Archive for the ‘Natural Thickeners’ category

How to Thicken Soup, Sauces, Gravy and so forth

December 6th, 2013

In the interest of not re-inventing the wheel, I’d like to point out that there are many marvelous websites with directions on how to thicken. The Wikihow sites  are quite instructive (you could learn to cook by following their step by step illustrations) and the comments afterward add even more tips. Do take a look:

 And there are more: how to thicken stew, spaghetti  sauce, etc. And remember this: what is thickened can be thinned. In other words, if your recipe ends up thicker than you wish, add water, milk, cream, or broth to thin it.


Musings on Starch, Potatoes & Potato Recipes

July 11th, 2013


mashed potatoes

Potatoes contain a lot of starch and for that reason they are extremely useful for thickening soups and other dishes. But it is important to pay attention to what kind of potato you choose for recipes because each type of potato has a different ratio of starch to moisture and each will behave differently  when exposed to water and heat.

According to Cook’s Illustrated: the Science of Good Cooking, 2012, the starch content in potatoes can range from 16% to 22%. Less starch, and you get a firm, waxy potato, like the Red Bliss or French Fingerling. More starch such as in a Russet produces a crumbly, mealy texture. In the middle is Yukon Gold. Read more:

Russet potatoes are the best choice for mashing and for thickening. Add a grated Russet  potato to any soup and you have added a natural thickener. Add a lot of potatoes and you can end up with an even thicker soap as in Vichyssoise (from earlier posts) or my father’s old fashioned potato soup. At the other end of the starch spectrum are Red Bliss. I boiled those and then removed their skins in a recent blog post. Fork-mashed with a bit of butter they were an easy and safe addition to a good meal.

Russets are better able to absorb liquid and they produce a fluffier potato when mashed. And mashed potatoes are true comfort foods. Most food cultures in countries where potatoes are grown have treasured comfort food recipes which can be adapted for individuals with swallowing disorders.

Here are some tips about cooking potatoes

  • Start potatoes in cold water: it makes for speedier cooking time and better potato texture.
  • Potatoes are best boiled in their skins because when they are are boiled whole and unpeeled, they absorb less water and can then absorb more cream and butter. Their potato flavor is much stronger, too, not washed out.
  • Use a ricer or a food mill, both of which yield a much smoother mash than a potato masher.
  • Stirring or using the food processor will manipulate texture for dishes that are meant to have a more sticky, tacky texture.
  • Potatoes done in the food processor will be thick and gluey.

In conclusion: The method of handling your potatoes will affect the texture of your final dish. Pay careful attention to how much–or how little–you process them.

Classic Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4

2 pounds russet potatoes, cooked with the skins on

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup half-and-half, warmed

salt and pepper

  1. Place potatoes in large saucepan and add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer until potatoes are just tender (paring knife can be slipped in and out of potatoes with little resistance) 20 to 30 minutes. Drain
  2. Set ricer or food mill over now empty saucepan. Using potholder (to hold potatoes) and paring knife, peel skins from potatoes. Working in batches, cut peeled potatoes into large chunks and press or mill into saucepan.
  3. Stir in butter until incorporated. Gently whisk in half-and-half, add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and season with pepper to taste. Serve

Add a cup of grated mild cheddar cheese and you have another taste

You could also cook potatoes in stock as in the following recipe

Potatoes in Chicken Stock with Mint and Butter

2 pounds russet potatoes

1 1/2 quarts chicken stock (I use Better than Bouillon)

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 bunch of fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel. Halve them lengthwise. Place them in a two quart pan or  casserole. Cover with the stock, the bay leaves, the bunch of mint, and the salt. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and cook, covered, until cooked through when pierced with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. Discard the bay leaves and mint.
  2. When the potatoes have cooled, either peel them or push them through a food mill which will take off the skins.
  3. Add butter and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon.
  4. Serve immediately.

My mother’s scalloped potatoes

2 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes

2 tablespoons of lightly salted butter plus 1/2 stick

1 peeled clove of garlic

4 tablespoons flour

1/4 cup finely minced onions

1/2 stick of lightly salted cold butter

salt and pepper

1 cup whole milk, heated to warm, but not boiled

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Generously butter a 2 1/2 quart casserole with 2 tablespoons of butter
  3. Rub the buttered casserole with the clove of garlic, then discard the garlic
  4. Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/16 inch slices (use a knife or a slicer or mandoline or the slicing disk on your food processor)
  5. Cut the butter into 1 tablespoon sections, using the paper wrapper as a guide, then cut each piece in four.
  6. Begin layering the potatoes in the casserole, sprinkling each layer with the minced onions, a teaspoon or so of the flour, salt and pepper, and dot with the small pieces of butter. Try for a least 3 layers.
  7. Pour the warmed milk over the layers of potatoes. Make sure the milk comes about 3/4 of the way up the side of the casserole.
  8. Put into the heated oven and bake 35 to 45 minutes
  9. Serve hot

You could add a cup of shredded cheddar cheese between the layers; don’t use Mozzarella as it’s likely to be stringy once heated and you want to avoid stringiness. In the picture on the left below, cheese has been sprinkled on the top of the casserole. Don’t do that as the browned topping may not form the cohesive bolus you want. Of course, you could always remove the top after baking so that you still get the flavor of having the cheese and the cheese will be in the body of the dish.

scalloped potatoes with cheese scalloped potatoes

Why thicken?

June 25th, 2013

mashed potatoesIf the food is thicker, it passes the mouth (the oral cavity) and holds together into a “cohesive bolus”. That is, it doesn’t break apart so that individual pieces can travel hither and dither down the throat into the airway and then into the lungs. Folks, this can be dangerous! Because food products that lie in the airway introduce bad bugs that can cause pneumonia.

So here’s one of the most important principles that the recipes in this blog will incorporate: there should be nothing eaten that has bits or particles that can break away from the mass of the bolus and drop into the airway. To meet that goal, the food will need to be thoroughly blended or strained. That is, the texture of the food is modified. Although, of course, there are many wonderful foods that are already thick enough and this blog has some yummy recipes for things like smoothies and ice cream and polenta and mashed potatoes, thick soup,and macaroni and cheese, and so forth. macaroni & cheese

So its no food that breaks apart: no popcorn for sure.No food that has two or more textures, vegetable soup, for example, that has a broth and pieces of vegetables. Does that mean no vegetable soup! No, no. It means that the batch of vegetable soup is run through a food processor, a blender, or attacked with an immersion blender until all the particles are gone, and there’s a smooth mass of soup. Now, that soup may still not be thick enough, so we’ll add perhaps a grated potato, or corn starch or potato starch that will be mixed into the soup to thicken it until there’s a thicker consistency that holds together when swallowed.

Soups are great and there’ll be a lot of soup recipes on this blog. We’ll try to make the soup as healthy as possible, with extra protein and other “good for you” ingredients. It can be hot soup, or cold soup. But it will be delicious. thick soup

But..what if you can’t cook? Don’t know the first thing about it. Well, you’ll just have to learn to do a few things, but it is possible to find plenty of nutritious foods in the supermarket  or the local deli all ready to eat or if not completely ready, merely needing a few adjustments.

Individuals without dysphagia have a protective cough. Food passing into the airway will cause a coughing fit. Think of what happens with popcorn when you’re at a movie and gobbling up those delicious kernels. All of a sudden, there’s an onset of a terrific cough. You feel something stuck–you can point to the outside of your neck and locate the place where it feels like something’s stuck. You cough and you cough and out pops whatever it was that triggered the cough in the first place, usually in the case of popcorn, its a little bit of skin from the kernel–a tiny bit–but it’s enough to cause a coughing fit and it’s enough for someone who has a problem to potentially have even a bigger problem

Thickened foods are safer, as a rule, for people with dysphagia. So the recipes on this blog specify ways to thicken. Naturally. That is, without commercial thickeners, products that are sold specifically to thicken foods or products that are themselves already thickened by these thickener.

These products are disliked by almost everyone who has had to use them on a regular basis. And whatever the manufacturers of such thickeners claim, the artificial thickeners make the food taste different, usually with an aftertaste that is unpleasant. The foods taste funny and they have a different mouth feel. In my classes that I teach on dysphagia, students who try the commercial thickeners find them barely tolerable and numerous research studies confirm this.

What I hope to show here is that there is a wide variety of delicious foods that can be prepared with “ordinary” kitchen products that are safe to swallow for most people with dysphagia. And, as an extra bonus, these are often foods that are called comfort foods and are loved by one and all. Of course, comfort food varies by culture and this blog hopes to include recipes from a variety of cultures.

But..what if you can’t cook? Don’t know the first thing about it? Well, it is possible to find plenty of nutritious foods in the supermarket  or the local deli all ready to eat, or if not completely ready, only needing a few additions to make it good and safe to swallow.


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