This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Nick Evans. Nick is the creator of the wildly popular cooking blog Macheesmo, and is here to help see that building confidence in the kitchen keeps us SANEr even when we go a little inSANE.
The Slim Is Simple.org Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort
Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast and I am very, very excited about today’s show because we have a gentleman who has a special place in my heart because he is doing a type of cooking in an approach to cooking, in an approach to health that I think is wonderful and fun and certainly hits home with me and my approach to cooking. He is none other than the proprietor of the wonderful website macheesmo.com. That’s M-A-C-H-E-E-S-M-O.com. Nick Evans, welcome to the show.
Nick: Hey, Jonathan, happy to be here, thanks for having me.
Jonathan: Nick, thank you so much for joining us and really quickly Nick, well not actually really quickly, you take your time. Tell us a bit about your story and your mission to get people to put down the menus and pick up their spatulas.
Nick: Yes, sure, so my whole thing is I think that people need to spend more time in their kitchens, they pay rent or mortgages for their kitchens and then a lot of time they just sit there, so I am trying to encourage people to get in there, make a mess, make some delicious meals and hopefully end up healthier for it also.
Jonathan: I think that it is very exciting Nick and one irony that I have noticed just about our culture recently, especially the younger culture which you and I are proud members of is there is definitely the sense of DIY or Do it Yourself, and all this like radical customization and personalization, but may be at the same time there is not the same sense in terms of that for food. Let’s customize, let’s personalize, let’s do it yourself in the kitchen, right?
Nick: Absolutely, I don’t know about your social group, but I know a lot of times my social group, emails will be passed around or whatever and it is always about “Hey let’s go out to eat on this day or let’s hit up this new restaurant” and that’s great. I like restaurants as much as the next guy, but I think there is almost a lost or soon to be lost art of dinner party, like having people over, having a sit down meal that you cook or that somebody cooks for you if you get a group of people that are excited about cooking and I think the important thing also is that that can actually be a lot healthier, you know what you are putting into the food, you know where you are getting the ingredients from and regardless of what style of eating you are trying to accomplish, it’s going to healthier if you make it at home, that’s pretty much across the word true I think. So that’s what I am trying to get people to do.
Jonathan: Nick, I think you hit the nail on the head there. That’s something that is very under appreciated by people and that is really regardless of what you’re cooking, if you take dish A cooked at home and dish A cooked outside of the home, we will not use, generally people don’t use safflower oil, you don’t even buy. It is like really weird hydrogenated trans oils, we might maybe use them, but restaurants definitely use them.
Nick: In huge quantities, I can give you an example actually from my last week of my life, and this is far away from the SANE eating necessarily but I will try to just to give you an idea.
Jonathan: SANEr is always good.
Nick: I can be SANEr in this example, but my wife, she occasionally loves a good milkshake and I like a good milkshake occasionally too. It is not something we do a lot, but occasionally she is having a rough day and she is like, I really want a milkshake. This happened a few days ago and it was probably around 7:30 or something. We already had dinner and everything and she was like “Can you just go out?” I try to not keep a lot of sweets in the house and stuffs like that because they tend to eat them all if they are here. So, she was like “Can you just go out and get me a milkshake?” and I said “No, but I will go to the store and buy a good version of ice-cream that I like and come home and make you a milkshake,” and just for fun I sort of did the calculations on what my milkshake was versus if I would have went to any fast-food chain or any restaurant in town and bought a milkshake and it was a huge difference.
It was like half the calories, half the fat and it was totally filling, it hit that spot that she was looking forward just a little sweet something and got the job done and I made a chocolate milkshake at home just by basically importing the work and doing it at home. We saved like 400 calories a serving. It was pretty drastic savings and I didn’t put healthy stuff in it, it was a milkshake, but the restaurant version of that is going to be killer. It is going to be huge and high fructose corn syrup and all kinds of stuff, so even if you are being inSANE, you can be more SANE if you are at home, does that make sense?
Jonathan: Absolutely, I will call it even may be accidental SANEity because let’s just look at it from an economic perspective Nick because you hit the nail on the head. If I own a restaurant, my job is to, the only thing that matters to me is how the food taste, so creating delicious, delicious food as economically as possible that is it. Now, if you are cooking at home, I don’t care how little you think you care about health, you have some semblance in your brain even on a subconscious level of like there may be a sense of guilt if you do something, like the restaurant wouldn’t have, so you look at even smoothies, if you look at the nutritional profiles of some of these healthy smoothies at like Jamba Juice, it is just nuts. If you try to do that home, you would probably use a whole apple, you wouldn’t use artificial apple juice that gives you 80 grams of sugar in one of these healthy smoothies, it is just like you can’t not eat healthier if you eat at home.
Nick: Right, I do this kind of post on Macheesmo, I try to do it about once a month. I think it is really fun, it is called Guess The “Food” and food is kind of in quotation marks and basically what it is, is I go to the store and I pick out a random sort of processed food kind of thing, the most recent one I did was Vitamin Water, I am not sure if you are familiar with the Vitamin Water.
Jonathan: I am.
Nick: So, what I do is I list on the site the ingredients and the nutritional breakdown of it and then people try to guess what it is because if I told you alright, here is a recipe like it is like tomatoes, chicken stock, whatever, you’re going to be like “oh that’s probably a soup, right”, but if you look at the ingredients in Vitamin Water, the second ingredient is like sugar, it is just weird to look at and I think people don’t recognize how much sugar and stuffs like that is in some of these products until it is like right in front of them. In fact, I even weighed out the amount of sugar that Vitamin Water puts and took a photo of it because I thought it was a shocking amount of sugar and so, one of the things I would challenge people to do if they don’t think that these food companies are adding a lot of sugar is measure it out and then try to put it in your coffee or tea in the morning, like just to see the amount of added stuffs these companies are doing, just to get it to taste good, right?
Like you said, that is their job, that’s how they make their living, that’s how they make their money and they are really good at it. Sometimes it is hard to compete with the taste that these companies are developing because they have engineers and chefs and scientists and who knows what. So, yes they are going to be really good at it, but it does not mean it is good for you and it doesn’t mean you should be like feeding it to your family on a regular basis.
Jonathan: Nick you hit on two points there that I think are just so spot on and that was a crystallization of what I was trying to say earlier, but I really don’t think I communicated well, which is if you were to try to create Coke, like if you are to try to make Coke in you kitchen, you would naturally never put that much sugar in that little of a fluid because intuitively you would be like “Wait, what?” you would not put 10 teaspoons, you would be like that’s too much sugar, I don’t need 10 teaspoons, why would I need 10, I will use 7 [crosstalk 09:35].
Nick: There would be some level, but you would do it and it would almost absolutely be less than what’s in the real thing.
Jonathan: The other thing I really, really liked was when you are cooking in your kitchen, if you buy your ingredients from the grocery store even if they are conventional, even if they are not locally grown, they are more than likely going to have a more robust taste than the whatever, Monsanto or Kraft is going to use, so you would also not only intuitively would you just add less garbage, but as you are tasting it, you will need to add less garbage because the natural taste of the food will be stronger as it’s fresher and things like that.
Nick: Oh yes exactly. If you make, I am trying to think of an example, like say you made like a beef chili at home and you use like a nice grass-fed piece of beef, super healthy, great flavor, hard to beat the flavor, right? Yes, it might take a little time but then you have this great pot of chili that you can snack on for few days or if you take a stroll through the freezer isle and buy whatever, I don’t even know what prepared chilies are out there these days, but I am sure they exist, whatever that is, they are using the worst of the worst ingredients. Yes, they are using beef but like…it is hard to even call it that probably and so yes, you are going to have an immediate flavor difference just because you are using quality ingredients and they don’t have to be expensive, even if you are not using grass-fed beef, just using normal stuff and cooking it right and treating it well and you are going to end up with a great product and your family is going to love it and you will feel better for it too.
Jonathan: Nick, you made another point there which I like and I really want to dig into and that’s you mentioned, it might take a little bit more time, but and I think that but is really, really important because so often if we have even a passing goal of improving our health and I am not saying we want to go run a triathlon or we want to go be on the cover of a magazine or we want to be in perfect human health, but just it may be as January 2nd, and we are like “I really should do something to be healthier.” I feel like many of us, we naturally are like okay, I am going to join a gym or I am going to go run for an hour, like we automatically turn to exercise when if would even take like a third of the time we throw at exercise and redirect it into the kitchen that would do so much good for our health and so much more good for our health than for example, if you were to spend three hours a week in the kitchen, you would derive so many more health benefits than if you spent three hours a week in the gym at least in my experience.
Nick: Oh yes, it pays huge dividends, it’s an amazing thing and it’s so funny because when I talk to people and I tell them what I do, obviously I cook a lot and if your listeners browse through the site, not everything I make is necessarily SANE. I have some recipes on there that look they are and they look rich and they are rich frankly, but I also have a lot of healthy recipes and a mix-match and all that stuff, but when I talk to people they are always like “Man, how are you thin, how do you not weigh 400 pounds,” I mean sure I do workout, but I am not like a gym rat, I am not at the gym for hours everyday.
I do normal active stuff, but I think it is really just because I eat out maybe once a month, maybe; my wife and I eat almost every meal at home and I have my hands directly on almost everything we eat. I have direct say in every recipe, every meal and I think those little increments of calories and health and nutrition, those add up to a healthy eating plan, that’s it, if you just take the initiative to spend a little more time in the kitchen, picking good ingredients at the store, learning how to cook, there is some skill involved, right? But if you do all that, it is going to pay dividends and you are going to be healthier and happier for it.
Jonathan: Nick, you hit the nail on the head there because it is hard to describe, like if you just use single ingredients and you combine them into your own concoction, you will naturally never ingest substances that you would ingest if you didn’t do that and the thing is only becoming clear in the mainstream now is that is about way more than just calories, like when you ingest certain types of processed refined oils, it causes inflammation in the area of your brain that regulates your appetite and it is no longer able to do that effectively, so now you will overeat which you are not overeating because you are glutton, you are overeating because your brain is inflamed from these chemicals that is being marinated in to use a pun of sorts and that’s why people say, my grandmother ate rich foods and she ate potatoes, Jonathan.
Two things, one, the food she ate are actually not, Dr. Davis does a great job on this in Wheat Belly, like the wheat 50 years ago is not the wheat today, so it is not even an apples to apples comparison, but besides that she prepared those foods in her home, so there is an entire class of substances that she was never exposed to that we are exposed to. Nick, I think you are exactly right, like if our listeners did nothing, nothing else other than for 21 days only eat food you prepared, it can be delicious, but just try that.
Nick: You are going to be more SANE just by doing that. It’s that step one for me in healthy eating and if I had to give a step two, I would say just like general knowledge I guess about…you did a great interview a few weeks ago where you guys were talking about reading nutrition labels and stuffs and I think it is one of the most important skills. I wish they taught it in school. People do not know how to read nutrition labels and it’s a killer, I mean it’s really…if you don’t know what you are putting into your body, how are you going to know what the results are going to be. You can’t predict the results if you don’t predict the inputs, does that make sense?
Jonathan: It absolutely does. When speaking of inputs Nick, one of the things I like that you do with your recipes is certainly you have some elaborate recipes, but you also have some what Carrie, my podcast co-host would call, it is little bit more like assembly, it is like just take A, B, and C, mix together and you are good to go. Those are my kind of recipes, that’s how I cook, I love that. So, can we talk a little bit more about those kinds of recipes?
Nick: Yes, sure. I have a whole section on my site that I categorize as “Quick and Easy” and sometimes those are the SANE thing meaning that it is quick and easy, but sometimes it could be quick or it could be easy, right? A lot of salads on the meal there, a lot of like quick sort of Asian style meals where you like stir fry a bunch of vegetables together. I like really spicy foods, I usually throw in like lots of hot peppers and stuffs like that, but that’s obviously pretty optional. Especially in the winter I was having a big stew kick this year, so lots of cabbage stews and stuffs like that, so really healthy but, I mean it is not hard stuff, like you could make a lot of these, you can make almost all of the recipes in this category, which there are, I don’t know 200 I think I have in this one category, you can make them all in a weeknight, 30 minutes may be tops we are talking about, it is not necessarily hard, you can sort of plan a meal plan around the time you have.
So, on the weekends for me, I like to cook a little bit longer meals, I made an Indian dish over the weekend that I posted at the beginning of the weekend, it took five hours, it was a five-hour recipe and I don’t sugarcoat it, it is what it is, it takes five hours if you want to make it right, but was it worth it, absolutely. My wife and I ate if for a few days, it was delicious and we loved it. My website, I try to provide recipes for whether you have lot of time, little time, whenever you can find something that hopefully would get you in the kitchen and get you excited about making a homemade meal.
Jonathan: Nick, that is important for people to realize is that just like we talked about for exercise or for eating in general, don’t let the pursuit of perfection scare you off, like just because you “don’t know how to cook” here is a formula that I use and Nick I would like your take on this because I have honestly in my years on this earth, I have never followed a recipe, it’s just not my style, that’s just how I am in life in general. I don’t follow recipes, I like to just kind of figure it out on my own.
Nick: I don’t conform to your recipes.
Jonathan: Yes, exactly, the man and his recipes trying to hold me down. Here is what I do. Component one is a nutrient dense protein, so meat or fish basically. Nutrient dense protein and then non-starchy vegetables, and then a seasoning or a sauce that I create.
Nick: Ah, very important.
Jonathan: That’s literally it and I am cooking “delicious,” I think they are delicious and my wife thinks they are delicious, but you just take a piece of salmon, you sear it, you put some seasoning on it, you have got some kale, like last night I boiled up some kale and I took some mushrooms, they were canned mushrooms, but I like the taste of canned mushrooms, and I am not here to be perfect, and I put some all natural tomato sauce in there, I put a little bit of Parmesan cheese there, some garlic salt, some Italian seasoning, that was our side dish, hey that took me 10 minutes and it was delicious.
Nick: If you would have ordered that in a restaurant, right? What do you think the changes would have been to how it was prepared, even it looked the same on the menu, what would they have done differently? They probably would have used way more salt than you used, they probably would have used a really weird kind of oil to cook the fish in, right? The tomato sauce they use probably would have been 50 percent sugar and the greens, I am assuming you used fresh kale.
Nick: They probably had like frozen kale that was cooked somewhere in a factory like a month ago, I don’t know and they would have thrown it together on a plate and charged you 15 bucks for it. That’s perfect, if everybody ate that even a few times a week, we would shed pounds as a nation.
Jonathan: Nick one of the things that I curious, your take here on how individuals can really identify what makes something taste good to them, now let me give you an example here, sometimes I get some flak because I am just as selective as I am, I recommend that people pick your protein sources in terms of like what are the most nutrient dense proteins. I say pick your carbohydrates the same kind of way, shoot for low fructose fruits like citrus and berries rather than high fructose fruits like apples and I say the same thing with fats, I say be intentional with your healthy fats and pick the ones that are either going to be the healthiest or the ones that are going to give you the most pleasure.
Let me give you an example of picking one that gives you the most pleasure and then I am hoping you could tie this back to just picking what makes you the happiest from a taste perspective. So, with my kale last night, most people when they talk about cooking kale, at least in the health community, are always talking about cooking it with a bunch of coconut oil which is fine and if you do that, coconut oil is wonderful for you and it is delicious; however, using kale in the way I was using, the actual taste of the side dish I made came from the marinara sauce and it came from the Parmesan cheese and from the seasonings I added. So, I could have cooked my kale in coconut oil, I could have, but it was unnecessary from a taste perspective, like I could boil it and that’s also a gentler way of cooking it because anytime you cook with water, that’s more gentle on the food and it is helpful from a nutritional perspective, but I wasn’t doing that because I feared fat, I was doing that because the savory taste of fat that I wanted to focus on in this dish was coming from the Parmesan cheese, so I was just being intentional about it. So how can we, as we start to get in the kitchen, really focus on dialing up certain flavors and figuring out what flavors really work for us?
Nick: Yes, I think it is lot about experimentation, like you have to try a few different things to see if it is going to work for you. One example that I learned a few years ago that I still use all of the time and I think is really undervalued, especially in American cooking, I don’t know why, is acids. In your kale example, right, the acid is missing from that recipe and the marinara sauce does give it some, but you could literally eliminate all the oil from that recipe, like you could steam your kale, right, and then toss it in a hot pan and the water from the steaming will give it a little lubrication if you will, right? Then all you got to do is hit it with half a lemon. Just squeeze half a lemon over it and toss it with little bit of your marinara sauce, a little bit of your Parmesan cheese, which is a great fat to add to that, give it a little saltiness and all that, and you will not miss the oil, you wouldn’t even notice, so a lot of it is about knowing how to provide flavor, like fat is cheap flavor, right?
It’s the easy way to get flavor into a dish. Yes, if you are consciously adding it, that’s great, please trust me [crosstalk 25:00] I’m a butter fiend. I am not afraid to use butter in a dish, but I do it actively and in a dish like that, I am like hey a little lemon is going to do this dish more favors than a little butter or a little oil. So, it is about knowing and the only way you know that is just to try stuff, try some things from different cultures like fish sauce that provide like crazy savory flavors to dishes that we just don’t have the equivalent to in America and once you learn to play around with that kind of stuff, then it almost becomes second nature to say like, “Oh this dish doesn’t even need any oil.” I mean it’s not a dish, it is not a stir fry, right? It is a side of steamed vegetables with some marinara sauce and lemon that’s what it is, that’s the recipe.
Jonathan: The way you characterized that, I think I might have to borrow, moving forward Nick, I will certainly give you your credit, but you said using the fats is not bad, but in some ways it is kind of a least common denominator, if you take, look at onion rings that’s what these fried things are, you want to make an onion taste better, well just deep fry it in fat, yes it is going to taste better, I get it, but there are also other ways to that and if you do those other ways, you don’t like to then add fat in some ways as just kind of like well why you don’t need to, it is not like you are afraid of fat, it is just because you are cooking and you are being conscious. There is no fear involved.
Nick: Right, exactly.
Jonathan: I love that Nick. Tell me a little bit about, I know you got a cookbook in the works, which is exciting, tell me a bit about this cookbook and how it is going to be as unique as your website?
Nick: Sure, the cookbook has been a labor of love, it’s going to be three years, finally found a publisher for it, super excited about it, and the whole premise of the book is about leftovers. I think there is this issue with cooking in America where people feel like they have to start from scratch everyday, when you get ready to prepare meal, may be you pop open your favorite cookbook or whatever it is or you go to your favorite website and it is always like step one, get out your raw ingredients, right? The truth is real chefs, like people even in restaurants, they don’t cook that way.
Yesterday’s leftovers become today’s special. They use them in soups or they figure out a new way to repurpose old stuffs. So, the book is featured around 14 dishes that people tend to have in their fridge if they cook regularly. Stuff like leftover chicken or a little bit of leftover fish you might have and so at the beginning of every chapter tells you how to make those things appropriately, there is a whole chapter on roast salmon where the first recipe is like, step one, you need to know how to make great salmon, right? So, there is a recipe for that and the idea is that you make these dishes in bulk when you have the time. So, make like whole side of salmon and you roast it and it is delicious and you can eat it as a meal on day one, but then you can use it throughout the week in these other recipes in the chapter.
So, each chapter is based on one of those and the idea is that it helps with meal planning; it is going to save people time and money and just teach people how to cook efficiently. You are using stuffs you have on hand rather than running to the store everyday to get a whole new list of stuff to make tonight’s dinner. So that’s the idea behind the book and I am pretty excited about it, I think it will be out in early 2014.
Jonathan: I love that Nick, we might be sharing some shelf space there because my next book is coming, maybe we could do a package deal.
Nick: Yes, sure. Amazon.
Jonathan: Nick what I really like about that approach is when someone thinks I have to cook at home, they may just say okay, I have got breakfast, lunch, and dinner, there are seven days in a week, you are telling me I need to cook 21 times, each time is going to take at least half an hour, okay I am not going to cook at home, shut up, I am not going to listen to you.
Nick: Abort, abort mission.
Jonathan: But that’s not at all what we are saying, right?
Nick: No, that is not what we are saying.
Jonathan: In fact if you cook especially with these cooking in bulk and freezing things, literally every time I cook, I cook for two or three or four meals and that makes life so much easier.
Nick: Yes, and if you are cooking great recipes, it does not matter if you eat the same thing a few days later, right? It is like it is delicious then also.
Jonathan: Exactly, and there is also this somewhat I think it’s just not true that individuals who are not cooking at home eat this amazing variety because like a hamburger and french fries, and hamburger and french fries, and pizza and Coke, and hamburger and french fries, and pizza and Coke is kind of the same thing over and over again too.
Nick: Good point. To me, I consider most pizza that you buy in stores and in restaurants to be horrible, like a bad mushroom pizza and a bad pepperoni pizza taste the exact same, both like really not good pizza. Alright great, I am just going to skip it, thanks.
Jonathan: I love it Nick, well this is incredibly helpful and folks I hope you can hear in Nick’s voice his passion and his dedication to a SANEr approach to food and again you don’t have to be perfect, not at all.
Nick: I am far from it, trust me.
Jonathan: But just bring that in home, take control of what’s going into your body and you will be surprised how easily you can actually take control of your health. So, Nick thank you so much for joining us, I really, really appreciate the time.
Nick: Yes, thanks for the opportunity Jonathan. It was really fun.
Jonathan: I love it, well folks if you want more of Nick, I would love to have him back on the show, but in the meantime, please visit his website which is macheesmo.com, again, that’s M-A-C-H-E-E-S-M-O.com, and be on the look out for his first cookbook, which is in the works. Nick, thank you again.
Nick: Thanks a lot Jonathan, talk to you soon.
Jonathan: Talk to you then. Hey listeners, I hope you enjoyed today’s show as much as I did, certainly Nick Evans, a wonderful guy, a great inspiration and a great guide in the kitchen, please check out his work and remember, this week and every week after; you can eat more and exercise less, just do it smarter. Talk with you soon.
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