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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Recipe! Polenta Pizza AND Bonus! Pizza Sauce recipe.

When I saw a recipe floating around for polenta pizza, I knew exactly two things for certain;

1) It would be amazing.

2) I needed to make it as soon as possible.

Thus, my Friday night consisted of watching The Ghost Writer and cooking up some delicious polenta pizza. And oh, it was delicious. The texture is wonderful, the flavor is wonderful, it can be customized any way you like...and it's a fabulous comfort food. You can make large batches to feed a crowd or small batches to feed a few, you can add or subtract ingredients, adjust cooking times and make it deep dish or thin(ner) crust. I had one taste tester and movie-watching companion, and though she complained a little about the fact that we didn't eat until 10 pm (this wasn't terribly well-planned), she also agreed that it was well worth the wait.

Polenta pizza is easy to make, but it does require time to wait. I would say that you should either prepare your polenta the night before, or make sure you start cooking two or three hours ahead of time. This is because the polenta must set in the refrigerator until completely cool, which takes at least an hour. Use whatever toppings and sauce your heart desires, but if you want a red sauce, I've included a great recipe that is simple and can be made while the polenta cools. Enjoy this as a fun meal or dress it up with fancy cheeses...it's just as versatile as any pizza! And if you made the polenta crust without the savory seasonings and cheese, you could even make a dessert pizza with fresh fruit and whipped cream.

Now that you're drooling uncontrollably, allow me to present;

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Lifestyle: Taking Time to Eat...but how?

Convenience foods. Fast foods. Frozen foods. Processed foods. All of these foods exist to save time, which seems to be our most valuable resource at the moment...more valuable than oil, more valuable than money, more valuable than anything else we've got. Americans scurry around at top speeds, constantly trying to shave off a few minutes here and there while simultaneously trying to add in a few more activities to fill in those few precious minutes and somehow, someway, still make their lives work. We're expected to put both jobs and family first, and time for ourselves? Well, for the average person, you can just forget it.

Being so short on time we, as a culture, start looking at things to cut out...but what do we end up cutting? Sleep, nutrition, exercise...the most important elements to keeping ourselves sane, healthy, and happy! There's no shortage of reasons behind the obesity epidemic currently running rampant through America, but it's undoubtedly contributed to by the lack of time. Less sleep? Weight gain. More stress? Weight gain. Fast food? Weight gain. Poor health? Weight gain. Sedentary lifestyle (in front of the computer)? Weight gain. The entire American lifestyle almost ensures obesity while idolizing unrealistic weight goals and promoting unhealthy habits. There exists a dissenting voice - that of the health-food nuts and exercise gurus - but with waistlines still expanding and national health going down the tubes, there has to be more that can be done.

Luckily, there is something that can be done, but it's not a quick fix, a "diet", or a miracle drug...it's a change  of mind, of heart...a change of lifestyle. And lifestyle's are far too complex to be addressed in one blog post, so lets just take one step at a time. One thing that we have lost as a culture is the desire to take time with our food. We eat too fast, we don't cook from scratch, and we don't enjoy our meals in good company...but why?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Recipe! Turkey Keema.

This is one recipe that doesn't lend itself well to vegetarian or vegan interpretation, or at least not at first glace. The spices are strong (though you could ease up on them a bit if you were making this with paneer cheese instead of meat, or another substitute) and it is thick and hearty...and an absolutely delicious dish.

One of my live-in taste-testers was a bit squeamish at first...he wasn't sure that cinnamon and cloves combined with beef would be delicious. He'd tasted a bit of the perfect brown rice and had decided that he didn't want to potentially "ruin" it if he didn't like the keema. However, after some....friendly encouragement, he took a bite, and continued to eat until his "food baby was in the third trimester." Score for The Calm Cook and her abundant usage of garam masala! My other taste tester enjoyed it very much as well, and we all ate portions that were probably a bit bigger than they should have been, but it was very delicious.

Traditionally, keema is made with ground lamb, and I suppose one could use beef or chicken as well. I used ground turkey and the flavor and texture was great! (Perhaps we will do lamb another time, if I can find some for a decent price around here...) Peas and potatoes can be added, as well as chick peas if you desire. If adding potatoes, boil them until fork tender and add them during the last bit of simmering. Peas (fresh or frozen) can be used...add during the last ten minutes. We ate our keema over perfect brown rice and with whole grain naan and a delicious green salad. It was very hearty and has kept well over the last few days.

And now of course, the recipe!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Shopping Smart: Avoiding Market Anxiety

There are many tips, hints, and tricks out there for those who want to eat healthier. There are websites and blogs devoted to eating vegan or vegetarian, to incorporating more raw foods, to balancing your diet, and on and on. But there are unique challenges posed to those with anxiety disorders, even to those who are dealing with an unhealthy amount of stress and strain. Yes, we must eat more healthfully, but we must also deal with other issues...panic attacks, agoraphobia, compulsive habits, and more. These challenges can make shopping into a nightmare, especially when you are trying to start converting your diet and the calming effects of all that good nutrition aren't active yet.

One of the challenges I've faced is the sheer size of markets in this part of the country. Wal-Mart rules the roost around here, and most other stores have built enormous amounts of inventory just to keep up and compete. The huge selections, however, do nothing useful for me at all. I wander the aisles overwhelmed and overstimulated, forget half of what I am there for and leave frustrated and in a near-panic. Or at least, that's how I used to be. I have since formed a system that allows me to make my market trips more efficient, no matter how big the market.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Unsafe Food: What You Can Do To Fight Back.

When I was a young child, my older brother and I would often visit my aunt and uncle on their farm in Kansas. My aunt had a particularly lovely gift of putting us to work around the farm while making the entire experience utterly enchanting...I very much treasure my memories from her farm. But one of my favorite jobs - indeed one that stands out in my memory - was getting the eggs from the hen-house in the morning. The eggs were warm and brown, sometimes with spots or other imperfections, and always made for a delicious breakfast. The hens ran about the farm all day clucking and making for endless entertainment when we got to chasing them, and though I always liked the ducks better for their endearing "Quack!", it was the hens who laid the eggs.

It would be years before it occurred to me that hens were kept in any other fashion.

With the recent egg recalls and this week's hearings, no consumer should neglect to educate themselves about the deplorable conditions at these factory farms. Not only do these horrorshows have potentially deadly repercussions for Americans and their families, but these animals are used like machines and tossed away like trash when they "break down". Its morally reprehensible and robs us of any remaining confidence in America's food supply.

And it isn't just eggs. There are breakdowns of quality at every level, breakdowns that show us that these "factory farms" can not possibly keep up quality standards with their enormous amount of output and their huge numbers of animals. They pump their animals full of anitbiotics, and these antibiotics have been proven to increase the rate of antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans. There are outbreaks of salmonella and the nutrition content of our food is falling, and failing, far to fast. There are no quick, easy solutions to this problem on a national level, although strides need to be made, and no one should give up. But in the meantime, until we get this taken care of on a national level, there are things that you can do in your own home and pantry to ensure you are avoiding these farms and their diseased, inferior products as much as possible.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Recipe! Whole Wheat Naan and Perfect Brown Rice (everytime!)

Although many countries around the world make and eat "naan" every day, in the U.S. you'll tend to find it in Indian restaurants as a lovely accompaniment to the main dish. The word "naan" refers to a leavened flatbread baked in the tandoor (a type of oven) but is spread broadly across a great variety of breads in many countries. Like most breads, it is terribly versatile and can be topped, stuffed, or incorporated with all sorts of additions.

In my opinion, no Indian dish is complete without some naan on the side, and thus I searched until I found a lauded recipe which I then, of course, adapted. But before we get to that, allow me to avail you with another of my recent discoveries!

In the realm of rice, not all are created equal! White rice has been milled and does not qualify as a whole grain. Thus, brown rice is your best friend when you need a warm, wholesome compliment to any number of meals. But if you've grown up cooking white rice of any variety, cooking the brown sort can be confusing. There's no doubt that the extra hull requires extra cooking time, but often rice cooked according to package directions comes out mushy and gummy.

Fortunately, this week I came across something absolutely brilliant...a recipe for perfect brown rice, every single time. I tried it and it works...the taste testers were amazed! Lifted shamelessly from Saveur, this recipe is easy and delicious. We made short grain brown rice...but you can make any variety you want! And best of all? It's easy as pie.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle: A Balanced Perspective Toward Food.

Last Wednesday we talked about exercise and it's affect on anxiety, but we also touched briefly on diet and the overwhelmingly schizophrenic American view on food. I wanted to cover that more in-depth this week, mainly because there exists a difference between "diet" and diet...and it's important not to mistake one for the other.

For example, when I say "anti-anxiety diet", people who hear it immediately think that I am speaking of a weight loss diet. And if you are overweight and you practice portion control and eat the way I describe, then it's rather likely that you will lose weight. However, this is no "miracle", no "drop 30 pounds in thirty days" supermarket checkout diet. The focus is health, nothing more, nothing less. Physical health and mental clarity as provided by nutrition.

Being of a healthy weight is very important; the studies are everywhere. It's one of those things that we're all quite aware of, and that sometimes we don't really care about regardless. Often times, the call of greasy, high calorie foods or sodas or other unhealthy options can be too much. But it's important to realize the affect of the things that you put into your body. America views food as so many things simultaneously...a comfort, a friend, an enemy, a menace, an addiction, a source of pleasure, a necessity, a convenience or inconvenience, a frustration...the list goes on and on. And with so many different opinions here and there, how is anyone to have a balanced perspective?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recipe! Veggie Korma

If you've never tasted Indian food then you probably have no idea what you're missing, but let me assure you...it is absolutely delicious. For those of us that are accustomed to the fare of the Western world, the spices and their combinations can seem daunting, even strange.  But trust me...it's absolutely delicious. And cooking any sort of ethnic food often means cooking from scratch and making dishes from whole foods. Essentially, it's a fun way to keep blandness from creeping in around the edges of the anti-anxiety diet, and a delicious way to expand the horizons of your taste buds and culinary skill! (With that said, this recipe is extremely easy. Don't let yourself be daunted!) Neither of my live-in taste testers have any any experience with the flavors and spices of India, but they gave this recipe absolutely rave reviews. We had a guest taste tester for this one - a lady who knows her way around a korma - and she said that this was absolutely divine.

Perhaps one of the most wonderful things about this recipe is that it can be altered and tailored to suit your individual preferences! We made our Korma with chicken, but it was an addition for my carnivorous taste testers and not strictly necessary for anyone who prefers to go meatless. With the chicken removed, the recipe becomes immediately vegan, so perfect for those with strict dietary convictions! Traditionally, korma calls for ground cashews. Unfortunately, we forgot to pick them up at the store, so ours was lacking that particular element. Nevertheless, it was still absolutely delicious. Next time, we wont forget the cashews!! We also ate our korma over brown rice and naan.

Now, always remember that spicing and seasoning is entirely dependent on your tastes. I will tell you what I used as a baseline, but please feel free to expand on my suggestions, particularly if you are a fan of very spicy food! With a velvety smooth sauce, a rich flavor, and a lovely golden color, korma is food fit for a king! This recipe was adapted from All Recipes Without further ado: Vegetable Korma.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shopping Smart: Milk...to dairy, or not to dairy?

There's no doubt at all that the dairy vs. non-dairy debate is one that is becoming increasingly more difficult to escape. It seems readily accepted fact that soy milk and other non-dairy milks are better (and greener) than their dairy alternatives, and many people tout a dairy-free lifestyle. But how true is this, really? Vast amounts of Amazonian rain forest are being destroyed in order to keep up with the world's soybean demand, and as pointed out on Grist, all plant-milks are processed foods, not whole foods. The fact is, the consumer can choose local, organic dairy products and avoid all of the questions of animal cruelty, hormones, and other undesirable chemicals and toxins in their dairy while still eating whole foods. So...what gives?

It's important to address allergies and intolerance; if you or your family is allergic to dairy, avoid all dairy products, even the organic, local sorts. The same hold for almond or nut milks if your family is allergic to them. In those situations, the choice is a little more clear cut and boils down to common sense. However, if you don't have any allergies or intolerance, what's your best option? If you are allergic to dairy, trying to cut back, or fully vegan, which of the non-dairy alternatives is best?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eating Local: Nutrition and Economics

If you've been a part of the "foodie" community for any length of time, there's no doubt that you've been extolled on the many virtues of eating local. And for good reason! The benefits transcend economics and stretch over into so many arenas that it's hard to name them all. Boosting local economics, maintaining better nutrition, and eating food that tastes just as delicious as it looks are a few of the "pros" to eating local, and with that being just the beginning, why would anyone do anything else?

The main complaints that seem to surface are price (local food is more expensive than grocery market produce) and inconvenience (a trip to the farmers market requires more planning than a trip to the store down the street). Despite these complaints, I imagine that anyone who truly tried eating locally for awhile would find them easily overcome. You don't have to buy only things that are grown or made locally; it's up to you, the consumer, to decide how much of your produce and other food comes directly from local farms, and how much you rely on the nationally-owned markets. If you need something on a Wednesday and the Farmer's Market wont be open until Saturday, there's no reason not to run down to the store and pick it up. Eating locally can be as small as choosing one product, i.e. tomatoes, and committing to buy only a local variety when possible. (And if you've ever tasted a just-picked garden tomato, you'll know this is an excellent choice!)

Of course, once you start tasting and eating local produce, you wont be likely to go back to the imported variety that the market offers. So what's the best way to eat local?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recipe; Barley Chili

 Barley Chili was a very fun, very successful experiment! Barley is used in soups and stew so often, some people aren't aware that it can be used anywhere else, and while I certainly want to try some non-soup-and-stew barley recipes in the future, I thought starting out with something familiar would undoubtedly be best. Thus, we went with barley chili.

The recipe was sort of intuitive, in the end. I scoured the long reaches of the internet for recipes, but in the end those just gave me guidance. After all, I think most chili-cooks would agree; making your own chili is an individual, sometimes almost spiritual process. If you want to use my recipe for a guide, or if you want to follow it to the letter, either way would be fine.

Now, as I mentioned before, my live-in taste testers are somewhat sensitive to spiciness, as am I. This chili is quite mild! If you want to spice things up a bit, add a can of green chilies and whatever spices you like best. Also, this chili contains beef and beef bullion. For those who avoid red meat, ground turkey or chicken makes a fine substitute. For vegan/vegetarian chili, replace the water and bullion with vegetable stock, omit the beef and add extra barley and beans, or corn. The beans I used were canned...you can get great organic canned beans (like Amy's) or cook your own ahead of time.

This chili was much loved by all in my household, and like all chilies, it got better with time. Without further ado, I present, Barley Chili!!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Healthy Lifestyle: Exercise to Combat Anxiety

These days, American society's attitude toward diet and exercise (and many other facets of the increasingly esoteric blanket-term "lifestyle") seems schizophrenic at best. On the side of diet, there are a great many current trends - not just the fad diets that have overtaken the covers of grocery-line women's magazines for as long as many of us can remember, but also the fetishism surrounding food (creating the 'foodie' culture that was, until so recently, reserved for the privileged and upper-class), the exultation of the chef (Iron Chef America and other shows have literally turned chefs into the new rock stars, giving them exposure outside the kitchen that they so rarely had before), and turning specialty diets from the domain of the fringe groups to something embraced and normalized in nearly every demographic. We cling to anything that is healthy, even just to products that are dishonestly marketed as "healthy", while at the same time feeding our ever-expanding national waistlines with fast food, junk food, and "convenience" food.

And then there's exercise. A dirty word to some, a source of self-loathing and stress to others, exercise is that thing we all know that we should be doing, and that so few of us actually do. Research shows that fifty percent of new gym members quit within the first six months of joining a gym (IHRSA), a trend which I imagine most of us have experienced firsthand. There's no doubt that regular exercise goes against the typical American lifestyle, where hours per day are spent parked in front of the computer and where time is undoubtedly at a constant premium. We are told that we need to get that heart rate up, lose weight, and get ourselves moving on a regular basis...and yet the demands of work and family can make that extremely difficult.

If you do choose to make an effort toward exercising, the options can be overwhelming. Cardio or strength training? Yoga or pilates? Zumba or Hip Hop? The multitudinous options are a mixed blessing, providing would-be fitness aficionados a glut of information with very little indication as to which option would work best for them. A personal trainer (and for that matter, nutritionist) would be a godsend in this situation, but many of us can't afford such services in this economy. Considering all of this, it would seem that exercise creates more anxiety than it alleviates. However, exercise is only as complex as you make it, and the benefits - especially for those plagued by anxiety, stress, and tension - can be astounding.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Recipe; Chipotle Lime Tilapia Soft Tacos

Although they are completely delicious, fish tacos haven't really managed to catch on in this little corner of the Midwest yet. I assume this is because we are landlocked and therefore many locals haven't really developed a palette for seafood and are unaware of the range of it's possibilities. Fish, however, is probably the healthiest of the lean meats and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for your heart. Tilapia is a great choice for these fish soft tacos because of it's mild flavor and pleasing texture.

Although this was the first time my live-in taste testers had ever tried fish tacos, they were both willing to be  guinea pigs. Despite any initial hesitation, both declared these fish tacos to be A++, and both said that they would like to try them again. I found the initial recipe at AllRecipes, which had been provided by Mission. We used Mission Life Balance Plus Whole Wheat Tortillas (which are delicious!), but you could use any brand of whole wheat tortillas that you like.

Because my taste testers and myself are not exactly spicy foods people, I tweaked the spiciness of the recipe here and there. The original version can be found here. If you don't have an account on AllRecipes, you should sign up! It's a great resource, and an account allows you to save recipes and interact with the community at large.

Without further ado, Chipotle Lime Tilapia Soft Tacos!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Shopping Smart: Buying Healthy in an Unhealthy Market.

One of the most frustrating things about going to the grocery store or market these days is the overwhelming glut of processed, unhealthy options. Comparatively, the healthful alternatives located in any given aisle are miniscule at best. Of course, if you're fortunate enough to live near a Whole Foods Market, a Trader Joes, or any similar market, you can always take advantage of their healthful selections and picky buying and distributing rules. However, health food stores can be expensive and sometimes inconveniently located. So what do you do when your market options are limited?

First and foremost, you should go into the market with a plan of action. Planning your meals ahead may seem time consuming, maybe even impossible, but doing so will save you time and money in the long run. My family, life so many others, is eternally busy. Every night we have something going on, perhaps many things, and the opportunities to sit down and enjoy one another's company around the dinner table are rare. Thus when planning meals I always start with what meals we will actually be eating together. On other nights, I will plan something for the slow cooker, or that can be prepared in advance and warmed.