June 14, 2023

What is Good Food?

Understanding the Ingredients and Flavors That Define Healthy Eating

During a recent conversation with a participant in my "Transform How You Eat" program, a woman expressed uncertainty about what constitutes good food. She explained that she didn't grow up eating many of the foods I teach about, like fresh garlic, basil, and homemade salad dressing.

Therefore, it has been her norm to rely on bottled dressing, pre-minced garlic, premade sauces, and foods from the grocery store. She also noted that her area only has chain restaurants, leaving her wondering if she has ever truly experienced "good food."

a lovely arrangement of homemade food at the family table
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As we spoke further, she shared that many foods she thought were good were actually items I had recommended giving up, such as boxed cereal, pre-shredded cheese, jarred salad dressing, and store-bought baked goods. After working with me, she understood why I suggested replacing them with healthier options. She agreed that grating a block of cheese makes sense and that it's best to avoid pre-shredded cheese because it contains cellulose, a wood by-product used to prevent clumping.

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And why buy whipped cream when it contains less than 2% cream—the rest of the ingredients include additives, sugar, and chemicals—when she can whip cream in 3 minutes and control the amount of sugar and quality.

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A bowl of fresh strawberries and homemade whipped cream with orange water
Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream

Similarly, why buy a salad dressing containing sugar, salt, and citric acid, which is manufactured from a type of mold? -when she can whip up a French vinaigrette dressing in 2 minutes. She concluded that products with long lists of additives and preservatives on the labels were not good for her health or weight. Equally important, the new fresh replacements tasted better— this is good food.

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Arugula, Endives, and Radicchio with Homemade Vinaigrette and Homemade Croutons

When it came to dining out, she was shifting her perspective and began making dishes at home that she would typically order at a restaurant. She was amazed at how easy they were to prepare and how much money she was saving. By using fresh, pure ingredients and cooking at home instead of eating the commercially made sauces and mediocre oil and butter often found in restaurants, she found she digested her food better and felt better overall. The meals she prepared were even better than anything from any chain in her area.

She was most impressed with how quick and easy it is to make "fancy" dinners she used only to order out, like crab legs. Bake them in the oven for 10-12 minutes, and serve the crab with a homemade Aioli sauce, which takes 3 minutes to make. Add a homemade Caesar salad ( 5 minutes prep time) and a fruit clafoutis ( 10- 15 minutes prep time) for dessert, and you have a Friday night dinner that is easy to make and worthy of a king.

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Crab Legs with Aioli Sauce
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Caesar Salad
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Pear Clafoutis

Many of these flavors were new, and some immediately hit the spot, like the taste of Homemade Fettuccine Alfredo versus a commercially made source found at the restaurant. The homemade version took just a few minutes to make with the authentic Italian recipe of only butter and parmesan and was so light and flavorful.

Bowl of fettuccini alfredo
Fettuccini Alfredo

Or the taste of homemade granola versus boxed cereals.

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However, some other flavors and ingredients were initially strange, like a homemade vinaigrette salad dressing with fresh garlic and Dijon mustard or a Caesar dressing made with anchovies. The intense flavors of fresh garlic and Dijon mustard were new to her palate, and she was hesitant to try the Caesar dressing recipe, stating that she did not like anchovies. Although she couldn't detect the taste of the anchovies in the Caesar dressing, just a delightful layer of flavor, she knew the anchovies were in the sauce, and it took some getting used to. But after trying these recipes a few times, she could not argue that they weren't delicious. And the flavors had become her new craving.

Wooden Salad Bowl with French vinaigrette dressing inside
French Vinaigrette
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Homemade Caeser Dressing

It's not that they weren't flavorful. In fact, they were too flavorful, shocking to her palate. And the simplicity of a fresh tomato with a drizzle of olive oil seemed almost boring at first.

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I told her to continue trying the replacements, avoid the former processed foods, and check back with me in a month or two.

When we picked up our conversation about what "good food" means, I suggested she take a taste test. She bought some of the foods she had eliminated, tried them for the first time in several months, and ate out twice at the better chain restaurants in her area. She remarked on how the food wasn't that good, and she preferred her homemade vinaigrette salad dressing, fish en papillote- fresh fish baked with capers or olives, fresh herbs, and lemons, and finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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And a ripe summer tomato with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh basil was now so good she savored every bite. She no longer purchased store-bought baked goods and instead enjoyed wholesome homemade desserts guilt free.

Two OUnce dessert cups filled with panna cotta and topped with raspberry sauce nad fresh raspberreis
Panna Cotta

She decided that the former food choices were not coming back to her menu as she deemed them not "good food."

Now she makes her own sauces and garnishes her steaks with garlic, parsley, and butter instead of a jarred streak sauce. She makes simple Italian pasta dishes like the infamous Cacio e Pepe instead of buying jarred pasta sauces. And serving French-style fruit salad for a delicious dessert she enjoys guilt-free. She is eliminating many foods, but she stated, "I'm not really giving up anything because everything I eat is so good and satisfying, and I feel better."

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Pan-Seared Steak with Garlic and Parsley
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Cacio e Pepe

What is your definition of good food? Everyone has a different definition based on the type of food they like, but there is one universal point. Good food is food that is wholesome and high quality. What is flavorful varies from person to person, but the quality of food is universal.

We talked once more since then, and she shared that adding fresh garlic to her cooking has been revelatory. I am a huge fan of raw garlic, I can't get enough of the flavor, and I know how good it is for health, so I cook with it often. However, she found that her family likes it in moderation. It is a huge hit when she adds it to the pan as she finishes a pan-seared steak since it caramelizes and crisps while cooking versus raw. And when she makes the Caesar dressing, her family prefers one fresh clove of garlic versus the three cloves I recommend in my recipe.

Take the challenge this month and replace some processed foods from your family's diet. Instead of the jar, make a salad dressing and fresh pasta sauce. Replace ketchup and steak sauce with aioli and butter, garlic, and fresh herbs.

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Pistachio, Basil, Lemon, and Mint Pesto

Introducing new foods may be an acquired taste and mean redefining what tastes good. Often what tastes good in food is the added salt, sugar, and chemical additives, not the food itself. Therefore, introducing new foods into your diet may seem strange at first but will become preferred after the new taste is acquired, as may be the case with this next dish, Bagna Cauda.

Bagna Cauda may be an acquired taste, but it is a dream if you love garlic and butter and are willing to try anchovies. And it is so incredibly healthy with all the nutrients that garlic and anchovies provide. You can feel good about eating butter when you remember it is rich in essential nutrients such as vitamins A, E, B12, and K., and it's healthier than the chemicals found in processed condiments. Regarding anchovies, if they aren't on your menu, consider trying them. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, and when used in cooking, the anchovy taste doesn't stand out. Instead, they create an exciting layer of flavor that just tastes good.

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If you need ideas for fresh, delicious replacements for processed foods, write to me here. Ciao for now!

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Easy Basil Pesto
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