Monday, August 30, 2010

Thanks for the Pretty Cauli-Flowers!

The finished product, taken with my BlackBerry.
While wandering the produce isles at Kroger I thought, "What veggie have I not attempted to cook yet?" I saw some intimidating looking plants, that if I had seen growing anywhere in nature I wouldn't equate to something you would put into your mouth. Celeriac, fennel, okra, and turnips...nah...a little too adventurous for this adventurer! There, in all of its glory, was a whole head of cauliflower...the creamy white florets nestled in the surrounding green leaves. It's a very pretty vegetable, unlike the okra which look like hairy little leprechaun fingers. This head of cauliflower was not wrapped in plastic like its more pristine counterpart, and it had a little brown discoloration to some of the florets. Something about fruits and vegetables that look a little too perfect makes me wonder.

I bought a book from Barnes and Noble a few years back called The Food Doctor: Healing foods for mind and body. I was drawn to the colorful cover, and inside in alphabetical order are all of the common fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and meat. They are all organized into a chart which includes a photo, list of nutrients, and their benefits to the body. LOVE THIS BOOK! At a glance I can see that cauliflower contains calcium, magnesium, folic acid (moms to be, take note), potassium, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Not only is cauliflower "anti-cancer and [an] antioxidant," it is also "good for bleeding gums, kidney and bladder disorders, high blood pressure, and constipation." So you say you hate cauliflower and wouldn't eat it no matter how many redeeming qualities this beautiful Brassicaceae boasts? Does it look about as appetizing to you as cauliflower ear? I am willing to bet that the recipe I made last night will change your mind!

Robin Plotkin, R.D., L.D., culinary and nutrition expert, posted a link to a recipe for Oven-Roasted Cauliflower through her RobinsBite page on Facebook. With extreme confidence she stated, "I dare you not to eat the whole head of cauliflower after making this recipe!" If I wasn't splitting it with my boyfriend Josh, I most definitely would have polished off the entire thing! It is oh so easy to make and without a doubt I will be making it again and again!

Here is what you will need:

1 Medium head of cauliflower
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of sliced garlic (about two large cloves)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice (trust me, do not skip this ingredient)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Freshly grated Parmesan, to taste (I used about 1/2 cup)
Chopped parsley
Freshly milled black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375F

Rinse the cauliflower and separate into florets, try to make each floret about the same size so it cooks evenly. Saute the cauliflower in the olive oil over medium heat until slightly browned, adding the garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Transfer the cauliflower and the juices from the pan into a baking sheet lined with nonstick foil. Roast the cauliflower in the oven for about 15 minutes. I checked after about 10 to make sure they weren't burning! Remove the baking sheet from the oven and sprinkle with the freshly grated Parmesan cheese and the parsley. The cheese should melt, and the cauliflower should be served immediately while it is still hot.

When I took the first bite, I could not believe how good it was! Thanks Robin for making my cauliflower experiment a success! For the original recipe go to FoodNetwork.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Frankenstein Soup

I'm back in the kitchen and I haven't lost my touch! As a matter of fact, I think my touch has improved. Have you ever wondered how in the heck Alton Brown, Bobby Flay or Rachel Ray could chop things up with a knife so fast without losing a finger? Well, I can chop just like them! Ahh...not really; however, I am starting to speed up and have figured out that if you keep the tip of the knife on the cutting board and push whatever it is you are chopping forward as you slice then things move along faster. It's such a pain in the tush to have to prep vegetables all the time so anything that makes this step go faster is a godsend. What really got me excited was my sudden recall of how to dice an onion quickly. I saw it on Master Chef with Gordon Ramsey, but he demonstrated it so fast it was almost a joke that he even showed anyone.

         So there I was chopping this onion for my experimental veggie soup, and bada-bing-bada-boom I slice it just right. A small victory to some...That's one small step for Steph, one giant leap towards cooking competence! I could have cried tears of joy, but it was just the sting from the onion. All I have to work with in my kitchen is a bunch of random vegetables, one of which is a parsnip. I have never cooked with a parsnip. I know it's used in soups so I thought it would be the perfect solution to my dinner dilemma to just throw everything in a pot. I sauteed my chopped veggies in a bit of oil with some onion and garlic. Seems like you can never go wrong with onions and garlic for adding flavor. I tossed in a bay leaf and rubbed some dry oregano between my fingers and sprinkled it in too.

         Oh yes, and I can't forget that I put a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar in and let it heat through before I added any water. A sprinkle of salt and 3 cups of water later I had a concoction that looked about right. Thank goodness I decided to make my vegetable broth out of my vegetable leavin's at the same time because the water started to reduce down even with the lid over the pot. Each time I would open the lid I had lost about a cup of water. The broth that I made this time had little bits of jalepeno pepper in it, so it came out a little bit spicy. Interesting...So a pinch of kosher salt, a grind of fresh pepper and 40 minutes on the timer. I like making meals that allow me to walk away and do other things while they cook. It gives me the illusion that I'm multi-tasking. :-)

My choppity veggeties.
         Ding! The timer goes off and I'm excited to try my Frankenstein soup! It's a little sweeter than I had expected it to be, possibly because I put in some tomato...and I'm pretty sure that parsnip has a sweetness to it too. The vinegar gives it a little bit of sour with the sweet, so looks like I've accidentally made sweet and sour soup with Italian seasoning. Don't get me wrong, it's yummy and I'm on my last few bites right now. Next time though I wont add the tomato and will put in more salt. Any suggestions from the peanut gallery?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Meatless Mondays!

Now that I have awakened from a weekend-long slumber, a little disoriented yet extremely well-rested...I suppose it's time for a new blog. For those of you who follow me, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing so, I didn't want to leave you without some food for thought. Get it? Ha...okay...For those who missed my last blog, I had my wisdom teeth out and spent the last few days eating mushy stuff and hydrocodone. Yum!

         This evening I started going through the material for the first section of my online class: The Ecology of Food. Our first topic is "sustainable agriculture." After spending about two hours clicking links, reading articles, and plowing through fields of information (ha again!) I got pretty excited about the topic. After all, it goes hand in hand with one of the reasons I want to go vegetarian: the factory farming of animals. The question I pose to you-- Can we continue to sustain the use of slaughter-houses that overcrowd, medicate and genetically modify farm animals? The antibiotics used to suppress illness in these animals pose a threat to humans in the form of resistant strains of bacteria. Broiler chickens are genetically modified to grow at such a rapid rate that their legs cannot support them and they are unable to walk, some unable to move. Unthinkable amounts of animal waste accumulates and provides a toxic environment for the farm animals as well as pollutants for the surrounding air, water and soil.

          Believe me, I am not a sign toting offense to sign toters...and the last thing I want to do is scare you away with PETA-like propaganda. You have tons of information right at your fingertips and are quite capable of forming your own opinion. I plan to write much more on this topic for those that are interested. There is so much to know about where our food comes from as well as what food does for our bodies.

          Anywho, I came across a link to a site where their goal is to "help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet." A noble cause. :-) They provide some links on the right hand side of their page, one is a news article about the health implications of meat consumption. In the spirit of Meatless Monday- one day a week, cut out meat... I'd like to share a recipe by Alton Brown for Guacamole. Everyone I make this guacamole for absolutely loves it! Avocados are still in season, and you know they're ready to eat if the skin is evenly colored and dark, almost black, and the flesh underneath feels soft when you press on it. If you try to use an avocado that is too green it will be hard to mash and wont taste as good.

  • 3 Haas avocados, halved, seeded and peeled (for this amount of ingredients I would recommend just using two large avocados)
  • 1/2 lime or lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (must be kosher salt)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
          In a large bowl place the scooped avocado pulp and lime or lemon juice, toss to coat. Using a potato masher or two forks add the salt, cumin and cayenne and mash together. Fold in the onions, tomatoes, cilantro and garlic. You can add more or less of any of these ingredients according to taste once you have tried it. You must use lime or lemon juice because it will prevent the avocado flesh from turning brown. You can let the guacamole sit at room temperature for up to an hour. Letting it sit for a little while helps bring out the flavor, of course I'm always too impatient and want to eat it right away! Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blueberries- A Wise Choice

Photo by kaycatt,
Bright and early this morning I had my wisdom teeth removed. The oral surgeon's assistants, all very chipper and friendly, expressed how lucky I am not to have any third molars on my bottom jaw. Apparently they are more difficult to remove and require a longer recovery time. I could recall from the stories I'd heard from friends who had already had theirs out to "beware of the dreaded dry socket." Dry socket occurs when sucking, sneezing or spitting causes the blood clot to dislodge from the empty space in the gum where the tooth was removed. It is said to be very painful since it exposes nerves and bone and can allow food particles to get lodged in there.

            Now that I have officially turned your stomach, let's discuss food! My diet is limited to liquids and pureed solids for the next 24 hours. I'm a bit slow mentally from pain medication so I won't be very "adventurous" with my creations in the kitchen for a couple of days. It's also a little difficult to know if the thoughts I am typing onto this screen are very coherent so please bear with me! I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a smoothie recipe containing of the most important foods one could add to their diet: blueberries. For years now I have made it a point to consume blueberries on a regular basis after I read all about the benefits of these tiny nutrition powerhouses. No doubt you have heard or read about antioxidants and what they can do to protect your cells from free radical damage. Blueberries are potent antioxidants!

           In one of my absolute favorite books: "SuperFoods HealthStyle" by Stephen Pratt M.D, "A recent study found that blueberries deliver 38% more free-radical fighting anthocyanins than red wine." Anthocyanin is what makes blueberries blue! It is a pigment that inhibits abnormal call growth and even enhances the effects of vitamin C in the body. Blueberries are also heart healthy because they contain pterostilbene, which has been shown to lower cholesterol naturally. Along with fiber and folic acid they also contain caretenoids. Caretenoids support immune function, decrease risk for age related macular degeneration and work as a natural sunscreen by "increasing the UV capacity of skin." You could call them "brainberries" because they enhance cognitive ability and are important in the prevention of Alzheimer's disease.

          Still not convinced? You sure are hard to please! :-P Blueberries, like cranberries, are good for the urinary tract...helping to prevent infection. "Blueberries contain more powerful disease-fighting antioxidants than any other single fruit," according to Dr. Pratt. However, it is important to have variety in the foods we eat in order for them to work harmoniously in keeping our bodies in superb working order. Some other nutritious choices with a similar profile of benefits include: raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, currants, and purple grapes.

Here is the recipe for my Blueberry Boost. Ingredients and amounts can be altered to suit your taste.

1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup low fat plain yogurt (I use plain because there is no added sugar)
1 whole banana, fresh or frozen
1/4 to 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk

          Blend all ingredients until smooth and enjoy. There is enough here to fill you up or share with a friend. I recommend freezing the banana because it makes the smoothie nice and thick and keeps it cold. Remove the peel from the banana first, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Try this same recipe using orange juice instead of soy milk, or exchange the blueberries for the frozen fruit of your choice. I have found bags of mixed berries, peaches, mango, and pineapple at the grocery store. Use your imagination! When I make the smoothie with frozen peaches I add about 2 teaspoons of locally produced honey to make it a bit sweeter.

I wont be drinking the smoothie through a straw of course...just eating it with a spoon...wouldn't want to end up with the dreaded dry socket! Now... I'm off to make some mashed potatoes!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chocolate Conference 2010

As I pulled up to the Addison Conference Center , keeping an eye out for a possible parking space, I saw my friend Erin seated-- legs crossed, wearing a black dress with white polka dots, matching heels and purse, donning movie star-like sunglasses. Her face lit up and she began to wave frantically when she realized it was me in my little silver Dodge Dakota. Her heels clicked on the pavement as she shuffled towards me and hopped into the passenger seat.

Erin is the type of woman with a creative mind, generous heart, and a love for sweets. Her current obsession is with cupcakes…giant cupcakes. I figured, who would be more perfect to share my chocolate excursion? We entered the building, greeted by a blast of cool air and a wall speckled with the paintings and photos of local artists. After a brief glance around we were waved over to the counter by a man who directed us to the booth where tickets are collected. Each adult ticket, for the price of $15, grants you entrance to any of the seven seminars and comes with ten tickets to trade for the chocolate samples of your choice.

           The 12 o’clock session had already begun, “Chocolate Making 101.” Art Pollard, the founder of Amano Artisan Chocolate, stood behind a podium adjacent to a projector with a slide show of photos flashing scenes of cocoa plantations, cocoa pods, and the smiling faces of farm workers. All seats were full, and the overflow stood against the walls listening intently as Mr. Pollard explained the process of chocolate making starting from the cocoa tree. Keep in mind that Amano Chocolate does things differently from larger chocolate producers, such as Hershey’s. Here is a link to the website where their “passion and dedication” to creating the highest quality chocolate is put into their own words: Amano Artisan Chocolate.

Art Pollard founder of Amano Artisan Chocolate

Illustration of cacao plant
The cacao tree, pronounced ka-kow, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas. 1 of 100 flowers on the cacao tree will become a cocoa pod. Over a three month period the pods will mature, encasing roughly 40 beans. Art Pollard stressed to the audience that the pods must not be picked, rather cut from the tree so that the pod will be able to re-grow and the tree will not be damaged. Once harvested, the beans go into large wooden boxes where fermentation takes place. Like coffee, cocoa is very tannic and astringent and processing removes unwanted flavors. After 3 to 7 days of fermentation, where the growth of aerobic bacteria is encouraged, the beans are dried slowly. Too slow and they will over ferment, too fast and they will become bitter.

        Mr. Pollard pointed out that Hershey’s does not ferment their cocoa beans; instead they are roasted at a very high temperature. Amano Artisan Chocolate uses whole bean roasting, where the shell is left intact to seal in the flavor. Roasting temperatures range from 200 to 425ºF and then the beans are quickly cooled to room temperature. The beans are broken and the shells are removed leaving what he referred to as “cocoa nibs.” The nibs or roast bits of bean are transferred to a large rotating bowl where a roller grinds them slowly. The roller applies 4,000 psi and grinds the beans until smooth. “The tongue can detect texture down to 20 microns,” Art Pollard explained. The texture of their chocolate is right at 12 microns.

Once the chocolate is smooth it is put into a giant conch where it is heated and unwanted flavors are volatized off. The sugar and the cellulose rub together making the sugar crystals more round; creaming the sugar with the cocoa butter. The amount of time it takes to conch depends on the chocolate maker since it is done according to flavor. Mr. Pollard personally tastes the chocolate at 5 minute intervals, 2 minute intervals, and eventually 30 second intervals. He told us there is a 30 second window to under or over-conching. “There is an art to it, and it’s really hard to articulate…you need an artist in there tasting it." The chocolate is formed into blocks and allowed to rest before it is re-melted in a heating and cooling process which allows the cocoa butter to crystallize properly. “As much work as we go through (to make the chocolate), it pales in comparison to what goes on at the farm,” he stated.

Chart of Chocolates

              1:00 p.m. marked the beginning of the next portion of the conference: A Tour of the Chocolate Shop, by Chef Tina Buice. Had we stayed we would have learned the difference between a truffle, chocolate and bon bon; however, Erin and I had to collect our samples before they ran out! Each of us with 10 tickets in our possession, hurried down the hall to where all of the chocolatiers had set up their booths. The room was already bustling with people, eagerly waiting in line to ask questions and sample chocolate. Where to begin? My eye was drawn to a booth arranged neatly with beautifully decorated chocolates: Dude, Sweet Chocolate with Chef Katherine Clapner aka “the dudette.” Patiently, we waited in line to catch a glimpse and choose our samples. Each chocolate had a unique design that you could match with a chart that would tell you the name and flavors. I chose the Marwan, flavored with Texas stonefruit jam and raz al hanout. A woman nearby asked what would possess someone to flavor chocolate with foods such as garlic, olive oil, beets, hemp, or yellow curry. “Why not?” insisted the woman behind the booth. Erin and I found this quite humorous because it was clearly not the kind of answer she had expected to hear.
Some of the chocolates on display for Dude, Sweet Chocolate

My box of chocolates!
            We had other booths to visit and tickets to burn! Cocoandre Chocolatier was our next stop. Their selection was just as picked over but enough remained for me to gather two samples. The first truffle was flavored with lavender raspberry and the next with ginger rosemary nutmeg. I collected a business card from each booth so that I could look them up online later. At the booth for JDorian Chocolatier we asked them which chocolate was their favorite. “This is our best seller,” she replied pointing to a chocolate with a yellow cursive writing across the top. In the photo it is the chocolate that says JDorian and unfortunately I cannot remember what she told me about it. I had hoped to find out on their website, but when I checked it did not have a page where each individual chocolate was explained. I suppose it will be my excuse to pay them a visit next time I’m in Dallas! I do happen to have one of their chocolates left in my box and I will try it right now. There is a red swirl design on top and when you bite into the outer shell of velvety dark chocolate it collapses onto a soft and light filling with a fruity scent and flavor. It is the sort of thing that you have to savor to truly appreciate.

Arturo Romanillos from Le Cordon Bleu
         The fellow at the booth for Le Cordon Bleu graciously allowed me to snap his picture, and when asked to tell us about their chocolates he immediately suggested the bacon chocolate. This sample is long gone because it was the first that I was eager to try, bad me! It takes a moment for the flavor of the bacon to come forth and once it does you also begin to feel tiny bits of bacon on your tongue. Proof again that bacon makes everything taste good! Erin and I were also instructed to try the Rocher, to which I immediately asked if it was similar to a Ferrero Rocher. He laughed and said that theirs were much better, but yes, it is like a Ferrero Rocher. This truffle was delicious and one of my favorites! As you bite into it there is a delightful crunch; very light with the delicate taste of hazelnut and smooth chocolate that makes it impossible not to want more. My other favorite truffle came from Le Cordon Bleu as well, with a dusting of cocoa powder on the outside and caramel on the inside. To die for! I wish I could do it justice by description!

          The longest line was forming near the booth for Wiseman House Chocolates. There must have been something about these truffles because no other line was this long and people were actually cutting in front of us! When we finally reached the table I swiped a flyer that read “Chocolate: proof that God is good…Very Good.” A single ticket allowed us to take two samples: a piece of the toffee and a truffle either dark or milk chocolate. After trying both of these I am sad to report that I did not find anything particularly remarkable in comparison to the other chocolatiers. Of course they were delicious, don't get me wrong! 

Wiseman House Fine Handmade Chocolates

         Others that were present at the conference include Collin College, Nib Chocolates, Sublime Chocolate, Toffee Treats, Paciugo and Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. Chef David Collier proudly displayed his hand decorated truffles from Rosewood Mansion and even gave a course on chocolate decorating at 3:00 p.m. following Clay Gordon’s “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Chocolate.” In the photo the two truffles in the top left hand corner above my thumb were made by Chef Collier. One is buttered popcorn and the purple one is peanut butter and jelly, reminiscent of Jelly Belly Jellybeans I think! They were certainly the most fun to look at and sample.

          You will have to forgive me, my dear reader, if I have any of my facts mixed up. I did my best to collect the samples and write down the flavors without taking up too much time in front of each booth. I have provided a list of links to all of the businesses mentioned in this blog on the top right side of my page.

       Once Erin and I were satisfied with our selections (and out of tickets) we had just enough time to get a seat for the 2:00 p.m. seminar with Clay Gordon. Mr. Gordon was full of energy, barely able to stand still as he led an open discussion of all things chocolate. Maybe he had too much chocolate beforehand?? His enthusiasm was contagious, and his sense of humor was spot on. It was difficult to take proper notes on everything that was said so I will provide a few highlights of the discussion. His knowledge of chocolate was impressive to say the least! His first question from the audience was "Why do people like chocolate?" To paraphrase, Gordon explained that chocolate has an addictive mouthfeel due to the texture of the cocoa butter and it's tendency to melt in your mouth. Like chili peppers, chocolate affects the endorphin levels in the brain making us feel good while we eat it. This may also be why people enjoy spicy chocolate!

Clay Gordon, author of Discover Chocolate
Image from

          Is white chocolate actually chocolate? According to Clay Gordon, white chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar, and milk but no cocoa powder. Erin glanced at me in disbelief and then whispered that she didn't like white chocolate anyway. ;-) The next question was about Belgian chocolate. Is it actually a superior type of chocolate? Turns out that Belgian chocolate was campaigned throughout the U.S. to be associated with quality and is not necessarily the best. Americans like Belgian chocolate because it is light and sweet. Mr. Gordon shared his story of why, if asked, he would say that Chilmark chocolate is the best chocolate there is. "Chocolate is the only gormet food that we start eating as children." He points out that we "form strong emotional ties." As a boy his favorite aunt would take him to Chilmark chocolate in Martha's Vineyard, giving him a fond memory to associate with the taste of this particular chocolate.

           The cocoa plant was again discussed and Gordon described cacao plantations as "mystical, magical places." He reiterated a similar statement that Art Pollard made about plantaintion workers having a very tough job. The genetics of the cacao plant ulitimately determine the quality of the chocolate that is produced and farmers can be persuaded by chocolatiers to produce the highest quality. When asked why chocolate is not made in the same place where the cacao plants are grown, Gordon said that these places do not have ubiquitous refridgeration and the temperature is too hot and humid. The cocoa beans travel thousands of miles to the places where they will be made into actual chocolate.
          I will leave you with some information that is useful to any chocolate lover. According to Gordon, store dark chocolate at room temperature and dairy chocolate below 68 degrees Farenheit. Avoid changes in temperature, for example going from very warm to cold or any condition that could cause condensation to form on the chocolate. Wrap chocolate in a paper towel in serving size pieces in ziplock bags to freeze. If chocolate has become sandy or gritty this is an indication that the chocolate has gone bad! I never knew there was so much to chocolate; for as long winded as this blog is I still didn't cover it all!

Thank you for joining me on my chocolate adventure, and I encourage everyone to try something new! Who knows--curry flavored chocolate might be your new favorite!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Green Eggs and No Ham

Sunday morning is the best time for making breakfast. I bought a cookbook based entirely on breakfast, another Taste of Home...I love how they have a color photo of the recipes so you know exactly what to expect. Like IHOP menus where you can just point to the picture instead of having to actually say "I'll have the Rootie Tootie Fresh N' Fruity." Don't worry, I've graduated to some photo free cookbooks. :-) But I digress...

           My sunday morning meals started out as one would expect: bacon, eggs, pancakes, even crepes and a quiche once. Josh, my boyfriend, doesn't share my enthusiasm for eating food as soon as you wake up. He helps though, and I usually ask him to fry the bacon because I know he absolutely adores cured meat. My breakfasts have been bacon free since the vegetarian transition. I think bacon will be one of the foods I miss the most because it is just so damn delicious!

          So Josh and I awoke at the early hour of 1:00 p.m. on Sunday and I immediately got to work prepping our breakfast. I asked him if he wanted me to make him the pesto eggs again; he smiled, nodded and said "Yes, I would love some more green eggs." Take THAT Sam I Am! I keep a jar of premade pesto in my fridge because it's easy to add to leftover pasta, and well I just love pesto. For those of you who are not familiar, pesto is a sauce made from finely chopped fresh basil, minced garlic, parmesan or romano cheese, olive oil and pine-nuts.

          For the eggs I sautee some diced onion, garlic, and sliced white mushrooms in a bit of olive oil. While this is heating through I chop up some tomato and grate some fresh parmesan cheese. Freshly grated cheese, in my opinion, has a much nicer flavor and texture; especially when it comes to parmesan. Once the mushrooms and onions are fully cooked I add in about a tablespoon of the pesto sauce and stir it around until everything is evenly coated. This is your omelette filling-unless you have crappy frying pans like I do and your eggs stick forcing your omlette to be reduced to mere scrambled eggs. Omellete or scrambled eggs, either one will work...just fold in the filling or layer it on top, sprinkle with the tomatoes and parmesan, salt and pepper to taste, and viola!

          I forgot to mention, before any of this began I dumped all of my vegetable leavin's into a pot, filled it with water, brought it to a boil and let it simmer while I worked on breakfast. What's a vegetable leavin' you ask? I'll tell you. Whenever I chop veggies I take the bits I would throw away, like the ends of carrots, tops of bell peppers, or stems of mushrooms and put them all in a plastic bag in the fridge. Once I've accumulated a good amount I have enough to make my own veggie stock! This is one of those things I never imagined myself doing, but I can't believe how easy it is. It's also a great way to get the most out of your produce.

          To the veggie bits I added a clove of minced garlic, parsley stems, and some fresh dill. It just depends on what types of herbs you have available, it gives each pot a different flavor. I've also added things like bay leaves, fresh basil, and fresh thyme. Once I've strained the liquid from the vegetables and let it cool a bit Josh and I taste it by the spoonful each time I add a bit of kosher salt. I add the salt until the flavor is just right and then it gets put into a container, labeled with the date, and either refridgerated or frozen. It's a great money saver for a poor college student such as myself because I don't have to buy the cans of stock. I can put this money towards more important things, such as my internet bill for my laptop on which I write my blogs!

Putting 'Veggie Leavin's' to good use.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Are You Nuts??

Right now I’m chowing down on a Broccoli-coleslaw Stir Fry. It’s pretty tasty! I added some peanut butter, fresh ginger-root and soy sauce. By the way, I was absolutely thrilled that there was something other than a slice of bread that I could put peanut butter on! Who knew it went so well with broccoli and tofu? I got the idea from my Taste of Home cookbook; I didn’t follow it exactly and now I just try and guess how much of what to put in when I make it.

             Another good reason for the peanut butter: nuts are an important part of the vegetarian diet because they are a good source of healthy fats as well as protein. Yes, percentage wise it has more fat than protein, but this is a good kind of fat! I remember a very confusing encounter with my Medical Nutrition Therapy teacher where she scolded me for putting walnuts on the salad in the menu I had created. “Nuts are just fat!” she insisted. She must be from the generation that thought fat was the enemy and must be avoided at all costs. My generation thought carbs were the enemy! I suppose my children will believe that protein is making us all fat!

So why are nuts so good for you? The fat in nuts is unsaturated (unlike the fat found in meat which is saturated), namely mono-unsaturated, and this is good for lowering your LDL cholesterol (this is the bad kind of cholesterol). In addition, nuts contain trace minerals that the body needs including potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, thiamin, copper and calcium. Just a handful of nuts a day will do the trick, and it doesn’t hurt to broaden your horizons and eat something other than peanuts. Try pecans, walnuts, cashews, almonds, or Brazil nuts. Each nut has its own unique nutritional profile, so variety is key.

I add walnuts or pecans to my oatmeal in the morning, or sprinkle some sliced almonds into my yogurt. I hated nuts with a passion when I was a kid, but I had a lot of fun collecting pecans from everyone’s yard when I lived on Dyess Air force Base in Abilene, TX. My friends and I would gather them up and then give them to a lady who liked to make pie with them. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want a pie made of grody pecans when you could have one filled with apples and cinnamon! Of course now I am older, a little wiser (only a little) and couldn’t imagine a world without nuts. This doesn’t count crazy people, which the world could certainly use less of.

Let us not forget seeds. Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds just to name a few. They are also good sources of healthy fats, vitamin E, and minerals. Pine nuts! The best thing to add to pesto pasta! Just toast them a little on the stovetop in a dry pan beforehand to bring out the flavor. Do a little exploring and see if there are ways that you can add nuts and seeds to your meals, you’d be doing your heart a big favor!

A Link to the International Tree Nut Council:

This squirrel's got the idea!
Photo by Greg's One

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Vegetarian Experiment

           Perhaps I have a weak stomach. I've seen the doctor several times for tummy troubles...heartburn, nausea, burning sensations, tenderness in the abdomen...and it's always inconclusive. Now that I'm sans health-insurance I've been left to my own devices to try and find the source of my digestive woes.

           IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, is defined as "any combination of common disturbances of the bowel...sometimes accompanied with psychological stress." This may very well be the issue, although any form of medication I was given always had worse side effects than just dealing with it. I tried a food diary, jotting down what, how much, and when I ate. This method would last all of three days and I would soon forget to write things down and when I remembered to write them down, I would forget what I ate!

            I clearly lacked the discipline to map out when and where my digestive disturbances occurred and what I was eating at the time. I did manage to narrow down a few culprits: caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, tomato based foods, milk, and for some unfair reason...cake. As a college student waiting tables part time I found it quite impossible to avoid caffeine, and chocolate...well, just kill me now why don't you? Pizza was especially brutal- creating a raging inferno inside my gut that even the  deliciousness of these cheese and sauce covered pies was not worth. What was a girl to do?

          Faulty digestion was not the only thing that seemed to plague me on a regular basis; I also seemed to get food poisoning quite often. I was convinced that there was a modern day Typhoid Mary loose in Texas and he/she was contaminating every fast food and sit down restaurant I patronized! Take this and multiply it by the paranoia of someone taking a Food Microbiology course and you have one great big irrational fear! Or was this fear a rational one?

           In the news recently there was a recall of 1 million pounds of frozen ground beef products due to possible E. coli contamination. Yes, it is true that packaged salad mixes have also been found to be contaminated with E.coli which is another reason, besides pesticides, to rinse your produce thoroughly! I had been noticing the sort of "off" taste and texture of the chicken I would buy from the grocery store, and I was just plain tired of ground beef since it was the main ingredient in almost everything mom made for dinner. (Sorry mom!)

            A friend of mine suggested I watch Food, Inc., claiming that I will never want to eat meat again! I watched it, keeping in mind that documentaries tend to be very one-sided and filled with propaganda. What struck me the most was the treatment of our mass-produced meat animals! They live out their sad lives in cramped and filthy spaces, suffering from disease and inhumane treatment only to be slaughtered in a factory-like fashion. If I am wrong about this, please someone correct me because I would be quite relieved to hear it! I wont go into the other disturbing information I was presented, I will leave that up to you to find out on your own. The bottom line was that I had another good reason to avoid meat!

          My other reasons were as follows: I hated handling raw meat, couldn't seem to get a grasp on cooking meat, and I didn't eat very much of it anyway. My mom brought home a package of firm tofu and it was the beginning of my vegetarian experiment! I used a combination of FoodNetwork , allrecipes , and Google to find different ways to cook tofu, and what types of dishes a vegetarian ate. I would snap pictures of my little experimental meals and post them on my Facebook to mixed reactions. Some of my friends would comment on how gross they imagined tofu to be, and others thought the meals looked quite tasty.

          I expected people to have a negative reaction to my desire to go vegetarian and this was not the case at all! By the way, my boyfriend is extremely pro-meat, loves to grill and has to have his beef jerky...even he enjoys eating my meatless meals! Three of my friends have let me borrow cookbooks filled with vegetarian fare, and I am slowly working my way through reading "Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide to a Healthy Vegetarian Diet." The transition is not an easy one! I've had the occasional burger, tacos, and my mom's delicious chicken pot pie...I'm only human! As long as I stock my own kitchen with plenty of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, tofu, eggs, low fat dairy products (this is considered lacto-ovo-vegetarian) and a plethora of herbs,seasonings and healthy cooking oils I will be well on my way.

         Since I've seriously increased my intake of vegetables and whole grains compared to what I used to comsume, I have noticed that I feel much better! My bowels have become very regular (my apologies for the imagery), my energy has increased, and I've even lost weight. Keep in mind that everyone is different and has their own unique needs when it comes to nutrition. I am a student and by no means have the authority to counsel anyone. Consider this my disclaimer. :-)

         Thank you for taking the time to share this experience with me and I hope you will join me for the rest of my adventures in eating!