Sunday, January 8, 2012

Not-so Extreme Makeover, Menu Edition

There's nothing like a little hospital drama and a surgical procedure to steer things back into focus.

DH has two sets of parents (well, four, if you count the two older sisters and their significant others, but I'll leave that one for another time).  Both sets of parents have passed their 80th year and have substantial medical histories.  One ushered in the New Year with an emergency heart procedure.  After a single night of "recovery" in the hospital (as much as one can recover in a bright, noisy place like a hospital), this inlaw was sent home with an arterial stint, a nice big bruise, and a healthy diet plan.

DH remarked that any individual on the other side of 80 might have a difficult time changing practically everything about their diet.  A change like this might be good for someone, oh, say, in their mid-40s who's been having trouble sleeping and was told by the doctor to lose weight and exercise more.  DH and I both have heart disease, diabetes, and blood pressure complications in our family histories.  The first recommendation for prevention of each of these conditions is to eat less and move more.  Eat better, eat healthier.  Move under your own power.  We can do this.  Our lives depend upon it.

The Dog is COMPLETELY on board.  Walk, walk, walk.  The Dog knows the word "walk" and practically leashes herself when she hears it.  Wag, wag, wag.

Truthfully, this won't require much change around our kitchen, because (as we've demonstrated well already) I love to cook.  From "scratch".  I'm a veteran of many, many diet plans (mostly healthy and focused on fresh foods and portion control) and a life-long Weight Watcher.  When I heard this buy-in from DH, I sprang into action.  Well, not really, but it's given me something to really sink my teeth into.  Figuratively, at least.

Seeing myself not only as the feeder of the flock but the caretaker of their nutrients and physiology has given me pause.  I appreciate the daunting task ahead.  Not only will I love my people by cooking them tasty food, I will cook them healthy food so I can love them all that much longer.  Scaling back on the fats, sugars, and meats is a challenge, but not one we can't overcome.  This does not mean a constant menu of diet salad (hold the mayo) and cottage cheese.  Portion control is the elephant in the room.  So to speak.

Well, this artisan blog has turned into a food blog as well, so why not?

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.

Today's bite is to reduce chemicals in our lives.  Specifically, the additives and preservatives prevalent in prepared foods.  I'm not a big fan of prepackaged food or mixes or anything, well, "convenient" because I find them high in sodium and other chemicals.  That's not to say I'm a purist, and certainly not perfect, because you are still likely to find convenience foods in my cart on any given trip to the grocery.

However, as I cook more and experiment some and consult the world wide web of electronic information, I'm getting better at this.  Better at finding healthy, tasty substitutions for some of the more-convenient and less-nutritious products out there.  I get frustrated by company websites which use more prepackaged ingredients (which, of course, they sell) than what I call "elemental" ingredients, or food in its somewhat close-to-basic form.  I'm not grinding my own wheat for flour, at least not yet, but I am perfectly capable of mixing flour and baking powder together.  I don't need to buy it in a box and pay for the brand name and the chemicals required to give it a long shelf life.  In the box.

As we cook more at home with fresher or simpler ingredients, we find it increasingly difficult to accept the saltiness of prepared-by-others foods.  This means eating out less, because our choices here are limited.  That's OK, too.  We'll save the eating out for when we travel.

So, here's my favorite make-from-scratch, save-the-sodium, love my heart and DH's blood pressure substitution for... condensed cream of chicken (or cream of anything) soup.

Many, many of the working-mom-time-saving-recipes out there call for some sort of condensed cream soup.  I've jettisoned a host of recipes simply because I refuse to keep these little cans of high blood pressure bait in the pantry.

Hold on, though.  These little conveniences, laden with so much sodium one bite makes my body feel like it's at high tide, came from somewhere to fill some need.  They were canned to replace something that was important to a lot of someones before they became so convenient.

That something is White Sauce.  Sauce Bechamel, if you would like to be fancy - named for 17th-century French financier and courtier Louis de Bechamel.  Probably found its way to the United States via Monticello.  It has an "unassertive characther and smooth texture, which make it the ideal agent to thicken and bind a wide range of dishes".  Thank you, Ethan Becker and Joy of Cooking

If you make Bechamel the Joy way, it takes about 30 minutes and involves simmering milk gently to infuse the taste of bay leaf and cloves.  I've done this and it makes a truly lovely sauce.  It's worth it if the sauce is for finishing a dish.

If it's used for a binder in a casserole or a thickener for soup, however, the Joy version is far too fussy.  Noted author and voracious reader Madeleine L'Engle wrote in her autobiography that she read constantly, even as she stirred the white sauce for dinner.  That is the sort of not-fussy thickener/binder I want.

Here's what's in a white sauce:  a little flour, some butter, some milk, some stock, and a little elbow grease.  That's all.  Maybe a dash of nutmeg to finish it up.  No more time required than it would take to open and scrape out a tin can.  A few fat calories and a couple of carbohydrates, but nothing a portion-controlled diet can't accommodate.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  Hold the lemon.

Cream of Chicken Soup Substitute (for healthy hearts)

1 T. flour
3 T. butter
1/2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. milk
salt and pepper (and a grind of nutmeg), to taste

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in the flour and continue whisking until smooth and bubbly.
Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the chicken broth and milk. Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly, until the soup thickens.
Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.
Substitute this for one can of cream of chicken soup.

Substitution Queen thinks cream of celery or cream of mushroom are just as simple, with a little simmering of the vegetable in slightly salty water to make the veggie stock, then continue as written. I'll let you know.

No comments: