Dairy Dues

October 13, 2010

So, recently I’ve been cutting back on dairy. I noticed a correlation between heightened IBS issues and a lot of dairy in my diet, so I decided to eliminate all dairy except yogurt for a week or two and see what happened. It improved my digestive health so much that I decided to just keep the dairy low for the foreseeable future.

This just adds to the balancing act that is required of me between my IBS, my hypoglycemia, and my low-meat diet due to my cholesterol issues and arrhythmia. I don’t presume to call myself a vegan, but my diet is starting to resemble a vegan diet about half the time. It means that I have to be yet more creative, and that “stir-fry” has to replace “casserole” as the simplest weeknight solution.

I’m not complaining; although it’s a serious pain in the rear, in the long run I like being forced to be more creative in the kitchen. Cutting dairy means cutting a class of food with more calories than nutrition, which is good. But it does drag up some questions for me about what exactly is wrong with my insides. I haven’t eaten cheesecake in many years, because I’ve known for that length of time that it’s a trigger food and will lead me to far more misery in the ladies’ room than the temporary happiness in my mouth is worth. I thought it was the richness of the food and not the dairy that was the problem, because there are plenty of high-dairy foods that do nothing to me. I ate a Greek dish with a 1 1/2 inch layer of fluffy bechamel sauce on top the other night with no ill effects, and I eat cheese and crackers with no problem. But the other night I made a casserole with Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese (like cream cheese with less fat), and the next day, oh, the suffering.

I don’t think I’m lactose intolerant. If I am, it’s a highly selective intolerance. But I might pick up some of those lactose pills, buy some cheesecake for the first time in a million years, and see what happens.


Nutritious Mush

June 10, 2010

Last night I came home, totally unwillingly did aerobics (I’m sure the sweat I worked up wasn’t nearly as much as usual; my kicks were definitely halfhearted), and made dinner. I had planned to make broiled tilapia with a side of a bean dish in Heidi (of 101 Cookbooks) Swanson’s book Super Natural Cooking. I received this book as a gift for my birthday a couple of years ago. I looked through it once and promptly put it on the shelf, never to be retrieved until about a week and a half ago. It is totally unrealistic to the way most people in America live and shop for groceries. I couldn’t find a single recipe in the book that was both appealing and for which I could find all the ingredients without going to Whole Foods and spending a fortune – if I could even find them at any Whole Foods on this coast. (Her recipes on the website are much simpler and use far more substitute-able ingredients than those in the book – and there are also a whole lot more of them.)

I took the book off the shelf again recently to look at what was there. I still thought it was largely unrealistic, but my local supermarket made a huge expansion a few months ago to their hippie organic and natural foods section, and more of the things Heidi is nattering on about are available to me, even if they do cost a pretty penny. (Still no luck on the California farmer’s market kind of shopping that she has access to, but hey, maybe someday.) I like to give the expensive stuff at least one try and then attempt to do it cheaper. Brown rice syrup is a good example; a peanut-butter-jar-sized container of the stuff was eight dollars, and one of her recipes calls for a cup of it, which adds up to about three dollars. Would I rather use honey, a cup of which can be used for less than $1.50? Yes, of course. But maybe the brown rice syrup is better, for some reason, and I won’t know until I try it both ways.

I’m really getting sidetracked here. The point is, I found a bean recipe in Super Natural Cooking that I wanted to try this week. It called for stir-frying a large amount of white beans in a good deal of oil until they were crispy and brown, and adding chopped chard. There were other basic ingredients – onions, garlic, parmesan at the end, etc. – but I was doing this as a side dish for just myself, so I skipped all that and just fried the beans and chard. Heidi had a note in the recipe saying that using canned beans for this purpose has never worked for her, and that they’ve turned all mushy instead of frying up and keeping their shape. I have never had much success at the dried-bean thing as of yet, and besides it takes forever, and besides besides I had some leftover canned cannellini beans, so I decided to take my chances.

I fried the beans in olive oil for a significant period of time before adding the chard, and while they did indeed turn into mush as Heidi had foretold, I had left them on high heat for long enough that there were pieces of bean that had gotten that fried/browned flavor from being in the oil. The whole thing seemed kind of uninteresting to me by the time the chard was mostly wilted, so I poured a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in the pan, a flavor that’s wonderful with cooked greens. After the cilia in my nose recovered from the boiled-off vinegar, I retrieved my tilapia from the oven (more on that method another time) and dumped the beans and chard on my plate.

I poked at it. As I told BF when he got home, it looked like something you’d get in an orphanage in London in 1840. It was hideous: dingy white and dingy green, with big brown patches from the vinegar, mostly denatured and sludgy. But I knew that it had all kinds of protein and vitamins. Nutritious mush.

I took a bite, and it was surprisingly delicious, with tang from the vinegar and yummy browned flavor from the fried-up beans. The perfect addition for texture would have been some breadcrumbs sauteed in butter until golden, but that was way too much trouble just for me. Nevertheless, it was all gone before it even got cold.

So, ultimately, a happy ending. I even rewarded myself with some ice cream, because I knew it was a pretty low-cal meal and I could afford a decent dessert. I’ll have to stay on the aerobics bandwagon, of course, but it’s worth it for a good bowl of vanilla to top of a dinner of nutritious mush.

Breakfast Shake Recipe and Review

June 8, 2010

It’s fucking HOT in Arizona.

Oh dear, so sorry to start right off the bat with the F bomb.

Anyway, yeah. Hot. Which means I don’t want to cook, and I don’t want to eat anything warm. So I’m back on the breakfast shake/smoothie kick, which I’ve danced to off and on for several years. This morning’s attempt is thus:

One cup Silk Very Vanilla Soy Milk
One-half cup frozen organic blueberries
Two scoops (one serving) Aria Protein Powder, vanilla

Toss it all in a blender, blend on high until smooth, pour into a cup, stick in a straw, consume.

It’s decent. At first the vanilla flavor is rather overpowering, though it dies down after the first few sips. I think next time I’ll buy non-flavored soy milk if I’m going to use vanilla protein powder, and I might throw in another half-cup of berries as the blueberry flavor is somewhat hidden. Maybe a half-cup of soy milk and a half-cup of yogurt would be good, too. Anyway, here’s the stats for the recipe as above:

250 calories
5 grams of fat
31 grams of carbs
20 grams of protein
25 mg of cholesterol
3 grams of fiber
64 mg of calcium
256 mg of sodium
377 mg of potassium

More Tofu

June 3, 2010

My hiatus on my own blog is not much affecting my desire to write here. I made another delicious 101 Cookbooks concoction last night, and as I’m eating the leftovers for lunch today, I can’t let this one go by without sharing it. It was super-delicious and another great gateway tofu dish.

Asparagus Stir-Fry

My notes:

  • I used pre-cubed tofu here (don’t forget to prep!), because although she says “cut into slices thick as a pencil”, I just don’t see slices working in a stir-fry.
  • The fact that tofu is so flavorless actually works extremely well here, because the recipe has so much flavor that a mouthful of bland is a welcome respite.
  • I used whole almonds which I blanched and toasted and chopped a little, and if I didn’t know that Heidi gets a zillion emails from minds more culinarily talented than mine, I might write her to suggest that she make this change as well. Almonds are more nutritious than cashews and the more intense crunch was great. I also used more than a handful, probably more like 1/2 cup or almost that much.
  • Use fresh mint and fresh basil here. Also, use a nonstick pan and a decent amount of oil to cook the tofu. Trust me.
  • I mixed some sesame oil with some olive oil for the tofu-fry, because in my area sesame oil is somewhat expensive.
  • For those of you who don’t do Asian food at home very often and may not know this, you CANNOT use ground ginger in place of fresh ginger! Ground ginger is a baking spice and doesn’t work in savory dishes. To solve the fresh-ginger problem, I buy jarred chopped ginger in water and drain it a tbsp-full at a time to use in stir-fries. I had to get my last batch at a Chinese grocery, but that was months ago and I’m only halfway through the jar. (Fresh whole ginger is, IMHO, a lot of trouble to keep on hand and even more trouble to mince yourself.)
  • I did not use any hoisin, because I don’t like hoisin. I also used a tablespoon or two of bottled lime juice instead of squeezing the hell out of the lime I zested, and I’m not a bit sorry I did.
  • If you don’t often stir-fry, know that you have to get the pan, as Alton Brown puts it, “rocket-hot” before you can add ingredients.
  • This recipe is vegan, and really puts to rest any complaint about vegan recipes sucking.

The only other thing I would add is that the batch made with this recipe is not really much food compared to most stir-fries. This will feed two hearty appetites and that’s about all. You can serve it over brown rice to up the degree to which it fills you up, or you can just double all the quantities and have enough for lunch tomorrow. I ate my dinner portion with some leftover miso soup and it was just right. As always, enjoy!

Orzo Salad Recipe

May 25, 2010

I made this tonight from 101 Cookbooks, and I just had to share it, below. I think it’s supposed to serve as a side dish, but I ate it as the main course and it was fine. Handfuls of vegetables, delicious flavors and textures mingled, just a really interesting and healthy dish. Notes:

-Don’t skip toasting the almonds, they taste like bacon bits with the advantage of being almonds instead.
-I used a store-bought (Italian) dressing I like instead of the oil/garlic/salt/lemon thing. 
-I also skipped the sprouts – too much trouble to buy them and hope they won’t go bad before it’s time to use them – and the cilantro, as BF does not like cilantro. 
-I can barely find orzo in my area, much less whole wheat orzo, so I used regular.

Incidentally, I cooked the veggies for two minutes with the orzo instead of 30 seconds. Heidi gets her groceries in California, where the vegetables spring out of the ground and do a little song and dance asking to be eaten, rather than growing normally as they do here on the east coast.

Highly, highly recommended.

1 cup dried (whole wheat) orzo pasta
8 – 10 medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
1/2 a medium head of broccoli (or broccolini), cut into small trees
small handful of cilantro(or mint if you prefer), chopped

1 small clove of garlic, mashed with a big pinch of salt and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

a small handful of sprouts
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1/2 small cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium avocado, sliced into small pieces
1/4 cup feta, crumbled

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and boil the orzo per package instructions. Avoid over-boiling, you want your orzo to be cooked through, but maintain structure. About 30 seconds before the orzo is finished cooking stir the asparagus and broccoli into the orzo pot. Cook for the final 30 seconds, drain and run under a bit of cold water. Just long enough to stop the cooking.

In the meantime, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and more salt (if needed) into the dressing. Set aside.

When you are ready to serve the salad toss the orzo, asparagus, broccoli, and cilantro with about half the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, and toss well. Now add the sprouts, almonds, cucumber, avocado, and feta. Very gently toss a couple of times to distribute those ingredients throughout the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

This recipe is wholly the property of 101 Cookbooks and Heidi Swanson.

Smoked Tofu Paella

May 19, 2010

Cross-posted at Mars Is Heaven.

Since the fall, the quality of the meals I make at home has been steadily declining. At first it was because of my (temporary) two-hour-a-day commute, and how tired and not-in-the-mood-to-cook I was when I got home. Then when I started taking the anatomy class, being totally unable to cook dinner two nights a week meant that produce went unused, decent leftover lunches taken to work got rarer, and I just sort of gave up on getting a healthy meal 10 times out of every 14. Lately BF and I have been living on burritos and pasta, and while Chipotle is by no means the same as McDonald’s, it’s still not the quality of food I was dishing up before things got so crowded in my life.

So, now that my class is finally over, I’ve recommitted to better eating. I threw out all the rotten onions, pored over my recipe books, and put together an enviable menu for this week that’s almost totally vegetarian. One of the bits of business that came into my life this week to help me out was this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which has a bunch of recipes in it from yoga and mediation center kitchens all over the country. The first one I tried, from Tuesday evening, I found to be a great inspiration for anyone who’s committing or recommitting to a healthy lifestyle. Despite the length of the ingredient list, it’s fairly quick, it’s simple, and it’s got a lot of easy-to-find ingredients. It’s also a good way to introduce tofu to yourself if you’ve resisted it. I’ve modified the recipe, which is from Kripalu, with my own ideas, and I hope they’re helpful. (I don’t feel bad about printing it here because it’s in Yoga Journal this month, free to all who want to spend $4.99 on the magazine.)

To start, you’ll need to prep, marinate, and bake half a pound of firm to super-firm tofu. If you’re lucky enough to find firm tofu pre-cubed, use that; otherwise, slice the block of tofu into four thin slices. (If you bought a pound of tofu and are going to use the whole block, which is what I did, cut it into eight thin slices.) Get a large baking pan, and lay out paper towels three deep. Place the tofu slices on the paper towels, cover with two more layers of paper towel, and then cover with a second baking pan and some heavy food cans on top. The purpose of this is to squeeze as much moisture out of the tofu as possible so it can soak up another flavorful liquid later. (It’s a little trickier to do this with pre-cubed tofu, but it still works if you spread the cubes out.) After the paper towels are totally soaked, remove the tofu and cube it into wee 1/2 inch cubes.

Marinate it in this marinade, with the following changes: remove the Worcestershire sauce, use 2 tsp of liquid smoke, and, if you want, use a teaspoon of garlic powder instead of fresh garlic (I did, out of laziness). Tofu can marinate for a very short time, an hour or two, and still soak up as much flavor as if you let it marinate overnight, but for me overnight worked better in terms of timing.

While you’re preparing the rest of the paella, bake the tofu at 375F for 15 minutes, or longer if you like a tougher texture. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of marinating it, be my guest and use it plain, but if you haven’t tried tofu before, I don’t recommend it.

(If you can find smoke-flavored tofu, good on ya, and no need for the marinade. I know I couldn’t.)

4 cups vegetable broth or stock, plus one cup water*
1 tsp loosely packed saffron threads**
Olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded & diced***
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved  
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups short-grain rice, such as Arborio
8 oz smoke-flavored baked tofu, diced+
1/2 cup cooked frozen green peas (fresh if you can get ’em, which is generally unlikely)
1 tbsp truffle oil, optional++
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tsp dried
Lemon wedges, for serving (totally unnecessary, I didn’t use ’em)

*The recipe calls for 5 cups of broth, but the 32-oz boxes of broth you can buy at the supermarket are four cups exactly, and I used one of those and a cup of water to tide it over, which is a hell of a lot easier than buying two boxes and having leftovers.

**Saffron is wicked expensive and hard to come by in decent quantities. A teaspoon could cost you $30. I had a few pinches in my pantry and used that, and didn’t really miss the flavor. I don’t think you’ll be ruining the recipe if you don’t use it at all.

***If you think it’s dumb to use half of one color pepper and half of another, use one whole one, I won’t tell.

+See above for the marinade that’ll give you about the same effect, in my estimation. I used a whole pound of cubed tofu rather than half a pound, but I don’t really mind tofu, and it gives a little more heft to the recipe.

++Shyeah. I totally have that on hand. IN CULINARY IMAGINARY LAND.

ACTUAL RECIPE, FINALLY: In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the saffron, remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a paella pan (??) or large frying pan over medium-high, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and bell peppers. Saute until aromatic and softened to your preference. The recipe recommends 5 minutes, but I cooked them until they were totally soft and brown on the edges, because there’s more flavor and I don’t like parcooked onions. That took a bit longer.

Add the fresh and dried tomatoes, the turmeric, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and fry ’em up. “Until the vegetables start to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes” is the recipe’s recommendation, but I think “to the level that you deem appropriate” is fine too.

Add ~1/2 cup of the hot broth mixture to the pan and stir to scrape any browned bits from the bottom. (It will probably sizzle up all awesome.) Add the uncooked rice, the tofu, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper (fresh-ground if you prefer) to the pan and stir, stir, stir. When all the broth is absorbed, add another ~1 cup. Each time the liquid is totally absorbed, add another ~1 cup, until it’s all absorbed. Keep the mixture at a simmer.

(I know, you’re making risotto, right? Except: “Adjust heat as needed to prevent scorching, but do not stir the rice.” I didn’t notice this weird-ass direction for the first few additions of broth. A few kernels of the rice came out uncooked, but I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t follow the recipe or because I did.)

After about 20 minutes, you’re almost finished. Turn off the heat, add the peas, and cover. Let it steam for about 10 minutes, and then add the parsley and mythical truffle oil, and (in my case) additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the superfluous lemon wedges. Serves, oh, five or six.

Delicioso. Muy muy. Hope you enjoy it as much as BF and I did. I promise it really is a good gateway recipe for tofu. And ah, so healthy.

A Week of Clean Eating

March 3, 2010

If you’re trying to concentrate more on the quality of food you’re consuming, rather than the calories (necessarily), here is a week of clean-eating meals. They lean toward low carb/high protein (mostly based on South Beach Phase One and Phase Two), and for the most part represent 1500 calories or fewer per day if you throw in a healthy snack or two. YMMV based on serving size, garnishes, etc. I’m pretty much omitting any breads and starches from these meals, and keeping fruit to a minimum (sugar). Plus throwing in more beans than probably the typical person eats in a week. You (and your significant other) have been warned.

Also, if you have yet to check out Kalyn’s Kitchen (from which I got a few of these recipes), you really ought to. She posted a recipe for Roasted Kale Chips with Sea Salt today that I’m just dying to try out.

Day One:
Breakfast – 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 tbsp honey, 1/2 cup sliced peaches
Lunch – 3 cups baby lettuce mix, 1/2 chicken breast sliced, 1/2 cup white beans, 2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette.
Dinner – Garlic Lime Salmon with black bean relish.

Day Two:
Breakfast – Breakfast Casserole with asparagus, mushrooms, and goat cheese.
Lunch – Cucumber halves stuffed with tuna salad, 1/2 cup cottage cheese.
Dinner – Roasted chicken breasts topped with bruchetta, sauteed summer squash.

Day Three:
Breakfast – Protein Shake
Lunch – Greek Veggie Wrap in lettuce cups, red bell pepper slices dipped in hummus.
Dinner – Sausage, Peppers, and Cannellini Bean Stew with Parmesan

Day Four:
Breakfast – Hard boiled egg, sliced apple with almond butter
Lunch – Garbanzo Bean Salad
Dinner –Beef Roast served with a tossed salad and light dressing

Day Five:
Breakfast – 1/2 cup yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup low fat granola
Lunch – Stuffed Zucchini Cups (OMG guys, these are so good)
Dinner – Big Ass Dinner Salad

Day Six:
Breakfast – Cottage cheese with cherry tomatoes
Lunch – Moroccan Vegetable Stew served over spaghetti squash
Dinner – Sonoran Chicken (use light cream cheese, omit shredded cheese if you’re trying to cut calories)

Day Seven:
Breakfast – Omelet with one whole egg and two egg whites, chopped lean meats and/or veggies of choice
Lunch – Salsa Burgers made with ground turkey (replace the bun with lettuce if you wish), sliced veggies (carrots, celery, radishes, cukes, etc) dipped in light dressing.
Dinner – Jambalaya