Building Dreams and Sharing Family Fare
Cooking is love made visible.” – Kahlil Gibran
As a chef and more importantly a family man. The words of an inspiring 19th century poet, author, and philosopher have never rung truer than they do today. And, with the uncertain climate we are all living under during a pandemic, cooking as a show of affection has only been accentuated by America’s rekindled love for the comfort of a family home.
A J&K Custom Homes kitchen is carefully designed to allow our homeowners the ideal setting to host dinner parties, and to stretch their culinary creativity! And being forced to stay home has brought upon a renaissance “of sorts” to home cooked meals, and it has shaped today’s trends for family fare. Gone are the days of yester years, when home cooked meals equaled someone’s favorite carry out or a compilation of convenience items from your local grocery store. Upon us, is a refreshing culinary trend where scratch cooking has been fused with a healthy approach to good ole’ soul food.
At the forefront of the healthy home cooked soul food trend is simplicity; clean ingredients, easy preparation, fresh flavors, and effortless service when hosting for the holidays. In the background, serving as a tailwind, is the plant-based diet movement that is growing at expediential rates as our nation moves towards a healthier lifestyle.
So…you take all of the aforementioned into account, you mix it with a little holiday cheers and maybe a little holiday fears (COVID or naturally induced) and you may find yourself wondering; How can I show a little love to the ones I love through food this holiday season? How can I host a holiday and make it as socially safe as possible? As well as how can I do all that without breaking my back? If you are one of those people with the prior questions swarming in your head, here are some tips for you this holiday cooking season – regardless if you are hosting or keeping it to your inner circle.
Less is more: Plan menus with items that do not take a multitude of ingredients and ton of time. My favorite example of this is roasted potatoes versus mashed potatoes. Yes, them mashed taters are super yummy. But you first have to peel them, then boil them, then mash them, then add milk, then add butter, then add seasoning, and inevitably you will have to make gravy. Which ends up being another 10 steps, 30 minutes of time, and a handful of dishes added to the stack. Instead, do a trio of roasted potatoes where it is as simple as: cutting up some redskin, Yukon, and sweet potatoes. Toss them in some olive oil with salt, pepper, garlic, and your favorite seasonings. Then pop them in the oven on a sheet tray at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes. DONE! So much healthier, far easier, and just as hearty.
Take it easy: Stay away from the 3 course meals, buffets, and potluck dinners. This year plan a menu that allows you to actually sit down and enjoy the meal with your family and guests. All too often we plan traditional style dinners that ultimately cost loads of work either managing the food coming in or managing the food going out of the kitchen. Instead, try menu items that can be cooked ahead of time and held warm. If hosting guests – one tip with the “Take it Easy” approach is to have all your menu items ready to eat upon guests’ arrival…… Lose the appetizers or have them ready upon arrival too. Skip trying to cook and host at the same time. Just set it, forget it, and enjoy it.
Try it Vegan: To say we like to eat meat as a society is an understatement. However, as people learn to cook again, they have rediscovered the amazing flavors of our earth, and the benefits from a healthier approach to our daily diets. That being said, try making traditional dinner staples like chili, pot pies, and spaghetti with no meat. My favorite version of this, is a vegan shepherd‘s pie. Instead of a hamburger, corn, and a cream of mushroom style filling. I like to chop up celery, carrot, onion, mushroom, and brussel sprouts. Then throw them all in a pot with a lid, a healthy bit of vegan avocado butter, lots of salt and pepper, and let them cook down on low heat for 20 minutes. Once the veggies are cooked down. Put them in a casserole dish, top with mash potatoes (made with vegan butter and almond milk of course), pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until heated through, and you are ready to serve. PS: if the carnivore comes out in you, put some raw chopped bacon in the veggies while they are cooking down in the pot. Either way, you will want to Thank Me Later!
Pro Tip: When grilling meats for a large group or even a couple of loved ones, the best way to get ahead on the cooking and serve perfectly grilled proteins every time – is to not really cook them on the grill. I know it sounds a little baffling, but hear me out, try what I am about to tell you, and you won’t ever grill the same again. First marinate your protein and get your grill as hot as you can (if using an interior flat top grill, 350 degrees is hot enough). Once the grill is piping hot, simply cook each side of the protein for 30 seconds to a minute, place the half-cooked meats onto a sheet tray, and finish cooking it in your oven at 325 degrees. To know when it is done, make sure the internal temperature of chicken is 165 degrees, and beef cooked to medium is 130 degrees. The beauty of this is not only the superior product, but you can grill off your meats ahead of time, and then you will only have to put them in the oven shortly before people arrive. This corner cutting step will save you lots of time and messes, allowing for more enjoyment of food and family.
As you embark upon your next home cooked meal or planning a menu for your next gathering, I hope this helps you along your way, and gives you a little direction on how and what to prepare this holiday season to stay hip and healthy.
Reflecting back on this precarious 2020, there is a lot to be thankful for. And, as hard as it seems sometimes, there is definitely some silver linings. However, the reemergence of home cooked meals with a healthy flare warms my heart, hopefully warms yours, and makes me think of a quote from another 19th century philosopher that I hold close to my soul. “The First Wealth is Health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson In closing, I would like to give you a gift this holiday season from my family to yours. Our Family Secret Marinade – the most versatile marinade of all time. It is great anytime of the year for chicken, pork or steaks, and even better for veggies. Just marinate your favorite protein or vegetables for 1hr to 24hrs, and either grill or roast what you marinated. Or use the pro tip cooking method I shared above for best results.
OFS Marinade: Put all of the following ingredients in a zip lock bag, zip it closed and mix it up, then add your veggies or protein, and marinate for 1hr to 24hrs.
¼ Cup Olive Oil
¼ Cup Ketchup
¼ Cup Mustard
½ Cup Water
2 Tbs Soy Sauce
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar
2 Tbs of Salt
Nick Rado is an accomplished Executive Chef and culinary innovator. He is responsible for orchestrating large high-end culinary events as well as intimate, private in-home experiences for discerning clients. When Nick is not cooking, he enjoys spending time with his family and friends right here in our hometown of Cincinnnati!