What shall I eat?

9780465020416[1]I seem to be on a bit of a binge lately–not eating, but reading about real food, fake food and the quality of food and the effects on health.

This whole thing seems to have started with Richard Wrangham‘s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human which lead to questions about how we arrived at what we are currently eating–our trip from “traditional” foods to the current state where we seem to have given up the true pleasure of food–treating it almost as “medicine”. It must be low carb, or low fat, or…

I’ll be the last to disagree that our diet determines our health, but why have we given up the true hedonistic pleasures of eating good food to spending more time thinking of all the things our current “diet” doesn’t let us eat?

All these books were well worth reading if you like to eat. The bottom line of all this leaves me feeling that our food needs to include raw, cooked, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, and fish–all real foods–but not processed foods. Shop around the edges of the grocery store, except for the side excursions to find the grains, and legumes which are underused by most of us.

Real Food/Fake Food is enlightening in terms of how to shop for foods that are not adulterated–which is so common today. It’s unfortunate that we have to shop for our food using the caveat emptor mindset, but that’s what we have allowed to happen by not exercising selectivity in what we will purchase–in looking for “cheap” as opposed to high quality.  We need to not buy adulterated foods–it’s worth the bit of extra effort to find out what we are buying and find shops where we know that quality is foremost even if the price is just a bit higher.

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Summer plenty

Walking through the farmers’ market we see an abundance of fresh produce. We cook and eat without thinking about the food waste between seed and plate. I’ve posted and reblogged articles about this issue: what has been done in other countries, tips on how not to waste food, making efficient use of leftovers, mindful eating, and grocery shopping for one, all with thoughts about food waste.

vegetable-chard IMG_0728This morning I read an article from Food 52 on kitchen scraps–with some statistics on food waste. This post gave a lot of recipes using those things that we often consider “scraps”–and some information on how long those (sometimes) impulsive purchases from the farmers’ market will last once you’ve gotten them into the kitchen.

This article has links to 125 (yes–one hundred twenty-five) recipes that focus on using that whole bunch of greens (even the stems) and things we often don’t consider for cooking and eating–radish tops, and even peels and skins of fruits and vegetables. We often discard the stems from chard and other greens when we cook the tender leaves but those stems are just as nutritious if treated just a bit differently–added first to the pot, or even used separately rather than discarded.

I’ve not tried all these recipes, but from my experience, the recipes from sources cited here are usually good. Even if you don’t use the recipes per se I think perusing them can show many ways that we can better use our food.

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On a related note, while we are enjoying the benefits of pollinators–honey bees included-Summer Harvest IMG_4487-those ladies of the hive are experiencing a decrease in the nectar and pollen that they can
gather–what we beekeepers call a “dearth” (scarcity or lack of something). We are eating and putting by the “fruits” of their work in the spring–and we don’t think about what is available for them at this time of the year.

I’ll be inspecting my hives tomorrow to see how much honey and pollen is stored. Most likely my ladies are consuming stored honey and pollen while awaiting the start of the goldenrod and aster seasons here in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. If necessary, I’ll be providing supplemental food (sugar syrup with supplements added) for them until the fall nectar flow starts and they can store honey and pollen for the winter.

I’m not planning a second harvest from hive Rosemarinus, or a first harvest from Salvia–they will get to keep all they produce from the autumn nectar flow to see them through the winter.

IMG_8902Feb hive

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Always Hungry? Mediterranean Chicken

And the weight loss is back on track, and meals still really tasty. From the Always Hungry? today I picked the Mediterranean Chicken recipe to try. The recipe struck me as  lacking oomph that I needed today, but a meal plan is a meal plan. This was, at least, a one-pot meal, and easy.

Refrigerator tidying was in progress at the same time as I started preparing the chicken. Some of the things that I found lurking in the back of the fridge ended up in the  Mediterranean chicken–though I played with it a bit, the final dish contained all the ingredients called for in the recipe–well, except one. That recipe called for putting green beans in near the end of the cooking time. I didn’t do that. Just didn’t trip my trigger, and since I made the whole four servings I’ll need to reheat and that wouldn’t work well with the green beans. (The haricots verts that I had in the fridge turned into a side that has always been a favorite: room temperature with sweet marjoram infused olive oil, and a sprinkle of Maldon salt–keeping with the spirit of the meal plan.)

The basic recipe is simple: chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces, sautéed with onion, then simmered with canned tomatoes with garlic, olives–salt and pepper, of course. The recipe called for kalamata olives–not what I had so I used a mix of green (that had been marinated in garlic and red pepper flakes), and oil-cured black olives to make up the 3/4 cup called for in the recipe. I was surprised that there were no herbs called for here–but I remedied that!

Ingredients

NOTE: The pickled garlic cloves were from tidying the fridge and I thought the bit of tartness would be nice since the tomatoes were very sweet smelling. The garlic cloves and the green olives both had hot red pepper flakes, so I didn’t need to add. If I were doing this without these, I’d likely add about 5 or 6 cloves of garlic sliced thin, a dash of red pepper flakes, and a splash of vinegar–likely white wine.

  • 1 pound of skinless, boneless  chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup of pitted oil-cured black olives and green olives, halved
  • 1-1/2 cups of chopped onions (I cheated and used frozen ones)
  • a 28-ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed into the pan,  the thick juice added as well
  • 1/2 cup of pickled garlic cloves, sliced
  • one 14-ounce can of garbanzo beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (olives were salty)
  • 1/3 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 3  tablespoons olive oil
  • feta cheese for garnish

Preparation

  • In a large skillet or brasier  heat the olive oil
  • Sauté the onion until translucent, add the sliced garlic a continue to sauté until fragrant
  • Add the chicken, salt, and olives a sauté until the chicken is opaque
  • Add the tomatoes, black pepper, and garbanzo beans
  • Simmer uncovered for about 35 minutes until the sauce thickens nicely
  • Garnish with feta cheese and serve with vegetable or salad

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In my tidying of kitchen and fridge, there were a small handful of cherry and grape tomatoes on the counter, so I pitched those in as well. I think that my modifications were in keeping with the spirit of the meal plan–even though the green beans migrated to a side dish. Those were a nice contrast to the dish–and now I can put part of it into the freezer for later use. This nice spicy, garlicky combination of chicken, tomatoes, and garbanzos would have been lovely accompanied by a glass of red wine, but–that will come later; meanwhile, I’m eating healthy, tasty food and losing weight.

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Always Hungry? NOT!

The Always Hungry? plan is back effect, with a few modifications.  I’ll  admit to my “oops” which was not because I was hungry! I just wasn’t thinking–good food, good company, open mouth, insert food.

My continued  issue is that there’s too much food on the meal plans for what I usually eat and my usual level of activity–I typically don’t “do” snacks”. Perhaps now that the weather is improving, but not yet sweltering, I can get more active.

The other difficulty for me is breakfast. Not only am I not at my peak function first thing in the morning, I just don’t want food.  I love breakfast food–eggs, omelettes, and the like–but just not in the morning. Perhaps as I manage to get off by butt and increase my activity I’ll eat more from the meal plan set out for this program.

For right now, brunch is a concept that fits well with my desire for foods. But, brunch interferes with snacks, so I’m using the snacks as “lunch” and having brunch, or I’m using the Power Shake for Phase 1 as breakfast, and lunch and dinner from the meal plan.

It sounds as if I’m really mucking this around, but I’m being very conscious of the appropriate balance of macronutrients for this phase: protein 25%, carbohydrates 25%, and fat 50%.  Despite my changes and that “slip”, it’s working!

tomato, mozzarella, and garbanzo bean salad, with lemon tahini dressing

tomato, mozzarella, and garbanzo bean salad, with lemon tahini dressing

 

Always Hungry? Cabbage Casserole

white cabbage cropped IMG_6018One of the recipes from Always Hungry?  that I wanted to try was the Cabbage Casserole (pages 236-237) since I feel that cabbage is an underappreciated vegetable that should be (at least) a winter staple. I suspect that when many people hear cabbage mentioned as an edible thing, they think “coleslaw”, or the St. Patrick’s Day corned beef and cabbage, or, perhaps, stuffed cabbage.

The other advantages to me were that it was an “all phases” dish, and I didn’t see anything that would make it impossible to freeze for later use. So, the Cabbage Casserole happened today. When I’m trying a new recipe, I like to make it as directed, except for seasonings that I thought needed adjustment for my taste. As usual, I found one thing that I felt could be modified without changing the results, but would make the recipe easier.

The directions call for blanching the cabbage in boiling water. I assumed (yes, I do know what “assume” does to you and me) that the blanching was to soften the cabbage a bit so that the texture wouldn’t be crunchy in the finished dish–just as you soften the leaves when making stuffed cabbage with whole leaves. Instead of blanching, I put the cabbage, with a splash–maybe a tablespoon–of water into the microwave until it had softened–about 5 minutes, then proceeded with the layering of the meat mixture, the cabbage, and the apple-tomato mixture as instructed in the recipe. Then, into the oven.

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cabbage casserole and serving on blue plate

cabbage casserole

The casserole is out of the oven, and I’ve enjoyed a serving. It’s another keeper. I’m surprised and pleased. The seasoning as in the recipe is good as is, though for my taste, I may add a little more garlic next time. The amount of cinnamon is perfect.  It’s another keeper even though it’s associated with a weight-loss program. The final result has a bit more liquid than I hoped, even though I baked it uncovered a little longer than the recipe called for. The recipe did not call for draining the tomatoes, but I’ll do that next time.

The microwave was apparently a good substitute for the blanching: the cabbage is tender, and not at all crunchy. I’ll happily eat this again, looking forward to having a glass of a hearty red wine to accompany it.

cabbage casserole up close

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Always Hungry? Oops!

I hate to have to admit this, but I fell off the meal plan, not because I was hungry, but just because I wasn’t thinking.

The Always Hungry? plan cautions you to be strict about following in the first fourteen days. Well, that is serious advice that should be heeded. I tried–really I did, but being away from home at a meeting in Alexandria, VA,  lead to a couple of deviations in the balance. Frist was a snack of cheese and crackers during a break in our meeting. The second was a glass of wine with dinner; the third was eating a small quantity of pasta with the entree I ordered, and finally that sandwich I had when I stopped to eat on my drive home.

The cheese was not the problem–it was the crackers as they are carbohydrates in a form not allowed on this plan. The second big problem was the pasta. This plan is doable in a restaurant, with just a bit of though. My problem was that I wasn’t thinking. I was enjoying good conversation with colleagues and good food.

After out meeting we had a delicious meal at Vaso’s Mediterranean Bistro. The entrée that I ordered had clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and scallops in a tomato sauce. There is nothing there that would “undo” the Always Hungry? meal plan–except for the pasta that was buried under all that lovely seafood. Just because it was there, didn’t mean I had to eat it–with the cup of avgolemono and the side salad, the seafood would have been a generous serving. But, I was just enjoying the meal and the company and ate some of the pasta! That alone was probably not a huge issue, except in conjunction with the crackers that I’d eaten with the cheese (St. Andre and Cambazola) earlier, and the added “insult” of the sandwich–yes, with white bread.

The result of these infractions? Well, I had not realized how good I felt for past week until I woke today. Until this morning, I had posted 7 pounds off my weight–now back up to 5 pounds off the weight. That wasn’t the real problem, though–I’m sure most of that was fluid and will go away quickly. It was how I felt–it’s hard to describe, but that week of no starchy things, except for legumes, made a huge difference in energy and well-being. It will be interesting to see how long it will take to recover from this lapse. This interlude has certainly impressed me with the effect of what I eat with how I feel–and not just hunger (or not), or satiety.

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Always Hungry? Meal Plan

Since I seem to be unable to stick to a recipe, am a picky eater, and have a lot of difficulty with breakfast, I’ve downloaded the Simplified Meal Plan from Always Hungry? website, and very carefully read the requirements for the “Building a Phase 1 Meal” (pages 151-152).  Since I was having a lazy day I did some adaptation on the “Herb-Roasted Chicken Thighs” since chicken thighs often show up on my house menus. I decided to make this a one-pot meal.

roasted chicken thigh, greens, black beansAfter seeing a post on slow roasted kale on Stefan’s Gourmet Blog, I decided I could make a one-dish meal that met those Phase 1 requirements. Using a bag of salad greens (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and some others) I put enough into the clay cooker to give me the amount of cooked greens that I needed for two meals (two of the thighs were for other uses). Since I’m such a fan of greens and beans, I added enough black beans for two servings. Since bell peppers are on the okay list, I added red and orange mini bell sweet peppers to the mix.  Finally, I topped that huge pile of greens with the chicken thighs sprinkled with salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano. The soaked clay cooker went into a cold 400 °F oven for a little over one hour and out came a meal that had the protein, vegetables, and the carbohydrates (the beans). All I had to add was dessert. (Yes, this meal plan includes dessert–in this case a cup of fruit and 1/2 ounce of dark chocolate.)

One of these thighs is going to find its way into chicken salad with grapes and pecans (substitution for walnuts) for one of the prescribed lunches and another into the freezer to pull out when I need a quick dinner ready with the vegetable, meat, carbohydrate quantities already worked out.