Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pinterest and an Amazing Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I am so very proud of myself.

I found a recipe on pinterest, and instead of just pinning it and using my "Food" board as a cruel torture device by browsing through it right before lunch, like I do most days, I actually made the recipe. I mean,  for real, I printed it off, took it home, and made something I saw on pinterest!

I tease, because, while I know this is the whole point of pinterest, does anyone actually try to replicate anything they ever see on pinterest, or is it just basically "fantasy football for girls" as I've heard it described?

After this, perhaps I'll actually start making my food pins. This recipe did not disappoint. With a name like "green goddess" grilled cheese sandwiches, my mouth was watering at just the notion.

This dinner was perfect for after our softball game last week. We got home from our game after 8:30, and I was hungry, but I didn't want a big meal. The Hubs kinda balked at the idea of having only a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner, so I made him two, and he even mentioned twice how good they were. Also, I had everything I needed in my fridge and pantry to make them, which is an extra bonus.

These bad boys have avocado, spinach, pepper jack cheese, goat cheese, and "green goddess" pesto. The pesto is the real star of these sandwiches. I made mine with spinach instead of kale, like the recipe calls for. The only thing I would change is using less tarragon. It is a really strong taste. I probably used more than the recipe called for, though. I also used two anchovies, because apparently I'm ballsy. The recipe, by the way, is from the Tastespotting blog.

The recipe for the pesto made enough for more than 3 sandwiches, so I have it in the fridge. I think it would be great in risotto or on pasta, which it is very likely to be reincarnated into for dinner this week.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The most unbelievable dinner I've had in a while.

This is a picture of the most unbelievable dinner I've had in a while, which I had last night.

The reason it was so unbelievable is because when I tallied up the calories on my LoseIt! app, it clocked in at 194 calories. I still cannot believe it. It was just so good. That can't be right. Right?

It was 12 medium shrimp (wild-caught, of course) with and Indian rub and grilled. (72 calories) But the kicker was that rice. It is amazing. It's the Thai Rice Bowl recipe from the Food Babe Blog. I heart the Food Babe. Check out her blog.

This rice tastes so rich because of the coconut milk, which also makes it kinda thick and creamy. But I use "light" coconut milk, and I don't think it makes it any less delicious. And it is so easy. You basically put all the ingredients in a pot with a lid and cook it on medium low for 30-ish minutes.

I've been experimenting with Eastern ethnic dishes. This is not something I would have typically eaten four years ago. As a matter of fact, I didn't think I liked Indian food until the last few years. I think it was because I had a bad experience with it in college. Yuck. And, I just bough a Sri Lankan cookbook, so wish me luck as a dive deeper into this style of food. I'm kinda stoked.

Many cultures eat coconut quite frequently, in dishes they would have for dinner or lunch, as opposed to dessert, like in the United States. Coconut is surprisingly healthy, too. I think that modern medicine is just slowly catching on to how beneficial diets with coconut are. It is believed that coconut oil can protect you against heart disease, by lowering your "bad" LDL cholesterol. And although coconut is high in fat, it's the good fat. It appears that coconut actually ups your metabolism.

This was less than we are used to eating for dinner, but we had a late dinner because we went for a run. And we're both tyring to eat a little better to get ready for our beach vacation coming up. I was satisfied when I finished this meal, but this morning, when I woke up, I was ravishingly hungry. I guess that's not a bad thing, though.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Weighin in on HBO's "The Weight of the Nation"

You might have heard of the documentary dealing with the obesity epidemic that aired on HBO this week called "The Weight of the Nation". It was made in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institutes of Health, along with the Kaiser Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. So, just getting that many government, private and charitable minds together to complete and produce such a comprehensive project on a controversial topic alone is a big deal.
I first read about the project about a week ago, and there seemed to be quite a lot of criticism (more sources at the bottom of that link) of the project after it was previewed. The criticism focuses on a couple of points. First, that overweight and obese people can be healthy, and the sizeism debate. Additionally, critics note that that focusing on an individual's weight or status as overweight or obese only furthers the argument that the answer to the predicament is through personal responsibility of that person, rather than on the food industry.

I watched the final part of the documentary, and I find the first criticism completely unfounded. While some overweight and obese people can be healthy and show no characteristics typical to others in that group such as elevated blood pressure, fatty liver, or diabetes, the majority of overweight and obese people do have health problems that will undoubtedly lead to chronic disease and shorten their lives (for the record, I am considered overweight by my BMI and there's room for improvement in my bloodwork results, so I'm not pointing fingers at everyone else here, I fall into this category, too).

Personally, I thought the movie was a pretty realistic reflection of our country. People know that eating too much food and not being active can lead to being overweight or obese, but its much more complicated than that. I know people who basically say "I don't know where to start", heck, I've said that to myself. There is so much conflicting information on nutrition coming from seemingly expert sources. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and I can tell you that my childhood was filled with things like Diet Coke, fat free cheese, turkey bacon and Snackwell's cookies. In the 80s, we thought we were supposed to shun things like red meat and full fat dairy because that's what the common knowledge was at the time. Only that advice has backfired horribly, it seems. We happily bought the low-fat, no-fat versions of our favorite foods, thinking we were making good choices, only to realize later that those foods have exponentially more salt and sugar in them to make up for the lack of natural fat. I can't blame the food industry for that in a general sense. They produced goods that people thought they wanted to buy. (I do think the food industry needs taken to task for false advertising and misleading "health" claims on packaging, as well as its marketing to children).

You might know that through my job, I look at the cost of healthcare as it affects our state and federal government, and it's no shocker that things are going to get real ugly if we don't do something to swing the tide against chronic disease back in the other direction. I once heard it described as an avalanche that you can hear rumbling and coming, but you have no idea how big it is and how deep you'll be buried.

So what are we supposed to do? Follow at low fat diet? Low carb? The Mediterranean diet? I don't have the answers for that one. If I did, I'd be rich, I think. What I can tell you on this blog is what I can live with and what is working (as in, I'm in progress...) for me. I'm not a professional dietitian or nutritionist. But, when I watch documentaries like this one, or when I watched Food, Inc., or when I read Michael Pollan's books,  or read Marion Nestle's blog, I feel like I have something to say. A lot of it, actually.

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photo credit: wikipedia

Artificially colored and sweetened substance versus real citrus. Which one looks more appetizing? Which one do you think is cheaper by volume?

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A quick and easy meal. Greasy versus FRESH!

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You must be joking versus fresh blueberries. So sweet!

What has been the most sane path for me is to just try and eat less processed food. The less processed the better. I figure these chronic diseases didn't exist when my grandparents were growing up, so I try to eat the way people might have eaten in their day. I don't do it strictly everyday. The hubs and I go out for wings and beer occassionally, or I might attend a family cookout and partake of what is offered. But, the key is to do that on special occassions. Don't make a habbit of it. I enjoy cooking, so making things from scratch isn't a burden, it's fun. Sometimes I don't have time, and I plan accordingly to have something in the crock-pot or have something in the freezer I can just throw in the oven like a casserole or stuffed shells. And I still can do more. I don't have all the answers, but feel like I'm in control of my health these days. I've at least stopped gaining a few pounds every year like it was something normal. It's just those pesky 5 to 8 last pounds that I can't seem to get rid of... Although, I didn't get to this point overnight. It's been about 3 or 4 years since I really started to pay close attention to what I was eating and where it was coming from. Now, I am so happy that I can look at some junk food and not feel the slightest temptation (although, not all of it--don't wave NutterButters at me, I can't stop myself). But more importantly, when I see things like what's pictured on the right above, my mouth waters. I'll take a fresh caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and really good mozarella and olive oil any day of the week over an extra value meal.

The second criticism, that the food industry isn't really held accountable, is at least not totally missing the mark. The documentary does address it some in the "Children in Crisis" portion of the film, in the discussion of marketing food to children. But that is about it. That information was very powerful to me, that studies have made the connection between food advertising directed at children and the types of food that they want to and will eat. I don't have any children of my own, but I can at least imagine the struggle of getting a child to eat something foreign and unknown such as a vegetable she might not have been exposed to before. There is this evidence out there, and the food industry basically dug in it's heels and balked at the idea that it needed to revamp its advertising in light of these facts. The fourth segment "Challenges" draws a nice parallel in that a generation ago, cigarettes and smoking were considered a part of society, and we look back on those days with the stark contrast of today with limited advertising of those items and outright bans on their use in most public places. Someday, we will hopefully look back on this obesity epidemic and see that a harmful product was being sold, consumed and marketed to and by all of us, and eventually we collectively took necessary steps to minimize its harmful effects on our most vulnerable citizens, children and the poor.

Anyway, I guess my point is, I think everyone should watch the documentary. It's free here. It is over four hours long, but after the first part, I was hooked. You could tackle it in a week, watching one part each night (after you eat a healthy dinner and go for a walk...) No adult likes to be told what to do, especially what to eat, so that's not what I am trying to do. But I'm hoping if enough people watch the documentary and form their own opinions about it, we can keep this discussion going about how we can avoid this economic and medical disaster barrelling very quickly down the mountain toward us.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I'm gonna need some more marigolds.

I had a bunch of little things to post about, so here's a mish-mash of them all. In one post. Holla.

Antigua Primrose marigold; photo credit
Fighting the critters already
A couple mornings ago, I was standing in my kitchen groggily drinking hot lemon water and looking out the window into the backyard. Something in my neighbor's yard caught my eye, and I realized it was a deer on its hind legs eating off one of the trees in his yard. And then I saw another.

Now, I've seen deer in my neighbor's yard before. A few years ago, I did more than once. He has an apple tree in his backyard that they really seemed to favor that summer. Which is fine by me. I'm sure apples are much tastier to a deer than the stuff I've got in my garden--tomatoes, peppers, herbs and squash. And they really didn't seem to pay much attention to my yard.

Then last summer, I found evidence of them in my yard when one of the three hostas that I have had the middle chomped right out of it. Weird. I didn't think they ate hostas, but then again, I think a deer will eat pretty much anything. So, I bought a flat of marigolds to plant around the perimeter of my vegetables. I had read that they will help with bugs and small critters like rabbits and squirrels. But I had hardly any damage from deer last year--a first for a very long time.

With this siting a couple days ago, I'm wondering if the one flat I bought will be enough to deter the deer from snacking on my garden.

One mother of a Mother's Day
A few weeks ago, my mom mentioned to me that she'd like to have some raised beds for vegetables this summer. So, I decided that's what I would give her for Mother's Day. Jeremy and I bought the lumber and he put two four-foot raised bed boxes together at our house. We then hauled them up to her house with some potting soil and plants. She decided that four foot boxes were too big, so she wanted us to cut them down to three-foot boxes. We did cut one down, and she had some scrap lumber leftover from something, so we made another box for her. (And I got to keep the extra box!!!) I planted several tomato plants for her that I had leftover from my seedlings I started. This year, I started Eva Purple BallJaune Flamme, and Blondkopfchen (aka "Little Blond Girl") and which I ordered my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. I also had some seeds leftover for Pineapple, Pink Ponderosa, and Roma plants, which I ordered last year from Baker Creek Seeds. I planted an Eva Purple, Pineapple, Roma and Pink Ponderosa for my mom. She's a big fan of sweet peppers, so I bought her some Cal Wonder and Sweet Hungarian plants. She also put some marigolds around her vegetables.

Pineapple Tomato; photo credit Baker Creek Seeds
My mom is who really instilled a love of gardening in me, because I remember helping her with her vegetable garden when I was little. But it's been a long time since she's had a vegetable garden. The main reason she hung it up was because she got tired of fighting the deer out of it. Maybe a couple little raised beds with marigolds won't be so tempting for them, especially since there's a big neighborhood chocolate lab that hangs around her house quite a bit. She has quite an extensive flower garden that was absolutely stunning last weekend, with irises, sweet williams, and red hot poker plants in bloom, with lots more to come throughout the summer.

Which brings me to the next thing... The current state of my delicious potager
I put some veggie plants in the ground for my mom, but I'm still behind on my garden. I haven't tilled up the garden yet, or put any summer plants out yet because it's been raining about every two days. But this Saturday, I hope to get that all done. And, I'll have a new four-foot raised bed now to plant in, and I'm thinking it will hold some kale.

This year I am going to try to grow some potatoes, too, I think. I bought a half bushel of kennebecs last fall from a work colleague's farm, and a couple weeks ago, I gave about half of what was leftover (maybe a dozen) to my father-in-law to plant. He can grow practically anything, of course it helps that his garden is where a pig pen was many years ago, so the soil is superb. He planted them two weeks ago, and I cannot believe how big the plants are now. I'm going to try a handful of what I have left, too.

The good thing about all this rain is that my spring vegetables in my current raised beds have been going strong. I've been eating lots of lettuces, radishes, spinach and arugula over the past several weeks. I have beets planted, too, but I haven't harvested any yet, save for a few beet tops. Currently in my garden plot, I have spring onions and garlic planted, that I'll pull up before it gets tilled this weekend. It's a shame, too, to pull up those garlic heads. I think they have the most beautiful flowers when they bloom.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For when you have a lot of ham and mint on hand.

I ended up with some leftovers from a dinner I had to organize for one of the community groups I belong to. We had so much ham leftover that several of us divvied up a portion of a pan left, and we donated a whole untouched pan to the local soup kitchen.

Ham freezes well and is so versatile. I did feel a flicker of guilt for taking meat to eat that has come, no doubt, from a CAFO, but I think it would be worse to just throw it out. And I know of several ways I can use it.

At any rate, I was planning to make pizza for dinner this week, but I didn't have a clue what I was going to put on it except for some ciliegini mozzarella that I found marked down on manager's special.

And I also remembered how delicious the mint pesto was that I made a couple weeks ago for meatballs and pasta.

Boom. Pizza with ham, mozzarella, mint pesto and carmelized onions.

I was surprised how good it tasted. If I saw this on a menu, I would be wary of the combination of ham and mint pesto. It definitely was unique, but it was really tasty!

Unfortunately, the crust wasn't the best I've ever made. It was frozen from the last time I made pizza. One recipe makes enough for two medium-sized pizzas for 2 people, so I usually freeze half of it, or make calzone or something later in the week. I took this dough out of the freezer and thawed it, then I put it in an oiled bowl with a lid and let it sit out on the stove for several hours to rise. It did double in size, but when I got ready to work it into a pizza dough, it was too wet. I didn't know if I could add more flour at this point, so I just went with it. It was okay to eat, but definitely not crispy on the bottom. It could be that I am making it on a cookie sheet, too, since I broke my favorite Fiestaware pizza pan.

I need to get a proper pizza stone if I'm going to continue making dough from scratch. Or get used to wimpy crusts. And I don't think I'm willing to accept that...

Restaurant Redo: Vandalia Grille Beet Artichoke Salad

I had some time to kill a couple weeks ago between work and a meeting, so I ducked into one of my favorite places downtown, Vandallia Grille, to have a cocktail and a light dinner. This place has killer sweet potato fries and butternut squash soup, but I was in the mood for a salad.

I thought I'd tried pretty much everything on the menu, but somehow, The "Autumn" didn't seem familiar. If I've had it before, I don't remember it, and I think I would have rememberd, since it's been haunting me for the past two weeks. The "Autumn" has beets, artichokes, goat cheese and candied pecans over field greens with a dijon vinaigrette. I nearly licked my plate. And I'm not even really a beet person.

Someone gave us a couple quarts of pickled beets last fall. I'm not sure where they came from. One jar became Borscht last winter. And last week, when I noticed the second jar still in my larder, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it.

It didn't require much "cooking" per se, but it sure was delicious. The lettuce is red butterhead from the Monroe Farm Market. I've bought a lot of it this spring to supplement what I grow--arugula, mesclun mix and black seeded simpson. I piled on some marinated artichokes, goat cheese, candied pecans and beets, and found a simple recipe for dijon vinaigrette.

While my at-home version was delicious, like the pizza I tried to replicate, it's just not quite as good as the original. Maybe it's just the ambience of the Vandalia Grille or something, but I'll definitely be getting this next time I go back.