Uncategorized, What is FOOD?

Making a Mountain out of a Molehill.

Mountains Like Molehills
Image by liesforaliar via Flickr

I have reviewed a lot of diet menus lately and I have noticed that most serving sizes call for 4 ozs of protein (beef, chicken, fish or pork, etc).

Initially when affronted with the seemingly small serving size of 4 ozs, I felt gyped. Four ozs! That seems so small. In a world where we are conditioned that bigger is better, where mammoth sized burgers are the standard, where buckets of chicken and racks of ribs are the norm, 4 ounces seems so…well, puny.

However, if you are like me and like to eat mountains of food, the best way to do so may be the following. I have found that combining those few ounces of animal based protein with tons and tons of non starchy veggies makes an extremely filling, low carb, low-calorie and healthy meal.

First off, we have to figure out what four ounces looks like. Without getting involved with measuring cups, scales and the like, I’ll make it easy for you. Most meats, chicken, fish, etc. are sold by the pound. All you do is buy 1 lb of your whatever meat you want and take it home. Once you are home, simply lay it on a cutting board and cut it in half.  Then, take that half and cut that half in half again. Voila!  Four 4-ounce portions ready to cook. Don’t worry if it is not exact. The food police will not come and arrest you. Wrap the other 3 pieces up and freeze for another time.

Saute 1 pound (or more) of your favorite non starchy vegetable (broccoli, string beans, spinach, asparagus, etc) with a little garlic, olive oil, soy sauce, pepper etc. and add  your newly measured, sliced or cubed 4 ounces of protein and stir till cooked through.

Depending upon your taste, I like to add a tiny amount of chili paste, sesame oil, chopped onion, chopped celery, diced water chestnuts, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Consume the entire mountain of food – guilt free.

Making a mountain (of healthy yummy veggies) with a molehill (of your favorite meat) is the perfect way to eat till you are stuffed without feeling cheated.

Chow for now.

What is FOOD?

Spaghetti Sneak Attack

Plastic sample of spaghetti tomato sauce
Image via Wikipedia

As mentioned in my last post we are “stay-cationing” this Spring Break. In lieu of spending thousands of dollars on a family friendly get-away, we are using those funds to renovate our little beach house.

Since I have been on a cooking frenzy since starting the I Love FOOD Diet, I knew right away that I had to get a new stove. The former one we had –  an old 18″ cheapo electric model with raised electric black coils was certainly not going to make me a culinary master. Besides being super tiny (18 inches!), it took forever to heat, was extremely difficult to clean with those damn coils and on top of that would often blow a fuse.

I splurged on a new deluxe stove/oven. This full 30 inches model is super powerful, heats quickly, has a smooth glass cooktop for easy cleaning and is energy-efficient. Now, there is no excuse not to cook healthy, fresh and low carb meals.

Unfortunately I have yet to break it in as we are still waiting for the electrician to arrive and hook it up.

So, for the past few days, we have been forced to eat take-out food or dine-out every meal.

Although this may not sound like a major problem for most of you, the fact of the matter is that it is darn hard to manage your carb and calorie intake when someone else is doing the cooking. Further its just so tempting to steal a few french fries from your kids plate or dive into the bread basket that they serve at restaurants.

When you cook your own meals, you know exactly what you put in to the pot. You are in control of your portion size, the ingredients and the preparation. You can prepare healthy  low carb accoutrements to serve with your meal. When someone else is in the kitchen, the only thing you are responsible for is…. well, eating.

Such was my case the other night when we ate at the local Italian joint. The kids shared a freshly made thin crust pizza and I ordered a big platter of their special seafood platter. When queried about what exactly is in the special, the waitress enthusiastically described a large bowl full of fresh seafood, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari and scungilli in a fresh tomato sauce.

Everything sounded great except the scungilli. I tried scungilli before and was never a big fan of this sea-snail. The consistency is a little too tough and chewy for my palate. I asked the server to “hold the scungilli” which they thankfully did.

The kid’s pizza came out first. Now I have a love/hate relationship with pizza. I love to eat, but I hate what it does to my figure. Usually I can exercise self-control when around the individual pre-sliced kind you can order at pizzerias in NYC. However, wood-fired, brick oven, fresh pizza pies are my nemesis. I find a hot, bubbly,  thin crust freshly baked pizza difficult  to resist. I preemptively told me kids, “Don’t let mommy steal any of your pizza,”. They happily obliged and quickly pulled the gorgeous fragrant pie over to their side of the table.

By the time my dish came out, I was ravenous. As described, heaping mounds of piping hot fresh seafood was blanketed in a lovely fresh tomato sauce. I tied the plastic bib that the restaurant provided around my neck and dug in. Everything was going well until I reached the lower 1/3 of the bowl. There, concealed by the shellfish was a lovely little pile of homemade spaghetti.

Uh oh. I said as I pointed to the offending carb laden pile.

“Well, you don’t have to eat it,” my husband said to my shell-shocked face.

“I know, but the waitress didn’t say there was going to be pasta,” I stammered, …”and ….the sauce is so good ….and its homemade pasta and…. its been soooo long.” Suddenly, before I realized it, I had greedily slurped a forkful of that delicious pasta into my mouth.

OMG! Its been so long since I had REAL semolina pasta. Having avoided pasta for so long, I completely forgot what it tasted like. And you know what? Its goooooooooooood! I slowly savored two more delicious mouthfuls and then passed the rest to my 9-year-old son. Those three generous forkfuls, along with the mountain of fresh seafood that I just consumed, was just what the doctor orderd. I was full. I was satiated. I was happy.

Its OK to cheat a little. In fact, since I had not eaten pasta in such a long time prior to last night made my little pas de deux with the noodles so much more special. Read my old post “Three Steps forward, Two Steps Back” for further explanation. You have to indulge at least a few times a week. This is the I Love FOOD Diet after all. 🙂

Chow for now!

Uncategorized, What is FOOD?

Is That a Pea in my Pod?

Stir-fried snow peas with prawns - Kao Gang
Image by avlxyz via Flickr

All my life, I have disliked green peas. Growing up, I always dreaded the ubiquitous “vegetable medley” favored at  so many school cafeterias. As a kid, I was not averse to plucking out each and every green pea from my Hungry Man Frozen Dinners lest accidentally consuming one of those green, mushy, mealy and slightly sweet little balls.

Because of my aversion to green peas I eschewed snow pea pods most of life assuming them to be the same dreaded vegetable… only bigger.

It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I finally tried a snow pea pod. I was at a chinese banquet and shrimp with snow pea pods was one of the entrees served. As the waiter ceremoniously served everyone at the table, I did not want to be the only one to say “hold the peas,” so I quietly accepted my fate. I reluctantly tried one snow pea pod.

Surprisingly enough, this snow pea pod did not taste like the green peas of my youth.

Crispy, crunchy and slightly sweet, these pea pods bared little resemblance to the mushy, mealy, overcooked, sweet green mush that I remember being force-fed as a child.

It ends up that although green peas and snow peas are in the same family, they are different foods.  Garden peas or green peas are the seeds that come from the flowering plant pod Pisum Sativum. The pod, round and firm in shape, is technically a fruit, as it has seeds (the peas). However, the peas themselves are considered to be a vegetable. These green peas need to be shelled before eating. The pod is not edible.

Snow peas on the other hand are flat and thin and are meant to be eaten whole. Each snow pea pod has 5 -7 seeds and are relatively flat in shape. The name “mangetout” (French for – eat all) can be applied to this legume and its sister pod, sugar snap peas as both the pod and the interior peas can be eaten.

Then there are the sugar snap peas that are sort of a combo of both. They have plump edible pods that are crispy and crunchy. They do not need to be shelled and can be eaten whole.

Buoyed by my recent interest in experimenting with different vegetables, I decided to cook snow peas pods for the first time.  Having never tried cooking anything remotely resembling a pea before, I did what I alway do and googled “how to cook snow peas pods“. It  seems it is pretty similar to cooking any fresh greens.

First you need to rinse the very well and trim off the woody tips of the snow pea pod. Sautee one small chopped onion, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 1/2 tsp of chopped ginger in some olive oil in a hot skillet for 2 minutes. Then add the cleaned and trimmed snow pea pods into the pot. I added 2 tsp of soy sauce, a teeny bit of sesame oil and some black pepper. I stirred it around and covered the pan for another 2 minutes. Voila, thats it!

The result was a lovely low cal, low carb, crispy, crunchy and satisfying dish. A whole cup of snow peas pods only has less than 5 carbs!

Try eating some snow pea pods. I promise you they do not taste like green peas.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Full Fat Baby!

Lasagna (song)
Image via Wikipedia

I was watching a good friend of mine prepare dinner for me the other night. I was telling him about the absolutely punishing “Total Body Conditioning” class I took that morning at my new home away from home, the Five Points Academy. I somehow managed to perch my still aching gluteus maximus at the counter, observing his culinary skills and trying not to comment on them. I am well aware that  no one likes a “butt- insky,” and kept my mouth shut even while I watched him precariously dice vegetables on an extremely wobbly cutting board. His reasoning why he had the cutting board cantilevered on a rolled up towel was that it would prevent “slippage”. I nodded obediently, gulping nervously as he nearly lost the tip of his pinky while chopping. I suppressed my motherly need to correct him and explain that the correct way to prevent the board from slipping is to unroll the towel, lay it flat on the counter and then place the board on top of the flattened towel.

As he knows that I am on the, I Love FOOD Diet, he courteously adhered to the low carb tenets of the diet and was making low carb lasagna. Instead of using lasagna noodles, he was using thinly sliced eggplant. Instead of deep-frying the eggplant with carb filled bread crumb, he coated the eggplant using fresh grated parmesan cheese and baked them till they were browned. Instead of using regular ricotta cheese, he was using fat-free ricotta cheese….with tons of more cheese added…..Huh?

As he was preparing the filling for the low carb lasagna, I watched him hand shred mounds of fresh parmesan cheese into the bowl of ricotta cheese.

Amused by this somewhat oxymoronic step, I commented, “I like how you add the fat back into the fat-free cheese.”

Full Fat Baby!” he proudly boasted

I thought he was just being ironic and laughed sipping on my cocktail.

He then went on to proselytize on how much he dislikes the fat-free/low-fat options and only goes for the full fat choices. “If you are going to eat, eat it. Don’t be a pu**y about it” he declared.

I nodded in agreement and mentioned that I must have misread the label on the tub of ricotta cheese that I saw him use.

He then whirled around his kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, grabbed the tub in question and ceremoniously presented the label to me. “See!” he said triumphantly. “FULL FAT” while pointing to the label.

I then tried to say as gently as possible “But sweetie, its says “Fat-Free Cheese”

To which the chef said “no it doesn’t, see it says it right there, FULL FAT, while pointing at the FAT-FREE label. “Oh” realizing his error, “You’re right”.

In an effort to capitalize on the publics perceived notion that “low-fat” and “fat-free” are healthier choices, big companies have developed all types of foods that they can slap a low-fat or fat-free label on.

However while these products may very well be fat-free, one needs to question what exactly has been added in its replacement. The fact of the matter is that many companies add bulking agents, fillers, salt, sugar, artificial flavor enhancers and all sorts of chemicals and agents to make the  “fat-free” versions taste like it has… well.. fat.

There is not enough long-term research data about the benefits of low-fat versus the full fat options however given the choice of a natural full-fat product or a fat-free option with tons of additives I would lean toward the former.

My advice would be to avoid the fat-free versions of anything and instead just eat less of the full-fat FRESH versions. Not only will you enjoy your food more but you will most likely be able to satisfy your appetite with less of it.

Applying Buddhas teaching of the Middle Path, “So these who follow the middle path which avoid the extreme of indulging one’s desires and opposite extreme of torturing ones mind and body unreasonably, will find happiness, peace of mind and Enlightenment. This is the fourth Noble Truth leading to the path to end suffering”

I don’t know if applying this wisdom to full fat cheese will help us end our suffering, however it can’t hurt.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

How Do You Cook Short Ribs?

I was wandering aimlessly through the aisles of Whole Foods yesterday morning, looking for some inspiration for dinner that night.

When I asked my kids on the way to school in the morning, what they felt like for dinner, my 7-year-old paused, tilted his head in thought, and after about 30 seconds of “hummmmm, urrrrr, ummmms” piped hopefully, “Mom, make the big chicken“. “Yeah, mom,” added my 9 old hopefully, “Make the turkey-chicken.” For those of you who have read my earlier post, “Taste just like…Chicken?” they were referring to the local, all natural, organic, fresh chicken that they sell at our neighborhood farmers market. However, as the “chicken lady” only comes to the market on Saturdays which was still days away, looks like we were out of luck.

As I knew that I would be making a “Big Turkey-Chicken” on Saturday, I decided to steer clear of buying any poultry. I meandered through the seafood section and seriously eyed a slab of fresh cod filet. I changed my mind last-minute, as I was just not in the mood for seafood.

I steered my still-empty cart over to the meat department studying all the different cuts of meat in the showcase. Boneless Short Ribs – $7.99 lb. caught my eye. Positioned next to it lay another lovely pile of Bone-In Short Ribs for $6.99. I decided right then and there that I was going to make Short Ribs. The only problem was that I have never cooked this cut of meat before and had zero idea as to what to do with it.

“How do you cook short ribs?” I asked the man working behind the meat counter. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Well, it depends if you are cooking the boneless or the bone-in. He went on to elaborate that the boneless short ribs were heavily marbled and would be excellent simply pan seared and served like a steak. Motioning to the bone-in short ribs, he suggested to cook them slowly in a dutch oven or a slow cooker for several hours.

A lady beside me chimed in, “Actually, both would work well in a slow cooker. The bones give the dish a lot of flavor.”

Sold! I bought 1 lb of each and went home.

It’s been a while since I used my good old Crocker. After much trial and even more error with my crock pot, (read my previous post, “Making Peace with my Crocker” for explanation) I have finally mastered the fine art of crock pot cooking.

For those of you who have read my past rants over that ridiculously time-consuming and sloooooooow cooking apparatus, the key to crocking is to just let it sit and stew. Don’t do ANYTHING other than leave it alone the entire time your meal is cooking. Every time you lift the lid off the Crocker, you lose the equivalent of almost 1/2 hour of cooking heat. So, please learn from my mistakes and do not lift the lid every 1/2 hr (as I did with my first experience with the slow cooker). Don’t worry, the food will not run away.

This time, I knew what to do. I carefully unwrapped the short ribs from the brown butcher paper. I then seared the short ribs on all sides until brown and beautiful. many recipes call for dredging the ribs in flour, however as this is the I Love FOOD Diet and flour is a no-no, I skipped that recommendation. I then placed my freshly seared meat in the Crocker. In a separate bowl,  I mixed 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of hoisen sauce and 1/2 cup of red wine. I poured the dark liquid over the meat and topped it with 3 chopped scallions, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger and  2 carrots.  I then pushed the “low setting” button and pried myself away from the Crocker for the next 8 hours.

What came out was an utterly delicious, restaurant quality, rich and satisfying meal. I served the short ribs with roasted cauliflower and liberally poured the juices over the meat and the veggies. Yummy!  Finger lickin, lip smackin good. 🙂

Tip: If you want to thicken the sauce, simply puree the carrots and stir it in the crock pot with the juices.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Funky Smelling Pink Pee

Asparagus asparagus (can you do the fandango)
Image by itsjustanalias via Flickr

As I have recently become obsessed with eating tons of vegetables for dinner, I felt it necessary to mention an unusual side effect of consuming some fresh produce, specifically asparagus and my new favorite, beets (Read my post: Beet it, Just Beet it)

There is no delicate way to say it, so I’ll just spit it out. The fact of the matter is that asparagus makes your pee smell “funky.”

I am not the only one that has noticed this odiferous side effect. In fact over 3 centuries ago French writer, Louis Lemery wrote in his book, Treatise of All Sorts of Food (1702) that  “Asparagus causes a filthy and disagreeable smell in the urine”.

Marcel Proust wrote satirically in his legendary work “Swann’s Way,” that “Asparagus…transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume”

The reason? Asparagus has several sulfur-containing compounds. When digested, these compounds become similar to the chemicals that make skunks stink. Lovely!

So why punish my family by eating tons of asparagus. Well, beside the fact that my husband brought home 6 lbs (!) of them, (His reasoning –  the street vendor was closing his cart up and was practically giving them away), asparagus are full of vitamins and minerals and quite delicious.

Asparagus is very low in calories as one spear has less than 4 calories. They are also a great source of potassium, fiber, B6, folicin, thiamin, rutin (an antioxidant that strengthens capillary walls) and is also very low carb. One cup of plain cooked asparagus has only 3.5 carbs and only  .7 net carbs.

I was ready for the noxious effect of asparagus, however I was unprepared for the color of my urine the next day. Not only was my pee “funky” it was also pink!

OMG! I quickly checked the calendar. Nope, it was not that time of the month. Was I bleeding internally, did I have stomach ulcers, should I check myself into the hospital?

Luckily there were other “pink pee-ers” like me out there and were kind enough to post their experiences on the web.

According to the Associated Press, I could be suffering from a completely harmless condition called, “Beeturia“. Evidently I am one of the 14% of the population this condition affects. According to this article, Beeturia can either be genetic or it could be that I am deficient in iron. Without going into all the scientific details, basically, I should up my intake of iron. If I still see red, then I should just get used to pink pee as it is genetic and I am stuck with this mildly colorful effect.

Oh well. What can you do. Just don’t follow me in the bath room.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

But I am NOT Pregnant!

NYCSub 7 car exterior
Image via Wikipedia

Nothing says you need to go on a diet more than someone mistaking you for pregnant. Such was my case earlier today riding the number 6 train back home from Bloomingdale’s.

I did a little spring shopping and was carrying home 2 rather large shopping bags. Upon maneuvering myself on to the fairly crowded subway car, a very kind – but clearly short-sided gentleman, tapped me on the shoulder and motioned to me to take his seat.

I looked around and saw lots of other more people more deserving of the coveted seat and I graciously declined his kind offer. However, this man was determined that “I” was the chosen one and he gently nudged me into the chair. Befuddled by this unforseen act of chivalry, I declared “But, I am not pregnant!” As soon as that mildly defensive statement escaped my lips, several of my fellow passengers burst out laughing.

However, as this is NYC, normal “subway protocol” calls for complete disengagement of your fellow passengers and my neighbors quickly stifled their giggles and returned to their blank stares, ignoring everybody around them.

One older gentleman next to me, munching on a container of mixed nuts, removed one of his ear buds from his ear and said to me confidentially, “Thanks for sharing the laugh”.

“No problem dude”. I said, “Me and baby (motioning to my non-existent pregnant belly) are happy to please.”

As I KNOW I clearly do NOT look like I am expecting, the only thing I could think of was that my attire was somewhat “unflattering”. As this winter has seen extreme changes in temperature on a daily basis, I have taken to wearing several layers.

I had on a t-shirt, a sweater, a scarf, jeans and my Heavy Tweed Yves Saint Laurent “Egg Shaped” Coat.

Upon further reflection, I can see that although my coat is very fashionable and fabulous, I guess I can see how someone, not familiar with this chic shape, could mistake the wearer for having a bun in the oven. There is no definition around the waist. In fact there is no definition at all. Its shaped like an Egg – narrow on top and the bottom and widest in the middle.

I think I need to go shopping.

Chow for now!