Category Archives: Opinion

i8tonite with Mona Dolgov: A Perspective on the Food Experience…Why I Do What I Do

This is part of our on-going series on Food Musings. Today, we share the words and thoughts of Mona Dolgov, co-author of The Perfect Portion Cookbook.

Mona Dolgov: A Perspective on the Food Experience…Why I Do What I Do

I have always been fascinated with our relationship with food. It fuels our bodies, heals our ailments, gratifies our accomplishments, expresses our culture and identity, and graces our happiest celebrations. It can also be the culprit for risk and disease, even a crutch to combat sadness. Despite this, the pure chemistry and sensory experience in the kitchen, of cooking a meal from sight and aroma, to taste and the “natural” (vs. chemical) reaction satisfies both my creative spirit and my scientific curiosity.

As a nutritionist, business marketer, product and recipe developer for the past 30 years, I’ve pondered the complexity of the food and how consumers value it.

America’s dramatic decline in healthy eating is striking. The increase of dual working households and overscheduling of children, and technology has altered the traditional sit down meal and led to minimal time for “real home cooking”. The microwave oven, a welcomed kitchen technology, in addition to the myriad of prepared food items has led to the decline of quality food and the uptick of quick and easy prepared meals. Mealtime has become a function to feed a belly fast to get to the next task, rather than focus on the soul-satisfying home-cooked food.

The result? Weight gain, obesity, and all the bad stuff that comes with it—increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and based on medical research, certain forms of cancer. On an emotional level, it has led to diminished self-image, emotional stress, and depression. All of this drives me to provide consumers with knowledge, advice, healthy recipes and kitchen products that encourage a return to the kitchen to eat “real” food. I’ve chosen to work with product goods companies, home appliance companies, and supermarket chains that similarly embrace these goals.

Some phenomenal thought leaders have recognized these issues: the rise of healthcare costs (due to the increase of obesity, Type II diabetes and heart disease), the recognition of the “paragraph ingredient lines” filled with unpronounceable additives, and the unacceptable better-for-you quality of the food served at schools today for our children. Over the past 5-10 years, there has been resurgence toward eating healthier. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, “perimeter supermarket shopping,” and product development in the appliance and food industry that has led to slow cookers, blenders for nutrient juicing, and cleaner and healthier ingredient in products, such as Greek yogurt, snack bars, plus lower sugar and sodium options, in boxed foods, like pasta, cookies, and soups. Consumers are beginning to seek this new lifestyle, and the tables have started to turn.

An issue still remains. The baby boomer generation is reluctant to cook and their lack of participation in the kitchen influences their children. Parents have worked like crazy, had families, and relied on the microwave and other pre-made offerings to get food on the table. Cooking has become a “holiday hobby”, or a goal if I had the time (and wasn’t using that time for something else I preferred to do).

The weekday home-cooked family dinner is a real challenge. Who doesn’t want to serve dinner around the table to family and friends? To overcome, consumers have increased buying delicious prepared foods, take-out, and frozen meals instead of toil over a hot stove and fail. Everyone eats at a different time, and most of the meals are eaten on the go or standing up! Moreover, kids are not taught the basics of cooking. I am one of the rare mothers who taught my children to cook. Their friends are amazed that they can prepare a meal from “scratch”.

For the past ten years, it has been my goal to make the entire food experience from purchase to the table, better for consumers by making it less intimidating, engaging and easier. I like making it fun — creating game changing products or sharing healthy tricks that ease the intimidation and open the door to blissful food experiences. Such was my involvement with launching the one-pot slow cookers and cooking systems, easy one-press blenders and food processors to make smoothie making and vegetable chopping a breeze. Plus, I’ve worked with great teams to create and design cookbooks for countertop appliance manufacturers and retailers, developing entertaining, easy- to-make recipes that provide 5-star cooking results. By having this lofty goal, my other intention is to help reduce obesity in this country. Knowledge is power—if I could, in some way, be an ally to provide actionable advice to better eating habits, then my personal passion has been fulfilled.

The Perfect Portion Cookbook is my personal and most exciting project to date. Co-written with Anson Williams of Happy Days TV fame and Bob Warden, this two-year project combines all of my scientific background, product development, marketing, consumer insights, and nutritional and culinary expertise. Anson’s idea to create recipes and snacks that use a 100-calorie system spoke to me. It is a simple way to help consumers eat responsibly and visualize how much to eat (100-calories at a time!) with simple and delicious comfort food favorites. Yes, you CAN have great tasting food that IS better for you! The biggest challenge was improving recipes to make them satisfying, delicious, and the caloric value divisible exactly by 100. We wanted readers to be mindful of their everyday food choices through 100-calorie portions.

My favorite part of the book was sharing nutritional and culinary tricks that are simple and clever. Our 100-calorie French toast, made with “better butter batter” (can you say that 5x fast) uses a little butter and honey in the batter. It replaces the butter cooked in the pan and can save hundreds of calories, without compromising on taste. The creamy mac and cheese recipe serves up a filling portion at 300 calories and has a punch of flavor using extra sharp cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Or how about using simple cupcake pans for making individual 100-calorie cheesecakes? I hope that these cooking tips are passed through the generations to become easy go-to habits for a healthier life.

I dream of many goals: the return to the kitchen as a ‘family central’, inspiring future cooks, and once again sitting around the table talking about our day. Small steps to create eating patterns through healthier meals and scaling recipes to 100-calorie portions is the future to getting consumers back on track and will help to contribute to slashing diabetes, heart disease and lowering obesity. Yes, we can do it!
Mona Dolgev: A Perspective on the Food Experience…Why I Do What I DoA nutritionist by training from Cornell University, with 25 years of acquired marketing acumen, Mona Dolgov has created her sweet spot. She has led and contributed to over 20 launch campaigns, created over 75 products in her career, and owns 3 product patents (NINJA®, Jarden®, and The First Years®). She has led the development of over 20 cookbooks for Jarden® (Crock-Pot® Slow Cooker), Ahold® (Taste of Giant®), and for Euro-Pro® (NINJA®). She is known for defining innovative trends, creating engaging consumer stories and WOWs, and creating innovative consumer uses and recipes that are on-trend.

Mona has also led and created scripts, recipes, and tips with a variety of celebrity chefs and food bloggers, dietitians, in addition to co-producing the development for You-Tube recipe videos.

i8tonite: BBQ Ribs and Four Seasons Scottsdale

20151019_075052Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m going with it. I created a food blog/website about food, recipes and travel. Writing about people I admire, places I’ve been and food I’ve enjoyed and can share with individuals – hopefully, a takeaway recipe for the reader to cook. That’s it. That’s all I want to do.

At the end of the day, that’s what I’m thinking. Cooking, eating and being with people you love. Three simple things. I worked a wine tasting over the weekend, and I kept thinking to myself, “Who are these people? What stories do they have?” as I plied them with an inexpensive sparkling.

I think the question isn’t so much who they are but who I’m becoming?

I know I’m different than I was five years ago when the dam broke. It was a self-imposed structure that stayed turbulent emotions, eventually needing some navigating. I erected it for survival – we all do it – the edifice kept feelings in-check. Although, like any man-made constructions it cracks, needing a variety of sealants but the façade always breaks down. Once it’s down, erecting a new dam is possible but it will never be the same.

With my journey, the one constant is food and looking for it. Having it, not having it. Will it ever be enough? Am I enough?  I have to remember that I have enough today and all those questions need not apply… if ever again. With my work for i8tonite, my food clients, and other culinary on-line experiences, I was invited with Nick to have an experience at the Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North. We ate exceptional food and gawked at the vistas that only Mother Nature could make. From the lobby of the hotel, the view is breathtaking. Undulating mountain ranges blanketed by the blue Arizona skies. The earth’s dusky rose color flecked with prickly cactus and foremost amongst them, the mighty saguaros. Much like the California redwoods, these plants are resilient and massive. Invincible, like The Hulk, with arms reaching out asking for nothing but the elements and solitude. Yep, that was my view this morning. It was enough for today.

I was planning on cooking a delicious dish from Carolyn Jung’s San Francisco Chef’s Table: The City by The Bay (Lyon’s Press, ISBN 978-0-7627-9226-9). Carolyn is one of my favorite food journalists working today I want to support her as she has supported my food and hotel clients over the years.  Unfortunately, the days got away from me, and I wasn’t able to cook. Next week, though. Last week, I made an incredible beet and apple salad from the noted food memoirist and award-winning writer, Kim Sunee, whom I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing and working with over the years. Her book, Mouthful of Stars: A Constellation of Favorite Recipes from My World Travels, is mesmerizing as it trips effortlessly from Asia to Europe to Louisiana. I made her BBQ ribs to accompany last week’s salad to share at a later date. I guess this is the later date. I made it with some small tweaks that I always do to a recipe. It’s delicious and enough for today.

Ribs

You Will Need (Feeds 3 – 4):

About 9 pounds of Baby Back ribs or pork ribs.

 

Kim Sunee’s Spicy Tangy Sauce

¾ cup apple cider vinegar

¾ cup Frank’s RedHot Sauce

½ cup of fresh OJ

½ cup of ketchup

Several dashes of Worcestershire sauce

5 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon New Mexico red chile powder (Sprout’s carries this in bulk.)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

 

Dry Rub: This is the reason I loved this recipe.

1/3 cup of New Mexico Chile powder

3 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon coriander

1 teaspoons ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

Let’s Make This Puppy:

Preheat the oven 300 degrees and then line baking sheets or low rimmed pans with aluminum foil. While, the oven gets toasty, make the rub in a bowl and combining all the ingredients. Once made, work onto the meat, getting into the fibers. Roast it uncovered for about 2 hours. (You could stop here.)

 

Place all the ingredients for the barbecue sauce in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Once the ribs have cooked for their first two hours, brush with the sauce and cover tightly in more foil. Bake for another hour and serve with sauce on the side.

 

The End. Go Eat.

 

 

I8tonite with Food Person: Sasha Martin, Author of “Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness

“Most people who have had a rough background will admit there’s something unsettling about finding happiness after difficulty – that even after we unwrap this gift, we don’t know how to stop searching, rummaging, pilfering for something else. We walk haltingly through life, ready for the other shoe to drop. The question is not if, but when.” – Sasha Martin, “Life from Scratch” (National Geographic Society, March 2015).

I had never heard of the food blog GlobalTableAdventure.com until I read Sasha Martin’s engaging food memoir “Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness” (ISBN 978 – 1- 5462 – 8, National Geographic Society) published in March of this year.  Martin’s blog is about cooking globally and bringing that experience IMG_0788_Hof culture to the table, but it’s her book and story that’s the winner. “Life from Scratch” begins light-heartedly enough but as Martin’s life progresses from child to teenager, it becomes disquieting and uneasy. Once, Martin moves to Tulsa, Oklahoma as an adult, I breathed a sigh of relief.  To Ms. Martin’s credit, it’s her calm  style of writing that gives the reader emotional balance to understand the truth of what’s transpiring.  Otherwise, one might  get squirmy reading in the Lazy-boy.

Speaking with Martin on the phone is a pleasure. Her voice is like her writing — soft, easy with hints of apprehension. (Apprehension because she’s talking to me. I make people wary.)  She disclosed that
Sasha MaltaLife from Scratch
came about in an unusual manner. Martin was approached by a literary agent who liked GlobalTableAdventure. The agent shopped the proposal around to a variety of publishing houses — they all loved it —  but Martin felt a “kinship” to National Geographic Society (NGS). Interestingly, her NGS editor really liked the story of the blog and global cooking up until the first draft.  But she felt that Martin wasn’t forthcoming with her childhood history…. that she was holding back. Martin admitted she was. She explained to her editor about growing up, the death of her brother and the twelve European countries she visited with her legal guardians. She details the story of her mother letting her and her brother go into foster care. Once, the real story of Sasha Martin was out, it was the truth and book the editor wanted.

Martin said, “I never expected so much of this book to be about my past. It was supposed to be a lighthearted exploration of world cooking but digging deeper made me realize the real story wasn’t how I cooked the world but why. Being forced to face my past was a gift. I have so much more understanding and perspective now.

Punctuated withcake netherlands.food.img_9950 loving memories of home cooking with her mother, a lonely teenager in European and global cuisine from her blog, GlobalTableAdventure.com, such as Hungarian Paprika Chicken, German Cake and Maldivian Fire-Roasted Fish, “Life from Scratch” may turn out to be my favorite book of 2015. It offers hope and fulfillment on a spiritual scale.

“There’s a difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit.” – Sasha Martin, Life from Scratch.

(Correction/Revision:  Previously, it was noted that Ms. Martin lived in twelve countries her foster parents. She visited twelve with her legal guardians. A correction and revision to the original post was made. )

Food People Questions: (with a nod to Marcel Proust)

What is your favorite food to cook at home? Argentinian Acorn Squash Salad with baby arugula and aged goat cheese.

marshall.islands.food.img_1992
The Marshall Islands.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?  Spicy mustard.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Warmth.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal? Treating their cellphone like a guest at the party.

Beer, wine or cocktail? Any cocktail with grapefruit or a Riesling spritzer with a wedge of orange.

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Japanese Bento Box for kids

Your favorite cookbook author? I’m a huge fan of what Christopher
Kimball does – very methodical, reliable recipes. Every single time.

Your favorite kitchen tool? Microplane.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Cooking a meal from every country in the world taught me to love trying recipes from obscure-to-me parts of the world.

 Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? Tofu.

 Favorite vegetable? Brussels Sprouts.

date balls
Date Balls

Chef you most admire? Nigel Slater – he overcame a rough childhood and has the most beautiful way with words. Tender and Ripe are masterpieces

Food you like the most to eat? Hmmm… on most days a hearty salad, like Malaysian Herbed Rice Salad, with a crusty loaf of homemade artisan bread.

Food you dislike the most? I’m not much for eating something just for the shock value. My goal is to share international food that’s easy enough for a weeknight and elegant enough for the weekend.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do? Write or paint.

Who do you most admire in food? The millions of families struggling liberia.food.img_4326to make ends meet. My own mother struggled to make ends meet and yet she scrimped and saved so we could eat foods like 19-layer German Tree Cake.  She taught me that food can help us see beyond our circumstances; there’s a real difference between poverty of resources and poverty of spirit.

Where is your favorite place to eat? Any patio, 75F.

What is your favorite restaurant? I have fond memories of eating at Vietnamese restaurants in Paris. Go figure!

how-to-make-pleteno-srce
Martin and her daughter cooking.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? No. I have a theory that I could never truly be naked if I ever got a tattoo.

 

 

 

Sasha Martin’s Recipe: Mongolian Carrot Salad (Serves 4 hungry people)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb carrots, grated or julienned (on a mandolin is easiest)
  • 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in hot water

For the dressing:

  • 1 large clove of garlic, grated
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Toss everything together and refrigerate until needed. Best after about 30 minutes. Check seasonings before serving (be sure to use plenty of salt to bring out the flavors).

– The End. Go Eat. –