Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting Back to the Basics

My mom and I have been preparing more "from scratch" meals for our family. We did a lot of cooking from scratch before but even more now because my dad was prescribed prednisone, a steroid. My dad has a neuromuscular disease, Myasthenia Gravis. He had a MG crisis because of a reaction to a new medication he was taking which put him into the hospital. After being treated with IVIG for several days in the hospital, he was released. His neurologist switched his medication of Mestinon and prescribed him a low dose of prednisone. The worries that my mom and I have always had about the one day he might have to take prednisone were the side effects.  Diabetes, osteoporosis, and increased appetite are some of the effects. This steroid can also make a person retain water resulting in gaining weight uncontrollably. My mom and I are very concerned with all of the side effects. We want to do whatever we can to help combat these effects.

This is where the "from scratch" cooking began. We knew that sodium would be a big concern so we decided to try and use as little salt in our cooking as possible. This also meant a change in the canned, prepackaged, etc. products we use.  You might think that it wouldn't be hard to flavor foods without salt but it is. So, I put my creativity to use. Tasting herbs and spices and determining what pairs well with them has challenged me. If you watched me compete on "Masterchef," then you know I like a challenge. Tasting a vegetable organically without seasoning it and determining whether it has a natural sweetness, bitterness, etc. is an important step. Sweet potatoes have a natural sweetness and when baked versus microwaved, the sweetness is enhanced. Rutabagas like sweet potatoes have a natural sweetness. I like to cube them, toss in walnut oil, and roast in the oven with sage, and walnuts. Spices that would pair well with the rutabagas or sweet potatoes are cinnamon and cardamom. There is black and green cardamom. Green cardamom is traditionally used in Indian baking for sweets. Black cardamom imparts a smoky flavor and is used in garam masala for curries.

I sliced some fingerling potatoes and roasted them off in the oven with olive oil, pepper, garlic, and rosemary. The product was crispy oven-baked fingerling potato fries. The next step would be to reach in the refrigerator for ketchup but not when you read the sodium content per serving. My mom pulled out a 8 oz. can NO SALT ADDED tomato sauce and decided she would quickly prepare some homemade ketchup. Adding sweetness with about 1/4 cup natural, no sugar added apple juice and 1 Tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries (there are naturally sweetened dried cranberries like pomegranate which is what we used) in with the tomato sauce in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then process the mixture and the result is a naturally sweetened ketchup. If you like a little more sweetness, add honey.
In my cookbook, Modern Hospitality, I designed an essentials section. It features everything from a homemade buttermilk herb dressing "ranch," blackened seasoning rub, miracle marinade, olive salad, pimiento cheese, turnip green pesto, and sun-dried tomato and cranberry ketchup.  The miracle marinade is perfect for flavoring anything from meatloaf, steaks, hamburger patties, and more. The olive salad is a quintessential ingredient in a muffuletta, traditional New Orleans sandwich, and can be tossed with pasta for a quick pasta salad. The pesto is a great on its own with olive oil and focaccia bread for dipping. It can also be used as a spread for sandwiches like paninis.

Cooking from scratch gives me a sense of empowerment. The first time I made homemade ketchup was actually by accident but when the result produced a smooth texture and sweetness like ketchup, it was exciting.
All of my essential recipes are found in the back of my cookbook behind the drinks section. Signed copies of my cookbook are available now on my Open Sky page at


  1. so starting from scatch, what is your most famous non-salt dish that you have re-invented that you would recommend?

  2. It would be hard to pick just one recipe because since I started not using salt or modifying the amount I use, all of the flavors in the dishes have surprised me. For some dishes, it is that not much salt or spices are needed to bring out the flavor. In other dishes, it seems like you could add a whole container of spices without salt and it would taste bland. If I use salt it is maybe 1/8 or 1/4 tsp. definitely not near as much as I was using before.

  3. I love you Whitney! :D I just bought your book, you're such an inspiration to young women who love to cook! I hope your dad gets better :)

  4. My wife and I just finished Season 1 Masterchef for the first time. We were impressed by you and glad you won. I wonder if you'd ever consider assembling a low-sodium cookbook? I, too, have had to keep a very low sodium diet for over a year now while waiting for a liver transplant. My wife has learned a lot about making food taste good with no or low-sodium. A book with your low-sodium recipes would allow people access to your culinary skills applied in a very specific way. There are plenty of folks who would benefit, ourselves included.

  5. I agree with Shawn. A low sodium cookbook would be very interesting for many people. I hope your father gets better. All the best !