Monday, December 13, 2010

Full disclosure - up eight pounds

In light of this annoying post about how maintenance isn't so hard after all, I realize why things seemed so easy - I was eating too much and on my way to gaining eight pounds. I would say three of those pounds were probably an improvement, but the other five were unnecessary. So I decided to stop eating so much at night and quickly lost one, with the goal being to lose four more. The plan was to (1) add back the stairs at work most days, (2) eat smaller dinners and (3) engage in less mindless snacking-picking at sweets. I kind of did ok with 1 and 3 but not so well with 2. Then work got busy and I've only done the stairs twice a week or so lately. I also have become lactose intolerant in the past few months (!!!!) - which means I can't fill up on non-fat protein. This is a huge adjustment for me. I may get the pills to take with dairy because it makes me sad not to eat it.  It also means I'm eating more calories for the same amount of satiety. And then there were the 6 lbs of latkes I bought for a party we never had. SO after a good start I kind of got lazy. My clothes are kind of on the cusp of tight. I like them loose.

I'm not really whining about gaining weight  - more just fessing up in the interest of full disclosure. I look fine and feel healthy. (I may be whining about the dairy - Greek yogurt specifically - but I'll adjust.) I think it's almost funny that I can't lose four pounds after all the weight I lost before. Where is my discipline? What happened to my motivation?? Why does it take 5+ pounds to even notice I've gained one?

Today my stair-climbing friends RAN up all 56 flights!! Tomorrow I'm joining them.

Friday, December 10, 2010

calamari in padella con limone e pangrattato

I got Jamie's Italy out of the library. It's really fun to read but kind of infuriating to try and use. I can't quite say why. I think the recipes are really simple sounding but either involve complex ingredients like octopus and squab, or massive quantities of cream and butter - and I just can't bring myself to make fettucini alfredo. And everything involves fennel. I don't know why, but I just enjoy reading it more than using it.

But the above recipe seemed simple enough. Saute breadcrumbs in olive oil and a few other ingredients - then cook up the squid and lemons and top with parsley and the breadcrumbs.

At any rate - I thought it was delicious - and fast - and not too expensive. I think Dave and I ate $11 worth of squid. Of course the kids had pasta and a bowl of cereal. It just wasn't worth the battle. Natasha ate one ring and said she didn't like it but she did eat the whole thing. I think Dave was less impressed than me...

I am picking up on a few tips though - use a lot of fresh herbs, lemon zest and put a new twist on old things. I do want to try tuna meatballs but they seem a bit labor intensive. I guess it's not a week-night cookbook. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

I don't see why I can't make these...

Perhaps I'll buy some dumpling wrappers and try making these...I do need a working food processor. But they really do look quite simple.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food rut

Despite the embarrassing amount of time I spend perusing recipe sites and apps, it appears that I'm in a food rut.

I can't think of anything I want to cook. And I'm not the only one noticing.

Natasha has been complaining lately that I make the same dinners over and over again. And I can't say she's wrong. And she specifically said that she doesn't want the same old ingredients recombined in different ways. She didn't use that exact phrasing but that's what she meant.  I have the same problem with Cooking Light magazine, but that's another story. Natasha wants new ingredients, or ingredients so artfully combined as to make their original components unrecognizable. We could try venison. Not likely. So perhaps I need to make some more robust sauces.

I roast veggies, I sauté chicken or ground turkey breast, I pan fry fish...blah blah. I'm bored too. I think what she's getting at is that she wants a more exciting sauce. I had pulled away from sauces as someone in the family always has a complaint. They're accused of being too caloric, too spicy, too sweet, too time consuming, too goopy, too full of objectionable green specs, too healthy, too boring, too disgusting. (I wonder if you can figure out which complaints are whose!) Someone has a problem with all of them.

As a result I stopped using a lot of flavor when I cook. I got used to this and now I prefer it. I like the individual flavors of the main ingredients to shine through, unencumbered by lots of overpowering herbs and condiments. With little kids, this is a pretty good strategy too. They don't like their different meal elements to even touch each other, let along simmer together!

But here we are in boring land.

Tonight I had to go grocery shopping after work. I didn't get home until late, and was not interested in starting a meal from scratch. So I cobbled together a beef brisket pre-made TJs dinner. I buy one pre-made dinner a week for times like this, and some plainer-looking pulled chicken from the local grocery store deli. The beef brisket was doused in a super-duper exceedingly greasy, salty, sweet bbq sauce. I warmed both meats (separately) in the microwave, made some whole wheat toast and had instant sloppy joes. Dave and I had pickle slices on our sandwiches. I made the kids eat some sweet pepper slices on the side as their veggie. Dinner was fast and everyone was happy. The sweet beef was pretty unhealthy, but the chicken wasn't bad. It was in a light vinegary/pickle sauce. Natasha was dreamily remembering the sloppy joes from sleepaway camp. I was happy not to cook and liked my lower-fat/sugar version. Dave and Alex enjoyed the rich flavors. I guess that's a fair enough compromise once in a while.

So I'm not going to buy that pre-made, sodium/sugar/fat filled beef brisket all the time. But I do think I need to add more flavors to the foods I make. I'm going to start with this. I've had it before and it's pretty flavorful and versatile.

It's really good on salmon.
Mongolian BBQ Sauce

Coincidently, I had recently bought this book by Rocco DiSpirito. It's kind of everything I hate, but I decided to buy it anyway. Next thing you know I'll be voting for someone who says, "nucular".  OK maybe not. At any rate, the book purchase started with a quest for a good-tasting, lower-calorie cookie. The book is full to the brim of heavy, greasy, gratuitous foods redone with lots of ingredient substitution to be lower-fat, lower calorie versions - things like chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy. It advocates lots of swaps like add navy beans, remove butter, use Splenda instead of sugar, corn starch instead of butter, low-fat dairy full of guar gum. You know, everything I despise. I'm ok with some ingredient substitutions, removals or additions, but others makes me nutty. I've made a few things so far. Most of them are ok, but just not my type of food. Very traditional American- type foods. Creamed spinach, chicken pot pie. It comes out ok, not super- heavy, but just not the way I like things. But I do think my family has appreciated the change of pace. See chicken pot pie photos below. I have to say, I have a new love in the form of Ian's whole wheat panko bread crumbs.

But all in all, I think rules were made to be broken. I can't live by hard and fast dictums. Cornstarch here we come!


I wrote that a week or so ago and didn't get around to uploading the photos so I didn't post it. I was trying to be open-minded but I really don't like that kind of food. It turns out to be kind of time consuming and the kids aren't really interested. Dave was pretty happy though. The chicken pot pie I altered a fair bit and it came out pretty well. It was a big hit with my cousin and mom. Tonight I went back to plain chicken tenders. I made a plain batch for the kids and a slightly more complex batch for me and Dave - at the end I put some blue cheese crumbles and balsamic glaze - for a delectable sweet-salty combination. Alex helped me make mashed potatoes and I made some plain peas. Back to plain food, but the kids are more amenable to individual ingredients, and I like being able to figure out how much I'm eating of each ingredient. I do like the whole wheat panko-encrusted baked chicken tenders, especially served with a crudite and some blue cheese dressing (I make equal parts mayo, blue cheese and non-fat Greek yogurt, and then I add a bit more yogurt to cut the calories a bit more. Just make sure to really spend time working the blue cheese into the mixture so it's a smooth and incorporated). The problem is that Alex responds with, "Why is there stuff on the chicken, Natasha grudgingly eats it but isn't all that impressed and Dave and I have trouble controlling ourselves from eating massive portions dipped in dressing. Even with the yogurt it's still pretty caloric. So I don't really see the point, unless I'm craving a Cheesecake Factory-type meal. That does happen, but in terms of creating a healthy family-friendly dinner it's just kind of a waste in my house.

I also tried a cookie recipe. I added beans instead of flour which is fine, and against all my instincts but owing to curiosity, I tried Splenda. At first I thought it was a dream come true. Low calorie sugar! But then I had a horrid chemically aftertaste in my mouth for hours and hours. I will never use it again. Some background on the cookie experiment....

Each school day, Natasha and Alex get a "packet" in their lunch each day. It's a terrible commercial 100 calorie pack. I give it to them to control their overall sweet intake, to try and help them develop a sense of what a normal portion is and also so that they don't feel like I never allow them to have any junk. I don't want to have kids who go nutso when they go to a friend's house who has junk it it....So I know the packets are full of chemicals and additives, but I'm ok with that in a small quantity.

Natasha asked if I would bake treats instead of buying the packets. I think even she thinks they're kind of gross and fake-tasting. So I should try. But I can't stand having fresh, home made baked goods in the house. It's way too tempting for me. I'll have to work on that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If I were to succumb to the cupcake craze...

If I were to succumb to the cupcake craze...and I'm not saying that  have. In fact I have not. I would make these....still high in sugar of course. I think sugar could be reduced...but they still have quite a few calories I'm sure.

I definitely want to try the orange ones...i'm just so curious about the result of boiling oranges for 2 hours and then putting them in the blender....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

eggplant-tomato roast

A beautiful dish for a party - not really for kids...but not everything can be!
I think the photos tell the story. I should have used more olive oil under the buffalo mozzarella, but oh well. I also made couscous separately, but probably could just put it in the pan. and the onions would be better browned, but that seemed to take away from the one-pot elegance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lots of interesting stories on NPR yesterday related to food and health

Here are some links - all stories can be listened to.

Not from today - but I want to eat at this French school

This morning - some interesting stuff happening in Fairfax County VA - taste tests to get the kids interested and hiding veggies for middle-schoolers - not a bad idea for that age group and that environment. Meaning - they are unsupervised and highly influenced by peer pressure -so hiding white beans and veggies in the nacho sauce isn't the end of the world.

And this one about how we are no longer the tallest population. Another sign of America's decline...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sake Salmon

Nigella Lawson's delicious sake salmon over rice.
I intended to write a super-quick post to reference a recipe I like and had kind of forgotten about....but it ended up being longer and more introspective.

I know I've blogged about Nigella Lawson's sake salmon in passing before, but this recipe is so good that even I concede to stick to the recipe and I use various measuring spoons to make both the marinade and sauce (not without getting annoyed though). It's pretty and a great party pleaser too, as if it's done properly it is one big dish of fluffy rice (of course I switch from white to brown), glistening seared pink salmon and bright green cilantro clippings all over the top. It's kind of dramatic to put it in the middle of the table and dollop out huge spoonfuls to eagerly awaiting guests. And it's totally delicious. I didn't get to that part in my first post. It could use a tad of something sweet, like a drop of brown sugar, in the sauce, and it certainly needs to cook longer than she says for my liking, although you can see in her photo that she serves it pretty raw.

OK - now on to the more introspective part...

I just read the post where I originally referenced it. Kind of an unhelpful post as I hadn't even tried the recipe I referred to. But more noticeable to me is my overall challenged tone. It's strange now to remember how much I was struggling - that was at the -25 lb and 3 month mark. It was right around the time where I made the decision that I wasn't going to go below 21 points (I can't believe I went below 23) and I wasn't going to add points back after reaching goal. Somehow that comforted me. It made me feel like I could do it. I could stay plodding along at the B+/A- pace I was at - all my life I was that kind of student.

The truth is, I did add points back into my diet after I reached goal weight. I also upped the exercise. But I did so quite slowly, over a long period of time. Eventually I got much less restrictive and haven't really gained weight (+/- 3lbs from 140), except for a period last winter where I was snacking a lot and in my usual winter sedentary-ness. I don't count points anymore, although I did for a good long time after reaching goal. I do have that intuitive sense of what a normal portion is but I still must often consciously try and stick to that. If I'm still hungry I eat a little more. I also try not to snack too much but that is still a challenge. I do taste the little goodies around the office much more often than I did while losing, which was almost never. It's also possible that one could say I'm still really restrictive but it doesn't bother me as much anymore. Meaning, I still don't eat a lot of things that are tempting and caloric but that just seems normal to me now. Usually. I am surprised at how little I pay attention consciously anymore. Yesterday I did have to eat the home made jelly-shortbread concoction that wasn't even left for my branch at work. I wrote a series of posts on "what I did right" about 10 months ago, which was 1 year after I started losing and 6 months past goal weight. I think even since then I've let my guard down a fair bit, and perhaps more importantly internalized portion size a lot more. At that point I thought I had done all the changing I would do, but as it turns out, it takes a REALLY long time to become an intuitive eater. Of course I still make mistakes - getting overly full, or overly hungry. But I rarely count points.

I suppose now I eat an average of 24-26 points and I probably do about 3 points of exercise a day. Certainly the exercise varies from 2-4 points but I bet 3 is the average. I also have much more muscle mass, which burns calories all throughout the day. I think back when I wrote that post I was eating 21-22 points a day and doing 2 points of exercise. But of course, that was before I hit the 150 lb mark. Once you get there it gets a lot harder to earn exercise points. Weight Watchers is kind of ingenious that way - upping exercise alleviates plateaus.

It got easier over time for two reasons. 1. In reality I don't have to be as strict as when I was losing weight and 2. I don't want treats in the same compulsive way I used to.

I did eat a lot of that salmon last night- way more than the 3 or 4 oz I would have had while losing. It was good (good meaning tasting and good meaning healthy) and I was hungry.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two new Jackie Warner DVDs

Somehow I missed this - but not surprising since she has a new TV show out called Thintervention and we're almost in the holiday season. It got great reviews on Amazon. I really have no need for a new DVD. But I'll buy it at some point for sure. I am enjoying watching Thintervention. I am only so-so on Bob's new DVDs. Kind of a waste of $40. Had I known about these two Jackies I would have skipped the package deal.

One out now, and another for abs out in Dec.

At any rate - back to Thintervention. First I should note that I am a Bravo junkie. The only TV I watch these days is really bad reality programming. Or news. Or maybe they are the same thing. I can't even take the news anymore.

But it was Jackie's first show, also on Bravo, called Workout that was one of my motivators. I think I blogged about it at some point, but I used to lie in my bed all smug and superior because I was not obese and wasn't a whiner like the people on the show. Part of me was wondering if I could handle her workouts...I assumed no but I still felt slightly superior. But in reality I was overweight, and I was a bit of a whiner. There was something slightly self-loathing about watching those people struggle. I guess deep down I knew I wasn't really superior to those people. I didn't have the deep-seated emotional eating problems they had, but I was not in control of my body or my health. Hmmm....

At any rate, I bought the DVD. I did it once with light weights. It was fine. It went fast. It was almost fun. Had I realized then how effective it was I might have done it more than once! Inconsistently doing exercise along with paying no attention to food intake is just a waste of time. At least that was my attitude. It was more than a year later that I started actually dieting and then another several months before I added jackie's DVD into my repertoire. Now here we are. It's interesting to me to watch the new show. Now when I watch Thintervention I don't feel superior to the contestants. I feel hopeful that they'll get it. I want more converts on my team! Of course they will eventually, or at least they'll fake it for long enough for the show to be filmed. But it is nice to be on the other side of the battle. While I may not have been obese, Thintervention is not Work Out. The people on Thintervention area all losing 60 lbs or less. They're a lot like I was. I hope they succeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spaghetti tacos

I'm not sure I can make spaghetti tacos, although if they had some protein and veggies on the side or on top, I guess why not. The originator of the idea, iCarly, is a favorite show of Natasha's for sure. I just can't believe such a long story was squeezed out of the notion of spaghetti tacos. I'm just so done with smiley faces and hiding vegetables. My kids aren't even remotely done with arguing about what they eat, and but I just don't have the willingness to make dinner a game. They eat what I feed them or they fight about it. Usually the latter and then the former. Last night we had turkey burgers and roasted cabbage and cauliflower. Natasha ate her burger with some sugary ketchup, because she knew half a Georgetown Cupcake awaited her. First she screamed and protested when she found out the flavor of the cupcake (chocolate peanut butter) and that it was to be cut in half. Two big disappointments, but that's how the free GC giveaway works - one per customer and only the flavor of the day. Alex was not feeling well and refused both the turkey burger and some tomato-y couscous that was perfectly delicious. I allowed him that reheated left-over as I know he doesn't like burgers of any sort, and I didn't either as a kid. He basically didn't eat dinner but he did eat about 20 sugar snap peas so I allowed him his half a cupcake. By the way - the sugar snap peas were an alternative to the roasted vegetables. I knew that fight was going nowhere. They do eat cauliflower sometimes, but not when it's so browned.

The following slideshow of foods kids like annoyed me to no end. Most of the food is gross. See below example of farina.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Peanut butter sandwich

Recently a friend said to me something about wanting to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Her larger point wasn't so much about the pb&j but more that she likes food, isn't willing to eat rabbit food and more importantly isn't willing to restrict herself unduly to lose a few pounds. Well there is some rabbit-food eating that goes on in my house, and sometimes I do it when I really want something else. But I also eat a lot of foods that are indulgent (more now than when I was losing for sure0 but I eat them. And I eat peanut butter and jelly all the time. I can't restrict myself from all the foods I like either. And one shouldn't have to.

So using peanut butter and jelly as an example, here is how I handle the classic (I don't mean the tone to be overbearing. it's just how i do things):

  1. I eat it on good bread. Good to me means, whole wheat, fresh, not enriched wheat flour with a bunch of fiber additives, no or very little added sugar.
  2. I use nut butter with one or two ingredients: the nut and optional salt. No added sugar.
  3. I use a lower-sugar jelly. I actually compare the labels for this one. As posted earlier sometimes I use fruit slices altogether.
  4. I'm generally reasonable with the amount of peanut butter and jelly you use, but don't skimp so much that it's not really good.
  5. I eat it as part of a set number of calories, more or less, that you eat in a day. I don't just add it in as a little extra snack. 
  6. I recognize that a pb&j is enough calories for a full meal in and of itself, but I can eat it so quickly that I'm not full right such....
  7. If I'm starving I try and eat one with a glass of milk or coffee or a bowl of yogurt and fruit. It is very easy to eat one, not realize that was enough and then eat another one and then end up with a brick in my stomach. I of course learned this the hard way.
Some Weight Watchers advice...A pb&j is a calorie-dense food. WW is very anti calorie-dense foods. I understand why, although now that I'm more in control of my food intake I do eat them. But the reason that WW is against calorie-dense foods is because they are way too easy to overeat. WW tries to direct you to water and fiber-rich foods, so that your stomach gets full before you overeat and then when real fullness sets in you haven't overeaten. This is a pretty good theory in general but, as my friend pointed out, sometimes a sister wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! So ultimately you need to be able to control yourself with a reasonable portion size. I tend to eat a regular-sized sandwich but for breakfast, right after I've exercised. If I eat it as my afternoon snack I eat half a sandwich.

OK - that's enough about a sandwich. Must go try to figure out what to do with spaghetti squash.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nice idea - but overpriced

I am sure these help with portion control. But the price is ridiculous! I do love my Weight Watchers measured serving spoons, which were also outrageously overpriced.

Veggies get big lily pad, then carbs, protein and on down to fat. I would reverse carbs and protein.

Below are bowls for cereal, pasta, etc. with little ridges for portion sizes, 1/4 cup, etc. But it's something like $30 for two! That being said, they  may be available someplace else for less, and if they really work, they may be worth it....

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I wrote this post weeks ago, but I'm having an issue with roatating my photos. But since Martha Rose Shulman spent the entire week posting recipes about quinoa, I decided to just post it, crooked photos and all.

First of all, I have quinoa flour and I have used it in baked goods. I'd like to try the muffins...I have made something similar to the oatmeal-like concoction above, but she cooks her dried fruit - fancy!

I made the salad below. I will not write a long explanation or detailed recipe, but just say that it is bright enough to make you happy on the most depressing day. I realized the hard way that it is more like a fruit salad with some grains, not a grain salad with fruit - so the first time I made it I used some grapeseed oil and it was gross. The next time was just acid and it was much better.

Mix together - cooked quinoa, chopped pineapple, sweet onion, basil leaves, pomegranate seeds, lots of fresh lemon juice, some rice wine vinegar, and lime juice. It's not as tart as it sounds. Also add lemon and lime zest. Delightful! I made it with chicken and portobello mushrooms, but it is also good over arugula. 

Below are the other dinner components and final plate. Sideways....

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Soon to be released DVDs

Sorry in advance for the bad writing. I just can't seem to get this post done and it's not even that interesting!

I don't need any new DVDs right now, as I'm still deeply in love with my Jan and Lin Johnson series, I still frequently pop-in my original Jackie DVD and I have a ton of perfectly good Jillian and Bob DVDs already, but here are a few coming out soon by Bob and Jillian, but not under the Biggest Loser brand, that might be good....and I might buy anyway - certainly as it gets cold I will.

Bob has 4 new DVDs coming out - strength, cardio, yoga and "my (meaning Bob's) workout". They look hard. At $13 on Amazon they violate my greater than $10 rule but you can get all 4 for $40 including shipping on Bob's web site which is so much better of a bargain I'll probably do it even though I won't use the yoga one for sure. Bob has one workout that is an hour. I'm not sure who has time for that...but I think they're the fast-paced weights movements of old-school exercises.

At any rate, from the preview videos it seems much rougher than the Bob Biggest Loser DVDs. Rougher in the sense that they're really in hard-core workout mode and the backdrop is a kind of industrial-looking gym with a couple toned clients. He uses the word "raw" on the web site. While I do think the Biggest Loser DVDs have good workouts, especially Bob's Biggest Loser Boot Camp, I just can no longer watch the tubby people outperform me. Their bodies are not inspiring and the fact that they can do more push-ups than me is deeply annoying. But I really do like Bob as a trainer so I will get at least the strength DVD if not the whole set.

Jillian has one new DVD coming out momentarily. It is "Shred it with weights" so I'm assuming it's a lot like her 30 Day Shred DVD. It was widely reviewed on Amazon but not released yet but now all the reviews are gone. Seems suspicious. I know it involves a kettle ball but you can also use a single dumbbell.  I don't understand how there are so many reviews of DVDs that aren't released yet, but so be it. It's $10 on Amazon. I'm kind of tired of Jillian's mean attitude, but usually on her non-Biggest Loser titles she isn't nearly as obnoxious. And I do like the variety she puts in her routines.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tried this and liked it....

I'm trying to cook more vegetarian recipes. Mainly for economic reasons but also for health reasons. I don't want to be a "french fry vegetarian" and I've heard American vegetarians called. These people eat a lot of cheese and soy sausages. I'm trying to be more Indian about it. I'd like to use chick pea flour and lentils and yogurt as protein sources. This change requires a lot of research and frankly reaching for those ingredients is not at all intuitive for me. I'm working on it.

At any rate, while this is not Indian, I have long thought I should use tofu as a thickener in the blender more often. I found this recipe and tried it (aldulterated of course) It's pretty good. Dave loved it. I didn't make the deep fried tofu croutons - that seemed inordinately messy. I just actually made the vinaigrette as a sauce/salad dressing. It's good on broccoli slaw, which is pretty hearty. I reduced the sugar to 1 tbs, and the oil to 1/2 cup. I have no idea with sambal oelek chili paste so I used what I had which was harrissa. I also used Chinese cooking wine instead of sherry vinegar, which probably didn't taste as good, but I had no sherry vinegar and I added in some fresh basil leaves I had that were getting dark spots. I also used tahini instead of sesame oil but I can't see how that made any difference. It really is filling and quite tasty...but it's a flavor with, as they say on Project Runway, a "strong point of view". One could easily get sick of it after a whole batch.

The first night I dumped it on a hot meal in a bowl. On the bottom was brown rice, followed by a mixture of onions and a few leftover green beans and the rest of the tofu sauteed in plain soy sauce and a little canola oil. On top of that went some black beans I had simmered in the morning and then the sauce over it all. The next day I used it as a salad dressing.

here are the ingredients:

    For the tofu-soy vinaigrette:
  • 1 cup silken tofu
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili paste
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • For the radishes and beans:
  • 1 pound radishes, preferably a mix of different kinds, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds fresh beans, preferably a mix of three kinds, such as green, yellow wax, and Romano, or haricot verts, snow peas and sugar snap peas, trimmed
All in all a good way to step out of my cooking comfort zone.
(next up i'm going to use tofu as a thickener in a dessert, like with cocoa powder and soy milk.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Jackie's back!

I can't say how excited I am about this. Very pathetic I know, but I really do love Bravo and of course Jackie. And to think an OC housewife is one of the contestants! I'll have to read extra articles in the New Yorker to regain some brain cells....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seafood chowder

I will preface this by saying that I sadly don't have a photo. I had one but no one liked how they looked in it. At any rate, the impetus for this was to use up 10 ears of corn I had made and cut off the cobs. I kept eating it by the handful in the fridge. I also had cooked green beans in the fridge.

I found a recipe on Epicurious that I kind of followed, but only partly. Here is what I did...And for the future I would halve the recipe, unless serving it to a LOT of people, like 10.

Saute some onions and celery in butter in a big soup pot. (one is supposed to use pork salt but I forgot to buy it. I probably used 2 onions, half a package of celery and 1.5 tbs butter.

Add a box of fish stock and cut up 5 or so medium red bliss potatoes (preferably organic and skin on) and simmer until potatoes are about half done - or maybe 15 minutes.

I then added 3 pounds of cod and two plastic pint containers of fresh clams and their water. Here is where it gets a bit dicey in terms of recreating the recipe. I bought the seafood at Stop and Shop, not a fancy fishmonger, but I was on Cape Cod after all.  I wonder if it was extra good because it was local, and if this whole recipe would be horrible if I didn't have such good seafood. I actually don't know. And all this seafood cost $40, which seems like a lot, but it made an enormous amount of soup.

The seafood is simply placed on top. After it starts to steam and break up it can be stirred. Eventually, after another 15 minutes or so, it all breaks up and basically disintegrates, along with about 50% of the potatoes. At this point I added about one and a half cups of half and half with the burner turned off. The result was a thick stew, more than a soup.

A few notes:
I used as much butter as I felt was necessary, which in reality is not much, but seems like a lot in a big hunk. After a lot of practice I can kind of eyeball how much is needed to add flavor without adding too many calories. As for the half and half, I did use a cup and a half, I think - I was just pouring until I liked the look of the consistency. I estimated that at 400 calories, but again that's over 10 or so servings. So all in all it was a low-fat, low-calorie, extremely healthy stew. Full of starch, yes, (corn, beans, potatoes) but very low in calories, low fat, and full of healthy seafood. Traditional chowders start with a roux and have tons of butter or pork fat and some flour. When I tasted it after it was done I thought it was not rich enough, but as it turns out, you could eat a whole bowl, or even two, without feeling overly full. I also didn't find any recipes that called for both fish and clams, but I decided to try it and it was delicious.

I added salt and pepper as I cooked, but not enough and people added more. I don't see this as a problem but done on purpose to allow everyone to adjust the soup to their own tastes. I also used veggies I had in the fridge but frozen would work fine. I meant to add carrots and forgot - that would have been pretty as I had yellow, green and pink flecks already.

Perhaps the best part about this dish was the clean-up. It was a one pot dish, and I even put the whole pot back in the fridge after we ate it - it was still so full! The stove didn't get splattered during the sauteing as the veggies were cooked in the high-walled pot.

I was happy because I took a traditionally dense and fattening food and made it healthy while still retaining a lot of flavor. I don't always succeed at that. I often make things too healthy and not rich enough, or I throw caution to the wind and make things unnecessarily caloric and greasy. So when I get it right I'm quite pleased with myself-and so were all my guests for 3 days!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer posting

Obviously I haven't been posting much lately. This is due to two main reasons: 1. I had a very hectic summer. 2. All things diet and exercise were just not on my mind that much. Number 2 is good, as it is evidence that I'm able to maintain my weight and healthy life-style without being obsessed, but also reflects that I was extremely pre-occupied with other angst - child care inadequacies, sibling rivalry, long-term planning (or lack thereof) and the time-consuming reality of a adopting a puppy. I certainly had time over my two week vacation, but was feeling decidedly not like posting. I just wanted to veg out and walk on the flats - which I did, every day. As a note - my kids were arguing over who got to hold the dog leash when this lovely picture was taken.

I will post again, hopefully soon. I would like to share my seafood chowder recipe. It was quick, easy, healthy, and delicious. I served it to three different groups of guests! I'll try to make that top priority, as soon as I get back on track in other areas.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Crunchy salad

I found this product at Trader Joe's. It's called "Healthy 8 Crunchy Salad"  It includes carrots, broccoli, jicama, green peppers, cabbage, radish and some other stuff. It is very crunchy. It is pretty good with just olive oil, lemon and salt, but super crunchy. Not so great for TMJ sufferers. But I decided to make a meal with quinoa and chicken. 
Pictured left is the plain salad. I think it's less than $3.

Pictured here is my dinner. Blogger is rotating my photos but for food it doesn't matter much. At any rate, I cooked quinoa, didn't wait long enough for it to cool, mixed it in with the salad and as little olive oil as I thought necessary, as well as some rice wine vinegar. I also added a good amount of salt. You could certainly add any number of other spices or use different oils or vinegars. I like the mild flavor of rice wine vinegar. After this photo was taken I added some beans. Edamame are good, or black beans. Beluga lentils (available pre-cooked at TJ's) are also a nice companion to quinoa. 

The hot quinoa softened the veggies a bit, which I kind of enjoyed, especially with my TMJ issues, but it does make the jicama not quite as crisp. 

I pan cooked chicken breasts with a heavy top on a non-stick skillet. I then deglazed the pan with a bit of butter, balsamic glaze, mustard and a little water. Very tasty. Somehow, I find these very healthy salads to be not so filling. I guess my portion size is just unrealistic. I had to go eat more later in the evening. 

But that was a pretty fancy looking and tasting dinner that took just about 15 minutes to make.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Worth a listen

I really generally don't like diets that advocate a specific nutrient, but I would like to read this book, or at least browse through it. The other day I heard a nutrition episode on the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU and I couldn't turn it off. I brought it into my headphones on my iPhone in the supermarket. A lot of what was said wasn't exactly news to people who have read the Omnivore's Dilemma, What to Eat, etc. but those books were written and researched a few years ago now so it was interesting to hear the new studies, especially from an NIH researcher. There was a lot discussed about Omega 3s and depression. I found one study particularly interesting where they went to an army base and used all the same recipes that the base normally uses but switched out higher Omega 3 / lower Omega 6 ingredients like grass-fed cow milk and beef and olive oil instead of corn oil and violence  was reduced on the base. Now as I have often said, working at NIH has made me wary of all studies. There's always a new one around the corner, but it was certainly worth a listen and some of the articles may be worth looking-up.

Here were the guests:

Joseph Hibbeln
Acting chief, Section on Nutritional Neurosciences, NIH; Captain, U.S. Public Health Service
J. Thomas Brenna
Professor of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University
Evelyn Tribole
Registered Dietitian; Nutritional Counselor; Author, "The Ultimate Omega-3 Diet" (McGraw-Hill)

At any rate, while I don't like the idea that one nutrient is the key to life, as this hypothesis seems to suggest, but I do like reading about those theories, even if I don't totally trust them. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Generally, I find salad recipes to be non-recipes. Rather they are instructions to throw a bunch of obvious vegetables together with some garlic, olive oil and something acidic. These recipes annoy me. I often find Martha Rose Shulman's recipes to fall into that category. However, even boring recipes can make a person think, and she has some good points as well in the following article on summer salads. She certainly had some ideas I wouldn't have thought of myself.

Anyone can cook these things. They are not cooking so much as assembly. And of course I love the fact that she promotes my long-touted idea of cooking a big batch of starter ingredients (quinoa, brown rice, wheat berries, beans, sauteed veggies, roasted peppers if you're feeling adventuresome) on Sunday and either refrigerating or freezing them (don't freeze the veggies). Then defrosting and assembly is a snap.

I think some key points to keep in mind.

  1. In the summer, for the refreshing aspect, add a lot of crunchy veggies. She dictates the ones to use but any crunchy veggies that hold up well in a vinaigrette. Any root vegetable is crunchy. I don't have radishes in my repertoire but maybe I should. 
  2. Fresh herbs help brighten any salad.
  3. Never underestimate the power of lime juice!
  4. A little juicy sweet corn goes a long way. I know it's starchy but it's not like eating a Big Mac!
  5. Experiment with low-fat creamy dressing ingredients such as Greek yogurt and buttermilk.
  6. A salad dressing is basically 2 parts oil and 1 part acid, with a little water thrown in.
  7. Rice vinegar is NOT just for Asian foods. It  has a mild tangy flavor that goes really well with a light oil like grapeseed.
  8. Have fun buying lots of oils and vinegars.
  9. I often skip the called for goat cheese or feta. I only add it if I think it's really necessary to the taste. 
  10. It's ok to estimate on the calories on these big amalgamations. This used to make me crazy. You can either let it go, or try and make the salad 50% grain, 50% veggies and then take 1 cup of salad or so. Or you can measure the ingredients for the whole dish and divide by number of servings. I'm too lazy for that.
  11. I usually up the veggie content and reduce the grain content to change the ratio.
  12. Sometimes making a big batch of the salad with the dressing can get a little soggy, or just too repetitive. So mix a smaller batch but keep the dressing and other components separate but ready to go.
  13. Almost any ingredient can be substituted for a like ingredient.
  14. Always have frozen bags of edamame, peas, chopped spinach and corn in the house. Of course at this time of year there are great fresh veggies, but having a stocked freezer helps enormously with dinner emergencies.
  15. These kinds of salads are always a hit at potlucks - and inexpensive to make.
  16. Have fun experimenting!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Huevo Rancheros: Two minute, 5 point breakfast

I've been eating this simplified version of huevos rancheros a lot lately. Totally delish. No photo sorry to say.

Fry two eggs (and extra egg white if you like). Use Pam and don't turn up the heat too high.
Warm some whole wheat naan in the microwave, or toast an absorbent piece of bread if you remember.
Learn how to flip eggs. When kind of cooked on one side, lift pan off heat and quickly jerk towards you. Don't worry, the worst that happens is you clean a little egg off the floor. It's a great skill to have under your belt.
Serve eggs on plate, put two or more tablespoons of salsa on top, maybe some black beans if you have them.
Mop up egg yolk/salsa combo with bread. I think the key here is a pretty good salsa. I tried a new green tomatillo one from Trader Joe's which is pretty good.

Butter and cheese are not necessary on this breakfast as the flavors are already rich and satisfying. I save the calories for something else like a mid-morning snack or an afternoon snack.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Boot Camp!

I'm loving Jay Johnson's Boot Camp. I guess he's all the rage in Dallas and on CMT. He's a former Army drill sergeant and now runs this boot camp fitness program with his wife Lin. They have two reality shows, neither of which I've ever seen. At any rate, their workouts are hard, the demonstrators are in crazy good shape, and he talks a lot about fine-tuning your body because in the end it's the only thing that really matters. He's talking about improving fitness, not hotness. I like his message. A little over the top but I like that he's not talking about looking hot in a tank top. He does a lot of pyramids, where you do 20 reps then 19 reps then rest 10 seconds then 18 reps etc. What he calls cardio I almost skipped, as I have been running a lot lately but due to the 100 degree weather, I'm now inside so I decided to try it. It's really hard-core plyometrics, jump squats, etc, not some sissy jogging in place. He has the demonstrators each do a variation, and work at their own pace sometimes, which can look quite chaotic. In the advanced mode he tells you to just do as many reps as you can in 30 seconds. This would be hard for Dave I'm sure - it's very self-challenged. He expects you to have a guide-book which explains all the exercises so he explains nothing - just launches into - do your tricycles!

I sort of made a mistake and bought one DVD, instead of the whole set - one is $15 and the set of 9 is only $50. It was $45 but I missed that price. I eventually ordered my set and now I'm going to sell a bunch of DVDs on Craig's List I think - kid DVDs as well as a few exercise DVDs I just don't like. Time to clean out the beginner stuff!

pizza tarts

Here is some decidedly non-dietetic food I made last night. I made some of the pizzas without all the buffalo mozzarella, but it wasn't as good! I just tried to control my portion size, but only did ok at that. The mini tomatoes were grown by Dave! The big ones from the farmer's market. Alex refused to eat it for a while but then gave in. I think that this is a good example of something that is fine to eat once you've gotten your portion sizes under control or as a bit of a treat. I eat this about once a week. I know that 1/8 of the pizza is 120 cals or so, and I'm not sure about the cheese. From what I read one ounce is about 60-80 calories, and the balls were half a pound, perhaps cut into 8 slices, so each slice of pizza was probably 200 calories or so. I probably ate 2 slices worth. Not horrible for sure. I should have eaten a nice salad with this too...but I wasn't in them mood.

For those of you who say you "don't cook". this was barely cooking! I stretched out some dough I bought, sliced up some beautiful tomatoes and mozzarella and sprinkled some other Italian-sounding items on top. A drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and voila!! Anyone can do that. I did pre-bake the crust for 5 minutes - for watery toppings like tomatoes it works well.

Pizza 1:  whole wheat crust, sliced buffalo mozzarella, Parmesan, pine nuts, prosciutto (right half has no mozzarella)
 Very Italian Pizza

Close up of Pizza 1: Very Italian

Pizza 2:  Margarita: whole wheat crust, sliced buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil

Pizza 2: just tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella

Check out the nice close up by my new iphone G4.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What would Alex eat?

Kids are funny. We all have our, "my kid loves xxxx" story.
Alex is an ok eater. For years he seemed to on subsist on bottles alone. Even now he would happily limit his diet to Cheerios (Trader O's to be precise) with milk and strawberries. On the side. I let him eat that pretty often as while I prefer he eat "grown up" meals, oats, milk and berries are a pretty healthy meal. He does eat lots of other stuff but he still loves most things dairy. And he reflexively doesn't like to try new things if I suggest them, which makes me insane. Lately though, he has gotten really into pea shoots. I buy them for myself, and didn't even imagine offering them to him but he was intrigued by their shape and asked to try them. So now, I make his favorite sandwich of cream cheese and American cheese (my idea for some dumb reason - I was trying to use something up) with some pea shoots on it too. He says they don't taste like anything they just make the sandwich crunchy. Fair enough. Really he prefers them plain and messy: trying to stuff the long unwieldy shoots into his little mouth. He loves making a mess with them as they bounce along the sides of his mouth and fall back onto the plate, table, his lap and sometimes the floor. Kind of like Cookie Monster. It kind of annoys me and then I think, "he's eating pea shoots!!!"

The other day he decided this weird experimental sauce I made with lentils, pepitas and olive oil was the best thing he ever tasted. I found it kind of flavorless actually. I tried to serve it a second time and he was bored by it. But I take his glimmer of open-mindedness, and, dare I say, curiosity about new foods as a good sign. He still can put up quite a fight, especially when he is out playing soccer until basically bed time and he comes in exhausted, cranky and too hungry to function. Um, that is pretty often since World Cup started...

If you are still struggling with a picky toddler...don't take it too seriously. You have so many meals ahead of you. It will get better - probably starting around age 4 and improving over time from there. It takes an enormous amount of work and often struggle. It's frustrating and infuriating. It takes a ridiculous number of years. But over the course of many years, kids can become healthy eaters. My kids are still junk food junkies, and they still argue for the sake of arguing sometimes. I wonder if I never pushed the veggies at all - would Alex have been curious about pea shoots anyway? Perhaps! I often think parenting techniques for young kids are just stalling tactics until the kid grows out of whatever egregious habit is making the parent crazy. But in this case, I kind of doubt it. I think all those carrots, and broccoli did make veggies seem normal. Either way, I'm glad he likes the little crunchy sticks!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Please make the cake go away! And the movie popcorn too!

Me with two birthday cakes
I'm not sure the point of this posting. Hopefully it's funny. there is a good DVD recommendation at the end.

Recently I have been to multiple social events, all with really good desserts. I can't take it!

Let's just say I contained myself somewhat but did taste "slivers" of some good cakes over the past few days. Last year I probably wouldn't even have wanted a sliver. I'm annoyed that I am finding sweets so appealing again, as opposed to being kind of grossed out by how cloyingly sweet most of them are. This is mainly a function of being surrounded by really high-quality desserts, and partly as I've been eating more sweets in general and as we all know, sweets beget sweets.

The last item to put me over the edge was a chocolate cake from the Jessica Seinfeld - how to hide vegetables in your desserts cookbook. Natasha had an obsession with making it for Alex's 6th birthday party last Sunday, and after arguing with her for days about it not being time yet, I finally made it with her on Saturday. The entire escapade was kind of embarrassing. I'm such a bad baker, even with the fancy Kitchen Aid mixer my mom insisted on buying for me when I got married. I had some purchased, already cooked beets, and sent Dave out for the rest of the ingredients. I even instructed him to buy "1 SMALL bag white flour"!!! Heresy!!!

I decided to double the recipe and experiment. Of course. So I made one cake by the book (minus a bit of sugar) and another where I removed the white flour and put in a mixture of whole wheat,
soy and quinoa flours.

I ran into a little trouble with the chocolate. I tried to melt it in the microwave, with Natasha's help, and ended up burning it and making it chunky. I got really frustrated and started getting mad at Natasha but even I couldn't find a reason why this was her fault. I mean she did pester me to make this cake for her brother when she knows I hate baking, but is that such a crime? So I decided to make the cake a chocolate chip cake. Easy enough solution. And it didn't taste that burnt. Then the brown sugar wouldn't dissolve and was in huge balls. So I just mushed it by hand over about 10 minutes against the side of the bowl with the back of a wooden spoon . At this point I came REALLY close to throwing the whole concoction into the sink but decided that instead of wasting the wet ingredients I would give it one more try, add in the flour and only risk throwing away the ingredients plus the evil white flour. Ok...after a lot of mixing, it turned out good enough for me to try baking it.

The cream cheese frosting was so ridiculously easy, there is no excuse not to make it. Cream cheese, confectioners sugar, unsweetened cocoa in a blender for a few seconds and voila! As a side note Natasha found it too rich, but whatever.

After the cake was done, I had Natasha decorate it with some Dots candy and a bunch of sports themed candles I had bought. It actually was adorable. Unfortunately it was small and more kids were coming than I expected so at the last minute (I mean literally at 9:40am, party at 10am.) I had my sister-in-law buy a cake at the Giant. They even wrote his name on it, which is more than I managed.

As a side note - the kids ate both cakes. There wasn't too much complaining about the lack of sweetness in the chocolate one. I only cut down the sugar a bit. But it wasn't nearly as sweet as the supermarket cake. I sampled both. You certainly couldn't taste the beets. And as a super side note, Alex loved the third quinoa flour experiment cake. That one had no frosting and I had put it out as a kind of breakfast tea cake before the party - with chocolate chips from the unmelted chocolate. He loved it! It had a little sugar and canola oil, plus the chips, and then beets and the whole flours.

During the party I just kept eating. I was trying to be cognizant of what I was eating and not go overboard, but I was starving. I ate several pieces of a super high-fat cheesy bread pudding that I had made, tons of fruit and some whole wheat bagel with chive cream cheese. (my local bagel bakery makes whole wheat everything bagels at my request). I just couldn't get full it seemed. I also ate tons of fruit and ice coffee. Then the cakes came out, and of course I was in charge of cutting and serving them, covering my hands in rich, creamy chocolaty frosting in the process. Impossible! I even at the candy Dots!

After the party and the clean-up it was so hot and Dave was so tired from running around with the kids for 3 hours (very good daddy and husband - I stayed inside by an AC vent, supposedly making more ice coffee for the poor parents who decided to stay) that he asked me to take the kids to Toy Story 3 while he watched World Cup in our basement.

At the theater I decided to buy popcorn for some reason and fell into the whole, the extra large tub is barely more expensive than the massively overpriced mini tub trap. I thought I could control myself and eat a normal amount and take the rest home and put it in the kids' lunch boxes for camp. After all, I've been successfully controlling myself for 18 months with nary a slip up! I should note that movie popcorn is a trigger food for me. I gave each kid a small paper cup and filled them with popcorn. Alex barely at half his tiny cup. Natasha ate about 3 tiny cups (mind you she had had 2 big pieces of birthday cake already). I stuffed my face with probably 30 handfuls of non-buttered but still massively greasy popcorn. I had absolutely no self-control and was eating it with the wild abandon of my old self. I didn't even get that "Oh lordy I ate too much popcorn" feeling. I just kept eating and wanting more. What the hell was going on??? Mercifully, when the tub was about 60% gone I knocked the remaining whole thing on the floor by accident. Thank GOD!!! Natasha asked to eat the popcorn on the top of the pile not touching the floor. We each had a piece from the still heaping pile and then I said no more.

I decided to call the popcorn dinner, even though it was 4pm, and it more or less was. I had a little more of Jessica's beet cake but just a bit. Then I went to bed, woke up in the morning nauseated and with a headache and got my period. Ah ha.

PMS is over but the cake is that it's still in my refrigerator and I had some for dessert last night and breakfast today. This is a problem! I mean, really it's fine, I am plenty thin and I'm having small amounts - and it's not such a horrible cake. But I haven't craved sweets so badly in a long time and it's now not just hormones. It's all the little slivers of this and tastes of that getting me back into craving sweets. I do have some self control in general, but my preference would be to not crave the things in the first place. Oh well. This is my second posting on this topic in a week...hopefully it's my last for a while!

To compensate for two days in a row of not exercising and three days in a row of eating chocolate cake, I am letting the couple on the right train me...No just kidding, I actually like this DVD. I like hard DVDs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Two interesting Bitten entries

Well the first one is about supper co-ops. An interesting concept but I am way too picky to participate. But basically you take turns making dinner for each other. I wanted to do a soup exchange in the winter - like a good old fashioned cookie exchange, except much more useful. But I didn't find many takers and I generally don't trust the cooking of others. I still may try that one winter.

Supper co-op article

The second one I'm just posting for the same reason people look up in the sky and daydream....just because it's lovely. Alas, this is not my life.

Travels in Italy

Avocado dressing

This morning I was making my salad, and needed to immediately use 2 avocados or else throw them away.
I cut a whole one into my salad, which I know is a ridiculous amount of fat and calories, and then with the other one decided to make an avocado dressing. I opened the fridge, found a left-over container of buttermilk and blended it up. It needed something sweet and tangy. Vinegar. Duh. I was looking for balsamic, and put a little in but it kind of ruined the color. Before the vinegar it would have been a lovely bedroom color. Now I know this shouldn't matter, but it annoyed me a little. I also added some salt, but a bit too much by accident. I was going to add Greek yogurt as well, but it was already so creamy, it didn't seem necessary. While eating it at my desk, I did some internet searching and came up with a better recipe, I imagine, from Emeril. It uses lime juice so the color will stay nice at least. I would replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt....and I think it would need the slightest touch of something sweet, just to bring out the flavors. I might skip the raw pureed garlic as I am a bit sick of it (as is I'm sure everyone around me) after a homemade tzatziki expedition.

His recipe goes along with a lobster salad...I don't think something as flavorful as lobster needs such a robust dressing. I just put it on a salad with chicken and arugula.

I found a few other recipes. One from Paula Deen that called for a full cup of mayo. Her recipes are ridiculous. And one with lemon juice and olive oil instead of sour cream from Rachel Ray that annoyed me for some reason. I can't say why exactly, but she always annoys me. I think it's the club-sandwich as salad concept, complete with rotisserie chicken that I find so cutsey, even though in actuality it sounds yummy and I buy prepared chicken all the time. Who am I kidding??

Anyway, it is a lot of fat, but it's good fat and it's filling. And it's a good way to not throw away avocados. I didn't take a picture.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Weekend planning

Some weekends I spend a fair amount of time cooking. During the weeks that follow I almost only use the microwave, clean-up is pretty quick, and if I'm not home the family manages to eat without any instruction from me. It is super easy and low stress. On the weekends that I don't do that I am increasingly finding that found I'm much less happy at the 5:30pm hour. Recent cooking expeditions to follow - these were not all done in one weekend but 2 non consecutive weekends, with more stressful non-cooking weekends in-between.

Weekend 1-about 3 weeks ago.
Saturday I roasted two heads of cauliflower and a bag of broccoli tips. Sunday I also actually planned out meals on a piece of paper before going to the grocery store. This is a step above normal for me, but I didn't want to be thinking at all. I ended up buying a lot of frozen fish and making my bill really enormous.

I decided on a night of mushroom pizza, which I make for Dave and myself on Natasha's night to choose (it's usually frozen white crust pizza unless she convinces us to go out for sushi or Peruvian chicken) and I purchased the stuff for the nights the kids get to choose (assuming they don't change their minds). I also made a big batch of sautéed greens. I did a lot of sautéeing because the veggies keep and reheat really well, and they tend to make a splattery mess, and take some time the night of. Not a huge deal, but I had no chopping, garlic pressing, pot monitoring or olive oil splatter clean-up to do for a few nights - and the house won't have that fried onion smell. And when making the mushroom pizza it really helps to have the mushroom mixture done in advance - that way it really is a 15 minute meal.

One night during the week I made the seafood stew. I was craving it and decided to make it even though it's kind of messy and takes a while for a weeknight. I cooked all the frozen fish into a fish stew. I looked up three recipes and decided the main ingredients for the broth were tomatoes, white wine, clam sauce or fish stock, some sautéed veggies, and something spicy.  Then you basically dump in a lot of sea food and let it simmer. I also put in potatoes and a bag of frozen spinach. I put a bag of frozen chopped spinach in basically everything I cook that is a bit spicy and saucy. It turns off the kids but makes the dish much heftier and more nutritious, and they don't eat spicy food anyway.

Weekend 2 -
This past weekend I made a huge pot of bolognese sauce for Dave and Natasha. I don't really love it but they do. I got on a sauce-making kick because Mark Bittman and Jamie Oliver are always telling me it's so easy and when I look at the labels of the store bought sauces they are filled with added sugar and oil. I barely add any oil except to saute veggies and no sugar is necessary, even with canned tomatoes. It is a bit of a mess, although not a huge one, and takes some time so I decided to make a big batch this week. Ingredients include sauteed onions, garlic, green pepper, ground beef, then simmered with pureed tomatoes, beef broth and at the end some red wine. It's pretty rich-tasting and frankly kind of wintery. But the hubby loves such Northern Italian dishes. And if I never said this explicitly we kind of come to an understanding about food. He really wants home cooked food all the time and I feel like I should provide it for him, as it's one of the only consistently nice, thoughtful things I do for him. But he has to be willing to eat home cooked left-overs with some regularity, which he is, and on the not-too-often occasions I make him eat some frozen TJs dinner he can't make a big deal about it. Sometimes mommy doesn't have her act together or needs a break. We have never actually discussed this in such detail but 11 years later that's about how it has worked out.

Natasha eats it like soup, probably because she wouldn't want to let me "win" by eating the whole wheat elbow macaroni I made for it, or maybe because she just likes soup. She told me it was too thick. Of course it's too thick it's not soup! But she ate it all up, chopped up green pepper, onion, etc. in there and all. Last time I made this both kids refused it so this time I chopped up the veggies much smaller and I think that actually made a difference. I should use ground turkey until I get my sustainably raised Polyface farm beef delivered, but used the factory meat instead. I really cannot bring myself to eat that any more (Mainly thanks to Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma) and don't love the idea of Natasha eating it. Supposedly this kind was not administered hormones or antibiotics but it was from Giant.  I froze some of it for future dinner emergencies. The moral of this story is that it is just as easy to make a big batch of a many-ingredient sauce as it is to make a small batch and most sauces freeze beautifully.

At any rate, the elbow macaroni for some reason gave me a hankering for spicy peanut noodles, so I found a nice recipe on the Bittman app and made that as well. I threw in some black beans - Alex actually liked that. Since the kitchen was already a disaster and it was too hot for me to have any fun outside, I made the mushroom/onion/garlic topping for mushroom pizza (we eat that pretty often). I also made a big batches of plain quinoa, black beans and broccoli and have some leftover ginger/carrot salad dressing.

Finally I made some crunchy mustardy cole slaw. It came out of an attempt to make non-green lettuce salads. I bought a bag of shredded cabbage and thinly sliced a fennel bulb. I was going to make a non-creamy dressing - something asian, but after browsing lots of uninspiring recipes I somehow ended up making that buttermilk ranch dressing again, only I used less buttermilk powder (next time I'm using none) and I added mustard. I added it to the crunchy veggie mix and felt it needed some apple, in kind of a Waldorf salad kind of way. I skipped the walnuts. The result is very crunchy, sweet, salty, and satisfying and Dave calls it coleslaw, which, despite the addition of some more exciting ingredients, it basically is.

This week should be easy!

Hopefully I won't cook anything all week except the big bunch of bok choy I have sitting in my fridge.

Sorry I didn't post actual recipes or pictures. The red sauce looks like red sauce, the peanut noodles like peanut noodles and the cole slaw looks like cole slaw! If you want recipes just let me know.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The "love" part of my love-hate relationship with Mark Bittman

I find that Mark Bittman can be that dorky kid from high school who is suddenly famous when older and is still trying to act cool. That makes me crazy. See "On the Road Again" series on PBS for this nerdy-ness in full swing. But I love his easy-going, nonchalant relationship with making ingredients into a dish. This article summarizes that ethos perfectly, and has a great message for anyone afraid to just look into the fridge and invent dinner.  To do this you need good ingredients - and lots of them. But you also need a repertoire of past experiences that give you some innate confidence. These include eating, helping your mom/dad roast chicken, watching Jacques and Julia sear fish on PBS, eating brothy mussel dishes during study abroad in Spain, experimenting countless times and having things turn out ok (usually, although beware of rosemary's overpowering dominance), browsing countless cookbooks like they are People magazine. Any number of life experiences can lead to good ideas in the kitchen. Cooking shows teach a lot of techniques, experimenting and tasting leads to a better understanding flavor combinations, following great cooks offers some basic competence.

But Bittman summarizes this whole idea perfectly today. If you read his article before reading the rest of this post, my post will probably make more sense.

I basically cook that way, but with far lesser skill and experience of course, and I'm sure cheaper, less worthy ingredients. Below are a few of my recent experiences.

As noted previously, I am trying to make more of an effort in the arena of salad dressings and sauces. This weekend I went to town.

First of all, I tried Bittman's real ranch dressing recipe, from How to Cook Everything app. I made a few substitutions. For one thing, the recipe called for a cup of mayo. I can't stand low-fat mayo and I can't bring myself to use a cup of full-fat mayo in any recipe so I used half Hellman's regular and half non-fat Greek yogurt. The recipe turned out ok, but I found it far to sweet,  probably from the powdered buttermilk it called for, so I squeezed in the juice of a lemon. Pretty good. Still a bit sweet. I liked the fresh herbs in there.

I used part of it as a marinade for grilled chicken thighs, which was fine, but kind of boring. Honestly, I just like salt and pepper on grilled things and that saves me a lot of time.

I used the rest as a dressing for a salad with said chicken on top. Pretty good, but better with Parmesan flakes added on top for more depth.

Also perusing the Epicure app I found a recipe for a Moroccan sauce, based on a search for the ingredient  "preserved lemons" I had bought on a whim at the mammoth new Whole Foods in Friendship Heights. This was interesting sounding to me, and turned out great, I thought, even though I totally played around with it based on my lack of anchovies and parsley.
The basic idea was this....

  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

  • 2 tablespoons minced anchovies

  • 2 tablespoons minced cornichons

  • 2 tablespoons harissa paste

  • Peel from 1 preserved lemon, rinsed, minced (about 1/4 cup)

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • I started this - very excited as I had a tub of harissa paste from the farmer's market (which is an oily paste of hot peppers) as well as the preserved lemons, and some peeled garlic in desperate use of being used up. I had no parsley, nor did I have anchovies or cornichons. For a minute I forgot what cornichons were but rememberd they were pickled something so threw in some pickled peppers. I also added half a jar of artichoke hearts in water for some heft, and some pistachios, to make it more like a pesto. I did not add nearly that much oil. I used maybe 1/4 cup. I was looking for a dip, not a flavored oil, which is what the recipe called for - you can eve see that in the picture - that pic is from the web site. Mine looked like red pepper hummus, but a bit more greasy/watery and less-fiber dense, since it had no beans. I also did not bother to peel the preserved lemon but instead chopped it in half, pulled out a few seeds and threw the whole thing in. Thank goodness for my nanny's 60 year old blender.

    Anyway, I think it's delicious. The parsley would have made it more green, the anchovies add a depth at best and a fishiness at worst, so I was fine without them. I wish I'd had more pistachios to make it more pesto-like but I only had a 1/4 cup or so. It's spicy. It would be a great marinade, salad dressing, or dip. I highly recommend the preserved lemons (supposedly they're easy to make) as they add that lemon flavor and brightness without ever tasting not so fresh.

    A success, despite really messing with the ingredients list a fair bit. It is kind of reddish.

    Finally, the tahini bean dip. I bought the tahini (sesame paste) and was craving that watery, white richness of a tahini sauce. I looked around at a bunch of recipes and found they mainly call for tahini, lemon juice, hot water and garlic. And of course tahini is usually drizzled on falafel, which is obviously made from beans. Well I had no falafel, but I did have a bowl of pinto beans I had pureed with some garlic and water that I wanted to use up so I decided to make more of a tahini-flavored bean dip instead of a sauce. So I used the basic tahini recipe, but added more of the preserved lemons instead of lemon juice, the parsley I bought intending to integrate into the above Moroccan dip after the fact, but didn't, the beans I wanted to use up, and some cilantro I put in by mistake thinking it was the parsley. It's delicious! I don't have a photo but it looks like herbed hummus.  I took the bean dip and doused some plain (embarrassingly store bought, already cooked) chicken chunks into it as my little dinner. I was going to eat it with some flatbread I made out of pizza dough but I couldn't even wait for that to cook and the protein-rich and sesame oil-filled dip was so filling I didn't need it. Then when the flatbread finished but Dave's pizza was still cooking, and he was complaining of hunger pains, I gave him the flatbread with a bowl of the dip and proclaimed it his appetizer. Some sliced veggies, such as baby carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers. Next time I'll make a proper meal out of it but the neighborhood picnic depleted my veggie drawer. I also thought about crumbling some feta on top, as I actually had that on hand, but it really didn't need it. An a leftover, this doesn't taste good. I'm not sure why. I think it's just meant to be served immediately.

    My point to all this is as follows. This is the only way I can really cook. I'm not organized enough to really plan and follow recipes, and additionally, I find messing around to be a relaxing creative outlet. I also love to indulge my cravings and if I waited to have every ingredient in a recipe before doing so, whatever I was craving would probably go bad in my refrigerator. Cooking this way I rarely throw food away. If you know a little bit about flavors and techniques, and if you keep your pantry and fridge well stocked, it's not so hard to improvise. Mark Bittman says so!

    In this instance, I had a goal of making some dips and dressings. I had a secondary goal of trying out a new ingredient (preserved lemons) and a tertiary goal, which I always have, which is to use up what is in my fridge. Things turned out fine, through a combination of a little research and some ingredient-substituting intuition.

    The worst that can happen is you throw a few dollars worth of ingredients away and buy a rotisserie chicken for dinner.