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I love creating new recipes. Sometimes the recipes aren't really "new" but variations on a theme. Either way much of what I do is try to create dishes that will have a broad appeal while at the same time being healthy and tasty. The dish might be something very familiar like Tuna Noodle Casserole, or maybe a riff on a taco recipe like Salmon Salad Tacos. Often my wife will say something like, "I want a sort of black bean and corn soup but really thick like a stew." That serves as the spark for a new dish.
Generally speaking, when I begin the process it takes a fairly predictable format. Starting with the main protein, I will allow for 4 ounces of protein per serving, whether that is beef, fish, chicken, pork, etc.. I pair that with a carbohydrate such as pasta, rice, potatoes, yams, corn, legumes or maybe something more exotic like quinoa. The amount depends on the type that I choose. (Here are some guidelines.)
In many ways once I've made those decisions the rest is pretty easy. Using the example of my wife's request for a black bean and corn stew, when I was thinking about the recipe I realized that chicken thighs would give this the great savory flavor that it needs and the black beans and corn lend themselves well to Mexican or Southwestern spices. The only thing that needed to be added was veggies.
That's my favorite part because using vegetables can not only help make a great tasting meal, but lots of veggies also help make it less calorie dense. Adding vegetables is one of the simplest ways to add volume to your meals without adding too many calories. Onions, celery and peppers are all great choices. It's no coincidence that what we call "the holy trinity" here in New Orleans is based in Mediterranean cuisines, and in addition to adding a lot of flavor to a meal, they also make it healthier.
Since this dish seemed to be going in a spicy direction, I chose to start with onions. They go well with the black beans and also help make a rich thick stew. Because I was using both corn and beans I used 2 "servings" of each for the four serving stew that I was making. Sometimes I will use chicken or another stock, but more and more often I've been using water because I have found that the flavors coming from the ingredients themselves bring as much to the dish and the stock isn't always necessary.
When I create recipes for the Dr. Gourmet web site, I want them to have broad appeal, but I also like to minimize the amount of equipment they require. Like you, I'm pretty busy and I know that it's hard to find the time for people to cook - let alone clean up. So one pot is great, two is good and three... maybe not so much.
As far as spices and flavorings go, the key is to start small and use at least two or three complementary flavors. Start with about 1/4 teaspoon per serving of each. For instance, combine ground cumin, chili powder and paprika. Experiment. Substitute another spice or herb and over time you will grow your own palate of flavors.
It's pretty easy to make your own recipes. Start with protein and carb choices and then add veggies. A touch of spices and that's all it takes. When you look at recipes in books and magazines they all are based on some variation of this, and by noticing the pattern you can easily begin to create your own variations on a theme.