Monday, August 31, 2009

LIKE: Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn

Oh! Sweet readers, I know it’s enormously self-indulgent to list your LIKES on what’s ostensibly a food blog, but then again, it’s kind of enormously self-indulgent to keep a blog in the first place. And I am nothing if not enormously self-indulgent (also: a lapsed Catholic). So … um … here are some LIKES.

LIKE: Tom Waits’ first album, Closing Time.
Holy schmoly. The Husband-Elect and I have been listening to this non-stop for the past week. It’s gorgeous and sad, and Waits’ voice doesn’t yet sound like he swallowed a handful of gin-soaked gravel. Due warning: while lovely, don’t play Closing Time when you’re sad/unemployed/nursing a breakup. It’d be like taking downers after your favorite team loses the Super Bowl. (But seriously, it’s tremendous.)

LIKE: Curtis Sittenfeld’s third novel, American Wife
An imagined biography of a Laura Bush-like figure, this gave me new perspective on the former First Lady. I used to think she was kind of an affable drip. But considering she never really wanted to be in the public eye in the first place, she held up pretty well under the circumstances. Also, Sittenfeld can write like nobody’s business. She makes quiet small-town life as engrossing as the White House.

LIKE: Dooce’s Maytag post
If you’ve ever struggled with an appliance company, read this now. I mean it. It’s epic. (Rated PG-13 for language. But it’s Dooce, so that’s to be expected.)

HALF-LIKE: Julie & Julia
How do you review a movie that’s alternately wonderful and one of the worst films you’ve ever seen? Because Julie & Julia is that. The Meryl Streep/Julia Child half is charming, lovely, and funny. (There’s a scene between Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Jane Lynch where you just wish you were sitting with them.) I’d watch it 27 times. BUT. But. But. But. The Amy Adams/Julie Powell half is TERRIBLE. (Like, even worse than Color of Night.) In the book, Julie comes off as kind of a self-obsessed schmo, but a lovably self-obsessed schmo. In the movie, Amy Adams plays her as a whiny, neurotic, incapable jerk who’s reduced mostly to crying and explaining the Streep/Child part of the story. Very frustrating, and strange to think that both halves were made by the same director.

LIKE: Stuffed Peppers With Black Beans and Corn from Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe
Another triumph by Kimball’s crew, which only further cements my theory that they’re actually a race of detail-obsessed aliens stuck on Earth until each and every human learns to eat well. Of course, if you should make it yourself…

1) The only problem with the recipe was that it made almost twice the amount of stuffing you’d pack into four peppers. This leaves you with two options: buy and cook eight peppers, or use the leftover stuffing as a side dish or burrito filling. Either one is delightful, but, I did my calculations using eight peppers. Due to this, they’re different than they appear in the CI book.

2) Though each serving is a whole meal for $1.57, this is definitely one of the more expensive dishes we’ve featured on the site. It’s largely due to the peppers. (Bad peppers! Why you gotta hurt my bank?) However, the recipe makes sense to cook now, while bells are still in season (OR you can try to get them on sale).

3) If I could make one tiny change to the dish, I would have reserved 1/3 cup of the cheese and sprinkled it on the peppers during the last 10 minutes in the oven. But I like stuff melty, so it’s totes up to y'all.

How about you guys? What do you LIKE lately? The comment section is awaiting you…

Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn
Serves 8
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe.

8 medium red, yellow, or orange bell peppers,, 1/2 –inch trimmed off tops, stemmed, and seeded
1 cup long-grain white rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno chile, minced (include seeds and ribs if you want it hotter)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup frozen or fresh corn (if frozen, make sure to thaw)
1 cup 2% shredded cheddar or pepper Jack cheese
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Fresh ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350F. Set aside a 9x13 baking dish.

2) Boil 4 quarts water in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 1 tablespoon salt and all the bell peppers. Cook 3 minutes. Remove peppers from water and drain them in a colander. Once drained, stand them up on paper towels.

3) When water is boiling again, add rice. Cook 13 minutes, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks.. Drain.

4) While rice is cooking, add oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add onion and jalapeno. Cover. Saute 8 or 10 minutes, until onion is translucent and soft. Uncover. Add garlic. Saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add black beans, tomatoes, and corn. Cook 2 minutes. Pour everything into rice bowl.

5) To the bowl, add cheese and cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to combine.

6) "Carefully and loosely" even distribute filling among the peppers. Place in baking dish. Bake 25 to 30 minutes in the middle of the oven. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
320 calories, 4.7 g fat, 6.6 g fiber, $1.57

Salt: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.02
8 medium red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, 1/2 –inch trimmed off tops, stemmed, and seeded: 248 calories, 2.9 g fat, 20 g fiber, $6.94
1 cup long-grain white rice, uncooked: 675 calories, 1.3 g fat, 2.4 g fiber, $0.33
1 teaspoon olive oil: 39 calories, 4.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.11
1 medium onion, diced: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, 1.5 g fiber, $0.29
1 medium jalapeno chile, minced: 10 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.11
3 medium garlic cloves, minced: 13 calories, 0 g fat, 0.2 g fiber, $0.15
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed: 350 calories, 1.8 g fat, 17.5 g fiber, $0.80
1 15.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained: 82 calories, 0 g fat, 6.5 g fiber, $1.70
1 cup frozen or fresh corn (if frozen, make sure to thaw): 132 calories, 1.8 g fat, 4.2 g fiber, $0.37
1 cup 2% shredded cheddar or pepper Jack cheese: 324 calories, 24.3 g fat, 0 g fiber, $1.25
¼ cup cilantro, chopped: 1 calorie, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.45
Fresh ground black pepper: negligible calories, fat, and fiber, $0.02
TOTAL: 1920 calories, 37.8 g fat, 52.4 g fiber, $12.54
PER SERVING (TOTAL/8): 320 calories, 4.7 g fat, 6.6 g fiber, $1.57

Friday, August 28, 2009

Curried Brown Rice with Tomatoes and Peas. Plus, the Worst Date Ever!

About four years ago, long before the Husband-Elect and I started sucking face, I went on a series of interweb dates. Overall, it was a good experience. Sure, a few nights out were painful, but most of the guys were relatively harmless - nothing to see a psychiatrist over. (P.S. If a dude answers the question, “What was the biggest lie you ever told?” with “I do,” … run, don’t walk.)

However, there was an exception.

During that heady year, I went on the worst date in recorded human history. I'm not kidding. I tell people about it, and they're all, "You win." The story's a long one, so I'll try to condense it a bit.

I: eat breakfast with guy; watch as he has grand mal seizure; call ambulance; watch as he refuses ambulance; discover he can’t move arms; call ambulance back; discover he has two dislocated shoulders, one of which is broken; discover he is new to city and estranged from family; discover writing “girl … friend” on ER sheet qualifies one to make major medical decisions; watch horrid shoulder-popping procedure from behind backlit sheet, a la the amputation scene in Gone With the Wind, meet elderly hospital roommate whose spotty English allows him only to A) curse life, B) curse lung cancer, C) curse telecommunications (“Mother&*#$^& phone! Why you no work?!?”); deal with doctor with bedside manner of rabid wolverine; spend 48 hours at hospital; attempt to cheer date with what little I know about him (“So … you like sweaters? Me too!”); miss work; escort date home in double arm casts; get dumped shortly thereafter because he isn’t over girlfriend of nine years.

I have no idea where that guy is now, but I hope he’s deeply, deeply unhappy.

Oh, I’m kidding. I hope he’s fine. I hope his tendons grew back, and the bills only had four zeros after them instead of five. I also hope he’s eating well, which you’ll definitely be after trying today’s recipe. (Ham-handed segue? Not here, folks!)

Yes, yes - it's the one you've been waiting for. Straight from Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe, it’s Curried Brown Rice with Tomatoes and Peas! Filling and flavorful, the dish is guaranteed to cook perfectly because it’s started on the stove and finished in the oven. It’d go beautifully with Chicken Tikka Masala, a samosa, or other such accompaniment, as well.

Of course, if you should try it yourself, please know:

1) This stuff is packing some heat. If you’re nervous, try regular (non-Madras) curry and see what happens.

2) Calorie, fat, and fiber numbers come from Cook’s Illustrated, so only the price is calculated below.

In conclusion, next time you're off on an internet date, eat this beforehand so you feel full. Then, make sure your date's health insurance plan is up to date. Because hey - you never know.

Happy weekend!

Curried Brown Rice with Tomatoes and Peas
Makes 6 gigantic side servings or medium-small main dishes.
From Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe.

1 1/2 cup long-, medium- or short-grained brown rice (uncooked)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 can (14.5-ounce size) diced tomatoes, drained
2 1/3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Get out an 8x8 baking dish. Spread uncooked rice around bottom of dish.

2) In a medium pot, over medium-low heat, combine oil, onion, ginger, garlic, curry powder, and salt. Saute 8 or 10 minutes, until onions and soft and translucent. Add tomatoes. Cook 2 minutes. Pour in broth. Boil. Once it starts boiling, kill the heat.

3) Pour mixture into baking dish. Cover with two pieces of tin foil. Bake 70 minutes in the middle of the oven, until rice is cooked.

4) Take dish out of oven and let it cool a few minutes. Add peas. Stir. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
230 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g fiber, $0.66

1 1/2 cup long-, medium- or short-grained brown rice (uncooked): $0.48
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil: $0.11
1 small onion, chopped: $0.25
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger: $0.05
1 clove garlic, minced: $0.05
1 1/2 teaspoon hot curry powder: $0.06
½ teaspoon salt: $0.01
1 can (14.5-ounce size) diced tomatoes, drained: $1.70
2 1/3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth: $0.66 (I used one 15.5-ounce can, and then added about a ½-cup water - Kris)
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed: $0.30
TOTAL: $3.67

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Veggie Might: Esquites (Divinely Roasted Corn)

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

It’s been a highly politicized year for corn: High-fructose corn syrup wars have been raging, and Food, Inc reminded us that American farmers mostly produce corn that feeds livestock and the agri-industrial complex.

But let’s forget all about politics for today. It’s summer; the sun is shining; and, if you can stand the humidity, it’s high time to talk about corn that people eat.

Corn is a nearly perfect food. It’s sweet; it’s savory; and it can be cooked a million ways. I’m always on the lookout for a new way to use corn, and New York magazine’s In Season recipe from a couple weeks ago left me all atwitter.

I’d never heard of esquites, but, after a little bit of research, I discovered the delicious truth. Esquites is heavenly Mexican street food: corn, butter, cheese, lime, and epazote with optional mayo. Served in a cup with a spoon, you’re ready to hit the town. That beats a dried out pretzel any day.

The NY mag recipe comes courtesy of Chef David Schuttenberg of Cabrito, a restaurant I’d neither heard of nor been to. But man, this stuff is good, so who knows...

His version of esquites has no mayo and adds onion and garlic. I subbed cilantro for epazote and queso blanco for the tangier cotija cheese, both purely because of availability. Parmesan would have been a better sub for the cotija, but hey, it’s what I had on hand. I also significantly reduced the amount of butter (and subbed vegan margarine), and it was still amazing.

The second best part was roasting the corn over the open flame of my gas stove. Though I love the flexibility of cooking with gas, I’ve always been a teensy bit afraid of my stove. I’ve had two small kitchen fires in the 14 years I’ve lived this gas-heated community. But for roasted corn, I was willing to work through my fears. (Next up: down escalators.)

The best part was eating the results. Oh sweet St. Honoré, the esquites were divine. (was divine? I’m having cross-lingual subject-verb agreement issues.) Roasting brings out the sweetness in the corn in a way you just don’t get from boiling. This dish will become a permanent part of my summer rotation. It’s best hot, but it was also delicious at room temperature on a blanket overlooking New York harbor.

Oh, hey, Honoré, patron saint of corn? Can you take up this whole industrial corn mess with the big G and see what y’all can work out? ‘k. Thanks.

Esquites (Roasted Corn)
adapted from David Schuttenberg’s Esquites in New York magazine
serves 4 – 6

4 ears corn, husks removed
1 tbsp vegan margarine or butter
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk epazote (stems separated from leaves, and leaves finely chopped)
2 tbsp cilantro (thicker stems separated, leaves finely chopped)
1 lime, juiced
2 tbs. cotija cheese (available at many Mexican bodegas, parmesan is a good substitution)
salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste

1) Heat a grill, or turn on your gas stove burner. Cook 2 ears of corn until black, but not burnt. Set aside to cool.

2) Remove kernels from remaining two ears of corn with a knife.

3) Melt the butter and add olive oil to a sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

4) "Add raw corn kernels and stem from epazote" or cilantro. Cook 5 or 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Corn should be juuust cooked through.

5) Remove kernels from roasted ears of corn.

6) Up the heat to high and add the charred kernels of corn to the pan. Stir until heated through.

7) Squeeze in lime juice. Add salt and cayenne to taste.

8) Remove epazote stem and move mixture into individual bowls or a serving bowl. Top cheese and chopped epazote or cilantro leaves. (To be honest, I mixed everything together in the serving bowl and it was gorgeous.)

9) Eat and gimme an Amen.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
Serves 4: 192.5 calories, 7.5g fat, $.82
Serves 6: 128.3 calories, 5g fat, $.54

4 ears corn: 508, 8g fat, $0.1.33
1 tbsp vegan margarine: 100 cal, 11 fat, $.12
1/2 tbsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, $.04
1 medium white onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
2 cloves garlic: 8.4 calories, 0g fat, $.024
2 tbsp cilantro + stems: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 lime, juiced: 9.5 calories, 0g fat, $.10
2 tbsp queso blanco: 44 calories, 3.6g fat, $.19
salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 770 calories, 30g fat, $3.26
Per serving (totals/4): 192.5 calories, 7.5g fat, $.82
Per serving (totals/6): 128.3 calories, 5g fat, $.54

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reader Request: Defining “Healthy”

Every Monday, I pen a cooking column over at Serious Eats called Healthy and Delicious. Usually, those meals are produce focused and naturally low-calorie, meaning there’s little hubbub over nutritional value.

Here at CHG, we follow pretty much the same model. It says so right in the FAQ: “Nutrition-wise, we concentrate mainly on recipes with lower calories and fat, and often find those dishes naturally contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than most others.” (Yay FAQ!)

Occasionally, however, I’ll post a Quick and Easy Apple Tart or a Light Macaroni and Cheese, and the health aspect comes under scrutiny. Sometimes, it’s from readers, and other times, it’s me doing the questioning. Because honestly, these aren’t recipes that’ll strengthen your heart, build up your brain cells, and make you live until 135. They’re foods that are only slightly better than the calorie-laden alternatives.

I mean, think about it. How can that Tart be considered good for you? What positive effects can a macaroni and cheese – even a lower fat version – possibly have, especially when compared to an ostensibly nutrient-packed dish like Mango Salsa or Strawberry and Avocado Salad?

Of course, most folks will say it’s all in how you look at it. Sane people can’t survive on vegetables alone. Lighter alternatives (which are very different from chemical-laden “diet” foods) can be essential to a healthy lifestyle. And by god, a less oily brownie is better than no brownie at all.

All this nuance (so much nuance!) makes it dang near impossible to define the word "healthy" in any concrete, universally applicable way. Because to some, it means low-fat. To others, it means raw vegan organic. And still to others (a.k.a. my little bro) it means scarfing Buffalo wings three nights in a row, rather than six.

Personally speaking (or typing), my idea of "healthy" cooking is based largely on my own values and experiences. What's more, it varies from day to day and year to year. In times I was on the heavier side, “healthy” meant getting through dinner without a third piece of pizza. Now, it means fresh food that won’t do harm to my body. But that’s just me.

So, sweet readers, what's a healthy recipe to you? How do you describe a healthy food? Or healthy eating habits? Is there a hard and fast definition, or is it open to interpretation? Bring on the thoughts!

(P.S. I’d love to turn the responses into next Wednesday’s post, if you’re into it.)

(Photos courtesy of Art History and Roger Wang.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

Amateur Gourmet: Dinner at El Bulli, the Greatest Restaurant in the World
30 courses, none of which I’ve ever seen in my life, all presented in awesome comic book form. So neat. (Thanks to Serious Eats for the link.)

The American: The Omnivore’s Delusion - Against the Agri-intellectuals
An American farmer fires back against Food Inc., Michael Pollan, and pretty much everybody else who’s like, “the food system is messed up, yo.” It’s nice to get an opposing point of view. (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.)

CNN: Muppet Diplomacy
Nothing to do with food, everything to do with Kermit. Why drop bombs when you can send in Fozzy the Bear?

Consumerist: Bring Out Your Pig, The Mobile Slaughterhouse Is Here!
Ingenious … or insanity? Either way, there’s bacon.

Consumerist: Consumers Finally Growing Some Damned Sense, Not Buying Bottled Water
Thank goodness. Bottled water is bad for everyone. Especially this Mother Jones writer.

GenX Finance: My Brown Bag Lunch Experiment – Save Over $1,000 a Year
Mr. and Mrs. GenX brown-bagged it for a year, and then did the math to see how much they banked. You knew bringing lunch to work could save you cash, but did you know you could buy a new computer with it?

The Independent: The 10 Best Children’s Cookbooks
As someone with zero children, I can not confirm the veracity of this article. I can send it along, though. P.S.: the Shrek Cookbook (#8) looks kind of fun.

New York Times: Image Problem? Don’t Pity the Bell
Though loathed by many for their inoffensiveness and/or earthy flavor, green bell peppers can be quite delicious. No, seriously.

New York Times: After 48 Years, Julia Child Has a Big Best Seller, Butter and All
Bon Appetit, Jules!

Serious Eats: Brooklyn Water Bagels in DelRay Beach, Florida
It’s long been rumored that Brooklyn bagels transcend the competition because of the borough’s water, a fizzy, somewhat cloudy brew (at least from my faucet) that does something magical to the cooking process. This bagel place in Florida imports their H20 from BK, apparently proving the myth to be true. REPRESENT, my fellow N-trainers!

Serious Eats: Movies That Go Beyond Food, Inc.
Comprehensive guide to food documentaries that goes well beyond usual suggestions. Rev your Netflix subscriptions, sweet readers.

Serious Eats: Save Money and Time, Cut Down on Waste by Joining a Co-op or Buying Club
Lots of folks might be aware of the Co-op option, but Buying Clubs are far less well-known. A good idea worth the time it takes to explore.

The Simple Dollar: Eating What You Have on Hand
Trent’s decided to, “start cooking some healthy and very inexpensive staple foods once a week in bulk, store them in containers in the fridge, and utilize them all throughout the week in various dishes.” I like this.

The Simple Dollar: The Real Lessons of “How Low Can You Go?”
Trent’s been cooking meals from NPR’s How Low Can You Go challenge for eight weeks now, and this is what he’s learned.

Slate: Thou Shalt Be Debt Free - Which is more important: tithing or paying off my $13,000 credit-card debt?
Extremely well-written advice column response that might help folks of faith decide their finances. Definitely worth a look if you’re a serial donater.

Stonesoup: How to Host a Vegetarian Feast
Excellent piece for carnivore chefs with veggie buds. “Look to cuisines that naturally favor vegetarians” are words to live by. (Or cook by.) (Thanks to Casual Kitchen for the link.) Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food
Every single problem with our food system is summed up in the first paragraph. The four pages after that contain both detailed explanations and prospective solutions to our issues. This would make a fantastic addition to a college syllabus.

USA Today: Steer Toward Healthy Food
As we enter the final week before school starts, this clip-n-save article could help you find healthy treats on road trips. Bon voyage, sweet travelers.

Zen Habits: The 7 Essential Rules To Optimum Health & Weight Loss
Must … commit … to … memory … but wait … can’t seem to do so … memory … too full of … trivial … movie quotes … so say it once and say it loud … I’m black and I’m proud …

(Photos courtesy of TVgasm and The Leftover Queen.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tyler Florence’s Mojo Marinade (for Chicken, Carne Asada, etc.)

Hi everybody! I’m back, and catching up to everything I missed while I was away. Prodigious thanks to both Stan and Leigh, who covered during my absence.

While things are a little hectic right now, they should be up to speed soon. In the meantime, I give you Tyler Florence’s Mojo, a lively, tasty Tex-Mex-style marinade for chicken breast and flank steak. Alas, since it’s nearly impossible to account for how much oil the meat will retain, there are no nutritional calculations (though the price math is still listed).

If you’re hankering for a solid side dish, check out Avocado and Corn Salsa over at Serious Eats. I posted on it today, and can absolutely vouch for its over-the-moonness.

Until tomorrow...

Mojo Marinade
Makes about 1 1/4 cups
Adapted from Tyler Florence.
Note: photo is of marinated steak, and not the marinade itself. The meat just looked better.

4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, salt, and pepper. Mash it all together to form a past. Add lime juice, orange juice, vinegar, and oil. Whisk to combine. Use as marinade or sauce.

Approximate Price of Marinade

4 garlic cloves, minced: $0.20
1 jalapeno, minced: $0.36
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped: $0.45
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: $0.03
2 limes, juiced: $0.40
1 orange, juiced: $0.50
2 tablespoons white vinegar: $0.06
1/2 cup olive oil: $0.91
TOTAL: $2.91

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Veggie Might: Peach, Tomato, and Basil Salad, a.k.a. Salad Redeemed

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

Like most people, I hate to waste food for fiduciary and children-starving-in-Africa-and-right-here-at-home-reasons. So when I improvise in the kitchen, I stick to a few basic tropes:

garlic + greens + beans
ginger + vegetable + grain

lemon + vegetable + pasta

They all = awesome, and the mixing and matching make me feel like there is variety in my diet.

Recently, I picked up some fresh fava beans from the farmers' market. They were a special treat because they were A) expensive and ii) I'd never had them before. Once home, I browsed my cookbooks for guidance. I didn't trust myself to go it alone.

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian had a delicious-sounding fava bean salad with mint, and I fortuitously purchased just the right amount: 2 lbs still in the pods. I put a sticky note on the page for later.

The next day, I was drooling over the food porn at The Kitchn. A peach-tomato salad with basil caught my eye. "Must. Have.," I thought. I put a star next to the entry in my blog reader for later.

Later...I found myself in the kitchen with the primary ingredients for both salads. That's where it all went south. I thought, "Hey! The secondary ingredients in these salads are similar. Plus, mint and basil are nearly interchangeable with fruit. I'll just combine the recipes. They will taste great together!"

Never have I been so wrong about food. To begin with, I overcooked the beans, so they came out of the pods (and then the shells--so much work) all grey and mushy. If we eat with our eyes first, mine got food poisoning.

Despite appearance of the beans, I pressed on. The smell should have clued me in next. I can't exactly say why, but the beans just smelled like they didn't belong there. But still I proceeded with my plan. And as you can likely guess, the flavor combo did not work. The rich, creamy beans were almost nauseating paired with the bright, tangy peaches and tomatoes. It wasn't so much that it tasted bad; it just tasted wrong.

But the peaches and tomatoes were delicious together, tangy and sweet, even stuck in the fava bean muck. I picked out the fruit and ate it anyway, then immediately made another salad with only the stars.

It was glorious; I was redeemed. It felt good try, fail, and try again. And someday, when I'm feeling less queasy about fava beans, I'll give them another go.

Peach, Tomato, and Basil Salad
adapted from Chef Rowley Leigh, courtesy of The Observer
serves 3

2 small to medium peaches (about 10 oz combined)
1 large tomato (about 12 oz)
juice of 1/2 lemon
6 basil leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Place the tomato (or tomatoes) in a bowl and pour boiling water over it. Let it sit for about 30 seconds. Run under cold water and peel off the skin. Repeat with the peaches.

2) Cube the tomatoes and peaches and place in a medium bowl.

3) Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil over the fruit. Sprinkle the chopped basil leaves and toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.

4) Serve with confidence and a nice sauvignon blanc.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
62.7 calories, .8g fat, $.84

2 peaches: 118 calories, 0g fat, $1.24
1 tomato: 44 calories, 0g fat, $1.11
juice of 1/2 lemon: 6 calories, 0g fat, $.12
3 basil leaves: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp olive oil: 20 calories, 2.3g fat, $.02
salt and pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 188 calories, 2.3g fat, $2.53
Per serving: 62.7 calories, .8g fat, $.84

Monday, August 17, 2009

GUEST POST: Observations from a Novice Cook

Kris is on vacation. Today's post comes from Stan Laikowski, who sometimes writes or says funny things. He has a brand new blog here: He is always a husband and dad.

My young self had big plans for my adult self. I had always seen myself as growing into a jack-of-all-trades, without the “master of none” part. With little effort, and even less time commitment, I was to be a phenomenal drummer, clutch jump shooter, and cutting edge film director. Skate boarder. Novelist. Jet setter. The list goes on. The dusty Tama Swingstar drum set that I finally threw out a few years ago tells a different story, as does the pile of notebooks I have accumulated, each holding dozens of half-finished story sketches. To be fair, I have met with varying degrees of success. Did somebody say indie band ‘Housemother Dunbar’? No? OK. Regardless, as I get older, each year seems to be defining what I will never be.

Cooking was yet another art on my list. I saw myself as a happy-go-lucky bachelor with serious culinary chops, creating sumptuous meals while sharing a glass of merlot (wine connoisseur, another fading dream), with a lucky gal that who would melt like butter in an all-clad sauce pan as she witnessed my skills. Cut to the reality of living alone. I was the lowly apprentice of the one pot meal, if I even needed a pot. Most of my meals either came in a wrapper, or with a pint of beer. When I began dating my wife, I realized one of the many ways that I had hit the jackpot was that she enjoyed cooking, and was good at it. There was no shame in crossing cooking off my list because the base was already covered. Then came Holden.

During my wife’s pregnancy, I was warned multiple times that I would be needed in the kitchen. I immediately agreed because you don’t argue with a woman who has spent 9 months hauling around your progeny, but I didn’t really consider what I was getting into. In fact, part of me didn’t expect to really have to cash in on my promise. However, a simple math equation began to present itself. A- We need to eat every day, and B- my wife was exhausted with our newborn. If I wanted to get to C- a full belly, I needed to don an apron, which I did with some trepidation. I then discovered something thrilling. I liked cooking. Following are a few observations I have made on my path from extreme novice to, well, less extreme novice.

Cooking, like the game Othello, takes a moment to learn, and a lifetime to master. I can replicate my wife’s simpler meals now. One of the more popular is asparagus pasta. This involves the most basic of ingredients (asparagus, oil, parmesan, bowtie pasta, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper). When I make it, it tastes good, but it does not taste quite the same as when my wife makes it. I have come to learn that a lot of cooking is in the nuance, and nothing but time and experimentation is going to teach me that. I have begun taking the first steps towards adding my signature to meals, but there are only so many times you can add a ton of garlic to a dish.

Cooking is meditative. The one meal that is wholly mine in the household comes from the Cook’s Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipe book. I chose the Italian Sausage with Peppers, Onions, and Potatoes recipe. Upon making the meal for the first time, I presented it to my wife a full hour and fifteen minutes past the 30-minute mark. I was shocked so much time had passed. Where had it gone? I was lost in making the food, and I notice that time stops for me whenever I cook. I have since gotten the meal down to about 50 minutes due to an increase in efficiency, but am miles away from completing that meal in the allotted 30 minutes.

Food is beautiful. The peppers in the meal (see photo) are as appealing to me as a sunset. The mixture of color and texture between foods on a plate is fascinating. Once I have the basics down, I very much look forward to exploring the presentational aspect of a meal.

There is a very unique satisfaction to making a meal people enjoy. I have probably made the sausage pepper dish about 10 times, and every time I find myself peeking out of the corner of my eye at my wife’s first bite. Additionally, I find myself critiquing my own first few bites more and more, and deciding where I can improve for next time. Usually, that answer is to lower the heat. I tend to cook with too hot a flame.

It is fun to cut things with a really sharp knife.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.

Among the joy, laughter and pride that Holden brings, it looks like I have another thing for which to thank him. His birth set off an inadvertent chain reaction that resurrected one of my dreams, and it looks like I just might complete this one. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a ukulele to buy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas. Also ... Squirrel!

Oh, you guys, I love this dish. For real, Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas is one of the best, simplest dinners I’ve made in a long time. The zucchini gives it snap, the chickpeas give it heft and fiber, and the pasta … well, pasta is pasta. It’s manna from heaven.

The recipe originally comes from Real Simple, and the only change I made was to reduce the olive oil by a tablespoon. The rest was pretty healthy on its own, and under $1 per serving. Plus, it’s excellent for lunch the next day. Just take care to evenly distribute the chickpeas when you’re serving the dish, or the last recipient will get 75% of those suckers. (I learned this the hard way.)

Sadly - and here’s the catch - the picture I took is butt-terrible. Moreso than usual, even. The bowl and background are yellow and out-of-focus, and the food itself looks like Cthulu. So, to compensate, two things:

A) I used the photo from David Chiu’s website, which might come from Real Simple, but I’m not sure.

B) Squirrel!

Man, I love that thing. If you have some free time, the folks over at Buzzfeed have Photoshopped the Crasher Squirrel (as it has become known) into all kinds of exciting scenarios like this one:


Anyway, that’s a wrap for this week. I’m away again next week, so posting will be kind of light, with a guest poster or two. Have a lovely weekend, and don’t forget to squirrel. I mean, make this dish.

Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas
Serves 4
Adapted from Real Simple.
Picture from David Chiu possibly via Real Simple.

3/4 lb. pasta like linguine or spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 small or 2 medium zucchinis, chopped into ¼-inch half-moons
Kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1) Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, making sure to keep 1/2 cup of pasta water for later.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add zucchini. Add 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Saute 4 or 5 minutes. Add garlic, chickpeas, and red pepper. Saute an additional 2 or 3 minutes. Kill heat.

3) Add pasta, your reserved pasta water, and 1/4 cup parmesan to skillet. Stir to combine. Serve with remaining parm sprinkled on top, take care to evenly distribute the chickpeas.

Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
542 calories, 9.6 g fat, 8.5 g fiber, $0.97

3/4 lb. pasta like linguine or spaghetti: 1262 calories, 5.1 g fat, 10.9 g fiber, $0.60
1 tablespoon olive oil: 119 calories, 13.5 g fat, 0 g fiber, $0.11
3 small or 2 medium zucchinis: 63 calories, 0.8 g fat, 4.3 g fiber, $0.85
Kosher salt: negligible calories, fat or fiber, $0.02
2 cloves garlic, minced: 9 calories, 0 g fat, 0.1 g fiber, $0.10
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed: 500 calories, 4.6 g fat, 18.5 g fiber, $0.80
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper: negligible calories, fat or fiber, $0.02
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese: 216 calories, 14.3 g fat, 0 g fiber, $1.36
TOTAL: 2169 calories, 38.3 g fat, 33.8 g fiber, $3.86
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 542 calories, 9.6 g fat, 8.5 g fiber, $0.97

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Veggie Might: Smokin’ Summer Stir Fry

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

I love stir fry. It’s so fast and easy. And you can make it with whatever you have in your kitchen. I especially love green beans in stir fry. So I’ve been having a fantastic summer.

When I make stir fry, I usually just throw in a little onion and garlic, a hunk of ginger, a dollop of chili paste, and a few dashes of soy sauce and call it a day. But when faced with the most recent and stunning bounty from the farmers’ market, I wanted something special to fire it up.

For the past year, I’ve been addicted to this fantastic smoky miso bizness over at the gorgeous and innovative blog, Vegan Yum Yum. Now, I’ve been eating this on tofu as directed—and it’s amazing. It occurred to me that could work as a sauce for my stir fry veg action.

Oh, yeah. It does. I was a happy girl at lunchtime for more than a week. I cut back on the sugar a bit and, combined with a little heat from chili oil and a jalapeño, this is one of the tick-tockinest dishes ever to rock out of my kitchen.

Using the cooking times below, your veggies, especially the green beans, should stay nice and crunchy. That’s the way I like them anyway. If you like softer stir fry veg, just let everything simmer a bit longer.

The prep takes the longest when making this dish. Otherwise, it goes pretty fast. The protein and grain can be cooking while you’re frying up the veggies. You’ll be done before you know it.

I used red lentils and millet to give the dish a satisfying heartiness without making it heavy. Red lentils cook up fast; and millet cooks in about the same amount of time as rice. If I’d figured out how to do this whole thing in one pot, I’d have given myself a medal.

I got six solid meals out of this batch, and even shared a bit at the office. Depending on the portion sizes, you may get up to 8, but you’ll want to go on forever. It freezes well too.

Smoke up the kitchen with this stir fry. You’ll be out of there and eating in a flash.

Smokin’ Summer Stir Fry
Serves 6

The Sauce (from by Smokey Miso Tofu at Vegan Yum Yum)
2 tbsp red miso
2 tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp liquid smoke or smoked paprika

The Vegetables
1 1/2 tsp chili oil (or olive oil)
1 summer squash, sliced bit-size
1 c fresh green beans, cut in half
2–3 radishes, sliced
1 lg carrot, sliced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 lg onion
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, chopped, seeds and all

The Protein/Carb Combo
1 cup red lentils
1 c millet (or your grain of choice)

1) Combine ingredients for sauce in a small bowl and set aside.

2) Cook the lentils and millet in separate saucepans while you make your stir fry as follows: 2 c water/1 c millet. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook on low for 20 minutes or until fluffy. 3 c water/1 cup lentils. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook on low for about 10­–15 minutes, or until desired consistency. Red lentils are more delicate than green and cook up fast.

3) In a large pot or wok, sauté the onions and garlic in hot oil.

4) Add carrots and celery. Stirring occasionally, cook for 2–3 minutes. Repeat this step adding the vegetables in the following order: green beans; red peppers and jalapeños; squash and radishes.

5) Add the sauce along with a splash of water if the veggies are sticking to the pan. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

6) Once all the components are done, combine in the vegetable pot.

7) Eat and absorb the smokin’ super powers.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
305.1 calories, 3.5g fat, $1.07

2 tbsp red miso: 45 calories, 0g fat, $.54
2 tbsp soy sauce: 22 calories, 0g fat, $.50
Juice of 1 lemon: 9.5 calories, .03 fat, $0.10
1 tsp sugar: 16 calories, 0g fat, $.01
1 tbsp nutritional yeast: 47 calories, .7g fat, $.33
1/2 tsp liquid smoke: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 1/2 tsp chili oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, $0.04
1 summer squash: 72 calories, 1g fat, $.50
1 c fresh green beans: 34 calories, 0g fat, $.75
2–3 radishes: 6.5 calories, 0g fat, $.25
1 lg carrot: 30 calories, 0g fat, $.16
2 ribs celery: 10 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 red bell pepper: 51 calories, 0g fat, $.75
1/2 lg onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
2 – 3 cloves garlic: 12.6 calories, 0g fat, $.04
1 jalapeño: 4 calories, 0g fat, $.08
1 cup red lentils: 662 calories, 4g fat, $.79
1 c millet: 756 calories, 8g fat, $.84
TOTALS: 1830.6 calories, 20.93g fat, $6.39
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 305.1 calories, 3.5g fat, $1.07

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Save Money on Food: Buy it Whole Rather Than Pre-cut, Pre-Cleaned, or Pre-Whatever

When it comes to saving cash on food, hard and fast rules are few and far between. Yes, we should bring our lunches to work. Yes, we should buy from ethnic grocers whenever possible. Yes, we should stick to the handful of ideas mentioned in Spend Less, Eat Healthier: The Five Most Important Things You Can Do (now with flavor crystals!). But beyond that, it’s kind of subjective to a person or family’s needs.

Oh, wait! Except for this: buy whole foods.

And by that, I don’t mean, “Avoid food that is bad for you.” I mean, “When you purchase a pineapple, get the whole thing. Don’t buy chunks.”

See, generally speaking, the more food is manhandled, the more it will cost. Carrot sticks cost more than whole carrots. Grated cheese is pricier than a block of cheddar. Just about every slice a butcher makes to a chicken raises its dollar value. And the same goes for most meats, seafood, dairy products, produce, and staples.

Plus, often enough, pre-grated, pre-chopped, or pre-disassembled edibles will not taste as good as those that haven’t been touched. If you’ve ever compared pre-grated cheese to cheese you grated yourself, you know what I mean.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. You might find a bottle of generic ground black pepper for less than a jar of delicious whole peppercorns. Or maybe there’s a humongous bag of pre-chopped onion on sale. And, honestly, if you want three pounds of chicken breast, you’re better off buying a package of torsos rather than three separate birds.

Still, as a rule, whole-er is better. To prove this, I took five different foods available in A) whole form and B) the same exact form only smaller, and compared their costs. All the prices come from Peapod, which is an online grocery store and a partner of Stop & Shop (a supermarket chain in the Northeast). You’ll notice, for all five examples, the more a food is cut, cleaned, or cooked, the more expensive it is.

(Please note that all calculations are for the amount listed next to the product, NOT for the size of the bag in which the product is available. If you’re curious about my math, shoot me an e-mail. But I double-checked. I promise.)

BLACK BEANS (6 cups cooked)
Dried: $1.50
Canned: $3.42

CARROTS (1 lb)
Stop & Shop Brand
Whole: $0.90
Baby carrots: $1.79
Cut into sticks and mixed with celery: $3.41
Shredded: $4.00

Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp
Whole bar: $7.60
Cheese Sticks: $8.98
Cracker Cuts: $12.28

CHICKEN (1 lb)
Whole: $1.59
Whole, cut up: $1.79
Thighs: $1.99
Skinless breast with rib: $3.29
Boneless, skinless breast: $4.99
Boneless, skinless breast tenders: $5.49
Note: Leg quarters were actually $1.49 per pound, and the only cut-up food I saw that was cheaper than buying it whole.

PINEAPPLE (1 lb) Stop & Shop Brand
Whole: $3.33
Chunked: $4.78
Note: Approximately 60% of a whole pineapple is edible. The average pineapple weighs about two pounds.

Of course, chopping, cleaning, and boning takes time, and lots of folks are willing to sacrifice a few bucks for the convenience of having it done for them. No big deal. If it works for you, go for it. Especially if you have kids. It’s tough wielding knives when a three-year-old won’t detach herself from your ankle.

However, if you’re trying to save a few extra bucks, buy whole foods and cleave them yourself. This post should help you get started, and taking a knife skills class would be immeasurably beneficial, as well.

Readers, what do you think about this rule? Do you find it’s true, or do you think it’s crazy talk? Fire away in the comment section.

(Photos provided by Web MD, Sweet Blog, and DCFud.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks

This week, it’s the debt-fat relationship, Joy Fit Club transformations (including a lady who’s dropped over 400 pounds), and polar-opposite profiles of Aunt Sandy and Omnivore’s Dilemma spokesfarmer Joel Salatin. I wonder what those two would talk about with over a beer?

Casual Kitchen: A Question of Food Quality
Dan asks a simple question with a difficult answer: was food better way back when than it is today? I say … I’m not sure. I doubt I would have tried Gorgonzola cheese in 1936, but on the other hand a tomato tasted like a tomato. Readers, what say you?

Casual Kitchen: What Percent of Your Budget do You Spend on Food?
Most commenters seem to hover around 10%, with much of that going towards restaurant meals. It’s slightly higher in the CHG household, because we have this blog thing, see. Also, we like pricey bacon. Mmm … pricey bacon.

Culinate: 10 Sites That Will Help You Eat with More Awareness
Whether you’re concerned about saving the whales or saving your own digestive system, this helpful compilation post is the place to go. From Marion Nestle to The Ethicurean, it’s like having your own personal Food Wiki.

Gourmet: Reduce Debt to Lose Weight?
A recent German study found a correlation between obesity and indebtedness. Of 9000 folks in hock, “25 percent were medically obese, compared to only 11 percent of the non-indebted group.” Frugal Dad has his own take on the issue, as well.

MSNBC: Health Reform Idea: Put Down the Doughnut
The question of personal responsibility in weight control (and subsequently, health care) has once again reared its controversial head. (Yes, a head can be controversial. Just ask Ted Williams.)

MSNBC: Joy Fit Club Transformations
Oh dear, sweet Moses Malone, how I love Before-and-After weight loss photos. And Today Show nutrition expert Joy Bauer has 40 of them, right here in slideshow form. Even if you don’t get through the whole thing, scroll ahead to Tammey’s story on page 9. Girl dropped 410 pounds. That’s 1-1/2 offensive linemen.

New York Times: You Say Tomato, I Say Ecological Disaster
Wondering what happened to this year’s tomato (and potato) crops? Dan Barber’s gotcher answer, right here. (It’s fungus.) (Also – has anyone else noticed that the price of avocados seems to suddenly have skyrocketed? Any ideas?)

Newsweek: How Diet Affects Fertility
This eight-page story might not apply to everybody, but it’s fascinating to learn how simple dietary changes can affect one’s ability to spawn. Most interesting: full-fat dairy products are hands down better for you than low-fat varieties.

Newsweek: Sandra Lee - The Anti-Julia
I’m guessing there have been so many Aunt Sandy profiles lately because of Julia & Julia. Journalists seem to be choosing her as an example of where food programming is headed. This one is alternately harsh and resigned. The most interesting part: Rachael Ray isn't crazy about being lumped in with Lee. She’s all like, “Um, you know I know how to chop a vegetable, right?”

Serious Eats: Top 10 Cheap and Green Kitchen Tips
Handy and easy, though there’s some debate in the peanut gallery over #1.

The Simple Dollar: Freezer and Fridge Hacks – Seven Ways to Maximize the Value of Your Refrigerator and Freezer
Ooo – I like this one, because the tips are easy and it’s stuff that I never think about. Pulling your fridge back from the wall? Who knew?

Time: Cheapskate Blog – How to Bring Your Grocery Bill Down to $15 a Week
If you’ve ever read an I-Survived-Feeding-Myself-on-$50-a-Week article and thought to yourself, “Amateurs,” then this interview with Philip and Christina (the folks behind the $30 a Week blog) will show you there are kindred spirits out there.

Time: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin
But it WILL make you healthy. Explore the difference with this interesting piece, backed by what seem like reliable studies.

Treehugger: Joel Salatin – America’s Most Influential Farmer
Fascinating interview with Michael Pollan’s favorite farmer. Note to TV development departments: this guy needs his own show immediately. Dude can TALK. (Thanks to The Kitchn for the link.)

Wise Bread: The Five-Day Freeze: Batch Cooking for the Rest of Us
What, you don’t have 12 spare hours to put aside every week? No worries. Lindsay Knerl will show you how you can still pull off batch cooking without neglecting your children/job/lovah/catching-up-on-Season-2-of-Mad Men.

(Photos courtesy of The District Domestic, Complete Garden, and Slow Food Charlotte.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Cheap Lobster, Expensive Bacon, Pork Tacos, Multiple Hot Dogs, and a Dozen Summer Squash Cakes: a Weekend in Eating

Between last Sunday and Thursday evenings, the Husband-Elect and I ate no meat. None. Not an errant piece of chicken or a single drop of beef broth. Animals remained unsquished by our grinding mandibles, and we didn’t even realize it until Thursday night, when we tucked into Pork Belly Tacos and a plate of Carne Asada for a friend’s birthday party.

(Incidentally, if you’re ever feeling down about life, go to Paladar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side and order a mojito and a pork belly taco with pineapple. Everything will start looking like a Frank Capra movie.)

In the four days since, I’ve scarfed enough beef, seafood, and pork to put all of Chicago into a coma. Some of it came from the aforementioned restaurant. More came from a lovely barbecue with some longtime girlfriends. Even more came from a one-year-old’s birthday party. The birthday girl herself didn’t partake, but compensated by smearing her cake all over her head, like an awesome chocolate helmet. (Mmm ... chocolate helmet.)

Anyway, it’s been glorious, and interrupted only by intermittent cups of the most potent sangria this side of the Rio Grande. And maybe some ketchup.

Sadly, a woman can not live on beef and sangria alone. At some point in her life (especially if she wants to spawn, according to Newsweek), she has to ingest vegetables. So, upon arriving home from Meatathon ’09, I took to my 900° kitchen and grated some squash.

The squash grating was for this Squash Patty recipe from As it turns out, you can cook grated squash much the same way you’d cook grated tuber for Potato Pancakes. Some flour, a little binding agent, a splash of oil, and *voila* - instant snacky-type discs of deliciousness, with moistness and flavor to spare.

For the CHG version, I only used a tablespoon of fat, and counted on cayenne, salt and pepper for most of the flavor. The changes are reflected below, but if you should make it your self, there are a few things to know

1) This recipe depends almost entirely on two things: seasoning and the browning process. Be liberal with the first, and committed to the second. I might make an experiment patty, and then season and brown the rest of the batch with those results in mind.

2) Since these reminded me a lot of potato pancakes, I’m pretty sure they’d be great with some applesauce. I’d definitely serve them with some kind of dipping mixtures.

3) Patties like this would usually be fried in a heavier pan – probably a cast iron or some kind of All-Clad thingie. I used a large non-stick one to cut down on fat without burning the food.

I’m headed South next week, so I expect Meatathon’ 09 to re-commence. Until then, my leftover Squash Cakes will suffice. And maybe some bacon.

Summer Squash Cakes
Makes about 12 2-inch patties
Adapted from

1 tablespoon bacon grease or vegetable oil
2 cups unpeeled yellow squash (about 1-1/2 medium), grated
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 egg, beaten
1/8th teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
Lots of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

NOTE: The dish depends hugely on the intensity of your seasonings, so don’t skimp and feel free to tailor them to your tastes. Browning is important, too. Take care not to undercook.

1) In a large, nonstick pan, heat grease/oil over medium-high heat until hot. You know it’s ready when you splash a drop of water in, and it jumps.

2) While pan is heating, mix all ingredients in a medium bowl until just moistened.

3) Drop rounded tablespoons of the squash mixture into the pan, and cook for about 4-7 minutes on first side. When patties are BROWNED, flip them over, squish them a little with your spatula, and cook another 4-7 minutes, until second side is browned.

4) Remove patties and drain for a minute or two on a paper towel. Serve warm, with applesauce if possible.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
45 calories, 1.7 g fat, $0.11

1 tablespoon bacon grease: 126 calories, 14 g fat, free
2 cups unpeeled yellow squash (about 1-1/2 medium), grated: 53 calories, 0 g fat, $0.71
¼ cup all-purpose flour: 114 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.03
1/3 cup cornmeal: 168 calories, 0.8 g fat, $0.15
1 egg, beaten: 74 calories, 5 g fat, $0.38
1/8th teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
Lots of kosher salt and freshly: negligible calories and fat, $0.03
TOTAL: 535 calories, 20.1 g fat, $1.31
PER SERVING (TOTAL/12): 45 calories, 1.7 g fat, $0.11

Friday, August 7, 2009

J-Lo, Ray-Ray, and Chickpea Salad

The first full year of my career, I spent approximately 95% of my time researching Jennifer Lopez. I am not kidding. While other people were curing cancer, I was studying the star of Gigli. By age 22, I knew EVERYTHING about J-Lo, from her idol (Rita Moreno) to her high school (Holy Family) to the pronunciation of her first husband’s name (“Oh-HAN-ee NOH-ah”). In a roundabout way, the woman practically paid my rent.

In that time, I gained a tremendous respect for her. (Again, not kidding.) Whatever you think of Lopez’s movies, clothing line, perfumes, albums, dance shows, or proliferation of Diddy-esque romantic involvements, know this: that woman works her magnificent booty off. She’s been busting her hump since she was a kid, and occasionally, it results in bona fide wonderful things: Out of Sight, the video for “Get Right,” Trey Parker wearing her Grammy dress to the 2004 Oscars, etc.

Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize something: Rachael Ray is the J-Lo of cooking. No matter your opinion on Ray herself, you gotta respect how incredibly hard she works. AND you have to admit, whatever your foodie leanings, that she knocks some dishes out of the park. Seriously, Pasta Puttanesca is her Out of Sight. The only thing missing is George Clooney and that scene where she beats a bad guy with a police club.

If I had to choose a J-Lo venture to compare to Ray’s Chickpea Salad, it would probably be “Jenny From the Block.” Sure, it seems kind of basic, but it’s undeniably good. And eventually, you find yourself consuming it over and over again until your family/friends want to beat you with a police club.

About that recipe - unlike other bean salads, this one doesn’t need to marinate for a few hours before serving. It’s fine right out of the gate. It also makes a wang-dang office lunch, and involves no cooking whatsoever, which is nice when it’s 1,000,000° outside.

So, next time you’re tempted to dis Ray-Ray or J-Lo (or Brit-Brit or Hil-Clint any other famous woman with a dash in her nickname), stop. Think again. Because odds are, they’ve created something you actually really like.

P.S. RIP J-Hugh.

Rachael Ray’s Chickpea Salad
Makes 6 enormous side servings
From Rachael Ray.

2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small red onion finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped
A few ribs celery and leafy tops, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or grated then grinded into a paste with salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped, a few sprigs
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, mix vinegar and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Add all other ingredients. Stir to coat. Salt and pepper to taste.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
TOTAL: 1443 calories, 50.5 g fat, $4.27
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 240.5 calories, 8.4 g fat, $0.71

(15-ounce) cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained: 1000 calories, 9.2 g fat, $1.60
1 small red onion: 32 calories, 0 g fat, $0.30
1 small red bell pepper: 19 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.96
A few ribs celery and leafy tops: 26 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.50
1 clove garlic: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
2 tablespoons rosemary: 4 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.33
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $0.16
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: 358 calories, 40.5 g fat, $0.34
Salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTAL: 1443 calories, 50.5 g fat, $4.27
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 240.5 calories, 8.4 g fat, $0.71

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Veggie Might: Chilled Summer Squash Soup/Manifest Soup

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

Summer squash is not a vegetable that excites me. My experience with winter squash is much more established and deliciously experimental. However, when faced with zucchini, I draw a blank.

Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm comes from the perpetuation of the uninspired vegetable plate in New York City restaurants. A vegetarian entrée staple, the grilled or roasted vegetable plate (or sandwich or salad) usually consists of five or six slabs of overcooked zucchini and yellow squash, undercooked eggplant, soggy red pepper, and if you’re lucky, a mushroom. Drizzle with olive oil, serve on a bed of wilted lettuce, charge $12.00, and you have something I never want to eat again as long as I live.

But come summer, squashes are everywhere, looking bright and sunny and inviting. Zucchinis are deep, mottled green; yellow squashes are cute and knobby. And at 99 cents a pound, I want to buy them by the basketful despite the fact that I have no idea what to do with them.

At a recent trip to the farmer’s market, I settled on two of each. I figured I could sauté a pair into a stir fry (which I did and it was awesome—stay tuned to this space) and sleep on the other two. I figured would come to me.

And it did. I wanted soup…A cold soup…Something light and refreshing on a hot day.

It occurred to me that I could just tinker until I got something that resembled soup and hope it tasted good cold. Then I thought of the floppy roasted zucchini. Barf. I wanted guidance. Somewhere out there in the universe must be a recipe that replicated what I could almost taste in my mind.

I stared at the many spines on my cookbook shelf, some I haven’t cracked in years, a few not since purchase. I pulled down one of the latter, Cooking the Whole Foods Way, a cookbook I bought during my brief vegan period.

Written by cancer-survivor and PBS cooking show host Christina Pirello, Cooking the Whole Foods Way touts the healing powers of a macrobiotic, dairy-free, unprocessed diet. At the time I bought it, I rarely cooked but had big dreams of doing so. At 500+ recipes with no pictures, the tome was too overwhelming and remained untouched.

As I thumbed through, I wondered why I’d left this book unused for so long. Page after page of whole grains, legumes, vegetables—whoops, fish?—okay, skip that section. (Editor’s note: The 2007 edition of Cooking the Whole Foods Way is 100% vegan.) But still. The recipes were right up my street, and “Jim’s Lemon-Zucchini and Leek Soup” was exactly what I wanted.

It was if I’d willed the soup into being. Everything about it sounded light and summery. As I read the instructions, I thought to myself, that’s what I would have done…that’s what I would have done.

What I would not have done is thought to have added a whole pound of leeks—or lemon juice—but they are perfect additions, and let me tell you, the lemon juice makes this soup.

After I had whipped everything together in no time flat, I zapped it in the blender, took a taste, and thought, “Meh.” I was so disappointed. Then I remembered the lemon. Zap-zap! Amazing!

Bright, sunny, and delicious, I had it for dinner the next evening with tortilla chips and a salad. It was the perfect meal on a humid, summer night, and it fed me for a week. Summer squash is no longer uncharted frontier; and I have a new favorite map. It was destined all along.

Chilled Summer Squash Soup
Adapted from Jim’s Lemon-Zucchini and Leek Soup
Yields 6 1-cup servings or 4 1-1/2-cup servings

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 lb leeks, sliced and cut into 1/4” pieces
1 lb zucchini (green and yellow), sliced and cut into 1/4” pieces
4 cups vegetable stock
4 oz tofu, crumbled
2 tbsp yellow miso
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
fresh ground pepper to taste

1) In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, with a dash of salt. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2) Add squash, leeks, and another dash of salt. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.

3) Fill pot with enough broth (or water) to just about cover the veggies. Jack heat up to high. Boil. Once it begins to boil, drop the heat to medium-low. Cover the pot. Simmer 30 minutes.

4) When 30 minutes are up, add tofu plus any remaining broth (or water). Simmer 10 more minutes.

5) Scoop out about a cup of broth. Add miso to that cup. Stir until it's all dissolved. Pour back into soup. Simmer 3 or 4 more minutes.

6) In a blender or with a stick blender, puree soup until smooth. (Let cool a little before using a regular blender so it doesn't explode.)

7) Add lemon juice and fresh ground pepper to taste. Give it another zap of the blender.

8) Chill 2 to 12 hours. Serve with salad and sourdough bread or tortilla chips contented it was meant to be.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
135.6 calories, 2g fat, $.89 (6 servings)
203.4 calories, 2.9g fat, $1.34 (4 servings)

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil: 40 calories, 4.6g fat, $0.03
3 cloves garlic: 12.6 calories, 0g fat, $.04
1/2 large onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
1 lb leeks: 324 calories, 0g fat, $1.89
1 lb summer squash: 140 calories, 0g fat, $.99
4 cups vegetable stock: 60 calories, .4g fat, $.76
4 oz tofu: 125 calories, 6.4g fat, $.40
2 tbsp yellow miso: 60 calories, 0g fat, $.54
juice of 1 lemon: 12 calories, 0g fat, $.15
sea salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
fresh ground pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 813.6 calories, 11.6g fat, $5.34
Per serving (totals/6): 135.6 calories, 2g fat, $.89
Per serving (totals/4): 203.4 calories, 2.9g fat, $1.34

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The FDA and USDA, Explained to the Best of My Ability: A Semi-Coherent Guide to the Government Agencies Regulating Food

They control almost everything we eat, yet we do not know who they are. They essentially make agricultural policy, yet we don’t know if they like vegetables. They oversee every aspect of food safety, yet we don’t know where their office is, or if they work out of a Starbucks.

They are your parents the FDA and the USDA.

I see these agencies mentioned all the time, in almost every newspaper and online article regarding the regulation of chow. Together, they influence food health, prices, and safety more than any other organizations on Earth. But I’ve always been hazy on what the FDA and USDA actually do, and what separates the two.

So, I did a little research, and discovered some surprising things. For example: the FDA oversees makeup but not tap water, and the USDA employs over 100,000 people, which means they need a GIANT restroom. There’s more, too, but you know – it’s included below.

Ultimately, I hope this demystifies these two all-powerful federal behemoths. As usual, if I have anything wrong (and I’m sure I do), please let me know. Also, unless otherwise noted, most of this information was gleaned from the FDA and USDA websites (with a few helpful stats from Wikipedia).


FDA stands for: the Food and Drug Administration.

It is: the agency within the Department of Health and Human Services primarily concerned with public health, which often involves food and drug safety.

It employs: a little over 9000 people.

And is currently headed up by: Margaret A. Hamburg, who used to be the Health Commissioner for NYC. Obama pulled her in around mid-2009.

It gets most of its regulatory power from: the aptly named Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act of 1938, signed under FDR.

The FDA oversees: Safety and labeling for food, drugs, & makeup, drug approvals, biologics (blood supply, etc.), veterinary products, radiation-emitting devices (X-rays), and medical devices & products.

But not: Tap water, most booze, pesticides, and dietary supplements.

However, the division of the FDA we’re most concerned with is: CFSAN, or the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Please note that: this is very different from CSPAN, and also eight times as interesting.

CFSAN oversees: Labeling and nutrition (except for meat and some eggs, which fall under the USDA), biotechnology, ingredients and packaging, inspections, and compliance.

CFSAN explains their mission thusly: To “establish and maintain food standards of identity (for example, what the requirements are for a product to be labeled, ‘yogurt’) and standards of maximum acceptable contamination. CFSAN also sets the requirements for nutrition labeling of most foods..” (Wiki)

Where you most often see CFSAN’s work:
  • Labels. They created the Nutrition Facts label, approve all labels like “low fat” and “all-natural,” and enacted a law to put allergy labeling on processed food.
  • The news. When there’s a salmonella outbreak in peanut butter? The FDA gets blamed for their inspection procedures, or lack thereof.
CFSAN gets its data from: JIFSAN (Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition), which works with the University of Maryland, and NCFST (National Center for Food Safety and Technology), which works with the University of Illinois and food industry reps. Essentially, they do the research CFSAN translates into labeling.

That is: a lot of acronyms.

In regards to food, the FDA often comes under fire for: Lapses in food safety (e.coli, etc.), lack of/poorly done food safety inspections, being essentially powerless, being too powerful, being puppets of powerful politicians, approving additives that are known to be harmful.

You can find more information at:



USDA stands for: the United States Department of Agriculture

It is: the “federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food.” (Wiki) In other words, it’s a whole department, whereas the FDA is a division within a department.

It employs: well over 100,000 people, making it much larger than the FDA.

And is currently headed up by: former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack (D).

Who looks like: the corn-fed lovechild of Brian Dennehy and Ned Beatty.

It gets most of its regulatory power from: Well, there’s really not one big law, but more of a series of big ones that started around the late 1800s. Many were in response to a growing nation’s concerns about the safety and stability of their food supply. You know Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle? That kind of investigative journalism (a.k.a. muckraking) set a lot of the change in motion.

The USDA oversees: Brace yourselves. Agriculture, food and nutrition, education and outreach, laws and regulations, marketing and trade, environmental issues concerning food, development. Essentially, all food. No kidding.

But not: Most food safety. Again, with the exception of meat and some eggs, that falls to the FDA. The USDA website does include a TON of guidelines, however.

However, the division of the USDA we’re most concerned with is: Pretty much all of them, which makes this bulletpoint kind of lame. But if I had to choose a few:
  • FNS (Food and Nutrition Service)
  • CNPP (Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion)
  • FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service)
  • ERS (Economic Research Service)
  • GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyard Administration).
The rest are dedicated largely toward statistics, research, conservation, rural development, and farm policy, which are undoubtedly important, but would necessitate a week and a new brain implant.

Those guys oversee, respectively:
  • FNS takes care of food education and getting edibles to needy kids and families.
  • CNPP creates dietary guidelines like the food pyramid.
  • FSIS handles meat and egg safety.
  • ERS provides the economic research that guides almost every aspect of food pricing.
  • GIPSA markets meat and grain, which is found in almost all parts of the American diet.
That aside, let’s get back to: exploring the USDA as a whole.

The USDA explains their mission thusly: “We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management … We want to be recognized as a dynamic organization that is able to efficiently provide the integrated program delivery needed to lead a rapidly evolving food and agriculture system.” (USDA)

Where you most often see their work: Everywhere. All day. In everything you eat. No kidding.

That is: insane.

The USDA gets its data from: Both in-house research and statistic organizations like the ERS, NAL (National Agricultural Library), and ARS (Argricultural Research Service), and out-of-house places like everywhere on this list. In an organization of this size, it’s hard to list them all.

My god, these people: love acronyms.

In regards to food, the USDA often comes under fire for: How much time do you have? Try: being in bed with food lobbyists, advising based on political influence rather than scientific fact, negligence in food education, obesity rates, any and all farm policy, any and all issues with U.S. meat, the obvious pro-lobbyist slant to the food pyramid, food prices that are either too high or too low, animal rights, worker rights, ethical quandaries over genetically modified food, the environmental costs of large-scale agriculture. Basically, everything but the breakup of the Beatles, though I’m sure they had a hand in that, too.

You can find more information at:


And that’s it. Hope it helps, but just in case - folks, what’d I miss? Any other questions? Fire away in the comment section.

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