Five Quick Hits from the VeloKitchen

November 27, 2015

“What’s for dinner?” Carving out time to cook family meals from scratch every day requires commitment and, especially on busy weeknights, can sometimes feel like a time trial challenge. Work, exercise, children’Fives after-school and sports activities, along with regular household chores take up a big chunk of our daylight hours. On some days just thinking about preparing dinner an hour before I hope to serve a healthy, home-cooked meal can feel daunting. Not only that, as any home cook knows, meal preparation from scratch begins with planning: scanning recipes, checking the fridge and garden for ingredients on hand, shopping for items, … and the meal prep and cooking process have not even begun!

In our family we are unenthusiastic left-over eaters, so we try to prepare just enough food for each meal, but that means coming up with a new idea for dinner everyday. As a busy, working mother I adopted some time-saving practices into my culinary routine. Here are a few:

  1. Need protein, quick! For various reasons I avoid using the microwave for defrosting. Instead, I significantly decrease thawing time by placing frozen meat and fish in my trusty cast-iron frying pan. This method works great for fish and ground meat, as well as roasts. A physicist could explain why iron is an efficient conductor, but, for me, I am happy to know that I can place a pound of frozen fish in my cast-iron pan, take my dog for an hour-long walk and return to thawed, ready-to-cook protein for our meal. I grill some vegetables, add a starch and a salad and my weeknight meal becomes balanced and healthy in 45 minutes or less without opening a can or processed food package.
  1. Under pressure. The TV show Masterchef allured me to pressure cooking. In less than a TV hour, competing home chefs prepare gourmet meals with ordinary cuts of meat. When my husband gave me a pressure cooker for my birthday I was a little terrified of the possible dangers of the device. I made a New Year’s Resolution to make friends with my pressure cooker and have never looked back. Pressure cooking is ideal on weeknights because I am able to transform frozen meat into a delicious meal in less than 60 minutes. A few of our weeknight pressure cooker meals include Korean-style ribs with steamed vegetables, Beef Stroganoff with egg noodles and corned beef and cabbage. I consult the website which lists “Detailed Pressure Cooking Time Tables” for just about every food imaginable.
  1. Trusty family favorites. I’ve heard that most families who cook from scratch rotate about eight recipes a month. Our family favorites are quick to prepare, don’t require a recipe and use ingredients on hand. They include Spag Bog (aka Spaghetti Bolognese), Indian Butter Chicken, Shepherd’s Pie, New England Seafood Chowder and Thai Fish Soup, among others. A key to our family’s successful rotation in making routine meals interesting is that even though we use similar main ingredients throughout the month we change up flavors by using different spices from cuisines around the world.
  1. Bone broth. My friends know I am a big fan of the health benefits of bone broth. Vegetables, herbs and grass-fed beef bones, a few Parmesan rinds, a roasted chicken carcass or fish heads simmered in a crock pot of water and spices for six hours to three days turn into a staple every home cook can use throughout the week or freeze for later use. When I am stuck for time or dinner ideas, I start with a quart of bone broth and add meat or fish, vegetables and seasoning that transform into a hearty soup, stew or chowder. In addition to its potent nutritional qualities, steeped broth adds magical flavor depth to ordinary recipes.
  1. Embrace flavor! Our kitchen’s spice cabinet is plentifully filled with a wide variety of leaves, herbs, seeds, pods and powders. We grow fresh herbs in pots; our favorites are thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano and mint. Herbs and spices awaken any dish. Revamp ordinary dishes with Italian seasoning, curry powder, smoked paprika or lemon pepper. Stock your cupboard with quick-to-prepare staples such as potatoes, rice, pasta and quinoa and generously season side dishes.

Sharing the joy of preparing dinner with family members reinforces our commitment to eating meals made from scratch. In day-to-day meal preparation it’s easy to become bored, feel too tired to take the time effort to cook or become stumped for new ideas. I am fortunate that my husband is an excellent cook and we share the commitment to cook meals without processed ingredients. He doesn’t like grocery shopping, so my job is to ensure the kitchen is stocked with the staple ingredients for the meals he likes to cook and he is more than willing to prepare the evening meal. It’s not a coincidence that we eat a couple of Indian curries a week.

Any time of year is an ideal time of year to renew good intentions to eat meals made from scratch. In summer and fall, fresh produce just harvested from gardens and farmers markets is abundant and makes ordinary foods taste extraordinary. Involving children in meal-time preparation on weekends and school breaks encourages them to learn and experiment in the kitchen. Enthusiasm for delicious meals children participate in creating can snowball into a life-long commitment to make the time and effort to eat from scratch every day.

(Originally published at Inland Northwest Food Network).



Fatties in the VeloKitchen

February 15, 2015

Yesterday I rendered beef fat in a cast iron skillet to make tallow. A month ago, melting animal fat for tallow or lard was not on my ever-growing bucket list of foodie activities. The last time I may have given tallow a passing thought was in the fourth grade when I read “Little House on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Fatty in the Snow

I’ve been thinking about fat. I look out the window and see my husband pedaling in the snow on his fat tire bike with four-inch tires pumped to a pressure of around eight PSI. Flipping the page on my calendar, I see that Fat Tuesday is around the corner. Reading “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet”by Nina Teicholz has made me think about the fat we eat.

What if everything you have been told about saturated fat was based on a shaky premise and built on a century-long, Kafkaesque trail of soft science and research funded by corporate interests and money… a lot of money? I picked up “The Big Fat Surprise” thinking I would learn about nutrition. Instead I became engrossed in a page-turning conspiracy about how the diet-heart hypothesis met food politics and transformed saturated fats, like tallow, lard, butter and tropical oils, into modern villains.

The idea that “eating fat makes you fat” dramatically changed the food industry, transformed the fat we consume from animal products to vegetable oils and commutated what we eat. Surprisingly, these steps did not achieve their good intention of reducing heart disease. Instead, diet-heart recommendations, which caused vegetable oils to be substituted for animal fats and tremendously increased our consumption of carbohydrates, have been, quite possibly, the most significant contributors to the rise of a host of other illnesses like cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Independent, investigative reporter, Nina Teicholz, spent nine years researching this topic and makes a compelling case for consuming saturated fat. She summarizes the scientific research for the regular reader while never talking down to her audience. She walks us logically through the history and science of fat: mono-, poly-, trans-, unsaturated and saturated, and tropical and vegetable oils. The diet-heart hypothesis that has ruled nutritional guidelines in the last 100 years appears to be another example of an idea that began with the best of intentions, but ended up, like many other situations in recent history: flawed and “too big to fail.”

I’m trying to reprogram the fat messaging I have heard all of my life. Before the invention of Crisco in 1911, butter, tallow and lard, were the main, fat staples in the American kitchen. Since then, doctors, scientists, researchers, authors and “experts’ have trained us about good fats, bad fats and the evils of cholesterol. The food industry spends zillions of dollars a year trying to convince us their new-fangled inventions produced in their corporate laboratories are better for our bodies. After studying this book, I want to get my head around bringing back healthy, nineteenth century, grass-fed and GMO-free fats into my kitchen.

I’m persuaded to go back to the full-fat (organic) dairy I gave up wistfully 25 years ago, eat the yolks of (cage-free) eggs, indulge in (grass-fed) butter and red meat a little more often, and enjoy bacon (in moderation) with less guilt. To me, eating a healthy diet and feeding my family is still about balance, portion size and eating a variety of in-season foods. There are proven reasons saturated fats are satisfying in our diet and it’s a comfort to know we can enjoy them (in moderation).

The generally-accepted scientific conclusions of the diet-heart premise have not convinced me that a glass of watery, non-fat milk could be better for my cardiovascular health than one filled with creamy, whole milk, but the mental and physical benefits of aerobic exercise are clear. Winters in northern Idaho tend to be long and cold, but we keep moving. We are hopping on our fatties and going for a ride. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to hear the likes of Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman chime into the diet-heart debate..

Flying Strawberries and Greek Yogurt in the VeloKitchen

March 8, 2014

We are ten weeks into 2014. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolution? In recent years I’ve tried to set low friction, but meaningful resolutions. If I meet my goal, I feel successful and if I don’t, no remorse. A few of my recent yearly resolutions have been making friends with my mandolin slicer,  bringing reusable bags with me to the shops, reducing plastic in my kitchen and eating with the seasons.

For my 2014 resolution I chose a page from the Nelson Mandela handbook: “Tread softly. Breathe peacefully. Laugh hysterically.” I like how I can apply my own interpretation to each of these simple phrases and how these are evolving as the year progresses.

Tread softly. For me, this not only applies to the obvious, my interactions with the people around me, (the golden rule,, this simple phrase also means how I impact the environment, like bringing my bags to the market, substituting bike rides for car transportation (especially in the summer when the weather is more favorable) and recycling more household and business waste. With a committed family effort we’ve been able to reduce our household trash pick-up to every other week.

Breathe peacefully. Once daylight savings time ends in Seattle, afternoons become short and the weather turns cold and soggy. This means I ride my bike for exercise a lot less (or none between November and February). In addition to dog walks, this winter I am warming my body at hot yoga and Pilates classes to reinstate my long lost core for stronger, longer bike rides in the summer. I renamed our Monday fusion practice with weights “Yoga Boot Camp.” Our instructor is called Peach, an unlikely name after you experience the intensity of her workouts.

Laugh hysterically. My husband and son make me laugh every day, a gift I truly appreciate. The detail I am working on this year is laughing more at myself, especially in the kitchen. I’ve had a few cooking mishaps (including one with a blender that makes the dog cower every time I plug in the Vitamix) and instead of being hard on myself for a careless error (or, in that situation, a distracted one), we all laugh together and reassure our dog he will be safe from flying strawberries and Greek yogurt.

Daylight savings time begins tomorrow at 2 am. Here’s to treading meaningfully on the pedals, breathing hard up the hills and laughing hysterically because I made it to the top even when I get dropped. Namaste.


Supporting Sustainable Food in the VeloKitchen

February 18, 2012

Cycling Chef picking up our CSA share

After watching Chipotle’s television ad, “Back to the Start” played during last week’s Grammy Awards, I reflected how our family’s eating habits have improved over the past few years to support sustainable food. A few years ago the film “Food, Inc. made a huge impact on how we began to think about the food we consume. After seeing that movie, it occurred to us that although we often cycle on low-traffic, rural roads, we rarely see cows grazing in pastures, a familiar site from our childhoods. I came to the conclusion that, even though I had thought I was doing a satisfactory job of supporting local farming by shopping at farmers’ markets, I could do more to ensure our family eats foods free of antibiotics, hormones, pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. So I started on a self-education journey beginning with the fascinating book by Michael Pollan THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA, A NATURAL HISTORY OF FOUR MEALS which he wrote to answer the question my husband asked me every single day when we were getting to know each other via e-mail, “What are you having for dinner?” (For more on that story see my post “A Curry Love Affair in the VeloKitchen.”)

We had been consuming organic fruits and vegetables, organic dairy products, grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, but after reading publications by Jeffrey M. Smith, a leading consumer advocate on non-GMO foods who publishes the practical non-GMO shopping guide, I banned non-organic corn, soy and canola oil from our kitchen and educated my husband and son on suspect GMO foods. At home we cook our meals from scratch, but the awareness of GMO ingredients in our country’s food supply makes us think twice when we make decisions about the food we are consuming.

Two years ago we joined a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, which is, essentially, a co-op where we and other families buy a season of crops grown on a local farm and pick up our share of each week’s harvest. Our CSA Zestful Gardens is run by Holly and Valerie, dedicated organic farmers whose farm is about nine miles from our home.  Our first year’s experience opened my eyes to the difference in flavors of locally grown vs. store bought produce. Not only were the vegetables more intense and vibrant in flavor, I was surprised by how long just-picked produce lasts in the refrigerator. After I picked up our first CSA share my biggest shock was finding a giant, slimy brown slug in a head of lettuce. I screamed and my husband and son came running, laughed at me and then reminded me that finding critters in the produce means that no nasty pesticides were used to grow it.  Last year I added another level of eco-consciousness to my CSA share pick-up routine. In the spirit of The Slow Bicycle Movement I rode my Townie bike the eighteen miles round trip to pick up many shares. I love the feeling of pedaling through my town with my bike basket and panniers filled with produce that had been harvested earlier that day.

My newest resolution is focusing on eating in-season foods during our non-CSA months. Living in the Pacific Northwest means fresh and colorful fruit from Chile in February is very tempting, but we are finding that in-season fruits grown closer to home are equally satisfying. For Mother’s Day last year my son gave me the cookbook CLEAN FOOD, an “encouraging, easy-to-understand guide to eating closer to the source and benefiting from the rich nutritional profile of the freshest, in-season, locally grown ingredients.” This cookbook’s recipes are organized by season and are easy to prepare.

Our family feels healthy and satisfied that we are doing our bit to help support sustainable farmers and the environment. My eight year old son has watched the Chipotle video many times. I hope our experience shows that going “Back to the Start” is an attainable goal, family by family and farm by farm. And, for me, this lifestyle change began with wanting to meet the chickens who lay the eggs we eat.

Cyclecation in Idaho

September 23, 2010

In August we spent two glorious weeks bike riding in Idaho’s panhandle. We stationed ourselves in Wallace, a small historic mining town whose claim to fame until the 1980’s was the host, (or should we say, “hostess?”), to more than a dozen brothels. Now the most notable red light in town is the Red Light Garage where huckleberry milkshakes are the claim to fame and locals play live music on the weekends. Aside from 300 miles of bike riding in two weeks we enjoyed swimming, tubing, fishing, hiking and eating huckleberries.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a 71 mile paved bike trail following the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way. The trails are smooth and wind through small towns, forests, rivers and around Lake Couer d’ Alene. The scenery is spectacular and the trails are easy to ride since the steepest grades are ones that trains used to summit. The trails are very safe for our seven year old to ride on his own bike and restroom access is readily available. We began our 20-40 mile rides at a different point on the trail each day ensuring an ice cream stop on just about every ride. The weather in August is ideal for bike riding: sunny, with temperatures in the low 80’s. Squirty’s longest ride was 40 miles! Once he tasted speed on his new Felt road bike, we couldn’t stop him. This is family bike riding at its best.

Cycling Chef Cycling

Cycling by the river

Harrison Trail

Bull Run Trail












The other bike riding highlight was mountain biking on breathtaking scenic stretches of railroad trails on the Route of the Hiawatha which winds through 10 train tunnels and 7 train trestles. The route is 15 miles downhill beginning at over 4,000 feet elevation. Aside from riding through pitch black, cold, drippy tunnels (the longest is 1.6 miles) the descent is fairly easy. The ascent on bikes was a sweaty, challenging 1,000 feet!

Trees! and more trees!

Hiawatha train trestle

A short train tunnel

Domestique in training

Stamina in the VeloKitchen

March 7, 2010

Mole Poblano

Ride a hilly Metric Century on my bicycle (62 miles) or prepare a Mole Poblano? Each takes about 5 -1/2 hours to complete and both are epic events. Standing in the kitchen can be nearly as tiring as pedaling for that duration. I’ve had the pleasure of eating many kinds of moles of pureed spices, chiles, seeds and a myriad of other ingredients in Mexico many times. I had heard that preparing this Mexican haute cuisine dish from scratch was time-consuming, but I had no idea of the effort required.  The recipe I chose is from Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art (available on and is very similar to the one in Frida’s Fiestas, Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo a lovely, beautiful cookbook.

22 dried chiles

My preparation began by shopping at the Mercado Latino which sells the dried chiles in separate bags for about $2.50 each. Nearly every one of the 20+ ingredients in this mole needs pre-treatment before being combined into one of three distinct purees. I toasted, roasted, blanched, blended, plumped, chopped, popped, husked, ground, soaked, fried, … you get the picture. In my pre-cooking research I read many warnings against taking shortcuts to avoid a muddy-tasting mole.

My husband helped out after his 30 mile bike ride by deveining and de-seeding 22 dried chiles: 9 mulato, 7 pasilla and 6 ancho. The dried chiles are black with specks of red and give the Mole Poblano its color. Chef Ravago strongly advises using exactly 22 chiles, and although you can vary the number of each, you may never substitute any other kind of chile. I counted out the chiles three times. I never question cooking superstitions especially on such an elaborate dish.

Ibarra chocolate

In the spirit of keeping my blog posts at around 500 words, I will summarize the next few hours of the preparation process which challenged all of my cooking know-how and followed with heavy-duty pureeing to ensure smooth pastes. By the end of the afternoon even my VitaMix and food processor were tired, their motors heating up in protest! I can certainly empathize with cooks from the days of old when the ingredients were hand-ground in a molcajete. After combining half a round of Ibarra Mexican chocolate with the purees, the mole quietly simmered in a dutch oven for about an hour requiring frequent stirring to prevent scorching. My fear of ruining four hours of food preparation and needlessly splattering the VeloKitchen and dirtying countless dishes counted toward my day’s upper body workout.

Mole Poblano is commonly served over chicken in Mexican restaurants. Frida’s recipe calls for turkey. Since we prepared this dish as an appetizer for a chocolate-themed wine dinner with foodie friends, we decided to present the mole over three kinds of meat: poached turkey, roasted duck and grilled pork, and served with a dark Mexican beer: Negra Modelo. My husband handled the roasting and grilling.

The end result was a divine Mole Poblano: well-balanced, smooth, spicy, but not too hot, and no flavor overpowered another. By far, the duck brought out the virtues of the mole’s flavors and the beer nicely complimented the spices and textures.

If you are interested in more photos of the mole preparation process, please visit my Cycling Chef Facebook page and share your Mole Poblano cooking and eating experiences in the comments below!


©2010 Cycling_Chef’s Velokitchen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. All Rights Reserved

A Curry Love Affair in the VeloKitchen

November 22, 2009

I haven’t always had a love affair with curry, especially Indian curries. In fact, when I met Tony and we began our long distance, (7,253 miles or 11,671 km), year long courtship between Seattle, Washington and Wellington, New Zealand via email and I learned Indian food was his favorite, a thought crossed my mind that we might not be as compatible as we had seemed in person. I now realize my Indian curry experience had been quite limited.

Hundreds of emails in 12 months where his burning question EVERY day was, “What are you having for dinner?” made me realize the way to this man’s heart was through his stomach. It wasn’t until after we were married and he moved many jars of assorted spices, seeds, pods, sticks, peppers and leaves into the spice cupboard that I learned he was quite serious about his curries. I made a mental note that to have harmony at our dinner table I should learn to embrace Indian curries. As it turned he introduced me to my first homemade Indian curry via his favorite recipe book “Indian Curries” by Madhur Jaffrey. Timatur Murghi (Chicken with tomatoes and garam masala) was delicious! That dish is what I now call my “comfort curry.”

With curry peace achieved my husband cooked about two curries a week for several years. I started reading curry recipes, but felt intimidated by the long lists of ingredients. It’s not unusual for a curry recipe to call for 10 to 15 spices PLUS another five or more other ingredients (meat, tomatoes, onions, etc.). Most curry recipe instructions are fairly precise in the order to add each ingredient and the duration to stir, cook or simmer each before adding the next which makes them seem complex, but once I got brave enough to cook the first few, the steps became logical.

I don’t remember which curry recipe I chose first to prepare on my own and without a pre-made curry mix, but I found cooking Indian curries quite enjoyable. That led to our next step, our 50 Curries Project, where we are cooking our way out of a curry rut of preparing the same 6-8 recipes. We decided to stretch our apron strings and are experimenting with different curry flavors by cooking our way through Camellia Panjabi’s “50 Great Curries of India” cookbook. The photos in the cookbook are mouth watering.

We are cooking the curries at random and a few weekends ago we prepared our eighth curry from Panjabi’s book, Malabar Shrimp Curry (Konju Curry). The photo of this curry graces the cover of the cookbook and is a beautiful combination of red and orange accented with green curry leaves and hot peppers. We made this curry with U15 prawns. The most interesting and different preparation step from other curries we have cooked was heating two teaspoons of oil in a ladle over the stovetop burner and adding sliced shallots and curry leaves to infuse the oil which was poured over the prawns just before serving. We rated this dish 8/10 and will certainly be preparing this curry again.

Next weekend we invited friends to dinner for the ninth curry. I’m pretty sure we will delay making the egg curry, (I’ve got to get my head around hard boiled eggs and curry), or the Aab Gosht (Lamb Cooked in Milk). The photo of Aab Gosht shows white meat, apparently from the milk, served on white rice which doesn’t look too appetizing in the photo. But every curry in this cookbook has surprised our taste buds, so stand by for the next curry post and the rest in this book. We are committed to cooking all 50!

Do you enjoy preparing and eating Indian curries? Check out our Curry Crazy Project on our 50 Curries Project page where we are cooking our way through Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India cookbook!

©2009 Cycling_Chef’s Velokitchen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. All Rights Reserved.


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