Awareness of Eating

“Never trust a skinny chef!” is how the old saying goes. But let’s examine that adage and explore the rearrangement of a common cliché.

As we become more aware of our diets, the effects food has on our bodies and how it makes us feel, there needs to be a basis of trust between the cook and the consumer.

English: White House chefs, directed by Execut...

English: White House chefs, directed by Executive Chef Henry Haller, prepare for a state dinner honoring Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. The chefs are working in the White House kitchen; the dinner occured in 1981, during the administration of Ronald Reagan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take a look at the chef, the person responsible for creating the menu and training the kitchen staff on how to prepare the various dishes.

Since I have worked in kitchens, I know a lot more about how restaurant kitchens run than most. If the person creating my meal is on the heavy side, typically sauces and flavorings  would be full of butter, fats, salts and sugars.

“A heavy chef means they enjoy their food, so it must be good!”

Really? How many people who are overweight have a hard time identifying a proper portion size? Someone who struggles with weight will eat for the sake of eating.

Someone who has emotions (hopefully all of us) will eat sometimes for comfort. Think of chicken soup when you’re ill; but when you can’t stop eating weight becomes an issue.

Sometimes the food choices we make are simply because the food we choose is familiar, it is what we know. But what if that food is bad for us? What if people really don’t understand the processed food they are eating is bad?

Evidence the obesity crisis in the USA.

Jamie Oliver is doing an eating awareness program in West Virginia to address the problem of obesity. He goes into an elementary school and the children cannot identify fresh tomatoes on the vine, cauliflower or even potatoes.

The pile of pizza, corn dogs, hot dogs, hamburgers, cakes and ice cream all over the table that represented what the family ate for a week was disturbing. Most disturbing of all is that the mom didn’t know the food was bad for them. They weren’t hungry and she thought that was good.

But she is killing her family. Her 10-year old son is already 350 pounds. Really, “Well we’re not hungry”?!

Shocking. How did it get so far?

I want a chef who is inventive but not at the expense of my health. I want someone preparing my food with the same attitude I have for health.

Obesity is a rampant problem in the USA. Identifying proper nutrients is a major issue. Processed foods, fast foods, restaurant foods loaded with fats, salts and sugars invade the diets of every day eating all around us.

The basic food environment in the USA is severely lacking in good solid nutritious fresh food.

Drive through any town, fast foods for everything from donuts, burgers, sandwiches, Mexican, Chinese, and Italian; fried and fast is what lines the streets. It isn’t easy to choose not to eat fast food, especially when you are hungry, the temptation is great to give in.

There are many of us who are aware of what we eat. Those on gluten-free diets are aware of nearly every product they eat. Thankfully, gluten-free is easier to find these days, but there is still the issue of all that fat, sugar and sodium.

When we eat out, we are at the mercy of the kitchen to actually know how to make food taste good without the added fat, salts and sugar.

Slapping butter, sugar and salt onto food is an easy way to make anything taste good. Cooking like that takes no skill at all.

Using salt is an important seasoning but so many far overdo the salt thing. Adding some salt to cooking water when boiling pasta, rice or potatoes is usually all you need.

I love salt! I adore all the different kinds of salt there are, yet I don’t overdo it either.

I am not looking for a chef who serves me a plate full of sauces and vegetables full of butter. I am looking for foods that are cooked correctly and seasoned to bring out the full of flavors.

People need to learn what a proper portion size looks like. Restaurants serve enough to 1 person to feed three and yet that one person still tries to eat as much as they can because that is what they are served.

Case in point: The Cheesecake Factory (Hint right there) offers a “Crispy Chicken Costoletta” which serve up a whopping 2610 calories, 89 grams of fat and 2720 milligrams of salt. Costolotta alright, cost a lotta health if you eat all that.  If you really have to eat that, then break it down into three meals at least. (Nutrition Action Healthletter, January/February 2012) Best of all, choose another place to eat.

Watch buffets; people load up their plates as if they only have one visit. All manner of foods get glopped together on a plate so it becomes a huge pile of goop melange. Why not go get some salad, talk, visit with your dining companions, eat, and return for entrée, then again for dessert. It seems more civil. Why are we rushing? Trying to beat the mental signal you are full?

But instead they try to slip that cherry cobbler right next to the fried chicken and coleslaw that sits on top of the ranch dressing salad with “Country Crocked” yeast rolls underneath.

Then they stuff it all in, make a second trip and wonder why they have bellies the size of VW Bug cars.

Burp.

Talking to Tyler the other day, he mentioned he was having his girlfriend over for dinner and he had to go set the table. I felt good knowing he was carrying on a family value: Setting a table and sitting there to eat dinner and talk to each other about the day.

An attractive dinner setting

An attractive dinner setting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Something so small, yet it is so important. Our social and family bonds grow stronger with each meal gathering. Shouldn’t the food put in front of us be nourishing as well?

The movement to better health through eating well begins with each one of us making a choice.

If you don’t know how to cook or how to choose better nutrition, take a class and learn. Get your children involved with preparing meals; they are more likely to try new foods if they have a hand in making the dish.

Step away from the sugar bowl! Put down those sodas and juice boxes. Drink water, teas, non-fat milk. There are even flavored waters with bubbles if you simply must have a fizzy drink.

Try extra-virgin coconut and olive oils instead of butter. Your heart will thank you.

I started taking a Therapeutic Nutrition class a few weeks ago. My eyes have really been opened to how severe the obesity epidemic is and that we CAN do something about it.

That something is education and choice.

I hope you can join me in starting something is your neighborhood. The future depends on our kids, how can they carry on if they aren’t healthy?

First step ANYONE can take:

Don’t eat any food advertised on TV

Except eggs and milk, of course!

Sorry Jared, Subway needs a better way.

Make a sandwich from home. Learn to cook fresh foods and eliminate processed foods. It may take a while to actually accomplish this, but you will be rewarded with better health and more money in your pocket.

If each of us took one small step towards better eating and nutritious health, we could change a nation. We can start in our own homes.

The power of one can inspire another.

Apples are an all-American success story-each ...

Zink American Kitchen

Zink American Kitchen is a fabulous restaurant here in Charlotte, NC. They have a menu feature called “Feed Me Chef” which I thoroughly enjoy.

Last night I took Tyler and Robert out for dinner for the Feed Me Chef. (Robert didn’t have the “feed me” option but was well fed anyway!)

Tyler at dinner

Tyler at dinner

The premise is to tell them what you like, don’t like or have allergies to so they can create a 5-course menu for you. Our chef for the evening was Chef “DJ” Donald Ivey, Jr a graduate of Johnson & Wales University. He has been recently promoted to a sous chef position at Zink and if what I ate last night is any indication of what he can do, he has a bright future in front of him for sure.

Settling in for Feed Me Chef!

Settling in for Feed Me Chef!

Our First Course was a salad from “Rosemary Pete” a local vegetable and herb grower.

Something really nice about Zink is that they know who is growing their vegetables and source locally as much as they can. Rosemary Pete got his name by selling rosemary at local farmers markets. I must say the vegetables were spectacular.

DJ pointed out each vegetable he used on each plate. You can tell he was as proud of those vegetables as he was the beautiful proteins he served us.

We indulged in exotic radishes, turnips marinated in Prosecco and vanilla; bok choy and garnet potatoes.

The small touches like preserved lemons, micro greens and smooth as silk peanut fondue and fresh crisp house made caramel corn really put the meal in high gourmet category.

Most plates went back clean, what was left we brought home. After a while your stomach just gets full and rather than forgo any courses, a nice taste and then eat the rest later.

I just finished the last of my lamb course a few minutes ago and the flavor and aroma’s brought back the entertainment of watching the cooks working back and forth; paying precise attention to every task, sliding across the floor and working in tandem with each other.

I love watching a kitchen at work. I suppose that might be because I did it for so many years and I recognize the value of a well orchestrated team.

Feed Me Chef Dinner Menu

December 27, 2012

-First Course-

Rosemary Pete’s Spicy Greens

Turnips marinated in Prosecco and vanilla, exotic radishes, pomegranate seeds, bleu cheese and preserved lemons

Rosemary Pete's Spicy Greens Salad

Rosemary Pete’s Spicy Greens Salad

-Second Course-

Braised Pork Belly

Melted sweet dumpling squash, Pete’s bok choy, House made chow-chow and apple cider reduction

Braised Pork Belly

Braised Pork Belly

Melt in your mouth tender

Melt in your mouth tender

Did they like it?

Did they like it?

Kitchen view

Kitchen view

-Third Course-

Corn Crusted Grouper

Pete’s carrots, snow peas, purple sweet potatoes, red bell peppers and celery root puree

Corn Crusted Grouper

Corn Crusted Grouper

Another view of the Corn Crusted Grouper

Another view of the Corn Crusted Grouper

Chef's at work

Chef’s at work

-Fourth Course-

Charred Onion Marinated Lamb

Fingerling sweet potatoes, Russian black kale, fried red peppers and apple butter

Charred Onion Marinated Lamb

Charred Onion Marinated Lamb

Charred onion Marinated Lamb; another view

Charred onion Marinated Lamb; another view

-Fifth Course-

Molten Chocolate Cake

Vanilla ice cream and peanut butter fondue

IMG_4885

Molten Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Fondue

Although Robert didn’t order the Feed Me

A bit of Robert's salad

A bit of Robert’s salad

option, he had a salad and their award-winning White Turkey Chili and a house salad.

House made caramel corn

House made caramel corn

What a suburb experience! Every morsel was full of flavor, complementing textures and extremely high quality in every detail.

Zink American Kitchen is located at 4310 Sharon Road Suite W01, Charlotte, NC 28211

(704) 909-5500 is the number to call for reservations or use Open Table. However, you will need to talk to the staff to arrange your unique menu.

We have had Chef Amy Kumpf and Chef DJ Ivey create some amazing meals, I suggest you experience it too, soon.

“Feed Me Chef!”

Our dear friend June had a mile marker birthday recently. Our gift to her was to go out to the “Feed Me Chef” dinner at Zink American Kitchen in Charlotte, NC.

Robert and June

What a wonderful experience! The premise of the Feed Me Chef dinner is to sit around the bar area that is right up to and nearly in the kitchen. The chef will then create a 5 course meal for you of their choosing.

You can watch the kitchen in action

Sitting there, you get a birds-eye view of the kitchen operations from gearing up, getting slammed with the dinner rush and then slowing down slightly as we left 2 hours later.

The hostess had called earlier in the day to ask about allergies, diet restrictions and if there was anything in particular we wanted. These parameters were given to Chef Amy who in turn gets to be creative and create a 5 course meal.

The kitchen crew operated very well together. There was clear communication, effective movements and great looking food. Everyone knew their job and did it well. It was great entertainment.

And you want to know something? In this open kitchen all the crew, both front and back of the house, were so polite not only to the guests, but most important, to each other.

“Please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me”, all used frequently amongst the staff even when they were at their slammed best. How refreshing.

Chef Amy Kumpf

Our chef this evening was Amy Kumpf who was delightful, fun, charming, very skilled and knowledgeable in her craft. If was a lot of fun to watch her and her crew work through the dinner rush, very smooth.

She planned a menu for us and paired the wine for each course. Settling in, our meal began.

Course #1

Yellow Tomato Caprese Salad

Yellow Tomato Caprese

Instead of using fresh basil, Amy fried the basil for the salad. The result was delicate umami touched with sweet tomato that danced around in your mouth with a party going on.

Amy reduced balsamic vinegar to a coating glaze which she drizzled over the assembled salad. She chose yellow tomatoes, delicious fresh mozzarella, fried basil and balsamic reduction.

Definitely whetted the appetite. It was beautiful and delicious.

To pair wine with this course, Amy chose Cooper Mountain Pinot Grigio from Willamette Vally.

Perfect pairing.

Course #2

Plancha Seared Snapper with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Cucumber Salsa

Snapper in Tangine

This dish alone would be worthy to come back for again and again. Fabulous!

The cucumber salsa had mango, red peppers, mint, honey and other things. It was very well made, knife skills showed.

Fire roasted tomatoes are roasted and grilled with red peppers and blended to create  a lovely sauce they use on several dishes from pizza to our snapper. This was served in  crisp white Moroccan style tangine.

Tangine

Wine paring: Chamisal Vineyards 2011 Central Coast Stainless Chardonnay (unoaked) Crisp and perfect with the complex flavors of this dish.

Course #3

Hickory Salmon

Hickory Salmon with Slow Cooked Potatoes and Asparagus

Another genius dish. The potatoes went so well with the salmon, sweet 100 tomatoes are slow roasted to add a sweet acid punch to the richness of the potatoes and  salmon. Additionally on the plate were fennel confit and melted leeks. Eating this was a pure pleasure experience.

Wine pairing: For some odd reason I didn’t record the Pinot noir chosen for this dish. It was the only one we thought didn’t complement the food. We enjoyed the wine tremendously, just didn’t like the paring.

Perhaps another Pinot with a fruitier base as most US Pinots are known. This one was in the “Burgundian” style which made it rich and robust with full tannins. These rich robust wines are normally my preference. But not with this dish.

The sweet salty nature of the salmon and the delicate texture of the fish wanted something a bit milder.

Course #4

Grilled Flank Steak with Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce and Shaved Asparagus

Seasoned and grilled to perfection. The meat was tender, juicy and full of flavor.

Shaved asparagus was created by peeling asparagus length wise with a “Y” peeler. You can do a lot with a vegetable and a Y peeler. Here, Amy created ‘pasta’ for us with thin shavings of asparagus.

Grilled Flank Steak

By this time we were getting full.  So I tasted everything and then decided to bring the rest of this dish home to eat for lunch and jump into dessert.

Wine Pairing: Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2009

Course #5

Warm Apple Compote, Whipped Caramel Cream, Orange Confit, Dulche de Leche and Dark Chocolate

I got a pleasant surprise when the dessert chef came out. She was a student of mine. She said she was nervous but for no reason. Her dessert fit the bill perfectly. (No flour products – part of Junes diet; hence the asparagus pasta.)

Pastry Chef Sheena

Although our tummies were full, we managed to consume every bite.

Brilliant wine paring and fine ending to a great meal: Late  Harvest Mer Soliel

Apple Compote

Robert and me

All in all, we had a great meal and an outstanding evening. I could eat like that every time we go out. The idea of not knowing what your next course will be is intriguing.

We will have to do this again soon and I suggest you go find a place near you who does this kind of service. Ask at your favorite restaurant. Sometimes this style of dining is called a “Chef’s Table” and sometimes tables are in the kitchen. Depends on what the health code is in your area. You may discover such tables need to be reserved well in advance.

We had a delightful interaction with the staff. The entire evening was great fun.

Naturally, if you find yourself in Charlotte, NC, head over to South park and stop in at Zink and say “Feed Me Chef!”

You will be glad you did.

These photos were taken in low-light conditions of the restaurant with the i-phone 4.

Basic Knowledge Every Cook Should Know: Part 1

These are some basic points of knowledge I believe every cook should know.

Knowing how to do these things can make your food more flavorful, easier, cheaper and lots of fun.

In no particular order:

Make your own creme fraiche, yogurt and sour cream

The procedure is basically the same for each.

Yield: 1 quart

1 quart heavy cream or half and half (for sour cream and creme fraiche) or milk (yogurt)

1/3 cup starter culture:

Creme fraiche – buttermilk

Sour cream -  sour cream

Yogurt -  yogurt, plain

Place the dairy product into a non-reactive pot and bring to 185°F. Remove from heat and cool to below 75°F.

For yogurt, add 1 cup dry milk powder and 1 tbsp honey or other liquid sweetener such as agave syrup or maple syrup while heating.

Add the starter cultures after cooling; stir it in well.

Cover and leave in a warm spot overnight or for 12-18 hours. The product is ready when it has thickened.

To make a Greek style yogurt, pour the thickened yogurt into a quadruple folded cheesecloth. Tie the corners so the yogurt can hang from a wooden spoon suspended over a bowl to catch the dripping whey. Overnight is usually sufficient to thicken the yogurt to  “Greek” style thickness.  The key to a thicker yogurt consistency is using dry milk powder.

Refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.

Learn to make Half Sour Pickles

These are considered a “fresh” pickle

Ingredients for half sour pickles

Yield: 1 quart

1 quart wide mouth canning jar with new 2-piece lid. Sterilize the jar in the dishwasher, NOT the 2-piece lid

2 pounds pickling cucumbers, cut into spears or leave whole if desired

Brine:

1/4 oz dill sprigs

2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed

1 bay leaf

1 quart water (32 ounces)

3 ounces salt

4 ounces white vinegar

Boil enough water to cover the 2-piece lid. Place the 2-piece canning lid in a mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over the canning lid.

Set aside until ready to use.

Place the dill, garlic and bay leaf into the bottom of a 1 quart wide mouth canning jar. Pack the cucumbers on top.

Bring the water, salt and vinegar to a boil and pour directly over cucumbers. Place the canning lid on the jar; turn upside down and cool. Refrigerate.

Allow pickles to steep 24 hours before eating.

They are good until they are gone, which won’t be long.

Make your own “signature” butter

1# butter (European style preferably)

1/4-1/2 cup of your favorite combination of high quality dried herbs. Using dried herbs, garlic and onions are essential here due to a food safety standpoint.

Mix the butter (soft, of course) and the herbs all together in a mixer. Begin with the lower amount and add more, adjusting to the taste level you like.

Form into a log using parchment paper. Wrap in cellophane or package into small plastic food storage containers and refrigerate.

Use the butter for saute, on bread, rolls, over vegetables, gnocchi, pasta, potatoes, steaks, seafood and so much more.

This alone will give your food character and a flavor profile that will identify you!

For food safety reasons, please use dried herbs and spices for this. However, you can use fresh citrus zest but keep the product cold!

Make your own Seasoning Salts

Seasoning Salts

Use 1 cup of salt. The kind of salt does matter. Do NOT use iodized table salt. That kind of salt should be used for driveways in the winter. There are so many better choices. Not sure about what kinds of salt there are? See my article on Salt.

To make your seasoning salt: Choose your favorite herbs, spices or citrus zest. Mince them fine and stir them into the salt. Allow to mellow a day before using. The salt will “dry out” the seasonings so it is alright to use fresh flavorings here, but not in your butter.

Use these seasoning salts as finishing salts, to top your loaves of bread or rolls, to season a crisp radish or to top a grilled steak or baked potato.

Simple, easy, and the flavor enhancement really goes a long way. Don’t spend the money on gourmet salt blends when you can make your own, have better quality and  all that is much more friendly on your wallet.

Make your own unique fresh ground pepper blends

Every serious cook has a pepper grinder to use for fresh pepper, right? If not, go get one. Fresh ground pepper is necessary.

Instead of just adding plain black peppercorns to your grinder, add whole allspice, white, green, pink and Szechuan  peppercorns. Add broken cinnamon sticks, a clove or 2 or 3, fennel seeds, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds to the mix as well.

This will create a wonderful complex flavor enhancement whenever you crank a few rounds from your grinder.

Grow your own fresh herbs

Thai basil

Having access to fresh herbs is not only wonderful, but a great time and money saver as well. See my article about growing your own herbs here. There is a lot of information and links to buying herbs and other products from trusted sites.

Make perpetual vanilla extract

I posted an article about how to do this recently. You can access “How To Make Vanilla Extract”here.

making vanilla extract

Doing this is so easy and the flavor of this extract is far better than anything you can buy, even the best vanilla extract out there.

Just be sure to start with quality ingredients and be patient for 6 months. You will then have a lifetime supply.

Coming in Basic Knowledge Part 2:

  • Learn to make a simple loaf of bread
  • Make flavored vinegar and infused oils
  • Create your own favorite Fresh Vinaigrette to use for salads, marinades, or dips

And much more.

Is there anything YOU want to learn about? Leave a comment and let me know.