Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Food As Medicine


We know food can make for good medicine, whether its chicken soup to ease the symptoms of a cold or specific herbs and spices incorporated into our coffee, tea or sauces, giving us more energy, increased brain function or up our vitality.  Some of you out there are quite adept at combining ingredients from the kitchen to make your own facial masks, hair conditioners, acne remedies or help yourself and others cope with dryness in all areas of our bodies.  

For me cooking is good medicine for the soul.  Cooking calms me.  It can raise my spirits upward like the steam of a tea kettle when I’m feeling as low as the sediment at the bottom of an unfiltered stock.  Even those who don’t ordinarily love cooking can yearn to bake a loaf of artisan bread or a big pot of spaghetti when gloominess sets in.  Actually, most of us, aware of it or not, are moved by the seasons to enter our kitchens then exit carrying something our family and friends are pleased and astounded by. 

During these chilly days of winter, solace can be found in my Dutch oven.  The medicine I offer is a bubbling agglomeration of Cannellini Bean soup, ribbons of kale swimming between bits of bacon and a ham hock or two.  My dear friend Nancy’s go-to, one-pot, wonder is her famous White Chili.  Hot and spicy, her slow cooker tenderizes and savors the shredded chicken, green chilies and assorted beans.                                                                  

When the cold finally gives way to spring, I refresh myself and my family with Asparagus.  It becomes the star of my Quiches, Omelets and other egg dishes.  And who hasn’t meandered into their kitchen, just to walk out with a delectable Cherry Pie, or Tart or Crostada?  Just what the doctor ordered to bring a stained smile to any face.

Summer?  If you like Artichokes, then I hope you’ve grown more adventurous than just boiling them in acidulated water then slamming a cereal bowl of mayo on the table.  Hopefully, as the cicadas begin belting out their high pitched songs, doing their best to draw a mate, you are huddled in the cool of your kitchen steaming or enduring the heat, outside charring those edible thistles.  How rewarded you’ll be should you stretch and try experimenting with a spicy or garlicky aioli for dressing the meaty leaves and hearts.

Fall gives rise to a variety of root vegetables and my favourite of fruits (yes, it’s a fruit, not a vegetable) Eggplant. 
Whether I use it traditionally in Eggplant Parmesan or cut it into small medallions as a base upon which sits a roasted shrimp, drizzled with a Parma Rosa sauce, it becomes an antidote for my moodiness.

But what I had never really considered was that cooking could be physical therapy!  This idea was presented to me via my eldest son who was encouraged to make a batch of homemade tortillas. 
I was out of town when I received a text from him asking me for a recipe.  When I inquired as to why he explained the suggestion came from his physical therapist.  I suggested homemade bread.  But he was clear; it had to be a tortilla recipe.  I happened to be sitting in another doctor’s office and immediately shared this unique therapy idea with the nurses surrounding me.  They went crazy!  What a great alternative or addition to lifting weights or manipulating small, squishy balls.

Instead of stirring with the traditional wooden spoon he would be working his hands by combining the few ingredients in the large bowl.  He would then work out his forearms and shoulders as he kneaded the dough for just a minute or two.  Next he began incorporating more of his upper body muscles as he rolled the dough out with a rolling pin. This entire exercise would give him the near equivalent of a short session with his physical therapist.  Near equivalent, I don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s employment today.

Upon my return to Vegas, I watched as my son, not a chef, just a regular guy, combine the flour, salt, water and olive oil in a bowl.  Using his hands, not the wooden spoon, my initial recommendation but he reminded me, using the spoon would defeat the purpose.  He inexpertly turned the dough out onto the cutting board and began kneading.  I did chime in on the proper method for kneading though.  I couldn’t help myself.  It was clear he really was working his muscles.  

 After allowing the dough to rest, he cut the disc into 8 equal portions then pulled down the best of my rolling pins and transformed the blobs into perfect rounds (well almost perfect). 

I must say, I am impressed.  Of course I try to keep my “guns” in shape lifting and pouring from those oversized pots and skillets I use every day.  And standing on my feet as opposed to sitting at a desk all day helps to burn more calories.  But I never thought about the benefits my muscle groups derive from the actions involved in what I do as a chef. This is good news.  From now on I'm setting the intention to be consciously aware while stirring, whisking (definitely a workout for your triceps and deltoids) pouring, slicing and all those activities involved in baking, make for good physical therapy.

Of course, when he had finished preparing the dough and cooked up the tortillas, I had to try one.  Made myself a yummy little quesadilla with pepper jack, nothing else was needed.  Absolutely delicious. 

Here's the basic recipe my son used to make his homemade Tortillas.

Ingredients: 2cups all purpose flour                           1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
                       3/4 cup water                                           3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Process: In large mixing bowl combine flour and salt, by sifting them together with your fingers.  Then using one hand to combine, pour in the water and oil and work ingredients until well mixed. 

Dust a bit of additional flour onto counter and turn dough out onto prepared area.  Knead the dough about 12-16 times until you have a nice smooth disc.

Cover ball of dough with a damp cloth and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.  Then divide dough into 8 equal portions.  Take one portion at a time and roll out onto lightly floured surface (keep remaining portions covered until ready to work) to about 8 inches in diameter. 

To cook tortillas, coat a large skillet or griddle with a small amount of oil or nonstick spray and cook over medium heat for 1 minute per side, or until golden brown.  Best eaten warm.  
Good Job Son!