Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sonic Giveaway Winners! Also, Tuesday Megalinks! Hooray!

We have winners from today's Sonic $25 gift card giveaway! Chosen by Random.org, here they are, along with their favorite food blog:

#1: AB - $5 Dinners
#2: Bashtree – Baking Bites and Gourmet
#18: Broman – Closet Cooking
#21: Amy – CHG (aw, shucks)
#31: Karen – Closet Cooking

If you guys can shoot me an e-mail with your addresses (cheaphealthygood@gmail.com), I can get those cards out tomorrow. Congratulations, one and all, and thank you to everyone for your most excellent suggestions. They’ll be part of an upcoming post.

And with that, let’s go to the links! Today, it’s a lot of listing, restaurant questions, and yikes-inducing news for happy couples. All in ten words or less. (The descriptions, not the articles. Those are longer.)

Bitten: Real Food Can Be Cheaper Than Junk food
Mark Bittman gets on the cheap-n-healthy train…

Bitten: The Ten Ingredient Shopping Trip
…then does a little shopping for easy-to-make meals.

Bon Appetit: Top 10 Surprising Health Foods
Duck breast and whole milk (not together) – who knew?

Casual Kitchen: How Do You Define Truly Great Restaurant Service?
Four words: free cookies, coffee refills. Dan has other ideas.

Chow: 10 Good Cheap Liquors
No plastic bottles! Sorry, Odessa vodka. You made college … fuzzy.

Chow: Are Whole-Wheat and All-Purpose Flour Interchangeable?
As it turns out, nope. I could've told you that.

Epicurious: Top 5 Bad Wine Pairings
Chardonnay with spicy lamb and chorizo? *barfs*

Freakonomics/NYT: Vegetarianism as a Sometimes Thing
Correspondent Matt has stellar idea for group part-time veggie-ism. Bravo!

The Kitchn: The Best Easy, Frugal Foods for Camping
Potatoes and biscuits and food-on-a-stick, oh my!

The Kitchn: Homemade Stock – What’s Your Routine?
A.k.a. Reasons Don’t We Make Stock at Home? (#1: Time)

The Kitchn: Quick ‘n Easy – Ways to Soften Butter
Cut up, pound into chunks, warm water bath. There. Done.

New York Magazine: How I Learned to Heart Breakfast (or at Least What to Eat for it)
Older piece, just as awesome today. Good for you, too!

New York Times: Discounts Have Restaurants Eating Own Lunch
Applebees, Friday’s, etc. trying to outbid each other. Working? Kinda.

NPR: How Low Can You Go?
Public radio asks listeners to submit recipes $10 and under.

Seattle Times: Summer Berries and Fruit Make Quick Desserts
Um … title self-explanatory. Berries are good.

Telegraph UK: Are Lentils the Perfect Food?
Well, they’re okay. The Telegraph begs to disagree with me.

Time Magazine: First Comes Love, Then Comes Obesity?
Clinically proven: chicks gain weight in happy relationships. CRAP!

Zen Habits: Why You Almost Never See a Fat Japanese (or How I Lost 4 Lbs in Tokyo)
And later: why you never see a happy jogger.

$25 Sonic Gift Card Giveaway

Sweet readers! Tuesday’s Megalinks are coming a bit later, but first we’re kicking today off with a giveaway from Sonic. The lovely chain of drive-in restaurants bestowed this fine blog with a few $25 gift cards, and we’re passing one each to five lucky winners this evening.

So! Here’s the deal. I’m gonna choose the five folks at 9pm tonight using Random.org. To enter the contest, simply go to the comment section and leave your name and your answer to this question:

What is your favorite food blog, and why?

(Though straight-up recipe blogs are great, I’d love a few food news suggestions, a la Serious Eats or The Kitchn.)

Again, five winners will be chosen at 9pm tonight, so get those entries in! Think of all the grilled chicken sandwiches (without mayo, naturally)!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

CHG Turns 2: The Year's Top Ten Recipes

You guys! So many things going on today.

1. Last night, I received a KitchenAid stand mixer. For free. From my Mother-in-Law-Elect. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to joining this family.

2. Also last night: bananas, stuffed with chocolate, wrapped in foil, and grilled. I now have proof that Heaven is a place on Earth. (Thank you for the heads up, Belinda Carlisle.)

3. It’s CHG’s two year anniversary (er, as mentioned in the title)! Thank yous are in order to all you lovely readers, as well as Veggie Might’s Leigh, Jaime of City Kitchen Chronicles, and our frequent contributor, Rachel. Also, a huge shout out to all the blogs that’ve supported us for the last two years, including (but not limited to) MSN Smart Spending, Get Rich Slowly, The Simple Dollar, Money Saving Mom, Like Merchant Ships, Healthy Eats, Serious Eats, Casual Kitchen, Kalyn’s Kitchen, Thirty a Week, City Mama, A Good American Wife, Chief Family Officer, Mom Advice, and more…

I'm thrilled to helm CHG, and am warm fuzzified that so many people seem to like us. There will be plenty of giveaways this week to celebrate. But in the meantime, we proudly present our best recipes of the last 364 days. Behold, in alphabetical order:

Baked Eggplant with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light
Best. Eggplant dish. To ever appear. On the blog. And that’s saying a LOT.

Chipotle Pork Tenders
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
This could be CHG's manliest recipe, which isn't to say that folks of all genders won't flip their lids, as well. Excellent on burritos, to boot.

Nathan's Lemon Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light
You say it’s cake you want? Keep looking. This piece is mine.

Pasta Puttanesca
Adapted from Rachael Ray
We give thanks to Western New York for many things, including beef on weck, a consistently decent hockey team, and our state’s alfalfa supply. But mostly this Rachael Ray dish.

Pumpkin Orzo with Sage
Created by Leigh
Imagine a world where risottos were wildly flavorful, but contained negligible fat. I bet this is served there.

Sublime Fruit Salad
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis
The picture is worth a thousand … mmms. The actual salad will ruin all other salads for you.

Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows
Adapted from my Ma
My favorite Thanksgiving food, and second favorite overall, after macaroni and cheese. Ma gave me more than good genes.

Tomato Bread Soup
Adapted from Serious Eats
It’s better than any other tomato soup you’ve ever had. Not kidding

.Tunisian-Style Greens and Beans
Adapted from the International Vegetarian Union
Never has something this healthy and green been so tasty. I could eat this for weeks.

White Chicken Chili
Adapted from Recipe Zaar & Simply Recipes
The motherlode.

Honorable Mentions: American Chop Suey, Autumn Apple Salad, Avocado Chicken Salad, Black Bean Burrito Bake, Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili, Indonesian Bean Stew, Kale with Mushrooms and Polenta, Mojitos, Peach-Blueberry Cobbler, Plums with Orange and Mint, Polenta Pudding with Blueberry Topping, Shaksouka, Spinach Rice Casserole, Tzatziki

Again, thank you so much for all your support and kind words, and be on the lookout for celebratory giveaways. They're gonna be sweet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kale with Garlic and Peppers: A Tribute

Today was going to be about the general awesomeness of kale – how it’s super-easy to prepare, lends crazy heft to lighter dishes, and is one of the cheapest, most natural foods you can pick up at the supermarket. As part of that, I was going to gush all over the innate incredible-ness of Cooking Light’s Kale with Garlic and Peppers. Mostly about how it’s one of the simpler, tastier sides I’ve whipped up in recent memory. Then I was going to babble about the profusion of kale dishes available here and at the eminently stellar I Heart Kale.

After it was all done, I was going to stop writing. Soon enough, I would to dump my leftover Kale with Garlic and Peppers into some cold spaghetti. Then I was going to warm it up in the microwave with a tiny bit of salt, and espouse for hours about hearty/healthy/goody aspects of eating it in the office (which I’m sure my new, temporary co-workers would love).

Finally, I was going to make a lot of kale puns. Like that this dish was kale and hearty and that criticizing it would be beyond the kale. I’d watch my favorite movie, Kale Rider, or maybe even An American Kale, and then read A Kale of Two Cities, but only when I finished my kalegate party.

But then Michael Jackson died.

So instead, I’ll leave y’all with one of the best things he’s ever done.

P.S. Nutritional numbers come from Cooking Light, so only the price is calculated down below.

Kale with Garlic and Peppers
4 servings (serving size: 1 cup kale mixture)
Adapted from Cooking Light.

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups sliced red bell pepper (about 2 medium or 1 large )
1 tablespoon chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (about 1 small)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 cups chopped kale, stems removed (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup organic vegetable broth (or low-fat chicken broth)
1 garlic clove, minced
Lemon wedges (optional)

In a large pot or small Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, jalapeno, salt, and black pepper. Cook until tender, about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add kale and broth. Cover. Drop heat to medium-low and simmer until the kale wilts, around 10 minutes. (Only stir it once.) Uncover. Add garlic. Stir. Jack heat up to medium. Cook about 2 more minutes, or until all the liquid is gone. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
157 calories, 4.1 g fat, 40.63

2 teaspoons olive oil: $0.17
2 cups sliced red bell pepper (about 2 medium or 1 large): $0.96
1 tablespoon chopped seeded jalapeño pepper (about 1 small): $0.14
1/4 teaspoon salt: $0.01
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper: $0.01
14 cups chopped kale, stems removed (about 1 pound): $0.79
1/2 cup organic vegetable broth (or low-fat chicken broth): $0.22
1 garlic clove, minced: $0.05
Lemon wedges (optional): $0.16
TOTAL: $2.51

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Veggie Might: Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Nostalgia, Co-opted

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

For the last few days, I’ve been in a sweet, tangy, gooey haze of nostalgia created both in my imagination and in my kitchen. Just sweet enough, not too rich, it’s been delicious.

Everyone I know has a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, or second-cousin Shirley who made the best strawberry-rhubarb pie/cobbler. Except me. Sort of.

A couple weeks ago, on my Lehigh Valley excursion, I bought my first rhubarb. I’ve never used it before, and to my knowledge, never had it at home. I was excited to try it. When I got my stalks home, I tried a piece raw. It reminded me of a Granny Smith apple. But I decided to trust what I’d heard and cook it with something sweet.

My first exposure to rhubarb was in a cobbler at an NYC restaurant where I used to work. It was there I learned that rhubarb is commonly paired with strawberries and sugar because of its natural tartness. Everyone, co-workers and customers, had a story: “Oh my aunt made the best rhubarb pie. My mother’s strawberry-rhubarb cobbler was the best you’ve ever tasted.”

Maybe, I would think, but I’d never had it before. I didn’t even know what rhubarb looked like. To my knowledge, no one in my past ever baked with rhubarb. My finicky dessert issues, for once, were not to blame for my culinary cluelessness.

Then I called my mom. Apparently my Grandma C made the most amazing strawberry-rhubarb pie ever. Dad got on the phone and confirmed Mom’s claim. He went on: his grandma (who I never met), plus Great-Grandma (Mom’s grandma, who I knew well) made great rhubarb pies too.

How did I miss all these pies? I usually remember rejecting foods out of hand; I feel guilty about it. Well, this recipe made up for lost time.My friend, who ate it, called me by my full name in exclamation. “Leigh Angel, I like your cobbler!”

Crumble, to be exact. This recipe developed via a culinary game of telephone, much like recipes passed down through the generations. Everyone makes a tweak and sends it on. I got it from the delightful blog, everybody likes sandwiches, who got it from Smitten Kitchen, who got it from Nigella.

The secret to this recipe, according to Nigella and SK, is the baking soda. It converts a standard crisp topping into a lighter, crumbier topping, without upping the amount of butter. Essentially, you get more delicious warm sugary, buttery bang for your buck. As a matter of fact, the els recipe reduced SK’s butter amount, and I reduced hers a bit more.

This crumble is a pretty dang easy and healthy dessert for one so delicious. I used these cute little ramekins instead of a casserole dish, but I overfilled them—only getting five servings and thanking SK for recommending foil to line my baking sheet. It still came in at under 300 calories and 8g fat per serving. If I'd used a casserole dish, I would have gotten six servings out of the recipe.

I used organic strawberries from the farmers’ market, which pushed up the price a bit. If you find cheaper fruit, the cost will go way down. But let me tell you, these berries were better than any from the grocery store.

If my parents were nearby, I would hope they would like this as much as Grandma C’s (or Great-Grandma’s or Grandma F’s). Or at least enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Serves 5
Adapted from many places, but Everybody Likes Sandwiches most recently.

5 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1” pieces
1 scant qt. strawberries, quartered (about 1 lb)
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
pinch of allspice

1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp granulated sugar
zest of one lemon
1/4 c melted butter (I used Earth Balance vegan margarine.)

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) (If making individual crumbles, mix the following in a medium bowl. If using a casserole, mix directly in baking dish.) Combine rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch and nutmeg. Add lemon juice. Stir thoroughly.

3) In another bowl, combine all topping ingredients. Stir until you get some clumps.

4) Sprinkle topping with your hands evenly over the fruit.

5) Bake for 40-50 minutes until the topping is golden and the fruit is saucy.

6) Allow to cool and serve with ice cream/nondairy frozen dessert of your choice. Maybe you’ll cry a little from happiness and nostalgia. It’s okay. It happens.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
292 calories, 9g fat, $1.62

5 stalks rhubarb: 55 calories, 0g fat, $2.17
3 cups strawberries: 150 calories, 0g fat, $4.50
juice + zest of one lemon: 12 calories, 0g fat, $0.25
1/4 cup + 3 tbsp granulated sugar: 366 calories, 0g fat, $.25
3 tbsp cornstarch: 87.8 calories, 0g fat, $.17
pinch of allspice: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 cup flour: 337.5 calories, 1g fat, $.21
1 tsp baking powder, negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp brown sugar: 52 calories, 0g fat, $.04
1/4 c melted butter: 400 calories, 44g fat, $.48
TOTALS: 1460.3 calories, 45g fat, $8.11
PER SERVING (TOTALS/5): 292 calories, 9g fat, $1.62

Food Network, the Decline of Stand and Stir Programming, and Where to Go From Here

Earlier this week, True/Slant’s Michael Greenberg wrote a scathing open letter to Bob Tuschman, the SVP of Programming at Food Network. In it, he rails against their lineup as of late. A few key quotes:

The Next Food Network Star sucks. It’s not entertaining. It has nothing to do with actual culinary skill. And it’s another troubling step in the ultimate devaluation of your network’s brand.”

“Nowadays, prime time on the Food Network is all about competition shows and reality non-fiction programming — and it’s all about folks looking to make a name and buck. The food is just an afterthought for you, Bob, and it’s really starting to grate on me.”

“It looks like my beloved Food Network has succumbed to the reality-show dreck that pollutes other once-innovative TV networks, like MTV and VH1.”

As a food freak, I agree with some of Michael’s points. I want gentle, informative instruction in my cooking shows, not all this reality stuff. Why so many cake wars when you can show Ina, Giada, and (oh lord, please bring her back) Sara?

Because (with the notable exception of Ace of Cakes), verité programming becomes pretty dull after awhile. Look, it's nice that you can make fondant that looks like Shrek. But can someone tell us how to create fondant in the first place? I’ve watched approximately 50,000 Food Network shows, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen step-by-step instructions.


As someone working in cable television, I think Michael’s out of his mind.

When it comes to TV, righteous indignation tends to garner support. Especially on the internet, it rallies idealists to your side. But often, it ignores real-life situations like technology, demographic shifts, industry changes, and financial needs. Michael may lament Food Network turning into VH1, but you know what? VH1’s ratings have never been higher than the last few years, when reality programming has taken over the schedule. However you feel about Bret Michaels or Guy Fieri, they run rings around Charlie Rose and C-Span.

At its heart, television is a business. An occasionally ruthless, often pandering business that’s chief purpose is to make money for advertisers. It does that through ratings, and subsequently, will broadcast almost whatever it takes to garner those eyes. In some cases, that’s Food Network Challenge. In others, it’s the truly charming Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It still others, it’s Unwrapped (which - I feel like I’ve seen the same dang conveyor belt 200 times now).

However you feel about these shows, they rate. Someone is watching this stuff. Usually, it's me. Or you. Or your mom. If you don't like it, change the channel. It's not like there aren't a million other options.

If you want elegance, pick up a Julia Child cookbook. Read Saveur or Bon Appétit. Change the channel to PBS, where I’m pretty sure you’ll never see Lidia Bastianich competing on Chopped (which I actually think is a fun show). As with music or movies, it's up to each individual to take advantage of non-traditional outlets, if they so choose.

But if you want cooking shows designed to appeal to the widest possible swath of Americans, go to Food Network. Because odds are, you’re one of those people, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Odds are, Alton Brown, Emeril, or even Ray-Ray got you interested in cooking in the first place. Odds are, you’ve watched one of those reality shows and thought, “Wow. I didn’t know you could do that with celery root.”

Ultimately, this it isn’t to say we shouldn’t reach for the stars, or try to get the best possible programming on television for all to see. The quality of our mass media says a lot about the intellectual interests of our country. What it IS to say is that we have to accept that certain outlets are businesses. They exist to make money, not to achieve indie cred.

So readers, I turn this one over to you. If you ran Food Network what kind of shows would you create? What would they look like? Who would host them? What kind of cuisine would you make? What issues would you tackle?

P.S. Quite a few Serious Eaters compared Food Network's current slate to MTV's lifestyle programming, which I thought was interesting. MTV stopped playing videos because they’re pretty much the lowest-rated things you can put on TV without resorting to infomercials. Kids aren’t the same as they were in 1987 – they’re not going to watch a Ne-Yo video and then stick around for the Jonas Brothers. Also, get off my lawn!

P.P.S. This didn't relate to inexpensive, healthy food in the least. We'll get back to that tomorrow, I promise.

(Photos courtesy of The Morning News and Operation Bon Appetit.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Today it's recipe lists, weight loss for the very tall, and an infuriating article from the Gray Lady. Tuesday, I like you!

Ad Age: Consumers Say They Want Healthy, But Aren’t Buying it
Oh, yikes. You know those calorie counts they’re starting to post on fast food menus? Apparently, they’re not making/they won’t make much of a difference in what good citizens are ordering. This is perplexing.

Casual Kitchen: The Hummus Blogroll – 16 Easy to Make Hummus Recipes
As I am currently obsessed with all things hummus-related (we’re even watching Don’t Mess With the Zohan, where it figures in prominently), this is my favorite post of the moment. Chipotle Hummus? Thai Basil Hummus? Avocado Hummus? I’ve died and gone to Hummeaven.

Chow: RSVP to My Damn Invite
Yarg. We’re all adults here! Tell me if you’re coming to my party! Because next time you show up without notice and bring 16 hot dogs with no buns, I’m making them out of your shirt.

Consumerist: More People Are Getting Their Food Straight From Farms
Thanks to CSAs, pick-yer-owns, and various related services, farm-procured edibles have jumped about 100% in ten years. Disillusionment works, people!

Consumerist: Sorry, You Are Too Tall for Weight Watchers
WW Online doesn’t cater to those 6’10” and over. Sorry, Shaq.

Frantic Home Cook: 50 Pasta Salads, Just in Time for Summer
Woo hoo! Just … woo hoo! (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

Frugal Dad: How Many Nights a Week Do You Eat Out?
Good post made better by solid cross-section of comments and experiences. This is a habit I’m still desperately trying to break. Or at least curb a little.

The Kitchn: Help! I Have the Palate of a Child
Great post with a title that reminds me of my favorite Stephen King line, after someone asked him why he writes such fanciful horror tomes: “I have the heart of a small boy. And I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

The Kitchn: Good Question – How Should I Store Brown Sugar?
Why, in a acid-free plastic cover, so you don’t bend the corners or muss the liner notes. Oh … wait. Not this Brown Sugar? Sorry. I got confused.

The Kitchn: What’s Your Favorite Warm Weather Breakfast?
Come for the picture. Stay … well, stay for the picture, too. It’s a nice picture. But the comments are good, too.

Like Merchant Ships: Library Bag – Green Garden Dip
Okay, I don’t want to creep her out or anything, but every time Meredith posts something like this, it makes me want kids, like, right now. Oh, and there’s a ranch dip recipe.

Money Saving Mom: Is it Possible to Lose Weight on a Budget?
Umm … yes. But again, more in the comments!

New York Times: How Food Makers Captured Our Brains
Hint: it wasn’t with a net. It was with regular foods, combined in certain ways so as to stimulate the reward system hardwired into our brains. They blinded us with neuroscience!

New York Times: With This Burger, I Thee Wed
This article’s been making the rounds the last week or so, and I have to say – I flat-out hate it. It reeks of privilege and condescension, and I can’t tell if it’s the subject or that it’s being called a trend. Readers, thoughts?

Science Daily: Living Near Fast Food Outlet Not A Weighty Problem For Kids
Huh? This goes against popular science and widely-accepted research. Michael Pollan, are you listening? If so, sweet! You have excellent ears.

The Simple Dollar: The Truth About Grocery Store Flyers
The circulars are my supermarket bibles, but Trent has some well-founded reservations. The quantity sales are a pain in the butt, man.

(Photos courtesy of Tasty Planner, Calgary Public Library, and Psi Xperience.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poached Eggs and Hardboiled Eggs: Eggs Two Ways, No Yolking

It’s been five days, and the Husband-Elect and I have successfully polished off our haul from last week’s trip to the Farmer’s Market. (Friends helped.) While we appreciated the ground beef, liked the bacon very much, and freakin’ loved the bread, the highlight of our booty (heh) was undoubtedly the carton of eggs. The EGGS. Who knew?

Lemme explain.

Okay, you know how supermarket eggs are? Runny, pale yellow yolks with flimsy whites and shells that break if you look at them the wrong way? Farmer’s market eggs are not like that at all. They have bright orange yolks with a silky, almost syrupy texture. They have substantive whites you can actually bite into. They have thick, brownish shells that seem almost twice as hard as store-bought eggs.

But best of all, they’re not just eggs. They’re EGGS. They taste like the eggs you remember as a kid. Or like regular eggs, turned up to 11. Or like eggs on ‘roids. (Alex Rodregguez?) If supermarket eggs are regular humans, farmer’s market eggs are the X-Men – regular humans, but way better. Like with claws and telekinesis and stuff.

I prepared our EGGS two ways this past weekend: poached and hard-boiled. Neither method uses oil, butter or cream, which cuts down on the fat. And the techniques – one from The Kitchn, the other from Chocolate & Zucchini – are basically foolproof. I’m an idiot when it comes to hardboiling, and Clotilde’s way hasn’t failed me yet. I owe her something in return. Perhaps a really good egg?

I do need to mention: today I learned there may be an issue with pasteurization and farm-fresh eggs. If you’re nervous, you might want to avoid the poaching and skip ahead to hardboiling. Either way, you’ll feel eggscellent in the end. Eggstra special. Eggceptional, even. (Sorry.)

Whirlpool-Style Poached Eggs
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from The Kitchn.

1 egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Add 1 quart of water, salt, and vinegar to a medium pot. Bring it to a boil. Drop heat to medium-low and simmer, making sure the bubbles remain pretty low-key. Using a slotted spoon, create a gentle whirlpool in the pot.

2) Get out a teacup and crack your egg into that cup. Very gently, lower the teacup into the whirlpool and set the egg free. It should migrate to the middle of the pot. 

3) Cook the egg 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. (Try not to go over.) Gently remove egg with your slotted spoon, and let some of the water drip back into the pan. Stick egg on plate. Salt and pepper to taste. Eat.

NOTE: If you’re having multiple eggs, I might do this one at a time. Otherwise … collisions. Yolk everywhere. Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria.

Hardboiled Eggs
Makes 1 serving
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini.

1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Get out a medium pot. Gently place the whole egg in the pot. and "cover with cold water by a 1/2-inch or so." Put it on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Once it starts boiling, kill the heat and cover the pot. Do not touch it for 7 minutes. (No more, no less.)

2) While egg is sitting, fill a medium bowl with cold water and a few ice cubes. After 7 minutes, put the egg in the ice bath. Let it sit 3 minutes.

3) This is all from Heidi, and it's genius: "Roll egg lightly on cutting board, hard enough so shell will crack, but not so hard you mangle it." (Why did I never think of this?) Peel your egg. Add some salt and pepper. Serve. To yourself, presumably.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving for Both Dishes
74 calories, 5 g fat, $0.50

Friday, June 19, 2009

Strawberry and Avocado Salad: An Exercise in CAPITAL LETTERS and Fat Reduction

I’m pretty ambivalent about salads. They’re okay, but I’d order almost anything else before paying for a staid pile of lackluster leafy greens. Still, I like strawberries. And I like avocado. And I like pecans. And this dressing sounded tasty. So I thought I’d give AllRecipes’ Strawberry and Avocado Salad a try.

Sounds neato, right? I thought so. However, there was one minor issue: namely, 609 calories and FIFTY-POINT-SEVEN grams of fat per serving. I realize numbers higher than eleven aren’t usually spelled out. I wanted some extra emphasis there.

Now, healthy oils are dandy, but to reiterate: FIFTY-POINT-SEVEN grams of fat? In a freakin’ salad? You gotta be kidding me. This wasn’t in the realm of possibility. In fact, I couldn’t even see the realm of possibility from where I read the recipe. That’s how far away it was.

But shucks, I still wanted the salad. Strawberries and avocado? C’mon. It’s like Christmas in summer. So, I made some changes. I dropped 75% of the pecans, 50% of the avocado, and added 50% more salad greens.

The result was three main course salads for … wait for it … 222 calories and FIFTEEN-POINT-THREE grams of fat. Those three dinky alterations meant 387 lost calories and THIRTY-FIVE-POINT-SEVEN lost grams of fat. And? If you don’t use all the dressing (we didn’t), the numbers drop even lower than that.

It still tasted great, to boot. No one flavor was overwhelming, we avoided mushiness, and divided among three plates, the sweetness was just right. The Husband-Elect and I ate it with a lovely bean concoction and a slice of last week’s Buttermilk-Vanilla Pound Cake. HEAVEN.

With that said, hope y’all have a lovely weekend. It’s been a wet June - great for food photos, bad for people. New Yorkers, stay dry!

P.S. Update on Monday’s post! We got our feet wet at the farmer’s market and hauled back some ground beef, fancy bacon, a loaf o’ whole wheat bread, and a dozen eggs. So far, the bread was quite tasty and the egg … well, it wasn’t just an egg. It was AN EGG. It asserted itself in my mouth, and I appreciate that. Next stop: Bacon City.

Strawberry and Avocado Salad
Makes 3 main dishes or 4 sides
Adapted from AllRecipes.

2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups torn salad greens (I used romaine. – Kris)
½ small avocado (about 2 ounces) - peeled, pitted and sliced into 1” pieces
10 strawberries, sliced
1/8 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts or almonds)

In a medium bowl, combine sugar, olive oil, honey, vinegar, and lemon juice. Whisk it all together and reserve 2 tablespoons dressing in a teacup. Add salad greens to bowl. Toss gently with dressing. Place avocado and strawberries on top of salad. Drizzle with the 2 tablespoons of dressing. Top with pecans. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
Three servings: 222 calories, 15.3 g fat, $1.02
Four servings: 167 calories, 11.5 g fat, $0.76

2 tablespoons white sugar: 93 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
2 tablespoons olive oil: 237 calories, 27 g fat, $0.24
4 teaspoons honey: 85 calories, 0 g fat, $0.13
1 tablespoon cider vinegar: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.02
1 teaspoon lemon juice: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.11
3 cups torn salad greens (romaine): 24 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.45
½ avocado (about 2 ounces) - peeled, pitted, and sliced into 1-inch pieces: 91 calories, 8.3 g fat $0.75
10 strawberries, sliced: 38 calories, 0.4 g fat, $1.00
1/8 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts or almonds): 94 calories, 9.8 g fat, $0.31
TOTAL: 667 calories, 45.9 g fat, $3.05
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 222 calories, 15.3 g fat, $1.02
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 167 calories, 11.5 g fat, $0.76

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Veggie Might: People Need Potato Salad

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

Okay, enough with the rain, am I right, East Coasters? The sunshine teasers are just not enough. Anyway, I’ve digressed before I’ve begun.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my dear friend S in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. We spent a lovely (sunny!) couple of days playing with her little one, cooking (a fab bean salad I will share with you later), and catching up. On Sunday, we strolled through her local farmer’s market. I was able to score some choice produce to bring back to the city.

I also got a little inspiration to make a zippy, healthy potato salad.

Everyone has a favorite potato salad recipe. It’s a spring and summer classic and endlessly customizable. The tricky thing is making it light. My pal C’s mom’s version, my all-time favorite (sorry Grandma), swims in olive oil and mayo. But, dang it all, it’s good.

For this recipe, I let my farmer’s market haul, potato salads of my past, and the voices of my foodie friends speak to me. “Leigh, it’s just potato salad,” you may be thinking. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s so simple, and yet, so satisfying. And it just says summer.

My friend, A, called me just last week to tell me to keep my eye out for garlic scapes at my farmer’s market. She had just discovered them (and made pesto), but I had no idea what they were. Well, I do now; and I got a handful in PA.

Garlic scapes are delightful, curly green shoots that come out of garlic bulbs and eventually hinder bulb growth. Farmers trim off the curlicues, which have a lighter, less intense garlic flavor. I showed S my purchase, and she said, “Oh, scapes, I sauté them with potatoes.” A plan was forming.

My market take also included some beautiful spring onions. Diced and tossed in the potato salad, they gave a mellow sweetness. I opted to leave the scapes raw for a snappy crunch. I tossed in a bit of dill to what’s become my standard vinaigrette (courtesy of Mark Bittman) and voila!

Zippy and light, this potato salad is perfect for topping salad greens or accompanying a sandwich. I’ve had it for lunch twice this week and it’s definitely helped me beat the well-I-guess-I-could-never-live-in-Seattle blahs.

Normally, I would make potato salad with red bliss potatoes, but I had a bag of russets begging to be used. Hey, whatever potato suits your fancy, as long as they are firm in texture after cooked. I have to set a timer. Mine always come out too soft. I find that five minutes is all it takes.

Something about eating potato salad feels like summer. And I don’t know about you, but I could use a little sunshine right about now.

Potato Salad for Rainy Day People
Serves 4–6

1 1/4 lb potatoes (about 4 medium russets)
2 spring onions, chopped
1 small handful garlic scapes, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp dried dill
1 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

1) Scrub potatoes well. Cut into 1” pieces. (I’m a skins-on kind of gal, but if you want to peel, go for it.) Place into pot of boiling water and cook until firm but cooked through, about 5 minutes.

2) Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.

3) Chop onions and dice scapes.

4) In a blender, combine olive oil, vinegar, dill, salt, and pepper. Blend until emulsified.

5) Combine potatoes, onions, scapes, and dressing in a large bowl and toss well. Salt and pepper further to taste.

6) Serve over salad greens. Eat on a rainy day and feel like summer.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
179 calories, 8.2g fat, $.54 (4 Servings)
119 calories, 5.5g fat, $.36 (6 Servings)

1 1/4 lb potatoes: 440 calories, .6g fat, $.40
2 spring onions: 32 calories, 0g fat, $0.33
1 small handful garlic scapes: 4.2 calories, 0g fat, $1.00
2 tbsp olive oil: 240 calories, 28g fat, $0.16
2 tbsp white wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $.20
1/4 tsp dried dill: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
fresh ground pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
TOTAL: 716 calories, 32.8g fat, $2.15
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 179 calories, 8.2g fat, $.54
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 119 calories, 5.5g fat, $.36

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Film Fest '09: Three Essential Documentaries About Food

Hypothetical situation: let’s say you’re teaching a junior high health class. Your arms are broken, so instead of giving notes, you’ve decided to show three movies that thoroughly explain the modern food industry. (Presumably, one of the kids will work the VCR. Or DVD player. Or whatever newfangled thingamabob they use these days.) What would those films be?

This past weekend made the decision much easier for me, because the Husband-Elect and I caught an early screening of Food, Inc. in Manhattan. Without exaggeration, it changed the way we’ll eat from here on in. (Not too shabby for a Saturday matinee.) So there’s Movie #1.

Afterwards, we rented King Corn, a 2007 documentary about the kernels’ influence in America. It was really well done, and an easy choice for Movie #2.

And frankly, Super Size Me is a no-brainer. Some might be all, “Spurlock, you MTV punk! Shave yer ‘stache, stop making like a Gen X Michael Moore, and get real!” But I love the guy, making his McDonald's exposé a shoo-in for my #3 pick.

Together, I consider these films the holy trinity of documentaries on food production. Michael Pollan figures heavily into two of them, and McDonald’s is a major player in all. If you get the chance to teach that junior high class (armless or not), I might watch them in this order.

(Due warning: Spoilers ahead. If you want to see these movies and be surprised, skip this post.)

1. King Corn (2007)
Directed by Aaron Woolf

Premise: Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis are two New England 20-somethings who travel to Iowa to plant a single acre of corn. They come in as blank slates, clueless about farming and agriculture in general. What they learn over the course of a year is shocking to anyone who isn’t part of the system already: their crop isn’t edible, it’s processed to create animal feed and corn products, and it’s impossible to make a profit entirely on their own. Instead, government surplus demands and mammoth corporations conspire to keep them relatively powerless and almost completely broke. Ian and Curtis leave Iowa as new men - with $28 in their pocket and loads to talk about later.

What’s great about it: Affable, curious, and creative, it’s impossible not to like the filmmakers, which goes a long way considering their approach. They’re just guys learning about corn, not experts with an agenda. Even better, the movie is perfectly plotted, with a natural progression and easy-to follow explanations. The dangers of what they’re doing only become apparent as the process itself gradually dawns on them.

Key scene #1: The guys rent their acre from a genial older man named Charles Pyatt, an Iowa corn farmer who seems to be doing pretty well through the course of the film. Six months after wrapping, they revisit Charles to find he’s gone broke and is selling all his possessions. It’s heartbreaking and perhaps, a sign of the times.

Key scene #2: Curt belly-slides down a mountain of corn that looks – no lie - like it might be bigger than Yankee Stadium. For this New Yorker, it was pretty friggin’ trippy.

Key scene #3: Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon, and the guy who set so many of these farm policies in motion, was still alive (though 40,000 years old) when they made this. Ian and Curt find him for an interview, and you learn he meant well. It’s just that he grew up during the Great Depression, and never wanted to see Americans go hungry again. Something to consider.

2. Food, Inc. (2008)
Directed by Robert Kenner

Premise: On average, there are 47,000 food products available in each American supermarket. From the eggs we have for breakfast to the burgers we wolf down for dinner, they come from a handful of mega-corporations with three goals: ship food fast, cheap, and in whatever borderline condition customers will accept it. Oh yeah - and under no circumstances reveal how it’s all accomplished. Because apparently, the first rule of processing food is: don’t talk about processing food.

Of course, there are repercussions. First, the potential for disease is ever-present, since FDA regulations are ineffectual and most food comes from the same places. Second, the production methods themselves are dangerous, dirty, and inhumane – and that’s just for the animals. It’s even worse for the workers, many of whom are illegals receiving rock-bottom wages for thankless work. Third, the surplus of calories (Thanks, corn!) is making Americans obese and wildly unhealthy. But you knew that.

Oh, also? That’s just the first 15 minutes.

What’s great about it: It’s scattershot, overwhelmingly one-sided, and after the first hour, you might want to banish the unsubtle HEY, THIS MUSIC SIGNIFIES A THING WE DON’T LIKE back to Hell where it came from. But man, is this an effective film. The testimony and footage are so convincing, it’s hard to imagine how food corporations could possibly respond. (PR nightmare!) Even more vexing though, are our own roles in the mess. What are we doing to ourselves, and how can we stop it?

Key scene #1: About halfway through the film, after the audience has seen hundreds, if not thousands of featherless, headless chicken carcasses, a live fowl has its throat slit at Joel Salatin’s Polyface farms. At that point, it’s the most natural thing in the entire movie. Still, there were several audible gasps in my theater. A few minutes later, full-grown pigs are herded squealing and terrified into a slaughterhouse box. They come out dead. No one at Film Forum made a sound.

Key scene #2: Any video of Barbara Kowalczyk’s little boy will pretty much kill you.

3. Super Size Me (2004)
Directed by Morgan Spurlock

Premise: 30-something Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days, just to see what happens. And what happens is this: he gains 25 pounds, loses his sex drive, and sees his metabolic functions go haywire. Along the way, he learns a ton about the connection between food, marketing, and obesity, especially for kids.

What’s great about it: If King Corn is about the source of our food issues, and Food, Inc. is about their scope, than Super Size Me is about their potentially cataclysmic effects on our bodies. Check it: a third of Americans are clinically obese, and another third is overweight. Some of the blame can be pinned on us individually, but there are so many factors working against us (because foodcorps are after money only) that it’s difficult to know what’s what. And that’s the director’s point: how do we stay healthy when bad food is inescapable? When it’s our only option at the corner store? When it’s the only stuff in school lunchrooms? When it’s advertised to us FROM BIRTH?

Also, it’s a well-paced movie with a light touch. Just thought I’d mention it.

Key scene: After he downs his second super-sized meal from Mickey D’s, Morgan promptly opens his car window and barfs it right back up. Mmm ... I’m lovin’ it!


American Dream (1990)
Directed by Barbara Kopple

The 1990 Oscar winner for Best Documentary, American Dream examines a Minnesota meatpacking labor dispute during the Reagan administration. Evenhanded and well-observed, it’s neither pro- nor anti-union - just tremendously insightful.

Le Sang des Bêtes (1949)
Directed by Georges Franju

Blood of the Beasts is oh-so-French in its arty juxtaposition of serene farmland with monolithic slaughterhouses. Still, if you’ve ever wanted to know exactly how animals were – and sometimes still are – killed, watch it. It’s unrelenting and will ensure there’s no disconnect between what your food is and where it comes from. Due warning: for a 60-year-old film, this mother is GRAPHIC.

And that does it. Readers, anything you’d add for your armless junior high lessons? Please fire away in the comment section.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Today it’s leafy greens, green grilling, and green sandwiches from Subway. Also, fish. It’s not green, though. Thank goodness.

Consumerist: Don’t Put Too Much Faith in Fortified Foods
I wasn’t going to post this one, because the topic’s been done a bunch. But these parting words caught my eye: “Pay close attention to the details of the ingredients and not the claims on the packaging.” Truer words, never spoken. Packaging is advertising. The ingredient list is fact.

Culinate: Grilling Gets Greener
Marissa Lipert tells you how to get the best taste from your grilled goods without hurting the Good Earth. Good stuff.

Get Rich Slowly: Eating Organic on a Frugal Budget
More on the Cost vs. Eating Ethically quandary, with customary smart commentary by GRS readers. Is there a happy medium? I’m hoping the answer is “oui.”

Get Rich Slowly: Cut Your Food Costs With a Stand-Alone Freezer
If you can swing it, extra freezers seem to be a favorite of smart shoppers around the web. In JD’s case, he and his wife Kris (love the name!) store their good beef in it. I wonder, though … what about freezer burn? Readers?

Gourmet: Recession Flexitarians
Recession Flexitarians are either A) meat-eaters resorting to part-time vegetarianism or, B) semi-vegetarians cutting back even further on their meat. It’s a growing movement, as it saves money and improves health. Get on board, everybody!

The Guardian: Playing the Stock Market
Ten heretofore unseen (er, by me) stock-making tips from a Brit who knows best. It’s my favourite! With colour photographs! Very honourable!

The Kitchn: How to Prepare Chard (Or Any Other Leafy Green)
Hey-o! We gotchya mustahd greens! We gotchya kale! We gotchya everyting wit a stem and a big ol’ leaf dat’s gotta be cooked down befaw you serve it! Right ovah heah.

The Kitchn: What to Put on a Fresh Vegetable Sandwich
If you’re like my sister, and a big fan of Veggie Subs from the House of Jared (a.k.a. Subway), this post might just jazz up your cucumbers. Banana peppers for everyone!

Like Merchant Ships: 10 Yard Sale Entertaining Essentials
Remember that New York Times article from Christmastime? The one about having a dinner party for $30 per head? This one? Meredith’s post is the polar opposite of that, and is 10,000 times more awesome as a result. How much do I want those plates? (Answer: very much.)

New York Times: Loving Fish, This Time With the Fish in Mind
Mark Bittman stumps for environmentally sustainable seafood, and describes how he buys fish without an extra side of guilt. Mackerel and mollusks and squid, oh my...

New York Times: Neighbor, Can You Spare a Plum?
All across the nation, fruit tree owners are sharing their bounty. Look around, pitch in, and you just might end up with pie.

Popular Science: Can This Fruit Be Saved?
Bad news: the banana is on its way out. No, seriously. If we have to make do with banana-flavored Runts, I will be disgruntled. (DisRuntled? Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

The Simple Dollar: 12 Ways My Wife Quietly Makes Our Life Work
This genuinely moving post should be a blueprint for any long-term commitment, and applies equally to both men and women. Great stuff.

What I Weigh Today: Living With “Restaurant Syndrome”
Restaurant moderation tips from a foodie who’s been there. How you know you can trust her: “I would never suggest you order sauce on the side.” (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

Wise Bread: 5 Perfect Respectable Ways to Get a Free Meal
Most of these suggest exchanging a good (blood) or service (speech) for a free meal (free meal). I suggest the alternative: stealing bits and pieces off your Husband-Elect’s plate when he’s not looking. With practice, he’ll never know the difference.

(Photos courtesy of Dreamland BBQ, Supanet, and Banana.com.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

This Movie Changed My Life (No, it's Not Showgirls)

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Monday recipe post for an important message: go see Food, Inc.

This past weekend, the Husband-Elect and I managed to cram ourselves into a screening of the documentary at the Film Forum in Manhattan’s West Village. Directed by Robert Kenner with extensive commentary from both Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, it’s an important film, and it changed the way we’ll eat from here on in. No kidding.

Some background: I’ve read Fast Food Nation (Schlosser), The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan), and In Defense of Food (Pollan again), as well as an untold number of blog, magazine, and newspaper articles on the modern U.S. food industry. So I knew. But I don’t know if I knew. You know?

You can read about cows hitting adulthood in mere months, growing to mutant sizes, and spending their entire, miserable lives knee-deep in their own feces, but nothing prepares you for seeing it. Or seeing just how corrupt and toothless the USDA and FDA really are. Or seeing how badly farmers and factory workers are exploited. Or seeing that whatever terrible iniquities are visited upon our food system, the best of intentions are almost always behind them.

You can find several reviews of Food, Inc. over here at Eat Me Daily, and I’ll have more details about it on Wednesday. But today, I wanted to dive into how it affected the both of us – how 93 minutes (give or take a few for the credits) will change dinner for the Husband-Elect and me, maybe permanently.

1) We’re starting to buy our meat and eggs from a farmer’s market. We don’t eat much anyway, so we pow-wowed and decided it’s worth it to us to buy quality, humanely raised chicken, pork, and beef. Honestly, I’m kind of excited about this, because I have no idea what a grass-fed hamburger tastes like. (Like lunch in Xanadu, I’m betting.) The transition might be tough, especially when I JUST WANT SOME #&*$^# BACON, but the cold cut bill could be a pleasant surprise.

2) We’re raising our food budget. Right now, our weekly grocery bill hovers around $55 for two people. We’re upping it to $65 or $70. It can be swung if we’re thoughtful with our cash, take extra care to eat at home, and be sure that nothing goes to waste.

3) We’re reducing our intake of high fructose corn syrup, and sugar in general. Um … this will be difficult, largely because I don’t know all the synonyms yet. (Fructose! Maltodextrin! Sorbitol! WOOO!) In fact, I went to the supermarket today, and was pretty sure that one of the salad dressings was made entirely of sugar. Yikes. Breaking our breakfast cereal habit will be hardest of all. Mostly, we’ll miss the puzzles on the back of the box.

4) We’re becoming granola-flecked, chai-swilling hippies who live in yurts and sell hemp blankets so we can follow Phish on tour. Break out the Birkenstocks, baby. (Okay, not really. Still, we’re attempting to change our eating habits for the better, and that could involve bean sprouts. Stay tuned.)

As far as the blog goes, I honest-to-goodness don’t think it’ll change that much. Meat dishes might become scarcer, but I think I can still swing a few inexpensive recipes with higher-quality poultry, pork, and beef. (Heck, maybe even rabbit or lamb.) We’ll see.

Readers, have you seen Food, Inc. yet? Have you seen ANY movie that altered what you put on your table? How did you do with the changes? Advice and/or shared stories would be fantastic.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vanilla-Buttermilk Pound Cake: Weather or Not

New York summers rarely afford the opportunity for baking, but it’s been a cool June here in the city, with frequent storms and temperatures that have only seldomly risen above 80°F. Usually, Brooklyn kitchens feel like bamboo steamers this time of year. Instead, our greenery is growing like gangbusters, and we’ve managed to postpone our yearly descent into Air Conditioning Bill Hell for a few blessed weeks. Except for mistaking 3am thunderclaps for shotgun rounds, life’s been pretty sweet.

Life’s also been full of cake. Late last week, my roommate C whipped up a batch of Strawberry-Banana Muffins while I triumphed with a lovely Lemon concoction, and yesterday yielded 24 servings of Vanilla-Buttermilk Pound Cake from Cooking Light. It’s Cake City, and we are its cake-izens. Later, we will draw up a Cakestitution and elect people to Cakegress, where they'll be sworn in by the Cake Justice of the Supreme Cake. (That's how government works, right?)

But back to the Pound Cake. All in all, it’s a subtly flavored treat with a consistency somewhere between pound cake and angel food cake. Light, moist, and fluffy, it’d pair well with fruit and/or last Friday’s lemon icing (which, by the way, I have adopted as my first child). Best of all, it’s $0.14 per serving, which should provide you, your family, your neighbors, and your neighbors’ family with dessert well into 2010. And when July and August hit, you’ll be happy you don’t have to touch the oven.

Have a happy weekend, my sweets. Go forth and cake it up. You just might cake your cake.

P.S. Calories and fat were calculated by Cooking Light, so only the price per serving numbers are shown below.

Vanilla-Buttermilk Pound Cake
Makes 5 mini-loaves, 2 large loaves, or 24 muffins (or, about 24 servings in whichever form).
Adapted from Cooking Light.

13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
11/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
Cooking spray

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.

2) In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3) In a separate large bowl, combine sugar, butter, and vanilla with a hand mixer set to medium speed. It should be "light and fluffy" when you're done. Add one egg. Keep beating. Add another egg. Keep beating. Add the final egg. Keep beating.

4) Alternate adding a little flour mixture and a little buttermilk into the sugar/butter mixture, "beginning and ending with flour mixture." Continue beating the whole time.

5) IF MAKING CUPCAKES: coat 2 12-cup cupcake pans with cooking spray. Distribute batter evenly among them. Bake 18 to 23 minutes, or until they pass the toothpick test.
IF MAKING REGULAR-SIZED LOAVES: coat 2 8-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Distribute batter evenly between them. Bake 45 to 60 minutes or until they pass the toothpick test.
IF MAKING MINI-LOAVES: coat 5 6-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Distribute batter evenly among them. Bake 40 minutes, or until they pass the toothpick test.

6) Remove pans from oven and let them cool a few minutes on a wire rack. Pry the cakes out of the pans, and let them cool all the way on the rack. Serve

Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
24 servings: 180 calories, 6.4 g fat, $0.14

13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups): $0.32
1 teaspoon baking powder: $0.03
1/2 teaspoon baking soda: $0.01
1/2 teaspoon salt: $0.01
2 cups sugar: $0.64
3/4 cup butter, softened: $0.75
1 teaspoon vanilla extract: $0.12
3 large eggs: $0.39
11/3 cups low-fat buttermilk: $0.87
Cooking spray: $0.10
TOTAL: $3.24

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Overcoming Your Cooking Obstacles

When it comes to eating healthier and saving money on food, we’ve established time and time again that few strategies are more effective than cooking at home. Making meals in your own kitchen gives you total control over nutrition, flavor, ingredient quality, and expenditures, among other things. Plus, making a mess with flour is fun.

Still, for many, home cooking is nigh inconceivable. Maybe you work 80 hours a week, and can’t find 20 minutes to make a sandwich. Maybe you live in New York’s East Village, where your apartment galley doubles as your bathroom and your bedroom. Maybe you never learned to cook, and are afraid of blowing $10 on a chicken, then charring it beyond recognition.

Fortunately, we here at the CHG laboratory (translation: my bathroom) have the answer.

First, we isolated a handful factors that most affect peoples’ ability to fire up their own stoves. They are: time, space (in the capacity sense, not the extraterrestrial sense), inexperience, fear of failure, and The Damn Dishes. More than anything else, these five elements drive the average folk to takeout, restaurants, and pilfering fruit from sweet old ladies.

Then, drawing from extensive research and our own experiences, we brainstormed tips and tricks to combat these hindrances. Without further ado, here's everything.


The problem, defined: Since it’s a thrice-daily activity, cooking can be a total time suck. And if you have children, a demanding job, or stuff to do, it’s difficult blocking an hour or two per day for food prep. Consider this: in the 1950s, Americans (read: women) spent about 20 hours a week in the kitchen. Today, it’s less than six.

The solution, explained: Prioritizing cooking isn’t a full-throttle, 0-to-60 overnight deal. It’s a habit developed gradually, and you have to give yourself some leeway. So, start small. Eat breakfast at home everyday for a week, or take 20 minutes to make a basic, from-scratch meal. Try bringing lunch to work. Force yourself to sit down, at your table, and drink a full cup of coffee. Eat in your kitchen instead of in front of your television. Find three or four easy recipes, and cook all your food for the week on a Sunday. Enlist help from the kids/husband/erstwhile in-laws. Again: take baby steps, and don't forget to give yourself a break. With a few months and constant reinforcement, that hour-a-day will start to come naturally.


The problem, defined: Your place has exactly enough room for you, your roommate from Albania, and the dust bunnies you’re raising together as common law spouses. There’s no space for a box of cereal, never mind a 12-piece set of Calphalon.

The solution, explained: You’re already starting small, so that advice is out the window (if, in fact, you have a window). Instead, think big. Where else can you store food, besides your refrigerator and/or cabinet(s)? Is there room under your bed? On top of the microwave? Under the table? Can you install shelving over doorways? Are there Lazy Susans or mini-shelving you can cram under your sink? Check Apartment Therapy’s Smallest Coolest contest for creative ideas, and always remember: IKEA is your friend. For more, check Frugal Storage Solutions for the Small Kitchen, a CHG post from November 2008.


The problem, defined: When it comes to cooking, there are fetuses with more wherewithal. At least they know what to do with leftovers.

The solution, explained: Remember: everybody has to start somewhere. If you don’t know a scallop from a shallot, that’s fine. No one’s evaluating you. Don’t be afraid to experiment and play, and know that you’ll foul up on occasion, sometimes monumentally. Picking up a simple cookbook always helps (suggestions: any Betty Crocker tome, How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, How to Boil Water by Food Network), as do basic recipe sites (AllRecipes, Food Blog Search, etc.), beginners’ TV shows (Everyday Italian, etc.) and fun magazines (Everyday Food, etc.). If you know a good cook, take some time to watch them work. Because if he/she can do it, so can you.


The problem, defined: You buy the finest ingredients. You have all the cooking equipment you possibly need. You’ve watched hour after hour of Julia Child spatchcocking … whatever it is that can be spatchcocked. Still, everything you make ranges in quality from suck to blow. Why waste all that money and time if you know it’s going to be terrible?

The solution, explained: From Eric Ripert to your great-grandma Mary Sue, all chefs have had disasters, often repeatedly. While prompting you to “Suck it up and get back in the game, champ!” is clichéd and glib, there’s some truth to its underlying optimism. You’ll never get any better if you don’t learn from mistakes (your numerous, calamitous mistakes). If you’re concerned about cost, practice your technique on lower-priced ingredients with Craigslist-caliber cookware (and keep a few inexpensive insta-meals around for backup). Don’t forget to read recipes several times and taste your creations as you prepare them. It’ll save you from undersalting or overcooking. Finally, if you can find one, make a loved one your personal guinea pig. Eventually, as you get better, he/she will reap the culinary rewards. Now suck it up and get back in the game, champ!


The problem, defined: After 18 roommates and nine apartments spread over 13 years, I’m secretly convinced that 95% of cooking blocks come from one thing: nobody (me included) wants to do The Damn Dishes. Time-consuming and the total opposite of fun, they’re a pain in the tuchus for all involved. In college, I knew a guy who would leave his Damn Dishes in the sink for DAYS, until his roommates couldn’t take it anymore, surrendered, and washed them. Also - cooking shows and cookbooks NEVER, EVER consider The Damn Dishes when they’re telling you how to make food. I love Ina Garten, but if I ever saw her wash a Damn Dish on Barefoot Contessa, I’d drop dead.

The solution, explained: If you don’t have a dishwasher, I feel your pain. An already-tedious task becomes more difficult when it’s compounded by Whirlpool envy. Starting out with simple, one-pot meals can alleviate this somewhat, as can concentrating on cold salads and sandwiches, which naturally involve fewer dishes. You could also choose one day per week to do all your cooking, which condenses the dishwashing into a half-hour or so. If all else fails, try setting up a system with your roommate/family/Husband-Elect, wherein you do the cooking and he/she/they does/do the dishes. You’ll eat well and avoid dishpan hands.

If you DO have a dishwasher … use it. Lucky dog.

And that’s our ballgame, sweet readers. If you have any suggestions or ideas, please fire away in the comment section. We’re waiting for your call!


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(Photos courtesy of Mugglespace, Kitchen Monkey, and Photoshoppix.)

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