Making every bite count

27 March 2007

p.s. this makes me happy

This makes me happy. Saturday, I reached the checkout at Trader Joe's only to realize that I'd left my canvas and mesh shopping bags in the car. So I apologized to the cashier -- and btw, there was no line and I would have waited in line again without complaint -- and I walked out to my car at the far end of the parking lot and grabbed my reusable bags. I felt like a good person.
Things that anger me at the grocery store:
*double bagging
*cashiers that a.) look at you strangely if you ask for paper bags; b.) look at you even more strangely when you say you brought your own bag
*people who are too lazy to walk their carts back to the
cart corral
I'm happy tonight, because I've worked out and eaten well this week, so no more complaints.
Easy recipe:
Korean-style spinach
1 c frozen spinach or 2 c fresh spinach
a few drops sesame oil
1 capful tamari or reduce-sodium soy sauce
a few shakes red pepper flakes
a hearty shake of sesame seeds
Nuke until hot. Stir eat. Spinach=calcium, vitamin K, iron; sesame seeds=(The seeds are rich in manganese, copper, and calcium (90 mg per tablespoon for unhulled seeds, 10 mg for hulled), and contain Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and Vitamin E (tocopherol). They contain powerful antioxidants called lignans, which are also anti-carcinogenic. They also contain phytosterols, which block cholesterol production. Sesame contains one lignan unique to it called sesamin. The nutrients of sesame seeds are better absorbed if they are ground or pulverised before consumption)

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Twinkies, yes, a post about Twinkies and other great health food books

I apologize in advance for climbing up on my soapbox, but it's been a while. I partially do it to keep myself motivated and partially do it to motivate others. I'm reading this fabulous book right now:

along with a bunch of other health food books at a super-duper sale.
I'll blog about the rest as I read them, but for now... the E True Hollywood Story of a Twinkie's sordid past...
Sometimes I feel like eating soy substitutes is just as bad as eating other processed foods. It probably is, but my body (and recently my conscious) feels better when I use a soy substitute for dairy, eggs or meat in a recipe. I've been able to re-create favorite foods using soymilk and some other basic foods, It comes down to spices and other creative flavorings. Food is mostly about smell and texture, not taste. Most of taste is smell; we know this already. For instance, I was trying to re-create the taste of breakfast sausage in a tofu scramble. Not wanting to harm Wilbur's brethren, I broke down the taste of sausage in my mind: salt, black pepper, garlic, sage. Sage was the key. I added those spices to some TVP, added soy milk and voila: soysage!
The same goes for bacon. Much of what we believe to be bacon's appeal lies in the texture, the salty grease or the chewiness smokiness. With a few ingredients, you can re-create that taste.
So much of what we truly believe to be pure and healthful is actually processed, and I try each day to eat a little less of that.
I often eat horribly: Tonight, after 45 minutes of cardio and just as long on the Pilates mat, I pulled some pesto out of the freezer. (Yes, I make my own pesto. I use half the cheese and oil of traditional pesto. Thin it with a bit of water.) I crumbled some frm tofu, added red pepper and 2 cups of spinach and 1 cup soymilk and 1 T plain yogurt. Yum! But I ate it with plain old fettucini, and I had TWO bowls! Oink!)
Here's the story of how a Twinkie led to this great book:
A man took his young children for ice cream on a hot, summer day. Child: "Where does polysorbate 60 come from, Daddy?" Dad, admitting his fallibility: "I don't know."
And so, dear old Dad set out to find out just what all those incomprehensible chemicals in our food are and whence they came!
He chose the Twinkie,

perhaps one of America's most processed snack foods, and tracked down information about each ingredient on the wrapper. I've only just begin the book, but here's what I've learned thus far:
Each chapter is a different ingredient, and even the good -- and boring, healthful -- ingredients have an interesting history. (I'm omitting footnotes, etc., but all citations unless linked come from Steve Ettlinger's book.)
Different kinds=different uses
  • Hard red spring and hard red winter wheats are high in gluten and protein; they come from the northern Great Plains and are used fo bread and pizza flour. That gluten, I've learned, is necessary for elasticity. The yeast produces gas, which stretches the dough.
  • Hard white wheat from Calif. and Kan. makes good bread flour.
  • Soft white flour from northern N.Y. and the Northwest is used for noodles and crackers.
  • Durum is extra hard and made in the northern states. It's used for (anyone, anyone, Bueller?) pasta.
  • Soft red winter wheat from the mid-Atlantic, South, Ohio and Miss. Rover valleys makes the best cake flour. (Cake flour is finely ground, powdery in texture. It's low in protein, and it has little gluten. It works best at a 50-50 sugar ratio.)
  • All-purpose flour is apparently not good for anything, say the experts.
    Twinkies require 7 million pounds of flour a year!

Bleach: We bleach flour.

  • Chlorine is the 10th most common chemical made in the U.S.
  • Apparently, we do this because bleaching flour eliminates the gluten.
  • Cakes the require a lot of sugar need this bleached flour because they can get that coarse, dense texture.
  • Yeah, so bleaching things is dangerous. And complicated.

Enrichment blends (vitamins):
Flour is enriched with vitamins so we don't develop horrible diseases and our kids don't come out deformed. Still, the idea of adding chemicals from odd sources to food seems unnatural.

  • Sulfuric acid (used for make ferrous sulfate) is the world'd most produced chemical.
  • We get it from steel pickling, which involves running steel through sulfuric acid. Yum. Then the liquor (pickling liquor) is used in making ferrous sulfate for food. Double yum.
  • Niacin comes from the Alps.
  • Niacin is B3.
  • It is made of air, water and petroleum. Yep. Black gold.
  • petroleum is cracked, into methane, ethylene and hydrogen. Then, air is liquified, separated into N and O and mixed with H to make NH3. blah blah natural gas blah blah ethlyene and acetylene are mixed... ta-da: niacin, which looks like flour.
  • Our body can make B3, albeit inefficiently. We convert the amino acid tryptophan (hint: gobble, gobble).

B1: Thiamine mononitrate came from brown rice husks.
The manufacturing is a secret, but it involves eye of newt and hair of the dog... oops, I mean: "synthesized from basic petrochemicals derived from that old trusted food source, coal tar." (!)

Riboflavin: B2 comes from leafy green, fish, liver, etc.
A carbo mash (sugar, corn, etc) is made using a laundry list of methods involving yeast, bacteria, leftover beer grain, etc. Without riboflavin, we couldn't easily grow. And if you take a B vitamin supplement, your pee is neon yellow, says the book.
(Losing interest? Me too, for now. Nutrition lesson almost over.)
Folic acid is important. It prevents birth defects. Folic acid is the synthetic version of B9. It's better absorbed in the latter. It's made through fermentation as weel as with petroleum products.
These vitamins add up to: (per pound of flour)
24 mg niacin
20 mg ferrous sulfate
2.9 mg thiamine
1.8 mg riboflavin
.7 mg folic acid
1/10,000th of a pound of enrichment per pound of flour. (says Ettlinger)
I'll leave you for tonight with this food for thought: In each Twinkie, there is 4 3/4 t of sugar. Measure that out, then look at the size of a Twinkie. Then eat a carrot. Or some quinoa. I heart quinoa right now.

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A failure of sorts

So remember that post a couple of days ago when I said I was going to eat vegan for a week? Yeah, well, didn't happen. That night, I went to Green Papaya with my Freedom Porject group. I was tempted by sushi and quickly gave in. Delicious, succulent, sweet, oh so good.... mmm. We got some funky rolls, and while I'm usually a purist, I do love a good spider roll.
You see that, I heart fried things sometimes, too.
Other than that meal (I had tofu choochee curry again, but it was NOT very hot.), I have stuck to the cruelty-free diet.
Eating tofu/soy substitutes makes me feel like I'm indulging myself. I felt slightly guilty yesterday and today when I ate a bacon-egg-cream cheese breakfast sandwich... but no pigs, chickens or cows were harmed in the making of my breakfast! Morningstar Farms makes a fabulous -- yet funny-looking -- fakin bacon. I ate two of the marbled reddish-pink and white slices (just 50 calories, take that, Piggy!) between two slices of Ezekiel 49 bread slathered with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese. To this I added a slice of soft tofu. Looks and tastes just like egg whites. Fool your friends by adding turmeric.
I stole a Rachael Ray recipe for spicy chicken satay sauce (Holy yum, Batman! Here's a recipe that sidetracked me while looking for the above link: salmon dumplings with coconut curry sauce. Omit the pork fat, s'il vous plait!) I've got a mild peanut/cashew allergy, but I love spicy peanut sauce. (Loved, is the correct verb, je pense.) So I swapped soynut butter and added extra red pepper flakes to this sauce. I also added crystallized ginger instead of sugar. I've been eating it for lunch all week with mixed veggies and my new Trader Joe's find (thanks to Polly!): orzo-red quinoa-baby chickpeas. Fantastique!
A side note: Quinoa is a phenomonal food. It's a whole grain, which keeps your insides happy, and is a nutritionally sound grain. It provides more protein than most grains (12-18%), and it has a wide range of amino acids! Throw some in with your rice, and you'll never know the difference.

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25 March 2007

No-bake cookies

Monday night I was craving chocolate, and I started to make macaroons. Unfortunately, I was out of eggs, so I had to improvise. Now that I have soynut butter, I am trying to explore more recipes that require peanut butter.
(Ooh, note to self: Soynut curry sauce!)
No-bake cookies
1/2 c oat bran or whole oats
1/2 c chocolate chips
1/2 c coconut, unsweetened
2 T soynut butter
2 T flax seeds

Melt the chocolate chips and soynut butter together over low heat or in a microwaveable bowl. Mix in the oats and coconut, then spread onto a silicon baking sheet. Sprinkle with flax seeds.
Allow to cool, then slice.

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An experiment

I'm going to try eating completely vegan for an entire week, starting today. I'm trying to explore meatless, dairyless cuisine and branch out my recipe repertoire.
A rather large Sunday brunch

1 tofu omelette with scallions (200 calories) and 1 slice cheddar-jalapeno soy cheese (35 calories)
1 slice Ezekiel 49 bread (80 calories) with 1 t Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese (20 calories)
2 slices Morningstar Farms faux bacon (60 calories)
395 calories
And a word of advice. When handling turmeric, wear gloves or be very careful! I (temporarily) dyed my fingernails, a spatula and the counter a nice shade of neon yellow.

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14 March 2007

Spicy, spicy, and some soy!

Work friend Kristin and I have had trouble getting our schedules aligned lately. First the cabin, then her mom's visit and wisdom-teeth surgery, then meetings at night for me and work for her. We've started a tradition of eating at a different (ethnic) restaurant each Wednesday, but we've skipped a few weeks. Green Papaya was her choice this week, and it was delicious!
I'm always on an unofficial quest to find my heat threshold, and in the U.S., Udipi's chana batura was the only dish to reach it -- and that was just one of a handful of times I ate it!
We arrived after 8:30, both famished: She'd had a couple of whiskey sours on a date, and I'd worked out beforehand. Sushi, curries, pad thai! Decisions, decisions.
I got choochee curry with tofu; Kristin got some basil noodles. We also got some sushi .(salmon skin roll and scallop nigiri for me. Yum!)
The heat scale was 1-4, so I got a 4. Heat aside, the curry was chock full of squash, eggplant, pineapple, tomatoes and red peppers, along with lightly fried tofu. The sauce was spectacular -- rich, coconuty... and spicy! It was perfectly balanced: sweet, sour, creamy, spicy, salty. An orgasm in the mouth.
My eyes welled up, my nose ran a bit, but I kept eating. Every bite made me feel better and better. Spicy food releases endorphins, so after a meal with a kick, it's like that post-sex feeling sometimes... although in a smaller dose. (The heat is pain, which tells your brain that to release the endorphins.) It causes a rush. This is why people like spicy food.
I ate it all.
I want more.
It was good for me.
Another great discovery this weekend: soybean butter.
I've got a little bit of a peanut allergy. (No anaphylactic shock, just gastrointesinal malaise and hives.) Growing up, my mom packed a PB-n-J sandwich in my lunch almost every day. Natural PB, even in the 80s, wheat bread and strawberry jam. By first grade, I'd decided I didn't like grape jam. My sister didn't like strawberry. This made for drama if the sandwiches were ever mixed up.
I haven't had a Reese's cup, a PB-n-J or a buckeye in more than three years. I've tried almond butter, but ce n'est pas pareil, as Colette was fond of saying. I'd given up on PB-n-Js, and then I noticed the soynut butter, which probably has been at Trader Joe's all along.
I fell in love with PB-n-Js once more.
I've eaten them for breakfast every day this week, on Ezekiel bread from TJ. It has no actual flour. It's all sprouted grains. I love it.
Soy and spice. I'm a happy girl!
Oh, and I've been experimenting with TVP. I'm sure everyone's anticipating an entry on the wonders of TVP. Wait for it. It's coming!

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09 March 2007

just one more thing

I've lost count how many times I've posted during this blogging binge, but I've been saving up thoughts all week.
After my weekend of debauchery at the cabin, (When, I cooked refried beans, eggs and Smirnoff ice at 2 a.m., and the next night assaulted a man with a spatula who stole my grilled cheese! I'm told. I don't remember the former!) I stopped by to see my dad, stepmom and precious little sister, Bella. I opened their fridge to get a Diet Coke, and I was surprised by what did and didn't see. First off, I took the LAST Diet Coke! There's always Diet Coke there, which I like. In its place were three (!) cartons of Silk soymilk (two fortified and one chocolate), soy Swiss cheese and tempeh! What? I closed the door, shocked and asked my stepmom about the soy infiltration.
"I read your blog, and I've been making some changes," she said. I'd forgotten I'd sent the link to my family, too. I'm so happy someone reads it and heeds it! I love her, and I am always happy when anyone makes changes to better his or her health. (And again, I'm so far from perfect, but I try. I think that's all that matters.)
"Now if only I could your dad to give up his 'yard of beef,'" she said, laughing. My dad, a skinny guy, has an unnatural liking for unnatural meat products: SlimJim -- he travels for work, and I always laugh at the number of wrappers that litter the floor of his front passenger seat!, summer sausage and beef sticks of all kinds. She did, however, switch him from white to wheat bread. My sister loves that she gets to drink chocolate milk (well, soymilk).
So for Robin, here are some tips for cooking tempeh:
Dice it and saute (I can't get blogger to make accent marks. I really dislike that!) it in a bit of olive oil.
Bake it with pasta and tomato sauce.
Serve it instead of meat in a stir fry.
Strong sauces (teriyaki, sweet and sour, etc.) work well with tempeh.
Mushrooms compliment the flavor well. Depending on what kind you get, it has a nutty flavor and a chewy texture. (I made a tempeh-mushroom stroganoff recently that was good. Saute 1/2 an onion, some minced garlic, mushrooms and tempeh in olive oil over medium heat. Remove when browned. Add 1 T red wine vinegar -- it will sizzle, so stand back! -- a cup of plain yogurt and some dill. Cook until heated through, add the tempeh, onion and mushrooms back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Serve with whole-wheat, yolk-free egg noodles.)
Crumble it (dice and then break up as you cook it) and mix some with meat to cut calories. Don't tell Dad.

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Skinny lasagna

The word tofu is a turnoff for many people, so I try to avoid using it when discussing dishes.

Two weekends ago, my fridge and cupboards were pretty bare but I wanted something warm and filling. I've been trying to make a dent in the random food in my freezer, so I pulled out a few things. Cooking need not be exact; this is a prime example of that. Mix, match, learn what flavors and ingredients work well together.

The finished project:

It was surprisingly good. Some of my experiments are a bit scary!
from pantry:
no-bake lasagna noodles
1 small can diced tomatoes
spices (1 t oregano, 1/2 t red pepper flakes, dried garlic, parsley, etc. This was a mix I bought it Italy last year.)
olive oil
from the black hole that is my freezer, so duh, thaw them:
roasted red peppers (1/2 cup, chopped)
basil pesto (a few tablespoons)
frozen spinach (thawed and drained well)
from the fridge:
Pecorino Romano
1 package firm tofu
some Greek-style plain yogurt


Mix some of the spices into the drained spinach. Drain the tofu and slice horizotally (ideally in 1/4 inch slices). Place between dish towels, sprinkle with spices and press well to dry it. Drain some of the juice from the tomatoes. Mix the pesto and the tomatoes together.
Grease a loaf pan with olive oil. Place a spoonful of tomatoes in the bottom, top with a lasagna noodle, then alternate tofu slices, spinach, tomatoes and yogurt. Top with a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Allow to rest 10 minutes, then slice. The tofu has the same texture as ricotta cheese, and the yogurt provides the mouth feel of cheese. The Pecorino on top offers saltiness. I like lasagna, and when I'm in the mood for it, there's no substitute. But this dish is a nice take on that rich dish. it's low-fat and very healthful. As the picture shows, itt was a bit soupy, so I might press the tofu better next time. But it was delicious!

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un potpourri

A few random, unconnected thoughts.
1. Substitute whole-wheat pasta or spaghetti squash for your regular pasta. Spaghetti squash is very low in calories and it stands up well to almost any kind of sauce. Wheat pasta has much more fiber.
2. Double the veggies. The traditional American plate is 1/2 protein, 1/4+ carbs/starch and 1/4- vegetables. Flip those: Half the veggies, 1/4 protein and 1/4 carbs/starch.
3. Substitute soymilk for cream and milk.
4. Use tofu in place of meat in a stir fry.
5. If I make a cream sauce (using low-fay cream cheese and soymilk), I serve it with steamed spinach instead of pasta.
I've been experimenting with nonmeat recipes, so I picked up "Jean Hewitt's International Meatless Cookbook." Hewitt was a food editor at the NYT, decades before the Frank Bruni era. The cookbook at first made me laugh: "Over 300 Delicious Recipes, Including Many for Fish and Chicken," it boasted. Well, technically, chicken is poultry, but...
In 1980, the recipes she offered truly were exotic; in 2007, they're simple, international dishes. Some of them are very old-school but full of potential (vegetable pate); others are more obscure (harira, Moroccan chickpea and lentil soup). There are so many more I want to try: garlic soup from Spain; curried eggs and masala potatoes from India; dilled carrot salad from France. Because I live alone, I only cook a few times a week. The rest of the time, I eat the leftovers. It makes for less work but sometimes a bit of monotony.


what a week

I'm home on a Friday night, loving every moment of my sloth. I've had a long but good week, and I deserve some time to veg.
Tonight's dinner was less than nutritious: baked potato wedges and a Boca cheeseburger.
Food 911 featured Israeli food a few weeks ago, and a woman learned how to make falafel. I decided to alter the falafel recipe a bit and then bake it instead of frying it. I served it with a spicy curry sauce and some yummy steamed veggies.
The recipe:
2 cups chickpeas, dried
1/2 t cumin
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
water to cover
Place chickpeas and spices in a bowl, cover with water and allow to soak in the fridge at least overnight. Drain and reserve water before proceeding.
In a food processor, add:
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 c onion or 1 bunch green onions, roughly chopped
1 egg
Pulse until roughly chopped, then add the chickpeas and pulse until a mealy looking paste forms. Add a little cooking water and the egg, pulse again.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a loaf pan with olive oil, pack in the chickpea mixture and bake 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.
Slice and serve.
I've also served it with a simple tzatziki sauce or just plain yogurt and sliced tomatoes.
Chickpeas are my new favorite legume/carb.

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06 March 2007

I heart the minimalist!

Did anyone try the uberpopular, no-fail, no-knead bread recipe in the NYT a few months ago? Well, the genius behind that method is Mark Bittman, aka the minimalist. A few ingredients, a few supplies and voila: Simple, great food.
A few weeks ago he featured the kitchen's most underappreciated appliance: the broiler. Essentially, Bittman says, the broiler is an indoor, temperature-controlled grill. I've experimented with his techniques a couple of times. The broiler and a castiron skillet produce the crispiest crust on fish and meat. The method is simple; the results are spectacularly crispy.
I've tried scallops, salmon and mahi-mahi using the skillet-broil method. Mash-ees-uh-yo! (delicious in Korean.)
First, turn on your broiler, and place a cast iron skillet inside. Heat for 10-15 minutes. Dry the meat/fish well to ensure maximum crust. Working quickly, drizzle some olive oil, then drop the fish/scallops/etc. Do not move the meat/fish once it is in the skillet. Expect some splatter. Place back under broiler. Times vary, but scallops take just a few minutes. Fish takes less than 10 minutes!
Long live the minimalist!

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05 March 2007

Tangy, hot, sour and oh so good

I hate cardio some days. Tonight, as I was sweating away on the Precor machine, I started fantasizing about dinner. Lunch was three-grain rice with edamame, tamari and sesame seeds, so was starving by the time I finished working out. My mind drifted from Korean food to Indian to Thai... or something like it. Mmm, hot and sour soup!
A quick stop at the grocery store for carrots and ginger, and I was ready to cook. The skanky store near my house only had silken tofu, not firm tofu, so I used mushrooms instead. I added a few odds and ends from the pantry. A success, with plenty of leftovers. This recipe could easily serve four.
An explosion of flavor in my mouth! Mmm!!!
Doesn't it look delicious?
Here's the recipe:
Hot and sour soup
1 box chicken or vegetable broth
1 can light coconut milk
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t red pepper flakes*
2 t rice vinegar*
2 t soy sauce*
1 t tamari*
1 t fish sauce*
1 lime or lemon
1 red pepper, chopped
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 package fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 t vegetable oil
1 small can bamboo shoots
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
* Start with half the amount of these seasonings, then add to taste. Adjust as you like.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the mushrooms, carrots and peppers. Add the hot pepper flakes, garlic and half the scallions and cook for two more minutes over medium heat. Don't allow to develop color. Add the ginger, soy sauce/tamari, fish sauce and lemon/lime juice. Cook one minute, then add the bamboo shoots.
Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add the coconut milk and cilantro, stirring well.
Serve with rice and sprinkle with remaining scallions.

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