The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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In the Kitchen with Michele Borboa

In the Kitchen with Michele Borboa

In the Kitchen

August 28, 2011

Chef Michele Borboa specializes in food, fitness and balanced living. In addition to being a personal chef, she is also a food columnist at www.ChefMom.com, channel editor at www.SheKnows.com, and author of the new cookbook Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy. We talked to Borboa about the importance of eating local and about the many ways in which planning meals ahead of time can save busy parents time.

What is the main focus of your cooking?

The main focus of my cooking is to have a good time in the kitchen. On days when I'm pressed for time, I have fun pulling together a quick and easy meal with the ingredients in my kitchen. On days when I'm craving kitchen therapy, I spend an afternoon cooking a few dishes, often with my son's help, that we fix and freeze. Healthy cooking is natural for me, so I don’t go into every recipe thinking how to make it diet-friendly. I'm more intent on making sure it has amazing flavor.

Is there a particular nutritional focus of your menus?

I aim for menus based on fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. I'm not concerned as much about calories as I am about incorporating nutrient-dense ingredients into every dish.

What is your relationship with local farmers?

Being raised in a farming family in California, I am a strong advocate for growing your own food and sharing it with other home gardeners, joining a CSA, frequenting the local farmers markets, and taking advantage of the local produce sold in your grocery stores or supermarkets. At the very least, when you're purchasing fresh produce, buy as local as possible. Living in Montana, I don't have the vast selection I had when I lived in California, but as a rule I'm going to buy in season and avoid imported fruits and vegetables.

How are you incorporating locally grown foods into your dishes? 

Bozeman, Montana has two farmers markets that run through the summer offering such delicious things as garlic scapes, beets and other root vegetables, summer squash, and dark leafy greens. I got hooked on garlic scapes earlier this summer and made a powerfully flavored garlic scape pesto that I shared with my friends, so we would all have garlic breath as a team. I used the pesto as a dip and sandwich spread as well as a sauce for pasta. I am one of those people who crave dark leafy greens, so I based many of my recipes this summer on locally grown chard. I can eat leafy greens raw or cooked for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I particularly love chard and kale in soups and grain side dishes and salads.

And I don’t just rely on local produce. I prefer locally sourced meat, too. It's a treat when I'm given venison or elk from local hunters. Also, locally-raised bison, chicken, and eggs are available at the local markets.

As a big bonus to my baking and breakfast dishes, I use locally-grown grains, such as Wheat Montana products.

What are the major concerns today of your readers when it comes to making healthy meals ahead of time? And how are you addressing them?

Time is always a factor. Moms are busy. Dads are busy. We're all busy, so finding enough time to actually make meals ahead of time is a common concern. In creating recipes, I've got the busy cook in mind, and I try to streamline recipes in such a way that they are time efficient but also exciting and delicious. Logistics is another concern – how are you going to manage your freezer meals? In my book, I offer tips on optimizing your freezer space such as freezing recipes flat in gallon-sized bags, then turning them sideways or stacking them. Additionally, some home cooks get discouraged about freezer meals because they lose track of the meals they've put in their freezer, and when they discover them, the quality of the meals have deteriorated. I can't stress enough the importance of proper freezing techniques, labeling your make-ahead meals, and storing them in such a way that the oldest meals are always in the front for easy access.

How important is sustainability?

We should all be concerned with sustainability. Even if each of us adopted one more green habit like buying organic, relying on more seasonal, locally-sourced foods, conserving water and energy in the kitchen, minimizing food waste, or recycling, we can make a difference in preserving our environment.

What steps do you take toward conservation in your meal planning?

When it comes to perishable foods, I only buy what I know I will incorporate into the next few days' meals. If I find myself with extra, I freeze it. My natural food inclinations revolve around the foods in season which reduces my personal carbon footprint. I also save energy by cooking multiple meals at a time instead of cooking one at a time.

How can parents incorporate your recipes into their busy lives?

My recipes are designed for the busy parent who wants to pack a lunch that can be reheated in the office microwave or fixed quickly at home. More importantly, my book gives families a wide array of delicious and nutritious meals that are easy to prepare and get on the table once the kids are home from school.