Food For Everyone: Recipes from Debbie Koenig

Baked Chicken Strips

Parents: What's your favorite kind of cuisine? Any takeout dishes that you can't resist?

DK: I'm a sucker for anything Italian, but that's so ubiquitous it hardly even counts as ethnic any more. Lately I've been playing with Korean flavors a lot—there's a recipe in the book for slow cooker Korean Beef Stew that's pretty mind-blowing, and last week I made my first-ever japchae, a stir-fry dish made with chewy, slippery glass noodles. When it comes to takeout, I've got my local Thai place on speed-dial.

Parents: What are your go-to, never-let-them-run-out pantry items?

DK: Whole-grain starches by the bushel: pasta, brown rice, couscous, bulgur. Canned beans —I buy Trader Joe's or Eden Organics, to avoid BPA—, and aseptic boxes of chicken broth and chopped tomatoes. And for adding a punch of flavor to almost anything, I always have reduced-sodium soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and chipotles in adobo; one of those three is bound to improve whatever I'm cooking.

Parents: How do you balance feelings of mom-guilt? Do you feel obligated to put something homemade on the table every night?

DK: We eat homemade food at least five nights a week. But that doesn?t mean I cook every day—my freezer is usually pretty well stocked with packets of pasta sauce, stews, cooked brown rice, and other "big batch" leftovers. Heck, I devote a chapter of the book to recipes that make enough for several meals! I'm also pretty good at pulling together a meal in under half an hour [that would be the "Quick Suppers" chapter]. And I'm even better at conceding to takeout without guilt. We all do our best, and some days picking up the phone to order in is my best.

Parents: It's great that you emphasize that not all processed foods are bad—some nights, you just need to get something on the table quickly! Any suggestions for making healthy choices when it comes to rices, pasta, and sauces?

DK: Lord, yes—the word "processed" doesn't have to mean "evil." Think about it: Baby carrots are processed. Sliced bread is processed. Are they automatically bad? In the book I've got a list of my top choices for processed foods, and it includes things like prepared polenta rolls, boil-in-bag brown rice, and salsa.

The key is to buy things that are as minimally processed as possible, and hopefully without preservatives and chemicals. Read labels, starting with the nutrition facts. If the sodium is more than 300 mg to 500 mg per serving, stop reading and put it back. If it's reasonable, move to the ingredients list. Are the first few items actual foods, things you'd use if you were making it yourself? You're doing fine. Once the list gets longer than about 10 items, with more and more words you can't even pronounce, it's time to walk away.

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