Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pizza Fit For A King

You know, this whole-working-full-time-thing really puts a crimp in my kitchen doings.  The armada of kitchen appliances on my counter serve as constant reminders of their disuse and neglect.  I dream of happier days when I can spend quality time with them again...and not just on days that begin with a 'S'.

It's quite hard to determine which kitchen appliance is the most indispensable - I use them all often and they all seem equally important.  However, right now, the bread machine is edging out the competition ever-so-slightly.  Here's why: after about ten minutes of prep time, I am rewarded with a nice, warm, moisty-chewy loaf of bread...in a variety of flavors, colors, and textures.  Yes, I have to wait a couple of hours, but that is A-OK!  Also, I've had great luck with pretzel dough.

And now, I can add pizza dough to the list.

The recipe I used called for three cups of all-purpose flour.  However, in my excitement and haste, I'd already dumped in a cup of King Arthur bread flour...meh.  Oh well, I followed that up with two cups of King Arthur whole wheat flour.  With the water, oil, and yeast in already, it was time to press the "Start" button and walk away.  Which I did.  After ninety minutes, I had me a nice little dough ball which I wrapped up and stored in the fridge.

Then, my ten-year-old daughter expressed a desire last night to be the chief food-preparer, so I let her have it.  We unwrapped the chilled dough ball and let it get to room temperature before rolling it out and laying it in a jelly-roll pan.  Then again, I walked away.

Kirby took it from there - she brushed on some garlic-infused olive oil, spread on two cups of our homemade Red Sauce, and then littered the crust with a variety of items, including mushrooms, olives, leftover diced chicken, and mozzarella.  Then she baked it.  Then we ate it.  Then we died and went to pizza heaven.

When we descended from pizza heaven, I vowed to do pizza crust like this every time.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meatless Monday

Here's a great example of irony for you:

I spend about $70 on meat this past weekend in an effort to restock my deep freeze...then, I turn up my nose at said foodstuff for a Meatless Monday meal plan.

Madness.

Anyway, tonight was a late, late supper with kiddos arriving home from soccer about 7:30.  On the bill of fare: "Red Beans and Rice", recipe courtesy of my new It cookbook "Not Just Beans".

While the brown rice cooked away in its rice cooker earlier, I threw together sauteed onions, two cans of kidney beans, two cans of diced tomatoes, garlic salt, basil, and oregano together in a skillet to simmer for about fifteen minutes.  Then, I mixed the rice in at the very end of cooking.

Serving went a couple different ways: tortilla chips topped with the mixture, cheddar cheese, salsa, and sour cream made for an excellent, filling dinner for the kids and Brent.  A large bowl of salad, topped with the rice and beans, cheese, salsa, and sour cream made for an excellent, fairly salubrious dinner for me.

Best part?   Enough in the skillet afterwards to guarantee two days' worth of leftovers for Brent and I.  Yes!  Picture me doing joyful, happy somersaults of Olympic proportions.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

For You, Brent

I recently received a free cookbook titled "Not Just Beans" by Tawra Kellam.  And you know me, cuckoo for cookbooks!

With any new cookbook I get, I like to spend about an hour just reading, looking, dreaming, and planning.  "Not Just Beans" was no different.  Then...action time.

I discovered a recipe for Beef Stroganoff using round steak - which I just happened to have in my freezer.  That's what was for dinner last night - major raves from the male contingent of the family.

But today, in homage to my husband, I lovingly prepared - Blue Cheese Dressing.

The pungence of the dressing comes from this funky-looking dairy product here at left.  You'll notice how UNnatural this food looks, and since it's a product I don't care for, I don't ever stock the dressing in my house.

This is much to my husband's chagrin, because he loves blue cheese dressing.  Along with my mom, they both order it with relish on their salads whenever we dine out.  Ick, but, you know, whatever.

I thought it would be a nice, wifey thing to make a salad dressing (that I detest) for my husband, who then would not always have to order it at a restaurant (where who knows what ingredients it contains).  The recipe was v. simple (I actually "fourthed" the recipe - I mean, one-and-a-half quarts of BLUE CHEESE DRESSING?!  There is only so far I'll go, folks):

1 cup mayo (I used light)
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup small-curd cottage cheese (I used 1% milkfat)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp (or more) salt for taste
1/4 tsp Worchestershire sauce
3 oz. blue cheese crumbles

I processed everything except 1 oz of the crumbles until smooth, then I mixed in the last ounce for a bit o' chunkiness.  I did add a couple dashes of pepper, because I dig that spice.  Upon tasting, my husband claims it tastes pretty much the same as store-bought...although he would like it if I would add more blue cheese (I guess that's what he digs - yuck).  So, I'll just throw the rest of the crumbles in the next time he uses it.

While making your own salad dressing is fun and empowering, it's only a complete victory if it's actually healthier and cheaper than buying a bottle of store-bought.  Unfortunately, that is information I do not have for you right now.  When I get a bit more time, I'll compile that data, and then we will truly see whether or not I do it again.

For you, Brent.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More on "Fat Head"

The fog has cleared a little, but I still feel uncertain about my nutritional future.  For years, I've been brainwashed into thinking that fat is bad, grains are good.  Ancel Keys, a Minnesota cardiologist somehow got the AHA and the rest of America to buy into the premise that high-fat, meat-laden diets were causing heart disease rates to skyrocket.  At his insistence, we all soon believed that low-fat was the way to go.  We all stocked up on potatoes, pasta, rice and loaded them up with substances like margarine and fat-free sour cream.  Then guys like Atkins and Agatston come along and tell some kinds of fat are better than other, and maybe we should eat real butter, use real cream, and eat some meat.  In fact, lean cuts of meat as it turns out, maybe help fight fat better than anything else!

These, and other revelations, crop up in the movie "Fat Head".  (For a Taoist's take on this movie, check out my friend's blog at A Taoist Journey to the Stars)

And so, here I am, feeling like I don't know what.  My most recent trip to Costco netted me eight boxes of pasta and two bags of breakfast cereal - both of which I'd be doing a disservice to feed to my kids, according to the research behind "Fat Head"!

So.  What the heck do I do now?  While I'm trying to sift through Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories", I reach for a quick fix with my favorite food writer - Michael Pollan...and I remember some of his (and others') sage words from his "Food Rules", particularly: 

1.  Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
2.  Avoid food products that make blatant health claims.
3.  Stay out of the middle of the supermarket as much as possible.
4.  If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.
5.  Eat your colors.
6.  Eat sweet foods as you find them in nature.

While, yes, I've been turned on my nutritional little head, I am trying to find order out of chaos.  And while I'm trying to do that, I found this little funny and decided to share it with you.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My World Has Been Rocked

I'm always open to ideas and research that impel me to improve my life.  I've been very lucky, especially in the area of food, to have come across several books and films that have changed me for the better.  The short list includes:

Print:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Ominvore's Dilemma and Food Rules by Michael Pollan
What to Eat by Marion Nestle

Film:
Super-Size Me
Food Inc.
King Corn

And now, I suspect I'll be able to add the film "Fat Head" to the list.  This film essentially rebuts the premise of "Super-Size Me"; in this documentary, Tom Naughton sets out to demonstrate that eating fast-food for one month straight is not as detrimental as stated in "Super-Size Me".  At the end of the month (in which he'd had mostly McDonald's), Tom Naughton actually lost twelve pounds and had better cholesterol numbers than before the experiment.  Following on the tail of that shocker were some equally disturbing ones about grains, the USDA, fat, sugars, etc.

Watching that documentary has turned my culinary world upside down, so I am now reading Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (recommended by the same friend who suggested the Naughton film).  Hopefully, that will begin to make sense of this upheaval and any ramifications that result.

I am reeling.  I hope to post more later.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

No More Casting Aspersions on Asparagus

My favorite vegetable of the day is: Asparagus.  And I owe this all to Ina Garten.  You know Ina Garten, right?  The Barefoot Contessa lady?

No?  Well, now you do.

Here's the sad thing about asparagus.  It's number two on the "Most Hated Vegetable List".  Okay, I don't have hard data on that previous fact, but seriously, it suffers from serious reputation damage.  And why?  My guess is that, because asparagus preparation is SO key, many people foul it up, and wind up serving something that looks like a slimy green snake.  No wonder.  If this has happened to you (as in the case of my mom), then consider this:

1. Asparagus look cool.  I mean, anyone can eat a tomato, potato, or lettuce - round vegetables are a dime a dozen.  But a spear?  With little nubby thingies on it?  Boyohboy, sign me up!

2.  Asparagus is a bang-for-your-buck vegetable.  Low calorie, low sodium, and high in fiber and a whole host of vitamins and minerals.  And it's versatile: steam it, roast it, pickle it, eat it raw, make cream of asparagus soup, ad nauseum...

There's other reasons, too...but I will leave you to your own research.

Anyway.  About a week ago I purchased two decent-looking bunches of asparagus at the store.  Today, I roasted them with this recipe I found at the Food Network website - Roasted Asparagus.   I only made the following changes: 1.) Instead of EVOO, I used a garlic-infused olive oil.  As a friend of mine so succinctly put it, you can never have enough garlic.  2.) I seasoned the oiled vegetables with sea salt and a freshly ground garlic pepper (found at local, small-town grocery store), because again, see Change #1.  3.) I sprinkled with Parmesan cheese upon removing from the oven.

I then roasted the two trimmed bunches on a baking sheet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Seriously, it was that easy.  My children ate them  - no complaints.  My mom (self-proclaimed asparagus-hater...because of repressed childhood memories, I think) even tried one, and did not throw up, spit it out, or complain.  Not that she would have done that anyway...but still.

Heavenly.  Thank goodness the season of abundant asparagus will soon be upon us, because I will be trying this recipe again.  And again.  And again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Kudos to Panera! Sort Of...

According to Wikipedia, the quickish, cafe-style eatery Panera Bread has 1362 stores in 40 states.  That means it's highly likely most of you have access...a word I use loosely; after all, I drive over an hour to the nearest one.

Anyway, for me, Panera Bread is the consummate love-hate relationship.  It is the home of the Cinnamon Crunch Bagel - a baked good SO PERFECT that I might commit violent crimes just to possess it.  However, calorie- and nutrition-wise, it's the AntiChrist (4.5 oz, 430 calories, 8g fat, 2g fiber, 29g sugar...but so, so, so delish).

You see my dilemma, no doubt.  If I lived closer to a Panera, I would purchase a CCB more often...but if I purchased a CCB more often, my waistline would hate me.  And I don't want that.  Thus, I am very grateful to live a significant distance from a PB, where a CCB is not such a devilish temptation.  I suppose I should just develop stronger willpower...ASAP.

Acroynms aside, my husband and I had lunch there recently and I was so, so, so happy to see:  calorie counts immediately next to menu items on the reader board.  Finally!  An eating establishment willing to openly broadcast nutritional information!  As if it had nothing to hide.  Furthermore, it also lists calorie amounts for full- and half-portions.  But...it does not include the calorie counts for the bag of potato chips Brent got with his turkey artichoke panini or the roll that came with my salad.  You take the good, you take the bad...

I opted for a full-size Thai Chopped Chicken Salad (390 calories).  As I chewed my greens and roasted edamame, I contemplated how other restaurants should follow Panera's example, because only recently have many chain restaurants been forthcoming about their nutritional data.  In states like New York and California, government has had to put the smackdown on fast-food secrecy, forcing them to spill the saturated fat beans.  Some restaurants still have managed to elude legislation - like Fuddrucker's, a burger place I absolutely love.

The beauty, though, of the Internet, is that somebody, somewhere has done their own independent research and managed to find out this information anyway.  My recommendation for websites that provide nutritional data for many of America's chain eateries?  Dotti's Weight Loss Zone.  At least now I have the information to make a somewhat educated choice...and there's no delusion about the fat, salt, and insane calorie count behind something like Outback Steakhouse's Aussie Cheese Fries (30g, 524mg, 404 calories - that's just 1/3 of a small portion!)

But, back to Panera...while knowing the calorie amount is good, it's not the whole nutritional picture.  My Thai chicken salad?  390 calories seemed pretty good for a decent-sized bowl of spicy goodness...until I looked it up online later and saw: 15g of fat, 5g of fiber, 13g of sugar, 34 g of protein.

Here's what those numbers mean:  for this type of salad, the numbers for fiber and protein are par for the course (cashews, chicken, romaine lettuce).  The 15g of fat might be a little startling (for a salad), but much of that is due to the crispy wonton strip topping and cashews and edamame.  My advice?  Leave off the strips, but keep the cashews and edamame; they may be a little high in fat, but they provide some other good stuff too.  By far, the most alarming factoid here is the 13g of sugar.  We don't normally equate salads with the sugar equivalency of certain brands of cereal, yogurt, and granola bars.  The kicker?  Seven grams of the 13 came from the Thai Chili Vinaigrette - over half!  To the best of my culinary knowledge, vinaigrette SHOULD only consist of oil, vinegar, and spices.  Where does sugar even enter the vinaigrette picture?  If I knew then what I know now, I'd have asked for the dressing on the side. 

While the restaurant industry is coming a long ways in informing their consumers, there is still a long way to go.

Hmmm...this puts me in mind to conduct a little experiment....more to come later.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Food TV

My kids enjoy watching the Food Network.  They also like the Game Show Channel.

I know, I know.  I have pretty awesome kids.

Anyway, one show they like is "Chopped".  The premise is a process of elimination - with one chef "winning".  Four culinary neophytes are run through a food obstacle course of sorts. In Round One, the contestants are given three totally random and unrelated ingredients, with which they have to create a palatable and clever appetizers.  And by random, I mean random...we're talking yucca, watermelon, and tortillas (there is also a "pantry" stocked with other basics).

Round Two is the entree.  Round Three is the dessert.  Each round, one contestant is eliminated or "chopped" from competition...and they go home feeling like a loser.

And these newbs are then given twenty minutes to complete.  You can imagine the drama that ensues.

So far, I'm okay with the show.  It's clever - seeing how inventive and clever these wannabe-Emerils can get.  Also, working under pressure - I get it!

But, after every round, the dishes are paraded out for a panel of tasting judges, of whose credentials I'm skeptical of.  Anyway...

The judges are honest and will inform each contestant of their dish's shortcomings.  They also praise when it's due.  And this is where things go south.  The entire show is now about WHO FAILED THE LEAST.  What do the judges expect when greenback chefs are given ridiculous ingredients and a constrained time limit?  On top of that, bombard them (in front of each other) with criticism when they don't produce the most amazing thing ever?

I dunno - it just kinda epitomizes the direction our society is going.  Distressing, really.

Also, the kids like to watch "Cupcake Wars".  As if strife and conflict doesn't happen around the world everyday, now people war over cupcakes.  Sheesh.

I'd abolish the TV from my house if I could - but I don't think I could get my husband to go for it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Meaningful Title...

So, here I am. Newly arrived from another blog site. More illuminating thoughts to follow...