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Made-From-Scratch Meals Mean a Healthier 2018

Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day, days during which we’re encouraged to overindulge in high-fat, sugary treats, are over. It’s the perfect time to share last week’s sobering national news. According to a published medical report, eating highly-processed food is associated with an increase of 10 percent or more in overall cancer risks. The good news is, cheese and pasta were not on the list. I breathed a sigh of relief about pasta’s favorable rating, but decided it was time to remove a few items from my shopping list.

To get my started, I checked out the report's list. Foods associated with additional cancer risk include mass-produced packaged breads and baked goods; instant noodles and soups; sweet or savory packaged snacks, and frozen meatballs, chicken, and fish nuggets, to name a few.

Bad news aside, there are ways to reduce our risks of cancer and other medical conditions without going hungry. The first one is simple: create more of our meals from scratch. Ways to do this include buying fresh fruits and vegetables and incorporating them into meals; investing in a bread maker to make our own homemade bread products and instead of reaching for a can or box, making our own stock.

In simple terms, we need to spend more time cooking and less time microwaving meals with unpronounceable ingredients.

A simple way to get started is to get out a large stockpot. If you don’t own one, consider investing in one. Making your own stock to freeze and use in soups, stews, casseroles, and other baked dishes is simple and results in enough liquid for several recipes. Best of all, the cooked meat can be reinvented in a number of meals.

I’ve shared the recipe for the stock I make using the leftover turkey meat and bones following holiday dinners. Similarly, it's easy to make chicken stock using a whole chicken or chicken breasts.

To make it, fill a stockpot with four quarts of water, followed by a couple of yellow onions, quartered into large chunks, and three or four coarsely-chopped ribs of celery. Next, whatever meat I’m using is added – if it’s the entire turkey carcass, I make sure that it’s completely covered by water - followed by two teaspoons of salt, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, and three bay leaves.

Cover the pot and bring liquid to a boil, then lower to medium and allow to simmer for two hours. The mixture will simmer quietly while you're watching your favorite television shows at night. After removing the pot from heat, let the liquid cool, then strain any fat that has risen to the top. Using a strainer, reserve the meat and vegetables and pour stock into freezer bags for later use.

Just like that, you have a stockpile of stock for the freezer and cooked vegetables that can be chopped and used right away in spaghetti sauce, gumbo, or other sauces. Best of all, the cooked chicken can be transformed into chicken sandwiches. Or, make chicken salad, pulled barbecued chicken sandwiches, or any number of pasta or baked dishes.

My commitment to eating less processed foods coincided with an ad from an Oxford bakery touting its homemade pop tarts. The Cakery made their homemade fruit-filled pastries look so delicious that I had to make my own. They’re simple to make and 100 times better than the boxed kind.

Only a few weeks have passed since the New Year dawned, so there's still time to make resolutions. Let’s commit to eating healthier in 2018. It's a goal that comes with choosing fresh ingredients at the supermarket or farmer’s market, then adding them to healthy, made-from-scratch meals that enhance, not negatively alter or even worse, shorten our lives.

I’ll get your started with a healthier version of a popular take-out dish. Here’s to a healthier 2018!

Healthy Homemade Chinese Take-In

1 pound spaghetti (can use whole wheat or multi-grain variety or combine regular and healthier version)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large eggs, beaten

3 chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips

3 thin-cut pork chops, sliced into thin strips

Sprinkle of salt, ground black pepper, and coriander

2-3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 (2-inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

5 scallions, thinly sliced

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen peas and carrots, defrosted

1 red bell pepper, stemmed and sliced into thin strips

1 small can mushrooms, drained

1 small can water chestnuts, drained

2 cups packaged shredded cabbage


3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 teaspoons hot sauce

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta cooks, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add beaten eggs and scramble until golden brown. Remove eggs to another platter.

Lightly season meat strips with salt, pepper, and coriander. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to skillet and stir-fry meat strips for a few minutes, or until lightly browned on both sides. Move meat to the side of the skillet and add ginger, garlic and remaining vegetables to skillet. Stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, then add cooked and drained pasta and scrambled eggs. Mix everything together well, including the meat.

In a small bowl, mix together the sauce and pour over mixture, tossing to combine. Turn off heat and continue to toss for 30 seconds until all liquid is absorbed. Add more seasonings as needed before serving.

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