The Perfect Diabetes Comfort Food Collection: 9 Essential Recipes You Need To Create 90 Amazing Complete Meals

Introduction

As I began to write The Perfect Diabetes Comfort Food Collection, a neighbor of mine who is always supportive of my cookbooks, said to me: “This is the one I’ve been waiting for, Robyn.” She explained that despite having hundreds of cookbook, she was relieved when I shared that the theme revolves around only needing to know 9 solid techniques to create infinite wonderful meals. Despite her huge collection of books and insatiable thirst for more recipes, she admitted that she only prepared a handful of the same recipes over and over again. She is also a person with diabetes, so she really needed a cookbook that was streamlined for her needs.

My friend is not alone in her sentiments. It’s more than okay to rely on a few foods and recipes that you know you can prepare well. But if you long to have a small but great repertoire, you really should strive to make your short list the best it can be. For example, if you know how to create the perfect stir fry, then you can also create hundreds of variations once you have the technique mastered.

First, let me explain that the title of this book is not implying “you” need to be perfect to prepare these meals. It means that I’ve devised a system of meal planning that will make your life much easier. By learning the techniques, preparing a meal will become so easy that you’ll have more time for the other things in life that are important to you. And if that’s not the perfect arrangement, I don’t know what is.

When designing the concept for this book, I researched several sources. First, I remembered the cooking I grew up with. My mother was a person with diabetes, so we always ate healthy meals. As a full-time working mom, she also made simple meals and relied on a few simple techniques to get dinner on the table quickly. Second, I asked many of my clients and readers what dishes they prepare over and over again. I also looked at dishes that have stood the test of time through every culinary trend. In this book, you will learn the master techniques to prepare stir fry, lasagna, meatloaf, burgers, tacos, chicken, soups, main dish salads, and pasta.

Each chapter begins with a blueprint: a step-by-step plan to master the technique of each dish. These directions were honed through many years of trial and error—I made all the mistakes and missteps, so you don’t have to. Once you learn these techniques, you can create many more recipes of your own. The first recipe in each chapter will start you off with the technique, and each subsequent recipe will be very similar in preparation, but with different ingredients. In order to build your confidence and skill level, your pantry and kitchen equipment need to be stocked as well. Fortunately, The Perfect Diabetes Comfort Food Collection calls for the simplest ingredients and minimal equipment. Let’s look at these a bit more closely.

The Perfect Pantry

Creating a well-stocked pantry is important in every kitchen. You want to make sure you have what you need when you are ready to cook, but you also want to keep tabs on how long it’s been stored. Expired ingredients do you no good, so it’s a little bit of an art to stock the pantry so that everything gets used in proper time. The best way to keep an eye on everything is to attach a label to the bottom of the jar, can, or bag that indicates the day you purchased it. Most dry, unopened products will last for a year and still retain their freshness. I’d advise that you work through your pantry goods often; fortunately, they will get a lot of use with the recipes in this book since I reuse many of the same ingredients over and over again.

Plan your pantry in the following categories and you’ll never run out of ingredients:

Olive oil: Keep two kinds on hand. One that’s inexpensive for cooking (it can even be a virgin olive oil) and one that’s a bit more flavorful for the main dish salads. A good, slightly more costly olive oil is worth the investment for cold food preparation. Store the oil no more than a year. If the oil comes in a clear bottle, transfer it to a dark container. Light is one of the enemies of oil, and can cause the oil to spoil faster. I like olive oil from many different countries, it doesn’t need to be from Italy.

Vinegar: Stock both red and white vinegars. You really don’t need to go beyond that, as those two choices can serve most of your cooking needs. While you’ll need them to prepare salads, think about splashing a small amount at the end of making a soup or stew. The acidity will liven up any soup. If you want to go beyond red and white, consider storing balsamic, champagne, and herb vinegars. Despite popular belief, vinegar does not last forever. Check the bottom of the bottle; if there is a lot of sediment swirling around, it’s time to put them in the trash. Vinegar also gets cloudy as it ages. It is still useable at this point, but should be replaced relatively soon. Once opened, it’s best to store vinegar in the refrigerator.

Mustard: Many of the recipes in this book use mustard, so it pays to always have it on hand. I actually prefer smaller bottles of mustard as large jars tend to lose their flavor potency over time. One bottle of Dijon mustard should be sufficient. I like the coarse ground variety, but it’s entirely up to you. Watch out for some of the “fancier” mustards—they can be loaded with sugar, honey, or other ingredients that really aren’t necessary, or particularly healthful.

Canned tomatoes: While I prefer mostly fresh ingredients, there are a few canned items that are staples for me and canned tomatoes are one of them. Fortunately, canned products are now being sealed in BPA-free containers, and glass jars are always an option instead of metal. When I say canned, it could be something you do yourself. DIY canning projects have risen dramatically in popularity. Having canned tomatoes always available is a real plus to make many of these recipes. In the pasta chapter, I teach you how to prepare your own marinara sauce. Canned tomatoes are the main ingredient. Fresh tomatoes are lovely, but with their short peak time, it makes sense to defer to the canned.

Fresh tomatoes (in season): I give instructions for crushing your own, so there is no need to buy already crushed or diced tomatoes. It’s less expensive and much more flavorful to buy them whole.

Soy Sauce: Soy sauce falls into a category called the “fifth taste,” after salt, bitter, sweet, and sour. Asian foods are popular for that reason. Although soy sauce is typically a high-sodium condiment, a little goes a very long way, and when used right, it can add much appeal to normally bland-tasting foods. But you have to buy the right soy sauce. First, I’ll tell you what to avoid. Chemical soy sauces should stay right on the grocer’s shelf and not yours. These distasteful sauces are made over the course of two days by hydrolyzing soy protein and combining it with other flavors. The taste is far removed from traditional soy sauces that are made with fermented soybeans.

I prefer Japanese-style soy sauces over Chinese ones. Japanese-style are clearer, thinner, and less harsh tasting than Chinese sauces. Japanese sauces use an even ratio of soybeans and wheat, whereas the Chinese soy sauces are traditionally all soy. I typically use reduced-sodium soy sauce. It’s made the same way regular soy sauce is made but about 40% of the salt is taken out post-brewing. I also use tamari, which actually is more akin to traditional Chinese soy sauce. Tamari is made with soybeans and has an assertive flavor, so a little goes a long way. Also for people who need to avoid wheat, tamari is available wheat free.

There is a little more finesse needed when storing soy sauce. Its main enemies are light and heat. Soy sauce can actually develop fishy flavors if not stored properly. Store an unopened bottle far away from any heat source in your kitchen. Once opened, keep it in the refrigerator.

Panko breadcrumbs: While I only call for these breadcrumbs in the meatloaf chapter, they are vastly different from typical commercially prepared breadcrumbs. Panko crumbs, also known as Japanese breadcrumbs, may sound fancy, but they are now easy to find in major supermarkets throughout the country. The crumbs are cut thicker than the standard breadcrumbs and may look more like flakes then crumbs. They are offered in a whole-wheat version, which is the version used throughout this book.

Beans: Rich in fiber, beans are an excellent source of meatless protein. They are also inexpensive. While you are welcome to soak and cook dry beans, I typically just use canned. Look for BPA-free cans. Beans will last a year on your shelf, so stock up. Feel free to substitute one bean for another depending on what’s in your pantry.

Grains/pasta: You’ll notice that a majority of the recipes center on lean protein and non-starchy vegetables; however, I also include high-fiber whole-grain starches in the recipes as well as in the suggested side dishes. Depending on your eating plan, you will need to decide how much grain and pasta you wish to include in a meal. Keep all grains and pasta well sealed in airtight containers. They should last up to 1–1/2 years.

Dried spices, herbs, and salt: While I recommend fresh herbs, do keep a small supply of dried herbs on hand. They are convenient and will be potent for up to a year. Keep them tightly sealed and away from heat and light. You will need to discuss with a registered dietitian your personal sodium restrictions, but all of my recipes call for a very small amount of salt. I don’t eliminate it entirely, however, just a touch can really boost the flavor of the recipe. Use kosher or sea salt for best results (these are not lower in sodium than iodized salt). Black pepper should be freshly ground, so a pepper mill is necessary.

And that’s about it! Except for buying fresh produce and lean proteins, your stock need not be extensive. In fact, I’d rather you be well stocked, but not overstocked, as so many home pantries are.

The Perfect Equipment List

My chef friends and I always get a kick out of catalogs filled with expensive, shiny new pots and pans. We know all too well those pieces of equipment will never look the same after one use. Truly, there is no need to have a lot of kitchen equipment; it will only clog up your shelf space and cause you to feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, the recipes in this book only require a few pieces of equipment.

Wok: To make the perfect stir fry, I highly suggest a wok. I explain in the stir fry chapter why a wok helps to produce a really great stir fry. No need to invest in anything expensive, just make sure it’s deep enough.

Heavy skillet, preferably cast iron: To make the perfect chicken, perfect pasta sauces, and perfect burgers, a cast iron skillet is essential. Cast iron skillets are inexpensive, indestructible, and indispensable. Cooking in cast iron ensures even cooking. An 8- or 10-inch skillet is all you need. You can purchase pre-seasoned cast iron pans with easy instructions for care.

Casserole dishes: To make the perfect lasagnas, a casserole dish is all you need. A good 9 × 13-inch pan made of porcelain or glass is just fine. I’m usually not a big fan of nonstick cookware, but something like lasagna, which tends to be a little messy, can benefit from a nonstick coating, so that can be an option if you desire.

Dutch oven and/or 6-quart saucepot: To make the perfect soups, a sturdy Dutch oven or saucepot with a lid will be needed. My favorite brand of all time to prepare my soups is called Staub. Similar to Le Creuset, the interior surface of this brand of pots does not scratch and I love the gorgeous colors that are available. Just make sure you use a heavy pot; onions and garlic shouldn’t burn as you slowly sauté them. A thin pot made of aluminum will cause your base vegetables to scorch. Also, certain vegetables will turn unappealing colors (cauliflower turns a dull purple when cooked in aluminum). If you want to purchase a stainless steel pot, be sure it has several layers of construction including copper for even heating.

Salad spinner: An extremely useful tool for drying greens. To make perfect main dish salads, the spinner will reduce any excess water. The dressing will better adhere to dry leaves, earning the spinner a place in your kitchen drawer. You can even use the insert as a colander!

That’s all! Just make sure you have a good sharp 8–10-inch chef’s knife and a large cutting board and you’ll be all set.

Perfect Meal Planning

All of the recipes are paired with other accompanying foods to round out a meal. Unlike many meal planners you may have seen or used, mine is incredibly easy to implement. While it’s ambitious to create completely different meals for every day of the week, I know that people just want to make their everyday meals simple. So you will see the same accompanying foods over and over again. Why waste that bag of apples you bought on sale? The same goes for a bunch of broccoli. Maybe you are a small family and couldn’t possibly finish a large head of broccoli in one sitting. Serve it again the following night, but choose a different recipe to pair it with.

The recipes are paired with 1–3 suggestions. I want you to spend your effort on main recipes I’ve featured; however, you will see several times that two of the recipes are paired because they go so well with each other. I always want to save time, so the easiest ideas are presented. Feel free to add or delete the suggestions or swap the sides for a similar food. Many of the ideas are for non-starchy vegetables, such as 1 cup salad or 1/2 cup cooked vegetables. Don’t like asparagus? No problem! You can easily choose another vegetable you prefer, as most non-starchy vegetables have the same nutritional profile. I’m not much of a baker and I’m not really fond of the taste of many sugar-free commercially prepared desserts, so my dessert suggestions are mostly fruit. Dessert was always fruit in my house growing up. Remember, your own unique nutritional needs should be the first consideration when altering whatever I may suggest. Consulting a registered dietitian can help guide you toward the right decisions for your needs.

Enjoy, share, and eat well.

Healthfully yours,

Robyn

The Question of Carbohydrates

Mention the word carbohydrates and people with diabetes are often confused. Should I eat pasta or should I avoid it? Is fruit okay to eat? How much? No two people with diabetes will have the same response to any food, so choosing the right amount of carbohydrates will be different from one person to the next.

This book has built-in flexibility with respect to controlling your blood glucose levels. For example, you can leave out the bun in any of the burger recipes, or, instead of a corn or flour tortilla, wrap fillings in a crunchy and crisp romaine lettuce leaf. Go ahead and enjoy any of the stir frys without rice or noodles. You can always pile the savory mixtures on a bed of shredded cabbage or diced cauliflower for an interesting and flavorful variation

Remember that vegetables are carbohydrates, but not all of them contain starch, so be careful calculating the amount of starchy and nonstarchy vegetables in your eating program. Have that bun or taco shell if you can, enjoy some rice or pasta, and remember many people with diabetes manage their blood sugar just fine while including these foods in their meal plans.

For a complete understanding of your carbohydrate needs and the science of carbohydrates, I recommend consulting with your physician or a registered dietitian.


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