The quick answer: Recipes are often family heirlooms, but those from the last century may require "healthing-up".
I’ve renewed my intention to keep posts under 1000 words so can’t tell the whole story of our recent trip to Sacramento. Except to say we attended the funeral of the beautiful wife’s namesake Aunt Clare; had dinner with my Mom who gave us some of her delicious Heavenly Hash (mixed berry jam) and prized Christmas fruitcake; and stopped at Elk Grove Walnut Co. for just-harvested walnuts at $5/lb., shelled. (Yes you can get some, just Email: email@example.com.)
But I did tell the walnut lady the lovely story of how Aunt Clare’s husband died after a 50-year marriage and how she rediscovered her first true love, whose wife had also died, and how through the years each had saved a portrait of the other, and how at 80 he swept her off her feet, again, so they could spend their last years holding hands in Hawaii. Which simply proved that Robert Browning was right when he penned,
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made . . . .
As I turned to leave, the walnut lady, wiping a tear from her eye, thanked me for sharing the story.
Nor can I tell how my Mom’s dad, a hard rock miner, died of pneumonia when she was just two, and how she and her widowed mom survived the Depression by the grace of God and the kindness of her Aunt Kate (she of Aunt Kate’s Chili Sauce), and how through the hard years Mom came to cherish the promise of Christmas future. I can’t even tell the story of how at the moment she turned from girl to young woman, when she expected nothing for Christmas, her mother surprised her with a beautiful green gown that she later wore to the dance where she dazzled her husband-to-be. Well, actually, that story has to be told—next week we’ll set food aside and tell a Christmas story.
Cooking and Flavor
By now you know I can’t resist a good story. But the real subject of this post is how to improve old recipes. On our drive to Sacramento I read Mark Bittman’s Ebook, Cooking Solves Everything: How Time in the Kitchen Can Save Your Health, Your Budget, and Even the Planet. It’s short, meant to be read in one sitting, and echoes the argument we’ve made here: If you want good health, cook! I didn’t realize when I started this blog that home cooking would be the key to health.
Bittman, in his Ebook, shared his three favorite flavors for improving a dish:
- A squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
- Highlight with smoked paprika. (Not the old stuff sitting in your spice drawer waiting for you to make deviled eggs, but Spanish paprika, also known as pimenton.)
- Toss on whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, chopped. (This works best, I think, if you have a herb garden, or at least some leftover parsley, cilantro, or thyme.)
Bottom line: It's best to make your own stock. The picture (above) shows the evolution of stock. Campbell's broth, mixed as directed, costs $3.34 per quart. Swanson's Chicken broth is $3.39. Maggi's chicken bouillon flakes are cheaper but the ingredient list starts with "salt, cornstarch, MSG, hydrogenated palm oil", etc. Actually, all these imitations of old-fashioned chicken stock are high in sodium (salt) and artificial ingedients. The tastiest, cheapest, and healthiest is our homemade chicken stock (shown in the pint Mason jar).
Saving Old Recipes
Have you looked through the recipes of a grandmother or great-aunt who has passed on? If so you will notice that between the World Wars, food began to be modernized, i.e. made more convenient, or more factory-processed. Food Inc. accelerated meal preparation, but didn't tell us they were also speeding up our aging process.
Stock, as shown above, was replaced by high-salt, low-taste, factory substitutes. Lard was replaced by Crisco, or hydrogenated vegetable oils. And the amount of sugar in cakes and cookies approached the amount of flour, which was refined and bleached. If you love those old recipes, here are some tips I’ve collected to "health" them up. (Yes, "health" can also be a verb.)
- Flour: Use whole grain flours, or a mixture, in place of refined flours.
- Sugar: Minimize the use of sugar; reduce sugar by ½, or at least by ¼.
- Broth: If a recipe calls for store-bought chicken broth, Campbell’s, or chicken bouillon cubes—pull out your homemade chicken stock. Last week I made three batches of Skip’s Potato Soup. For the 3rd batch I forgot to take my chicken stock out of the freezer so, because I was in a hurry, I used store-bought. We could tell the difference—the soup was good but the flavor was diluted.
- Fat: Only use healthy fats. Ignore the call for Crisco and substitute butter, or lard if you’re experienced. Instead of refined vegetable oils, use butter, olive oil, coconut oil, or cold-pressed organic oils.
- Low-cal stuff: Minimize low-calorie versions of food. There are no studies—to my knowledge—showing any benefit from low-calorie food products. The best way to reduce calories is to avoid refined foods in favor of whole foods. Whole foods are full of fiber and fill you with way less calories.
- Ditto for low-sodium products. Less salt is better but some, especially if prescribed by your doc. But the bigger issue for most if that salt is mainly found in processed foods. Lowering the sodium doesn’t restore the lost nutrients. Often low-sodium foods are higher in sugar.
- Vegetables: To increase your intake, puree your produce and add it to entrees, sauces, and soups.
Please comment, share your share your favorite healthy recipes, or your favorite healthy cookbooks. In the next post we’ll tell how the Sunday roasted chicken got processed into those frozen chicken nuggets.
Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.