by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
During the holidays, Carol and I had the great fortune of spending time with our grandchildren. While dining at a restaurant, our oldest, who is 10, noticed a table sign indicating they would only serve straws upon request. She then surprised us by explaining the environmental challenges of plastic packaging and specifically straws. She was also very impressed with the fact that we had cloth bags that we take to the grocery store. It gave me hope that her generation, unlike some from my generation, realize there are climate and environmental issues that need to be addressed. Her insightful comments have given me the inspiration to write on some of my food related goals for the new year.
1. Try and recycle more and pay attention to the amount of plastic we use. I realize that advances in food processing and packaging play a primary role in keeping the United States’ food supply one of the safest in the world. Packaging protects food between processing and usage by the consumer.
At the start of this year, China has placed restrictions on imports of 24 kinds of solid waste from other countries. China has been the world’s largest importer and recycler of plastic, paper and scrap metal, so the restrictions, set to take full effect March 1, will have wide impact. According to Kate O’Neil, associate professor of global environmental politics at the University of California, Berkley, approximately half of the plastic waste that we throw away in recycling bins will wind up in a container ship on its way to China. The waste and scrap simply goes back in the holds of the container ships that bring all the consumer goods to us from China.
In our home we have reduced our reliance on plastic sandwich bags and now use reusable Rubbermaid storage containers.
2. Wine – Try some new ones. Carol and I have come a long way since our long ago days of enjoying on special nights a bottle of Mateus or Lancers. A goal for the new year will be to get out of my Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc rut and try new varietals.
Cabernet Franc, I have found, is a good alternative to Cabernet Sauvignon: they are related and Cabernet Franc is actually the “parent” to Cabernet Sauvignon. They are both native to the Bordeaux region of France and do well in the climates of France’s Loire Valley and in some areas of Virginia, Long Island, and Washington State in the U.S.
An alternative to Chardonnay is Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc can be made sweet or dry, still or sparkling, or somewhere in between. Chenin Blanc is native to the Loire Valley of France, where Chenin Blanc is particularly tasty in regions like Vouvray and Saumur and Anjou. Chenin Blanc is also grown in other parts of the world including South Africa, where it is the most-planted white grape in the country and often a great value.
3. Diet and exercise seem to be the top items on everyone’s resolutions list. If you are looking to change up your diet in the new year, go Mediterranean. The diet focuses on fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean meats like fish and is the best diet of 2019, according to rankings released recently from U.S. News and World Report.
Eating Mediterranean means embracing more plant-based foods, healthier oils like olive, as well as whole grains and lean meat. The rankings also list Mediterranean as the best for overall healthy eating and the easiest to follow. The Mediterranean diet is more than a diet; it is a lifestyle. When it comes to eating and portion size, one helpful Mediterranean principal is to eat as few meals as possible alone. When you share a meal with others, you tend to eat slower and are less likely to overeat.
I have written previously on a new partnership between Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Lincoln Land Community College Culinary Institute. This year we are planning a series of eating and healthy cooking classes for medical professionals and for our very popular, short-term Culinary Institute classes offered in our state-of-the-art food labs. They will be taught by Dr. Leslie Smith, the new director of integrative medicine, director of culinary medicine, and assistant professor at Southern Illinois School of Medicine. This is all part of a new SIU initiative called cHOP – Center for Human Organization and Potential.
4. New toys for the kitchen. A goal for Carol is that I do more cooking in 2019. To help meet that goal, she was one of the many who purchased an Instant Pot in 2018. I had some concerns and still remember as a child my mother’s old pressure cooker and the day it exploded. It was a mess!
We have tried a few items in our Instant Pot and are eager to try the recipe I have included at the end of this article. When we selected equipment for the culinary labs at the college, one that was very new at the time was a Sous Vide. At that time, they were thousands of dollars. Sous Vide is a method of cooking in which food is placed in a plastic pouch or a glass jar and cooked in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature. The temperature is much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55 to 60° C for meat, and higher for vegetables. The intent is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and to retain moisture.
Anova now has a Sous Vide unit for $99 and there is even an app for it. I have a birthday coming up, and this is a hint to my family for a possible gift.
5. I am a cookie lover and a personal resolution is to try a new variety that the Girl Scouts will be introducing in 2019: Caramel Chocolate Chip, and it is even gluten-free.
Instant Pot Spaghetti and Meatballs-Courtesy of The New York Times
For the Sauce:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 basil sprigs, plus more thinly sliced for serving
8 ounces spaghetti (not thin spaghetti), broken in half
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1 cup ricotta (optional)
For the Meatballs:
1 pound ground beef (or substitute veal, pork or turkey)
¼ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
Set Instant Pot to the sauté function, and heat 2 tablespoons oil in the pot. Stir in garlic, red pepper and black pepper, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Stir in tomatoes, salt and basil sprigs; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes (lower the sauté function to low or briefly turn the machine off if the sauce splatters too much).
Meanwhile, make the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix together beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan, chopped basil, egg, salt and garlic. Roll into 1 1/4-inch balls.
Scatter uncooked spaghetti over the sauce. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon oil over spaghetti, stirring gently (try to keep the spaghetti on top of the sauce), then top with meatballs and pour in 1 cup water.
Cover and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Manually release the pressure, then remove the cover and stir to separate the spaghetti. Stir in 2 tablespoons parmesan. At this point, the pasta will be almost but not quite cooked through. Place the top back on the pressure cooker (loosely) and let it sit for 3 to 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and spaghetti is al dente but not mushy.
Serve dolloped with ricotta, if using, and sprinkled with thinly sliced basil and more parmesan if you like.
Enjoy and please remember to release the pressure!
For 2019, make a resolution to try new cuisines, experience new wines, and of course – resolve to take a cooking class!
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.