Monday, June 16, 2008

Being Food Brave

Welcome back to “Hey, I Can Eat That.” I hope you had fun making pizzas. I’m sure you came up with some great new combinations. ‘Fess up, now. How many of you stayed with the tried and true pizza toppings? You know, peppers, cheese (or cheese substitute), sausage. That sort of thing. How many of you bravely reached for some new flavors? Anyone try apples and onions? How about pears with ham instead of pineapple? Leave us some comments and tell us what you tried and how you liked it!

Since we talked about substitutions last time, I thought we might take some time today to talk about being ‘Food Brave’.

So, what do I mean by that? Well, as I said last time, one of my two big rules for cooking with substitutions is to be willing to try new and different combinations. In fact, to really foster the right frame of mind about this, we probably ought to change our vocabulary. Instead of saying we are substituting ingredients, let’s say we are trying alternative flavors. Sounds a lot more palatable, doesn’t it? Right. So, that’s what I mean about being Food Brave. Food Brave cooks are actively looking for new flavor combinations. But not just any old combinations. We’re taking on the challenge of creating new tastes that will also meet some important dietary considerations.

Let me insert a side note here. As you’ve probably already noticed, I’m very big on having a positive attitude toward living with food allergies, sensitivities and special dietary needs. I don’t like to consider them as restrictions. Goodness knows, there are times when I would dearly love to pour myself a tall, cold glass of milk. But I can’t sit around whining about what I shouldn’t have. Neither can you. Nor do you need to be an object of pity. Raise your hand if you’ve spent entire meals with friends having to outline specifics of what you can and should not eat. Not a great deal of fun, is it? Instead, I’d much rather spend my time talking about all the great recipes I do cook and enjoy. I’m not really trying to be extra perky and sparkly about it. I’m just trying to keep things in a more positive perspective. I hope you’ll do the same.

Okay. So here we are, ready to be very brave in the kitchen, right? Right. Where do we start? The easiest way to begin is to start with recipes we already know and enjoy. How about soup? Pick your favorite. For the sake of discussion, I’ll talk about beef and vegetable. I have quite a few vegetable allergies. I need to stay away from tomatoes so I would choose a beef stock or I’d make a vegetable stock of my own (probably celery and onion). Carrots, corn and green beans are also things for me to avoid so I need to find things to take their place. Broccoli adds some great texture and color. Potatoes add some starch in place of the corn and cauliflower adds some good crunch, too. Additionally, I’ll load up on big flavor producers like celery, onion and minced garlic (you might want to go easy on the onion if you’re serving this to someone who tends to have GERD as too much onion can exacerbate the problem). Adding some whole grain pasta or brown rice gives it a nice nutty flavor. By now, I’ve added in so many other flavors and textures, I won’t really miss the things I didn’t add.

You’ll notice that my ingredients were pretty straightforward and that’s fine. But you can certainly go further. There are many varieties of beans you can add, for example. How about dicing up some zucchini or butternut squash? How would it be if we added some asparagus tops right near the finish (careful not to overcook those since they get mushy)? Hearts of palm? Diced jicama? Rutebegas? Or maybe turnips?

Not everything is going to taste good, unfortunately. Once in awhile, you will bravely go where probably no cook should ever have gone. Sometimes, experiments go awry. If this happens to you, don’t let it stop you from experimenting. Just see yourself as being in company with the likes of Thomas Edison who proudly claimed to have found some 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. Right?

How do you choose which ingredients to use in an experiment such as our alternative beef and vegetable soup? Well, obviously, you’ll need to work with ingredients that are in keeping with the dietary needs of those eating. Make sure you’ve talked to your doctor or nutritionist about which foods are on your list and which are not and FOLLOW THEIR INSTRUCTIONS. I don’t want to hear about conversations like, “I know I shouldn’t eat turnips and now I’ll need to be on a steroid pack for the next month to control these hives, Doctor, but it isn’t my fault. Sandy said I had to be Food Brave so I put the turnips in the soup anyway.”

Also worth considering when you cook with alternative ingredients are your other senses. Food should look appetizing, smell wonderful and feel good in your mouth. Selecting a variety of colors in your ingredients will almost always result in a variety of smells and textures as well. Something to think about.

This also applies to selecting herbs and spices to supplement your recipes. Herbs and spices are generally what have me hanging over the stovetop, face as close to the pot as safety allows, clutching a handful of celery seed, minced garlic, crushed rosemary leaves or whatever else has come to hand. Smelling any of these ingredients separately can help you decide if it even appeals to you. But smelling them in combination can really give you a good idea of how the flavors will marry. Take the time to sniff!

So, after all that, who else is getting hungry for beef and vegetable soup? I’ll just be off to get the pot on the stove.

Until next time, let’s go eat that!

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