Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What is "Healthy Food" to you?

In the past few weeks, I've had the chance to ponder the question "What is healthy food?" It seems that many of us have very different perceptions. Maybe that's what stands in our way some times, we think healthy food and healthy eating is not obtainable.

It would be so much easier if my brain did not crave things like salty chips or sweet cookies but the reality is, it does. Maybe it's a combination of many years of being bombarded with advertising to make me think I want it or maybe it's as simple as it satisfies something in my head. I didn't take enough psychology in college to answer that. I do know if it's around me (like it is now as I write; you wouldn't believe what is at the end of the table at my sister's house) I'm less likely to eat well.

In my older years, I have realized that if I allow myself a little rather than denying myself entirely, I can balance the cravings with the reality of what I think I should eat. When I bake cookies, for example, I often freeze over half of them. When I need something sweet, it's defrosted in a matter of minutes. At least the treat is homemade; that I can rationalize.

One definitive difference when I compare myself now with myself of 10 years ago, is that I really don't eat a lot of processed food any more. I worry less about the calories and more about whether or not it's "real" food. Now, if you see me at In n' Out (the only fast food hamburger restaurant I will go to), all bets are off. Otherwise, most of what we eat is just real food. I have stopped buying fat-free and sugar-free foods and still can maintain my weight. The old me would not have believed that but the new me understands why.

There's a video on YouTube in which someone makes a "Healthy Breakfast". The person truly believes he is trying to help the viewer with his tips. In his dish, he uses egg substitute, a slice of fat-free American cheese and fat-free sour cream on the side. Yes, he did serve some vegetables with it but hardly a serving. Wow. If someone served me that "healthy breakfast", I'd run for the hills. Sorry, that's not my thing. But it was so eye-opening at the same time.

What I deem as healthy seems very obvious but clearly it's not the same for everyone. At some point in my life, I started to really look at labels in the grocery store. That's when I started putting things back on the shelf. If it had ingredients I couldn't pronounce, additives, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup or trans fats, as hard as it might have been, I put it back. I did this for my own health as much as I did it for the health of my family. Try to do this at a conventional supermarket. You may walk out with much less in your cart.

My best advice is to keep things simple. Our bodies need basic nutrients: protein, carbs, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Although it's not a nutrient, fiber is something we should get as a result of food that is nutrient dense like vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

For me, shopping in regular super markets became very difficult so that's when I shifted to more natural grocery stores. The food, especially the produce, tastes better and I feel better about it. I like to say that I spend money on food and not going to the doctor or the drugstore for prescriptions. That's just how I see it.

When I teach cooking classes, I explain that my take on healthy eating has evolved over the past 8 years. I feel like now I get it. I may not always practice what I preach, but I think I have a good handle on what is healthy.

So as you start the new year, instead of hopping on a new diet or food trend, be honest with yourself and decide "what is healthy" for you.

Happy New Year and of course, healthy eating to you and your family!

ps I just want to remind you that I am neither a dietitian nor a doctor. This is just how I see it. Take this advice with a grain of (sea) salt!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Creamy butternut squash, quinoa and spinach recipe

The blend of squash, spinach and coconut oil gives this dish a nice balance

When asked to create a dish for the Food Wise booth at the CUESA's Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market, I looked to the availability of what was fresh that week for inspiration. There were plenty of greens, squashes and brussel sprouts as well as tomatoes and eggplant. Well, the squash and greens won me over, especially considering the time of year. So, I added a little of this and a little of that to create this recipe.

When I say it's easy, I mean it. Once you have the squash roasted and the quinoa made, it's just a matter of preferences and what is in the house. Here are the main components:
  • Roasted squash with onion and garlic (use any squash or even sweet potato)
  • Cooked quinoa (but you could use rice or pasta but the quinoa has more nutrition)
  • Nuts (I've used toasted sliced almonds as well as chopped roasted and salted pistachios)
  • Dried fruit (for example, cranberries or raisins; pomegranate would be good as well)
  • Cooked green (I loved using spinach but chard or dino kale would work, too)
  • Coconut oil (just a little added a nice balance between the squash and the green; you could use coconut milk instead of the cream)
  • Goat cheese (I love the tanginess to offset the sweet; see the vegan option below)
  • Cream (just a touch to make it...creamy!)
I can usually judge a dish by how quickly we run out and, what I like to call the "umm"-factor. When people make that yummy noise out loud, I can tell it's a home run. So maybe this fall, instead of a standard dish you make all of the time, try this one. It's healthy, easy and tasty (and also gluten-free). Enjoy!

Butternut Squash, Quinoa and Spinach

1/2 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tbl olive oil
¼ tsp ground pepper
2 pinches of sea salt
2-3 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 c chopped nuts (sliced almond, pine or walnut; you can use pistachio as well but do not toast)
1 c red or white quinoa
2 c vegetable broth
2 tsp coconut oil
2 c fresh spinach, washed and chopped (or 1 pkg frozen, defrosted and squeezed dry)
1/2 c dried cranberries
1-2 Tbl heavy cream
4 oz goat cheese
1 tsp honey or agave nectar
Sea salt and pepper to taste

This recipe has 4 steps: roast the squash and onion, toast the nuts, cook the quinoa and spinach and mix everything together.
  1. Toss squash and onion with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Roast in a 400F oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden and squash is softened. Add garlic for the last 3 minutes of cooking. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. While that roasts, prepare the other ingredients. Toast nuts in a pan until golden brown. Cool.
  3. Rinse quinoa if it has not been rinsed already, add to a pot with vegetable broth, bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook covered about 15-18 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Add coconut oil (if you add it while the quinoa is hot, the coconut oil will melt). If you are using raw spinach, add to the quinoa once it has finished cooking. If you are using cooked spinach, add with the other ingredients.
  4. Cool quinoa for about 5-10 minutes.
  5. Combine quinoa, roasted squash and onion, nuts, cranberries, cream and goat cheese. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
Vegan option: omit cream and goat cheese. Replace with 1/2 c coconut milk and 1/2 tsp additional sea salt.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sweet potato and millet cake recipe

Our local grocery store has these delightful patties in their deli case from time to time. I decided to seize the moment and make my own version. I didn't even look at the ingredients but I did google "sweet potato millet cake" and the first thing that came up was a recipe on a parrot website for a cake for parrots. Yes, someone has a website with recipes for parrots.

I decided to not use it since "cuttlebone" was one of the ingredients. Instead, I used what I thought would taste good. Even though millet is often used for birdseed, this time I wanted something a bit more savory.

Millet is a relatively new grain in my repertoire. It's not only good for you but it has great flavor. It cooks up sort of "spongey" and is great to absorb something liquidy like a stew. It's naturally gluten-free (as are the rest of the ingredients in the recipe). However, if you have Celiac disease, don't get the millet from the bulk bin; it could be cross-contaminated with gluten from other products.

Here's what I learned about millet from
Millet is an excellent source of iron and magnesium. It is also high in calcium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, and B vitamins. It has the highest iron content of any grain except amaranth and quinoa. The natural alkalinity of millet makes it easily digestible, so it is very beneficial for people with ulcers and digestive problems. It is believed to be one of the least allergenic of all grains.

So, try this one night as a side dish or even a meal. Sweet potatoes (these are the orange ones; yams are really yellow and big) are full of vitamins (A, B6 and C) and minerals (maganese, iron and potassium). So, a "cake" made with both is a double-whammy of nutrition.

When I presented it to my 6 yr old, his reaction was "Yum!". The almost 5 yr old was not as enthusiastic but it could have been her mood. I enjoyed mine that day for lunch with a salad.

Here's the recipe but it's really about the process. Since the moisture content of the potatoes can vary, the recipe is more of a guideline. I hope you'll try it!

Sweet Potato and Millet Cakes (naturally gluten-free)

1/2 c millet, rinsed (see note from above)
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 tsp each pepper, thyme, cumin and curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes, baked or microwaved
1-2 eggs
Oil for frying like safflower or olive

1. Add 1/2 c millet, 1 1/4 c water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Cover and cook 20-25 minutes or until all of the water is evaporated.

2. Meanwhile, saute the onion in the olive oil with the spices. Don't add the salt yet. Cook until the onion is soft and golden brown.

3. While the onion cooks, mash the sweet potato and add salt and one egg.

4. Once the millet and onions have cooled, mix with the sweet potato and egg. If the mixture seems dry, add the other egg.

5. Form into patties and cook over medium heat until golden on each side. Alternatively, bake in a 400F oven on a greased cookie sheet, for about 20 minutes, turning once.

6. Try serving with a cumin-scented cream (a little bit of cumin mixed with sour cream; I know it sounds fancy, doesn't it!).