Friday, May 29, 2009

Pasta with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomatoes, Plus a Very Important Question

(Readers! Leigh of Veggie Might fame is looking for suggestions for future columns. If you can buzz in with a few ideas, 'twould be ever so lovely. Woot!)

Normally, this is where we talk about food. But earlier this week, I had a dream. I was in the dream as myself, and a man – I couldn’t really see his face – asked me a clear, pointed question that I considered very seriously, but could not answer. Since then, I’ve spent my waking hours pondering the ins and outs of the inquiry, with no definitive conclusion.

That question was this: “Is Frankenstein technically a zombie?”

Compared to queries like “What is the soul?” and “Why is the sky blue?” it’s relatively minor, but SWEET BEA ARTHUR the dang thing’s been killing me. You can argue it every which way, and I’m borderline convinced there’s no real solution.

I’m tempted to say yes, Frankenstein IS a zombie, as he is reanimated tissue – a dead guy brought back to semi-life through artificial, somewhat supernatural means. His only real pastime is lurching, and while he doesn’t quite seem homicidal (as zombies naturally are), the possibility for destruction is always there. Essentially, he’s a mindless corpse, which is the very definition of a zombie.

The Husband-Elect argues that Frankenstein has a beating heart and a borderline working brain, making him fundamentally alive. (Zombies being mostly dead, with organ activity necessary only for movement.) Furthermore, he says the Monster can be killed, where as zombies must be chopped into itty-bitty pieces to end their terrible quest for nourishment. Finally, H-E claims Frankie DOES, in fact, have human qualities that separate him from the shuffling hordes. His exact quote: “He craves knowledge, not brains.”

So … I don’t know. I can see both points, and it’s making me crazy. Readers, do you have any light to shine here? Because I’ll sleep better knowing one way or the other.

With that done, let’s get to the food: Serious Eats' Pasta with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomatoes is a tasty, simple Italian dish with deep flavor developed quickly. It makes good use of in-season vegetables, and the sauce can be altered any number of ways to fit your liking. If you should give it a shot, know the following:

1) To be able to cut back on the olive oil, I used a nonstick skillet. If you use a non-nonstick skillet, more fat might have to be involved to prevent burning.

2) After 15 minutes sautéing by themselves, my eggplant and zucchini were mostly cooked, but could have used a little more time. That’s noted in the directions.

3) We got two dinners and two office lunches out of this, so I think it could definitely make four separate meals. For heartier eaters, the three portions are plentiful.

4) Both Frankenstein and zombies would enjoy the dish, though they might prefer it with a side of brains.

And that’s it for the week. Hope y’all have a lovely weekend filled with summer vegetables and deep philosophical questions about fictional monsters. Really, it’s the only way to live. (To LIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!)

Pasta with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Tomatoes
Serves 3 to 4
Adapted from Serious Eats.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (vegetable oil also acceptable)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons dried oregano (or Italian Seasoning, though beware of rosemary sticks)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound eggplant, ends removed and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound zucchini, ends removed, sliced into 1-inch slices
3/4 pound pasta
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup parmesan

1) In a medium pot, heat 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add garlic. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, until you can smell it. Add tomatoes, parsley, oregano, red pepper flakes, and a little salt and pepper. Boil. Once it's boiling, drop heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) While that's happening, in a separate large, nonstick skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, and a little salt and pepper. Cook until the veggies are a bit browned and softening up, 15 to 20 minutes.

3) Pour tomato sauce into eggplant mixture. Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it starts to dry out, add pasta water. About that pasta...

4) While the sauce and eggplant mixture is coming together, cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain.

5) When tomato/eggplant mixture is done, pour pasta in a large bowl. Pour tomato/eggplant mixture on top of it. Top with cheese.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
Three servings: 658 calories, 14.4 g fat, $1.67
Four servings: 493 calories, 10.8 g fat, $1.25

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.23
2 cloves garlic, chopped: 9 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
1 can (28-ounce) crushed tomatoes: 254 calories, 2.4 g fat, $1.39
4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped: 5 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.44
2 tablespoons dried oregano: 18 calories, 0.6 g fat, $0.21
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 pound eggplant, ends removed and chopped into 1-inch cubes: 109 calories, 0.9 g fat, $0.97
1/2 pound zucchini, ends removed, sliced into 1-inch slices: 36 calories, 0.5 g fat, $0.45
3/4 pound pasta: 1217 calories, 6.1 g fat, $0.50
Salt and black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1/4 cup parmesan: 86 calories, 5.7 g fat, $0.68
TOTAL: 1973 calories, 43.3 g fat, $5.01
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 658 calories, 14.4 g fat, $1.67
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 493 calories, 10.8 g fat, $1.25

Thursday, May 28, 2009

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Supermarket Guru
Online since the beginning of time, Phil Lempert is THE internet authority on grocery shopping. Without exaggeration, his extensive site will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about buying food. The design is a little jumbled but I’m not one to quibble when the content is this good. Go. Now.

Food Comedy of the Week
“Fast Food Song (at the Taco Bell Drive Thru)” by Rhett and Link
Adorable, with a doubly adorable twist ending.

Food Quote of the Week
“My wife dresses to kill. She cooks the same way.” – Henny Youngman

Food Scene of the Week
Lunch scene with Jessup from A Few Good Men
Because Jack Nicholson JUST CAN’T HANDLE a lovely cup of café leche with an accusatory Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. He eats breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trying to kill him, folks.

Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week
Kate Gosselin’s Hair at Buzzfeed
Photoshoppers took turns cutting and pasting the Jon & Kate Plus 8 mom’s hair on to various pets, friends, celebrities, and Terminators. Often amusing, occasionally transcendent.

Veggie Might: An Engagement, a Veg-friendly Wedding, and an Anniversary

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

Congratulations are in order for so many folks this month. First of all, I’d like to officially raise a glass of mint limeade to Kris and her Husband-Elect. You two were already as cute as can be, and now this. I can barely stand it. Mazel tov!

Speaking of mah-wage, I just returned from the wedding extravaganza of my dear friend JF, nee B. It was a glorious affair in my favorite vegetarian-friendly town, Asheville, NC. The bride was gorgeous, and the groom was gregarious. It was a fabulous party—for four days straight—and it couldn’t happen to a lovelier couple. Slainte!

Oh, I should tell you about the food. At J & G’s reception, I ate the best vegetarian dish I’ve ever had at a wedding: butternut squash risotto and collard greens. (ML: yours was a close second.)

For once, I wasn’t jealous of the other diners as I ate only sides. This meal sure beat the steamed veggies and baked potato passed off as a vegetarian entree by one of the most overrated restaurants in New York City.

To top off the trip, I had biscuits, soy sausage, and gravy twice (at two different restaurants) during my stay: at the Southern-with-a-twist Tupelo Honey and the always-fabulous Laughing Seed. I smiled with every bite. Take a trip to Asheville, if not for the food, then for the people and views.

Among these auspicious events is the first anniversary of Veggie Might. I can hardly believe we’ve been together a whole year, CHGers. My first post seems so long ago, and yet, like yesterday. Thank you so much for welcoming me and allowing me into your computers. I’ve learned so much while having a blast, and I hope you have too.

Since a new year is upon us Dear Readers, I’d like to take your pulse. What would you like to read about? Are there vegetarian topics that interest you in particular? Is there anything I won’t shut up about that you’d prefer I let go?

What would you like to see more or less in Veggie Might? Do you want more articles? Are you happy with the number of recipes? Do you find the recipes accessible? How’s my driving?

Spare no response in the comments section. I would love to hear from you. Kris has worked hard to make this site something amazing, and I strive to further her mission. So lay it on me.

Here’s to another great year. Cheers!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members fazu the elf and someToast.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Prepping for Unemployment: Food, Money, Mind

While I’ve been fortunate enough to be pretty consistently employed, my line of work often involves long breaks between projects. These fallow periods can last days, weeks, or months, and there’s a lot of job turnover in the industry because of the instability. It’s a weird, unpredictable way to live, and my co-workers and I are always somewhat prepared for the possibility of unemployment. Thus is the life of a freelancer.

Come Friday, I’ll be on one of these breaks, which is a polite way of saying, “I ain’t got no job.” It’s happened before, and usually isn’t a big deal, since freelancing preps you for this stuff the second you finish interning. Ideally, there will be other gigs on other shows with other nice folks. And in the downtime, hopefully no one takes my stapler. Or my health insurance.

Last time I was jobless (Winter 2008), I fell into a routine that seemed pretty productive at the time. I:
  • Awoke at the same time I’d get up for work, so as not to lose momentum.
  • Created a loose schedule of blogging, applying for jobs, and building up my resume.
  • Took on most of the housework, since the Husband-Elect was working.
  • Became the world’s most efficient shopper, thanks to Money Saving Mom and other such blogs.
  • Made it a point to leave the house at least once a day, because all apartment and no play made Kris a dull girl/clinically insane.
  • Spent quality time with friends and family I hadn’t seen in awhile.
  • Drank profusely. (Er … kidding, mostly.)
  • Went to bed at a reasonable hour, so my life’s work didn’t become beating Lego Star Wars on XBox.
For money, I drew from my emergency fund (thank YOU Dave Ramsey), collected unemployment, and went on extreme austerity. No luxuries were purchased in those three months, and I scaled my social life back to revolve around home-oriented activities. (Granted, it was probably much easier being February and all.) Ultimately, the ordeal didn’t make a heavy dent in my finances, and I avoided going into debt. Which was nice.

To maintain the same equilibrium this time around, I’m trying some new things, and attempting to build upon the old. Some of these will be heavily dependent on food and budgeting, fitting nicely into this whole blog-type thing. Others, not so much.

Readers, if you have any additional suggestions for maximizing unemployment situations, please fire away in the comment section. I’d love to hear ‘em.

In the meantime, I’m:

…drawing up a budget.
This will involve both actual and projected expenditures, potential income, and emergency planning, should my joblessness last into the fall. My goal here is to remain financially solvent and avoid becoming a drain on society/crack addict.

…banking as much of my current paycheck as I possibly can.
Since I knew this was coming, I’ve been saving for a few weeks, just to have some extra padding. This will be doubly useful with summer weddings and long-planned family vacations coming up. These things happen so rarely, and I don’t want to miss them because I didn’t think ahead.

…searching for deals.
Speaking of weddings and holidays, I’m using my downtime to score the best possible bargains on plane fare, car rentals, and gifts. What I learn should be wholly applicable in the future, and’ll save a couple hundred bucks in the present.

…creating a stricter schedule.
Though I had the best of intentions during last winter’s break, there were those afternoons filled with Days of Our Lives and Judge Judy. This time around, there’ll be a definitive set of concrete goals with deadlines. This should keep me on track with certain responsibilities, and allow for plenty of research time for what’s to come.

…cooking my face off.
Food tends to be my biggest expense when I’m not spending money on anything else, so I’ll be attempting to cut costs more drastically this time around. The stovetop and grill will see frequent use, as well as the slow cooker – any vessel that’ll keep the kitchen cool and our bellies full, actually.

…learning to run a household more efficiently.
One of the strangest, greatest side effects of my most recent bout with unemployment was the opportunity to figure out how to best run my home - creating operating budgets, devising chore methodologies - that kind of stuff. It’s a weird combination of making up for the past (when I was too busy working) and preparing for the future (when, presumably, I’ll have a job again, and there might be kids involved). By the end of this, who knows? I could become Real Simple magazine in human form.

…researching inexpensive entertainment options.
If you can brave the humidity, New York summers allow for wonderful sports and cultural experiences. The trick is keeping costs down, especially when friends have disposable fundage. This year, I’ll be looking into cheaper, constructive ways of socializing. And with luck, there’ll be food involved.

No excuses, man. I’m over 30, and it’s finally time to get on the boat, lest I start seriously compromising my health. I’ll begin by walking, and take it from there. Who knows? Sweat might even be involved.

…monetizing the blog in the most unobtrusive way possible.
When expected avenues of income just aren’t performing, it’s time to find other, creative ways of supporting oneself. In this case, it’s CHG. After two years of ad-free goodness, it could be a viable source of cash. The issue is doing it simply, and with integrity. Oh, capitalism.

…planning a wedding.
As a native Long Islander, I’m used to nuptials that would make the House of Windsor blush. My goal is to go with emotion over opulence, and maybe have some pie. The time off should be ideal for researching this.

Reading this back to myself, it’s fairly indulgent. But I hope it’s worth something – I hope it keeps me on track, and helps y’all plan for/look on the bright side of whatever might lie ahead. Unemployment isn’t the end of the world. In fact, sometimes it’s just the beginning.

(P.S. Check back with me in three months, when I’m eating cat food and ranting to Husband-Elect about the iniquities of Plinko. My tune might be different.)

Readers, what do you do to make the most out of unemployment?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Happy Tuesday, everybody! Hope your weekends were lovely and full of perfectly grilled edibles. To welcome y’all back, we’ve got barbecue tips, soda taxes, and a piece on the uprightness of iceberg lettuce. Enjoy!

Casual Kitchen: How to Lie About the Soda Tax
Dan takes on lies, damned lies, and statistics perpetuated by the New York Times, of all sources. The manipulation of data is a scary thing, folks, and Dan’s conclusion might make you think twice about the proposed tariffs on Coke. (Please check this Epi-Log post for a bit of background on this.)

Chicago Tribune: 13 strategies for shopping a farmers market
Solid rundown of market tips for newbies. If I was Emeril, I’d end this article with a “BAM!” Then I’d shuffle off to eat some shrimp and count my money. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Chow: How to Grill (Almost) Everything - Recipes to keep you fired up all summer long
It’s the motherlode, people. Anything you ever needed to know about barbecue is right here for the taking. Grilled Lime Pound Cake with Raspberry Sorbet? Them’s the magic words.

Culinate: Spice Guy – Get the most from your spices
As a woman who can no longer tell her plastic baggied cumin from her plastic baggied cardamom (even after smelling and tasting them), this is right on time.

Gothamist: Groceries in Underserved Areas to Get Tax Breaks, Incentives
This is fantastic. Essentially, New York State will reward urban supermarkets in areas where there are few. Ideally, this will help get inexpensive, healthy food out to populations overwhelmed by cheap crap.

The Kitchn: Cheap Eats - 10 Ways to Use a Can of Tuna
10 great ideas, augmented by 57 largely spot-on comments, will revolutionize the way you feel about the cheapest of fish. Spelt Farotto with Tuna and Artichokes, anyone?

The Kitchn: Planning Dinner? Popular Recipes for Every Course
The Kitchn comps its most popular recipes, beginning with breakfast and ending with Peanut Butter Oatmeal Monster Cookies (which sound delicious, yet terrifying).

The Kitchn: Dinner Parties – 5 Great Tips for Newbies
a.k.a. Simple Tricks That Never Occur to You When You’re in the Thick of Things. Or:
1. Set the table the night before.
2. Distribute dishes between the oven and stovetop.
3. Do a main dish that doesn’t require much supervision.
4. Make dessert ahead of time.
5. Buy apps. Don’t DIY.

Los Angeles Times: Menu labeling bill introduced by U.S. lawmakers
The California/New York law may be going national. Expect orders of Caramel Frappucinos to plummet once people know how many calories (a million) are actually in the dang things.

The Mother Load: 7 Tips For Leading a Balanced Blogger Life
This has nothing to do with money or food, but everything to do with time and life quality. If you find yourself spending too much time online, read this immediately. (Thanks to Money Saving Mom for the link.)

MSNBC: Exercise not likely to rev up your metabolism
Studies are finding that exercising does NOT affect your ability to burn fat during the 24 hours AFTER you work out. Experts are, quote, “flabbergasted,” end quote.

National Geographic: The Global Food Crisis - The End of Plenty
Hey – remember that Global Food Crisis? It’s still happening. And as population growth outpaces agricultural production, it’s only going to become exceedingly dire. NG explores the global effects.

New York Times: Many Summer Internships Are Going Organic
Kids these days. Instead of smoking dope and sucking face behind the junior high school, they’re interning at organic farms for free. Next thing you know, they’ll be volunteering at a soup kitchen or building some kind of habitat for a member of humanity. What’s the world coming to?

New York Times: Slaughterhouses in the City
Part of being a New Yorker is wandering aimlessly around the streets of Queens in search of your brother’s new apartment, and passing two urban chicken coops on the journey. This super-interesting story delves into the stories behind those buildings, where immigrants, Muslims, and gourmets go to inspect, then buy freshly-killed animals.

NPR: Backyard Coops Make Chicks Chic
Apparently, city dwellers across the country are bypassing market meat and metropolitan slaughterhouses in favor of their own edible animals. Raising poultry on your patio: it’s so hot right now.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Health craze deprives poor Brazilians of acai berries
Tremendously popular in the U.S. thanks to Oprah and its recent designation as a “superfood,” Acai berries are becoming scarce in their native land of Brazil, where locals use it to feed the kids. A good example of how a ripple in America’s food chain affects other nations. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Saveur: The Ice Queen
The paean to iceberg lettuce is well-timed, well-researched, well-written, and well … it makes me want iceberg lettuce. Which I think is the point. With recipes! (Thanks to The Kitchn for the link.)

Wall Street Journal: Farms Start to Feel Credit Pinch
A few years ago, farmers were doing terribly. Then, things turned around, and life was grand. Now they’re slumping again, partly because ain’t no one lending anybody any cash.

Washington Post: Grate Finds - Tony Rosenfeld's recommendations for nine affordable cuts of beef that are made for summer grilling.
This interactive piece has been all over the place this last week, largely because it’s like an adult version of LeapFrog (meaning: fun, educational, pretty). Remember kids: grilled flank steak does a body good in moderation. (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

(Photos courtesy of Elements4Health, HiCharles, and Oregon Live.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cantaloupe with Honey and Lime: a Holiday Bonus Recipe

Hey folks - just a quickie today, in honor of the holiday weekend. It’s a simple fruit dessert from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food cookbook (one of mah favorites), guaranteed to make cantaloupe lovers melt and cantaloupe ambivalents (like me) reconsider. At 70 to 140 calories (depending on the serving size), you can’t beat the health aspect, either.

Happy day off!

Honey with Cantaloupe and Lime
Serves 4 to 8
From Everyday Food

1 cantaloupe, peeled and seeded (see here)
1/4 cup honey
1 lime

With a sharp pairing knife or awesome vegetable peeler, slice the cantaloupe into ribbons/as thin as you possibly can. The end results should be long, thin strips, kind of like carpaccio. Split the slices up among all the serving plates. Drizzle 1/2 to 1 tablespoon honey over each plate. Top with lime zest and lime juice. Stir if you like, but it's prettier left untouched. Serve a.s.a.p.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Four servings: 139 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.65
Eight servings: 69 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.33

1 cantaloupe, peeled and seeded: 277 calories, 1.6 g fat, $2.00
1/4 cup honey: 258 calories, 0 g fat, $0.35
1 lime: 20 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.25
TOTAL: 555 calories, 1.7 g fat, $2.60
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 139 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.65
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 69 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.33

Friday, May 22, 2009

Gallo Pinto and Happy Accidents

Over at Casual Kitchen, Dan’s first rule of cooking from a book is this: read the recipe twice before you even think of approaching an oven.

And he’s right. It can’t be overstated. Scanning a recipe multiple times ensures you have all the ingredients on hand, the time to make everything, technical clarity, and no last-minute surprises. (“Crap! I needed a lime?”) Conversely, not reading instructions twice (or at all) can have horrific results, like disease, war, or – god forbid - Sandra Lee’s Kwanzaa Cake.

Occasionally, though, mistakes can’t be helped. You can memorize the damn thing, and still confuse a chop for a mince, a teaspoon for a tablespoon, or an onion for a Funion.

Case in point: Gallo Pinto. It’s a jazzed-up Costa Rican version of rice and beans, and Serious Eats recently posted a not-quite-authentic-but-much-faster recipe for it on their blog. The picture looked tasty and colorful, so I copied it into Word and went to town.

Stupidly, despite reading the directions approximately 400 times, I used a CAN of beans (with liquid) in my pot instead of a CUP. Yikes. This made the dish much wetter than it was supposed to be, and threatened to turn supper into a Waterworld-caliber disaster.

Then, something funny happened. Panicked, I added an extra 1/2-cup of rice and a few more seconds of cooking time, and *POOF* the food morphed into something completely, wonderfully edible. It was a little moister, I think, than the original recipe, but deliciousness nonetheless. Victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat, and dinner was saved.

Of course, if you should try it yourself, know the following:

1) Sometimes cilantro can seem kind of extraneous, but in this case, I really thought it was vital to the dish. A small handful at the end brightens up the whole shebang.

2) Gallo Pinto’s been taste-tested and approved for an office lunch, meaning it transports well and is just as good cold as it is warm.

3) I wondered if throwing four tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce into the mix would be insane, but went ahead with it anyway. Surprise! It melded quite nicely, bestowing a unexpected smoky flavor on everything.

4) Vegetarians and vegans! If you want to make this a non-meat dish, simply substitute vegetarian Worcestershire sauce in for the regular stuff.

5) This is a full, weeknight-appropriate meal. No need for a side or a salad, though a glass of wine makes all good food even better.

Ultimately, you should still peruse recipes as thoroughly as possible before stepping foot into your kitchen. But if you mess up, don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes. And at least it’s not Kwanzaa Cake.

Gallo Pinto
Serves 3
Adapted from Serious Eats

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 cups cooked rice
1 can black beans, with liquid
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (or Salsa Lizano)
Salt and black pepper
Handful of cilantro, chopped

1) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and red pepper. Saute 10 minutes. Add garlic. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, until fragrant. Add beans and Worcestershire sauce. Stir thoroughly. Cook 3 minutes. If it gets dry (which it shouldn't, with the bean liquid), add water. Add rice. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with cilantro.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
310 calories, 5.7 g fat, $1.40

1 tablespoon canola oil: 124 calories, 14 g fat, $0.07
1 onion, chopped: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.26
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped: 43 calories, 0.5 g fat, $1.38
2 cloves garlic, chopped: 9 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
1-1/2 cups cooked rice: 307 calories, 0.8 g fat, $0.18
1 can black beans, with liquid: 350 calories, 1.8 g fat, $0.85
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce: 50 calories, 0 g fat, $0.88
Salt and black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
Handful of cilantro, chopped: negligible calories and fat, $0.45
TOTAL: 929 calories, 17.2 g fat, $4.19
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 310 calories, 5.7 g fat, $1.40

Thursday, May 21, 2009

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Kath Eats Real Food
I saw this smart, charming blog for the first time last week, after The Simple Dollar’s Trent linked to it in a roundup. It friggin’ rules. The back story: Kath lost 30 pounds a few years ago, managed to keep it off, and began her own blog as a way to document her progress/spread the word. Check it out, and be sure to look at the oatmeal section. If you’re a fan of the oats, you won’t be disappointed.

Food Comedy of the Week
"Little Crop of Horrors" from The Daily Show
(Rated PG-13 for some language and images.) Michelle Obama planted a garden. This guy thinks it’s irresponsible. Samantha Bee reports. (Thanks to Eat Me Daily for the link.)

Food Quote of the Week
“I'm never gonna get used to the 31st century. Caffineated bacon? Baconated grapefruit? ADMIRAL Crunch?” – Frye, Futurama

Food Tip of the Week
I read this on The Kitchen last week, and just thought it was the bees knees: “I was making key lime bars last night and came up with a great tip - use your garlic press to juice the tiny limes!! Just cut them in half and they fit perfectly in the little slot. The press also catches any unwanted seeds.” Nice!

Food Movie Scene of the Week
The lunch scene from Fame
Sweet, spontaneous cafeteria dance number featuring the oldest high school students IN THE WORLD. (Gabrielle Carteris excepted.)

Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week #1
Houston Chronicle’s Build-Your-Own Comics Page
One of the great passions in my life are the funnies. Get Fuzzy, Doonesbury, and Zits keep me happy on a daily basis, and I’ve been reading For Better or Worse since I was practically fetal. Every day, I question the continued existence of The Lockhorns, Wizard of Id, and freakin’ Mallard Fillmore, and I shed a tear for long-departed strips like Calvin and Hobbies, Far Side, and Peanuts. What I’m trying to say is – the Chronicle lets you customize your own page for daily use. Go there now and be at one with Dilbert.

Totally Unrelated Extra-Special Bonus of the Week #2
“True Colors”
Whatever you think of last night’s American Idol winner, it can’t be argued that this Cyndi Lauper/Allison Iraheta duet was truly the evening’s best moment. Cyn has to be the world’s most gracefully aging punk.

Veggie Might: Chlorophyll and Awesomness Salad (or, Need Salad Now)

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

There are times when all I want is salad. Often those times follow periods of bad eating, but this most recent salad fixation is inspired by all the garden-related food porn in the blogosphere.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been a slave to the glorious photos of asparagus, radishes, green beans, and leafy lettuce.

I mean seriously, check out this radish salad and tell me you don’t want to just stick your face in there? Or this bowlful of chlorophyll and awesomeness? The Kitchn needs to rein it in or I’m going to pack up and move to wherever it is.

These salads inspired me to create something green and gorgeous to shove in my face—STAT. At my local market, I chose a cheapo, yet stunning, bunch of arugula, asparagus, green beans, red onion, and radishes.

Before I got these beauties home, I was plotting my attack. Blanch the asparagus, beans, and radishes; toss with the arugula and onion; and make a vinaigrette dressing to go with it.

Mark Bittman’s Basic Vinaigrette is my go-to dressing. It can be modified to suit your needs (as MB indicates in his post), but is delicious just as it is. Since I learned to make my own, I haven’t bought dressing from a supermarket. It’s so much cheaper, and it keeps a down the fridge clutter when made in small batches.

This salad whips up fast and easy. Blanching is quick and leaves the veggies al dente. You just boil your vegetables for a couple of minutes and then plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking. It’s a great technique for salad toppings.

The green beans and asparagus came out perfect. Blanching took the edge off the radishes, but they retained their peppery snap. Tossed with the arugula and onion, the tangy vinaigrette tied it all together.

Now, my photos aren’t as pretty as the pictures I’ve been lusting after, but this salad exceeded my fantasies.

Chlorophyll and Awesomeness Salad
Inspired by Tortellini and Spring Vegetable Salad
Yields 4 servings

1 medium bunch arugula
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 lb asparagus, snapped into 1” pieces
3 oz green beans, snapped into 1” pieces
1/8 red onion, slice into crescents
dress to taste

1) Chop/slice veggies. Remove stems, wash, and drain arugula.

2) Bring 1–1 1/2 cups water to a boil in medium saucepan. Fill a large bowl with water and ice cubes.

3) Add asparagus and green beans to boiling water. Set time for 2–3 minutes.

4) When the timer goes off, add radishes to boiling water and reset for 1 minute.

5) When the timer goes off, drain veggies and plunge them into the ice water.

6) Dry and toss with onion and arugula. Dress with to taste.

7) Bask for a moment in the green glow and dive in.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
21.75 calories, 1.2g fat, $.54

1 medium bunch arugula: 15 calories, .3, $1.00
4 radishes: 4 calories, 0g fat, $.20
6 oz asparagus: 36 calories, .5g fat, $.74
3 oz green beans: 27 calories, .4g fat, $.18
1/8 red onion: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.06
Totals: 87 calories, $2.18
Per Serving: 21.75 calories, 1.2g fat, $.54

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

26 Common Food Labels, Explained

These days, grocery shopping involves a lot of reading. Food is rarely content to just be, and instead, must include dozens of labels designating it as CAGE-FREE, HIGH IN ANTIOXIDANTS, or the dreaded ORGANIC. And even if you know your PASTURED from your HUMANELY-RAISED chickens, odds are you still need a PhD to decode most of the other language.

So, to make navigating your supermarket a tad easier, here are 26 food labels, defined and explained in terms understandable to humans. I have to be honest - 36 hours ago, I couldn't tell the difference between LOW-FAT, LITE and REDUCED-FAT. Now, I can. And I have this guide to consult when I forget.

Readers, if I made a mistake (or several hundred) lemme know and I will correct it.

What it means:
In regards to beef and poultry, NATURAL means the meat appears relatively close to its natural state, and often won’t have additives or preservatives. (Note: there’s no USDA regulation for this, however.) In regards to other foods, NATURAL and ALL-NATURAL mean nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What it really means: With the exception of meat, slapping NATURAL on a label is a marketing ploy. Everything essentially derives from nature, so there’s a ton of fudging that can be done. Don’t trust it, and read the ingredient breakdown before you buy any product.

What it means:
I’m leaving this one up to Woman’s Day: “For a food to be labeled as containing antioxidants, the FDA requires that the nutrients have an established Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI) as well as scientifically recognized antioxidant activity.” What? I’m not sure. But it doesn’t matter, because …
What it really means: Actually, Woman's Day has this one covered, too: “Most products already contain antioxidants and manufacturers are simply beginning to call it out due to current food and health trends.”

What it means:
Egg-laying hens don’t live in cages.
What it really means: Very little. The poultry can walk around, but they can also be fed, raised, and slaughtered like any other chicken. There’s no official regulation for this term, as far as I can tell.

What it means:
Congratulations! The USDA has acknowledged that your meat is actually meat.
What it really means: The USDA gave your meat a grade and a class, and certified that it hasn’t been replaced with Folger’s crystals.

ENRICHED / FORTIFIED (Added, Extra, Plus)
What it means: A nutrient (niacin, Vitamin C, etc.) has been added to your food. Now, compared to a standard, non-fortified food, it has at least 10% more of the Daily Value of that nutrient.
What it really means: It varies. A manufacturer can add a ton of Vitamin C to orange juice, and set you up for life. Or the same guy can slip a measly 10% thiamin into a piece of bread, and it barely makes a dent. Read the label to see you’re getting the amount you want.

FREE (Without, No, Zero, Skim)
What it means:
FREE has hard and fast definitions set forth by the FDA. They are:
Calorie free: Less than 5 calories per serving.
Cholesterol free: Less than 2 mg cholesterol and 2 g or less saturated fat per serving.
Fat free: Less than 0.5 g of fat per serving.
Sodium/salt free: Less than 5 mg per serving.
Sugar free: Less than 0.5 g of sugars per serving. (See SUGAR-FREE entry as well.)

What it really means: You can be pretty confident that FREE foods lack what they say they do. But be careful. Often, fat-free and calorie-free products are some of the most chemical-laden items in the supermarket (not to mention awful for most cooking purposes).

What it means:
A term usually applied to chickens, FREE-RANGE means birds have access to an outside area. That’s it.
What it really means: This is a huge part of Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Essentially, FREE-RANGE often means birds are raised on a massive factory farm, and given a tiny patch of lawn that they rarely, if ever, use. The FREE-RANGE label means virtually nothing, for eggs or roasters. Don’t buy it.

What it means:
Pretty much, FRESH food is raw food that’s never been frozen or warmed, and doesn’t have any preservatives.
What it really means: Hey! This is an actual thing! Who knew? A food labeled FRESH is regulated by the FDA, so you’re getting what you’re paying for. Nice.

What it means: Grain is the primary diet of most cattle. It’s meant to produce fatter animals who grow and can be slaughtered much faster than nature allows. GRASS FED cows (while I’m not sure there’s an official designation) are generally raised entirely on pasture grass, and can’t be fed grain.
What it really means: While I’m led to believe GRASS FED cows taste better on a bun, I’m actually a little hazy on this one. Can anyone clarify? Is there a federal regulation for this term?

GUILT-FREE (Wholesome, Traditional)
What it means: Absolutely nothing.
What it really means: It’s a made-up word to make you want to buy a product. Ignore it entirely, and don’t forget to read nutrition breakdowns on the packaging. Boo.

What it means: Simply, “A HEALTHY food must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. In addition, if it's a single-item food, it must provide at least 10 percent of one or more of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber.” Exemptions (and there are many) can be found here.
What it really means: Wow. As in the case with FRESH, I didn’t know this was an actual thing. I assumed it was a spurious claim made by food companies. But it’s actually very real, and leaves little open to interpretation. Nice work, FDA!

HIGH IN / GOOD SOURCE (Excellent for)
What it means: Something labeled GOOD SOURCE “means a single serving contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for a nutrient.” In regards to fiber, the food must have between 2.5 and 4.9 grams of it in every portion, but also has to be low in fat. A food labeled HIGH IN has at least 20% of the Daily Value of a nutrient.
What it really means: It is what it is. There’s little ambiguity here.

What it means: Nothing. The USDA says it can’t be proved.
What it really means: Pigs and chickens aren’t supposed to have hormones anyway, so be on the lookout there. For beef, it’s not possible to show hormones weren’t used, so the designation comes entirely from the manufacturer. You’re taking their word for it.

What it means: In regard to the chicken for which it’s meant, almost nothing. It’s not a federally regulated definition.
What it really means: While there’s some effort by smaller groups to get standards together, it’s not completely there yet. In the meantime, look for the Certified Humane label, which means the birds “were allowed to engage in natural behaviors,” had room to move around, had fresh water and a no-hormone/antibiotic diet, and were handled with care during their lives.

What it means: In terms of beef, poultry, and fish, LEAN means the product has less than 10 grams of fat, fewer than 4 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. EXTRA LEAN meats go even further than that.
What it really means: I did a lot of research on this a few months ago, and while serving sizes vary, a LEAN label is good news for dieters. Look for it, but be careful to check the sodium content while you’re at it.

What it means: There are two definitions: A) the food has 50% less fat than its regular equivalent, or B) the food has 33% less calories than its regular equivalent.
What it really means: The product may be a better choice than its full-fat or full-calorie version, but it’s not necessarily healthy. For example, Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise has 4.5 grams of fat, which is 5.5 grams less than their plain ol’ mayo. But that’s per tablespoon, which, in the grand scheme of things, is still quite a lot of fat.

LOW (Little, Few, Contains a Small Amount of, Low Source of)
What it means: There are exact specifications for this label put forth by the FDA. The most common are:
Low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
Low-cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving
Low-fat: 3 g or less per serving
Low-saturated fat: 1 g or less per serving
Low-sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

What it really means: Thanks to strict standards, the LOW is pretty cut-and-dry. Expect food products to adhere to these guidelines, but don’t expect something that’s LOW in fat to also be LOW in calories.

What it means: Manufacturers haven’t put any additional sugar into their product.
What it really means: There still may be artificial sweeteners or naturally-occurring sugars within the food. Certain fruits and dairy products don’t need extra sweetness because they’re born with it already.

What it means: Your food is made entirely from natural ingredients
What it really means: Well, it depends on your definition of “natural.” Is high fructose corn syrup natural? What about ammonium sulfate? If a product is enriched with more niacin, does that count? While this label points towards good things, a quick scan of the ingredient list will tell you everything you need to know.

What it means: The food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
What it really means: While this is a relatively new label addition (and a good one since trans fat is very, very, very bad), it’s not quite an indicator of health. A food with NO TRANS FAT may still be high in both saturated and regular fat.

ORGANIC (100% Organic, Made with organic ingredients)
What it means: There are entire books written on the topic, but it boils down to this: 100% ORGANIC products consist entirely of organic ingredients. An item labeled ORGANIC has 95% organic ingredients. Something that’s MADE WITH ORGANIC INGREDIENTS means 70% must come from organic ingredients. Chickens and cows are different and much, much rarer.
What it really means: Hoo boy. Here we go. The word “organic” is thrown around with some regularity, but the USDA’s never certified that it’s any healthier than ol’ supermarket food. (For what it’s worth. The USDA isn’t exactly the Vatican.) The label doesn’t guarantee any humane treatment of animals, and regulation for fruits and vegetables vary. However, it seems like a general consensus that organic food tastes better, and may be better for you. Proceed with caution.

What it means: This is a term used to describe chickens. As the USDA puts it, "Birds are raised outdoors using movable enclosures located on grass and fed an organic diet (without hormones or non-organic additives) and/or raised without antibiotics (drugs that are intended to prevent or treat animal illnesses).”
What it really means: Chickens and hens can eat what they’re supposed to naturally (as opposed to feed), and are given lots of space to move around. Their eggs tend to be healthier and more flavorful.

PERCENT FREE (ex: 97% Fat-Free)
What it means: Let’s let the FDA take this one, since they have the simplest explanation: “A product bearing this claim must be a low-fat or a fat-free product. In addition, the claim must accurately reflect the amount of fat present in 100 g of the food. Thus, if a food contains 2.5 g fat per 50 g, the claim must be ‘95 percent fat free.’”
What it really means: In general, this is a good thing, since the percentage label can only be placed on leaner foods.

REDUCED (Fewer, Less)
What it means:
A food item has at least 25% less calories, fat, or a nutrient as compared to the reference food. For instance, if regular potato chips have 12 grams of fat per serving, reduced-fat potato chips can’t have more than 9 grams for the same size portion.
What it really means: This is a pretty cut-and-dry definition, but can be easily confused with the LIGHT/LITE label. Reduced foods are generally healthier than their unreduced counterparts, but are not necessarily LOW in fat, calories, or anything else. Read the nutrition facts to make sure you want what you’re buying.

SUGAR-FREE (also: Without Sugar, Zero Sugar, No Sugar, etc.)
What it means: There is no, or an immeasurably small, amount of sugar in the food (less than 0.5 g per serving).
What it really means: There is no, or an immeasurably small, amount of sugar in the food. However, there could be a sugar alcohol like sorbitol, and sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean carbohydrate-free. Diabetics, take note.

What it means: There is some amount of whole wheat in the food you are buying.
What it really means: A range of things, many of which can’t be derived from reading the words WHOLE WHEAT splashed across a logo. To ensure you’re buying a healthy product, look for something with 100% Whole Wheat, and make sure whole wheat flour is the first ingredient, and no other flours are present.

And that’s a wrap. Readers, there is a distinct possibility I’m off my rocker with some of these. Please discuss/point out errors in the comment section.

P.S. Here are my sources.

“‘All natural’ claim on food labels is often deceptive; foods harbor hidden MSG and other unnatural ingredients,” Natural News, 3/21/05
Breaking news: USDA limits “grass fed” label to meat that actually is,” Ethicurean, 10/16/07
Coping with Diabetes,” FDA, 9/95
Deciphering Food Labels,” Kids’ Health
Egg Labels: Reading Between the Lines,” Egg Industry
FDA: Scale Back 'Whole Grain' Labels,” Web MD, 2/15/06
Food Additives,” Healthy Eating Advisor
The Food Label,” FDA, 7/03
Food Label News
Food Label Terms Defined,” How Stuff Works
Food Labeling; Nutrient Content Claims; Definition for ‘High Potency’ and Definition for ‘Antioxidant’ for Use in Nutrient Content Claims for Dietary Supplements and Conventional Foods,” FDA, 7/18/08
Free-Range and Organic Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products: Conning Consumers?” Peta Media Center
Hormone-Free,” Consumer Reports Greener Choices
Label Able: Certified Humane,” YumSugar, 4/3/07
A Little 'Lite' Reading,” FDA
Organic and Free Range Chicken – Better For My Health?” Healthcastle
Reading Between the Food Label Lines,” Womans Day, 5/12/09
Reading Food Labels,” Diabetes Files
Reading food labels: Tips if you have diabetes,” Mayo Clinic, 5/18/07
Some 'light' reading on food labels,” LA Times, 10/2/07
Trans fats now listed on food labels,” American Heart Organization,
The Truth about Food Labels,” Quality Health
Understanding the Food Label,” Colorado State University
What is a Cage-Free Egg?”, 3/27/09
What Is ‘Natural’ Food?” Slashfood, 2/23/09

(Photos courtesy of Scientific Psychic, Eurogrocer, Flickr member I Love Butter, and Raley's.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

This week, it’s cookbooks, registry tips, and more chickens than you can shake a drumstick at. Plus, I didn't add a link (because Eater's got it covered), but New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni is giving up his seat come August. So, if you’re looking for a great job…

Casual Kitchen: Brand Disloyalty
Forgoing your favorite brands for equally effective, less expensive versions of the same product will save you MAD CASH over time. Possibly in the millions, if your favorite brand is Aston Martin.

Casual Kitchen: What's Your Take on Going Vegetarian? A Poll of Meat-Eating Bloggers
Dan asked five food bloggers (including yours truly) if they’d ever consider going full veggie. There’s a range of answers, but the biggest hang up (including for yours truly) seems to be that we simply like the taste of meat. What about you guys?

Culinate: Going Nuts – They’re crunchy, tasty, and good for you

I tend to eschew most nuts at CHG because they’re an easy way to drive up calorie and fat contents. But … bad me! Nuts are actually very good for you, and this post teaches you how to seek out the best ones.

Dana McCauley’s Food Blog: Food poisoning fears and the truth about mayonnaise
See? SEE? Mayonnaise is the worst thing in the world. In summer salads, it doesn’t necessarily create bacteria, but it allows for easy transportation of the germs. BOO. (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

Eat Me Daily: Anthony Bourdain, Alice Waters, and Duff Goldman at the "Food For Thought" Forum
Leonardo DiCaprio and Duff Goldman enter a restaurant. (Not together. I wish. They’d be my all-time favorite man couple.) Who do you think gets mobbed? This tidbit and many more can be found within.

The Epi-Log: Getting Married? Here's How To Register for What You Really Need
This fantastic resource for brides-and-grooms-to-be includes a practical, step-by-step guide to determining your permanent needs versus your fleeting wants.

Get Rich Slowly: How to Save Money on Food - Great Tips from Three Years of Get Rich Slowly
JD comps his best food posts, and it’s a tremendous showing of culinary/economic advisory power. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Huffington Post: Organic Vs. Conventional - Have You Been Robbed?
Makenna Goodman raises her chickens free-range, practically to the point they're free to move out and get their own apartments. Still, because she uses a tiny percentage of non-organic grain to supplement their diets, they’re not considered organic poultry. On the flip side, Corporation X raises their chickens in a factory, feeds them only organic grains, and merits a much higher price from buyers. Crazy stuff, here.

The Kitchn: Meal Planning 101 - What Are Your Building Blocks?
In which The Kitchn breaks their weekly menu into basic units, which makes shopping, prep, and storage much easier. Solid idea.

The Kitchn: What is Your Most Dreaded Cooking Task?
Here it is: I am the world’s worst julienne-er. Straight up, I can not make vegetables into matchstick-sized pieces for the LIFE of me. Inevitably, there’s bleeding and cursing, and my zucchini ends up looking like misshapen fingers. (Or, maybe those are my fingers?) Readers, what about you?

Los Angeles Times: Selecting the Best Chicken
The Times tested 14 chickens, ranging from hippie-type free-range birds to mass-produced pale facsimiles thereof. Among the winners were three free-rangers (naturally), PLUS a Trader Joe’s dark horse. (Dark chicken?) That place is magic, I swear.

Mercury News: Dining for Women is changing the world one dinner at a time
Oh, I like this very much: “Once a month, women get together for a potluck dinner. They take the money they would have spent at a restaurant and donate it to a grassroots organization that works to empower women in developing countries through health, education or vocational programs.” Turn your Pad Thai into program funds, ladies! (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

New York Times: In New York, the Taste of Victory
From guacamole to bacon to tofu, cook-offs are taking hold of the five boroughs. Hundreds line up outside each chowder, cassoulet, or ramen competition to eat, evaluate, and reward. Like Ed Koch said, I love New York!

New York Times: When “Local” Makes it Big
Large corporations like Frito-Lay and Hunts are attempting to reposition their products as part of the local movement, ostensibly to sell more. Technically, they might have a point, but this just doesn’t sit right for so many reasons. Great read.

Salon: It's cheap -- but can you swallow it?
Sarah Hepola cruises her favorite Dollar Menus to find somewhat palatable offerings. The results are pretty dang funny, and full of McDonald’s Apple Pies, which, god help me, are as delicious now as they were when I was seven. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link.)

The Simple Dollar: Some Thoughts on the Tightwad Gazette’s “Flexible Casserole Recipe”
One of Amy Dacyczyn’s greatest frugal creations was her fill-in-the-blank casserole recipe. Here, Trent explores the possibilities and comes up with a few suggestions of his own.

St. Petersburg Times: Bestselling cookbooks and award-winning cookbooks aren't the same
Last year’s big James Beard Award-winning cookbook was a gorgeous volume called Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, and it sold 25,000 copies. Ina Garten’s 2008 cookbook, Back to Basics, won bupkis, but it sold 650,000 copies. Now, this could be because Ina is fundamentally the best. Or, maybe it’s something else, which this article explores…

(Photos courtesy of

Monday, May 18, 2009

Carrots and Zucchini with Garlic and Ginger: Back in Orange/Green

Okay! It’s a new week! No more ants! No more fun life announcements! No more stomach bug! (Thank the heavens. I lost 164 pounds last week. And I only weigh 148.)

Henceforth, it’ll be calmer than the entire cast of Ace of Cakes around here. I’ll post articles on time. (Before 11:56pm, even!) Everything will be spelled correctly. (I won’t accidentally use the word “ravished” to describe hungry little leaguers!) Recipes will include pictures that don’t look like they were taken in Transylvania in December. (Mmm … chicken in focus!)

Kicking off our entirely new stretch of timely deliciousness is Carrots and Zucchini with Garlic and Ginger, a simple sautéed side from Alton Brown. I procured the vegetables for a stunningly low price at a place called Giunta’s Meat Farms on Long Island. My family’s been frequenting Giunta’s since … 1979, I think. Back then it was a smaller grocery store in Holbrook, where locals picked up their cold cuts, cheeses, and Italian anything. Now, it’s a small chain for Suffolk County-ites who like their produce fresh, cheap, and plentiful. If you’re ever in the area, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Anyway, back to the dish. It’s an Asian-flavored side I picture pairing very well with rice and simply-prepared chicken. Carrots provide a pleasant crunch and sweetness, while zucchini makes it a little out-of-the-ordinary. Plus, once you get past the chopping part, it comes together in five minutes. Aces.

If need be, you can leave the sesame seeds out. I forgot to buy them, and though they would have added a nice texture and completed the dish more fully, they weren’t absolutely essential. The carrots and zucchini on the other hand … yeah, don’t drop them.

It’s nice to be back, folks. And not in a bathroom. (Yum!)

Carrots and Zucchini with Garlic and Ginger
4 side servings
From Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food.

1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ginger, minced
2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch sticks (julienned)
1 large unpeeled zucchini, cut into 2-inch sticks (julienned)
1 tablespoon mint, chiffonaded
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted

NOTE: Try to chop everything beforehand; this moves too fast to do it while you're cooking.

Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high or high heat. Once it's really hot, add oil. Quickly add garlic and ginger. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, until fragrant. Add carrots. Cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add mint and vinegar. Stir. According to Alton, "if carrots are still too firm, cover and steam briefly." Salt and pepper to taste. Serve. Sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. 

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
74 calories, 4.7 g fat, $0.44

1 tablespoon peanut oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, $0.11
2 cloves garlic, minced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
2 teaspoons ginger, minced: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
2 large carrots, cut into 2-inch sticks: 59 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.22
1 large unpeeled zucchini, cut into 2-inch sticks: 52 calories, 0.6 g fat, $0.71
1 tablespoon mint, chiffonaded: 1 calories, 0 g fat, FREE (from backyard)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $0.24
Kosher salt and ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted: 53 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.33
TOTAL: 296 calories, 18.9 g fat, $1.75
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 74 calories, 4.7 g fat, $0.44

Friday, May 15, 2009

Imodium, Anyone?

Hey folks,

Apologies for the lack of posting (again). I've got the stomach flu something fierce. Should (please please please) be back to the normal schedule on Monday. Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Veggie Might: Birdseed Granola Bars from the Snackmaster

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian. It's coming a day early this week, and Wednesday's regularly scheduled article will appear on Thursday.

Every office has a snackmaster: that one person who supplies the junk food, whether it be chocolate, cookies, or Doritos. At one office, there was a woman who baked for us weekly, though she never ate the “goodies” herself. Note to all cooks and bakers out there: taste before you serve. It’s the merciful thing to do.

But no one can live up to the legendary candy supply of a former colleague at my current job. She kept a variety of miniature candy bars and snack-size chocolates at her desk for anyone and everyone. If she found out your preference, it was available the next day. If you didn’t come by for candy, she would bring it to you. If she was out, it was my job to go into her desk and put out the candy.

It was all but impossible to maintain any kind of restraint with all that candy around. I started bringing granola bars from home or getting them from the vending machine to deflect the mini-Reese’s foil beacon. Sometimes it worked; sometimes I ate candy and granola.

Either way, it got expensive. Not to mention the granola bars in the vending machine went from relatively healthy to practically candy once I polished off the row of crunchy ones.

Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to make my own. A while ago, I saw an episode of Good Eats in which Alton Brown, food alchemist and whiz kid, whips up a batch of homemade granola bars. It inspired me to give it a whirl, but I failed miserably. I think I cooked the sugar too long, because they came out hard as a brick. I feared for my teeth.

This weekend, I decided to try again. I had read a great post on Everybody Likes Sandwiches about making granola cereal with millet or quinoa. Between these sources, the contents of my kitchen, and my disdain of dried fruit, I came up with these pretty awesome granola bars.

They’re nutty and not too sweet; crunchy without breaking teeth; and the perfect size for a late afternoon snack. They do crumble a bit more than I’d like, but I’m not complaining. I took a few bars to work and offered them around. People were pleasantly surprised and a couple of folks came back for seconds.

Compared to my favorite store-bought granola bars (not the candy-coated or chewy kinds), my homemade version came out about the same nutrition-wise (not counting preservatives, of course), and about $.20­–$.30 cheaper/bar, depending on the store.

The best part: these granola bars look like birdseed. The millet and quinoa (I used the red kind) make them look like those blocks of seed my mom puts in her bird feeder. It just makes me giggle; I don’t know why. Hey, millet is birdseed. And peoplefeed. Yum.

These granola bars were so easy; I think I can make them a regular part of my work food repertoire. Anything to keep me away from the vending machine and the new office snackmaster. Unless I’m becoming her.

Birdseed Granola Bars
Adapted from Alton Brown’s Granola Bars
Inspired by Everybody Likes Sandwiches who was inspired by Mark Bittman
Makes approximately 20 1-oz bars

(Note: see AB’s recipe for approximate volume measurements.)

8 oz rolled oats
2 1/2 oz millet
2 1/2 oz quinoa (rinse and dry on a dish towel before mixing with other grains)
3 oz almonds (chopped)
3 oz pecans (chopped)
1 1/2 oz wheat germ
1/2 oz vegan butter
1 3/4 oz dark brown sugar
3 oz agave nectar
3 oz maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat 9” x 13” baking pan with cooking spray or vegan butter.

2) Combine dry ingredients (oats, millet, quinoa, almonds, pecans, and wheat germ). Spread on a baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes. (Reduce oven to 300 when removed.)

3) Combine wet ingredients + salt in large sauce pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until brown sugar is just dissolved. Remove from heat.

4) Add toasted grains and nuts to sugar mixture and combine thoroughly. Press into coated baking pan and press flat.

5) Bake at 300 for 25 minutes.

6) Allow to cool almost completely before cutting. It will be easier to cut if it’s just a bit warm.

7) Sure beats a Reese’s. Okay, but it’s still really good.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
161.73 calories, 6.8g fat, $.45

8 oz rolled oats: 848 calories, 16g fat, $.84
2 1/2 oz millet: 265 calories, 2.5g fat, $.35
2 1/2 oz quinoa: 257 calories, 6g fat, $.35
3 oz almonds: 483 calories, 42g fat, $1.25
3 oz pecans: 597 calories, 60g fat, $1.78
1 1/2 oz wheat germ: 150 calories, 4.5g fat, $.30
1/2 oz vegan butter: 50 calories, 5.5g fat, $.06
1 3/4 oz dark brown sugar: 185.5 calories, 0g fat, $.06
3 oz agave nectar: 180 calories, 0g fat, $1.09
3 oz maple syrup: 219 calories, 0g fat, $2.81
2 tsp vanilla: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 3234.5 calories, 136.5g fat, $9.01
Per Serving: 161.73 calories, 6.8g fat, $.45

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Thank you so much for the kind wishes yesterday. You guys are the best readers in the world (AND BEYOND). In gratitude, today’s links are full of Office references, Trek foods, and Sandra Lee raves. (Sorry about that last one.)

The Age (Australia): All's fair in love and cooking
He’s a strict vegan. She only eats cow brains. Will it work? The Age explores relationships in which food is a point of contention.

Bargain Briana: How to Save at Whole Foods
To be honest, I didn’t even know Whole Foods had sales. This may necessitate a visit. (Thanks to CFO for the link.)

Being Frugal: You Tell Me – As Seen On TV
You know the home rotisserie? And the fruit-drying thing? And Ginsu Knives? (Ha! Ginsu knives!) Lynnae wonders: do they actually work?

Chow: 10 Canned Goods Worth Using
From tomato paste to hearts of palm to coconut milk, you can save a bundle buying these items canned rather than fresh, frozen, or vacu-packed in saffron. I might avoid canned spinach, though. It tastes like feet.

Chow: 10 Food Moments from The Office
Oh, hold me. I wish I wish I wish I wrote this. Also, I wish they included Kevin’s chili slip from the Casual Friday episode, but I’ll let it pass because the rest of this is fantastic. Tell me folks, is there a BAD Creed moment? Every appearance by that guy is gold.

Chow: Way Beyond Salad Dressing
Have marinades consisting entirely of Italian dressing finally gotten old? Here, Chow has 11 suggestions for flavoring your food using vinegars and citrus fruits. Great stuff.

Eat Me Daily: Review of Sandra Lee’s Money Saving Meals
Aunt Sandy premiered her new show this past weekend, and – surprise - EMD really likes it. I gotta admit – from this small clip, it does looks pretty decent. The background music absolutely needs to go, but it seems less tablescape-focused than her other shows. Readers? Any verdicts?

Frugal Dad: The Ultimate Collection of Money Saving Tips - 122 Ways To Trim Your Budget
Frugal Dad asked. His readers answered. I have a total weakness for rundowns like this, because invariably, there’s some tip I never even considered. This time, it’s #17, from FD commenter eh438. I always forget to do that.

Get Fit Slowly: The Problem with Nutritional Supplements
Hydroxycut was recalled after causing 23 liver injuries and one death. Macdaddy says: “Here’s the big problem with nutritional supplements. While drug makers need to provide safety and effectiveness data to the FDA before being approved, supplement makers do not. The manufacturers of supplements are solely responsible for the testing and marketing of their products” Eat right and exercise, folks. It’s the only way to be sure.

How Stuff Works: Top 10 Most Common Ingredients in Fast Food
Well, one is. The rest … not so much.
10. Citric Acid
9. High-fructose Corn Syrup
8. Caramel Color
7. Salt
6. Monosodium Glutamate
5. Niacin
4. Soybean Oil
3. Mono- and Diglyceride
2. Xanthan Gum
1. Chicken
There are more extensive descriptions within. (Thanks to Consumerist for the link.)

The Kitchn: Apartment Hunting – Gas vs. Electric Stove
52 comments and counting. My view: I grew up with an electric stove, and only started using gas ovens when I moved out of the dorms during college. I’ll never go back to coils. Fire is cool.

The Kitchn: How to Do Just About Anything in the Kitchen
Have you ever wondered how encyclopedia sets or Time Life instructional books are doing since this whole “internet” thing started? I’m betting not too well, because they just can’t compete with stuff like this Kitchn post.

Military Finance Network: 25 Ways to Eat For Free (Really): Get Free Food!
Ooo! Fantastic ideas and PLENTY of valuable links for folks with zero grocery money. Well done! (Thanks to Consumerist for the link.)

New York Magazine: In a Fixe
The economy is such that even places like Le Cirque and Le Bernardin are in trouble. And less Eric Ripert cooking = less joy in the world.

New York Post: Pain on the Menu - Restaurants Spring Sizzle Overdone
Do NOT invest in Ruby Tuesday’s right now. Repeat, do NOT invest in Ruby Tuesday’s right now. According to the Post, the 737% stock bump is temporary, and due to cost cutting, not actual profit.

New York Times: Obesity and the Fastness of Food
Economix writer Catherine Rampell compared obesity rates to the average time spent eating for 20 countries. As the chart shows, Americans spend the least time with their food, but have the highest rates of obesity. Meanwhile, the Japanese, Turks, and French spend upwards of two hours per day with their meals, yet remain thin. Interesting.

New York Times: Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits
Wow. The lede says it all: “In its effort to overhaul health care, Congress is planning to give employers sweeping new authority to reward employees for healthy behavior, including better diet, more exercise, weight loss and smoking cessation.”

Newsweek: Watching Us Save, One Cart at a Time
Do you really want to know the state of the economy? Don’t consult a financial planner. Ask a Wal-Mart manager. According to this piece, they know better than anyone.

NPR: How Low Can You Go? Submit Your $10 Meals
National Public Radio is getting’ on the cheap food train. (Seriously, it’s a train. As you can imagine, it’s no-frills, though.) 318 recipes/comments at last count. (Thanks to the Kitchn for the link.)

Serious Eats: Making the Most of Your Backyard Haul
Sometimes, the best fruit comes from that weird-looking tree by the post office. Where are your local lemon trees? Only Serious Eats and The Kitchn know for sure.

Serious Eats: A Primer to Star Trek Food and Drink
This one goes out to my cousins J and B (and all the other Trekkers on Cloud 9 this fine week). I raise a glass of Romulan ale to you.

Slashfood: Four Steps to Chicken Perfection
Season, sear, start it on the stove top, and sit. Easy peasy, Weezy.

Finally, CHG’s Spend Less, Eat Healthier post was included in this week’s Festival of Frugality, hosted by Savings Not Shoes.

(Photos courtesy of Barf Blog, American Lifestyle, and The Center for Prevention of Shopping Cart Abuse, which yes, is indeed very real.)

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