Thursday, January 28, 2010

Super Stuffed Salad

I love a good from a bowl so enormous that you don't know if you can eat it all. I've had an iffy appetite lately, but know I need to eat. I've made such strides in my food transition based on all of this knowledge I have been devouring (har har) from reading Michael Pollan, as well as watching so many food/agricultural-based documentaries. Something I didn't want to happen was to have my funk throw me off track and lead me back to soda, snack foods and processed comfort foods. Tonight I made a great big salad that filled a pie dish and it was delicious!

It included: fresh spring mix greens from the co-op, locally raised/free range chicken cooked in olive oil and garlic, avocado, locally grown apple, cucumber, raw sunflower seeds and raspberry-pomegranate dressing (added after the photo).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chicken Parmesan

I love the smell of Italian food cooking. The garlic, onions and tomato builds the appetite even more! Every December, there is a Township employee lunch and it's a feast of Italian food. The chicken parmesan is so incredibly good that I always go back for seconds (hey, it's encouraged!). Tonight was the first time I've ever made my own and it was so good!

What You Need:
  • chicken - 2-3 chicken breast strips
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup of milk
  • cracker meal (or bread crumbs)
  • mozzarella cheese
  • spaghetti sauce
  • olive oil
What You Do:
  • Trim the chicken if necessary.
  • Combine the beaten egg and milk in a shallow dish big enough to dip the chicken in. In a separate dish, pour enough cracker meal (or bread crumbs) to coat the chicken.
  • In a medium frying pan, pour enough olive oil to spread over the bottom of the pan, and turn on low heat.
  • Dip the chicken in the egg & milk mixture (be sure to get both sides) and then into the cracker meal.
  • Put the coated chicken breast strips in the pan and lightly brown on both sides.
  • After the chicken has been browned, transfer it to a baking dish for the oven. Add a layer of mozzarella cheese on top of the chicken, then spaghetti sauce and a top layer of mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes at 375 degrees or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. For the last 10 minutes, I moved the dish to the bottom rack to be closer to the heat (I have a gas oven). After turning the oven off, I opened the door and let the dish stay in there for a few more minutes to start cooling, so it was the perfect temperature to eat right away when I took it out.
To make the recipe even better, I made my own spaghetti sauce a couple of nights ago (okay, okay...I enhanced somebody else's). To do this, I minced 2 cloves of garlic, 2 slices of white onion and about 1/4 of a green bell pepper and sauteed in olive oil. Then I added 1 can of organic tomato sauce and 1 can of diced organic tomatoes and cooked. Yum!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Gallo Pinto Remix

With my leftover gallo pinto, I wanted to make a few different meals. The first: burritos.

I use ground turkey as a substitute for beef in any traditional recipe (I do not eat beef). Ground turkey can get a little pricey, especially when using the leanest variety, so not only is this a way to use leftovers, it's a way to extend food dollars. Gallo pinto is rice and black beans, so it can add substantial bulk to a burrito filling meaning you can use less of the ground meat.

What I Used:
  • Lean ground turkey (from a local farm)
  • 40% less sodium taco seasoning
  • Water
  • Gallo pinto
  • Flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheese
What I Did:
  • First, cook the turkey, adding water and taco seasoning as directed on the package.
  • Turn the heat down and add gallo pinto. Keep stirring so rice does not stick to pan, and heat until the beans are warmed through.
  • Once the gallo pinto has been reheated, fill your tortillas (or taco shells) with the ground meat/gallo pinto mix and add your taco/burrito toppings. pictures for this post. Burritos are not very photogenic ;)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Home Cooking - Costa Rican Style

Tonight I had another gallo pinto night. Making this dish is sort of like making any soup or chili - it never turns out exactly the same anytime I make it, and I like that. I've been wanting to make gallo pinto since I went grocery shopping last Sunday and bought the ingredients, but kept forgetting to soak the black beans! I finally remembered to put them in water before I left for work this morning, so when I came home they were ready to be cooked. This recipe makes a pretty large quantity, so I have plenty to bring to work for lunch and to make with some scrambled eggs (my favorite way). I love Costa Rica and think of it often, so anytime I eat one of the meals I would have eaten there, I feel a little bit closer. Pura vida, friends!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants."

Delving deeper into these words of wisdom from Michael Pollan, based on his research for the novel In Defense of Food, I ordered and have been reading his new pocket-sized book of 64 guidelines to getting off the Western diet, Food Rules.

With the fridge getting empty and cabinets becoming bare, I did a small shopping trip today at the co-op. Based on Pollan's original words of wisdom, let's see how I did:
  • 4 clementines
  • 1 bell pepper
  • mixed salad greens
  • cilantro
  • 2 organic, fair trade bananas
  • 1 dozen eggs - veggie fed, no antibiotics, no animal byproducts and from a local farm
  • 32 oz bottle of skim milk - from a local farm
  • organic dried mango slices
  • organic dried black turtle beans
  • long grain brown rice
  • garlic hummus tahini - kosher, no preservatives, vegan, and from a local town
  • salsa - fresh veggies, spices and apple cider vinegar
  • raw honey (a gift for a friend)
Pretty much everything on my list is considered a whole food. For the two items made from multiple foods (hummus and salsa), both have very short ingredient lists that are whole foods and spices.

As I mentioned earlier, the 64 rules in Pollan's book are suggestions for a way to give your body what it needs in proper quantities while moving away from the Western diet, which is loaded with processed foods. Pollan tells readers not to try and follow each and every rule, but to at least choose one rule from each section of the book. Below, I've listed each section of the book (he switches the order of his original rule to fit the format of Food Rules), with one rule I followed from that section during my shopping trip.

Eat Food: #14, Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.

Even though the hummus and salsa are not individual food items, both are made from ingredients that you know exist in nature - tomatoes, peppers, onions, sesame seeds, garbanzo beans, etc.

Mostly Plants: #24, Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs, and other mammals]. Chinese proverb.

The bulk of my shopping was all vegetarian, with only 3 animal byproducts: milk, eggs and honey.

Not too much: #44, Pay more, eat less.

It is true that eating organically costs more than eating traditionally grown foods, and that it is often hard for people to afford a totally organic diet. Shopping at a small co-op can also increase the price slightly, since smaller quantities of an item are being purchased to sell. By shopping at a co-op, though, I have ownership and trust those doing the overall purchasing of products for my store to choose only the best. We also have a very large selection of local produce and some packaged foods. I make choices about which items I will pay more for to get organic quality. My next best option is to support the smaller, local farms. As you can see by my grocery list, it was not very lengthy, but the quality is high.

Jeff Buckley Brunch

I absolutely love cooking on Sundays. The day seems to lend itself to a slow start, time for planning and time for enjoying. After a small shopping trip to the surprisingly uncrowded co-op (where members who complete work hours now receive a 5% discount!), I came home and cleaned my fridge and kitchen. I love organizing my refrigerator. It makes preparing meals so easy. And of course, I cannot function in my kitchen unless all the dishes are cleaned and put away, leaving me with enough counter space to work.

So with coffee brewing, Jeff Buckley crooning in the background and abundant sunshine streaming through the windows, I prepared a scrambled everything egg brunch. As you read through the recipe, you'll see that it's very adaptable to your own tastes. I've listed my own preferences and ingredient quantities.

What You Need:
  • Cooking oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 full slice of white onion
  • 1 small red potato
  • 3 slices of a green bell pepper
  • Black beans (drained and rinsed from can)
  • Sea Salt
  • Shredded Mexican blend cheese
What You Do:
  • Pour a small amount of cooking oil into a large frying pan and let it warm.
  • Wash and cut the potato and add it to the oil with a sprinkling of sea salt. Since the potato will take the longest of any ingredients to cook, allow the pieces to get a golden brown color on both sides (stir them around a bit) while you are cutting up the rest of the ingredients.
  • Next, add the minced garlic and onion. Allow them to brown and the potato to absorb some of the flavor.
  • The chopped pepper slices and black beans are last since they cook the fastest, and I love my bell peppers to still be a little crunchy.
  • Now, with my whisk at the ready, I cracked the two eggs into the frying pan and immediately began whisking them with the other ingredients. I wanted scrambled eggs, not fried eggs, so I didn't want to allow time for them to cook flat on the pan.
  • After the eggs were scrambled and all the ingredients were well mixed, I added a handful of shredded cheese and stirred it into the egg scramble to let it melt.
In my mind, I must have been wishing I was preparing this for two, because it made a large quantity of food (the finished scramble filled a large dinner plate). I really love these one-dish meals that have your protein, veggies, etc. all cooked into one item. It makes clean-up so easy! It's also fun to prepare because all you need are the key ingredients (eggs), but can change what is added based on whatever veggies or cheese you have on hand.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Don't Diet

If you are concerned about your body weight and want to change it, don't diet. A rapid and extreme change in your eating habits may be difficult for your body to get used to, and when you don't get the results you want, you'll get discouraged. And how will you make any progress if you are discouraged and revert to your old eating habits?

Author and investigative journalist Michael Pollan has made a name for himself with books such as Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. He also was interviewed and featured in the film Food Inc. In his much talked about In Defense of Food, he set the guideline "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." While being minimal in explanation, a lot of research was done to come to the conclusion that this is the best way to nourish your body.

In a Food Network episode of Good Eats ("Live and Let Diet"), Alton Brown shared his insight on losing 50 pounds over the course of 9 months without "going on a diet." As reblogged, here are the four categories into which he organized food, and examples of the foods to eat (or not).

Eat Daily
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts (1 oz a day)
  • Carrots
  • Green tea

Eat at least 3 times a week

  • Oily fish
  • Yogurt
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Avocado

Eat only 1 time a week

  • Red meat
  • Pasta
  • Dessert
  • Alcohol

Never eat

  • Fast food
  • Soda
  • Processed meals
  • Canned soup
  • “Diet” anything

And eat breakfast, every single godforsaken day.

And it keeps getting better. Michael Pollan has released a new book, Food Rules, with 64 ways to choose the types of foods that will most benefit your body. While 64 may seem like a lot of guidelines to follow, the purpose is not to abide by every single rule, every time you eat. If you were to choose at least one rule from each of the three categories (Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.), you'd already be on your way to giving your body what it needs. And even "junk" foods aren't a complete long as you make them yourself. As I've been turning the pages of In Defense of Food, I'm absolutely fascinated with the research and conclusions in the book. I ordered my copy of Food Rules a couple nights ago and can't wait to get it! Expect another update as soon as I do, and I'll feature some of my favorite rules!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Happy New Year!

My new year celebration was spent in the Shenandoah area of Virginia with 5 great friends and our 3 dogs. We had fun passing each other on the highway until we all pulled into the driveway at a friend's family house. Some of us raided our cabinets and refrigerators at home and packed up some goodies to bring along, so after taking an inventory and quickly planning our meals, we made a shopping list and the girls (you know...the only ones qualified to shop) headed to the grocery store. How funny to shop at a Food Lion again (they do not exist in the NE), but glad I still had that old MVP card to save us $11! While it might be hard to prepare meals for that many people with differing tastes, we did a great job and to keep costs down, we choose some store brands and brands that were on sale. The total cost for each person after being split 3 ways was only $20! And to top it all off, we all came home with some goodies. I scored big by bringing home a large bottle of red wine and a box of ice cream sandwiches!

Our big meals for the trip were:
  • An Italian dinner! We added sauteed onions, garlic and peppers to a jar of organic Trader Joe's sauce for the spaghetti, toasted Italian bread and added minced garlic to olive oil for dipping, and had a salad with mixed greens from the co-op and chickpeas.
  • A hearty breakfast. With the leftover veggies from the night before and some of what was brought along, we scrambled eggs with black beans, onions, peppers and cheese. Oh so tasty. One of the guys made delicious scones (maybe cranberry?) that were so tasty dipped in organic French vanilla yogurt, and we also grilled a couple of big sausage links.
  • A warm and filling dinner. After spending the afternoon hiking through one of the parks with all the dogs, we were hungry and ready to get warmed up! After cheating and each ordering a couple of delicious slices of pizza (oops...) from the local pizza joint, we went home to rest and let our Friendship Soup cook. We opted for ground turkey instead of ground beef, added to the dry soup mix of lentils, beans, pasta and seasonings as well as a large can of crushed tomatoes. This is the best soup I have had in quite awhile, and after looking up the recipe, it's so easy to prepare the dry mix! Also, 1 container of the dried mix creates 16 servings! It's a good think, because I just may have eaten 3 bowls (shhhh).
This was such a great trip, and I had so much fun preparing meals with friends. There's no better way to do it!