Monday, May 27, 2013

Recipe freedom? Or how to learn to cook fearlessly...

Before we get started, a housekeeping note:  If you were looking for my blogpost yesterday (I hope you weren't!  You should have been enjoying the holiday weekend!), I apologize.  I will be changing my posting day to Monday afternoon.  My little way of brightening up your first day of the week!  Now onward...

RECIPES!  If you know me at all, you know how I feel about these seemingly necessary evils of cooking.  I want everyone to learn how to cook without one.  But you probably don't feel comfortable just throwing the baby out with the bath water so I have some steps to follow to your freedom.  It involves learning how to fully use your recipe and then moving on to the place where you don't need it.  Then, you can apply this method to the next recipe and the next and before you know it, you won't need one.  So let's get started.
We will use one of my basic recipes as an example and I'll show you how to use it then move beyond it. 
This way you learn a method and get a great recipe, too...BONUS!
It was hard to decide which recipe to choose but thought it would be a good idea to start from one of my originals.  I will take you through my thought process in creating it so you can find your own way.  But first, the place from which we are starting.  This is a recipe from and is simply called Ramen Noodle Salad.  The author noted that a friend at work gave her this recipe (she didn't think she would like it) and then brought the finished salad to work one day.  The author loved it and makes it all the time is quick and easy.
OK...I will give on that point.  It IS quick and easy to buy a bag of cole slaw mix, throw in Ramen soup noodles and make dressing from the mix.
    • 1 (8 ounce) bags coleslaw mix ( I used half of a 16 oz. bag)
    • 1 package ramen noodles, raw & crushed ( I like the Oriental Flavor)
    • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds ( I used dry roasted)
    • 1/2 cup oil
    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 1/4 cup sugar ( I use 6 pkts. of Splenda)


  1. Mix together the coleslaw mix, crushed noodles& sunflower kernels.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the Ramen Noodle seasoning pkt.
  3. ,oil, vinegar& sugar together.
  4. Mix all together& refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Here are my thoughts on this Ramen Noodle Salad.
First of all, do you know how much sodium is in the soup flavoring?  I'm having a stroke just thinking about it!  Next, the noodles are also super processed and only serve as a filler.  Finally, is it really that hard to shred cabbage?
So that is where I started.  How could I change this pretty good albeit dangerously high in sodium salad into something healthier (not always a huge prerequisite for me but in this case...) and much more delicious?  The way you start is by dissecting it.  And, I'm going to show you how to do that.  First, consider the components of the salad.

Let's think about this...cole slaw mix.  What is in that?  Hmmm, green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots, right?  It's about $2 for a bag.  Convenient and time saving, yes, if you like hunks of green and red cabbage mixed throughout the properly shredded cabbage with an occasional carrot stick thrown in.  I think a lot of people end up re-shredding the big pieces so not so time saving.  Why not start with a good head of green cabbage or better yet, this is an Asian salad, what about Napa cabbage (also known as Chinese cabbage)?  You don't have to worry about it sweating and wilting after you've dressed it so you also don't have to salt it first to pull out the extra moisture.  It is tender and flavorful.  Next, tackle the Ramen noodle part.  What could you substitute?  Something crunchy and real for the processed noodles and then think about the flavorings in the soup mix.  The Oriental flavor tastes like...ginger, sesame, soy sauce (intensified) but also a little sweet.  Then, crunch - I usually go to nuts for that; I like almonds with Asian and toasting them adds more to the crunchy part.  Those of you who come to my cooking classes know how I sing the praises of homemade salad dressing, well, this is just another homemade dressing so in addition to your Asian flavors, you will need vinegar (how about rice wine vinegar, it's Asian) and oil (go flavorless like canola or grapeseed).  Grated ginger, toasted sesame oil, low-sodium soy sauce and brown sugar.  You could use white sugar but brown with its molasses background just makes it earthier and more flavorful.  The rest is up to you and what you like in salad.  I like cucumber, red bell pepper and green onions;  they just seem more Asian to me than some other ingredients like carrots and sunflower kernels, for instance and sunflower seeds are so outre (pronounced ooh-tray).  So here is my version of Ramen Noodle Salad.
Asian Slaw 
Serves 8
1 head Napa (Chinese) cabbage, shredded
1 small English cucumber, half round cuts
5 green onions, sliced on the bias (that just means at an angle)
½ red bell pepper, julienned
1 cup almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. soy sauce (low-sodium)
1 tsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, unseasoned
½ cup canola oil
Pepper, to taste

Combine slaw ingredients (except salt and pepper) in a large bowl.  Set aside.
In a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine ginger, garlic and brown sugar.  Stir with a small spoon to blend then add soy sauce and sesame oil.  Add vinegar and canola oil and shake until well blended…you should have an emulsion.
Taste for seasoning and add pepper as needed.
Pour half of the dressing over the slaw and toss.  Add additional dressing as needed but salad should not be over-dressed.
Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

So here are the first steps to making a recipe your own:
  • Find a recipe you like but think could be better
  • Take the components apart, you CAN do it!
  • Substitute ingredients you prefer, you can do this part, too!
  • Go real and fresh versus fake and processed
  • Experiment!  My Asian Slaw has gone through a number of permutations.
  • Be fearless! 
Here is a quote from Tim Ferriss, author of the Four Hour books...he is a smart ass but also says a lot of good things...I like him!

Can I get an AMEN?!

And, as always...

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