Cooking Matters


Posted by Cassie

One thing about my job, is that it is always something new. I have worked in tobaco prevention and education for most of my time with the health department and continue to do a component of that with half my time, but I have also started to branch off into the “healthy eating, active living” (HEAL) side of things which is basically community obesity prevention and interventions. Both obesity and tobacco use cause the majority of preventable deaths and disease -cancers, heart diseases, strokes, diabetes, etc. So it is definitely important work.


Recruiting for the cooking class at Milliken’s Beef and Bean Day

Even before this new assignment at work, I’ve always been interested in nutrition and good food. But I’ve never been much for the cooking side of things. Eventhough I know that people who cook more at home tend to be healthier than those who eat out, I still just never got that into cooking.I love to eat good, whole, homemade, delicious and nutritious food, but always thought of cooking as a pain and only something Britton and I had time to do on the weekends. The work week usually meant (and sometimes still means) a quick throw-together of pasta or rice, frozen vegetables and fish or chicken.

It is still hard to fit in time to cook, but ever since I have been coordinating and collaborating to help facilitate a program called “Cooking Matters” in Milliken I’ve been intrigued with trying a few new things. In Cooking Matters we have a nutrition professor from CSU (Fort Collins) as well as another health educator helping to teach the course which is primarily geared at the underserved populations.

Everyone always has their usual bag of tricks when it comes to preparing food (like our evening throw-togethers), so a healthy cooking class helps to open your eyes to the wonders of all sorts of foods.


Cumin-Would be nice to grow in the garden -I wonder if it would do well in PR

In fact, I think I’ve found my new favorite spice: cumin! I’ve never even paid much attention to it until in the class we made hummus -which is just basically pureed garbanzo beans, garlic, salt and cumin -so easy! And the cumin makes all the difference! It is also what makes Mexican food so delicious. Not only that, but this spice, like many spices boasts health benefits as well such as being a good source of iron, helping with digestion, and even cancer prevention!

Anyhow, we had a bout of cold, rainy weather this week and weekend, so for fun, we stayed in and cooked up a bunch of food. Some of these included:

Hummus with pita chips
Pearl Barley and vegetable chicken soup
Chai tea
Enchilada lasagna -slice up whole grain tortillas into strips about the size of lasagna noodles -do not cook! In a cooking pan sautee chicken, add enchilada sauce, can of tomatoes, lots of spices like cumin and oregano, sliced bell peppers (and jalapenos if you like it hot), black olives, etc. Put this mixture on top of the strips of tortillas in a large dish (13×9) and layer as you would lasagna. Add shredded cheese and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Uncover for another ten if you like the cheese browned. Let sit for a bit. Add fat free greek yogurt or sour cream if desired on top.
Apple Crisp -Made with about 5 fresh apples with the skin still on sliced to about an 1/8 inch. Pumpkin pie spices (ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon), brown sugar and a tiny bit of flour. For the topping (the crisp): A little butter, brown sugar, quick oats, flour and more spices mixed together and put on top. Then bake in the  350 degree oven for about 30-45 minutes.


Slice of Carrot Cake!


Betty Crocker’s Homemade Carrot Cake -
Made with 3 cups or about 8 freshly grated carrots and applesauce in a 1 to 1 complete exchange of the oil and decreased the sugar from 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups. Also added nutmeg, ginger, and cloves in addition to the cinnamon that was called for. Added chopped walnuts. And made the cream cheese frosting Betty Crocker called for (but made with lower fat neufchatel cheese). This was SOO good. And not too terrible nutrition wise!


Yum! Lasagna

Then last night we cooked up traditional lasagana only we used ground turkey in place of beef and added a lot of vegetables.

Cooking is still a pain with all the prep work of chopping and dicing, recipe reading and substituting and of course the cleaning up afterward, but the results are sooo delicious and so much better than any pre-processed options out there.

So while I started out as the reluctant coordinator of this cooking class, I am definitely turning into a convert! Plus I’ve been able to meet all sorts of nice people in the class as well. I would suggest to anyone who has “food issues” -like being overweight, picky, or a fast-food fiend that the best help is a cooking class! Very practical and fun! You control what is in your food and therefore what goes into your body. It is a freeing feeling. Cooking matters! It really does! :-)

14 thoughts on “Cooking Matters

  1. Cassie Post author

    Oh and for the lasagna, I always use cottage cheese instead of ricotta and I used whole wheat noodles.

  2. Fran and Steve

    Re: Whole wheat pasta. Puerto Ricans (at least on the east side of the island–maybe it’s different out near Rincon) do not care for it, nor brown rice. At Sam’s they were practically giving it away. A package of 4 boxes of spaghetti & linguini for $1.29 (we stocked up). At Ralph’s, a box of rotini for 39 cents. They also don’t care for greek yogurt, hummus, or whole wheat bread, which makes it difficult to find those things here. They also don’t like diet soda, or diet anything. You will just die when you see, time and time again, obese people with their carts filled with sugary processed foods, regular chips, and items to be fried. I once commented to a local acquaintance (non-obese, btw) that I was shocked to see how much obesity, heart disease, and diabetes is here since I last lived here in the 70′s. He told me that the American diet influence was to blame. Huh??? That might have been true in the 80′s, but it’s almost like the mindset was stuck there. You have your work cut out for you here, girl! = Fran

  3. CouponFrugality

    Coupons are great for home cooking (believe it or not!!!) I have TONS of whole wheat pasta I was able to buy for FREE!!! Usually you can get the Healthy Harvest Whole Wheat pasta free after a coupon and sale at King Soopers :) Last year those sales where just around this time of year, so hoping for a repeat!!! I am having to mix it with a little bit of the Smart Taste pasta (white) as the taste is completely different and we are not used to it.

    Lots of baking goods going on sale coming up around Thanksgiving & Christmas. Last year I was able to get lots of Cream of Mushroom soup for FREE (or around $0.20 a can), Evap Milk (FREE or darn near it), etc. Rice is also available (brown) nearly free after coupons.

    I think its great how you also demonstrated how you can take a processed food (Betty Crocker) and pair it with certain ingredients to make a healthier alternative. When i’m rushed for time I use the Tuna Helper box as a base, but throw in whole wheat pasta, albacore tuna and LOTS of Broccoli ( a fav around here, lol).

  4. Cassie

    CF- Actually, the carrot cake wasn’t processed…it was all made from scratch, just from Betty Crocker’s cookbook. I even used whole wheat flour too! I thought it might be a little too fibrous, but with all the carrots and walnuts it actually made it seem like it was supposed to be that way. And Britton is a carrot cake aficionado and he said it was one of the best carrot cakes he had ever had! Pretty good compliment I’d say.

    Whole wheat stuff does take a while to get used to, but when you realize that white bread and pastas and things like that have virtually no health benefits at all it makes it worth it. And, like most things, once you are used to eating it, then it doesn’t seem strange and in fact the old ways of white, sugary, fried, super salty stuff seems really weird.

    I’ll have to pay attention to the coupons in the paper coming up to stock up on the baking supplies and pastas. Britton is hard to motivate for the coupon mind-set. But we definitely watch the sales. If you ever have too much food or it’s about to expire let us know and we’ll help you finish it off :-) Maybe we could have a potluck where everyone in the fam uses something to make a nutrititious dish…That might be fun for Thanksgiving.

    Fran,
    Do Puerto Rican grocery stores take coupons? I’ve never noticed that when I was in an Econo or Mr. Special.

    That’s interesting about PR and the food issues there…I remember reading in the book “When I Was Puerto Rican” (the memoir by E. Santiago) that they were often subjected to the mainland American diet influences such as sliced bread and apples which in the 50s they often didn’t really have. And they didn’t give food exchanges for mangos, guavas, pineapples, breadfruit, plantains, etc. They were basically just told that it was the American diet or nothing.

    So, they tried to fit into a 1950s mold for everything when it was obvious that it should be adapted to the island’s produce. In a lot of ways it seems like PR is still stuck in the 1980′s like you said. Where traditional malls in the mainland US seem to be dying and transforming into outdoor “shopping plazas”, littering and drunk driving are now socially stigmatized, and the obesity epidemic has reached a tipping point in the US, in Puerto Rico, malls are bustling, fast food is great, drinking and driving and throwing out trash is no big deal and who ever heard of whole grains?! It’s a trip for sure. I think it will change, but change does come slowly. At least PR never got on board with the whole smoking thing and I don’t think I’ve EVER seen someone chew tobacco there!

    As for pop -diet or otherwise I try to stay away. There’s no nutrition at all! Even diet soda has been connected with metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes and linked with obesity. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/health/nutrition/05symp.html

  5. katrinakruse

    The best things to avoid are dairy (especially cheese) and processed anything. In PR that leaves very little unless you go the raw route and grow some stuff. The only way to get flour other than bleached ultra-refined white is to grind your own grain (which you can find) and eat other grains instead (quinea, oat and buckwheat grouts). There is beautiful fruit here but you don’t want to Puerto Ricanize it with cups of added sugar. A dehydrator will allow you to make leathers or dried chunks of unadulterated fruits complete with their amino acids and fiber intact! Living here makes you pay way more attention to what you ARE eating and makes you learn about your evil ways. I never saw the value of canned beans before which, although processed, maintain most of their nutrient value and are readily available. Living where most every food is crap makes you investigate healthier living more once you pass the food “breaking point!” I will never understand eating a whole plate of white (yucca, chicken, white bread, white rice) or eating 3 carbohydrates in a single meal! I can tell you where to find real foods once you get here – there are some….

  6. Fran and Steve

    You need to read the fine print on the coupon to see if you can use it in PR. Yes, you can find some healthy stuff here, but it’s like finding needles in a haystack. Katrina will be a great resource for you. Another funny thing is that Chinese restaurants (very popular here) offer your choice of french fries or tostones on the side!
    Regarding the reports on diet soda: There have been other reports that find that people who overindulge in diet sodas are more likely to have poor food habits overall, so there’s that correlation. I find that if I crave a cola once or twice a week (cold caffeine to go with my fast food wrap or salad), I’ll get a diet one, so I can at least avoid the sugar spike. Here on the east side, it is virtually impossible to order a beverage that’s not sugary, aside from diet sodas. I’ve tried to order unsweetened iced tea everywhere from fast food places to high end restaurants, and what they offer is the canned or bottled sugary variety. Only exception so far has been Chili’s. You can never go wrong with Puerto Rican coffee though. Best in the world, IMHO. I’m sure you will find ways to adapt, I just wish there was better nutritional advocacy for the general population here. — Fran

  7. katrinakruse

    Fran and all – the best resource for “real” foods are the adventist-run stores. No chocolate (because of the caffeine) but plenty of raw nuts, grains, nut milks, soy products, cold-press oils and other good stuff. The stores aren’t really advertised and are in bizarre locations but if you can find them the food is “real,” and fresh since there is good turn over of products. You can also order things in bulk and they will actually try to get things for you. Lots of quinea, wheat, spelt pastas, lentils, soybeans, agave, zero, stevia, honey etc… it brought us out of the food dungeon…

  8. Fran and Steve

    Good to know, Katrina. Steve has been looking for local honey, and I need to find some healthier food options. I’ll look for an adventist store around here — I can always get dark chocolate at Sam’s :=) BTW, I found agave nectar at Marshall’s, in their food section. They had both light and dark. Needless to say, I stocked up. As you know, one has to do that in PR, because you never know when/if they’ll get another shipment. — Fran

  9. Cassie

    Awilda, the woman we were trying to buy the property in Lares from, was 7th Day Adventist -which in food terms meant she was vegetarian -actually a vegan.

    She made vegetarian pasteles- the Puerto Rican Christmas treat and sold them to all sorts of little health food stores from San Juan to Ponce to Rincon! We went with her on a few of her deliveries, so we know where a few of those places are. Her daughter is a naturopathic doctor as well as her ex-husband who is a big-shot in the supplement business.

    But I never really got excited by the food she served to us. She had that super processed fake ham, fake cheese, and fake coffee! (She said coffee was only good for enemas!) At that property there were 25 acres of all sorts of fruits and vegetables and she was eating fake ham and cheese sandwiches with iceberg lettuce! I just couldn’t get over that! And as for chocolate, they only eat that carob stuff which is NOTHING like good dark chocolate. Cheese is a saturated fat, but I’d rather have a tiny bit of cheese than a whole wad of fake soy cheese. bleh.

    But I do agree that those stores had all sorts of good, real food that I think Britton and I will enjoy. I’m sad that the organic store in Rincon closed :-( But I think the Anne Wigmore (sp?) one is still open.

  10. katrinakruse

    Adventists don’t do caffeine (chocolate, coffee etc) but are vegan meaning lots of good foods for us! I won’t give up coffee, my home-made toasted granola and would love to make real whole grain bread (eaten with non-vegan real butter of course!)… but have found that fresh herbs, different vinegars or fresh lemons can make uncooked veggies and grains spectacular! The mistake vegetarians and vegan’s and raw foodists make is to copy the SAD diet (had to throw that in, it is Standard American Diet). There are actually many foods you CAN get here (nuts, grains, soy products)…just limited in the fresh greens department except at SAMs. Fran, Costco in Caguas has many things Sams does not like medjool dates year round, sun dried tomatoes (in a jar of oil or in a bag without oil) and agave at a cheap cheap price. If I lived on your side Costco would be my supermarket. Cassie – Wigmore doesn’t have anything and the organic Rincon Store had less selection than Freshmart…

  11. Fran and Steve

    Costco sounds great, but not really worth the 35 minute trip and kamikaze drivers. Sam’s is 5 minutes away (I go at least twice a week), as is Marshalls, which I routinely scout out for gourmet healthy items. A huge Ralph’s is also 5 minutes away, though I’m not a big fan. We go to the commissary at Ft. Buchanan twice a month (it is an hour away), and they have a lot of stuff (including produce and whole wheat “pan criollo”) not available in local stores around here. Their motto is “The Commissary, worth the trip!” YAY for Steve being retired military! In Sacramento, grocery shopping was sooo much easier! — Fran

  12. CouponFrugality

    Whoppss… misread that, lol.

    At one point I was actually thinking about grinding our own flour. Even a lot of the “whole wheat” flours on the market are extremely processed. Even though they say “whole wheat” they are most likely no different than the white flour sitting next to them. It really depends on how they grind the flour and what parts of the wheat berry they are using. Of course you can always buy wheat berries, and they are good for long term food storage. They keep for a VERY long time. So keeping them around with a good old stone grinder is probably your best bet :) We actually made our own pasta for a while. It was really fun.

    Hmm.. I had never noticed where the coupons are valid at, I guess I just take for granted that they are accepted in the US. However, upon further investigation some of them indicate they are good only in the US, APO’s and FPO’s. But some have no restrictions at all as far as locations.

    Now, my doctor told me to avoid soy based milk and dairy products. Something to do with hormones and increased risks of cancer???? She also was telling me, and I had read in several resources, that fruits from higher temp places should be eaten sparingly due to the fact that the sugar is processed extremely fast in the blood stream. Fruits from higher temp climates where being compared to eating a candy bar. I guess fruits in colder weather climates produce a different type of sugar that is processed slowly by the body over a longer period of time.

  13. Rosa

    You only go thru this life once, I am not going to deprive myself of things I love, such as CHOCOLATE! Frank and I usually eat salads during the week, but on the weekends we do love thai spicy food or really good made tres leches cake :) Love…but guess what I just discovered Soy Milk…I love making a shake in the morning with Soy Milk, fiber and Whey Protein…just a tad…delish. I am hooked.

  14. katrinakruse

    Dairy is the number one inflammation maker in the body (food wise anyway) plus problems with residual drugs (80% of US antibiotics are used in producing meat and their associated products – 80%!) Store bought Fruit JUICE is not good because of added sugar and other crap and a lack of active enzymes due to pastuerization but raw fruit sugars get absorbed more slowly in the body because of the fiber content in the fruit. Also it has live enzymes etc (as does properly made and consumed fruit juice without added sugar). Lots of calories though. Carrots have more sugars than most fruits so chomping on carrot sticks all day isn’t helpful if you are trying to avoid sugar. If you eat fresh fruit with other fibers (after a bean salad or whole grain salad) you slow down the sugar absorption. Check out information on the glycemic Index for specific foods and it is shocking! Also check out greenlight or champion or green power juicers…I am currently investigating them! When I see what food banks call food (sweet rolls, pringles, soda) i want to barf. It should be a bag of canned beans, a bottle of vinegar, a packet of spices and oil with a recipe for an actual healthy and filling meal! Maybe this is my calling…..

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