Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Less is more

First: yes this ironic coming from me. But with 2 kitchens, I have discovered something: you might have enough stuff in your house to equip 2 kitchens.  Sure, there are a few things you will want to duplicate, because they are perfect and you use them everyday.  But beyond the basics, having more stuff in your kitchen will not made you cook more. Or be a better cook.  In fact, having more stuff will slow you down. If you have to dig through the utensil drawer to find your favorite spatula (and in those of you fortunate to have large kitchens, look through 3 utensil drawers to find that spatula), it delays getting dinner on the table – no matter how many time savings gadgets are in that drawer. 

So apply those same rules that you are supposed to use for your closet:  if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.  Yes, make exceptions for those special event type pans, but don’t put them in prime locations.  If it doesn’t fit (your dishwasher, your lifestyle, or your cupboard), find it a new home.  If you never run out of something because they are all in the dishwasher, you probably have too many.   If you love a pan but don’t use it, try using it differently.  For example, I received a really nice ceramic pie pan as a gift.  I loved it.  But it was a little deep for a pumpkin pie. Apple pies have been replaced by apple galettes in my kitchen.  It moved to the 2nd kitchen and gets used for quiche and cakes (since I don’t have quiche or round cake pans), used for serving, used for holding breading for chicken. It even has been used for pumpkin pie.  It does the work of 5 different cooking tools!

Don’t stop with the pots and utensils.  If there is food that has been in your house for over a year … realize it needs to go, no matter how healthy it is (or was), how enticing it looked at the store, or how well intentioned a gift it was.  If you have to dig through your freezer and dig through your cabinets to find what you need to get dinner on the table, dinner will take longer to make. 

The real irony:  Having fewer options will make you a better cook.  If you cook the same things over and over, you get good (and fast) at fixing that thing.  If you don’t have a pan or ingredient the recipe calls for, you will learn to be creative.  If only I was good at applying this logic to my closet. 

I will close this rant with a simple recipe that I learned from my mom. 

Ice Tea:  

Use whatever tea you like.  I generally use green tea, and sometimes mix green tea and ginger tea.  This works for black tea too.

6 – 8 tea bags (depending on how strong you like your tea)
2 quarts of water

Put the water and tea bags in a pitcher.  Put in the refrigerator.  The next day, remove the tea bags.  The tea is ready to drink. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Farmers Markets

Several members of my family were here for a bit of summer vacation. I’m sad for them when they go back, not so much because they are going back to oppressive heat but because they just don’t have access to the wonderful fruits and vegetables we get here at the farmers markets. Like avocado’s. There are actually many different varieties with different seasons. Right now we can get giant Nabals, other times Bacon or Fuente. In between there are the Haas. Interesting fact: Avocados don’t get ripe on the trees, they need to be picked and then get soft in 10 days or so.

But beyond having access to the farmers markets, there is also some work needed once you get home. Especially when the farmers market is just once a week, and you want to eat fruits and vegetables every day! And you don’t want to face furry, slimy or smelly things in your kitchen later in the week.

Here are some of the things that I do to keep the farmers market bounty under control:

1. All greens (lettuce, kale, chard, herbs) get washed, spun dry in the salad spinner, and put on towels (cotton or paper). Pick out any bruised or yellow pieces. The towels get rolled up with the greens, and put into a plastic bag. The air is gently pushed out, and the bag sealed (I normally use twist ties). These get tossed in the fridge.

2. Root vegetables (carrots, turnips, radishes, beets) get the tops removed. For beet tops, treat them as greens (see step 1). The vegetables go into a clear plastic baggie. If they are especially dirty, wash, but make sure they are dry so as to not rot. They go into the refrigerator.

3. Other green vegetables – green beans, zucchini, broccoli, etc. Don’t wash, but again, I like to put into a clear bag. I really hate the big white bags most farmer’s market vendors have – they take up a lot of room, and you can’t see what you have. I generally just put the vegetables loose into my market bag when I get them and bag when I’m home, but this doesn’t work for things like green beans.

4. Things that need to ripen (avocado’s, tomatoes, peaches and other stone fruit): Put on the counter, I have an assortment of ceramic plates and shallow bowls to keep organized. Important: these things need to be checked EVERY day, and either get eaten (best) or put into the refrigerator. Tomatoes should just be eaten – only refrigerate as a last resort, as the flavor goes away and they get watery.

5. Anything especially tender (like berries) get checked (anything slightly mushed in transit should be eaten right then and there) and put into the fridge. Unless you are lucky enough to need to eat them that day.

And yes, it takes me more time to do this than actually shop, but I find that greens get eaten when I don’t have to stop and wash them, things that I see get used (or tossed at the first sign of slime), and the perfectly ripe fruit makes nieces very happy.

The NY Times recently published a story with similar advice to deal with summer’s bounty  with advice to do even more when you bring them into the house! I don’t start roasting vegetables when I get home, but I do try to immediately figure out what to do with any oddball stuff. When my brother was here, I picked up some okra – got home and found this recipe for okra pickles. I substituted cider vinegar for white, used mustard seed instead of pickling spice, and a dry red pepper instead of the jalapeno and cayenne pepper (but other than that, followed the recipe). I thought they were pretty yummy (even if a little bit slimy).

Back to avocado’s: Nothing says love like a big bowl of guacamole:


This is a general guideline; adjust to your own taste and what you have on hand:

Onion: ¼ to ½ cup finely chopped
Garlic: one small clove, finely chopped. Optional.
Something red: One medium tomato or ½ red bell, chopped
Something hot: 1+ jalapeños or a teaspoon of chili powder or other pepper to taste
Spice: about a ½ teaspoon of cumin
Salt: a good pinch, guessing about ¼ to ½ teaspoon
Avocado: about 3 normal sized Hass, but substitute any variety.
Acid: juice of a couple of limes or a lemon.
Cilantro: like a ¼ cup or so, finely chopped. Use as much or little as you want.

Put everything into a bowl. For the avocados, cut in half, remove pit, cross cut in the shell, then scoop out with a spoon. Squeeze the citrus on the avocado to keep the avocado from turning brown. Mix with a fork, gently mashing the avocado, making sure to leave some chunks. (If the avocados are less ripe, be a bit less gentle). Taste – add more heat, salt, acid as needed (if serving with chips, use a chip to taste). Serve immediately, or press plastic wrap directly on the surface and store in the fridge.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Small Changes

It’s easy to not eat your veggies.. even while eating a lot of foods that are considered “healthy”. For example:  A quick breakfast of peanut butter on whole wheat bread (you’d have a banana but your kid ate the last one yesterday).  Your morning snack is a low fat strawberry yogurt.  For lunch at work, a turkey sandwich that was brought in during a meeting (and a bag of Sun Chips.. more whole grains!).  You had a protein bar before hitting the gym, and then when out with some friends and had sushi for dinner (and were very good and skipped the deep fried things).   Overall, not bad… good a mix of carbs, protein, and not too much fat.   But your fruit and vegetable intake was about ½ a strawberry in your yogurt, a piece of limp iceberg lettuce on your sandwich, the avocado in your California roll, and a piece of seaweed in your miso soup.  Not exactly the recommended 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. 

Fruit and vegetables are key to good health, they are just starting to understand how the micronutrients affect everything from heart health to mental health.   There was an interesting study published last month showing how 2 changes to lifestyle could improve health:  more fruits and veggies, and less TV time.  I’m a big believer in making small changes that improve your diet, not going “on” a diet.    One of the habits I have adopted is including a fruit or vegetable in every meal and every snack. 


Breakfast:  I’m normally a fruit and yogurt and granola, or fruit and cereal person in the morning.  I keep frozen blueberries in the freezer in case I’m out of fresh fruit (zap them for 40 seconds in the microwave to thaw).  If you like eggs, try scrambling with some chopped green onions and baby spinach, or really any vegetables. And add a big scoop of salsa.  

Snacks:  my morning snack usually looks like a 2nd breakfast. Add cottage cheese and fruit to this list.   If I do have peanut butter on toast, I try to get a piece of fruit too. And my latest favorite is a banana chocolate milk

Lunch: Salads are the obvious choice for the veggie rich lunch.   One of the other things I have started doing when I have work lunches is getting the vegetarian option.  It’s not a guarantee to get more vegetables, but it normally helps.   If I have make a sandwich, I always try to load on dark leafy lettuce, avocado, and maybe a tomato.  And a lunch staple when I have good tomatoes:  peanut butter on toast with tomato (it’s really not awful, I learned it from my mom… )   Another option is to have some cut up vegetables, like carrots, celery, or radishes.  Lately, I have been making quick pickles too – hits that crunchy salty / sweet flavor instead of Sun chips! I used a kohlrabi to make my last batch.  See the recipe at the end.  And lunch just doesn’t seem complete without a piece of fruit at the end. 

Afternoon snacks:  I don’t always have an afternoon snack, but when I do, I like something more savory.  Kale chips are a fun option (and if you have clean kale, it only takes 20 minutes or so to make, not much longer than popcorn).  Sometimes I’ll have trail mix, but really there is not enough fruit in that to count.   Apple with cheese is a favorite, apple with peanut butter works too.   Cut up vegetables are a good option too, you can always add a squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper to brighten them up.

Dinner:  Often I start my dinner thoughts with what vegetable I have, then decide what to make (as opposed to starting with the protein).  Hopefully I have provided lots of ideas on vegetable rich ideas for dinners over the years!  Here's my index.

So:  If you just wanted to do 1 thing this summer, I would challenge you to eat some fruit or vegetable with EVERY meal and snack!  Do it for a month, see if you can get some healthy new habits. 

Excerpt from From Al Dente blog:

Vinegar Pickles
Master Recipe from Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

1 cup water, piping hot from the tap
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Fruit or vegetable, sliced thin

1. Combine the water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. 
2. Prepare vegetables or fruit and place in a quart container. Pour brine over the fruit or vegetable and refrigerate. You can eat immediately. But they will taste better after they've had time to sit.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Friends and Frittata’s

A couple of weeks ago, a group wonderful friends came to the Coronado “Villa” under the guise of a bookclub field trip. Vy, our humble leader, wrote a truly inspiring blog post on what it means to be friends. For my blog, I’ll just stick to the food! By “planning to not plan” and knowing I would have lots of help in the kitchen, I’ve figured out how to fun with big group at the house, and not feeling like I’m having to “entertain”. I got there a day ahead of time, and stopped at Trader Joes to get some staples (wine, cheese, eggs). In the mode of not planning, I grilled some chicken breasts and made a pot of quinoa – so dinner for me, and options for salads or sandwiches later. The next morning, I picked my friends up at the airport, and we made a couple of detours on the way to the house: first at Point Loma Seafood, then at the Horton Square Farmer’s market.

For our first lunch, I took my Aunt Joyce’s idea of a quinoa and edaname salad that she left as a comment on my post about green salads. It started with a good amount of cooked quinoa, some diced chicken, plus a container of shelled edaname. To that, we added some of the bounty from the farmers market: chopped red bell pepper, cucumber, zucchini, and an avocado. It was dressed with lemon juice (a couple of lemons worth), some olive oil, salt, pepper, and oregano from the herb garden. It all came together in about 5 minutes – 2 of us chopping, others out gathering herbs. A wonderful start!

Dinner was grilled Wahoo (aka Ono), one of my favorite fish to eat. I will definitely be going back to Point Loma Seafood (and not sure why it took 4 of my friends showing up to go try it). Vy made a wonderful asparagus dish. She quickly blanched the asparagus and made a topping of Manchego cheese, garlic, and butter and popped it under the broiler. I’ll do that again! Some boiled potatoes … baby potatoes that were dug that morning … rounded out the meal.

The last day of the trip started with a tour of Glorietta Bay on Stand Up Paddle Boards (SUP). The ride back in to the beach was a bit rough – boat wakes and a stiff breeze made it tough to stay upright (I’m sure at least 2 of my friends likely consider me a big fat liar after saying they probably wouldn’t get wet) and we worked up some good appetites. Fortunately, there was plenty of stuff left from our visit to the farmers market. And lots of egg’s. And I really felt I owed my friends a hot lunch after getting them so wet. So while my shivering friends jumped into hot showers, the rest of us got busy on making a Frittata. Frittata’s are right up there with pasta, stir fry, and pizza’s for using up whatever vegetables, meat, and cheese that might be around – a meal that fits perfectly in my system of not really planning. The bonus of a frittata is that you include some starch – generally pasta or potatoes – which makes it nice and filling, and comforting. Like my friends.


This is more a guideline that a real recipe. Your frittata can be as simple as leftover pasta and eggs, or be used a catch-all for odds and ends of fresh vegetables and leftovers. I have sized this for a 10 – 11 inch skillet, but adjust up or down as needed.

Vegetable Component: Some options I like: onions, peppers, broccoli, zucchini, spinach or other greens, asparagus. You can use left-over steamed or roasted vegetables too. If you are using pasta that is loaded with veggies you don’t need to add more. One to three cups is a good amount.
(the Bookgroup Frittata (BF) included onions, peppers, garlic, and leftover asparagus)

Starch Component: Pasta is my favorite, but potatoes (roasted, boiled or even raw – just need to cook in the pan a while until they are tender), quinoa, or rice. Again 1 – 3 cups depending on what you have, how many you are feeding.
(the BF was a bunch of left-over, multicolored steamed new potatoes, sliced)

Meat: completely optional, leftover chicken, ham, bacon, or sausage all work. (we kept the BF vegetarian)

Egg Component: just whisk a bunch of eggs. I never bother adding milk or cream, just a bit of salt and pepper. Use 8 to 12 eggs. You want enough to just cover the other stuff.
(BF used a dozen. We were hungry)

Cheese Component: Pretty much anything.. Parmesan is traditional, any good melting cheese works, or even goat cheese. Use a small handful,  shredded or in small crumbles.
(BF used Manchego)

Pulling it together:

Warm some olive oil in a 10 or 11 inch non-stick skillet (I would not attempt this without non-stick) over a medium hot flame. Use more oil if you are using potatoes, less if you have pasta that already has a sauce on it. Sauté any fresh vegetables (including potatoes) in oil, then add leftover vegetables, meat, and starch; warm all the way through. If it’s too dry and sticking, add a bit of water.

Turn the heat down to medium, and add the beaten eggs. Toss in a handful of cheese. Give a good stir to distribute the eggs with the filling. Let it cook for a while (how long depends on how many eggs, how much stuff), but I thinking its 5 minutes or more. Don’t stir, but you can run a rubber spatula around the egde. Meanwhile, turn your broiler on.

When the eggs are starting to get brown on the bottom (the frittata is sturdy enough you can use plastic spatula to lift the edge to look underneath), its ready to pop into the broiler (the bottom half or more should be cooked). Broil for another 3 to 5 minutes or so, until the top is firm and nicely browned. Remove and keep a hot pad on the handle! Let rest a few minutes (poke to make sure the middle is done), then slide off onto a plate to serve. Good hot or room temperature.

And great with best friends.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Main Dish Salads

I love salads, and have big ones for lunch 3 or 4 days a week.  I don’t try to be Goldilocks, but have a few ideas about what a proper big salad should be:
  1. It needs to fill me up.  Even if I have been swimming. But I don’t want to be chewing on it all afternoon.
  2. The texture needs to be just right.
  3. They need to be tasty.
For me, a combination of protein, carbs and fat is best for filling me up.  So I include a high protein food, like some left-over chicken, grilled fish, or hard boiled eggs.   If I don’t happen to have any of those around, I might open a can of beans or fish (like salmon or sardines), or just add some nuts or cheese.   Beans do double duty as carbs.  I also like boiled potatoes or leftover brown rice.  But most often I just have some whole grain crackers (like Rye Crisp or Akwana) on the side.  My dressing always has some olive oil in it.  Nuts or cheese also do double duty to add some fatty filling goodness.  I also really, really like avocados in my salad.  This is the real reason I spent so much time in San Diego – a variety of avocados all year long, that have been properly handled so they get ripe before they rot!

The vegetables (and a sharp knife) are key to get a nice balance of crisp, crunchy, tender, and soft.  Hard raw vegetables, like carrots, and radishes give crunch – but should be thinly sliced so they are not too chewy.   I like cucumbers quartered, and in thick slices, so they don’t clump together. Some vegetables really need to be cooked before going into a salad, like broccoli, cauliflower, or beets. It’s a great way to use up dibs and dabs of things.    And lettuce should be in fork size pieces.   Soft (and creamy) can come from beans, potatoes, avocados, or cheese.. but not too much, otherwise you get glop.

I want something that punches up the flavor:  a few olives, or feta cheese.  A nice bit of roast chicken.  A bunch of great tomatoes. Some herbs.  Anchovies.  Left over cubes of roasted sweet potatoes.    Salads are a great way to use up leftovers, but don’t include everything that might be lurking in the fridge.  One or two proteins, one or two flavor punches, not more than 4 or 5 veggies.    Last, make sure it’s properly dressed.  Lately I have been guilty of just using lemon juice (generally a 1/3 to ½ a lemon), some olive oil, plus salt and pepper added directly to the salad.  When I don’t have lemons, I’ll make vinaigrette or for an occasional change of pace, a creamy dressing.   I have started not putting salt into the dressing – instead, just sprinkling a little salt on the lettuce just before dressing.  You can more easily tailor how much to use (not much salt is needed if you have feta cheese or anther salty ingredient).  And I think you get more salt flavor from less salt this way.   I also like my salads tossed so even with a little dressing, every bite is coated.  Then Goldilocks likes to put it on a plate and not just eat it from the bowl. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chocolate Milk

I’m not a vegetarian, but I find myself going days at a time without eating meat (except maybe some bacon in my beans). Sometimes I wonder if I get enough protein, especially with the studies that say athletes need extra protein. (I finally am comfortable with calling myself an artist… I wonder when I will be comfortable with an “athlete” label.) 

Protein requirements are typically given as “grams per kilogram body weight”, something completely non-intuitive to me (like how much bacon is this?). I think it’s much easier to understand a % of total calories. The protein requirement per the FDA (after the math of grams and calories and body weight* ) is about 10% of calories from protein. But there are lots of studies**  that say for more active people, like athletes and kids, more protein is needed, closer to 15 or 20% of calories. But food labels don’t conveniently label anything but the total grams of protein (1 gram of protein is 4 calories). NOTE: I’m not a doctor or dietitian, if you are not eating nearly enough calories to maintain your body weight or have other special diet needs, this might not apply. 

My (simple) system is to think of foods as low protein (less than 10% of calories are from protein), adequate protein (10-20%), and high protein. I’ve done some math to provide some examples as a frame of reference:

High protein:

Meat and Eggs: No surprise, meat is high in protein. Most meats and whole eggs are around 40% (+/-5%) protein calories. This would be lean sirloin steak, pork chops, or chicken with skin. 

But prime cut steaks (like a nice rib eye) are likely only getting 25 – 30% of calories from protein. Bacon is 25% protein. Since meat has lots of calories, you are getting lots of protein.

Protein as a percentage gets higher when you start stripping fat from meat – skinless chicken breast is about 80% protein calories, egg whites are over 90%.

Dairy varies quite a bit depending on how much fat, but lowfat (1%) milk is 30%, cheddar cheese is 25% protein calories.

Beans fall into the high protein group: they typically get 20 – 25% of their calories from protein, they have lots of carbs instead of fat to go with the protein.

Some vegetables even fall into the high protein group: Broccoli is about 30%, yes, calorie for calorie, you might be getting more protein from the broccoli than steak (but its tough to eat 500 calories of broccoli). 50% of the calories in mushrooms come from protein. Lettuce is also over 30%.

Adequate (10-20%) protein:

Most “starches” like pasta, oats, bread, quinoa are in the 15 – 20% range. Rice and potatoes are around 10%, maybe a bit lower. Nuts fall into this group, ranging from walnuts at 9% to almonds at 14% to peanuts at 19%.

Low protein foods (<10%):

Most fruit comes in at under 5%. Many vegetables (carrots, squash) are in the 5-10% range.

No protein foods: (0%).

Sugar and Fat. So anything that contains lots sugar and/or fat will be low protein. For example, if you add large fries and a coke to your Quarter Pounder (which is about 25% protein), the meal comes to just 11% protein. Not enough protein for the athletes (who are really the only ones that afford the 1300 calorie meal).

If you are eating a variety of whole foods, you probably don’t need to worry much about getting enough protein, even if you are not eating meat, even if you are exercising. In fact, my guess is that in the US, too much protein a bigger problem than not enough. It is believed that too much protein is hard on the kidneys and liver, and contributes to osteoporosis and kidney stones. If you eat meat every day and/or use protein supplements, I would recommend counting your protein consumption for a day or two. There are several web-based and iPad/Phone app’s available to do this, I have used MyFitnessPal but not convinced it’s the best. I have heard of a couple of others I am planning to try out (stay tuned for a future post).

Congratulations if you have made it this far! As your reward, I will share my latest favorite-after-running snack… Lots more protein than just a banana!

Chocolate Milk
1 Serving

½ a large ripe banana, or 1 small, best if it’s been in the refrigerator
1 spoonful peanut butter or almond butter (about 1/2 a tablespoon)
1 big spoonful of cocoa powder (1 1/2 tablespoons)
8 ounces unsweetened soy milk (or other milk of choice)

Cut banana up into small pieces into a cup suitable for use with immersion blender. Add nut butter, cocoa, and milk. Blend until smooth with immersion blender.

224 Calories, 20% protein

** See the Wikipedia post, for lots more detail. 

* If you want to do the math, here are the recommendations: 

1 gram of protein is 4 calories

Sedentary person: 0.8 g/kg per kg body weight
Endurance athletes: 1.2–1.4 g per kg body weight
Strength-training athletes 1.4–1.8 g per kg body weight

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Balancing your Diet

Most of us know that calories come from 3 sources: Carbohydrates, Fats, and Protein. In most diet stories, Carbs and Fat are made to be villains and Protein the hero. There is a fourth calorie source, and that’s alcohol… conveniently ignored in most “diets”. Vitamins get some supporting role; it’s usually just a Pill. Yes, some diet stories are now starting to include some new hero’s, like Flavonoids and Phytonutrients and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, but these stories are complicated and often incomplete. How do you tell the good guys from the bad?

The good Carbs, Fats, and Proteins are most commonly found in whole foods. Villains are foods unnaturally stripped from their source and processed beyond recognition. For example, Corn on the cob is good, High Fructose Corn Syrup is bad along with its brother, Corn Oil. Arch villains are chemicals masquerading as food, like Cheetos.

But back to the main characters: how much of each? This is what works for me:

15 – 18% of calories from protein
30 – 35% from fat
<5% from alcohol
The remainder (~50%) from carbs

Over the next couple of weeks, I will tell good stories about protein, fat, and carbs. Meanwhile, here is a balanced way to start the day:

Loaded Oatmeal

This takes me about 20 minutes to fix in the morning: I start the liquid to boil, then get out the apple, dice it, then get out everything else. But I have had lots of practice; I make it once or twice a week.

Serves 2 generously

1 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other milk of choice)
1 cup water
1 small apple, cored and diced
1 cup Multi-Grain Oatmeal (such as Trader Joes) or rolled oats
Small pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons raisins (or dates, or dry cranberries)
2 heaping tablespoons slivered almonds (or any chopped nut)

Put the soy milk and water into a medium pot over medium high heat. Then dice the apple, add to the pot as soon as diced. When the pot comes to a boil, add the oats, stirring well. Turn down the heat to medium, you still want good bubbling action. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir occasionally. When the moisture is absorbed and its starting to stick, its done. Served with additional milk.

17% protein, 35% fat, 48% carbs
1 serving (with ½ cup of soy milk) is 416 calories

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to not follow a recipe

I’m notorious for not following recipes.  Even my own.   I can’t help but mess with things, even perfectly good things. Sometimes it works, others not.  I roasted a chicken last week... It was small and I was late getting it into the oven. So I figured why follow the recipe I posted a week or two ago?  I'll just cook on 400 convection for the whole time!  Needless to say, in 50 minutes I had an overcooked chicken.  But still, I’m always on the lookout for an easier way to do something, or figure out how to make something with what I happen to have on hand.  A good example is a beet salad I made for lunch a couple of Sunday’s ago.  

But first, let me digress.  I got a great book for Christmas, called Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work.  It teaches you how to use all the cool toys in your kitchen, as well as chemistry behind certain foods and additives.  One of the cool ideas was to use your vacuum sealer for blanching vegetables.  The traditional method to blanch vegetables is to bring a large volume of salted water to boil, briefly cook (say 3-5 minutes for green beans), then remove the vegetable and put in an ice water bath.  Big pot + colander + big bowl = big mess.  Their idea is to put the vegetable in a vacuum bag, boil (using a pot that is just big enough) in bag, cool in ice bath.  The pot and bowl don’t really even get dirty, they just have water in them.  This hit me as a great way to cook beets for a salad, as the typical roasting process is messy and time consuming:  trim and scrub them, wrap in foil, roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, cool, then peel and get beet juice everywhere.  They are quite tasty, but it takes a couple of hours.  I have tried peeling, quartering, and steaming in the microwave, but this makes a pink foam that escapes from the covered dish and gets all over.  You can also boil the beets, but it seems that you lose all the red goodness… especially if you drain and use an ice bath to quickly chill to use in a salad.     So… I quartered some small beets, lightly salted, put into a vacuum bag in a single layer, boiled in a covered pot just big enough to hold them for about 20 minutes, pulled out, ran under some cold water (since I was using right away I skipped the ice bath).  Beets ready to go into a salad in under a ½ hour!  And if you didn’t want to use them right away, not problem, they will keep for a few days sealed in the bag in the refrigerator!

So, back to the main story: How to Not Follow a Recipe.   I have a perfectly good recipe for beet salad, adopted from a recipe from a White House chef.  But it called for roasting the beets, plus fresh herbs I didn’t have, and feta cheese that I didn’t have.  And raw onions, which always seem to sharp in a salad.  First were the processes changes:  boil-in-bag beets (huge time saver) and the onions got a brief ice water soak to take out some of the bite.  I changed up the ingredients too:  used just lemon juice (I have lots of lemons) instead of lemon juice and vinegar.  If I didn’t have lemons, I would have used just the white wine vinegar.  I used the herbs that I happened to have on hand:  fresh mint, skipped the the parsley and cilantro (I would recommend having at least the mint or cilantro, they both have a strong flavor).  I did use the dried oregano it called for (one of the few dry herbs I keep around), but thyme or Italian seasoning would would too, and the cumin, a spice that pairs well with beets, but something I don't normally think of.   I used Romaine lettuce instead of spinach (its what I had on hand, pretty much any green would work), and goat cheese instead of feta (again, its what I had…  and pretty much my go-to cheeses for any salad are goat or feta). And I changed the ratio of beets to greens to make a main dish salad instead of a side salad.  The result?  A pretty good Sunday lunch.  Had I stuck to the recipe, I wouldn’t  have done it.  Was it as good?  Maybe not quite, but certainly better than just another PB&J sandwich!  

Main Dish Beet Salad

Serves 2.  

½ pound beets (any kind), peeled and cut into bite size pieces
½ red onion thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon (each) chopped mint and / or cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano, thyme, or Italian seasoning (or 1 T fresh)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup kalamata black olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups romaine or spinach, shredded
1/3 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese

1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil.  Lightly salt the beets.  Place in a single layer in vacuum bag and seal.  Place in boiling water (the bag will puff up), cover the pot if you want.  Turn bag over after 10 minutes or so.  After 20 minutes, the beets should be cooked.

2. Remove the beets from the pot, and run under cold water.  If desired, put into ice bath.

3. While the beets are cooking, put the onion in a small bowl with a few ice cube and fill with cool water.
4. Mix oil, vinegar or lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and cumin into a large bowl and stir together.  Drain the onions and add to the bowl along with olives and beets.  Toss.  Add the greens and toss again.

5. To serve, divide the beet salad onto 2 plates and sprinkle the servings with equal amounts of goat or feta cheese.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

1 Chicken, 15 meals

Last week I was cruising though Trader Joes, kinda feeling I been eating beans and / or cheese for a week (I’m not complaining, but seemed time for something different).  I spotted a chicken and though ummm… roasted chicken.  It good sized, about 5 lbs, not huge by today’s standards, but a lot of meat for 2 people (I’m not cooking chicken for Ethan. Yet). I got it, roasted it: 

And here are all the meals that resulted from this 1 bird: 

2 dinners (Roasted chicken with quinoa, and steamed broccoli)
3 chicken sandwiches 
3 servings of chicken and quinoa salad (my brother got one of these)
3 main-dish green salads with chicken
Plus, made broth from the carcass resulting in 4 servings of mushroom risotto (2 servings for dinner, one reheated leftover serving, and one mushroom risotto and goat cheese burrito)

Overall, not a bad variety of good food (especially for lunches), without much of a plan or too much time cooking (well, with the exception of the risotto), and no leftovers for the trash. Or the dog.    

Roasting a chicken is universally proclaimed as being simple, but don’t confuse this with one right way to do it. I have cookbooks which range from cooking a chicken at 170F (3 hours) to Barbara Kafta’s method using a 500F oven (50 minutes).   Some truss, some don’t, some use racks, breast up, breast down, etc, etc.  In my mind, there is only one thing that is important:  knowing when the chicken is done.   Personally I find the extremes risky – you will get a smoky kitchen with a higher temperature, and at 170F, it just seems you are in the "danger zone" of bacteria growth for too long, especially for the typical supermarket chicken. Remember: the higher the temperature, the smaller the window between done and overcooked.  Here is what works for me... and if I need to get the chicken done sooner, I leave the oven hotter... .

Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken
Salt, pepper
Olive oil

Optional extras (choose 1):
-- Garlic and / or sage
-- Citrus and garlic
-- Spice rub 

Preheat the oven to 400F

All of the latest advice says you don’t need to wash your chicken.  Take it out of the package, and put into a 9 x 13 roasting pan.  However, if it is icy inside, rinse with nice warm water.  Make sure they giblets are pulled out (freeze to make stock later). Pull off any big chunks of fat around the breast. 

If you would like a little extra flavor, put some thinly sliced garlic and sage between the skin and the meat of the chicken.  Or, mix together some citrus zest (from a lemon or orange) and minced garlic, salt and pepper then make a paste with olive oil and rub on the outside bird.  Or sprinkle with your favorite rub or spice mix.  Put any leftover garlic, herbs, or slices of citrus in the cavity.   In any case, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then rub a bit of olive oil on the bird.   

I fold the wings back, and don’t bother to truss.  I start the bird breast down – this helps the thighs brown better.  I pop in the oven, and cook for 20 or 30 minutes.  Turn the oven down to 350, and flip the bird.  Continue cooking until done, it’s typically about 15 minutes per pound at this temperature. Use convection if you have it – it will cook faster. If you need to get the bird to the table faster, just turn the oven down to 375F or go longer at 400F.   The meat should be pulling from the ends of the legs, and a thermometer stuck in the thigh joint should read 160F (or close to it).  Note:  the USDA considers the safe temperature for poultry to be 165F.  Let the bird rest for 5 or 10 minutes – the temperature will come up, and the juices will stay in the bird better.  Carve and serve. 

My favorite of the leftovers was the quinoa salad.  It’s based on my vegetable rice salad adjusted to what happened to be on hand.  I didn’t measure anything, but here is a general idea of what went into it:

Quinoa Salad

1 cup+ of leftover quinoa
½ cup of leftover chickpeas with kale (loosely based on this recipe)
Handful of leftover chicken, diced
1 big floret of leftover lightly steamed broccoli, chopped small
1 carrot, minced
2 green onions, sliced
1 small Persian cucumber, chopped
Juice from a large lemon
Glug of olive oil
Salt, Pepper

All into a bowl and mixed.  Served on a bed of greens (arugula) and topped with goat cheese crumbles.

Sometime soon I will get my master recipe for a main dish salad posted..  It’s what I eat for lunch about 3 times a week.   The risotto was good too, but a bit on the time consuming side, especially when I realized I didn’t actually have any risotto rice.  Fortunately there is a well-stocked Safeway a mile away, and a wonderful husband to make a quick run out. 

But it seems now I have been eating chicken for a week…  Last night we had shrimp stir fry, and tonight, back to cheese (in the form of Macaroni and Cheese).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Planning. Kind of.

It’s the beginning of the year, full of all sorts of resolutions to lose weight and eat better. And plenty of advice.  One common theme is planning your meals, which generally start “once a week, make a plan, shop with a list, blah, blah, blah.”  This worked great for my family when I was a kid.  We lived 30 miles from a real grocery store.  There were no farmers markets. Our weekly schedule was pretty routine (not to say I had a boring childhood).   Also when I was a kid, we didn’t have 20 or 30 places between work or school (or sports) begging you with big neon lights to stop and get something tasty to eat.  No McDonalds. No Olive Garden. No Starbucks. 

But this doesn’t work for me now: shopping at the local at the farmers market (plus 2 or 3 other stores to get what I want) plus travel schedules that aren’t predictable. A big lunch out and you’re not hungry or you swam 2500 meters and you’re starving. Not to mention an aversion to actually sitting down and making a plan!   

But that doesn’t mean you give into the neon lights.  You can eat better and cheaper at home AND tailor it to what is happening that day.  It takes a little work, yes, but possible.  Here is what works for me: 

1. Plan to not plan: Keep a reasonably stocked pantry. This does not mean be prepared for the big one.  It means keeping some dry grains and pasta on hand. Onions and garlic.  Eggs.  Meat products in the freezer (small portions, vacuum packed).  A few cans of beans and tuna. Some bread or tortillas. A chunk of cheese or two.   From this (and a few fresh vegetables) there are an infinite number of possibilities. 

2. Plan your day:   I don’t try to envision Thursday’s dinner on Sunday, but to try to think of dinner by lunch time on Thursday. Plan parts of the day: When I worked in an office, I took my lunch (and this was resulted in the first 5 pounds I lost). It means knowing some 5 minute options when you get home hungry at 7pm. On Saturday, don’t leave the house at 11am to run 3 hours of errands without eating lunch first.   

3. Keep everyone involved.  There are 3 parts to meals at home: shopping, cooking, cleaning.   Share the tasks. If at lunch you decide roast chicken would be great for dinner, also decide who it’s most convenient for to stop at the market and pick one up. (As a side note, I have learned large pieces of meat languish in my freezer, as I seem incapable of remembering 2 days ahead to let thaw).  I’m convinced the toughest part of “cooking for one” isn’t cooking.  It’s having to shop plus clean in addition to cooking. 

4. Get a routine.  I like to make pizza, and it’s a great way to use up bits and pieces of cheese, or an odd vegetable.   But I need to get blob (my starter) out first thing in the morning.  So we are in the habit of having pizza on Friday.  Back in my Intel days, we used to have fish or steaks on Fridays… It was the one day I didn’t have meetings with Asia (at 5pm), so I would stop at AJ’s (local upscale grocery) and buy something that looked good to throw on the grill, plus maybe a vegetable if I didn’t have anything left from the previous weekend.  Yeah, and a bottle of wine. 

5. Plan for leftovers. One trick to getting meals on the table quickly it to start with food that was already cooked.  Grilled chicken and leftover rice (plus cheese and a tomato or cabbage and hot sauce) can become a burrito.  Flake leftover fish, add some chopped onions, celery, dill add a bit of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice for a sandwich.  Use leftover pasta to make a frittata.  It can mean popping what you had a night or two ago into the microwave.  Learn what you like leftover, learn what you can freeze.  And learn what you don’t:   I can’t explain why, but we don’t like leftover stir fry.  I won’t reheat fish.  Steamed or sautéed broccoli gets nasty.   Soup and stews are about the best thing to reheat. Many are even better the next day.  Here is one of my recent favorites… it reheats well, and it freezes well (I put one serving in a 1 quart Ziploc baggie, press out the air and freeze.  To cook, I thaw a bit under hot water – at least enough to break it up, even better to leave in hot water for 10 minutes or so until thawed, put in the serving bowl and nuke until hot). 

Vegetable Bean Stew (with or without Sausage)

Make it soup by using more water or broth. 

1 lb beans (any kind).  Or lentils.
1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  
1-2 slices of bacon (optional, good if you don’t use sausage)
1 large onion, chopped
1 or 2 carrots, sliced (optional)
1 or 2 celery stalks, sliced.  If you have them. 
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes.  Or Chipotle flakes. Or more. Or Fresh chiles.
1 quart chicken broth (optional)

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed
1 package of cooked chicken sausage, sliced (optional)

1 bunch of greens (kale, mustard, chard), stalks removed, chopped (or baby spinach)

Herbs, lemon juice, salt, pepper, hot sauce to taste.

Rinse the beans in a colander, then put into a large pot and cover (by a couple of inches) with water.  They should soak at least 6 hours, but not more than 10 or so.  If you need to soak faster, bring the water to a boil then turn off the heat and let sit for an hour.  Drain and rinse the beans. Note: lentils don’t need to be soaked. 

In the same large pot, heat the oil.  Sauté the bacon if using.  Add onion, carrots, celery, garlic, chili.  When onions are translucent (5 minutes or so), add beans, broth, and another cup or 2 of water.  Or just use all water (5-6 cups).  Beans should be covered by a ½ inch or so.   Cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until just barely cooked (they should still have a little bite, but not crunch).  Lentils only need 20-30  minutes.  Add the squash and sausage. Add more water if it’s too thick.  If you don’t use sausage, add a good ½ teaspoon of salt.  Cook for another 20 minutes or so until the squash is done.   Add chopped greens.  Kale or mustard greens need to cook 5 to 10 minutes; baby spinach is done as soon as you have stirred it in.    Taste – add salt, maybe a squirt of lemon juice, herbs, some pepper, maybe some hot sauce as desired.    Sometimes I will serve with a dollop of yogurt (especially if meat-less), or some cheese.