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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Recipe! Rustic Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Some recipes require a great deal of love and devotion...hours can be spent between prepping the ingredients and cooking the food itself, hours replete with stirring and tasting and checking and adjusting before finally getting the desired result. I, for one, am not at all opposed to this sort of cooking, but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes, everyone just needs a break. 

Which is precisely why I created this recipe. It's simple, the prep work doesn't take a terribly long time, and it's the sort of rustic food that makes you feel warm inside when you eat it. If I could describe it briefly, I would say that it just feels like home.

I would suggest that you marinate your chicken breasts in olive oil, garlic, and salt, but this isn't a strictly necessary step and it's one I have often skipped when I threw this dish together at the last minute. Also, it makes fabulous leftovers. My taste-testers are very fond of this dish, and they all agree that it completely hits the spot. Great for cold winter nights and lazy summer evenings alike...try it tonight!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Perspective: The Holiday Weekend

The interesting thing that I have found about food blogs is that we all come from vastly different backgrounds. The only requirement to blogging about food, really, is loving food. Therefore those who write these blogs and those who read them are as varied as a group can be, comprised of many different lifestyles and loves, but the passion for food is always present.

So this weekend, I imagine, will find us all doing very different things. Some will be continuing the Thanksgiving party, others will be shopping until they've truly dropped, some will be divvying up leftovers and others will continue to cook. Some of us, like me, will be working all weekend and others will be sleeping, relaxing, and enjoying their time with loved ones. There are as many ways to spend this weekend as there are people in America, which makes me wonder where we find our common ground.

Working with the public during the holiday season can be a complete nightmare. Tempers are short, lines are long, and though year after year television specials, banners and cards admonish us to "remember the reason for the season", no one ever really seems to. I think that reason can be different for everyone, but the desired result is the same...peace on earth, goodwill toward men. And yet...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lifestyle: Is There Pleasure in Effort?

I ran across this article the other day...and of course, as someone who cooks just about every day and enjoys reaping the benefits and rewards, I was very intrigued. I can say with certainty that I enjoy meals that I make and meals that others make, and that I don't really discern any difference between the pleasure of eating whole food that I have prepared from scratch, and whole food that another person prepared for me. What I mean is that...barring a difference in the quality of the food, there's no difference in enjoyment of the meal itself.

However, I can say that when I cook and I make something really delicious, I derive more pleasure from it if it's shared with others. Seeing others enjoy what I've made and receiving compliments makes me feel much more satisfied personally, and how could it not? I'm sure that there is something built into us that makes us more appreciative of the things we've worked very hard to do, and why shouldn't we be? We know how much effort went into that endeavor, and when we look at the results we feel how successful we were, and we admire the results.

But what caught my eye in the article even more than that was the part about obesity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Recipe! Creamy Black Bean Soup

I love making my own recipes. I love taking a concept from...whoever, sometimes just a concept that I've come across enough times to remember, and then turning into my own. There's something about concocting your own recipe that leaves you with a sense of satisfaction...especially if that recipe turns out well!

Such is the story behind this creamy black bean soup. Nearly every Friday, I invite over whoever can make it and we cook, talk, laugh...sometimes watch movies, and always have a great time. Generally I'm the ringleader - I know what recipes we'll be trying and I have the necessary ingredients - but everyone helps with the cooking, eating, and clean up. It's a wonderful, fulfilling time. Cooking for others, with others, is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

This past Friday, I took all the information I've seen about making creamy black bean soups, added my own flare (i.e. seasonings) and served it with sweet potato fries and pumpkin bread. It was absolutely delicious, a total hit...and I want to share the recipe with you! This soup could easily be made vegan by omitting the cream. Enjoy!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lifestyle: The Cost of Healthy Eating

I saw an article the other day about the cost of food and how it affects how people eat...which, of course, is a topic close to my heart. We don't have a lot of money and sometimes, making dinners week to week requires creativity not only with the recipes but also with the costs of the ingredients. As demonstrated on this blog, you can still make some pretty phenomenal food for a decent price, but there are times in the grocery store where spending the extra dollar or two feels a little painful. So what is the cost of eating healthfully, and is it worth it?

I once heard the perspective that when you buy organic and sustainable foods, the cost difference is an actual reflection of what it actually costs to produce that food. You're paying what it costs to sustain the world we live in, and to raise foods without any harmful chemicals and pesticides. It does cost more to eat well, it would be silly to deny that when you can grab an entire Totino's pizza for $0.99...less than the average pound of apples. But you aren't just paying for a brand name or a label, either. Fresh produce - especially that which is local and sustainable - will provide nutrition that Totino's couldn't come close to, and without all the preservatives, bleaches, and chemicals.

If you add up the nutritional value of the fast food, processed food, or frozen foods that you can buy so cheaply and compare it to the nutritional values of whole, healthy food...it's actually cheaper. You get what you pay for, in terms of food, and even though the grocery bill is coming out to a higher number, your health and that of your family will improve greatly. Of course, this means less doctor visits and hospital bills, trimmer waistlines and increased wellness of mind and body. Maybe it's difficult to think of those things when paying a higher grocery bill, but when you see results, it's hard to argue.

So it costs more to eat healthy...but what if you don't have more to spend?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Recipe! Susan Feniger's Kaya Toast

I recently traveled out to the bestWest coast for a week of Halloween fun and delicious food (if you eat badly in L.A. that's entirely your own fault) and came back with food dreams and a craving for a certain dish created by chef Susan Feniger. The restaurant is her first solo venture, called Street and located in Hollywood. We went on Dia de los Muertos, and it was rather packed...but the food was amazing. Susan Feniger's dishes seem to explode on your tongue, presenting a mix of flavor and texture like you've never had before. Her innovative flavors made her famous and, when you taste the food at Street, you know exactly why.

Everything that we ate that night was delicious, but there was one dish in particular that blew me away...and I'm not alone. Kaya Toast is, apparently, the most loved dish served at Street. It's so loved, in fact, that the chef posted her recipe online. When I came home and saw that, I was delighted, but doubted I could make anything as heavenly as what I tasted at Street. Fortunately, I was mistaken. Kaya toast was an instant hit around my house...the trick is both choosing the correct ingredients and putting them together in the proper method.

I barely deviated from chef Feniger's recipe, except in this...the recipe calls for a soft boiled egg, and I soft-fried mine. I used vegan butter (Earth Balance) instead of regular butter and whole wheat bread instead of white. It still evoked the same flavors...the trick here is the medley of flavors from the dark soy sauce, egg yolk, and coconut jam. Do not accept substitutions for those things! Also, the coconut jam is not difficult to make, but it is a bit tedious and time consuming. However, once it's made, one batch should make about 20 servings of kaya toast, and it keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

This is a very impressive dish to serve as an appetizer or, if you're like me, a fabulous (and mildly guilty) breakfast. Make it and enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recipe! Pumpkin-Turkey Chili

 When I saw a recipe for Pumpkin Turkey Chili, it tickled my taste buds and my imagination. Why? Because few things comfort in the winter cold like chili, but the bright, smooth taste of pumpkin could only make chili all the better. Not to mention the flavors and spices that could be used...! So that's how it started. I picked up the necessary ingredients and I went to work, only I followed the recipe I found on Whole Foods for about ten seconds before I started deviating all over the place and eventually, somehow, made my own dish.

Thus, the following recipe has a rather long list of ingredients...rest assured, most of them are spices and seasonings. You can (and will, I'm sure) adjust various spices and seasonings to make the chili to your taste, but at the end you will have a pleasantly sweet-hot chili, silky smooth with great, delicious pieces of turkey, onion, tomato and green pepper and two different, delectable beans. My version was fairly spicy...for a tamer chili, leave out some of the pepper and be judicious with your sriracha.

The best thing about this chili is that its as healthy as it is delicious. Ground turkey is a lean meat, together with legumes this chili packs a protein punch that's awesome for building calorie-burning lean muscle. Also, pumpkin is one of the world's healthiest foods, with a very low calorie content and a high vitamin content. And while we're on the subject of the world's healthiest foods, black beans, kidney beans, green bell peppers, onions, and turkey make the list as well.

Healthy and a crowd pleaser...what's not to love? Without further ado....

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lifestyle Changes To Combat Anxiety

There's been a lot of talk in the news about healthcare and the economy. Love it or hate it, the healthcare reform bill was passed, and if it actually takes effect it will certainly change a lot of things about how we view going to the doctor and how we pay for those visits and our medications. Regardless of your opinions on the healthcare plan, it can be pretty horrifying to need medical care and have no way to afford it. Being told by a doctor or a hospital that you can't be treated for a lack of funding is one of the worst, most hopeless feelings in the world...and when you need help with an anxiety disorder, such a feeling can send you into the depth of depression or a strong panic attack.

Although drugs aren't for everyone (I personally take no medications at this time, and would like to remain med-free) they often make life bearable for those who take them. If you would like to be put on medication for your anxiety, please reach out to the programs in your community. Google is a great place to start finding out about the mental health advocates in your community, and if you demonstrate financial need, these programs will often ensure you get your medication for a low copay.

However, if you prefer not to take drugs, or if you can't afford them, don't give up hope! Anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways, and one the most effective for me has been a lifestyle change.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nervous About Holiday Eating?

With only thirteen days left until Thanksgiving - the biggest stuff-yourself-silly holiday in any calendar year - people everywhere are feeling the squeeze. We all know we'll overeat on Thanksgiving, and often times we have very little control over the food available, as it's usually an amalgam of whatever the family decided they should bring. At most family buffet-style Thanksgivings, the sodium and saturated fat is high and the whole grains and healthy foods are sadly MIA. We tend to stuff ourselves to the gills and lie about in a food-coma for the rest of the day, bemoaning our lack of self control even moreso when we next venture onto the scales. It's a tradition, and in American culture, tradition seems to trump...just about everything else.

So how can you maintain long-standing family traditions without ruining your diet or filling your body with unhealthy, processed foods?

Well, first of all, there are a few things to remember. One, its okay to splurge every once and awhile. Pick a few days throughout the holiday season that you know, already, that your calories will be higher than average. Let's say on Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps at a key party or two. Don't starve yourself the day before or after, or even the day of. Eat at least 1200 calories of healthy, nutritionally dense foods daily surrounding those "splurge" days, and make sure that your meals are balanced, containing a whole grain, a fruit or vegetable, and a protein. Do your best to maintain a workout routine, even if it's just a thirty minute walk per day. It's good for you!

Secondly, on these splurge days, watch your portion size.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Recipe! Onion-Garlic Chicken

The thing that I love the most about this recipe is that it's versatile. I use variations on this chicken in all sorts of recipes, and season it to suit the palette of the recipe. Recently, I served this with mushroom cream sauce and risotto, and though it wasn't the star of the show (that title belongs to the sauce!) it was completely delicious, and great complimentary dish.

You could add different vegetables to this chicken, but I would stick with things like mushrooms, green peppers, and those types of consistencies. Depending on what you are serving it with, season it to go with your menu. I always start with a base of salt and pepper, and often ad parsley and whatever else sounds good. Make sure that your pan isn't too crowded! You don't want the chicken to steam.

Lastly, you want the chicken to cook somewhat slowly and thoroughly without drying out, so keep your heat just a tick above medium. Turn chicken after a few minutes to ensure even cooking! This recipe fed three, but you can always add or subtract ingredients to fit your needs. And as always, enjoy!

Onion-Garlic Chicken

2 large chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces or strips.
1 T olive oil
2 yellow onions
6 cloves garlic, put through a press or minced
Salt and Pepper
Parsley (to taste. I use about 1 T dry)

1. Warm olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chicken pieces, allowing space between them so they don't steam. After two minutes (or so, use your judgment on "doneness") turn pieces over and cook another side. Do this until all sides are white. Add salt and pepper during this process.

2. Add onions, garlic, and parsley, stir often until onions are beginning to brown. Serve with sauce, over rice or potatoes, in fajitas, or however you like!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lifestyle: Making the Decision to go Vegetarian or Vegan.

Recently, I saw someone discussing becoming a vegetarian because of the mistreatment of animals...and it made me think. I have a bit of a history with vegetarianism; when I was a young teen, I went from loving meat to being disgusted by it. The flavor, the texture...it became, quite suddenly, too much for me. I stopped eating all manner of meat immediately and sort of haphazardly ate whatever else was available. I had no concept of the proper nutrition for a vegetarian or how to get the necessary nutrients in my diet, and about five years later, I started craving a hamburger. I craved the hamburger for two years before I finally broke down and ate one, and after that, I was carnivorous yet again.

I've known many people who became vegetarians for the health benefits or weight loss. It is true that we, as Americans, get far too much of our protein from meat and done correctly, vegetarians can lose weight. It's a personal decision and one that I absolutely respect...no matter the reasoning. However, if your sole reason is a desire to avoid the mistreatment of animals? Well, you're fooling yourself. Becoming a vegan or fruititarian circumvents all animal cruelty, but refusing to eat meat and still eating eggs, butter, milk, ice cream, and other animal products from animals who have been mistreated, who could quite possibly be diseased...it's just as bad. Avoiding the mistreatment of animals is a wonderful thing, and something I support, but it's a bit naive to assume that cutting meat from your diet will alleviate the problem.

But there's another option.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe! Heavenly Mushroom Cream Sauce

There are certain recipes that are choc full of fats and calories, but they are so delicious and meant to be used in moderation...and therefore so worth it. This is one of those recipes. Hands down, one of the best sauces I have ever made, I served this over garlic-onion chicken with brown rice mushroom risotto. You could use this sauce over pasta, over rice, over steak...over just about anything, I imagine. It's so good, there aren't many things it wouldn't complement.

The good news is that this sauce is really quite quick and simple. It tastes like a million bucks, but ten minutes of prep and about 15 minutes of cook time and you'll have a perfect sauce! This is one you have to try to believe, but I guarantee that anyone sharing your table will be worshiping the ground you walk on by the time dinner ends. Seriously. I should have just called this "Sauce to Impress".

Try it, love it, just don't eat the whole batch yourself. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Recipe! Brown Rice Mushroom Risotto

If you've never tried risotto, you need to. Just trust me on this. Risotto is Italian in origin, and is in fact the most popular way to cook rice in Italy. One taste, and you'll know why. Though risotto is made traditionally with white rice, it's even better (and healthier) when made with brown.

One important factor to note: this is a time-consuming dish that will demand quite a bit of attention. If you have children, this isn't going to be a good one for a school night, because it demands at least an hour of your attention. With that being said, it's not at all difficult...just time consuming, so don't be intimidated!

Neither of my taste-testers had eaten risotto before, and though they made comments while I was cooking to the effect of  "How good can it be, it's just rice." and "When will this ever be done?", they changed their tune with remarkable speed when they tasted their first bite. Risotto is creamy, rich, and delicious. It's a comfort food in the purest form of the word, leaving you with a warm, full feeling. I recommend tasting it as you go to adjust for seasoning.

I pared this recipe with onion-garlic chicken and the most heavenly mushroom cream sauce I've ever made in my life...the taste-testers couldn't stop talking about it. It was probably the best meal I've ever made! Both of those recipes are to come...but for now...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weight Loss: Why "Quick" Methods Just Don't Work

Recently, the Blue Cross Blue Shield posted an article about the pull of Meridia from the shelves. The article discusses how the drug was deemed dangerous and how that leaves only one major diet drug on the market (and it's effectiveness is dubious at best). The article quotes the president of the Obesity Society, an advocate and research group, as saying that the drug's pull is frustrating. It also cites this as being a "step back" in the fight against the obesity epidemic.

But a huge part of the obesity epidemic is being cause by the sort of attitudes that tell us we can take a pill to solve obesity, just like we can take ibuprofen for a headache or benadryl for our allergies. Life doesn't work that way, the world doesn't work that way, and our bodies don't work that way. Losing weight on the national level is not about finding the miracle cure because there is no miracle cure. The obesity epidemic is a complex, difficult issue that has been created by a number of factors. This complexity means, in short, that there is no simple solution. There can't be.

But as a country, we shouldn't want one. Why?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Recipe! Easiest Whole Wheat Bread Ever!

I've always loved whole wheat bread, fresh out of the oven. I have a tendency to eat thick slices of it with vegan butter and honey and make a meal out of it. Fresh whole wheat bread is my comfort food, and though I love all fresh breads, it's one of my favorites.

Of course, bread-making has a bad rap. Often viewed is difficult, time consuming, and often all for naught when the recipe goes awry, bread baking is something many cooks are afraid to tackle. But have no fear! There are loaves out there (like the Vegan Pumpkin Bread) that are as simple as they are delicious, and I was absolutely thrilled to come across the following recipe on The Zest. This bread has five ingredients and is mixed with your hands. It rises only once - in the pan - so there's virtually no complexities.

The original post says to be sure and use a large loaf pan. Mine wasn't enormous and the bread is a bit lopsided, but it still tastes delicious! This is great with soup, or toasted and paired with eggs for breakfast. Each slice is very filling, so start with a half slice and go from there. Apparently, this is a good one to make with the kiddos as well! Enjoy!

Easiest Ever Whole Wheat Bread

5 c whole wheat flour
1 t salt
1 packet (or 2 1/2 T) Dry Active Yeast
1 T honey
2 1/2 c tepid water

1. Put flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, mix well. Add yeast, mix again. Make a "well" or space in the middle of the dry mixture and add honey and water.

2. Mix the dry ingredients into the water with your hand, making sure to get all the flour on the bottom and sides. Mix until the dough is slippery and elastic and comes cleanly away from the bowl.

3. Lift dough into a large loaf pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and cover with a damp towel. Once this is done, set bread in a warm area and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the dough has risen (about 30-45 minutes) uncover and place in the oven. Cook for 35-40 minutes.

Delicious!!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Eating Smart: What to eat on the go.

One of the most difficult parts of eating healthy is finding food that can be eaten on the go that's still healthful and not chock full of bad chemicals, bad sugars, bad fats, and refined ingredients. Many foods that tout themselves as healthy absolutely aren't, and even fast food restaurants that offer "healthy" options (here's lookin' at you, Subway) often offer food choices that are chock full of preservatives.

You can't really trust the labels that fast-food restaurants assign themselves, but finding high-quality, delicious food on-the-go is a real pain in the neck...especially without the convenience of stores like Whole Foods. So where do you turn when you simply don't have time to prepare your own food, or when you are stuck somewhere far from home with little time and a growling belly?