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recipe link: vietnamese sweet potatoes with beef

8 Feb

This, my friends, is officially the most delicious dish I made in 2011. It’s from the Food Matters Cookbook, and it’s fantastic.

I have to warn you, though, that when I made it (all four or five times!) it looked–well–not like the photo.

It looks like orange glop.

But trust me. Try it. It is soothing and satisfying without being boring–comfort food, but with an exotic spin.

The only change I made was to cut the oil back to one tablespoon. I used olive oil, as I generally do, because that’s what’s next to the stove, and it was plenty. I worry with stir-fries that olive oil will burn; that might happen if your stove gets really hot, so use your judgement and pick something with a higher smoking point if you have a really hot range instead of a sissy stove like mine.

I am loving this cookbook more and more, by the way, and I recommend it. This recipe is typical: lots of vegetables, a smaller proportion of meat, and enough interesting spices to make the result into something more than you expected. (The braised chard with chicken and steel-cut oats turns out to be the only thing I’ve ever cooked that somehow fulfills the void left in my life when I stopped cooking chicken breasts in cream of chicken soup from a can, over rice. I have no idea why, but the sauce reminds me of that, in the best possible way.)

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recipe link: Spaghetti Squash Pomodoro

7 Dec

My spouse tasted this when they were handing out samples at Wegmans and came home talking about how good it was. I was a bit skeptical, but I have to admit, he was right. It’s fantastic. 

Spaghetti Squash with Pomodoro Sauce

I’m seriously considering making everything with pomodoro sauce from now on.

food diaries: the secret weapon

30 Nov

You know, I have read the following piece of advice roughly six million times: You should keep a food diary. And it never convinced me. Not for years. I read it and thought, “Eh. That sounds annoying, plus I already know what I eat.”

But I finally started doing it. And you know what? It is amazing.

It’s not just a matter of knowing what you eat (although of course most of us are not as aware of that as we think: when you look back at your day, it’s easy to forget about that half of a cookie that you shared with your toddler or the handful of crackers you munched while you cooked dinner). It’s also about seeing the patterns of when you eat, whether you miss meals or snack all the time or wait until dinnertime to try to cram in all of your vegetables. For me, the most interesting thing about it is that it shows me how my nutrients break down–lunch is my biggest problem, it turns out, both in terms of eating empty calories and of failing to eat vegetables or protein. It’s much easier to eat some crackers or pop some popcorn than to make a real lunch, especially since I’m only at home for lunch a couple of days a week (a lot of the time I’m eating that meal in between teaching classes).

Seeing that pattern encourages me to improve it. Even if I’m not likely to start making gourmet lunches 7 days a week, it does help me remember that I could be eating an omelet with some vegetables instead of cheese and crackers, for example. Seeing it in print reminds me that if I cook a bit more dinner, I could be eating leftovers instead–a leftover lunch that’s already packed and easy to eat, and one that’s balanced and healthful.

I’ve been using SparkPeople (www.sparkpeople.com), but any of the food-tracking services out there will work (Daily Plate, for example, is another). You could also just use a notebook, especially if you’re not counting calories/nutrients or if you eat the same things often enough that you’ll memorize those foods. I like knowing the basic breakdown of protein/fat/carbohydrates; it helps remind me to eat enough protein. I also really like having an idea of how much sodium I’m eating. All of those things help me remember that every bite I put into my mouth counts; every bite matters. That’s not to say that I can’t eat what I want–one of the other benefits of the food log is that I *do* feel able to have treats, as long as I can see on paper that my general habits are still pretty good.

several ways of looking at an egg…

25 Oct

I am probably not the only PCOS patient who read all of the low-GI diet books and started eating eggs for breakfast–and eventually reached the point of thinking, “I will never ever ever eat another egg.”

For me, at least, breakfast eggs (especially just eggs, by themselves, or with a slice of bacon or something) are unappealing. I don’t like to eat a boiled egg, or a scrambled egg, or any other kind of plain egg.

But I have found that they are a helpful and delicious component of other things. And they’re a great way to balance out an otherwise carb-heavy meal.

For breakfast, if I’m going to eat an egg, I slice an onion and cook it; add other vegetables if I have them (diced tomato, broccoli, whatever’s in the fridge); and then toss in an egg. It’s not the main attraction–more like a sauce for the vegetables.

Similarly, I like an egg on top of steamed asparagus; over rice with stir-fried vegetables; or with a homemade roll and sliced fruit or vegetables. For me, the only way to enjoy an egg is to get it off the center of the plate. I am never going to be a person who likes to just sit down and eat an egg, but they are very good with lots of other things (especially vegetables).

I’ve also found that one egg is plenty. Lots of meal plans or recipes suggest two eggs per person, and that’s one egg more than I’m going to enjoy. But that means that you can have a tasty breakfast with lots of vegetables and add a piece of toast or fruit and still stay within a reasonable calorie range, too.

budget considerations for healthy eating

4 Aug

A friend of mine shared the link to this article about the higher costs of healthy eating. It is true that some dietary habits are more expensive than others, and that processed foods (especially things like hot dogs or boxed pasta with sauce) are very cheap indeed. But there are some ways to eat healthfully and save your dollars. Those techniques usually involve investing some time in planning and food preparation. Here are some of my best ideas for saving money while eating healthfully.

Plan.

Planning your meals helps in a lot of ways, but the most fundamental is this: every piece of food that you have to throw out because it’s gone bad in the fridge is money down the drain. I am as guilty of this as anyone, but I’m making an effort to improve my planning to avoid it.

You can avoid wasting food by planning out your meals (dinners, at least, but all three meals and snacks if you are very organized). That way, you have everything you need for a recipe, but you don’t have a lot of extra things that won’t be needed. You can also plan so that you use up partial containers or bunches: for example, if you’re planning Mexican food on Tuesday, and you know that you won’t use the whole bundle of cilantro, plan to eat Thai curry on Thursday to use up the rest.

Planning also helps you to fit in the prep work you need. If you’re going to eat bean soup, for example, you can plan ahead and put your beans in the slow cooker the night before–it will save you money, because dried beans are cheaper than canned, but it will also cut down on the sodium in your finished meal, and it will taste better (in my opinion, anyway).

You’re often paying for the preparation, not the ingredients, when you buy healthy processed foods (or even unhealthy ones, for that matter). Choose the foods that you really want to buy, like a particular soup that you love and won’t give up, and learn to make the other things you buy from scratch. Restaurants are the same: you pay a lot more for your meal than you would if you made it yourself. Consider how often you eat outside the home when you’re contemplating your grocery budget and think about whether you might do better to make it an occasional treat, if you’re in the habit of going out often. I adore restaurants but try to limit visiting them, both for budgetary and health reasons.

Eat what’s in season.

That might sound confusing or difficult, but it’s really not; what it generally means is, buy the produce that’s cheapest. There will still be some things that are pricey (in my area, for example, you’re never going to see a truly cheap avocado), but a peach that costs 3.99/lb most of the year might cost 1.50/lb when it’s in season.

If you go to a farmer’s market or have a local produce farm or stand, you can usually get an even better idea of what’s in season, and it’s going to be even more delicious (the other big benefit of shopping seasonally).

Use less expensive proteins.

My vision of the ideal diet includes a fair bit of protein, because I seem to do better eating it on a regular basis. But we don’t eat much red meat; I try to focus on more affordable and healthful protein foods. (Full disclosure on this budget discussion: my parents raise Angus cattle, so we have access to free, ethically raised beef. We don’t eat a lot of it, regardless.)

Beans are an excellent source of protein and a very healthful food. I am not a huge fan of them, personally, but we eat them regularly anyway, and I’m finding that I like them more when I cook them more. Acquired taste, I guess (or at least acquired tolerance). Roasted chickpeas are a cheap and healthful snack; dal,  black bean soup, or hummus with pita triangles and vegetables are good dinner options, depending on the season.

I try to serve fish on a regular basis, too, because it has so many health benefits. I haven’t figured out a really affordable source for salmon (if you do, let me know!), so we work it in occasionally and that just becomes part of the budget even though it’s pricey, because it’s so very good for you. The same applies for shrimp, which we get at Costco. I recently discovered swai, which is a white fish similar to tilapia; it’s very inexpensive and was quite good. We also eat a lot of flounder, which is cheaper than most fish.

Prepare your own grains.

Whole grain products can be rather expensive (truly whole-grain crackers, just to name one kind of snack food, are usually pricey and sold by the small box or sleeve). But it’s not hard to cook whole grains yourself and that is very cheap. Rice, barley, steel-cut oats–they’re all very affordable if you can make them the basis of a meal. The barley risotto I posted here recently is a healthy dinner and quite cheap. Some whole grains are even high in protein. (The homemade bread that I bake is high enough in protein that my kids could get enough protein without ever eating meat, if we wanted to.)

Readjust your thinking.

Even when you shop carefully, sometimes it’s going to cost more, especially if it’s worth it to you to buy some prepared foods in healthy versions instead of cooking them yourself. (For example, it might be cheaper to make your own hummus or whole-grain bread, but not everyone has the time or inclination to do that!) But think of it this way: in the United States, we spend very little on food, as a percentage of our budgets, compared to the rest of the world.

The money you spend on groceries will come back to you in the form of lower health-care costs, more energy and better general health, and a longer life. It’s worth it to invest a bit in your healthier foods if necessary. And remember that the most expensive foods you can buy are restaurant foods, so eating in is usually going to save you money even if you’re splurging occasionally on fancy cheese or those pricey artichokes that you just couldn’t pass up in the produce section.

The 100 Days of Real Food Challenge

27 Jul

Just as a disclaimer: I have no intention of embracing 100 days of totally unprocessed food! However, the 100 Days of Real Food website has a wealth of great information, including the guidelines for a 10-day Real Food Challenge. We have houseguests right now, but after their departure, I plan to try the 10-day challenge, just to shake up our habits a bit and give me the extra kick in the pants to look for alternatives to the few highly processed foods that we eat.

This challenge adheres to most of the nutritional ideas that I think are most important; it’s heavily based on the writings of Michael Pollan. Essentially, you eat what you can make yourself. If you buy convenience foods, you avoid the highly-processed ones and look for those that have few (and recognizable) ingredients. She emphasizes local foods, too, which I think is a nice ideal but not necessary for good health. If you can do it, great.

The best parts of the site, though, are the sections with recipes and meal plans and the list of “mini-pledges”–small steps you can take, either permanently or temporarily, to improve the healthfulness and sustainability of your diet. Check it out and get some ideas!

Finally, one last word about this: I think that it can be inspiring to read this kind of thing, but don’t get discouraged if it’s not totally for you. You don’t have to embrace the whole set of rules to make your diet better. I know that we’re very unlikely to give up flavored yogurt in this house, for example. It does have some sugar in it, but my kids love it and it’s high in protein. We just buy the healthiest kind we can find and limit it to a cup a day. If there are things in your life you’re not willing to give up, just find the ideas on the site that DO work for you.

another useful recipe site: Weelicious

31 May

I really like this recipe site, Weelicious. The audience, as you will see, is parents of young children, but I have to say, I find these recipes really appealing myself. A lot of the lunchbox ideas, in particular, are interesting to me!

This is a blog, and it’s updated often. You can also search by category just to get some inspiration.