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Friday, April 8, 2011

Recipe! Whole Wheat Coconut Rolls

Coconut, like pumpkin, happens to be one of my food obsessions. I love it so much in so many different incarnations...perhaps most of all in curries...or ice creams...but the list hardly ends there. When I saw this coconut bread recipe on Whole Foods, I was completely enamored with the thought of it. However, it calls for white flour, and one of the reviewers said that replacing even one cup of the 3 1/2 with wheat flour made the rolls turn out badly.

Of course, baking with whole grains can be a bit of an art, and there's more than one type of whole grain flour, so I figured that I would give it a shot. For these rolls, I used whole wheat pastry flour. It's rather expensive compared to white whole wheat flour or regular graham flour, but when you need a white flour consistency? It's the only way to go. I found that the "more for kneading" was quite a bit more, so make sure that you have plenty of flour on hand.

Anyway, the dough rose beautifully and the rolls turned out gorgeous and delicious. We ate them with Cabbage-Leek "Latkes" and Coconut Curry Sauce and spread them with butter and honey. DELICIOUS!

Like most yeast breads, this takes a little bit of time. I would allow about three hours to prepare it, although only about half an hour of that is spent actually working with the rolls. The rest of it is rising time! Also I adjusted the cooking time from the original recipe; whole grain rolls seem to take a bit longer. Since no unsweetened coconut was available at my market, I used sweetened.

Enjoy!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Recipe! Cabbage-Leek "Latkes"

This recipe is one that makes a perfect base for almost any savory topping you can imagine! Not only is it incredibly low in calories (50 per cake!) but the natural flavor of the cabbage and leek can be played up with whatever spices you desire! Leave it simple if you're going to use a strongly flavored sauce, but if you want to use a less spiced sauce, feel free to make the latkes pack a punch!

They are even delicious on their own, perhaps as a side dish. In face, I wished I had served them that way after trying a piece of a "naked" griddle cake....but I'll know better next time, right? The recipe as relayed here is vegetarian, but if you have some leftover ham or bacon, they would taste delicious in these!

I made them with a coconut curry sauce and served them with whole-wheat coconut rolls, recipe to come! The original recipe came from Whole Foods. I tweaked my own recipe just a bit and added more spice, but I imagine the recipe is very good as-written too. Also, I found that my batter was too dry and I added an additional egg and approximately another tablespoon of whole wheat pastry flour. They turned out perfectly!! This recipe is very easy. The prepwork was time consuming for me, as cutting two leeks into matchsticks seemed to take forever, but if you know a quicker way to accomplish that, it would be quick prep as well.

Enjoy!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Recipe! Black Bean Quesadillas with Chipotle Carmelized Onions

"Great Mexican food" has different meanings depending on what part of the country you occupy. In the Southern Midwest, we have a fair share of tex-mex restaurants, closer to the border (an out West) they have even more, as well as many authentic Mexican places. But n just about every part of the country, Mexican food means tons of grease, lots of calories, and portions so big to roll out the door afterward. In other words, it's not a friendly cuisine for anyone trying to watch their waistline or eating for a calmer mind.

However, done right, Mexican food can be healthy...and all of those spices and seasonings make a great cuisine to experiment with, to make your own delicious flavor combinations. (I mean, as far as I am concerned? Sweet potatoes and chipotle are a match made in Heaven.) The trick is cutting out the fried food, the extra grease, and on maximizing flavor with spices and whole, high quality ingredients.

When I make Mexican dishes, I love cooking the individual elements separately and then combining them at the end. Using this method achieves the most complex, delightful flavors without adding too much fat. (This as opposed to the Asian wok-style cooking, where everything is cooked in one pan to maximize flavor, usually cooked all together.)

I have included instructions on cooking each element of this dish, and then how to assemble and cook the final product. Make sure that you use an oven proof skillet!

I should be back in full capacity next week. Make, eat, enjoy!!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Recipe! Sour Cream Avocado Sriracha Dip

Remember how I wrote about not over-booking yourself? Looks like I aught to be taking my own advice! The last few weeks have been all kind of crazy, with family visiting, family near-emergencies, financial worries, starting a new job and leaving another, and forty hours of new-job training per week....and on top of it all, I've been fighting a pretty vicious cold....whew! I don't know about you, but I am pretty disinclined to cook anything when my sinuses are completely congested. I tried to make a sauce and I couldn't taste anything! It's discouraging to say the least.

In light of all that, posts have been a little sparse this month and for that I very much apologize. I've got some great recipes to share, too! So I decided to go ahead and share this week's recipes, even if I don't really have the time to write up my usual articles. Never fear! We will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon!

Today's recipe is another dip....a very delicious dip I came up with last week to go with tortilla chips and then later, a quesadilla (recipe to come!) This is a vegetarian (not vegan!) dip, and it's quite healthy. I imagine you could substitute Greek Yogurt for the light sour cream....might be worth a try next time! You cold also serve this with vegetables, pita, naan....whatever your favorite "dippers" happen to be.

I recommend using very ripe, soft avocados. Start with 1/2 t salt and sriracha and adjust from there! Enjoy!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Recipe! Turkey Tamale Pie

I ran across this recipe for Vegetarian Tamale Pies the other day, and knew I had to try it out on my little family. We had beans and extra dry polenta, so it made sense....plus it just sounds delicious, no? Of course, certain members of the household can't stand to eat dishes without meat, so it became necessary to add a little something...

In this case, a little something turned out to be turkey, seasoned with home-made taco seasoning. I also changed a few other details here and there, and lacking in ramekins, bakes the whole thing in a pie dish. It turned out delicious, though the presentation was not nearly as elegant as the original. I would definitely recommend the ramekins if serving to guests or at a party, but for your average weeknight-dinner, cooking this recipe in a pie-dish works out just fine.

As (nearly) always, we added sriracha for spice and flavor. If you aren't addicted to sriracha yet, please understand that you need to put the computer to sleep, run to the store, and buy a bottle. I tell you this for your own good.

For maximum deliciousness, make your own polenta and beans. For maximum quickness, use canned beans and prepared polenta. Whichever works! Cook, eat, enjoy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lifestyle: Taking Your Time

A few recent conversations have brought the subject of technology and lifestyle to mind lately. The more I see people running around trying to get more and more and more done, the more I am reminded of how much life we are missing out on by being in such a huge hurry all the time.

I've written before about how America's stress and anxiety are exacerbated by our frenetic lifestyle, and this very fact seems to be proven to me over and over again. We use our smart phones to tell us where to go, how to get there, we spend our days cooped up behind computers and we rarely make any real human connections anymore, because we are expected to make so many things happen within the confines of a twenty-four hour day.

In a society that values rushing everywhere, taking your time can seem like a luxury that very few can afford. But sometimes you have to set aside your own time and refuse to be rushed...it's the only way to get a moment to yourself!

The first step in reclaiming your time is often the most difficult:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Recipe! Healthy Vegetable Asian Stir Fry

So! I come to you with a new laptop...and a headcold. What a week and a half it has been! And I've realized throughout the madness that when things get very tough, cooking becomes very difficult. I try to encourage my readers to make cooking a pleasurable, relaxing activity. I usually treat it the same way. However, when you just have to get some food on the table and there isn't a lot of time to fuss over it, it's great to have some recipes "in the bag", easy things that can be pulled out without much prep work.

Stir fries can be the star of the last-minute show. If you don't have time to make brown rice, I highly recommend serving them over rice noodles. By using minimal oil and as many vegetables as possible, you can make these one-pot dishes into a healthy, flavorful alternative to frozen, processed foods. Use whatever you have on hand: these ingredients are suggestions only.

Feel free to adjust seasonings to your liking...these measurements are meant as a guide. Delicious when served with Garlic Shrimp in Black Bean Sauce as well! Make, serve, eat, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Technical Difficulties!!

Hello everyone!

What a week it has been! We've had family emergencies, family visiting, I ended one job and started another, and now my laptop has been involved in an accident resulting in possibly having to replace it. I'm trying to get everything pulled together ASAP, but it's all a bit nuts right now!

I will be back with blogs and recipes soon! Until then feel free to look through the archives!

The Calm Cook

Friday, March 11, 2011

Explaining Anxiety To Others

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of having an anxiety disorder is fighting stereotypes, and explaining the various aspects of the disorder in ways that others can understand. of course, you don't have to explain your anxiety to anyone, it's not anyone's business but yours. But at certain times, you might feel as though you need to explain it, or you might be comfortable enough with another person to do so.

In that case, it's good to have an idea in your mind of what you want to say before you actually have this conversation. Not that it will be the same with everyone, and not that you want it to sound canned, but if you've thought through the basic concepts, they will be infinitely easier to convey.

So what need to be covered in a conversation explaining anxiety, and how can you coax understanding out of someone who may have never experienced your particular dilemmas?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Recipe! Garlic Shrimp with Black Bean Sauce

Every once and awhile there's an ingredient or a condiment that you use in one dish that sounds a little...suspect. Usually it's outside the realm of your culinary experience, maybe something you've not tasted before (to your knowledge). For me, recently, this item was fermented (or salted) black beans. I used them first in the Vietnamese Stir Fry that I made a few weeks ago, and realized that they add a lot of flavor to a recipe, despite being a little off the Western radar.

So what are fermented black beans? Well, they aren't the black beans you eat in tortilla soups and quesadillas. They are, in fact, soybeans that have been taken through a fermentation process. You usually rinse them before using and then smash them together with ginger and garlic for a fantastic stir fry seasoning base. I haven't made Black Bean Sauce yet, but I hear it's pretty delicious, and makes for a wonderful condiment.

Since making the Vietnamese Stir Fry, I've been using fermented black beans left and right, and looking for recipes that include them. This is one of the gems I found, lightly adapted from this recipe, best with a vegetable stir fry over rice noodles or brown rice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Non-Partisan Look At Food Safety

"Non-partisan" seems to be a pretty big buzzword lately. Maybe because neither parties seem to be doing much of anything useful or good, and who wants to be associated with that? I've been non-partisan, however, for a long time. Since I came of age, it's been pretty obvious to me that neither party was a good idea, that they were both fundamentally broken, and that politics was full of overinflated egomaniacs and liars, all of them crowing to see who could be heard above the rest of the cacophony.

So, when I say "non-partisan", I'm not secretly pulling for any party's agenda. I really mean non-partisan.

I recently read a few articles that have my hackles raised and my eyes rolling. Simultaneously. It's a scary sight, I'm sure. One was about the new GOP "victory" over biodegradable waste. Speaker Boehner triumphantly tweeted that they had gotten the styrofoam cups restored! To the benefit of....who, exactly? The other was a brief article on Grist that mentioned the GOP trying to close down the poison control centers in the United States to save a whopping $27 million...barely a scratch on the surface of the national deficit. And what are the Democrats doing to stop this? Grumbling. Impotently.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recipe! Crispy Garlic Smashed Potatoes

There's a certain someone in my family who drives a great deal of my cooking and shopping choices. He's the man of the house and the baby of the family, and while he may be fond of my multicultural cooking, too much of it and he will have to have some good old fashioned meat and potatoes, American style. I try to keep this in mind when I meal plan and grocery shop...after all, I could eat curries over brown rice at least once a week, and I love cooking meals that are off the beaten path, but too much garam masala or turmeric and this kid asks for a burger.

Thus after last week's Libyan/Tunisian feast, a good old fashioned meat and potatoes sort of meal had to be constructed. The meat was just your average meatloaf, but the potatoes...

Well, a little while back I got a trial issue of the America's Test Kitchen magazine. America's Test Kitchen comes up with some amazing recipes, but they are often more difficult than it seems like they should be. Still, they tend to produce smashing results, and this recipe is no exception.

Just for the sake of argument, I tried making smashed potatoes the other way (i.e. boiling them then smashing them and baking them) and ...there's no comparison. Roasting is the way to go. This recipe will take about an hour and a half to complete, so it's best served with something that doesn't need the oven. It should be served immediately, hot and delicious. They can be eaten with ketchup...I preferred them without it!

Oh and...the American Food Craving was satisfied. Enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Week of Peace Pt 4 (Recipe: Makhouda D'Aubergine)

There's an old cliche about saving the best for last....and that's certainly the case with today's recipe. Tunisian in origin, Makhouda D'Aubergine is a mix and marriage of Tunisian and French influences. Tunisian food is particularly interesting because it is a vast fusion of the many culture that have, at some point, permeated Tunisian society.

This brings up an interesting point as well. I don't deny that Tunisia has faced many difficulties in it's history. Being overtaken by so many different groups, plus natural disasters and authoritarian dictatorships takes its toll. I would never do or say anything to minimize their struggle. However, with the recent Jasmine Revolution and the current struggle to instill a fair and democratic government for the country, one can't deny that their hardships have made the Tunisian people even stronger.

Their strength and courage have been an inspiration to so many throughout the Arab world, and they have even opened their borders to the Libyan refugees and provided humanitarian aid via their military for those needing to flee. This compassion and strength is a beautiful, wonderful thing. It is truly worthy of celebration.

Of course, this mirrors a very human concept; that life is often very difficult and challenging but that the struggles we face ultimately shape us. If we choose to let them, they can shape us for the better. Hardships are a part of life, and what troubles we face in life become a part of us. We are inevitably shaped by them. However, if we let them, they can galvanize us instead of tearing us apart. If you feel as though life has torn you apart, make this dish and remember that everything leaves a mark...but those marks can be interpreted as something beautiful. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Week of Peace Pt 3 (Recipe: Whole Wheat Pita Bread)

Sometimes it's easy to be intimidated or anxious about our actions today, because we can't stop thinking of their future complications. It's very smart to consider the future when making decisions, and endeavoring not to endanger your future with your present. However, there are times in life when we have to take a "Leap of Faith"...taking a calculated risk and believing that it's worth it to increase our overall quality of life.

In Libya right now, the people are fighting with all of their might. They don't know what will come of their actions, they don't know how their country will function at the end of what is quickly shaping up to be a civil war. And yet, for the sake of their freedom, the must fight. America was in a similar situation nearly 300 years ago. We didn't know where we were going to end up, only where we wanted to be. But the desire for change and the need for freedom was so strong that it was worth the chance.

On a smaller scale, we make these types of decisions...maybe not every day, but several times in our lives, at least. Those moments where we must look at our lives and decide if some decision is worthwhile, if it is fear that is holding us back or caution. If fear hold you back, then I urge you to conquer your fears. And even if you fall, even if your plans don't work out the way you wanted them to, their is virtue in trying. And there's nothing that you can't come back from, even if it's painful.

Fight for what matters to you. Don't let fear dictate your life. Live for peace and love people freely...all easier said than done, but still doable. And that's what matters.

Please enjoy this recipe for whole wheat pitas, which are a million times more delicious than the store-bought variety and healthier too. Adapted from this recipe. Live well, love much, and be willing face your fears head on.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Week of Peace Pt 2 (Recipe: Kofta Meatballs in Libyan Sauce)

It's funny to me, how foreign another culture can feel simply because of the food that it's people enjoy. By the same token, when you sit down and enjoy a meal with another person, it doesn't matter if you come from wildly different backgrounds: you've shared something together, something that you both enjoyed.

Food is funny that way. It can bring people together and it can keep them apart. It's all about the context, and the willingness of two people, or a group of people, to gather around one table and share one another's influences and culture. Americans used to be known for a lack of culinary adventurousness, but we've been getting steadily better. We're much more likely now to try new food from other countries, more likely than ever before.

Maybe a peaceful world seems, to some, a rather naive wish. But if we try for it, surely the world could be better. Nothing is perfect, but with countries at war with one another and within themselves, any improvement would be major improvement. As a cook, as someone who has benefited greatly from a good diet and from the process of cooking with and for others, I don't think it's such a bad idea to start the world-peace process with food. Even people with nothing at all in common can connect over food.

This recipe, Kofta Meatballs in Libyan Sauce, is a wonderful dish to enjoy with a whole group of people. Kofta is an almost universal food around the Mediterranean Middle East. It goes by several different names but the processes and ingredients are similar in all of them. The sauce is what makes it...and you could use all sorts of different sauces. Curry, Korma, Masala...but in keeping with the theme, I used a version of a traditional Libyan "gravy".  Based in tomatoes, garlic, and ginger, this sauce has a delightful mix of spices and goes wonderfully with the kofta.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Week of Peace: Part One & Cumin Tahini Dip Recipe



With all of the unrest in Northern Africa and the Middle East, the international climate has been strained...but at the same time, it's been absolutely joyful. Following the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya has been an amazing experience because the people have been so deeply empowered by them.

There are many freedoms and advantages the First World countries enjoy, perhaps moreso than we even realize. The fact that we can go to a grocery store - whatever grocery store we choose - and spend our own money on whatever food we want to feed ourselves and our families is one of those freedoms. This isn't to say that we aren't dealing with our own problems, because of course we are. Every country, no matter how affluent, has it's own problems. One look at Rhode Island and Wisconsin shows just one of the issues that America is currently facing. However, we have our freedom. It's only right that the rest of the world have the same.

Seeing the coverage of the protests on NPR.org has been so beautiful. Even though it's horrifying to see the lengths that governments will go to in order to quiet their people's dissent, seeing the humanitarian efforts and the way the Libyan Army has defected and joined the people...well, it's a triumph in so many ways. Where it will go from here remains to be seen, but the people are taking their freedom by force, and the painstaking battle for freedom can be the start of something beautiful.

Because of all of this, I decided to cook a Libyan/Tunisian meal with several courses. It was a show of solidarity with the people of North Africa and a nod to all of their efforts. The food was delicious, and I will share the recipes here, but I hope that making these recipes and sharing them with loved ones will encourage the sharing of information and the furthering of freedom.

Please, make these recipes and enjoy, but also remember all those who have been killed in the protests, and celebrate the freedom that the people of Libya are fighting so hard to achieve.

Friday, February 25, 2011

'Proud to be a Pig" And Other Unhealthy Views

If you've kept a passive eye on the news this week, you might have seen Rush Limbaugh's incendiary words about Michelle Obama and her Let's Move program. To put it in a nutshell, he said that Mrs. Obama was asking everyone to eat tofu and cardboard, and that she wasn't practicing what she was preaching because a) she doesn't look like a swimsuit model, b) Alex Rodriguez wouldn't date her and c) because she ate a spare rib dinner on holiday this past weekend. 

I mean, obviously, there's more wrong with that entire tirade than I care to cover in a single blog. But I was outraged, partly because I think the Let's Move program is one of the better things going on in politics, but also because of Limbaugh's assertion that, in order to be healthy, one must be a model and eat nothing of any substantial value. 

In this article on Grist.org, Ms. Zimmerman put it perfectly: "Nothing jacks up health promotion like the idea that health is for other, better people."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recipe! Curried Coconut Chicken

If you haven't tried Coconut Brown Rice yet, the time is now! I know at first it seems like a somewhat overwhelming dose of coconut for one meal, but trust me...the flavors pair together very well (and coconut is delicious, seriously).

This curry was adapted from a recipe found here, and really, I hardly changed anything. Just a little more of this and less of that, but it turned out beautifully. Everyone in the house loved it, and the leftovers were delicious, cold or hot, the next day. The texture is smooth and rich, a classic curry, decadent enough to serve to guests and simple enough for a weeknight meal.

If you want to add vegetables to this, I recommend mushrooms, perhaps peas...but not much else. I served this over the rice with dry-fried coconut flakes and fried shallots on top, alongside a green leafy salad with avocado. It was a well rounded meal...but watch out, this is very filling! A small portion will leave you stuffed,  so be careful not to overeat.

Enjoy!!

Mental Health: Why "Crazy" is so Detrimental

I've heard several stories recently, both fiction and non, where the protagonists were advised to see a therapist or take medication for mental or emotional issues that they were taking, and the response was, "But I'm not crazy!!"

Frankly, this bothers me on many levels. According to NIMH (The National Institute for Mental Health), over one-fourth of the American population suffers from a diagnosable disorder. That's one in every four Americans! And beyond that are the many who do not, perhaps, have a mental illness but need help dealing with traumatic life events or other difficulties.

The point being that seeing a therapist, taking medication, or eating differently and exercising to treat mental illness does not make you "crazy". If anything, those who do seek help and treatment should be applauded...in a society that persists in stereotyping anyone who even hints at a mental diagnosis, it takes a lot of balls to take active steps toward bettering yourself.

So why is it that seeking help makes us feel like we might be "crazy"?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Recipe! Coconut Brown Rice

Coconut brown rice...just the name is enough to get me salivating. The nutty flavor of that brown rice with the sweet notes of coconut, add some toasted coconut on top...mmmm. When someone mentioned having coconut brown rice for dinner recently, I couldn't help myself...I had to make it.

So I browsed through recipes and found one I liked right here, but on my search I also ran into a tip: coconut rice goes well with fried shallots. Well. I just so happened to have some shallots that really needed to be used, so that suited me just fine.

Of course, I don't often advocate frying....ever, or at all. It's usually a very bad thing for the anti-anxiety diet, as well as for your BMI. However, a few crispy shallots on a bed of whole grain rice? I think we can handle it, yeah?

This recipe is quite good, but I made a few of my own alterations. If you do not buy "sweetened" coconut milk, but you want the rice to be sweet, then you will need to add some sugar. I thought that it was creamy, delicious, and just right without any added sweetness, but it's a matter of taste.

Enjoy!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Nutrition: Healthy Kids, Healthy Teens, Healthy Family

The other day I ran across this article, highlighting the struggle of busy teens to find time to eat in their cram-packed schedules. The article discusses the fact that many teens simply do not have the time to eat lunch, that they are so busy with classes, activities, and extracurriculars that they are lucky if they can grab a bite of dinner.

Frankly, this doesn't surprise me. My family has always been quite hardworking, to the point of losing sleep, skipping meals, and etc. It's just how we are, how we've had to be to make ends meet, and I know that we aren't alone. There's nothing at all wrong with being hardworking, but the frenetic pace of the average American life hardly leaves time or room for health considerations.

Take cooking for example. When I talk to people about eating an anti-anxiety diet, the biggest objection I get is "But I don't have time to cook!" And frankly, I understand. When I started this diet I was working fifty-something hours a week, and now I work seventy-something. Maybe more. It's hard to think that cooking sounds convenient when you've got so many other things on your plate simultaneously.

Which is precisely why it is so important to change your lifestyle, not just your diet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lifestyle: The Importance of Eating Breakfast

[For balanced breakfast recipes, see these recipes: Soyrizo Scramble and Steel Cut Oats]

So, unless you have completely ignored all heath and nutrition advice for the last several years, chances are you've heard or read at some point that you really, truly, ought to be eating breakfast. Old hat, right? Maybe even dead horse, and yet, for some reason, so many Americans still skip their breakfasts.

Now, let's not mistake breakfast for a high-calorie, low-nutrition, high-sugar "snack" scarfed down during the commute: a doughnut and latte is absolutely not a good breakfast. If you need something quick, you'll save time, money, and calories by grabbing a Clif bar and a cup of coffee from your eco-friendly French Press....or at least from the old percolator. After all, a quick, nutritious breakfast is better than nothing, but a balanced breakfast is better than anything.

A balanced breakfast will help you wake up, concentrate, eat less throughout the day, lose weight, will give you more strength and endurance, will lower your cholesterol and will improve your memory. As a fairly young person with a heinous memory, that last benefit caught my eye and perked my ears more than the others on the list. Of course I've eaten a balanced breakfast nearly every day since I started eating for an anti-anxiety lifestyle, and I do think my memory has improved...I just had no idea the two could be linked.

But how do you create a balanced breakfast?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recipe! Perfect Steel Cut Oats (with variations!)

Steel cut oats seem to cause a bit of confusion. They don't look like instant or quick oats, they have a nuttier flavor and a more toothsome texture, and when you cook them, you must use more water. All of these elements set them apart from your regular, garden variety of oats, and can make them intimidating to prepare.

Honestly, though? They are so delicious, nutritious, and filling, and the preparation is hardly more than dumping them in a pot and letting it boil for about half an hour...easy as pie, and healthier to boot. These make a great breakfast because they are a whole grain, low calorie (150 calories in 1/4 cup, dry), and they can be dressed up or down. They stick to your ribs and give you a good, slow burning, complex carbohydrate boost of energy first thing in the morning, when you really need it. Basically, it's hard to find a more perfect way to start your day.

The recipe is so easy that I've provided a couple of variations for you to try. You can change this around, mix and match flavors, change sweeteners or fruits, and basically customize these oats any way you want.

Enjoy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

My Top 10 Sustainable Products

Earlier this week I wrote about living a more sustainable lifestyle, but sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start! Certain parts of the country seem to have caught on to sustainability and climate-consciousness - see San Francisco's legendary waste management - but in the smalltown Midwest and South, I don't think we've managed to really acknowledge that we need to change, much less make any sort of move toward sustainability.

Because of this, it's sometimes difficult to know what to do or where to start for anyone who wants to live a more ecologically sound or sustainable lifestyle. For that reason, I've outlined some of my favorite products below! Even if you can only start small, every little bit helps.

10. Re-usable Shopping Bags - Many stores and chains are actually beginning to eliminate their plastic and paper sacks, so this is a great product to invest in if you haven't already. These bags are not only more convenient (you can fit a great deal more in them and they don't break) but they are often made from post-recycled content, at least in part. You can buy them in various sizes, insulated and non. Whole Foods Markets will eve, donate five cents for every reusable bag you bring in!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Recipe! Soyrizo Breakfast Scramble

I love the flavor of Mexican chorizo, but to be honest, the "mystery meat" aspect of it is less than appealing. The first time that I had a recipe that called for chorizo, I went to the market and found a tube of it, and as I always do with new brands, I checked the ingredients.

...woah. Can I just say, I don't care how natural, organic, grass-fed, local, clean, and delicious your beef or pork is...I have no desire to eat lymph nodes. The lymphatic system runs all through the body picking up waste, toxins, disease, and other nastiness, and filtering it through lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are basically the sewage plants of the body. Some people don't have a problem with that, I am definitely not one of those people. I tossed the recipe.

So this time, knowing what I wanted (chorizo) and that my market's chorizo was...not something that I wanted to consume, I went straight to the produce section and picked up a package of Soyrizo for a little over $2.00.

When it comes to soy-based meat substitutes, I don't usually recommend them for a variety of reasons. Soy is being overproduced right now, much like corn, and we get enough of it from products that don't advertise their soy protein. It's in so many different products that consuming a product made of soy pretty much pushes you past the edge of "moderation". However, having a little soy creamer in your coffee or eating a little Soyrizo every once and awhile? It wont hurt, just make sure it's every once and awhile.

So I had this recipe brewing in my head, a Chorizo Breakfast Scramble...filled with goodness and spiced with Sriracha (because I, like many other bloggers right now, am hopelessly addicted to Sriracha). We had (yet another) snow day today, and I took the opportunity to try out the recipe. According to my taste tester/garbage disposal (he's seventeen), it was a huge success...and I agree. This recipe uses whole grains (corn tortillas!), fresh produce, and the only dairy is in the topping. You can tailor it to your tastes! If you prefer a spicier recipe, add some jalapeƱos or extra Sriracha. You can add more vegetables as well!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lifestyle: Eating Sustainably

Perhaps the awareness began in the sixties with the hippie movement or perhaps it happened more recently...but there's no question that many Americans are beginning to seek the sources of their food just as ardently as they assess the flavor and nutritional profile. The truth is, it's virtually impossible to become more aware of the food that you are eating without also becoming aware of the problems of the local farmer, the changing climate, species extinction...you name it. 

But there are so many groups clamoring for attention, so many companies claiming to be so many things, sometimes it feels a little insurmountable to decipher it all. How do you know what brands to buy, and what to avoid? What does "sustainable" mean, and how is it regulated? Are these foods healthier? Is organic enough? Sometimes a trip to the grocery store can feel more like a guilt trip than a shopping trip, and that's when you know...something has to change.

But knowledge is power, undoubtedly, and with a little knowledge, your trip to the market should become much less frustrating.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Recipe! Vietnamese Stir Fry

Recipe Ruts. You know what I'm talking about...those times when everything seems old and bland and overdone, when you look at your pantry and think there can't possibly be any new, interesting way to put these same old ingredients together....can there? It's frustrating for any cook, and unfortunately, it's exactly what I found myself fighting with this week while I tried to conjure up a meal plan.

Fortunately, I know the secret of breaking recipe ruts and that is, without a doubt...try something different! Not just a little different, but a lot different. Pick a country whose cuisine you haven't ever made, and if you've made cuisine from every country or the ingredients aren't available, just pick something you've never done before. You can try a new take on an old classic, or take a real risk and go out on a culinary limb...just stretch yourself and enjoy the feeling of freedom!

The cure for my rut was Vietnamese food. It's something I've wanted to try my hand at for awhile because of the interesting blend of spices, the ingredients, all the cultures that have contributed to it. It's a delicious type of food and in my town, if you want Vietnamese food, you have to make it yourself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Recipe! Basic Burgers

I know, I know, burgers are a summertime food...in fact, being in part of the country that is under twenty-some inches of snow right now, making burgers is almost laughably absurd. Nevertheless, when I asked the family what they wanted me to make for our (second) snow day dinner, the reply was "Burgers!", and thus burgers I made.

The thing about making burgers is that they will always, always, always be better on a grill. No matter how well seasoned or delicious, a burger simply isn't as good in a skillet as it is on a grill. However, our grill is mostly buried in the snow, just like everything else in our yard, so skillet-burgers would have to suffice. Of course, I wasn't about to resign myself to sub-par burgers, so I came up with this recipe, and served them with Sweet Potato Fries. The taste-testers loved it, so I want to share it with you here.

Now, the key to any good burger is good beef. I recommend, of course, local organic grass-fed beef, but if that isn't available get the leanest, highest quality beef you can find/afford. With the fillers, antibiotics, and hormones that beef can contain, it's completely worth using a higher quality type. Also, don't be afraid to be a little heavy handed with the seasonings. If you like spice, use extra sriracha or pepper! Beef has such a strong flavor, it isn't easy to overwhelm.

You can cook these burgers on a grill or in a skillet, and serve them with or without cheese. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So how are diet and anxiety related?

I received an excellent question the other day in the comments; how, exactly, are diet and anxiety related? It's true that this blog is geared more toward those who have heard about or discovered the link to anxiety on their own, and are looking for ways to apply this new knowledge to their everyday experience and practices. However, for those of you who are looking for ways to cope with anxiety, mild or crippling, and have come across this blog...you deserve answers as well.

Allow me to preface this by stating in no uncertain terms that I am neither a doctor nor a mental health professional. I'm just a writer and food enthusiast who struggles with anxiety, and desires to help others. If you are suffering from anxiety, you should seek help from a medical doctor or a mental health professional. I stumbled across the anti-anxiety diet because I couldn't afford a doctor, and if that's an issue for you as well...then I would encourage you to try a lifestyle change. However, a lifestyle may not be enough, through no fault of your own. If that is the case, please contact your local Mental Health Association; there are many programs that provide low-cost or free help for those who can demonstrate a need.

With that said, this is the link between food and anxiety, to the best of my knowledge.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recipe! Healthy Oven Fried Chicken

I'm not entirely sure what it is about meat and potatoes. Not to stereotype but it seems that the men in my life are particularly fond of this down-home combination. For one of my taste testers, I can make all sorts of dishes, gourmet or gastronomically complex, but none of it even remotely compares to good old fashioned meat and potatoes.

Where I live, we're a little bit between the South and the Midwest...though technically Midwest, a lot of the Southern ways are inherent in our culture, depending on the family you're born into or the group of people with whom you spend your time. One thing we've undoubtedly borrowed from the South? Fried chicken. Most people I know love it and eat it in abundance, which is delicious but very unhealthy. One of the major points in the anti-anxiety diet is avoiding fried foods, and while it's fine to indulge every once and awhile, save those indulgences for special occasions.

This recipe is not for a special occasion dinner, but rather a more casual affair, something with friends and family and people that you love. Because what is comfort food for, if not for sharing with the people that you love?

This recipe is low calorie, whole grain, totally healthy and absolutely delicious. Adapted from Ellie Krieger. Warm your leftovers in a toaster oven to ensure crispy results. And most of all, enjoy!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Perspective: What Food Means Pt. 2

We spoke earlier in the week about the meaning of food on a global, put-down-your-weapons-and-pick-up-your-baguettes sort of scale, but there's a second side to food that's much more personal. It's no more or less important than the global food crises, which might seem a little ludicrous to say, but please hear me out.

What I'm referring to is the mental and emotional impact of food on a personal level...the way I feel when someone makes a meal for me, or when I can cook for others, the warmth and comfort of soups or curries, the delight of a home made truffle. Yes, it's a small scale and yes, it doesn't immediately appear to change the world, however; food communicates love. And in its own ways large and small, love is the only thing that ever really does change the world for the better, isn't it?

Whenever I cook for people, I imagine that I am, in some way, directly transmitting my love to them. Not "love" in the sense that I consider them my closest friends or akin to family or any of that...it's more of a love for my fellow man. It may seem kind of silly but with just the right soup or curry or with a long-slaved-over risotto or the perfect roasted vegetables, I can feel all that effort as love for whoever I'm cooking for. When they take their first bites and their eyes get big and they tell me it's delicious, I believe they can feel that love.

So what does all this matter? Well, our society continually pushes a solitary and self-reliant existence. We have to actively go beyond the realm of what's considered "normal" to connect to other people, not via keyboards and screens but to actually, legitimately connect, which seems to be a lost art these days. Making food for someone can bridge that gap.

But another use for food - perhaps more important - is a silent affirmation of affection, love, and comfort. When someone close to you needs comfort and you don't know how to give it, baking bread for them or making a meal can be a great start. It shows that you care enough to take the time out off your day to create something specifically for them. We are rarely shown that kind of individual attention anymore and therefore, becoming the recipient of it has a potent effect...not to mention that it can open up the lines of communication.

Beyond being a necessary substance to sustain life, food carries with it all sorts of abilities to elicit emotion, to comfort and nourish and to heal. It's important that we not forget this effect for our own well-being and that of others.

Cook for the ones you love.

The Calm Cook

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Recipe! Turkey with Sweet Potato Dumplings

In the spirit of the articles this week, the recipes I'm posting are also exploring the mental and emotional impact of food. This one in particular is, undoubtedly, a comfort food. Basically a one-pan meal (though I would recommend serving with a salad), this recipe goes together easily and contains all whole foods. It's healthy, warm, delicious and inviting, and it smells fantastic!

I adapted this one from the Whole Foods Market version, which uses white flour and only salt and pepper as spices (for shame!). Here at the Tranquil Kitchen we simply can't accept white flour as an answer and seasoning is a little heavy handed. Feel free to adjust and intuit your seasonings....I'm sure any number of combinations would work!

The taste tester's loved this, and considering the kind of weeks we've had lately...comfort was a welcome guest. We had most of an oven-roasted turkey left over from a previous meal, but you could easily use a rotisserie chicken or a turkey breast. If you don't have any whole wheat pastry flour, I am sure white whole wheat flour or regular whole wheat flour would work just fine.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perspective: What Food Means Pt. 1

"I wished the whole world was dead serious about food instead of silly rockets and machines and explosives using everybody's food money to blow their heads off anyway." -Jack Kerouac


There's something about this quote...in fact, there's always been something about this quote for me. I read it for the first time when I was fourteen years old and I was discovering (and consequently falling in love with) Jack Kerouac. It's from his novel Dharma Bums which is not as iconic as On The Road but is one of his many well-known and loved works. I remember thinking that this concept of food was revolutionary, in a way, despite being so...obvious. 


The thing about food is that, as a culture, we Americans seem to have an almost innate misunderstanding of it.  Every culture approaches food differently...in fact, it's one of those things that defines a society. Take the French, for example; internationally revered for their cuisine, not only because it is time-honored and delicious, but also because they take the time and the effort to enjoy it. By their lifestyles, the French show an appreciation for food and for the power of food, for the emotions that a meal can elicit, a respect for what they choose to imbibe. 


In contrast, Americans seem to view food as a necessary evil. We drive through the nearest fast-food joint in an effort to eat something that will leave us feeling "full" for the least amount of money necessary, often paying little attention to the nutritional value of that thing we just ordered, distracted too much by the $0.99 price tag. Do we consider what sort of meat must be in something for it to be only $0.99? Not as often as we should, clearly.


Consider the Kerouac quote...if all the money that was spent making bombs and guns and other things that were meant to hurt and kill people was instead redirected to the food supply...can you imagine how much the world would change? Would anyone ever go hungry? Absolutely not. Animals wouldn't need to be mistreated anymore because we would have the means to encourage sustainable, cruelty-free farming. We could take the scientists who's job it was to research bio-warfare and retrain them to research enriching our food supply. 


Clearly, this is idealistic and I understand that. But is there anything wrong with idealism in the first place? Ghandi was idealistic, Martin Luther King Jr. was idealistic...Many of the world's greatest minds have been dreamers and idealists. Perhaps most importantly, the world will never improve unless a lot of people dream, and unless their ideals are sought. 


There are studies coming out left and right about how many families in the United States aren't stable enough to know that, every day, they will have enough to eat. We are (for now) the richest country in the world and we still have hundreds of thousands of citizens who can't really be sure they will have enough food to last until payday. And yet we are fighting a war that never should have started and building a government in another country while paying them money to establish their own nuclear arms program. It's ludicrous. 


Food is one of our basic needs, in fact, one of the most basic. It's simply Maslow's hierarchy; we can't focus on bigger problems until these basic needs are met. Perhaps the reason why we are having so much trouble with diplomacy and politics and vitriol-spewing public figures and wars and weapons programs and national health and all these crazy things is that, at the heart of it all, there are hundreds of thousands of us that can't eat and hundreds of thousands of us being foreclosed and no one connects to anyone anymore except virtually which leaves the entire spectrum of our basic needs unmet. 


Food gets passed over but it's one of those things we really ought to be dead serious about. 


And in the end, being serious about food would and could change everything. Think about it. Food nourishes people...it gives people life, brings people together, it makes people feel better. Food bridges every gap because we all need it and everybody loves it in some form or another. The lack of it is always negative, but no matter how much food we have, when we share it we are giving more than just nourishment...we are giving warmth and love. Food is unique in that it can inspire so very much, even in very small supply. 


In the end, I can't say this better than Kerouac...but consider that he wrote that book over fifty years ago and that lesson, that dream, that ideal has yet to be realized at all. In fact, we've gone so far the opposite direction that it seems we might never be able to pull back. And yet the power is, and always has been, in the hands of the people. If we take up our dreams and our ideals peacefully, and yet with great conviction, anything can happen. It could begin with making sure that no one in this country went hungry, and extend in ways we can't predict or imagine. 


The Calm Cook

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recipe! Spicy-Cool dip

This might just be the easiest recipe that I have ever posted. I stumbled across it by accident last week after making black bean enchiladas and then discovering that I had no salsa to top them with. What I did have in my fridge was a big bottle of sriracha and about half a container of light sour cream.

Many people that I know have never cooked with sriracha...they recognize the bottle but have been either too scared to try it, or just didn't find that bright red color very appetizing. But the stuff is addicting, and if you don't watch yourself, you'll start using it for everything. An entire cookbook devoted to the stuff was just released this month, and I've seen it popping up on the blogs more and more often.

What makes sriracha so addictive is the medley of the flavors; the intense heat of the chilis, the savory garlic notes and the tang of vinegar that sets off the other flavors. It's very spicy and unique and good in...well, almost everything. If you aren't a fan of the spicier thins in life, I would use it in extreme moderation...it's hot!

This dip is both spicy and cool, and can be edited, added to, and changed to suit your individual tastes. I've added a few suggestions, but I recommend trying it in it's simplest form first. It is absolutely delicious on enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, or just with whole grain or blue corn chips. I would also think it would be delicious on eggs, as sriracha alone is delicious on eggs. Without further ado:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Lifestyle: Prioritizing

It's so easy these days to get...beyond busy. Not just run on the mill, working eight hours a day busy, but the kind of busy where you don't have a spare moment from dawn until midnight and you still haven't finished everything that you need to accomplish. Some people love being busy and others hate it, but I happen to fall into former category. If I'm not busy, I don't know how to handle myself. (How I balance that particular quirk with an anxiety disorder, I have no idea.)

But whether you are happily busy or about to tear your hair out with frustration, the most important part of balancing your busy life is by choosing your priorities. Even though it can feel like life is running you, you still have the right and the ability to choose how you are going to run your life, what you will prioritize and what you will put above everything else. It's necessary for your health, mental and physical, to make those distinctions

There's something to be said for knowing when to start and when to stop, when to set something aside for later and when to go for it full tilt, not letting anyone or anything get in your way. Sometimes its as simple as knowing when to let yourself take a break.

This week, I'm afraid I have to make that distinction. I've had several tumultuous occurrences in the past week, and this week upcoming is the final week of my current day job, which is closing. I have four big projects I'm working on and meals to cook for my family, a very intense last-week's schedule and, this past weekend, an unexpected trip out of town. I think I just need a few days off and next week I will be able to come back, good as new. Until then, try a recipe and tell me what you think!

I wish you all the very best and I will return next Tuesday with a brand new recipe, tried and true as always.

The Calm Cook

Friday, January 14, 2011

Recipe! Gyro-Style Chicken Over Quinoa

Photo by Carole Liston


This is one of those great dinners that can (mostly) be prepared ahead of time, ready to throw together at the last second on a busy weekday night. The flavors are fresh and delicious, the ingredients are whole and healthy, and the dish is highly nutritious and low in calories. A great dinner for those watching their caloric intake or just wanting some great flavors.

Gyro's have been popular street food for some time...though they are often made with white-flour pitas and lamb meat. Personally, I love lamb...but it's expensive in this part of the country, and not overly easy to come by. So I took a recipe from the Whole Foods website and adapted it to fit our budget (and easily accessible pantry items). Quinoa provides a whole grain, unprocessed alternative to that pita, and the spices and flavors meld together deliciously in the end results.

I will say, when it comes to thinly slicing chicken, you will have a MUCH easier time if it is at least partially frozen. Your fingers will be cold, but trust me...it's so worth it.

The original recipe calls for red peppers, which would be an excellent addition (along with the onions...I think the onions are totally necessary!) Just chop them small. I put the cucumber sauce through a food processor to make it creamier as well...it was delicious, but a little thin. I might grate the cucumber with a fine grater next time instead. The taste-testers loved this, although one of them said that he wanted the whole thing, quinoa and all, on a pita. I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

Anyway, enjoy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recipe! Basic Quinoa

Quinoa is one of those foods that's so delicious and so simple to make, it's hard to believe all of the benefits of eating it. Not only is it a gluten-free whole grain, but quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) actually contains all eight essential amino acids. It's filling and can be incorporated into lots of recipes, makes a great vegan dish but also goes well with meats of various sorts, and is generally versatile and useful.

Quinoa has been making a stir for the last year or so, becoming very popular among the vegan, health conscious, and gluten-free circles for all it's benefits. It's a great addition to your pantry and can be used in place of rice. Best of all, it's insanely simple to make!

Most basic recipes call for water, but I find it to be more flavorful to use vegetable broth. You can use either, but if you use water, make sure to add some salt!

Basic Quinoa


1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable broth (or water)

1. Rinse quinoa in a very fine strainer (some varieties come pre-rinsed, making this step unnecessary, though it's probably still a good idea). When water runs clear, transfer to a pot and add vegetable broth or water/salt.

2. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Set aside for 5-10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and serve!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shopping Smart: "Healthy" vs. Healthy

It's one of those perplexing conundrums of our every day lives: the health industry in America is...almost terrifyingly enormous and in many cases, lucrative, and yet, our country is one of the most unhealthy in the First World. We are bombarded with "healthy" new products, "healthy" new diets, and "healthy" new foods left and right, but there's a disconnect, because upon inspection of the ingredient list, these foods aren't very healthy at all.

A lot of this happens with food that caters to an "alternative" diet. For example, if you choose to become vegetarian or vegan for environmental or health reasons, don't replace your meat with any of the most popular or readily available meat substitutes...they often contain chemicals for taste, for preservation, for color, and a number of other uses...combine that with the processes that have to be used to make the products and suddenly they aren't so 'green' or so 'healthy' anymore.

Meat substitutes are only one example. A great number of the products generally marketed to the public as being health foods simply aren't...and companies can put all kinds of things on the labels of their products without answering for them at all. What's important to watch out for is the ingredients list. You can be as careful with this as you'd like; depending on your personality an lifestyle it might be easier to practice "clean Eating" (For a fabulous Clean Eating resource, see The Gracious Pantry) or just try to incorporate more whole foods and less processed. What matters most is using a method that works for you.

Incorporating less "healthy" food and more healthy food into your diet can seem confusing at first, but there are a few key principles that can help you choose the best foods for yourself and/or your family.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Recipe! Taco Stew AND bonus: Taco Seasoning

Taco stew is one of those delicious comfort foods that is usually chock full of sodium and other processed foods, mainly due to the seasoning in it. However, it's winter, it's cold, and there's nothing in the world like a hot stew to take the winter's edge off. Whether you're in one of the areas that's in a cold snap or one of those that is unseasonably warm, using available winter vegetables and home-made seasoning mixes can result in a delicious and healthy version of this well-loved stew.

Not to mention, having a container of home-made taco seasoning can come in handy for all sorts of last-minute, budget friendly dinners.

I used the same concept for this stew that I used for Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas, since the flavors go so well together. Add in some seasonings, salsa, and frozen corn, and this is an easy weeknight recipe with enough nutrition to make any health-conscious cook happy. It's also easily adaptable for vegan and vegetarian households!

Try this recipe tonight, and your stomach (and family) will thank you. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Damaging Inconsistencies in the American Mindset

I've mentioned before that America's current problem with obesity and anxiety can be attributed to the inconsistencies in our culture, but it appears to be something that's becoming more accepted and challenged by popular culture. Food News Daily is back from their Holiday break (and thank god, too...I missed them!) and in their January 3rd newsletter they linked this article from slate.com.

The struggle that Ms. Tarlin talks about in this article is one that I believe we all can relate to, but I also believe that it extends far beyond the issue of food. Yes, we face the difficulty of trying to reconcile knowing what we aught to eat with what we actually eat...but we are also bombarded with "cures" and reliefs for stress and anxiety and yet we most likely pass them by. Sure, if their effects are dubious then it's a good idea to ignore their claims. However, certain best practices are passed over again and again, simply because we don't believe that we have the time or don't enjoy the activity.

Take yoga, for example. Personally, I hate yoga. I know that it's very good for you, I know that it increases circulation, that it eases the mind and body, that it limbers up muscles and joints, that those who practice yoga regularly look and feel much better for it...and yet, I can't make myself do it. As a chronic multi-tasker with an anxiety disorder the slow, methodical movements and periods of focused breathing drive me insane. And asking me to "clear my mind" is just basically a joke. I dream in fast-forward, so sitting still and focusing on nothing simply...isn't going to happen.

Fortunately, my hatred for yoga made me realize something.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Recipe! Peruvian Roasted Chicken

It's not often that I take a recipe as it is written and make it exactly to specifications...honestly, I like intense flavor combinations and unexpected spices, and even if I don't throw a huge spin on things, I usually try to enhance what's there. Cooking intuitively is one of the best skills to develop in the kitchen, and I often use it to create new recipes or put a twist on what's already there.

But every once and while, I find a recipe that needs no major improvement or change, and when I find those...well, I pass them along to you! This particular recipe came from the Whole Foods Recipe website. Generally speaking, the recipes on that site are a good place to start...but rarely delicious as-written. This chicken recipe is an exception.

Because my family dislikes bone-in chicken (and I'm no fan either, truth be told) we used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The only other change that I would make would be to add a few tablespoons of brown sugar to the spice mix...but only if you like a little sweet with your spice! This recipe is easy, simple, fairly quick, and most of all, absolutely delicious. Enjoy!