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!

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?

All Hail Kale

Curly kale
Image via Wikipedia

I stopped by my local outdoor farmers market this past Saturday to pick up a few fresh veggies. Unbeknownst to me the market hours are 8:00am to 3:00pm and are strictly enforced. Failure to pack up and vamonos by the witching hour can result in the farmer being fined, or possibly even losing their license.

As I was leisurely meandering through the produce 5 minutes to 3:00, deciding on what to buy, I noticed that all the price signs had already been removed in preparation of closing the stand.

I innocently asked “How much is this?” and “How much is that? to which the busy “farmers” quickly barked out prices while loading their truck.  As I was delicately selecting the greens to put in my bag, the “farmer” impatiently said to me “Lady, how ’bout I give you the rest of whats left in that box (motioning to the large box of Kale) for 5 bucks…. deal? As you all know I love a good deal, this farmer had himself a DEAL!

I triumphantly lugged home several pounds of fresh organic kale home with me ready for some good and healthy eating.

Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables out there. It is chock full of:

  • Beta carotene – fights cancer, heart disease, prevents cataracts, boosts immunity, fights asthma, depression, helps immunity, high blood pressure and arthritis
  • Vitamin K – helps with the clotting of blood
  • Vitamin C – good for your skin helps immunity, combats free radicals,
  • Lutein – good for your eyes
  • Calcium – good for you bones, brain and nervous system

Kale also has great antioxidant properties (great for your skin, fights cancer and good for your cells and heart) and is considered an anti-inflamatory.

Although not as popular as cabbage, Kale or borecole is actually a form of cabbage. In fact the name “borecole” finds its origin from the Dutch wordboerenkool” (farmers cabbage).

The great thing about Kale is that is a very fibrous vegetable and can hold its own against other strong flavors. Some green leafy greens like spinach are more delicate and wilt easily. Not kale. Kale is a very strong and hearty green. All Hail Kale!

As it was a dark and rainy day, I decided to make a rich and hearty kale and spicy sausage stew.

I chopped up a few links of spicy sausage and fried them up in my cast iron Dutch oven. I was lucky enough to pick up Di Paola’s free range spicy turkey sausage at the same farmers market, however, any spicy sausage will do. After the sausage was browned and cooked through, I pulled them out of the pot and set aside for later. I then sautéed 1 medium chopped onion and 2 cloves of chopped garlic in the same pot (with the sausage dripping) in a little olive oil. I then dumped in my roughly chopped cleaned kale, 4 cups of chicken broth and 2 cups of water. I let the goodies come to a boil and then poured the cooked sausage on top of the greens and simmered the stew for 20 minutes of so.

This Kale and spicy sausage stew was the closest thing to heart-healthy, hearty, low- cal and low-carb comfort food you can get.

Next up – Homemade Kale Chips  (What else am I going to do with the other 3 lbs of Kale?)

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Just Beet it, Just Beet it

Jackson in the music video for "Beat It&q...
Image via Wikipedia

I was channeling my inner Michael Jackson while I was cooking some beets in my kitchen the other day. Regardless of your opinion of the late Mr. Jackson, there is little argument that his 1983 mega hit “Beat it” was one of most popular and influential songs/music video of its time.

Who can ever forget the throughly entertaining video that depicted the show down between two rivaling gangs in an abandoned warehouse? Two opposing gang members have their wrists bound together, armed with switchblades. As they begin their pas de deux of death, Mr. Jackson intervenes and ultimately brings the gangs together through the power of song and dance.

Although beets, the vegetable have nothing to do with “Beat it” the MJ song and video, the song was running through my head, much to the chagrin of my family, while I was boiling my pot o’beets.

While singing is definitely not my forte, I am a firm believer in self-expression and amused myself humming the catchy tune while preparing our meal.

I recently was turned on to the power of beets after learning about the myriad of health benefits they provide. Up until VERY recently, I never acquired a taste for beets.  The deep reddish purple color and unusual consistency seemed quite “funky” to me.

It wasnt until I heard about all the health benefits that I decided to,  (channeling my inner John Lennon) “Give beets a chance“. 🙂

Beets are loaded with vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 and C. They also are an excellent source of choline, folic acid, maganese, iodine, potassium, fiber and iron.

Health benefits include aiding in the prevention of cancer, anemia, constipation, gout, kidney ailments, varicose veins, dandruff (!) and gastric ulcers.

Beets are also great for people watching their weight as 1 beet (2″ in diameter) only has about 35 calories and less than 6 gms of carbs.

Preparing the beets could not be easier. Just boil a pot of water, add beets and simmer about 20-30 minutes until the beets are tender. Run the freshly boiled beets under cold water and rub the beet. The outer skin will simply peel off and the beet is ready to serve. I cubed my beets and tossed them with a little balsamic vinegar. I crumbled some goat cheese and toasted diced walnuts into the bowl and gently tossed.

There are several other ways to prepare beets but as the newbie that I am, I thought that I would KISS (Keep IT SIMPLE STU***) them and call it a day.

Although I made a valiant effort to get my kids to try, they took one look at my purple concoction and gracefully declined. I don’t blame them. Tossing the beets with the cheese made the once virgin white creamy cheese into a dark fuchsia mess.

Even my husband, turned his nose at my bowl o’beets. 😦

Oh well. More beets for me.

Their loss. Although I agree that they did not seem very appetizing, the beets were in fact not only extremely nutritious, they were also very delicious.

In the words of Michael Jackson:

Just Beat it, Beat it

No one wants to be defeated

Showin how funky, strong is your fight

It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or who’s right

Just Beat it. Beat it, Beat it, Beat it.

***Little tip, don’t add the cheese until the very end. Just a little bit on TOP of the prepared beets would prove to be more aesthetically appealing as the beet juice will not mingle with the cheese until it’s in your mouth.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

Tastes Just Like….. Chicken?

The Marylebone farmers' market in London, Unit...
Image via Wikipedia

“What am I going to do with this chicken?” I asked myself as I plunked down $24.00 (!) for a whole fresh raw chicken. I was on my way to drop off my kids to basketball practice when I happened to stop at the local farmers market and haphazardly decided to buy a raw organic fresh chicken from the “chicken lady”.

Although I have yet to read Michael Pollan‘s bestseller “The Omnivores Dilemma“, nor have I fully embraced the Locavore movement, I am tip-toeing towards the greener pastures and trying to see for myself what all the fuss is about. I have started shopping at our local farmers market and have started stocking up on locally grown produce and fresh-caught seafood. However that is as far as I had gone. I had yet to try any of the locally grown fowl or meat.

One of my friends, a french chef, swears by this market, especially the poultry. “Ma cherie, eeet eeez zeee beeest cheeeekin, zooo meeest try eeet!” she urged me to try.

Approaching the white tents at the market where the fresh fowl and beef are sold is a bit intimidating. There is no “selection” on display nor any showcase. You have to purposely approach the “farmer” and ask them to see their wares. Once you ask, they respond by asking you how many lbs, and then the discussion goes from there. As I am more accustomed to buying my chicken already cut and fileted, I had a hard time discerning how big of a chicken I should buy. I timidly asked “ummmm, how much is a chicken?” to which the she-farmer nodded to the A-frame sign next to her displaying the price list. The price list was short. She only sold Chickens and eggs. She charges $4 bucks for a dozen eggs and $4.50 PER LB (!)  for the chickens. She then proceeded to dramatically open the cooler sitting on the table for me to make my choice. Not wanting to offend her by NOT buying and “chickening out” of the purchase, I blindly pointed to the one in the middle. “I’ll take that one.” Based on the amount I paid, I think my chicken was a little over 5 lbs.

As I had a myriad of errands to run while my boys were shooting hoops, I had no desire to lug around a 5.5 lb raw chicken with me all day. I asked the woman if she would be kind enough to “hold my bird” for me in her refrigerated cooler for a couple of hours while I finished my errands. She said “no problem” but warned that she would be fleeing the coop around 3:00pm. I immediately turned to both of my kids and instructed them to remind mommy to pick up the chicken on the way home, if I forgot. They both dully nodded and repeated “remind mom to pick up the chicken on the way home.”

I ran all of my errands and ran to pick up the boys from practice. My older son won his game and we decided to celebrate and have an early dinner at the local diner. While we were sitting there, I glanced at my watch. It was 5:15. I jumped up. I forgot to pick up my chicken! I immediately laid blame on my boys scolding them for NOT reminding mom to pick up the chicken. “I can’t believe I wasted $24 bucks on a stupid chicken!” I whined to my family.

“Maybe she will still have it next week,” my older son responded hopefully, trying to placate me.

“I doubt it”, I shot back, annoyed at myself for forgetting.

The following Saturday, I approached the chicken lady at the farmers market and said brightly, “Remember me? I was the one who bought your chicken last week and asked you to hold it for me.” Luckily she remembered me and said. “Of course, here it is.” I was too embarrassed to ask her if this was indeed the same bird or not.” She handed me a sheet of paper and suggested that I try their super easy recipe for “Perfect Roast Chicken”.

The recipe could not be any simpler. All you do is rub the bird with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper on the skin and roast at 450 degrees – 20 minutes per pound.  Thats it. I chopped up a cauliflower, tossed it with some chopped garlic and olive oil and threw it in the roasting pan with the chicken the last 1 hour.

An hour and a half later, I pulled my lovely roasted chicken out of the oven. I let that baby rest for 10 minutes and proceeded to carve it the best I could. It was sooooooooo good! It was tender but not super soft and tasteless like the supermarket variety. This chicken was “more meatier and more chickeny”. It has been so long since I had a fresh organic chicken that I almost forgot what REAL chicken (not mass produced and full of chemicals) tastes like.

My younger son devoured the leg and thigh. My older son, said “Yum, mom, This is so good. It tastes just like….turkey.”

TURKEY!!!!????” I felt like shouting across the table. This was not turkey. This was C-H-I-C-K-E-N. However, rather than go into a whole diatribe about how this was a FRESH, ORGANIC chicken, not the overly processed supermarket variety we usually eat, I just calmly replied, Well, it’s really chicken. To which my son replied helpfully, “A turkey-chicken?”

Yes, sweetheart, A turkey-chicken. Whatever. At least they finished their plates.

Chow for now!

What is FOOD?

How Much Weight Can a Person Gain in 1 Night?

Dessert Table
Image by work the angles via Flickr

“How much weight can one person gain in a night?” I asked my husband this morning as I dragged my bloated body out of bed. He replied matter of factly,  “I don’t know, maybe 4 – 5 pounds.”

WHAT!!! I was suddenly wide awake. Isn’t there an “over-saturation” point, where your body just stops piling on the pounds in a 24 hour period? How can one possibly gain 4 -5 lbs in just a few hours?

Well, if you were like me last night, stuffing my face on the most insanely delicious homemade chocolate cakes, cookies, chili, chips, dip, pizza and beer, that question could definitely be put to the test. Thats right, I was at a fabulous Superbowl party – the yearly rite of passage where gluttonous gluttony is not only provided but encouraged.

Based on experience, I knew I was going to cheat. In fact, not only was I going to cheat on the I LOVE FOOD DIET, I was planning on going overboard. In preparation for the carb filled overload, I purposely parked my ass in the Elliptical at the gym for a full 45 minutes earlier that day. I followed that 45 min cardio work out with 100 sit ups and then a couple of reps of free weights. I was pumped. I was ready to face the enemy – Bring on the CARBS!

I started off well. I grazed on the crudite and dip platter. I nibbled on a few slices of rolled up turkey and cheese. I avoided the chips and snacked instead on the most insanely delicious spiced nuts. I only had one bowl of the chicken tortilla soup and one bowl of the delicious homemade chilli. Everything was going pretty well until the deserts came out.

Thats when the trouble started. And once it started, there was no turning back. It ends up that quite a few of the guests were accomplished pastry chefs. Sooooooo, it would have been downright rude of me NOT to taste their culinary masterpieces. I certainly did not want to slight any of the guests by devouring ones treat over another. That would have been impolite…right?

So I soldiered on, and quietly piled my plate with a little of each sinful and decadent sweet one at time, slowly working my way from one end of the table to the other. I paced myself and washed down the sweets with a few cold beers. Later in the evening, when the cookie tray came out, I ate the ones that were really good and just took a bite of the ones that I could live without, hiding their remains under my napkin. Remembering my own sage advice that “It’s not a waste if it ends up on your waist.”

As the night wore on, and my waistline started protruding more than usual, I called it a night. The last couple of bites of the chocolate “cake balls” and the banana brownie with glazed marshmallow crust put me over the edge. It had been so long since I ate so much sugar that after an hour the desserts were too… well sugary.

As Shakespeare wrote in his play, “As you Like it”, “Too much of a good thing”, may do harm. However in this case, “too much of a good thing” did me good. I stuffed myself with so much decadent dessert that quite frankly I was a little sick of it. I don’t think I could eat another chunk of chocolate for a while. 🙂

I better plan on 2 hours at the gym tomorrow.

Chow for now.