. Instead of using lard, butter, margarine, or a vegetable shortening (like Crisco), try to use instead a monounsaturated oil. The two monounsaturated oils easiest to find in your grocery store are canola oil (which doesn’t impart much flavor into your food) and olive oil (which gives your food a hint of nut or olive flavor). Polyunsaturated oils (like corn, sunflower, soy, and safflower oils), are better for you than solid fats, but should be used in moderation. Finally, you should AVOID partially hydrogenated oils, like vegetable oil. The advice should have been “use monounsaturated oils to replace solid fats and partially hydrogenated oils in your diet.”

A step in the right direction: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010

Yesterday, the U.S. government released The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. This document is produced every five years, and has a reputation for being vague and heavily influenced by agri-business. In my opinion, the 2010 guidelines — although lacking in some ways — have a more accurate view of the state of health in the U.S. and the recommendations promote better nutrition and dietary habits than in past years.

The document is full of charts, the language is simple and direct, and most pages include bright colors. It’s clear the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the departments that produce the document, wanted this report to be accessible to the public-at-large. However, with 98 pages of text and 16 appendices accounting for 22 of those pages, it’s not something the average American is going to read. Instead, it states, “The information in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is used in developing educational materials and aiding policymakers in designing and carrying out nutrition-related programs, including Federal food, nutrition education, and information programs.”

If this is the case and the USDA uses the report for developing additional materials, the new Food Pyramid that is expected to be released in a few months might actually be more helpful than the current one. I don’t know about you, but I think a stick figure walking up a staircase doesn’t convey much information about good nutrition.

Back to the subject of this report, regarding nutrition in The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, the report makes the following suggestions for healthy Americans between the ages of 2 and 50 who are not trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding. From the “Executive Summary”:

Foods and Food Components To Reduce

  • Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
  • Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
  • Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
  • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
  • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age.

Foods and Nutrients To Increase
Individuals should meet the following recommendations as part of a healthy eating pattern while staying within their calorie needs.

  • Increase vegetable and fruit intake.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.
  • Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
  • Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
  • Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
  • Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
  • Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
  • Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.

The report also includes recommendations for children, vegetarians, vegans, the elderly, and people suffering from chronic health conditions. I believe it is certainly a step in the right direction, and the document is worth reading if you’re interested in diet and nutrition or U.S. food policy. If you read it, I’m interested in learning about your opinions of the document in our comment section of this post.

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