Monday, June 6, 2011

Supportive Nutrition: A Guest Post from Nedah Barrett

The Non-Cooks’ Guide to Supportive Cooking
By Nedah Barrett of
AFPA Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant

As a little bit of a preface, let me start by saying that I’ve never been to culinary school, nor have I so much as even taken a cooking class. Everything I learned I learned by experience, and of course, by watching The Food Network. It’s true.

I started cooking when I first got married and had a family, because apparently, when you get married, it puts you into this elite group of folks who like to get together and have dinner parties. When I realized I had to actually HOST one of these things, I decided I better learn a thing or two. So, I did what most women of my generation do- consulted the internet and television. As time went on, and I had a few amusing trial and errors of my own, I realized I didn’t just LIKE to cook-I loved it. And I became very good at it!

I was introduced to the concept of Supportive Nutrition by my fiancé Ben Warstler who runs Bootcamps in Vermont. The concept of focusing on protein, produce and healthy fats rang home, and just made so much sense to me. I started incorporating it into each meal, and have seen amazing differences; not just in my waistline, but my health, too !

Seeing these changes sparked something in me, and I became so fascinated in food and nutrition that I started a supportive nutrition blog- and then later became Certified in Nutrition and Wellness.

Because I know how intimidating it can be in the kitchen when you’re first starting out, here are some of my top tips to help you find your way around the kitchen:

(Note: When cooking meats, poultries, etc., it’s advised to have a meat thermometer and have a guide on what temperatures equate to good food safety practices. Most meat thermometers nowadays have the temperature guide right on them. Trust that food poisoning is not something you want. )

1. Mise en place. Yup, I know this is the Non-cooks’ guide, so why throw French culinary jargon at you? Well, because it’s what it’s called. Plain and simple. Mise en place is having all the necessary ingredients and quantities pre-prepared and “in place.” If a recipe calls for 1 pound of cubed chicken, broccoli florets, and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic, have your chicken cubed, garlic minced, and broccoli prepped before you even turn on the stove. This helps you be successful for many reasons, but most of all, for time’s sake. You don’t want your chicken burning when your back’s turned as you focus on garlic chopping. It’s just stressful, not to mention wasteful, if you end up having to toss your burned chicken cubes into the trash. Have everything in place, and you’ll have a less stressful, and more enjoyable, experience.

2. Make your tools/appliances/gadgets work FOR you. Instead of tucking them away and hating that they’re taking up precious cabinet space, use ‘em! If, for instance, you know that you have eggs for breakfast at least 3 times a week with onions, and also use them for dinner another couple of times, rather than releasing the waterworks eight times a week, use the food processor. Once a week when you have five minutes, simply peel the onions you’ll need, shove them through your food processor, and put the cut onions in a gallon ziplock in the fridge or freezer. You end up saving time (that Mise en place thing again), and, if things are pre-prepped, you’ll end up more successful with your fat-loss goals, too.

3. Never, ever stick your food in a cold pan. There are a zillion “scientific” reasons why not to, but the take-home messages are simply : you lose moisture in your food, your food will stick to the pan, and if you stick food in a cold pan, you won’t get a nice color/crust on your food. Preheat the pan, then add the oil, then the food. If it’s a protein, get the pan nice and hot, just to the point right before the pan starts to smoke. A good rule of thumb is, a larger drop of water will hiss and float across the surface of the pan (essentially, on a cushion of its own steam) when the pan is the right temperature.

4. Form a crust on your proteins. What does that mean, exactly? Picture a restaurant quality dish. It has a nice brown color, usually some herbs and spices. That nice brown color is the crust-the crust locks in the juices, and makes your food more visually appealing. To make a simple, nice crust, rinse and pat dry your proteins (like chicken or pork) with a paper towel. Next, sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper all over, rubbing it evenly over the meat. Once your pan is hot enough (see number 3), put it in the pan. THEN DON’T TOUCH IT! You know when you try to move stuff around your pan, and it’s all stuck and burning to your pan? That’s because a nice crust hasn’t formed. Just leave it be for a bit. When it moves, that means a crust has formed. This usually takes 4-6 minutes on each side (depending, of course, on thickness of meat, and what kind). You can form a crust to pan fry your food, or, if you have a little extra time, and planned to cook it in the oven, use this method to start the protein to lock in the juices in the pan, and then finish the proteins in a pre-heated oven to get that juicy, restaurant quality.

5. Listen to your food. If what you’re cooking is sizzling, that’s usually good. If it sounds like it’s hissing or “angry,” and stuff is splattering everywhere, your pan is too hot. Lower the heat before you burn your dinner- or your house down.

6. The vinaigrette rule of thumb: 3:1. 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar, and whatever other herbs, spices, or flavorings you like. Depending on the type of oil and type of vinegar, you may need to tweak a little more or less of the oil or vinegar, but pretty soon, you’ll get a blend you like. You can add herbs and spices, citrus juices, wine, or even a little Greek Yogurt to make it creamy. Be creative! You can simply dump all the ingredients in a container, cover, and shake to blend.

7. Speaking of Greek Yogurt, plain Greek yogurt can be substituted in place of mayonnaise (chicken or tuna salads), sour cream (replace sour cream with Greek yogurt when making dips), and cream thickeners (whisk into soups). This gives you a kick of protein in place of fat.

8. To cut down on carbs (and kick up your antioxidants), use almond flour in place of regular flour for baking. You can substitute 1:1, and the flavor and texture is remarkable. To make your own, simply put almonds in a food processor until it looks like flour. Careful- go too far, and you’ll end up with almond butter.

9. Cut things uniformly. The proteins should all be the same size, as should the vegetables. That way, you don’t end up with raw middles in one chunk of meat, and overcooked, rubbery pieces in the same plate. Same holds true with vegetables. If you’re cooking vegetables, and they are cut in different proportions, you’re going to get some semi-crunchy, some semi-mushy, and all fully uneven.

10. Don’t crowd the pan. When you’re cooking, it is better to let each piece in your skillet have its space. Also, overcrowding causes reductions in temperature, where you lose precious heat. You’ll end up with more uniformly cooked, flavorful foods if you let each have its space.

11. Let your proteins rest before cutting into it! Ever noticed that when you cook a protein, it shrinks in the pan? This is the release of juices, among other chemistry-class-type changes in the molecules. As a protein cooks, the juices move towards the center of the meat. When the piece of meat is removed from the pan and allowed to rest, there is a partial reversal of what happened in the pan, and the molecules can “rest,” allowing the juices to redistribute through the cut. Remember also, meats continue to cook once it’s been removed from the actual stovetop, as the residual heat from cooking continues to cook the meat. By removing it from the pan just before it’s the temperature you want it, the continuation of the “carryover” cooking is still taking place. This means, the internal temperature of the food is still hot enough, and it’s continuing to cook, even though it’s been removed from the heat source. Meats should rest for at least ten minutes (loosely covered with aluminum foil) before cutting into it.

12. In a spice slump? People easily get bored with their nutrition when they’re eating the same thing time and time again. But when you go to the grocery store, and see the $10 price tag on a couple of ounces of a spice you don’t even know if you’re going to like or not, it discourages you to try something new. I like to go into health food stores and my local co-op to take a look around. They usually have bulk containers, and tiny bags, so you can bring a few tablespoons of different herbs and spices home to try for just a few cents per spice! Plus, they’re usually organic and non-irradiated (a technique commonly used to treat most grocery store herbs and spices with radiation to kill bugs), fresher, and taste better. A good “different” starter spice? Garam Masala. Try it. I bet you’ll like it!

13. Cauliflower puree is another thickener that can be used, like Greek Yogurt, in place of cream in cream based soups. Simply steam the cauliflower, and then add a little water or broth, and puree until it’s a nice, milky white color.

14. When cooking fish, use the “Ten Minute Rule.” Measure your fish at its thickest point, and cook it for ten minutes per inch of thickness. You’ll need to do this at 450 degrees f, flipping the fish once in the middle of the cook time. If it’s just over, or just under, adjust the cooking time as you see fit. Generally, when it’s flaking and translucent, it’s ready to eat.

Learning several little tricks and tips (like the ones listed above) are the things that helped me get around in the kitchen when I was first starting out. Once you have a few experiences of your own, I’m confident that you’ll have your own “a-ha!” moments, and cooking will make more and more sense. I hope reading this helped you become less intimidated, and more excited, to have fun in your kitchen!


  1. Nedah,
    If you ever get tired of cooking for Ben, you can come to San Antonio and you, my wife and I will open a restaurant cooking only game we harvest from South Texas and make a MINT!

  2. Great guest post, Tim. We all know just how crucial proper nutrition is to achieving a fat-loss goal.


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