Chef’s Eye View – Flavors of Spring

David Thornton, Chef of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at University of Arkansas, shares what his thoughts are during the transition of winter to spring and how it not only affects his cooking but the men of the chapter as well.

If you were to ask which season is my favorite for cooking, I’d say winter. I love slow cooked, braised meats that simmer for hours until they’re fork tender. I love the aroma of beef stew filling the house like a comforting blanket. But, if I were to pinpoint it down to which part of the winter I like the most, I’d say the first few weeks of March as winter transforms into spring. The nights and mornings here at the University of Arkansas are still bitterly cold, but each day seems to warm up significantly. You can tell spring is just a couple steps ahead of you, but there is still frost on the windshield each morning. It is the best of both worlds because these dramatic changes in temperature mean I can still serve slow cooked, winter foods, but the warm spring-like afternoons invite for quicker cooked, warmer weather fare.

During this time of nature’s transformation, spring is on the minds of the guys at the house too. Spring Break plans are being made and everyone is ready to take a respite from the countless hours steeped in lecture halls, books, and computer screens.

As Spring Break approaches, the salad bar becomes more and more popular here at the house. New favorite dressings show up on the craving sheet, and everybody is piling fresh spinach with cheese and dressing on their plates. Contrary to popular belief, even us guys think about our appearance as winter weight threatens to become permanent. Trust me, the new pant size I just had to buy is on my mind!

The problem is, sometimes, as we pile on ingredients from the salad bar, we can make some incorrect choices. A salad bar can host a lot of hidden calories if we rely on dressings and cheese. So, which items on that salad bar are your wisest choices if you’re looking to trim up for spring break?

I say, try the so called, “Zero Calorie” foods. Now, you and I both know that real, natural foods contain calories, but when consumed properly, these “Zero Calorie” foods contain somewhere around 30 calories per serving and those calories are easily burned away…some of which just by the process of eating and digesting them. So, what are these low cal choices on the salad bar?

  • Celery
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Raw Tomato
  • Fresh Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Oranges

There is a delicious salad with plenty of flavor variety. Now, what about spicing these things up? Most salad dressings are packed with calories, mostly from sugar. So, I advise flavoring with a little lemon juice or a vinegar based product like apple cider vinegar, mustard, hot sauce, pickles, or even sauerkraut (students, put it on the crave sheet). Don’t forget to add some kidney beans and a little sunflower seeds for protein. Making some simple, smart choices allow us to fill up and trim down as we head for Spring Break!