Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sidebar: Why does Travis Cook?

This blog is obviously full of what I cook—but I wanted to step back and discuss why I cook what I cook. I'll lump them into three categories, but the lines are admittedly pretty blurry.

Ethical Reasons

I buy meat from local farms that treat their animals well. A lot of mass-produced meat was, frankly, physically ill at the time of slaughter. Cows force fed corn and cow byproducts does not a healthy cow make. Chickens crammed into a "free range" pen with their beaks clipped so they can't damage each other, wallowing in their feces, does not a healthy chicken make. Giant monoculture crops that are loaded with pesticides because monoculture crops are more vulnerable to disease does not good produce make.

That is not for me. Local farms with diverse, organic crops and happy, healthy animals is what I want to eat.

Health Reasons

Processed food is the bane of modern, obese America. Buck the trend. Don't waste time reading labels—buy food that doesn't have labels, and it's hard to go wrong.

Stop and consider: what did homo sapiens eat when they first became a species? That's what we evolved to eat, what our digestive systems and bodies are best at using for fuel. I'll give you a few hints: there was no corn syrup (in fact, no corn, as maize was selectively bred after the advent of agriculture). There was a lot of meat and animal fat. Lots of leafy greens. Plenty of berries, seeds and nuts. There was no grain, no grain mills, no bread, no pastries, no pasta.

Just because we have advanced technology and most of our bodies CAN handle things like Wonder Bread doesn't mean that we SHOULD.

Eat local, eat seasonal! I have very little fruit in the winter, but I will gorge myself this summer when the farmers' market explodes with produce.

Eat grass-fed. Fun fact: omega 3 fatty acids—the good fats—come from grass. Lots of people think they come from fish, but the fish get them from algae. If you eat grass-fed beef, you get more omega 3s and less omega 6s (the bad fats, that come from things like corn seeds that are counter-evolutionarily fed to cows). And remember, our evolutionary ancestors hunted meat—all of that meat was grass fed.

Glycemic index and insulin response. Know this: sugars and high glycemic-index carbs trigger a spike in blood sugar, which triggers a spike in insulin, which shuttles nutrients around—usually to fat for long-term storage, but can be tricked into building muscle if you time it right.

Fitness Reasons

Timing certain macro-nutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) around fitness is important to maximizing your gains. After high-intensity strength training, your muscles are screaming out to your body for repair. It's at this time that simpler (note the –er, as in, not sugar, but maybe potatoes or rice) carbs can be used for muscle repair. But if your body fat isn't below 10 or 12% (for men), then skip it—force your body to use fat stores.

In general, I want to gain muscle and lose fat. The simplest way to do that is to keep an eye on the glycemic index of what I eat: carbs are fine if they're locked up in fiber and don't spike blood sugar (e.g., beans, not potatoes). So my diet has lots of protein (1 to 2g per day per lb of lean body weight), some very-low-GI carbs (in the form of beans), and green veggies (broccoli, spinach, peas). Very low sugar, very low fruit, absolutely no fruit juice. I've also begun experimenting with "intermittent fasting," which means you only eat in an 8-hour window every day (say, noon to 8pm) and don't eat for the remaining 16 hours.

In summary: eat local, eat seasonal, eat grass fed, eat healthy animals, eat primal, eat food without labels, and get some exercise. Good health and well being will follow.

For more information

Curried Braised Pork


My achiote braised pork may be the best thing I've ever created, but it has one drawback: all that citrus juice is loaded with sugar. This recipe was meant to be delicious and have a low glycemic index.

  • 1 to 2lb pork shoulder or country-style "ribs"
  • 14oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 1/2T salt
  • 2T curry powder
  • 1/2c white vinegar
  • 1 sprig of basil (5 to10 leaves)
  • 2 to 4c water
  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF
  2. Brown all sides of pork in hot oil in Dutch oven.
  3. When brown, add remaining ingredients. Amount of water depends on amount of meat and size of pot.
  4. Cook in oven, covered, for 3 hours. Check on it after 2 hours; add water if needed.
  5. Remove from oven and shred pork. Stir well.
  6. Return to oven (if necessary), uncovered, to cook off excess water. Raise oven temp to 375ºF to speed the process. You want enough liquid to leave the pork juicy, but not so much that it's watery and bland.




Broiled, salt and peppered. On the side: avocado, kimchi.



Pinto beans topped with half an avocado. Three poached eggs. Bacon. Fresh kefir.



Low-carb, anyone? 18oz of rib eye broiled to 145ºF internal. Salt and pepper, nothing fancy. This fed one person, me.

Veal with Mushrooms


A 14 ounce veal round scallop. Mushrooms and onions sautéed, then garlic, rosemary and wine added and reduced. Veal should not have been broiled, it was tough. Mushrooms were delicious.


Kimchi is a wonderful, traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage. It's a probiotic, full of "good bacteria" that help your body be healthy. Best of all, it's simple to make, with just a little effort spread over a couple of days. This recipe aims to make a somewhat minimal kimchi, with flavors of fermented cabbage and fresh ginger dominating.

Brine the Cabbage

  1. Start with two small or one large head of cabbage. Discard any outer, wilted leaves.
  2. Cut into quarters, and then cut out the stem from the bottom. Cut the wedges into slices so that you end up with 1/4" strips of cabbage. Pack into a glass bowl.
  3. Mix salt and water, 1/4c salt per 4c water. Pour over cabbage and pack. Cabbage should be fully submerged.
  4. Turn a plate upside-down on the brining cabbage and rest a heavy container on top (I'm using a quart of water). The weight keeps the cabbage well-packed in the brine. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours.
  5. Rinse and drain cabbage; press out excess moisture in between two kitchen towels.

Prepare the Kimchi

  1. Slice two bunches of green onions into 1/2" strips. Add 2 1/2T grated ginger, 2 cloves pressed garlic, 1 to 2 T sriracha hot sauce, 1T fish sauce, 1/4c kefir whey* (or water) and cabbage. Stir to combine well.
  2. Press into jar with airtight lid. Let sit at room temperature for a couple of days to ferment. You'll have to check it on a regular basis to see how it's progressing—it should lose its crunch and weep some water.
  3. Once finished fermenting, refrigerate. Keeps for a few weeks.

*NOTE: What's kefir whey? First, what's kefir? Kefirpedia defines it: Kefir is a fermented milk beverage, similar to yogurt, that originated 1,000 years ago in the Caucasus region. It is easy to make at home and is a rich source of good bacteria that can help your digestion, is easy to digest due to low lactose, and can boost your immune system, among other health benefits.

Kefir whey is what you get when you separate they curds from they whey; pour a cup of kefir into a coffee filter and the cream stays in the filter while the whey passes through.

The point of using kefir whey in this recipe is just to add a good source of healthy bacteria. If you don't have it, don't worry—the cabbage has plenty of bacteria on it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Frenched Rack of Baby Goat

Sprinkle salt, pepper and rosemary on both sides. Grill or broil (I did both, as my grill ran out of gas) until 145ºF internal. Served here with black beans, frozen spinach and mixed mushrooms sautéed in butter and goat fat, then salted. The mushrooms would have been even better with a pressed clove of garlic added during the final 30 seconds.

Mushrooms from River Valley Kitchens in Burlington, WI; beans from Three Sisters Garden in Kankakee, IL; meat from Mint Creek Farm in Stelle, IL. Spinach is grocery store organic.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bacon and Poached Eggs


Experimenting with poached eggs. I only used a half-inch of water in a saucepan and overcooked them a bit. Seems to be on the right track.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Polish Wonder Meal


Mashed potatoes, broiled Polish sausage and sauerkraut. I didn't have milk on hand, so these potatoes are mashed with butter and cheddar cheese.

Just a snack


Some sandwich ham, a hard cooked egg (with the yolk still waxy, not crumbly), Danablu cheese and a helping of kimchi.