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Friday, December 31, 2010

Lifestyle: Resolutions Pt. 2 - Exercise!

Earlier this week I blogged about the most popular New Years Resolution...losing weight. A resolution that is perhaps intrinsically linked to that is implementing an exercise regimen. So many people start the year with a desire to get fit, to improve their health and wellness, but with work and family and other commitments, it's just as easy to let this one go by the wayside as the diet. Often, the two go hand in hand.

So how do you keep from giving up on exercise? Unfortunately, there isn't a simple, easy, one-size-fits-all answer. Getting more exercise is difficult in this day and age for the same reason that eating healthfully is difficult; our lifestyles aren't conducive to it. In fact, the only thing that the American lifestyle seems to comfortably support is spending too much time sedentary, and eating high calorie, nutritionally poor foods.

It's obvious why we are currently in the throes of a obesity epidemic, isn't it? But a sedentary lifestyle, while it affects weight, has far more adverse affects on your overall health and wellness.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recipe! Vegan Stuffing

When it comes to food taste and preference, everyone is different. Some vegetarians and vegans prefer to eat meat substitutes, others don't. But regardless of how you or your loved ones feel about the main dish, even if you dig into a real bird on holiday occasions, it never hurts to have the healthiest side-dish options possible.

Avoiding the grease of traditional stuffing not only leaves you more calories to spend on other things, but it also better for your health. But the trouble with stuffing cooked outside the bird is, more often than not, an issue of flavor. So how do you make a flavorful dish that's still healthy, a pleasing texture and a compliment to the rest of the menu?

I would say that the trick for this stuffing is cooking the various elements individually, combining them, and letting the flavors meld together. Just like a delicious soup, you'll get more flavor from this method than just combining the whole shebang and letting it simmer. It might take a little longer, but the results are absolutely delicious, and healthier than your average stuffing-from-a-box or in-a-bird.

So create, eat, and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lifestyle: New Years Resolutions

Ah, New Years...there's a lot that anyone can say about this time of year, because (like any day) it's meaning is assigned, not inherent. Every society seems to hold some sort of celebration or festival or new beginnings, out with the old and in with the new, and for reasons that are fairly obvious; we need that cyclical chance to renew ourselves. Everyone needs a clean slate, and even if dropping the baggage of the previous year is mostly symbolic, it gives us a chance to change things...a starting point from which we can push off. 

Of course, this creates the ever-famous (or infamous) New Year's Resolution. Many of us purpose to drop those holiday pounds, to give up our vices and generally do a better job of being a good person in the year to come. And frankly, there's nothing wrong with that.

The fact is, sometimes we need a diving platform, an edge to get us started, and a reason to stop making excuses...New Years provides this for many. But where do we find the motivation to stick with our goals? Losing the motivation to lose weight sometimes shortly after January 31st is so common it's a cliche`, just like dieting on January 1st. So how do you keep yourself out of that trap? 

It's so subtle you almost wouldn't notice it from an outside perspective, but the difference is that of starting a fad diet or making a conscious decision to improve your lifestyle. Don't let your gym membership go to waste, don't follow some strict regime that forces you to eat food that you don't want...it's pointless! Losing weight isn't a mystery, even if it feel like it. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recipe! Vegan Quinoa with Vegetables

I hope that everyone's holidays went smashingly well! For us, Christmas is quite a bit about family, moreso than presents or even food. Nevertheless, good food did certainly abound. This year was a bit different from Christmases past; I was still brand new to the anti-anxiety diet last Christmas, and about six months ago my sister-in-law decided to go vegan. The new dietary restrictions for our family means that the traditional dishes needed to be tweaked a bit...I didn't want to have to eat food I wasn't comfortable with, and I knew that my sister in law needed more than just whatever salad she would be able to eat without worrying about animal products.

Therefore I did the only logical thing and took to Google, in search of healthy, delicious vegan recipes that the whole family could enjoy and my sister-in-law could fill up on.

Though I took a recipe from allrecipes.com, low ratings and availability of ingredients prompted me to adapt it to my own specifications, and the results were amazing! The whole family wanted to know what was in it, how I'd made it, and they all asked for the recipe! Ergo, this blog...now all of you can share.

This dish is extremely healthy, flavorful, and pleasing to the omnivorous and vegan palette alike. It can easily be adapted to whatever ingredients you have on hand. I also imagine that you could use couscous if quinoa is not readily available.

[Note: Quinoa is a whole grain. Most stores will at least carry the Bob's Red Mill Quinoa, but it's cheapest if you can buy it in bulk. It cooks much like rice, see the recipe! If you've never had it before, try it! It's absolutely delicious and extremely healthy.]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Recipe! Creamy Avocado Soup

I'm not really sure what it is about the holidays that have put me in the mood for Tex-Mex, but there you have it. I have dreams of creating a fully multi-cultural holiday dinner next year, with side dishes and appetizers from all over the world, very Street in scope and flavor...but that's next year. This year the biggest challenge we are taking on is creating a meal that satisfies the vegan, myself, and the uber-carnivores in the family...all on one table.

That's enough for one year, right?

But in the meantime, I have another Tex-Mex recipe for you...I made it a few weeks back to go with black bean quesadillas, and it was a huge hit! Although avocado soups are generally served cold, this time of year who wants a cold soup? This was the reasoning behind the creation of this recipe, and it worked out quite well.

One taste-tester said that it was the "perfect soup" because he could dip chips in it, use is as a topping for his quesadillas, or just eat it straight with a spoon! It's spicy, warm, and delicious....a perfect compliment to any tex-mex meal. And it's vegetarian to boot. Just make sure you don't over-heat it, because it will lose it's lovely color! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Recipe! Chicken, Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

So what's the next big thing in food? The lowly sweet potato, if certain sources are to be believed...and based on the number of non-holiday sweet potato recipes I've seen pop up lately, it looks like it's true! And why not? Sweet potatoes are listed as one of the world's healthiest foods for a reason...mainly speaking, beta-carotine. But they are full of all sorts of vitamins and are fabulously good for you, and delicious to boot.

The fun part about sweet potatoes is that their flavor lends itself well to all sorts of interpretation...and as long as you aren't filling them with sugar and covering them in marshmallows, you can get pretty darn creative. The light sweetness of the sweet potato lends itself well to spicy seasonings, such as chipotle. But it also does will in baking sweet breads and in all sorts of soups and chilis...

I wanted to make a dish that would celebrate the flavor of the sweet potato, and I believe I have done just exactly that. These enchiladas are a bit untraditional...they have no sauce. But preparing each ingredient individually means that they each shine on your palette with every bite, and the result? Absolutely delicious and bursting with flavor.

When you make this, you will need to season intuitively. I gave measurements but, as always, they are approximate and may require doctoring. Though this recipe has a lot of steps, none of them are difficult, and it's not nearly as time consuming as I expected. This is sure to please, and can be dressed up or down (or spiced up or down!) as you please.

Make, enjoy, and share!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recipe! Pumpkin Cupcakes with Pumpkin Spice Ganache

Ok, ok...I know the pumpkin season is nearing it's end, but as far as I see it, the world is still good for pumpkin creations until after Christmas...or until the grocery stores run out. So I had to post this recipe, see?

When it comes to baking, I tend to follow recipes pretty exactly. I'm a very intuitive cook, but not being able to check things halfway through makes me a wee bit nervous...so I tend not to create my own recipes for baked goods. With that said, I discovered the cupcake recipe via the magic of Google on the wonderful blog How Sweet It Is. I totally love this blog, and I encourage you to check it out! The ganache though...that's all mine.

These cupcakes are a little more like muffins, truth be told, but the ganache makes them a little unmistakable. I made them for a friend's birthday...my friend isn't very fond of overly sweet things, so these are certainly geared toward a more adult palette. As it stands, the ganache isn't very strong with spice flavor...you could add a bit more to increase the effect, if you so desired!

It's also important not to overbeat the ganache or overcook the cupcakes! Cook, eat, share, and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Food, the Holidays...and Love.

The holidays are...an interesting time, to say the least. For the past five years, I've worked in some holiday-effected industry through the holiday season. For me, the Holidays start in October and last until January second.  It's long, grueling, and exhausting...not the most fun you can have during a season that's meant to be about giving, family, and love.

But this season I've been trying to keep up with a blog as well, trying to manage my anxiety, and of course, cooking up a storm. Add some writing projects on top of all that and it makes for the busiest holiday season I've ever had. Either because or in spite of the busyness, my perspective this year has...certainly changed. I've been thinking a lot more about changing the emphasis of the season and a lot less about...well, everything else.

I guess it started because of my paycheck-job. Every time I perform a transaction, I ask, "Do you want to donate to St. Jude's Children's Hospital?" and approximately ninety-nine percent of the time everyone gives me a quick, "No thanks." My next question being, of course, "Do you want to round up to the next dollar and just donate your change?" to which I am still very often refused. What is it in people that makes them refuse to donate a few pennies to one of the best charities out there during Christmas? It blows my mind.

So where does food come into all this?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Recipe! Perfect Sweet Potato Fries

Recently, I was bitten by the sweet potato bug. It's a brutal sort of illness, one which demands long hours of sweet potato preparation and a great deal of mediocre dishes before finally resolving itself in tears of unadulterated joy and a batch of perfected sweet potato fries.

Fortunately for everyone involved, I've scoured the internet in search of the perfect sweet-potato-fry method and as it happens...the best idea is to combine the wisdom of the Internet and kind of mix and match methods until you achieve perfection. A long process, yes, and completely worth it.

Now, two things about sweet potato fries are fairly undisputed: They will never be as crispy as russet fries, and they will always be crispier if fried instead of baked. However, fried food should always be kept at an absolute minimum. So how then can the practical, at home cook create delicious oven-baked sweet potato fries?

Well, it's absolutely possible, and fairly easy...just somewhat tedious. I would classify sweet potato fries as a "labor of love", much like kaya toast, flourless chocolate cake, or brown rice risotto.  The method here is very important, but the seasonings can be tailored to suit your desire. The recipe I have here is for spicy-sweet potato fries...yours can be seasoned any way you like!

One thing is...be sure to use parchment paper and a good-size cookie sheet. You need to make sure that they fries don't stick or crowd one another!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lifestyle: Impatience and Obesity

Truth be told, I happen to be a bit of an NPR junkie. That's right. I listen to NPR on the radio and I follow the feed on the sidebar of my browser and I am a bit shameless. But being an NPR junkie, I come across a lot of interesting articles and recently, one managed to catch my eye.

The article talks about the link between impatience and obesity. Apparently, recent studies have shown that those who exhibit impatience tend to be more overweight and less financially responsible...ouch. But it makes sense, honestly...just look around! Impatience is at an epidemic level (much like obesity), and the two problems seem to be linked. As our culture becomes faster and faster, we begin to lose our capacity for delayed gratification...for patience.

But getting things faster in no way guarantees satisfaction. We move at the speed of light but our waistlines bulge and our wallets keep getting lighter and lighter. I think that a great deal of America's chronic stress and anxiety problem can be connected to this same behavior. But how does anyone lead a calm life in such a mad world?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Recipe! Flourless Chocolate Cake

If you've never had a flourless chocolate cake...you need to have one, most definitely. They are rich, decadent...a few bites will certainly satisfy, and they need nothing more than a simple topping of fruit and/or fresh whipped cream.

Flourless chocolate cake is the pinnacle of desserts that are rich enough to satisfy with a tiny portion. It has no flour (which makes it gluten free!) but that hardly renders it a health food. It's a great treat for special occasions when you want to impress, and certainly not something you should eat every day.

This cake must be started the night before you want to eat it and is best made in a springform pan. I've never been able to get it out of the cake pan, so we just had to fish out the pieces one at a time. I imagine you could use a regular pan lined with parchment as well!

This is most definitely  a crowd pleaser, but the dark chocolate gears it toward a more mature palette. Experiment with the whipped topping (Frangelico and Bailey's come to mind...) and coffee-based cocktails. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lifestyle: Learning to Balance Your Meals

I've often said that eating an anti-anxiety diet, or any sort of healthy, whole foods diet is a matter of lifestyle change. There's no quick fix and there's no miracle method...it's a fundamental change of lifestyle and a difference not only in what you eat, but in the way you approach food, eating, and nutrition in general. But picking and choosing from a laundry list of foods isn't exactly useful, because your meals have to put together in a way that achieves balance.

I was reminded of this while reading this article, which links those who eat out at fine restaurants on a regular basis with a higher danger of obesity. The doctors in the article have said that eating at fine restaurants all week long is no more healthy than eating fast food, and that, essentially, eating out means eating unhealthily. Of course, there are ways to eat out healthfully, but that's another article. "Foodie" culture has created an appreciation for the gourmet, but you can't forget that a dessert made with whole grains and fresh fruit is still a dessert, that all natural local cheeses are still cheeses, and that vegetables cooked with oil or butter still contain a serving of fats.

There's a way to enjoy these kinds of foods, however, and that's by incorporating them into balanced meals, using them as the finishing touch instead of the star. Also, there's nothing wrong with enjoying moderate portions of high-calorie or high-fat foods on a special occasion, just so long as it's more once-or-twice-a-month and not once-or-twice-a-week.

But how do you make gourmet foods without the gourmet calories?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Curries: The Ultimate Comfort Food

In practically every country but the U.S., curries are a standard fare. Relatively simplistic dishes that can be dressed up or down and made with virtually any combination of vegetables and meats, curries are delicious, comforting, and simple. If you aren't familiar with curries, they make an excellent weeknight dinner because they can be whipped up in a hurry, but if made with an array of veggies, a lean meat, and served over brown rice, they are a perfectly balanced meal.

My family has grown to love curries in the past few months, and I've made an effort to try as many different sorts of curries as possible. Japanese curry lacks the sweeter flavor that Indian and Thai curries carry, and Indian and Japanese curries are creamier and thicker than Thai. Japanese curry roux blocks can be picked up at almost any market, but they often contain MSG, so it's best to use a recipe to create your own roux. Thai curry paste is inexpensive and none of the brands at my local ethnic market contained MSG, though the red curry that we had was very spicy. Any of the curries can be made mild or spicy, sweet or savory, thin or creamy.

Versatility is the name of the game with curries, and they can be adjusted for nearly any palette. I've decided to include several curry recipes here for a one-stop curry making recipe post... keep in mind that these are suggestions, and can be adjusted based on your palette and what you have on hand. Enjoy!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weight Loss: Childhood obesity and the new food safety law

I am not, by nature, an overly political person. I write a blog based on food and health, not news or politics, and that's the way I prefer it. It isn't that I "don't get it" or "don't care", I have very strong opinions and I try to stay on top of the news...but politicians will always let down, secret agendas will always be present, ulterior motives will always sneak about the edges of Washington, and I much prefer cooking to all of it.

But there are times when the shenanigans in Washington find their way into the health, wellness, and food sectors, and it seems one of those times is upon us now.

Congress has passed a bill concerning child nutrition, a bill that should overhaul school lunches and address some of the childhood obesity rate concerns. First Lady Michelle Obama has championed this bill as a facet of her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity. Frankly, things needed to be changed in this country...if you've ever seen a school lunch, you know exactly what I mean. I wouldn't feed those processed, refined foods to my animals, let alone children.

But that isn't where it ends.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Recipe! Borscht.

There's something about borscht...it's one of those recipes I've long wanted to try and never quite gotten around to...until now.

Around this house, beets are a bit of a taboo. My taste testers aren't fond of beets and, though they trust my cooking, weren't entirely sure how they would like a recipe that utilized them so fully. Fortunately, I found several recipes and mixed their suggestions and the end result was...absolutely delicious.

Now, in our borscht, the beets were sliced. But I found that the large slices of beet were distracting. In the future, I will make borscht as written in the recipe...with beets diced. Some people prefer the large, meaty chunks of beet and if that's you...I don't judge. Either way, this recipe is delicious, comforting, and fairly easy.

Serve with sour cream and a sprinkle of sharp cheddar, if you so desire. And enjoy!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Weight Loss: Weight perception and how it affects you.

Recently this article brought my attention to something I have certainly noticed, yet never quite been able to pin down with logic; weight perception.

Essentially it says that these scientists did a study comparing women's actual BMI's to what they perceive themselves to be, and then based on that perception, what their weight related behaviors were. Turns out, women who are already overweight are more likely to consider themselves normal, and women who are within a healthy range are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors in an effort to lose weight.

This brings up a number of questions, but it also serves to highlight some of the behaviors that have gotten us overweight and unhealthy as a country. Many women who are overweight and obese don't seem to think that they need to change their eating or exercise habits, and many women who fall into a normal weight range feel that they must mistreat their bodies to achieve some desired result...in the end, no one is better for any of it and the majority of us are left overwhelmingly unhealthy, regardless of weight.

It seems to me as though we are, all of us, caught somewhere in a battle between an unhealthy ideal and an unhealthy "norm".