If you want to keep your weight off in my view you need to learn to cook. This means no fast food, perhaps on occasion. This means not going out too often. And at least in my mind, staying away from a lot of processed foods. There are reasons for this. Processed food tends to have a lot of fat, and salt. Both can be a problem if you want to keep healthy blood pressure, or to eat heart-healthy.
Yes, you can have the occasional burger, or even boxed frozen dinner. I tend to have a couple in the freezer in case there is no time to cook. But over ninety-nine percent of my meals are home-cooked. They are simple salads, with some fish, chicken breast, or other ingredients. I use plenty of spices and at times make homemade curries or salsas. And I will not be shy to admit this. I hate the cleanup. But I have found that plenty of veggies, some fruit, and freshly cooked meals are delicious. They keep us satisfied and I enjoy them.
There are other reasons for this type of cooking. It is healthy and I manage to control my diabetes far better this way. It is not just diabetes, but my family has a history of heart disease. What I am following is closer to a Mediterranean diet, and it’s been found to be one of the best for this. It is also better for the planet since some of my meals have no animal proteins.
No, I am not a fan of that much red meat, to begin with. We eat a lot more chicken since my husband is not a fan of fish. But I try to get some fish in there at least twice a week. Granted, the pandemic has been a boom for my cooking skills since I cooked every day. Ergo, I tried different things to keep it interesting. I had the advantage that I came to this with some skill and love it. So, experimenting or developing new recipes became a thing.
It helps that we have a year-long farmers market, which did close for three weeks. Or that the little red meat we eat, or chicken, comes from a local farmer. This also helps with climate change. However, the quality of the product is far superior to commercial farms. Yes, I am privileged that I can afford this. However, what I do with is what matters.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
The first thing you need is a good all-purpose knife, that is sharp. Dull knives lead to accidents. Yes, having a collection of them is normal, we all do, but in time you will find that you use one or two the most. My to-go knives are a 12- inch blade by Victorinox that is over forty years old. I have a Japanese tempered paring knife that I like for small tasks, and a Victorinox bread knife that I got at the same time as the other one. Good knives will last a lifetime and investing in a good set is a good idea.
You must either have them commercially sharpened every so often or get a stone and learn to do it yourself. I sharpen mine at least twice a month. Why? A dull knife is a recipe for a bad kitchen accident. During the pandemic, I became lax on this and got myself a nasty cut on my thumb. We almost ended up in the ER, because I could not stop the bleeding. Once I did, we decided not to go, and I have a scar. Likely it should have been sutured, but during a pandemic, I prefer the scar. So now I am even more religious about sharpening my blades.
You will also need a coupe good-sized cutting boards. I use bamboo. And yes, the material of your cutting board will affect how long knives stay sharp. If you know how to sharpen them, this will be a non-issue. I chose bamboo since it is a natural material. It is also a hard grass, and it is better in that respect than woods.
Plastic boards can also be good, as well as glass. However. I have had all three and I prefer bamboo. If the board breaks or fails in any way, I can always replace it. It is utterly renewable. I have been slowly replacing cooking spoons that are plastic for bamboo as well. The ones that I have replaced were in sorry shape, by the way.
Pots and pans are also important. Get yourself a good set. I have replaced some of my non-stick skillets with cast iron. Cooking on an electric stovetop, cast iron gives me a better sear on my meats. To my surprise, cast iron is not as expensive as other materials either, and a little oil is ok in your cooking. The care of cast iron is a tad different. For example, do not use soap. There are special soaps for them, and coarse salt is also a must.
I have a couple of pots for making soup, veggies, and a few other things. To be brutal, you can find some of these things at Goodwill, used and in good shape, if you want to save some money. One of my favorite pots I got it there. Originally it was going to be for Dexter’s food, but now it is one of my favorite pots.
I do have a braising vessel for roast meats and veggies. It gets used at least once a month. That goes into the oven. Over the course of the pandemic, we learned that we really do not miss restaurants, not at least beyond a very special occasion. Otherwise, I expect to keep cooking every day. This brings me to the skills involved.
First Things to Master
I know some people, starting with my husband, burn water. It’s a talent, I know. There are certain things you must learn first. The first is how to season food properly. Even if you need to eat less salt (there are herbs out there), you need to taste your food. You need to learn how to properly use salt, fat, heat, and acid. Recipes are great if you have no idea how to cook, but in time you should be able to break away from the training wheels. I recommend Samin Nosfat’s Salt, Fat, Acid Heat. If nothing else, watch the Netflix special. It will give you ideas, but also show how understanding how these elements affect food, will make you a better cook.
Remember, cooking is chemistry. Baking is biology with some chemistry.
Then there are the basics. Learn how to choose your ingredients and how to prepare them. We are currently getting our meats from a local farmer. Not only is it better quality, and the animals are more humanely treated, but it is also better for the planet. I also try to make at least one meal a week that is meatless. If you can afford this, not only do you support local farmers, but get a product that is superior in my view.
The next step is food preparation. You would be surprised how many people do not know how to cut a tomato or an onion. Or that the size of those cuts will determine flavor. The Sofrito of Italian cooking is the mélange of French cooking. This is onions, carrots, and celery. The difference is that the French mélange is a rough cut, perfect for soups for example. While the sofrito is a very fine cut, perfect for things like stir-fries. This changes the flavor and how fast or slow things cook. Therefore, a sharp knife matters, incidentally. A sharp knife makes this task easy. You will need to practice this until you get good at it. Watching some videos on YouTube is a good idea or a Netflix program. The Cooking Channel also has videos with techniques.
Respect your ingredients. Simple preparations are at times all that is needed, for example with a good cut of meat.
If you are trying to lose weight, you also control the amount you eat, and what you put in your food. And at this point, we get to your vegetables. A lot of Americans hate veggies because let's be honest, boiled limp carrots are not precisely the best. This is where techniques like roasting them or braising with your meats are helpful. One favorite in this house is to cut the chicken into large strips, chicken fingers to be specific. What I do is that I get onions and cilantro with salt and pepper into a cast iron skillet, salt, and pepper, then I add asparagus spears and the chicken. Add a tad more salt and pepper and cover. Let it cook. It is a delicious dinner. It goes well with some quinoa or rice.
The most important thing about cooking is that you do not get stuck in a rut. Over the last year, I have been experimenting and developing dishes. I also have gotten a few cookbooks. It’s not that I am going to use the recipe as written, I rarely do. It’s more like I use them for ideas and get new dishes into our routine. Doing this though prevented us from gaining weight. In fact, my husband lost some over the course of the year.