From the kitchen of Chef Tse: Cooking at home and the new normal

Just a few short months ago, Americans were eating more than fifty percent of their meals outside the home. But with the stay-at-home orders, we’re all finding ourselves with a new challenge – cooking at home. For some of you, that’s an exciting concept. You finally get to try all those recipes that have been building up on your kitchen counter. For others, this very thought may strike fear in your heart! Regardless of what camp you’re in, I have some ideas!

There are days where I can’t wait to get into the kitchen and start cooking, even when I’ve been doing it all day in my job. When I tell my friends this, they look at me like I’ve just stepped off an alien spacecraft. Many think that cooking for yourself and your family should be a pleasure, not a chore. But if we want to change how we eat and how healthy we are, we need to make a bigger commitment to what and how we cook.

While you are limiting your outings and staying at home, here are six suggestions for becoming a better cook.

Sharpen your skills

If your knife skills are a little rusty or you’re not sure about the difference between sweat and sauté, why not take an online cooking class? There’s a fantastic online cooking school called Rouxbe, and right now you can sign up for a free 30-day trial. If you’re serious about improving your skills, this is an amazing resource.

If classes aren’t your thing, check out books like How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman or Samin Nostrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat. In these books not only do you get techniques, but recipes as well.

And if you just want some great online pointers to brush up on your skills, try Serious Eats’ Coronovirus Cooking Guide. It includes all sorts of helpful information on knife skills, food prep and cooking basics. I love, love, love the recipes from this site!

Buy the best ingredients possible

The better your ingredients, the better your food will taste. A tomato in winter tastes like a bland slice of styrofoam but a tomato in summer is truly mind-blowing. And you don’t have to break the bank buying lots of expensive ingredients. Select one or two-star items per dish and let them speak for themselves.

I realize shopping is tricky right now, so look to your neighborhood restaurants who, in addition to takeout may be offering groceries and local produce.

Keep it clean

When cooking, keep your workspace clean and tidy - this makes for less work when you’re done (or less work if someone has agreed to do the dishes afterward!). Keep a sponge and a folded kitchen towel handy. Do dishes as you go instead of letting them pile up. If you spill something, clean it up.

Read your recipe

The first time I encounter any new recipe, I read it through twice. That way no surprises, like extra-long cooking or resting times, pop up. I usually follow a recipe a couple times and once I have a feel for it, then I start to improvise and add my own personal flair.

Plan ahead

Eighty percent of Americans don’t know what they’re having for dinner by 4:00 PM. Do you? When you plan meals in advance you avoid the inevitable, “What’s for dinner?” question and you’ll waste less food. Get your whole family involved so they have some skin in the game too. Plan 3 or 4 days in advance and then stick to the plan.

Freeze leftovers

It takes almost as much work to make a recipe for 4 as it does for 8. Sure, you’re going to have to chop an extra carrot or two, but the results are worth it - in the form of leftovers! Cool, portion and then freeze your leftovers (I love my vacuum seal machine) so you have a quick lunch or dinner for a future date.

Remember that becoming a better cook doesn’t happen overnight. And you will have to make time for it. But when you do commit to cooking, you’ll eat healthier, waste less food and share a part of yourself with your family.

What a unique opportunity we have, so let’s not waste it. We get to focus on our health, so let’s get into that kitchen and start cooking!

Recipes 

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

This is my grandfather’s pancake recipe that I grew up eating. The secret to their light and fluffy texture is separating the egg and whipping the whites. This is a great kid-friendly recipe, so let them help you measure! I usually double the recipe and freeze extras between layers of wax paper or paper towels for a quick breakfast later on. If you don’t have buttermilk, use milk and add a tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar. Stir and let sit 15 minutes.

Makes about 12 pancakes

1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sugar

1 egg, at room temperature, separated

1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk, room temperature

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3/4 cup fresh blueberries

Nonstick cooking spray

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg yolk, and butter. Using a whisk, whip egg white in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Add wet ingredients to dry and incorporate with a few swift strokes. Batter will be lumpy so don’t over-mix. Gently fold in egg whites and blueberries with a spatula.

Preheat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, spray with cooking spray if desired. Using scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake, drop in 4 pancakes, spacing apart. Cook pancakes until bottoms are lightly brown and edges are dry, about 3 minutes. Flip pancakes over and cook another 3 minutes or until pancakes are brown on bottom and firm to touch in center.  Repeat with remaining batter. Keep pancakes in warm oven until ready to serve.

Nutritional information per pancake:

Calories: 78; total fat: 2g; cholesterol: 21mg; carbohydrate: 13g; total dietary fiber: 1g; protein: 3g

Banana Pecan Muffins

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

Mashed bananas add richness and moisture to these low-fat muffins. If your bananas aren’t overly ripe, keep them in a paper bag for a couple of days and they’ll ripen faster. Feel free to add chocolate chips for an extra fun touch! If you don’t have whole wheat flour at home, all-purpose will work too.

Makes 12 muffins

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or whole wheat)

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup old fashioned oats

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 teaspoon salt

3 very ripe medium bananas

1/2 cup 1% milk

1 large egg

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, sugar, oats, baking powder and salt.

Peel and mash bananas with back of form in a large bowl. Add milk, egg, oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, and pecans and mix together. Sprinkle over dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake in oven for 20 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool five minutes on a baking rack then remove muffins. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutritional information per muffin:

Calories: 163; total fat: 6g; cholesterol: 18mg; carbohydrate: 25g; total dietary fiber: 2g; protein: 4g

Moroccan Chicken Lettuce Cups

From the kitchen of Chef Tse

This fun dish can be eaten with your hands. Just spoon the ingredients into a lettuce leaf and wrap up like a burrito. Kids also enjoy this dish because they don’t have to use a fork!

Serves 4

For the dressing

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch salt

Pinch pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the salad

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1/2 inch strips

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained

1/2 cup red pepper, chopped

1/2 cup tomato, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup red onion, chopped

1 cup mint leaves, packed then chopped

3 heads butter lettuce, divided into individual leaves

For the dressing, mix together lemon juice, cumin, salt, and pepper. Whisk in oil in the thin stream. Set aside.

For the salad, season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add chicken and sauté until chicken begins to turn golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add cumin and half of mint. Sauté until chicken is cooked through, another 3 minutes.

In a medium bowl, mix together garbanzo beans, red pepper, tomato, red onion, remaining mint, chicken, and dressing. Toss to coat.

Divide lettuce leaves among 4 plates. Pass salad around table and spoon into individual leaves. Roll up and eat with hands.

Nutritional information per serving:

Calories: 390; Total fat: 20g; Cholesterol: 68mg; Carbohydrate: 21g; Total dietary fiber: 5g; Protein: 33g

 

About Chef Tse

After 12 years in marketing and sales, Tse shed her corporate responsibilities and headed to France. There she studied both cuisine and pastry at Le Cordon Bleu Paris, finishing first in both disciplines. After graduation, she turned her sights on Parisian kitchens, completing a grueling internship at Le Restaurant Guy Savoy, a three Michelin-star restaurant. She then studied pastry at the internationally famous Pierre Hermé making macarons, cakes, and composed desserts.

When she returned to the U.S., Tse was a regular guest KATU Channel 2’s AM Northwest cooking seasonal ingredients with the hosts. Tse also became the Healthy Cooking Ambassador for Regence BlueCross BlueShield teaching cooking classes, filming videos, doing demos and creating recipes. She joined the Providence team in 2016, overseeing the operations at three cafes at Saint Vincent Hospital. Tse has also spent seven years teaching students at all three Portland culinary schools: The Art Institute of Portland's International Culinary Program, Le Cordon Bleu and Oregon Culinary Institute. She is now a Culinary Consultant for Sysco Portland where she helps restaurants with menu design, recipe development and staff training.

 

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