Friday, January 30, 2009

A Natural Food Nightmare

What did I have for dinner tonight? Usually I have something good to say.. but today.. nada. It was a nutritional nightmare of such gastronomical proportions that I was hungry only 30 minutes after consuming this high calorie monstrosity. I knew there was a reason I stuck to whole foods.

But I am drawn to these things inexplicably. Its like those giant texas claw doughnuts that sit in the vending machine.. they are so gross, but so appealing (like in an addictive way). I dont know if I've shared this story before.. but something in packaged doughnuts makes me ill, YET I STILL WANT THEM. Its messed up. I walk by the vending machine multiple times a day and Mr. Texas Claw or whatever his name is just stares back.. I start to salivate but then stop-- forcing myself to realize the grossness of the whole deal.

Same with cup noodles. I had my once-a-year fix, now we can get back to our regularly scheduled dietary programing.

Back from Puerto Rico

I am back from my 1-week escape from reality, my mental sabbatical, my "me time" and ready to cook again! Puerto Rico was just what the doctor ordered, 85 degrees and sunny, except for the rainforest.. where it was, well, rainy: but beautiful and still warm.

I returned home in vacation mode, only to find a furniture catalogue on my bed.. I guess Potato thought I might like to look at it. Ohh and did I ever! The glossy was filled with page after page of retreat-style rooms, complete with botanical posters of tropical foliage and a crisp light green bedspread.. and the office... beeeeeeaauutiful.

I have this ridiculous grand vision of remaking my that it can be like Puerto Rico every day! Suggestions? Have you done it and it failed? I want horror stories.

Oh you're not here to read about my decor? I almost forgot-- the cuisine of Puerto Rico was fantastic! Heavy on the meat and including a lot of plantains (including a Puerto Rican Burger in which a plaintain is mashed flat and grilled to serve as a bun). I did bring my rice cooker and george forman grill down to the hotel, but that too was wishful thinking. Next time, I will do it! I will bring my rice cooker and actually eat meals prepared using it! Maybe I'll even come up with a series of recipes designed for 2-5 night vacations.. Ohh maybe it can be local food too! like eat Jamaican food in Jamaica.. Puerto Rican food in PR.. Ohh I sense a great idea coming on.. and a great idea that gratifies my need to travel to warm places in winter!! How could this possibly be a bad idea??

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crab Salad

What's for dinner? It's great to know the answer to that question in advance of the 5PM open-the-fridge-and-stare onslaught. If you wait till the 6PM stomach rumbles, then you're really in trouble. At that point, my normal self would go pleading to Potato with puppy dog eyes to go out to dinner-- to which he readily agrees.. understandable considering that he too is facing the evening tummy growl.

But what are the consequences of this? A big one is that the source of my food.. the ingredients and methods used to prepare the meal.. are no longer known. Of course a cook serving someone else is going to make sacrifices in nutrition to benifit flavor.. They are in business to sell food, after all...

And the pocket book. Not everything comes down to money-- but a surprising amount does. Eating out is expensive, both in the initial cost (dinner entrees in Old Town Alexandria are $$) and in misc costs (gas for the car to and fro, dental work and doctor visits resulting from poor overall nutrition).

But every moment is an opportunity to make a choice for the better, no matter how many wrong or even just slightly off decisions litter your past. Potato is a big fan of the saying "past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior"-- but I am a little more optimistic. I have to be, otherwise I'd be in trouble (ie my past behavior doesnt bode well for my future). It's a small thing, I know, but making the choice to eat dinner at home, and eat food I prepared, is my little vote for change. Change in where the food comes from (I buy organic whenver I can, and local food as well) and where my money goes (to the farmers! I am still looking into the CSA/local grocer programs, thanks for all of your input thus far).

So today's dinner was simple. But I made it, and thats good enough for me :)

Crab Salad:
Imitation Crab, cut and flaked
chopped celery
chopped green onions
chopped white onion pieces (just a sprinkle)
all natural mayonnaise
Mix and eat with homemade bread or crackers.

Broccoli pieces, cut
Turnip pieces, cut
Veggies boiled together and served with a small amount of butter, salt and freshly ground peppercorns.


Rasmalai is a very sweet dessert made from flat rounds of milk cheese soaked in a sugary cream sauce. Potato happens to be a HUGE fan (so much so that he is willing to pay the $10 per box the Indian store is now charging) so I thought I'd try my hand at it...since I've been on this homemade kick recently ;-)
I got the recipe from a wonderful blog I found specializing in South Indian Cuisine: and I followed it pretty accurately. I gotta tell you-- it tastes different than the boxed rasmalai, but its gooood. The flat rounds are thick like a very solid cheesecake would be.. and the creamy sauce is sooo good (I initially thought it had too much sugar, but when it all came together it tasted right).
This is not the traditional method of making rasmalai, nor the only modern method. Another blogger has a different version that I'd like to try next: I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Happy Pongal!!

Today is Pongal! Pongal is a South Indian harvest festival with a long history and tradition-- especially of food! Pongal festivities include making pongal, a yellow dhal rice dish popular in South India. I spilled turmeric in mine, so what is usually a pale yellow turned into kind of a nulcear yellow-- but the taste was the same.
Here is the recipe:
2 c long grain rice
1/4 c moong dhal
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
roasted cashews
Boil the dhal and rice in about 5 cups of water with an open lid, till the rice is nice and mushy. Roast the peppercorns and cumin seeds in oil or ghee, then add turmeric. Add the spices and roasted cashews and some salt to the rice mix and youre done!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Baked Potato Soup!

Ok, so I didnt cook Monday. I had leftovers for breakfast and lunch... and Potato prepared dinner while I sat on my laptop and worked-from-home. I know I know-- its bad to bring work home! But I am just soooo behind after my vacation that I thought it would help!

How do you cope with an increased workload? What activities do you cut out? What do you do more of? I spend more time working, but my efficiency is generally lower when I am stressed because I spend time worrying! Im looking for suggestions/coping mechanisms.. if youve got em, send em over.

I totally cheated on this natural diet today.. and I attribute it to my increased workload/stress. I had a muffin during a work meeting (from dunkin donuts)... and later on, a piece of chocolate birthday cake. I really wanted the sugar (more than usual, because ive been getting used to my natural diet as of late..) and after I ate them, I decided that I had better not fret about it and add to my stress. Its just life, after all, and would it be interesting if it were perfect?

I did, however, go to the gym today-- and I did put a little more effort into my workout than usual. Its just me, balancing my dietary karma... I shall resume my natural eating tomorrow :-)

PS-- great decision going to the gym. I feel wonderful!! Now, time for the great zzzz's that come from a full days work and exercise. I'll check in tomorrow. Also, start getting excited for the inauguration food special! Im going to the Ball.. the CHEESE BALL (for real, Suee promised to make it) tee hee hee. That and more, coming up in 1 week.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Day 5: Homemade yogurt!

Todays eats were pretty boring, on account of the large quantities of food I made yesterday... so this post is going to be about my homemade yogurt experiment! Over my winter vacation, my mother showed me how to make yogurt (and said, "its so easy, you should really make your own")..

Here are the steps: boil the milk REALLY well. In a separate bowl stir a little bit of yogurt till its smooth, and slowly add spoonfuls of the boiled milk. Then pour the boiled milk/yogurt mixture into the larger container of boiled milk and mix with the spoon. Pour into a yogurt container (or other glass container or saved small yogurt tubs) and leave in a warm place (such as a 100 degree oven) for 3-4 hours, until the yogurt sets. Then take it out, and refrigerate it.

I boiled 2 cups of milk for 13 minutes in the microwave, pausing around 7 minutes to make sure the milk didnt boil over the lip of the container. The result was fantastic! The yogurt tastes so fresh and thick and creamy.. and it really wasnt that hard (mom, you know what you're talking about).

On another note, I scored a healthy eating victory at the movies today. Before I left to see the show, I was just a little bit hungry.. so I snacked on a banana. At the movies, it's fun to get the buttery bags of popcorn that highlight the experience (even though it isnt that fun to fork up whatever it costs)... but it isn't good for ya. For one, the mindless eating (you're intently watching a movie.. are you sure you're going to stop eating when you're full? I sure dont), for another, the copious amounts of butter and sometimes powdered cheese product (what IS that?). So victory for me in being able to avoid the popcorn line, despite the aroma and the fact that soooo many people in the theater had popcorn.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day 4: GIANT vats of Sambaar and Garbanzo Beans

This is Sambaar, a staple of the traditional South Indian diet. It can be made form a variety of lentils, including the common brown lentil found in regular supermarkets here in the states. The use of Tamarind, a tangy fruit pulp, and asafoetida, a pungent dry spice balance the usually hot (as in spicy hot) Sambaar powder. In my version, Thoor Dhal, or red lentils, were cooked till mushy (I used a pressure cooker to speed things up) and then added to a can of crushed tomatoes (I also ran these through the food processor because my particular can of crushed tomatoes had quite large chunks...)

To this, I added a pot of boiled mixed veggies-- what I had on hand: turnips, potatoes, radishes, and carrots.

and then the tamarind juice. This tamarind actually came from my father's family tamarind tree in India. To remove the juice, the tamarind goo (this can be found in an Indian store..also I have seen fresh tamarind pods in the DC are Korean Market) is mixed with a bit of water, and then squeezed till the water turns brown. The water is then added to whatever dish (ex Sambaar) and the rest of the tamarind fruit rind is thrown away. It should look something like this:

To finish off the Sambaar, heat oil in a small frying pan. Add a few pieces of fenugreek and about a tsp of mustard seeds, until the mustard seeds pop. Then add urad dhal and onions (and curry leaves if you are using them). Cook until the onions are soft, and then add to the sambaar. Its done! Sambaar is great with several dishes, including plain rice and Dosa and Idly (you'll see a post about these soon).

The next meal I did was Garbanzo bean curry and chappatis. Chappatis are a whole wheat flat bread that is pan fried. They are simple to make, but time consuming.. I use the food processor to mix wheat flour and water till it forms a dough ball that isnt very sticky (I usually go back and forth, adding a little bit of water alternately with a little bit more flour till its just right). I then take this dough ball and form 1 inch or 1.5 inch balls. On a little mound of flour, each dough ball is rolled into a flat circle about the thickness of a flour tortilla. I take this flat dough and pan fry one side pretty well, and then put the un-done side on top of a burner set to "high" on a suspended cooling rack (See the picture to get a description). This wouldnt be needed if I had a gas stove.. but since mine is electric this is an alternative method to make it poof.

I could have sworn I took a picture of the garbanzo bean curry, but I guess I didnt. Ahh well, Those will have to come later.

Day 3: Homemade Wheat Bread!!

The highlight of today was an evening baking party at Suee's place, to celebrate their new Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer- a beautiful piece of machinery that comes with a wonderful color recipe book that had us drooling (the recipes were convincing enough that Suee decided to make a few selections for the Inaugural a cheese ball coated in pecans!!..more on that as Jan 20 approaches) =D

The bread was surprisingly easy. I was going to proof the yeast (put in warm bowl of water with sugar and salt till it becomes frothy) and do the traditional baking process, but Suee Introduced me to the wonders of the bread machine. I poured everything (white and wheat flour, salt, sugar, yeast, oil, and warm water) into the bread machine and set the dough cycle. Then I proceeded to dine on cheese fondue with baguette and apple slices, risotto, mashed potatoes, and pork chops.. and of course, wine.

The meal is surprisingly natural, with the fondue (made by Lindsey) coming from real Gruyere and Swiss cheese with white wine and the mashed potatoes (Suee) having only butter milk and salt. The pork chops (Tad) were simmered in mushroom gravy from a can, which was my only real cheat for dinner. But they were delicious!! I couldnt refuse... the gravy was from whole foods, but it is designed to be shelf stable so I am sure something unnatural is going on.. but I refuse to be bogged down with perfectionism. The rest of the meal was perfectly natural.. and compared to fast food almost anything is great. Plus it was delicious.

After our long dinner in which I finished my HUGE plate (kind of a no-no, since I'm supposed to stop when I feel full) and had a few glasses of wine, the bread was a giant puff ball in the bread machine. The recipe I used suggested letting it rise longer and then baking it in a conventional oven for a more fluffy loaf.. so thats what I did. The baking was easy, 30 mins at 350 degrees. It was wonderful!! Pictures will come as I use the bread (yay sandwiches and egg and toast and other delectable goods I've been missing)

One more development from Day 3-- I want to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I am doing my research and am trying to decide what kind of package I want (20 weeks with home delivery? 26 weeks and pickup at a local site? summer only? herb bouquet addition?).. any input for CSA's in the Northern Virginia Area would be greatly appreciated. So far I've checked out and, although the latter has very little in NoVa outside of Loudon County.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Day 2

Scrambled eggs with sauteed portobella mushrooms, onion, bell pepper and tomato started of my day.. plus my usual coffee...

Work was normal.. salad for lunch. Ate the whole thing.

Cooked chicken for dinner.. parm crusted chicken. Got mad at Ristan for not cleaning up. After a little screaming he came down (not happy) and did the dishes. Arrgh. Now I just feel bad for yelling.. but my arse it would have been done any other way.

pics and more narrative tomorrow maybe. Signing off for tonight. PS baguette baking tomorrow. Something to look forward to.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Day 1. This is going to take longer than I thought

Since this is day 1 after vacation, I am still loaded up with goodies from home. THIS is one of them.. though it doesnt look like much, 2,179 miles (yes I looked it up) has a way of wilting one's style. This is an Egg Dosa, a flat breakfast entree made from rice batter (the process of making the batter is coming up in a future post, with pictures!) that is poured like a pancake on a hot skillet. An egg is then cracked over the top of it, and the whole ensemble is cooked on both sides. The pile next to the dosa is called puudi, a grainy dry condiment that you pile into a heap and poke your finger right in the middle to make a volcano shape. Then you pour whatever edible oil you want (the traditional way is to use sesame oil, which is what I had this morning) in the volcano and mix it all up. The volcano part is really just for fun. But I've seen lots of people do it (older and respectable people too.. not just kids or hooligans) so I wonder if it really is a traditional method of eating puudi. As a side note, sesame oil is delicious. Its not really the sesame oil you find at the grocery store, which has a distinctly oriental smell and flavor.. it is golden yellow and has a hint of sesame flavor that is much more subtle.

Ok so breakfast went well. No brainer. Add to that coffee with no milk (still hadnt made it to the store) and I was good to go. I woke up late, which put me in kind of a sour mood, plus I had to drag myself to work. But at work, my lunch (also courtesy my wonderful mom) was wonderful. It is not fully adherent to the rules of the game, because I am sure the bread has high fructose corn syrup (at my trip to the grocery store, I discovered that the ENTIRE bread aisle is pretty much off limits if you want to be a strict adherent to the rules. So what to do? Make your own!! (coming up on Fridays post). Anyway, this sandwich has cheddar and pepper jack cheeses, mustard (from a little packet, so no idea if its compliant or not with the ideal), romaine lettuce, tomatoes, avocado slices, bell pepper slices, and cucumber slices. It was piled so high with veggies that I couldnt even finish it!! Delicious. I'd also like to thank Suee's cell phone for providing the oh so wonderful picture:After work, it was time to go shopping. $67 dollars later, I was loaded up with tons of veggies, even some I've never cooked with before (turnips? swiss chard?) organic milk, a small tub of plain yogurt to serve as the culture for homemade yogurt (my mom told me how to make it.. that post is for another day), organic eggs, organic chicken, shrimp, and imitation crab meat (without even thinking I added this to the cart.. I didnt check the package for the level of processing.. but it is my understanding that it is mashed up fish. Oh well, when I use it I'll investigate further). Dinner was fast, shrimp with cocktail sauce from the fridge (at lease the cocktail sauce didnt have HFCS.. but it did have some questionable ingredients) and boiled broccoli and radishes. Not bad for a quick meal.

I also had a glass of red wine, which is supposed to be good in some respect.. but I just enjoyed it. I tried to take it slow with the process of eating, and savor the food.. eating at the table in between sips of wine... It was hard to focus on just the meal. I caught myself getting up a few times to chop veggies for tomorrows meal (vegetarian broth for soup!) which I am particularly excited about.. but I was missing tonights meal in the process! Ahh well.. old habits are hard to break.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I am also taking a multivitamin supplement as well as fish oil and vitamin D supplement. These aren't really part of the book, but my old doc recommended the daily multi.. and the fish oil seems good (mood booster? maybe its a placebo effect but I swear I am just a smidgen happier with fish oil).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year New Eats

On the plane ride home from my Christmas/New Years vacation with family, I had the pleasure of reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food.

As with a majority of people, I resolved to eat healthier in 09. And I'm going public with my initiative. For 30 days, I am going to follow all of the suggestions in the book, which basically amounts to: limited processed food intake (i.e., if your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize it, don't eat it), lots of whole foods, organic meat and dairy, enjoy food at a table for each meal and eat the meal slowly. I will post every day, at least a few words on the general challenges etc and my progress so far. The 30 day limit is a trial period, to be extended/reevaluated when the time comes- though I sincerely hope that this will be my launching pad for a much healthier diet (cue buzzword "lifestyle change").

Tomorrow-- my trip to the grocery store, and first day of cooking after vacation.

I anticipate spending more time in the kitchen.. but since I generally love to cook, this might not be a problem. I do worry about what activity I will cut out in order to spend more time cooking (hopefully a vice, like watching TV mindlessly.. though I can picture myself skimping on exercise with the excuse of "not enough time"). We will have to see. For now, I have high aspirations that this experiment will succeed and that I will discover some interesting recipies and techniques along the way.

So long for tonight. Happy New Year everyone!