Friday, October 31, 2008

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes: a Very Giada Halloween

People knock her for the foxiness factor, but I’m a Giada DeLaurentiis fan, and I’ll tell you why:

1) Her food is generally solid, always from scratch, and pretty easily prepared on weeknights after work.

2) If I ran a blog called “Expensive Unhealthy TOTALLY FREAKING DELICIOUS,” her Aunt Raffy’s Turkey Sausage and Chestnut Stuffing would be the first recipe on it.

3) She occasionally does photo shoots covered in tomato sauce. The pics aren’t particularly appealing any other day of the year, but on Halloween … awesome. They make perfect accompaniments to an otherwise unscary blog post. (Thanks, G!)

Today’s recipe, Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes comes from Giada’s newest cookbook, titled … wait for it … Giada’s Kitchen. (Rejected suggestions: Giada's Dining Room, Giada Cooks, Giada Makes Food Then Writes a Recipe and Publishes it in a Book.)

Serious Eats posted on the dish recently, and it’s a bit different from the one found on the Food Network site. For one, jarred peppers replace fresh ones, and parmesan is used instead of Ricotta Salata. Sure, these’ll impact the flavor a bit, but they’re nice cash-saving steps for this time of year, when summer produce is kaput and the Dow’s hitting negative numbers.

I prepared the dish Tuesday night, and was impressed by its simplicity and clean taste. The chicken broth lends a nice depth to the orzo, and the turkey sausage adds a slight saltiness that eliminates the need for actual salt. The Boyfriend liked it as well, and I would have served it to my visiting sister L, if she ate tomatoes, peppers, or anything without the word “tot” or “Diet Pepsi” in the title.

Should you accept the challenge, two notes to … uh, note:

1) This is a tad heartier than the meals that usually appear on this site, but it’s still quite healthy for a pasta dish, which is why it’s here. To reduce the calories or fat further, you could cut down on the olive oil, use water instead of chicken broth, or even take out some parm. (Though – I don’t suggest that last one. Parmesan is pretty key here.)

2) If I make it again, I'd make one change (and it would only be this one): I’d reduce the orzo by about a quarter. There was a bit too much in proportion to the other ingredients. (For the purposes of this post, though, I kept the recipe as Giada wrote it.)

And that’s all, folks. Hope you have a lovely Halloween, and no one TP's your apartment. (Hey you kids! Stop that!) See you Monday.

Orzo with Sausage, Peppers, and Tomatoes
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Adapted from Serious Eats and Giada's Kitchen by Giada de Laurentiis.

3 cups chicken broth
1 pound orzo pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 links (7 ounces total) mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 garlic clove, minced
2 jarred roasted red bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1) In a large saucepan, combine 3 cups of water with chicken broth. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, making sure to reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

2) While pasta is boiling, get out a large skillet. Heat oil in it over medium-high heat. Add turkey sausage and cook around 4 minutes, breaking it up with the back of a spoon as you go. (It should be cooked through, but not quite browned.) Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add bell peppers, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes (if using). Saute 2 or 3 minutes, until everything is heated through.

3) Combine pasta, sausage mixture, and 1/2 the parsley in a large serving bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. If you need the pasta water to moisten it up, add it now. Mix well. Sprinkle parmesan and the rest of the parsley on top. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
5 Servings: 491 calories, 13 g fat, $1.33

Calculations
3 cups chicken broth: 50 calories, 0 g fat, $1.20
1 pound orzo pasta: 1621 calories, 8 g fat, $0.99
2 tablespoons olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.20
2 links (7 ounces total) mild Italian turkey sausage, casings removed: 280 calories, 16 g fat, $0.98
1 garlic clove, minced: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
2 jarred roasted red bell peppers: 20 calories, 0 g fat, $0.99
2 plum tomatoes, chopped: 22 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.54
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional): negligible calories and fat, $0.01
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves: 3 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.33
Salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese: 216 calories, 14.3 g fat, $1.36
TOTAL: 2455 calories, 65.6 g fat, $6.64
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 491 calories, 13 g fat, $1.33

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Veggie Might: Candy Corn - The Best Halloween Candy Ever - Veganized

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

Halloween is almost here, and that can only mean one thing. You’ve been scarfing down candy corn since August, when your local Rite Aid hauled out bags of Brach’s along with the back-to-school stuff. Wait...that might be me.

Well it was until I absentmindedly read the label on the candy corn at the check out sometime in mid-September. Curses! Not you too, cc.

That’s right, candy corn, the world’s best Halloween candy, sugary homage to the world’s greatest vegetable, is among a long list of confectionary delights saddled with hidden animal parts via gelatin infusion.

I was so sad. Deep down I knew I’d been deluding myself. But, praise be the Great Pumpkin! Halloween is saved by the Urban Housewife and her recipe for vegan candy corn.

Not only is this recipe veganized, it’s stripped of its high fructose corn syrup too: good news for those of us trying to cut back on chemically processed and modified foods. Though, I have to admit, those commercials promoting HFCS are oddly amusing (when I’m not screaming and throwing socks at the TV).

One warning before you attempt this recipe: it creates a time vortex. From cooking to cutting, the whole process takes about 3–4 hours. But it is fun—like cooking and crafts combined. And if you love candy corn as much as I do, it’s well worth the investment.

The combined ingredients create a kind of dough, which you can work like clay. While it’s still warm, just squish it with your hands to massage in the food coloring and create the shapes you want. Have fun; it’s like play-dough you can eat!

I highly recommend (as did the Urban Housewife—smart lady) wearing latex or vinyl gloves to reduce staining from the food coloring. I keep a box in my kitchen for chopping hot peppers and other kitchen jobs. Chopping peppers + finger + itchy eye = crying burning crying.

Because I’m me, I made a couple of substitutions to the original recipe: one for cost and one for convenience. Organic corn syrup is expensive, as the UH mentions. Just how expensive? How about nearly $6.00 for 11 oz.!

On the spot, there in Whole Foods, I decided to try the agave nectar I had at home. It’s natural, as sweet as any sweetener I’ve used, almost as thick as corn syrup, and about half the cost of the organic brand.

When I got home from the store, I realized I missed an item from the recipe: powdered soymilk. Boo! I was not going back out. It seemed to be there as a thickener, so I figured cornstarch would work. I was right.

I can’t believe how good this recipe came out—the second time. Kris, this was almost a candidate for the Hall of Shame. I botched this so bad the first time: overcooking the sugar, letting it cool too long (while gabbing on the phone), and then realizing I forgot to put in the margarine in the first place. The dough was hard as a brick before I could roll it out. Oh the disappointment!

Take two was perfect (the margarine is in there for a reason). Sweet and delicious, the texture is just like the real thing. Except for the time and effort, you’ll never know the difference between homemade and store-bought. And you’ll never miss the animal parts.

I gave up cutting triangles after I got through a little less than half the dough. It remains to be seen if I can pick it up where I left off, but it’s sealed in a zipper bag, and still seems pretty pliable. I’ll keep you posted.

At this point, I have about 300 pieces of candy corn (minus the 100 or so I’ve shoved in my face). Now, I’m not sure how many are in a bag from the store, but this seems like a pretty good value, and way more fun than going to Rite Aid.

The effort was totally worth having candy corn back in my life. Oh, candy corn, I missed you so! Happy Halloween, everyone.

Candy Corn
Adapted from The Urban Housewife
Yields: about 600 pieces (20 pieces/serving)

2/3 c agave nectar
1 c sugar
5 tbsp vegan margarine
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 c powdered sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
pinch of salt
red & yellow food coloring

1) In a saucepan, combine the agave nectar, sugar, margarine, and vanilla, and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.

2) Drop heat to medium. Boil for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. (A kitchen timer is your friend.)

3) While agave mixture is boiling, grab a medium bowl. Sift powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt into it.

4) Once agave mixture is good to go, "add the powdered sugar mixture to the saucepan and stir to combine."

5) Let everything cool about 20 minutes, or until it's only a little warm. (Time for timer.)

6) Turn out dough on to wax paper, and divide into 3 equal pieces.

7) Don rubber gloves and do this: "Add several drops of yellow food coloring to one piece of dough. Knead food coloring into the dough until color is even and the texture is smooth. Repeat using red and yellow food coloring (for orange) with the second piece. Leave the last piece white, but knead it for texture."

8) Divide each color in half again (or whatever size is easiest to work with). Roll each piece into a long, thin ropes. All six should be equal in length. The thickness of the ropes will determine the size of the corn as much as the way you cut it. If the dough breaks, just squish it back together and roll again.

9) Line up one rope of each color next to the others and gently squeeze together to form a long rectangle. Pat down lightly with a rolling pin or smooth-sided drinking glass.

10) With a knife, cut the ropes into little candy corn-shaped triangles. "Some will be white tipped and some will be yellow tipped."

11) Smooth out the edges with your fingers to shape the corn as you like it. Eat. Marvel. Eat some more.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
98 calories, .4g fat, $.14

Calculations
1 cup sugar: 837 cal, 0g fat, $.57
2/3 cup agave nectar: 642 cal, 0g fat, $1.32
5 tablespoons vegan margarine: 100 cal, 11 fat, $.12
1 teaspoon vanilla extract: negligible calories and fat, $1.16
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar: 1200 cal, 0g fat, $.80
1/3 cup corn starch: 156 cal, 0g fat, $.31
a pinch salt: negligible calories and fat. $.01
red & yellow food coloring: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTALS: 2935 calories, 11g fat, $4.31
PER SERVING (total/30): 98 calories, .4g fat, $.14

CHG Favorites of the Week

Hey folks – don’t forget to tune in later for Veggie Might. Leigh’s celebrating National Candy Corn day with a vegetarian/vegan version of your favorite autumn-hued treat. But first...

Food Blog of the Week
Almost Frugal Food
From Kelly, the proprietress of Almost Frugal, comes this vittles-oriented blog about making good chow at a low cost. It’s only a few months old, but there’s some solid stuff already, including the Friday is for Food series.

Food Comedy of the Week
“Jon Hamm’s John Ham” from SNL
For those of you who might not have caught SNL this past weekend, three things happened:
1) Amy Poehler had her baby,
2) Coldplay played FOUR TIMES to make up for the sketches Amy would have performed in, and,
3) Mad Men’s Jon Hamm was totally, completely great – the best host they’ve had in a long, long time. Need proof? Check "Jon Hamm’s John Ham," right here:



Organization of the Week
Help Britt and Lia
You may have read about Britt and Lia on CNN, or maybe you saw their piece on the Today Show. If not, here’s the story: essentially, the worldly couple took a year off to explore Central and South America, and less than two months into their journey, were brutally attacked on an Ecuadorian beach. Lia was beaten, Britt was stabbed 18 times, and both were left for dead. Somehow, Lia managed to get help, and Britt was airlifted to a California hospital, where they’ve been recovering ever since. But there’s a long road ahead, and their meager travel health insurance doesn’t come close to covering the $55,000 airlift needed to save Britt’s life. Lia’s been documenting the ordeal on their blog (though she recently stopped due to some anonymous speculation by commenters). If you get the chance, check her posts out. They’ll break your heart, and then remake it again.

Food Quote of the Week
“Heba wonders why Phil would go to her friend and ‘blasphemy’ her. Yeah, and right after she turned Gatorade into wine and fed the multitudes with a 100-calorie snack pack.” – Potes on The Biggest Loser from Television Without Pity

(Incidentally, TBL viewers: who are you rooting for? I’m pulling for a Michelle win, though I’ll take Renee, Coleen, Amy, or even Brady. He used to bug me, but that enmity's been replaced by my straight-up loathing of Heba. She and Vicky are a dynamic duo OF EVIL.)

Food Video of the Week
“The Worst Pies in London” from Sweeney Todd
Just in time for Halloween, it’s George Hearn and a young-ish Angela Lansbury as the titular barber and Mrs. Lovett, ruminating about baked goods for hard times. (And if you’re interested, you can watch their solution to the problem in “A Little Priest.”)



Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
“Vincent Price’s Halloween Special” from SNL
More Hamm! More Halloween! With a little Liberace thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Cheap, Healthy, Sick: 10 Easy, Nutritious Foods for When You’ve Contracted the Plague

Picture it. You’re curled into a fetal position on your living room couch, inhaling ibuprofen, mainlining cough syrup, and praying for something – ANYTHING – to dissolve the sticky ball of evil living in your sinuses. You’re vaguely aware the TV is on, and somewhere in the distance, Drew Carey hands a Plinko chip to a lovely librarian from northwest Wyoming. Alas, you never discover where it falls, because you’ve been addled by a hacking fit so violent, your lungs nearly come out your nose. The last time you took your temperature, it was either 103 or 301. You don’t know, because there’s a distinct possibility your fever is SO high, you are now dyslexic.

Does this sound familiar? If so, you, like millions of Americans, have experienced a sick day. They’re not fun. And when you’re suffering through one, the last thing you want to worry about is food. Because really, you’ll cram anything down the red, raw tube posing as your throat, as long as involves zero effort.

So, sickies – here you go. Ten modest meals that require negligible thought, very little money, and no extra stressing about calories and such. Oh - and if you have any suggestions, add ‘em on in the comment section. I’d love to know: what’s your favorite sick food?

(Disclaimer: I’m not a physician, and none of this should be taken as expert medical advice.)

10. Heat-and-eat dinners. While I try to avoid microwave cookery as much as possible, there’s something to be said for a square meal prepared in four minutes. Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, and Amy’s Foods tend to have better-for-you selections, and sales pop up frequently in my local supermarkets. Just be sure to check the sodium levels – one of these babies can plug you with enough salt to feed a herd of deer.

9. Mashed potatoes, rice, pasta, oatmeal or any easy-make starches. When you’re sick, tea and toast isn’t always the answer. Sometimes (like when you decide to go to work anyway), you need a few calories to keep you going. Stuff like spaghetti or potatoes are easily prepared, and can be as bland or mushy as you want, depending on your specific ailment (upset stomach, toothache, etc.).

8. Tea. Speaking of tea and toast - yeah, you knew this was coming. Still, the temporary healing powers of hot liquids should never be overlooked. For fun and variety, try adding ginger, lemon, or that glorious liquid gold, honey.

7. Smoothies. Do you have yogurt? How about fruit? And a little bit of sugar? Excellent. Pop those suckers in a blender and go to town. Inside of two minutes, you’ll have a healthy, delicious shake that with any luck, you’ll be able to taste. (Damn those headcolds!) There’re a slew of recipes online, and lots can be made with frozen fruit – a cheaper alternative to fresh produce come wintertime.

6. Eggs. Ahhh, the incredible, edible, cooked-in-60-seconds-dible egg. Easy on the wallet and infinitely adaptable, it’s the perfect comfort food when you’ve been confined to the house. For something a bit more filling, pair ‘em with English muffins, cheese, or …

5. Steamed, roasted, pureed, or fresh vegetables. “What? You want me to get out of bed, slosh downstairs, and steam/roast/puree a vegetable in my delicate state? You’re out of your diseased little mind.” Wait! Before you dismiss fresh produce, consider: ounce per ounce, they contain more vitamins, minerals, and immune-boosting elements than ANY OTHER FOOD. Many can be made palatable in under ten minutes, and even the ones that can’t (roasted squash, etc.) can generally be popped in an oven and left alone for an hour while you attend to your meds. To quote a Scottish lass I once met, “THAY-INK AH-BOOT EET.”

4. Simple sandwiches. There are few sick foods as soothing as the sandwiches you ate in elementary school. Whether you prefer PB&J, grilled cheese, ham and swiss, or hummus and vegetables, they’ll do wonders for your brain, and sate your stomach for time being.

3. Fruit. Nutritious as all get out, cheaper than dirt, and no assembly required. ‘Nuff said.

2. Soup. If it’s hot and eaten with a spoon, odds are it’ll do your body good. And while chicken noodle soup is the end-all be-all (no arguments!), there are about a billion other varieties, homemade (extra credit) and canned (if necessary), that will substitute very nicely.

1. Takeout. Look, you’re sick. If you really want veggie dumplings, no one’s going to judge you. And this handy guide should provide a few good suggestions.

Readers, how about you? What quick, but relatively healthy meals do you down when you’re out of order?

~~~

If you liked this article, you might also dig:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Megalinks

Before we get to today’s links, I’d like to take a minute to commemorate the most important story you, me, or anyone across our vast, glorious planet will read this week. You know the one I’m talking about. The sad one. The crazy one. The one that will forever change the lives of teenagers aching to burst free of complacency/sobriety. If you don’t know, I’m sorry I have to bring it up here, in a simple blog.

Yes, the rumors are true: Zima is being discontinued.

Really, it’s kind of like losing a family member, if that family member came in a frosted bottle and tasted like a terrier’s butt. But don’t fret, dear readers! My youth may be lost, but your teen’s is still safe. Why, just think of all the other terrible, terrible malt beverages flooding the market today. If all goes well, your child will try one, decide it reminds them of “the devil’s urine” (which, word-for-word, is how my friend Mike described Zima Gold in 1994), and learn to hate alcohol forever. And in that way, Zima’s legacy will be preserved, even as the beverage itself meets its maker.

Now, for our regularly scheduled links…

Chief Family Officer: Our Biggest Spending Pitfall – Eating Out
Oh, sweet Cathy, I hear you. The Boyfriend and I have both had the sniffles lately, and rather than cook, we’ve been resorting to takeout egg drop soup and spicy noodles. (Really, anything that will temporarily sate our sinuses.) The financial effects have been … not nice.

Culinate: The Winter Squash Glossary
Sure, the butternut, acorn, and spaghetti varieties are here, but also – kabocha! Hubbard! Kuri! (Sidenote: up until I read this article, I didn’t know those words were types of food. I assumed they were the names of the secret Palin kids.)

Dietriffic: 30+ Ways to Recession-Proof Your Family Food Budget
In this post is everything you ever needed to know about saving food cash, plus links. Really, it makes CHG obsolete. Stop reading! We have no purpose. (Er … just kidding. I love you. All of you.) (Thanks to Being Frugal for the link.)

The Epi-Log: Does Organic Really Matter?

Arrrrrg. Everything I know is wrong.

The Kitchn: Best Healthy Comfort Foods? Ideas Wanted!
Worth a look for the comments thread, in which ideas are plentiful and solid. Included: popcorn, hot cocoa, butternut squash puree, edamame, roasted apples, soup, crumbles, and … holy cow. I’m going to get lunch now.

New York Times: Across the Country, Restaurants Feel the Pinch
Okay! I’m back from lunch! And it’s just in time for this NYT story, (again) documenting the financial collapse of another food-related industry. Ack. Now I need a drink.

Rocks in My Dryer: Aldi’s – Is It Worth It?
SPREADSHEET POWER! Shannon did a price comparison between Aldi’s and her local WalMart, and the former comes out so far ahead, it’s kind of ridiculous. Let’s put it this way: if the stores were swimmers, Aldi’s is Michael Phelps, and WalMart is some poor schmuck from a small town in Lichtenstein.

Rocks in My Dryer: What I'd Like For You To Know - Dealing with Food Allergies in a Child
I used to work with a guy with a severe peanut allergy, meaning you couldn’t touch a nut and then shake his hand, because it would literally KILL HIM. Here, mom Jane Anne describes how it is for kids. Another solid entry in RiMD’s What I’d Like for You to Know series.

Serious Eats: The Latest in College Financial Aid: Food Stamps
So, college students in Denver are applying for government assistance to get them through the week without starving. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, if you’re putting yourself through school, these can be incredibly helpful. On the other hand … if you can afford college, why can’t you make room in the budget for some Ramen? (Yes, I know some people are taking out monster loans and trying to better their chances at a good job, but … yeah, it doesn’t sit right with me for some reason.)

SF Gate: One turkey bacon stands out in the flock
Oscar Meyer’s Louis Rich brand beats all others (including Trader Joes!) in a walk. I’m a fan of Applegate myself, but the tastetesters do not agree in the least. (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

The Simple Dollar: Stop Wasting Money on Disposable Things
Post of the week, for sure. Trent makes a short list of stuff we shouldn’t have to throw out, including batteries, Swiffers, and Ziploc bags. Gigantic comment thread (94+ comments) adds even more creative ideas.

Slashfood: Just the Thing for Your BLT – Baconnaise
NOOOOOO! Why in the name of all that is good and pure would anyone pervert the simple beauty of bacon by combining it with MAYONNAISE? WHY? WHY? WHY? ARG. THIS HURTS MY SOUL.

Wired: The Future of Food
Geeks! Nerds! Foodies! UNITE! Super-awesome graphics and genuinely neat information combine to create a ludicrously cool series on feeding the planet. It’s the magazine’s front page, too, so if you can’t see it online…

(Photos courtesy of teamlorenz, The District Domestic, and bacontarian.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Autumn Sausage Casserole and the Crock Pot Paradox

About two years ago, I attempted to make slow cooker baked beans from a Fix It and Forget It cookbook. After prepping the spices, readying the legumes, and mixing everything until well-blended, I threw it on “low” for a few billion hours and waited, fork in hand. That night, apoplectic over the prospect of three quarts of beany goodness, I dug into it with something approximating religious zeal.

And it was TERRIBLE.

Awful. Catastrophic. Traumatically bad. I doubt even my brother would eat it, and I’m fairly certain he’d eat hair if it wouldn’t clog up his throat. Yet, I saved everything despite the horror, because I couldn’t bring myself to chuck 14 metric tons of beans. The tupperware sat untouched for three days, until my friend J and I semi-drunkenly gave the dish one last shot.

And it was FANTASTIC.

I don’t know what kind of bewitchment befell our refrigerator, but those beans (which were thiiiiis close to being Hazmatted three days prior) had morphed into ambrosia. Magic beans, if you will. The two of us polished off half the container before passing out, tipsy and satisfyingly full.

In the years since, I’ve found this is pretty standard when it comes to slow cookers. Right out of the pot, it’s rarely very good - edible, maybe, but the meal will almost never knock your socks off. Then, 48 hours later, the kitchen gnomes work their sorcery, and the be-crocked leftovers morph into WONDERFOOD.

And therein lies the paradox: meals that are cooked for half a day don't reach their full potential until they've been cold for another half a week. It's bizarre. Mind-boggling. Possibly not even a paradox, really. (I’m a little hazy on the definition.)

The most recent example of this was Autumn Sausage Casserole, whipped up this past Saturday. I got the recipe off the excellent A Year of Crockpotting blog, where Stephanie tries a different slow cooker meal every night, then rates it the next morning. It was definitely pretty good, and made the apartment smell like … well, way better than it usually smells. Still - nothing to write home about.

Now, it’s two days later, I just had the leftovers for lunch at the office, and HOLY MOLY. I wish I had packed more. Seriously, my coworkers are jealous. It’s mushy, but filling and delicious (both the casserole and the envy). Even better, it's insanely low in fat, which lies in sharp contrast to the all-fat diet I’ve adopted the last few days.

In the end, this recipe - and perhaps all slow cooker recipes - come down to one simple idea: eat this. But wait a little first.

Autumn Sausage Casserole
Makes 4-5 servings
Adapted from A Year of Crockpotting.

1 pound sweet turkey sausage, uncased, crumbled, and browned
1 large, or 2 small apples, chopped (no need to peel)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrots
3 cups already cooked long-grain rice
1/2 cup raisins
1 T dried parsley flakes
1 T brown sugar
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth or water

1) Add every ingredients into a 3-1/2 or 4-quart crock pot.  Stir pretty gently until everything is thoroughly combined. Cover. (I assume this is a given with slow cooking, but hey - you never know.) Cook between 5 and 7 hours on LOW, or between 3 and 4 hours on HIGH.

2) If possible, let this sit in the fridge overnight before serving. The flavors will meld beautifully. If not possible, serve immediately and know that it will be better the next day.

Note from Stephanie: "This will not stick together like a gloppy casserole; it has the consistency of fried rice. Use bowls to serve rather than plates."

Note from Kris: Mine did stick together, but I think that's because I made it with newly-cooked rice. If it had sat in the fridge for a day beforehand, it would have been different.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Four servings: 411 calories, 8.9 g fat, $1.02
Five servings: 329 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.81

Calculations
1 pound sweet turkey sausage: 560 calories, 32 g fat, $1.98
1 large, or 2 small apples: 110 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.32
1 yellow onion, chopped: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.38
1/2 cup chopped carrots: 26 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.22
3 cups cooked long-grain rice: 616 calories, 1.3 g fat, $0.52
1/2 cup raisins: 217 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.35
1 T dried parsley flakes: 4 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.03
1 T brown sugar: 34 calories, 0 g fat, $0.03
1/2 tsp allspice: 2 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.04
1/2 tsp cinnamon: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1/4 tsp black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/3 cup chicken broth or water: 26 calories, 0.9 g fat, $0.18
TOTAL: 1644 calories, 35.4 g fat, $4.08
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 411 calories, 8.9 g fat, $1.02
PER SERVING (TOTAL/5): 329 calories, 7.1 g fat, $0.81

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alas and Alack: The CHG Hall of Shame

(Before getting to today’s article, I have to mention this: I was standing less than two feet from Tom Hanks at a restaurant last night. On the outside, I was all laid-back and cool. On the inside, I metaphorically wet my pants.)

Between CHG and a new column on Serious Eats, I’m attempting to come up with three inexpensive, nutritious, culinarily sound dishes every seven days. Most weeks, out of five new-to-me meals, I can pick the best three and throw ‘em up on the ‘net. (NOTE TO SELF: Avoid phrase “throw ‘em up” when referring to delicious food.) Sometimes, I even get lucky: all five meals are great, and I can bank two for future posts.

Other times, like this week, everything tanks. (This is my clever way of saying, “I got nothing.”)

But! There's a bright side to this: I can show you a vast selection of recently-prepared dishes that blew the big one, and then tell you exactly why they sucked. What's more, this exercise lets you, the reader, know I don't post about everything I cook. A dish has to be halfway decent, or it doesn't go up.

So, without further ado ... BEHOLD! The duds!

Chayotes Relleno from Food Network
Chayotes are small, jade-hued, fantastically inexpensive squashes found mostly in Latin cuisine. They taste kind of like a cucumber mated with a honeydew, but less sweet and more … well, squashy. This was the first time I had ever tried them, and while I liked the vegetable itself, the dish was a lemon. First off, it took almost two hours to make. That’s not the food’s fault, but mine - I underestimated by almost 60 minutes, and was gnawing on The Boyfriend’s arm by the time it was finally ready. Second, it did funny things to my stomach. Not funny in a “Ha!” way, either.

Eggplant Steaks from Alton Brown
Great googly moogly, does it ever pain me to write this. Alton is the famous equivalent of my beloved 9th grade biology teacher Mr. G, who made me give a flying crap about cell walls. Alas, the steaks were too thick, the cooking time was off, and the marinade didn’t really do much. A big bummer.

Honey Peanut Butter Banana Muffins from the Weight Watchers Boards
Sure, the name reads like Elvis’ greatest fantasy (beyond a limo made entirely of shag carpet), but even the King would have disapproved of these dry, dang near flavorless concoctions.
Q: How can a creation with the words “honey,” “peanut butter,” and “banana” possibly fail?
A: When they blend so seamlessly you can’t taste ANYTHING.

French Toast-Peach Cobbler from Cooking Light
Oh man, I had such high hopes for this one. And while it was borderline acceptable, there are much better things to do with peaches. *Sigh*

Rum-Glazed Banana Tartlets from Martha Stewart
Step 1: pound bread into oblivion.
Step 2: burn rum sauce until it becomes ashy, gasoline-flavored muck.
Step 3: get banana all over hoodie.
Step 4: assemble, eat, and repeat the phrase “meh” at least 50 times.
(In this dish’s defense, I think the badness was mostly my fault.)

Pasta Salad with Broccoli and Peanuts from Martha Stewart
Let it be known that leftover pasta lasts approximately 30 seconds in our refrigerator. If given a choice between filet mignon prepared for me by a shirtless Olivier Martinez, or day-old capellini … well, I’d go with the first one. But the pasta would be a close second. Anyway – back to my point: this was gross. We made it, tried it, and didn’t touch it again. It descended into Moldville before I finally sacked up and tossed it.

Corn Flake-Coated Chicken from I Can’t Remember
Last week, while shopping for shoes with The Boyfriend’s mom, we spotted a hair shoe: a low-heeled Mary Jane covered entirely in short, poop-brown stubble. While I didn’t lick it, I imagine it would have tasted like this chicken.

Readers, how about you? Have there been any recipes you really, really wanted to like, only to have them come out tasting like tree bark? (Do tell, and I promise to have a halfway decent recipe up soon.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Veggie Might: Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca and the Best Little Sauce in the Kitchen

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Lately at the market, I’ve been slapped in the face by bins and bins of squash. It’s all I can do not to full up my basket with the bounty of fall. But with the last weeks of the CSA filling my kitchen, I have to resist.

I satisfied the most recent urge by purchasing one spaghetti squash, and a relatively small one at that—just under two pounds. The wheels in my head started spinning. Spaghetti squash is a favorite dish from my waitron days, and I make my own version of my former employer’s recipe every fall. Heck, here in New York, where I can get pretty much any vegetable anytime I usually make it more often. But it’s been a long, long while.

The way the owner serves spaghetti squash is, well, like spaghetti, primavera style. But since it’s not exactly spring outside, at least here on a tiny island off the eastern coast of North America, I wanted something with a little more va-va-va-voom.

Plus the only other veggies I had were turnips and leftover patty pans. It might have worked, but I just didn’t want squash on my squash.

I wandered around the market, looking for inspiration, channeling my fridge and cupboards, and trying not to put anything else in the basket. Lightbulb! I only needed one more ingredient for sauce: olives.

Salty, spicy, sassy... sugo alla puttanesca is nearly perfect. Named for the hardest working ladies out past our bedtimes (Sorry graveyard shift proofreaders, I don’t mean you), this hottie of a sauce is known for being fiery and aromatic.

At home, I had everything else I needed (which is the whole point—the ladies were restricted to shopping one day a week): tomatoes, onions, garlic, capers, and crushed red chili flakes. Splurging while being as frugal as possible, I chose the smallest container and scooped out about 6 or so of the fat pimiento-stuffed green olives and 3 or 4 kalamatas.

I was nervous at the checkout; the olive bar just went up from $5.99 to $7.99 a pound—it used to be the cheapest that I’ve seen in the city. I skipped all the way home. The squash, at 99 cents a pound, was $1.89 and the olives came in at a whopping $1.36.

The reject heirloom tomatoes on my kitchen table were finally ripe enough to use, but not good enough to slice and eat. (Because they are way less than perfect, these worm-holed and somewhat smashed beauties have been “extra” a.k.a. free with my CSA share.) They had bad places that needed trimming, but were totally sauce-worthy. Chopping them up produced about 18 oz of diced tomato.

I learned to make sauce by modifying a basic recipe from Moosewood New Classics. The more cookbooks I read, the more I realize it’s a pretty universal formula. In a nutshell, sauté onion in a little bit of olive oil, add garlic, add the tomatoes, maybe a little tomato sauce or juice if you want, and then whatever spices you like. Tada! Sauce.

(If any Italian mamas or papas out there want to adopt me and teach me to make sauce, I’m an apt pupil.)

For my vegetarian version of puttanesca, which “traditionally” has anchovies, I substituted vegetarian Worcestershire sauce. I’m not sure why; it just seemed like a good idea. Once the tomatoes, onions, and garlic were bubbling, I tossed in a little tomato sauce, the olives, capers, and a bit of fresh oregano I had leftover from my weekly take.

It smelled so good; I nearly forgot I’d put the spaghetti squash in the oven. It almost seemed superfluous to the sauce. But turn back o, man. It tasted good too—even beyond what I imagined.

The squash came out perfectly, no thanks to me (I must learn to use a timer). The slightly sweet, crunchy threads of squash accompanied by the fiery, tangy sauce was delicious and just the combination I wanted. Owner of the restaurant where I used to be a waitron, you wish your sauce was this good.

(Her sauce is really good.)

PS – I’ve been so obsessed with the sauce, I barely talked about how healthy this dish is. It is so low in calories and fat, your eyes may bug out. Throw some veggies on there and you are set. You may (will) want a piece of bread on the side to mop up any extra sauce, lest you lick the bowl in front of your coworkers. Who wants to look undignified in this economy? Just a suggestion.

Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Yields 4 servings

1 spaghetti squash
1 tbsp olive oil
18 oz fresh tomatoes, diced (or 16 oz can)
1/2 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced coarsely
1/3 can tomato sauce (8 oz can)
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 oz chopped olives
1-1/2 tbsp capers with a bit of brine
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes (Note: You may want to start with 1 tsp and increase to taste. Mine came out pretty hot, but I like it that way.)
3 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
salt to taste

1) Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2) Slice stem end off squash to create flat surface. Set squash on flat end, and slice in half long-ways down the middle. (I didn’t say this would be easy. Use your sharpest knife.)

3) Scoop out seeds and goop and discard. (You can rinse seeds and roast them if you like. They’re tasty.)

4) Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray or lightly grease in your favorite manner.

5) Place squash, cut side down, on sheet and place in oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Meanwhile...

6) Chop, chop, chop: tomatoes, onions, garlic, and olives.

7) In a saucepan or cast iron skillet, over medium heat, sauté onions in olive oil for 3–5 minutes or until they start to become translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two, stirring occasionally.

8) To the onions and garlic, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, olives, capers with a little bit of brine, and spices.

9) Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for twenty minutes or so.

Back to the squash...

10) It’s done when a fork will puncture the skin without too much trouble. (It won’t be floppy.)

11) Remove from oven and allow squash to cool enough to handle.

12) Use a fork to “rake” out the squash from the rind into a serving bowl. It will separate and thread like spaghetti.

13) Top with puttanesca sauce and dig in. Mmm...soo delicious. Try to wait until it cools.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
135 calories, 5.05 g fat, $1.21

Calculations
1 spaghetti squash: 168 calories, 0g fat, $1.89
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, $0.08
18 oz fresh tomatoes: 97 calories, 0g fat, free from CSA box
1/2 large onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
4 cloves garlic: 17 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 tsp vegan Worcestershire sauce: negligible calories and fat, $.06
1/3 can tomato sauce (8 oz can): 27 calories, 0 fat, $.20
1 1/2 oz chopped olives: 62 calories, 6g fat, $1.19
1 1/2 tbsp capers: 8 calories, 0 fat, $.82
1/2 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $.02
3 sprigs fresh oregano: negligible calories and fat, $.02
salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTALS: 539 calories, 20.2g fat, $4.85
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 135 calories, 5.05g fat, $1.21

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week #1
Apron Thrift Girl
I only ran across this blog for the first time yesterday, but I’m really liking it. Beyond the immediate impact of a well-designed front page, it’s … well, it’s relaxing. Like a digital scone. Or two-dimensional NPR. Try it.

Food Blog of the Week #2
Pasta Queen
Jennette Fulda went from 372 to 180 pounds in a little over 2-1/2 years. Her site is extensive, clever (“party in my fat pants!”), and full of fun graphs and photos you’d expect from a computer programmer. She’s even written a memoir called Half-Assed (“It’s hilarious, inspirational, and good for killing large insects.”), which chronicles her journey from a great big girl to a great little girl.

Food Comedy of the Week
“Food” by Billy Connolly
Glasgow’s shaggiest standup/actor waxes poetic on American eating habits: “My advice, to you, if you want to lose a bit of weight, don’t eat anything that comes in a bucket.” Really, it’s like being hilariously reprimanded by a crazy European uncle. (Rated PG-13 for language and thick Scottish accent.)



Food Quote of the Week
A coaster at Hearth restaurant in New York’s East Village:


Food Video of the Week
“Venus as a Boy” by Bjork
Adorable elfin Icelander sings cute song, cuddles lizard, gives herself an egg facial, and then cooks some over easy. Bizarrely heartwarming.



Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
“It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork
While we’re on the subject of Bjork, this is one of the best music videos ever made. If you dig Spike Jonze, MGM musicals, or both, you’ll love it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Incredible Shrinking Dad: How One Guy Lost 108 Pounds (and Kept it Off)

Ed is a 59-year-old father of three from Queens, New York. Though an avid golfer and fisherman, he struggled with his weight most of his life. Then, in the ‘90s, a complete lifestyle overhaul helped him drop almost 110 pounds, sending him from 287 to his current weight of 179. He’s never joined a gym or a diet program. This is his story.

(Incidentally, for transparency’s sake [and so I will not receive a beating from my mother], I will henceforth refer to him as Dad.)

(Also, parts of this interview were edited for length.)

(Also also, that's not his real head in the pictures. But you knew that.)

KRIS: So Dad, when did you weigh the most?

DAD: I weighed 287 pounds in November of 1991.

K: Why do you think you were overweight? What are the reasons?

D: Well, I was always overweight. When I got out of high school I was about 195, and I slowly put on a lot of weight over the years until I got about to 250. It was my steady weight once I was out of the service.

K: And you’re 6-foot-1?

D: I’m 6-foot-1.

K: But you gained more weight after that.

D: I used to smoke. When I was 42, I quit smoking cold turkey and at the time I was about 255. I had trouble once I quit smoking pushing myself away from the dinner table, because there was no cigarette to end the meal. So I would hang around the table and eat just about anything that was left. Whether it was rolls, bread and butter, potatoes, spaghetti, meatballs - anything. And I put on another 32 pounds in that winter of ’91, and wound up at 287.

K: 287 was your top weight.

D: 287 was my top weight.

K: So, you were eating a lot of starches.

D: I was eating everything.

K: Did you have a particular food that you really kind of …

D: All food. I love bread and butters, pastries. Sunday was practically an all-day eating experience. I would go out to the bakery in the morning and pick up a bunch of rolls and pastries and sit down with the paper for an hour-and-a-half or so, eating continually, and then break for a couple of hours and then watch a couple of football games in the afternoon on Sunday and continue eating. So, there was a lot of eating and it was always two large meals, sometimes three.

K: So you’re 42-years-old, you have three wonderful children and a lovely wife. Why do you decide to lose weight at that point? Why do you go on a diet?

D: Well, when I quit smoking I told the doctor I was worried about gaining a lot of weight. And he said, “Don’t worry. If you have the willpower to quit smoking, you can lose weight.” So I kind of took him at his word. And when I got up to 287, I couldn’t fit into most of my clothes anymore. I had outgrown extra large shirts and all my pants. My waistline was between 44 and 46 inches, and I was in XXL shirts. I felt huge. And I decided I had to do something about this, and I started on a diet in early 1992.

K: How did your weight affect your everyday life? Did you have limitations?

D: Well I was still relatively young…

K: Hee. Relatively.

D: Well, when you’re 59, 42 sounds great. I used to work on the car a lot, and it was difficult to get up and down, move around. You lose a lot of agility because you’re carrying this extra person, really. 287 is a good weight for two people. It’s just a huge amount of weight, and you just don’t feel right at all. I still did what I liked. I played some golf. I still went fishing. But everything was an extra burden. It was harder.

K: So what kind of changes did you make in your diet when you decided to start losing weight?

D: Well, I decided I was going to try to get by on 1500 calories a day. So, I was working at [redacted] at the time, and I used to eat practically non-stop all day there. I would come in with a couple of bagels and I’d say, “Well, I don’t have any butter on them, so it’s okay.” And then at break time I’d have something, and then go out for a full lunch. And then I’d have a snack in the afternoon. And then I’d go home and eat a big dinner. I was probably taking in about 5000 calories a day.

K: Wow.

D: I decided I was going to try to cut down to 1500 calories. To do that I cut out my snack in the car on the way to work – I forgot to mention that. And I cut it down to two rice cakes, which comes to 100 calories. And then at break time I’d have two more rice cakes. The caramel kind. Quaker.

K: Delicious.

D: Delicious. As rice cakes go, it doesn’t get much better than that. So, by the time lunch came around, I’d had 200 calories so far for the day. And I’d try to keep lunch between 500 and 600 calories, and then dinner about the same. And at night I’d have 100 calorie snack before I went to bed.

K: What did you have for lunch and dinner?

D: For lunch– maybe if I’d have a hamburger, it would be without cheese. Maybe a couple of hot dogs. No French fries. If I had a sandwich on a bagel, it would be a low-calorie meat like boiled ham. One slice of cheese for flavor, but not loaded up on cheese. Dinner in those days, we always had two vegetables, meat, and usually a piece of bread. And I cut almost all the butter out of my diet. We used to have spaghetti and meatballs every Tuesday night and I’d have two meatballs and some spaghetti, but instead of four or five slices of bread with butter, I cut it down to two slices of Italian bread with no butter. So, cutting back all around.

K: What kind of changes did you make to your exercise plan?

D: I just played golf. I wasn’t into walking for its own sake back then. I lost ten pounds a month for seven months. I went from 287 to 217 in seven months. It felt good.

K: How did you keep track of the calories?

D: I would read the labels on the food, and I also had a little booklet I bought at the checkout at the supermarket. It was a little pocket book that had about 30 or 40 pages, and it had a nice index of foods and calories in it. … Basically I was cutting about 35,000 calories a month out of my diet.

K: That’s a lot.

D: Yeah. Doing the math, I was losing 2-1/2 pounds a week.

K: Hunh.

D: Right. And that’s how I lost the weight. I strictly believe in counting calories and exercising for losing weight. I don’t think there’s any fad diets that work over any length of time.

K: Did you find you were eating less meat or more vegetables? It sounds like you definitely cut out the dairy part of it, but what about those two?

D: Well, I watched the quantities more than the types of food. But one thing I insisted on any diet is I had to have pizza once a week. Any diet I’ve ever been on because I absolutely love pizza. But it would be two slices. My days of three, four, five slices of pizza at a meal are over.

K: So it was a portion control issue.

D: It was portion control. I believe you have to have things you like. You just can’t be continually eating rice cakes. Once in awhile you have to treat yourself.

K: Are there any other big changes you made to your lifestyle? You mentioned you had quit smoking.

D: That was it. It was seven months at ten pounds a month, and it just worked out.

K: At this point, when you were losing 70 pounds, did you ever consider joining a gym or Weight Watchers or anything?

D: No. I’m not a joiner. I don’t like the crowd aspect of joining things. I can’t see myself at a gym.

K: Okay. So you stopped at 217, but you still lost around 40 pounds after that.

D: No. What happened was, over a period of about 12 or 13 years, I slowly put on about 20 pounds. A pound one year, a couple of pounds the next, and when we went on vacation to Spain, when I came back, I was 237.

K: Were you really?

D: Well, I was 217, and over those years I gained 20 pounds. So, I said, “This is not good. I’m well into my 50s, and I’m only 13 pounds from being 250 again.” So I decided it was time to start a diet again. And the first couple of months I lost quit a bit of weight, as you do on most diets. Maybe 15 or 16 pounds. And then I decided … I want to change my lifestyle so I don’t have to constantly be worried about losing all this weight and then putting it back on. … So, I would start losing, get down three pounds a month, two pounds a month. Sometimes there would be something special going on, like a vacation, and I might put on a couple of pounds or only lose a pound or break even that month. But slowly, over the course of a couple of years, I got down to my low weight, which was 179, which is about where I am now.

K: What about your eating habits now?

D: [On] weekends [I eat] two meals a day instead of three. I have brunch and dinner – maybe a light snack during the middle of the day. … And then it’s certainly a more structured environment at the office, and I think it’s easier to lose weight. I bring in some dry cereal in the morning. I like dry cereal because I think you get more flavor out of it, and I think it takes longer to eat. … And then I have a little snack in the middle of the morning. Always 100 calories or less. At lunch I have either a sandwich or soup.

K: But we’re not talking pastrami with mayonnaise.

D: No. … And then in the evening a normal meal. And I have my pizza once a week, and on the weekends I eat two good meals each day. I mean, they’re hearty meals. Sometimes I go for pancakes. Sometimes I go for Polish food. Whatever I feel like – but only two meals. … [Also] I do a lot of walking. I walk about 30, 35 miles a week. So, that helps, too.

K: Whoa.

D: Well, I get off the subway in the morning, about a mile from the office. I leave the house a little earlier to do that. In the afternoon I walk to a different station, and another mile. And then at lunchtime, whenever I can, I walk up to the promenade in Brooklyn, which is almost another mile to and from – a mile each way. So, just in those four things, I’ve already walked four miles for that day. And on the weekend I play golf and I go fishing at night. I always walk a mile or two. And it adds up quickly. It doesn’t have a lot of stress on my joints. At my age, I’m not into – I never was a jogger. I never saw somebody jogging who was smiling, so I figured it can’t be too pleasant an experience. They always look kind of pained. So … it’s kind of a lazy man’s exercise, but what I don’t have in quality, I make up in quantity.

K: Okay. So were your diets difficult to maintain? Did you ever feel deprived or anything?

D: Well … when I’m into a diet, it becomes a way of life. … Once you get used to it, it’s fine. … And this latest one, where I altered my lifestyle and still had big meals when I feel like it - it’s almost a guilty pleasure you don’t have to pay the price for all the time.

K: So it’s easier now.

D: It’s easier in that I kind of changed the way I manage my intake. I don’t go to the bakery and sit at the breakfast table for two hours anymore either. That doesn’t happen. And I don’t eat those massive quantities of pizza. I went from having pizza twice a week to having it once a week. So, it’s definitely a cutback, but that’s okay. I still get my pie.

K: What have been the benefits of the weight loss?

D: Well, I’m a lot more agile. I can, despite my bones starting to creak and stiffen up a little, I can get up and down relatively easily. I have a bad back, and the weight loss certainly helps my agility and my mobility. And of course, with all the walking, I can walk a pretty good distance. I walked to your office tonight from Downtown Brooklyn, which is about four miles. I did that in a little over an hour, so that’s a good pace. Good for someone my age.

K: Okay. So here’s a question: Grandma, your mom, was a big woman.

D: Yes.

K: Did you ever look at her and say to yourself, “That can’t happen to me when I’m that age”? Was that part of it at all?

D: Well, what I did notice – my mother lived to 88.

K: Oh yeah. I missed that.

D: There’s that. But I noticed that you don’t see a lot of big, old fat guys. They tend to die off relatively early. And I’ve been blessed with pretty good blood pressure and a good heart from what I understand, a strong heart. So, I didn’t want to make it any worse. I wanted to have a long, happy, healthy retirement, and part of that was not being overweight.

K: And with Grandma, she lived until 88, but she was not mobile for the last …

D: Listen, if I can get to 83 and suddenly not get too mobile…

K: Good point. So, for the diet and the lifestyle change, what was your support system like? Did anyone help you?

D: No.

K: Oh no.

D: Well, people say positive things. “Oh, you look great.” “Oh, you lost weight.” That’s certainly – that’s supportive. So, it’s a positive thing that you’re doing and people remark on it. And a lot of people have trouble losing weight, [but] you know, I guess for me, it hasn’t been … extremely difficult to do. But for some people it’s a real struggle, and I understand that. Positive feedback is always appreciated.

K: Got it. What are your plans for the future?

D: Retire, fish, golf, sex, drugs, rock and roll. Not necessarily in that order.

~~~

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Megalinks: The Tattoo You Edition

Casual Kitchen: Spending to Save – Frugality and Expensive Food
Daniel poses a GREAT question: “Is it possible to enjoy expensive things and yet still be frugal and financially responsible?” I say yes. In fact, if you have the means, I think it’s occasionally necessary to avoid feeling deprived.

Chocolate and Zucchini: How the Blind Cook
Take a moment between the frugality and food-themed posts to enjoy this interview with sightless C&Z reader David E. Price. Entirely blind since age 28, he describes how he cooks and eats using special tools, as well as tricks honed through years in the kitchen. One of my grandfathers was blind, so I think this is fascinating stuff. (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

Chow: Canned Beer That’s Actually Good
Though the article doesn’t mention Guinness (a glaring oversight – it’s much better in cans than bottles), this is a fairly thorough rundown of aluminum-bound booze. It seems canning technology is making it a much easier go, and these brews are finally gaining some respect as a result. Three cheers!

Chow: Overweight? It’s Because You Don’t Like Food
Recent studies show “the obese don’t appear to get as much pleasure as they expect from food,” so they tend to consume extra calories in an effort to attain that pleasure. This would explain my ever-growing 47 daily cups of coffee problem.

Culinate: The best books about vegetables – cookbooks in my crisper
Vegetarians! (And Vegans!) (And other people who eat vegetables!) Take note! Culinate lists their seven must-have veggie cookbooks, in order of Colossally Helpful to merely Incredibly Helpful.

Culinate: How to Buy the Only Knife You Really Need
Three weeks ago, I dropped my chef’s knife on my bare foot. Thankfully, it landed dull side up, or I would be missing three toes right now. A crappy blade wouldn’t have been as dangerous, but … well, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Epi-Log: Knife Skills 101 - 3 Books to Help Sharpen Your Skills
Speaking of knives … Once you’ve got one, it helps to know how to use it (so there are no impromptu amputations or such).

The Epi-Log: Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget from a Spa Founder
Spa owner Deborah Szekely, 87-years-old, says, “You can feed your family for a third of the price by going local, seasonal, and unprocessed.” HEED THE OLD WOMAN. She know of what she speaks.

The Kitchn: Conscientious Cook – How to Start Saving Money This Weekend
In which many of the standards (set a budget, cook at home, etc.) are mentioned, but are preceded by two great suggestions: “talk to your family” and “talk to your friends.” All too often, I think we approach food budgeting alone, when brainstorming could help loads.

LA Times: Kitchen essentials, and items you can pass by
Extensive run-through of dozens of lesser-used kitchen appliances, along with yea/nay commentary on whether or not they’re good buys. Examples: mortar and pestle, GOOD! Gourmet salts, BAD! (Thanks to The Kitchn for the link.)

Money Saving Mom: Guest Post - Tips for Saving Money on Organic Food
Nice, quick compendium of specifics, including websites, store-particular deals, and simple price comparison. Worth a gander if you’d like to up the organic quotient of your diet.

New York Post: Brother Can You Spare a Steak?
Writer Brian Niemietz attempts to negotiate discounts at five New York City restaurants, ranging from a corner pizza place to Dylan Prime Steakhouse. His success rate hovers around 50%, with points docked for an iffy naan.

New York Times: What’s Fresh Is Not the Only Factor
Sushi sustainability guides! Get ‘em here!

Serious Eats: Is Chocolate a Health Food?
(*crosses fingers*) OH please oh please oh please oh please. (*reads article*) Maybe? Okay, I’ll take it.

Simple Dollar: How to Plan Ahead for Next Week’s Meals (And Save Significant Money): A Step-By-Step Guide
This is EXACTLY what I do from week to week, just with different recipe search engines. It’s comforting to know a financial expert like Trent does the same thing.

Slashfood: Are You Eating Out Less?
Some numbers: “43% of respondents are eating out less, 39% are choosing less expensive restaurants, and 35% are packing their own lunch for work, compared to six months ago.” How about you guys?

Slate: Fresh Moose – Why Sarah Palin is a Locavore
Man, “locavore” is probably the nicest thing any of the candidates has been called lately. But beyond that: Palin’s a hunter who eats what she kills. It’s DIY in its purest form, and this city girl can’t think of anything wrong with that.

Wise Bread: The Great Coupon Debate
Margaret is a make-it-from-scratch kind of lady. Her husband is a buy-two-boxes-of-Lucky-Charms-for-60%-off guy. Who wins in their house? Read on and find out.

Also this week, CHG appeared in two festivals:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mark Bittman's Baked Eggs in a Big Dish

(Hi everyone – my apologies for the post that went out this morning. It was scheduled, then left unfinished, and then I didn’t have access to a computer after it mistakenly went up. This is the correct recipe AND the correct accompanying text. Again, I’m sorry. If you made it and it came out terribly, let me know and I’ll … I’ll make it up to you somehow. Probably in song.)

Earlier this month, the folks behind The Kitchn wrote about a breakfast they catered, which featured mountainous bowls of fresh fruit, an envious basket of muffin halves, and at the center, two giant dishes of Mark Bittman’s Baked Eggs. Needless to say, there were pictures. Good pictures. Pictures that made the whole shebang looked simple, elegant, and dang tasty. Pictures that made me WANT SOME IMMEDIATELY.

Unfortunately, I read the post at work, so I had to wait until the next morning.

Aaaaaanyway, when THAT finally rolled around, I grabbed some grapes, prepped an English muffin (which is a muffin, technically), and gathered the ingredients for the baked eggs. Then, using Bittman’s original recipe (which asked for ramekins), but The Kitchn’s guidelines for multiplying the servings (which used larger vessels), I went to town.

Alas, the first run-through was just okay. I overcooked the eggs and the tomatoes (which I hadn’t seeded) made everything very, very watery. Sniffly, but relatively undaunted, I tried again three days later. This time, I seeded the tomatoes, added fresh oregano, and cut five minutes off the baking time.

And? VICTORY. Salty, runny, gorgeous victory. I WILL be making them again, probably for breakfast, and probably for company I want to impress. If you should try it, know that there are infinite ingredient variations (Bittman lists some at the end of the recipe – they’re pasted below) and the serving size is adaptable for any number of people. This version – my version – serves two to four, so the cooking time may be slightly longer for bigger dishes.

Baked Eggs in a Big Dish
Serves 2 to 4
Adapted from The Kitchn and Mark Bittman.

1 teaspoon butter or oil
4 slices tomato, seeded
4 small slices prosciutto
½ tablespoon fresh oregano or 4 basil leaves
4 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1) Preheat oven to 375ºF. Place a rack in the middle of your oven. Grease 1-quart dish with butter or oil.

2) Line bottom of dish with tomato slices. Top tomato with slices of prosciutto. Layer oregano/basil on prosciutto.

3) Carefully crack eggs into baking dish. Place whole dish on a cookie sheet.

4) Bake dish until egg whites are mostly set, between 14 and 17 minutes. According to Bittman, "because the dish retains heat, egg will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven, so it is best to undercook it slightly."

5) Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Bittman Variations: "You could put chopped cooked spinach or cooked asparagus in bottom of cup, with a little cream. Or place the egg on a bed of chopped ham, bacon or sausage. Sprinkle with Parmesan if you like."

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Two servings: 220 calories, 15 g fat, $1.37
Four servings: 110 calories, 7.5 g fat, $0.69

Calculations
1 teaspoon butter or oil: 33 calories, 3.8 g fat, $0.02
4 slices tomato, seeded: 14 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.70
4 small slices prosciutto: 100 calories, 6 g fat, $1.17
½ tablespoon fresh oregano or 4 basil leaves: negligible calories and fat, $0.19
4 eggs: 294 calories, 19.9 g fat, $0.66
Salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 441 calories, 29.9 g fat, $2.75
PER SERVING (TOTAL/2): 220 calories, 15 g fat, $1.37
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 110 calories, 7.5 g fat, $0.69

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pork Tacos: Better Without the “Taco” Part

So, here’s a question: when did hard taco shells become acceptable vesicles for food? I know millions of perfectly happy and sane Americans use them daily with little-to-no trouble, but I HATE the damn things. Besides their distinct particle board flavor, I’ve never met a taco shell that doesn’t crumble into shirt-staining oblivion after the very first bite. They’re the culinary equivalent of being punched in the neck: messy, tasteless, and when inflicted on loved ones, kind of mean.

Despite this, The Boyfriend is a taco fan. It’s a natural extension of his deep and abiding love and for nachos. (The guy would live in a Tex-Mex restaurant if given the chance.) I don’t usually bother with them because (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this) I loathe their carrying cases. But pork was on sale, and I found a decent-looking recipe in Cooking Light. So … tacos were made.

And beyond the hideous store bought shells (which – surprise! - had all the crunch and taste of Styrofoam packing material), they were good. The pork itself was VERY good, in addition to being ridiculously easy to make. Scallions were a nice finishing touch, tomatoes brought some much-needed moisture, and the onions … henceforth, I will never cook them any other way. With apologies to taco shell fans, if the meat and veggies had been served differently – on rice, with a salad, in a flour tortilla wrap – it would have been the perfect weeknight meal.

If you’re interested (and you should be!), I have three quick notes:

1) Instead of pork tenderloin, I used a 1-lb. center cut pork loin roast (cut in half for cooking purposes – picture on the right). It was AT LEAST $2 cheaper than the leaner cut. Granted, the calories and fat were slightly greater, but not enough to pay double.

2) The recipe specified ancho chile powder, but I only had the regular stuff on hand. It worked, so use whatever floats your boat (or your taco).

3) Seriously, skip the taco shells for something else. I won’t hold it against you if you don’t, but … okay, I’ll hold it against you.

And that does it for this week, my friends. If I’m not here on Monday, it’s because my heart has been torn from my chest by a 47-inning ALCS baseball game. (Boston … HOW DO THEY DO IT?) Have a great weekend!

Pork Tacos
Makes 8 tacos
Adapted from Cooking Light.

1 tablespoon chile powder (regular, ancho, or otherwise)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed OR 1 pound center cut pork loin, trimmed and cut into two tenderloin-sized pieces
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
3 cups thinly sliced onion
8 hard taco shells
1/2 cup chopped tomato
8 teaspoons chopped green onions

1) Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a broiler pan with cooking spray.

2) In a small bowl, mix chile powder, brown sugar and salt. Using your hands, rub mixture evenly all over your pork.

3) Arrange pork on broiler pan. Roast until your meat thermometer reads 160°. It should be around 20 minutes. Remove pan and turn off oven. Place pork on a cutting board. Let cool a few minutes. Slice.

4) As pork is cooking, "heat oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat." Add onion. Cover. Cook until onion is golden brown, around 10 minutes, lifting cover to stir a couple of times. When 10 minutes are up, remove cover and saute another minute, stirring all the while.

5) Spread pork and toppings evenly among taco shells. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
211 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.67

Calculations
1 tablespoon chile powder (regular, ancho, or otherwise): 24 calories, 1.3 g fat, $0.04
1 teaspoon brown sugar: 11 calories, 0 g fat, $0.01
1/2 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1 pound center cut pork loin, trimmed: 945 calories, 43.5 g fat, $1.99
Cooking spray: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon vegetable oil: 44 calories, 5 g fat, $0.01
3 cups thinly sliced onion: 145 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.60
8 hard taco shells: 498 calories, 24 g fat, $1.32
1/2 cup chopped tomato: 16 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.50
8 teaspoons chopped green onions: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.33
TOTAL: 1688 calories, 74.3 g fat, $5.33
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 211 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.67

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Veggie Might: Sazon, Adobo, Recaito, and the Real Debate—MSG vs. Elbow Grease

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian.

Last week, I told you a tale of anniversaries, faulty plumbing, and PR beans and rice. So much has happened since. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: the recipe I shared was chock full of MSG, and now I feel bad about it.

I was pretty sure the sazon packets were full of the stuff, but there it was in the recaíto too. Sigh. Not having it. Plus, I figured I could make it cheaper with spices from my pantry and a few veggies.

Here’s how it all went down. To duplicate the Nuyorican bean recipe in true CHG style, I needed recipes for sazon, recaíto, and adobo (the adobo is MSG-free, but while I’m at it...): common spice mixtures in Puerto Rican and Caribbean cooking. Enter the magic of the Internet.

Via the blog Literanista, I found (along with some info about the evils of MSG) a fairly uncomplicated sazón recipe that called for roasted whole cumin seeds and black peppercorns, but offered a use-what-you have version. I used ground cumin and ground black pepper to save myself a trip to the store and wasn’t sorry.

The sazón I normally buy comes con culantro (coriander) y achiote (annatto—a pepper spice and a food coloring), so for this recipe, I replaced the oregano with coriander, let the black pepper sub for the achiote (though I’ll miss the cosmic orange glow), and cut the salt in half.

Sazón
Adapted from dvo.com; makes about 3/4 cup

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp coriander
1/4 cup salt, coarse (kosher or sea) salt
2 tbsp garlic powder

Instructions: Mix all spices together and store in an airtight container.

Next up, Chow offered a pungent, salt-free adobo recipe. I changed nothing (except for going generic on the chili powder and oregano), and it came out smelling great. I have nothing to add (can you believe it?). So simple.

Adobo
Adapted from Chow.com; makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup sweet paprika
3 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp onion powder
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp garlic powder

Instructions: Mix all spices together and store in an airtight container.

The troika was complete with a recaíto recipe from Freddie. I did a little due diligence and discovered it was on target, though there are those who feel if you don’t have recao leaves, you needn’t bother. I promise, Cuca, when I find recao I’ll use it and never look back.

I used the “best” recipe with the parsley adaptation, and was able to use the two baby green peppers from my second-to-last CSA score of the season. Adorable.

Recaíto
Adapted from http://www.geocities.com/heartland/5217/recaito.htm; makes about 4 oz

1/2 small green pepper (I used two tiny green peppers that equaled 1/2 cup)
1/2 medium yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 tsp of black pepper
2 sprigs of fresh cilantro
1 sprig of parsley

Instructions: Chop up all ingredients and whir in a food processor for 1 minute or until consistency resembles oatmeal.

Once I had all my revamped ingredients, I was suddenly apprehensive. This is one of my tried-and-true recipes, and I was about to Effie it up.

I made two batches, subbing my spice combos in the same measurements (1 pkt of sazón
= 1 tsp) for the second pot of beans. It seemed to work. Both tasted good in their respective pots.

But the best way for me to judge was to eat the two dishes side-by-side the next day, after the flavors had a chance to meld. Woo! Two lunches! (Side bar: my suddenly eco-friendly office provides disposable plates made of sugarcane fiber [see pic] and recycled plastic utensils in the cafeteria. Pretty neato.)

The most noticeable difference was that the au naturale version was less orange. Not a bad change. It was also less salty, but in a bland kind of way. I added just a dash of salt and voila! It was a match. Amazing how that works. Whole, natural ingredients win over highly processed chemical compounds once again.

And it all came out cheaper too. I mostly went dollar/discount store on these spices, because that’s how I roller skate. No McCormick up in here. As Kris and Daniel have pointed out recently, the grocery-store spice trade is a scam.

The homemade sazón came out to 80 cents for about 4 oz. when a box of 8 packets (1.41 oz) runs between $1.00 and $1.49 in my neighborhood. Adobo is considerably cheaper—you can get dollar store versions for, well, a dollar, but the Goya brand is around $3.79 for 8 oz. Still, the much more flavorful Chow adaptation only cost $1.10 for 4 oz.

On the recaíto, I broke even. The last jar of Goya I bought cost $2.49 for 12 oz. Freddie’s recipe came in at exactly $2.49 when I did the math: 4 oz. x 83 cents = $2.49. A touch disappointing, but it’s so worth the cost to use fresh ingredients and to be sin the MSG.

So there you have it: cheap, healthy (for real this time), and oh so good. And I didn’t Effie up my tried-and-true; it just got better.

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