Nutrition can be a political fight, but there is one area where everyone agrees -- vegan, Mediterranean, even Paleo -- is on the importance of the kitchen. Your relationship with your kitchen is as important as any other relationship in your life, and like all relationships it takes a little work. But the rewards are huge! So what, you ask, are the elements of a healthy relationship with your kitchen? There are three: atmosphere, enjoyment, and materials. Let's talk about each of them in turn -- consider this your first kitchen couples' counseling session!
I use the kitchen as a stress-reliever -- the more stressed I am, the more delicious my food is, like in the movie Like Water for Chocolate. I try to set a mood in the kitchen, create a sense of atmosphere that turns cooking into a pleasure. Think about it -- you use music to inspire your workouts, why not your cooking? If you enjoy what you're doing, it encourages you to do it, and improves the results. For me, it's Latin music, but you can fill your iPod up with whatever get you going! Your kitchen should be full of flavors, colors and smells that excite you, along with great sounds.
Cooking is actually a lot like playing an instrument: It takes practice and respect and patience, and you're going to make a lot of mistakes. The more you enjoy these, rather than letting them discourage you, the better. Make mistakes! You need to make them in order to learn. When I first started cooking for myself I used to burn everything, but through practice I learned. I had a client who tried to make a simple pasta and sauce and made a total mess of it; the sauce was bland and anyway, he couldn't get it and the noodles done at the same time. But he didn't let that stop him -- he laughed and decided to start the pasta later, and to add herbs and seasonings. You, like he, will make mistakes -- and that's ok. You have to know that each mistake brings you closer to mastery. And if you do get frustrated, try to remember that at least you know what's in the food, whereas with processed food or at a restaurant you never, ever really do.
Speaking of instruments, I see so many rich, beautiful kitchens with amazing pots and pans and appliances -- but they never get used. Who cares if you have the latest kitchen technology if you never actually cook anything? In order to be a successful cook you need just five things. That's right, five. And here they are: 1) a cutting board, 2) a good, sharp knife, 3) a saucepan, 4) a roasting pan, 5) a blender.
That's it. Why just those four? Because most of us are not going to make an elaborate meal every day. Instead, all you need to do is use these four implements to cook once -- once -- per week, perhaps on Sunday afternoon, and spread the food out through the week. I am going to give you four recipes that I have perfected through many years of making mistakes, four recipes that are reliably delicious, that you can make using just these five implements, and that will last you through the entire week.
Servings: 6 This recipe is unique in that the high temperature and short cooking time will result in a flavorful chicken breast that is both moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. Ingredients: 6 skinless chicken breasts Juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup) 2 tablespoons olive oil ¼ cup oregano Salt, black pepper and garlic powder to taste Equipment: Large roasting pan Directions: 1.Preheat oven to 450F. 2.Place chicken breasts in a roasting pan. Pour lemon juice and olive oil over breasts and toss to coat. 3.Sprinkle chicken breasts with oregano and spices to taste and toss to coat. 4.Bake chicken for 22 minutes until crisp and golden on the outside and moist on the inside. 5.Remove from heat and let cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Servings: 12 This is similar to a traditional ratatouille, and it is incredibly versatile. Roasted vegetables can be served as side, added to pasta sauces and made into soups, like the quick and easy "Roasted Vegetable Soup" recipe listed below. Ingredients: 1 large red onion 2 red bell peppers 4 medium zucchini 1 eggplant 1 large cauliflower, florets only Salt, black pepper and garlic powder to taste Olive oil Equipment: Large roasting pan Spatula Directions: 1.Preheat oven to 400F. 2.Coat a large roasting pan with olive oil. 3.Cut vegetables into large pieces and place in roasting pan. 4.Drizzle with olive oil and salt, black pepper and garlic powder to taste. 5.Roast vegetables for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir and bake for another 5-10 minutes until desired color and tenderness.
Servings: 6 Ingredients: 6 cups roasted vegetables (recipe above) 3-5 cups vegetable or chicken stock Salt and pepper to taste Equipment: Blender 8 quart pot Wooden spoon Directions: 1.Working in batches, place half of the roasted vegetables in a blender with enough stock to puree. Pour puree into pot. Repeat with remaining vegetables. 2.Add enough stock to achieve desired consistency. 3.Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. 4.Heat over low heat until heated through.
Servings: 6 Roasted sweet potatoes make a great accompaniment to any dish. They are an excellent side dish when served hot out of the oven, but also add a nice sweet bite when added to soups and salads Ingredients: 6 medium sweet potatoes 1/8 cup coconut oil Salt to taste Equipment: Large roasting pan Spatula Directions: 1.Preheat oven to 400F. 2.Slice sweet potatoes into 1-inch-thick rounds. Arrange in a single layer in roasting pan. 3.Melt coconut oil and pour over sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with salt to taste and toss to coat. 4.Bake for 20-30 minutes until tender. Cool before serving.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Embrace Your Hunger, and Keep Weight Off for Good and his new book Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes (October 2013)
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