Dinner tonight. It feels like summer is ending. (although, not because of any nice crisp autumn air… It’s been in the 90s). I was cleaning out the fridge. Grilled corn, grilled zucchini, caprese and grilled polenta with a chopped banana pepper in it. It was delicious.
Websites I stumbled on today that are worth noting here: 2. Websites I stumbled on today that are worth noting here and are actually helpful: 1.
First, here’s the “Good” one. Pun intended.
Have you ever been shopping for, say, shampoo, and can’t remember all those pesky chemicals EWG (Environmental Working Group) says you should avoid in beauty products? Happens to me all the time. That’s when you consult not only this website, but whip out your iphone and use their handy FREE barcode scanner app. Their info is not as exhaustive the EWG website, but it’s super user-friendly and also gives information on the social responsiblity of the companies, in addition to health and environmental concerns. And, it has over 50,000 products in its database. All kinds of stuff like food, cleaners, health and beauty products. I’ve already downloaded the app, and I can’t wait to use it next time I’m at the store. I’ve still got EWG bookmarked, but this will help when you are out and about and don’t have the patience or 3G coverage to pull up the EWG website on your phone.
Surprisingly disappointing website I found today:
I Googled “evaluate my diet” because I was thinking I would like to get
a kick in the pants some specific suggestions for what I need to be doing to keep the wings on the backs of my arms from getting any bigger. Aside from working out more, I mean…
Sweet. The USDA has a website that you can input your food intake and activity level in, and they’ll tell you where you can improve. It’s like having a virtual trainer, no? No. Here’s why I’m disappointed. About a third of the foods I ate today aren’t in the database. I couldn’t even find ubiquitous Fat Free Non-Dairy Creamer I’m so fond of. At all. I searched “non-dairy creamer”, “Coffee Mate”, “coffee”, “creamer” and “cream.” Seriously. And, big surprise … the USDA has no entries for grass-fed beef or farm eggs. They do have a different nutrient profile than conventional eggs and beef. Like higher omega-3’s. At least those two things make sense that they’re not in the database. I know they aren’t yet considered “mainstream” and the USDA is all about Big Ag, not these “trendy” new grass-fed producers. Whatever.
So, I spent another 20 mintues searching the FAQs and looking for a “Contact Us” link, so I could politiely suggested they at the very least add non-dairy creamer. No bones either. I have a fairly short attention span (I am a gemini, after all.), so after that, I decided I was done. Moving on…
It’s the third and final installment of my all-time favorite lists posts. I started last week to help Epicurious celebrate it’s 15th Anniversary. They have a whole section of “Best of Epicurious” with lists of best tv food personalities, most influential chefs, and I read a new one yesterday that was very intriguing… Top Cookbooks. All those lists got me thinking about my all-time favorites, so I thought I would round up a few on the ol’ blog.
So. Okay. Let’s play deserted island. You know, the game where you go around the group and pick one thing you’d take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island? How about this one. You’re stranded on a deserted island… What four foods would you take with you? Never thought about it? Well, I have. I think about food like 75% of my waking time. And, sometimes I even dream about it. Now’s your chance to think about it. If you could only have 4 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
In no particular order.
1. Raw oysters on the half shell
Love them. I mean LOVE them. I think it’s because I rarely eat them. It’s like a forbidden fruit or something. I only get them like twice a year. If I had it my way, I’d eat them every day. Like Jimmy Buffett said, “Gimme oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year, and I’ll feel fine…” When I travel to places where they are local, I ALWAYS make a point to try them. Last summer, I was in Boston for a week, and I think I really did eat them every day I was there. Earlier this spring, when I was in California wine country, I had some west coast oysters. (Sadly, it wasn’t at the Hog Island Oyster Company. I can’t believe I was right there and didn’t go to it.) They really do taste different. If you like seafood, and haven’t tried oysters on the shell, you must try them. You can take baby steps and try them steamed first, but I think the raw ones are far superior. I know a lot of people are grossed out by them, but seriously, get over it, and try some. I don’t eat mine with mignonette. Just squeeze a little lemon juice over them and slurp them up. Salty, briney, lemony, seafoody, yumminess.
2. Smoked salmon
Do you remember the Tanqueray commercial with the shrimp cocktail? No?
One of my faves. Well, that logic probably goes for smoked salmon, too. Trust me, I know. You’ll feel ill for a couple hours. But, the fact that I did get two plates of nova lox at the breakfast buffet at the Flamingo should say that I like me some smoked salmon. I really like salmon in any form, but when you smoke it, it just takes it to another whole level. Plus, I am fascinated with smoking and curing meat. If you leave meat out, it goes bad a a few hours, right? Well, not if it’s either smoked or cured. Amazing. That’s how it stays good in your fridge for like 3 weeks, too.
Feeding my fishy habit is tricky, I’ve learned. There are a couple of issues with salmon. Like, have you heard of the recent “frankenfish” debate? It seems farmed salmon are pretty hard to breed. Captivity makes the pesky little boogers not want to get it on–or whatever fish do. So, some scientists came up with a female breed that will reproduce without any males. Yep, they figured out how to get two female genes to make a new baby salmon. I’m serious. I’ll not go into the details, but it sounds like something right out of science fiction. Now, they want to get it approved so they can start breeding these all-female lines of salmon for food. I don’t know about you, but I’m not eatin’ no stinking frankenfish. Also, for years, we’ve been debating whether wild-caught or farmed salmon is better. On one hand, because the supply of wild fish is declining globally, farming started out as a means to give them a break and still give consumers a source for lean heart-healthy protien. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish two times a week, afterall. So farmed fish are good because they help maintain wild fish species, right? Well… Not exactly. Fish farming, like other forms of industrial agriculture, employs the use of antibiotics and other chemicals to keep the fish in close capitivity healthy. Because salmon are a high-fat fish, meaning high in good omega 3 fats, many of the toxins build up in their fat, and are passed on to the unknowing eater of the fish. So, what do you do if you have a smoked salmon monkey on your back? Well, I try to not eat a plate as big as my head full of salmon anymore. And, I’ve mentioned here before that I try to live and die at the grocery store seafood counter by the the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. According to the site, Oregon and north wild-caught and U.S. farmed in tank systems are best choices. Avoid imported farmed and south of Oregon wild-caught salmon. And, like vegetables at the farmers market, different species of salmon are “in season” at different times of year.
3. Blue cheese
Y’all knew cheese would be on my list, didn’t ya? I’ve loved blue cheese since I was a kid. And the addiction started out the natural way for a kid with some thick, creamy, tangy blue cheese dressing. It wasn’t long before I discovered that it was even better plain, i.e. not in dressing. This is something else that I find a lot of people are grossed out by. “You mean you eat molded cheese?!?” Well, it’s not molded per se, and all cheese is a little funky, because that’s how cheese is made, by letting milk sit out a while, essentially. As a matter of fact, when the hubs and I first started dating, I might as well have been an alien with little green antennae the first time I put a glob of blue cheese dressing on my salad in front of him. I tease him that without me, he would be missing out on a whole lot. Blue cheese. Red wine. Oysters. Corona. At any rate, now he’s a convert. I mostly get balsalmic vinegar on my salad these days for calories sake, but I still love to buy a big ‘ol honkin’ wedge of blue cheese from the wine and cheese shop at the Capitol Market and get out some crackers and a nice big red like a spicy syrah, or blue cheese is even surprising good with the right kind of beer. My favorites I’ve tried as of recent? Stilton, of course. And one variety from Rogue Creamery called Crater Lake Blue. I found it at the Capitol Market, so it must be distributed nationally. Find it. BTW, I’ll spare you a pic of blue cheese. I couldn’t find any that really looked appetizing.
I cook first and foremost because I love to eat. I’m not one to sit back either and wait for something, I’m gonna go out and get it. And, I’m talking about guacamole, people. So, I love guacamole, right? Well, not all guac is created equal. What is at the grocery store in the cheese case is hit or miss. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s pretty bland. And either way, it goes for about $4.99 for about 8 oz. So, I figured out how to make it myself for a fraction of the cost, and it’s always really good. I use a Tyler Florence recipe from his cookbook, Eat This Book. It’s especially good with homemade tortilla chips hot and salted right out of the oil. I’ve written about it before here and how I got my three-year old niece on the guacamole bandwagon. I don’t know if she’s had it since, but that kid did a number of guacamole that day. While grocery store guac is so-so, I always eat it at Mexican restaurants. They know what’s up when it comes to making guacamole. It’s worth the extra charge for a side of it, trust me. I once ran across a recipe for low-fat guacamole made by substituting some plain yogart in place of some of the avocado, but I quickly dismissed the proposition. Avocados are full of good fat, the same kind in nuts and fish. And, while I wouldn’t want to eat it three meals a day every day, (okay, maybe I could) a little good guacamole is okay … like Tony St. Clair says, “in moderation.”
So there you have it. My four favorite foods. Strange? Maybe. But I’d die happy with a plate of each in front of me.
Okay, so last week, I rounded up my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets in honor of Epicurious‘s 15th Anniversary. And, I might have mentioned how I love lists, in passing.
How about my all-time favorite cooking ingredients? I’m going to give stuff like salt, extra virgin olive oil and butter a pass on this one because they’re no-brainers. Everybody knows how awesome stuff is when you put butter in it. Duh. Those are things that most people use, anyway. This is stuff that kicks things up a notch, as Emeril would say.
1. Sesame Oil
I’ve only been onto sesame oil for a few years, but once I tasted it, I knew I loved it. Nutty, roasted goodness. Mmm. Its a staple for Asian cuisine, but that shouldn’t limit you in its uses. I love a few dashes on salad. Or in a dish I make with sauted chicken breast and pasta. I was eating some soup at an Asian restaurant a couple years ago. It was a lobster hot and sour soup, but it was more like lobster bisque. Not hot or sour at all, but it had this deep, roasted nutty flavor to it Yep, sesame oil.
2. Goat Cheese
I love goat cheese. I love it plain, in salads, in pasta, in quesadillas, on pizza … I’m starting to sound like green eggs and ham. “Not on a boat, not on a goat, …” Put it in a omlet instead of feta. Basically, you can put it in anything you would feta and it will be better. I’m not sayin’ I don’t like feta. We’re talkin’ cheese, people! It’s just better than feta. It is even good on toast with jam. No lie.
I’m not a big “you must use fresh herbs!” kinda cook. I like ’em when I have ’em, but I’m not above whipping out a little jar of dried basil if need be. Don’t get me wrong. Fresh tastes better, but if you’re making something like lasagna, is it going to be a big deal if you use dried instead of fresh? Well, I’ve never tried dried cilantro. Never looked for it at the grocery store. Do they even make it? Don’t know. Because cilantro is one of those things that you can taste in food. Even if it’s something like enchiladas. It’s used in Latin dishes a lot, but that doesn’t matter. Hmm, what if I made an omlet with goat cheese in it and sesame oil, and chopped up some cilantro to mix in the egg mixture? Hmmm.
4. Shrimp stock
I always buy shrimp with the shell on. It’s a pain in the ass to peel them when you’re cooking them, but I use the discarded shells to make stock. And I freeze it in my muffin tin in 1/3 cup portions and keep it in a ziplock bag pretty much all the time. It’s so easy, and you’ll never have to buy clam juice or anything at the store for some obscure recipe, because you can substitute this. I most use it to make jambalaya. I cook the rice in shrimp stock for extra flavor. But I’ve used it to make wonton soup by subbing some of the chicken stock (but not all of it) for shrimp stock. It gave it a little different flavor. As a matter of fact, you can mix it in anything you might be needing chicken or beef stock for to give stuff a little different taste. In a good way.
5. Heavy Cream
Okay, so this borders on the basics like extra-virgin olive oil and butter, but I include it on the list for one reason. Approximately, 98% of the time a recipe calls for heavy cream DO NOT try to substitute milk, even worse, skim milk, for the sake of saving calories, or because you think there’s no need to drop 4.99 on a quart of cream when you only need 1/2 a cup. They’re not interchangeable. That being said, one time I made a pumpkin chowder that called for 5 cups of heavy cream, and it was just too rich. Next time, I’ll likely sub maybe 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. If you do want to cut calories in a recipe, you can in some cases sub half and half for cream, or even for part of the cream. However, most of the time, recipes only call for a small amount of cream, because it is so rich. And, as long as you don’t eat it every since day, a little bit won’t hurt ya.
I woke up this morning feeling kinda puffy.
Maybe it was the Chinese takeout I had for dinner Saturday and breakfast Sunday. Maybe it was all the
beer tailgating I did over the weekend. At any rate, I felt yucky, and I decided to do something about it. That, and the fact I didn’t get around to going to the grocery store yesterday.
I am going to try not to eat any processed food for 5 days. I am destined to fail, but I’m not looking at it from an all-or-nothing stance. It’s like in school when you didn’t have to get a 100% to get an A, you could get a 93%. Maybe I’ll do this thing 93%.
I’m not going cold turkey for a number of reasons. Mainly it’s that I can’t quit my coffee habit. More specifically, I can’t quit my coffee CREAMER habit. Granted I’ve weaned myself considerably. My drug of choice here is Fat Free Original Creamer. Doesn’t matter if it’s name brand or generic. I kicked the flavored creamer habit a while back and have stepped down to 1 tablespoon of this stuff per cup.
The second reason for not going cold turkey is that I have a lunch planned this week. But we are going to a place that has a salad bar, so it shouldn’t be a total loss for that meal. I just don’t know what the salad dressing situation will be. And, I’m going out for drinks with a friend for her birthday.
And thirdly, because I know that if I try to go cold turkey, I won’t do it. It’s a mental thing. So much pressure to not fail, and you end up failing. If you go into it knowing you’ve got a little leeway, it seems a little more manageable.
So, the rules are simple. No processed food. Five days. For the record, I’m considering processed food to be anything that has ingredients that I don’t recognize or are unnecessary such as artificial color, flavor, etc. I’m not going to ban cheese, in other words.
Something like this…
Yikes. That’s the Kroger Fat Free Original Creamer I put in my coffee this morning.
And, some retailers stop carrying endangered or questionable species altogether. Hats off to Whole Foods, Target and Safeway!
Now, if only we could get a Whole Foods to open around here…