# Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A three day weekend is always a good excuse for lots of cooking, so I did some. 

On Saturday night I tried a pork chop recipe from the new Cook's Illustrated.  Very nice.  Sauced with brandy, prunes and shallots.  Very tasty.  And their recommendation to start the chops in a cold pan worked out beautifully.

Sunday morning saw some Parsi egg curry (scrambled eggs with onions, and a little coriander, tumeric, ginger) and some fruit salad (with a little Vietnamese cinnamon from Penzey's, makes all the difference)

I have absolutely no recollection of what I made Sunday night, but I recall it being good.  Hmmmm.

Last night was salmon fillets baked in parchment with some salt and pepper, a little tarragon, spinach and watercress, and a few nameko mushrooms.  That worked out fabulously, and was even popular with the picky 5 year old.  To go along with it I made some rice and lentil pilaf (just rice, lentils, chicken broth and a little curry powder) which also went over well with the troops. 

 

Tuesday, February 17, 2004 7:08:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Thursday, February 12, 2004

I've been trying to encourage my son (who's 8) to take a bit more responsibility for getting his own food.  So far we're pretty much only up to breakfast, but that's a start.  What really impressed me was that when he got into making his breakfast the other day (a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) when his sister showed up (she's 5).  He gave up his hard won PB & J to her, and started in making another one. 

Does my heart good. :-)

I started cooking pretty seriously around his age (fried eggs being my specialty) and I remember even then the sense that food you make yourself tastes that much better.  I noticed that he devoured that sandwich with relish.  Never too early to start.

Thursday, February 12, 2004 8:39:14 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Over the past two or so years I’ve lost over 50 pounds (yea me!) and the first thing that people I haven’t seen in a while ask is “are you on ‘the Atkins’?”.

Nope.  I think the Atkins diet is bad for you, and has long term consequences for your health that you may not notice for years to come.  It makes people sick.  Don’t do it.  I know there’s been a great deal of controversy on this particular issue, and I don’t have tons of statistics on my side.  Mostly instinct.  We’re not made (evolutionarily speaking) to eat that way.  Meat is hard to catch.  The other big problem is that people do lose weight on the Atkins diet quickly, and that’s pretty encouraging.  I just don’t think it’s worth the eventual consequences.  It teaches people to forget that in the long run, at the end of the day, you have to expend more calories than you eat every day, or you won’t lose weight.  That means that just because you’re eating too many calories that all came from fat you won’t lose weight any faster than if you’re eating too many calories worth of white bread. 

My dieting strategy has had much more to do with the theories behind books like The New Glucose Revolution.  The key issue to be concerned about is not whether or not you are eating carbohydrates, but what those carbohydrates are doing to your blood sugar.  Eat carbs all you want, but choose carbs that have less impact on your blood sugar (and therefore insulin) levels.  Wheat bread instead of white bread, rice instead of potatoes, whole grain cereals like musli instead of cornflakes.  These are pretty simple changes to make, and they make a difference.  I think this route leads to much healthier eating than does the Atkins diet.  We’re supposed to be eating things with carbs.  Look at pre-industrial society for clues there.  We’re just not supposed to be eating refined carbs like white flour and sugar. 

Anyway, I think that no matter which diet you choose, the single biggest factor is what I think of as “mindful eating”.  I realize that sounds rather Buddhist (and it is, I suppose), but it makes a huge difference in how you feel and how much you weigh.  Just think about what you’re putting into your mouth.  It’s as simple as that.  Ask yourself questions like

  • Is this good for me?
  • Is this bad for me? (chemicals, artificial ingredients, etc.)
  • If so, how bad?
  • Am I going to expend this many calories today?
  • Do I really want to eat this? Or is it just habit?
  • What’s really in this? (possibly the most important one)
  • Is there an alternative that would be better for me?

I’m not suggesting that you adhere slavishly to the answers to any of those questions, but I think you’ll find that just by asking them, you’ll eat better, and probably lose weight, if that’s your goal.  I think way too many people these days eat horrible food because they don’t stop to ask these questions.  I mean not just horrible in terms of health concerns, but just plain gross food.  Take a look at some of the junk in the grocery store. 

On that note, please take as much care about asking yourself those questions before you give food to your kids.  They depend on us to feed them food that’s healthy and won’t harm them down the road.

I think if you get in the habit of asking yourself about the food you eat, you’ll find yourself eating more whole foods, and more food that’s better for your body (and your wallet, but that’s another story).  You may decide that you worked out extra hard, and you just feel like a chocolate bar today.  OK, eat it, but just think about why you're eating it, and what it means to your body.

One last note: I had been excersing pretty regularly for a couple of years, and not losing any weight until I changed my diet.  Now that I've lost the weight, I find that how much I excersise makes a bigger difference now than it did before.  Even if I eat mindfully, I still have to excersise or I'll start gaining weight.  Remember, if calories in > calories out, you'll gain weight, no matter where the calories came from.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004 9:38:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I’m going to post a bunch more on this particular topic over the next month or so.  I’m teaching a class on Viking cooking in late April, and I’ll be organizing my thoughts and opinions as I write the class, which should result in some interesting stuff.  Watch this space. 

As just a quick note, though, basically my thoughts about Viking cooking run like this:

  • The Vikings didn’t use recipes
    • So we aren’t going to find any
  • We know what ingredients they ate from the archeological record
  • We know what tools they used for cooking from same
  • We have some idea about their tastes from contemporary literature (know your sagas!)
  • We know what modern Scandinavian food is like
  • Given the above, we can recreate Viking food with a fair amount of confidence
  • The foremost barrier to recreating Viking food is that many modern people think it sounds gross
    • I happen to like oatmeal and onions, but many don’t :-)

 

More on this topic hopefully soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 9:23:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Friday, February 06, 2004

I’ve mentioned in several of my previous posts that I favor organic ingredients, and I felt it was time for the full-on rant.

<rant>BUY ORGANIC!  Do yourself, your family and your planet a favor and buy organically grown produce.  It’s gotten popular enough now that it doesn’t really cost all that much more than conventional, and in my experience it’s often better and fresher, which means you’re more likely to actually eat it before it rots, making it less expensive (since if it rots you get 0 benefit).  It’s better for you.  Some studies have shown better vitamin content than conventional produce (I can’t vouch for how scientific those studies are, so consider that bit hearsay).  They obviously have way less pesticides and chemicals, which aren’t good for you, your kids, or your local watershed.  Organics are getting easier to find.  My local Costco has started stocking a number of organic products, like peanut butter, oatmeal, and others.  Don’t judge organic produce by the crap they sell at Safeway.  They go out of their way to buy crummy looking organics so you’ll buy the (much cheaper and higher margin) conventional produce.  Go find a store that cares about organic food.  We can’t afford to keep intrusting our food supply and the health of the environment to agrobusiness, which have demonstrated their lack of concern for anything except profits.  And while you’re at it, support your local organic farmers and farmer’s markets.  Find out where there’s one near you, and start going.  May small organic (and conventional) farms offer subscriptions, where you pay a fixed price each month for a share of their crops.  They get to support their family farm, and you get good healthy, locally grown food to eat.</rant>

OK, I’m finished now.  Back to your regularly scheduled food related stuff.  I just had to get that out of my system.

Friday, February 06, 2004 6:10:20 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

I was feeling lazy last night, but still wanted to eat real food for dinner.  I happened to have a lovely head of organic broccoli, so I went through the pantry/fridge to see what went with broccoli.  I came up with some organic whole wheat pasta (which has really come a long way.  The whole wheat pasta of my hippie youth was much more like punishment.), some blue cheese (Point Reyes Blue) and some walnuts.  A little olive oil and salt and pepper later, I had some lovely pasta with broccoli, walnuts and blue cheese.  Even better, I have a steamer that sits on top of a good sized pot, so I cooked the pasta in the bottom and steamed the broccoli over the pot, but minimum fuss and extra dishes. 

Easy and tasty.  Two big sellers on a busy weeknight.

Friday, February 06, 2004 5:59:59 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, February 04, 2004

It’s harder and harder these days to promote good nutrition at home, since so many of the products that kids and other family members are exposed to are full of complete and total crap.  Don’t even get me started on school lunches.  (More on that some other time.)  So there are times when it’s useful to sneak in some nutritious foods without your kids (or others :-) ) noticing. 

My son is pretty adventurous in his eating habits. He loves sushi, eats bean-spread sandwiches with relish (enjoyment, not pickles) and demands chicken livers at New Years.  My daughter, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  If she could live exclusively on cheese-flavored wheat flour paste, she would. 

One of the areas that I always seem to get into conflict with the rest of the family is pancakes.  I like “weird” pancakes.  Whole wheat, cornmeal, buckwheat, barley flour, you name it.  And I tend to throw in things like flax seed meal, wheat germ, soy flour, and other (IMHO) interesting ingredients.  Since I took up the low-glycemic lifestyle 2 years ago, the last thing I’m down with is pasty white pancakes. 

This doesn’t go down well with the rest of the gang.  My wife asks for “regular” pancakes, and my son begs for no more “healthy” pancakes. 

I’ve discovered, however, that crepes are apparently exempt from these restrictions.  I make what my wife calls crepes, and I grew up calling “roll-ups” with all the weird ingredients I want.  Bring on the flax seed, bran, soy protein, you name it, and no one seems to be too bothered.  Of course, when you roll said crepe around enough butter and applesauce, there’s only so bad it can be.  I continue on the path of pancake experimentation, but for now at least I have an out.

I’ve been meaning to try some yeast-risen pancakes or waffles.  I used to do that fairly often, but haven’t in ages.  I noticed that in this months Cooks Illustrated, there’s an article on yeast-risen waffles, so I’m feeling re-inspired. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 10:21:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

If you like Ethiopian food (or if you’ve never tried it, you should) and you happen to be in or around Portland check out Queen of Sheba.  I love Ethiopian food, and they make some of the best I’ve had.  I went a couple of weeks ago, and it was fabulous.  Vikki and I had the vegetarian sampler, and everything was just right.  Spicy but not too hot, very flavorful, and everything was a little bit different.  Definitely a place where vegetarians won’t feel denied.  It’s gotten me all in the mood to make Ethiopian food at home, which I haven’t done in ages, but I just haven’t had the time to do all the prep work yet. 

If you want to try it at home yourself, I’d recommend checking out Exotic Ethipian Cooking by Daniel Mesfin if you can find a copy, Amazon seems to suggest it’s out of print.  My other favorite source for Ethiopian recipes is the rather unlikely source, Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors.  Check out your favorite used book store for copies of either.  Powell’s might be a good bet. 

I think the best Ethiopian food experience I ever had was in Washington DC.  Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the restaurant.  There’s one block in DC that has no less than three Ethiopian restaurants, two across the street from one another.  I’ve been to two of them on various trips.  The last time was with Scott Hanselman and Joe Tillotson when we did the Gear.com roadshow. Scott ordered in Amharic (yes, it was impressive) so I’m not sure what I ate, but it was fabulous.  It’s a three story restaurant on what I vaguely remember to be the west side of the street, but I could be wrong about that.  I’ll see if I can come up with a name at some point.

 

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 5:38:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [4]

I realize that this is rather stream-of-consciousness, but the rhubarb got me thinking about stuffed dates. 

These are possibly the most decadent dessert product I can think of, or at least that I eat semi-regularly :-)

Mix together

  • Some mascarpone cheese (I’ve tried this with whipped cream, but the mascarpone is WAY better)
  • Sweetener of your choice (I use honey or agave nectar, powdered sugar also works)
  • True cinnamon, although regular grocery store cinnamon (which is really cassia) can be used, but doesn’t have the same floral quality
  • A touch of either rose water or orange flower water.  I’ve used both, and tend to prefer the rose, but some people don’t like it

 

Now get some fresh (NOT DRIED) dates, split them down the long axis, take out the pit, and fill the resulting cavity with the filling.  Especially if the dates are really fresh, these will just melt in your mouth (and go straight to your backside).  The best dates I’ve ever had were labeled as “Black Sphinx” dates, and they were truly sublime, like little bags of date flavored jelly, but since I’ve only ever seen them in stores twice, I usually go for medjools instead.  You can use dried dates, but it really won’t be as good.

I’ve also seen some recipes for dates stuffed with almond paste but I haven’t tried those.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 12:13:56 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [3]
# Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I’m not sure how, but some how or another Jason went from chicken livers to rhubarb, so now I’m thinking about rhubarb. 

Makes a fine pie, especially with strawberries or blueberries.  I’ve also had good luck with strawberry/rhubarb crisps or crumbles.  Up the topping over what you’d use for apples, since rhubarb gives off a lot of liquid. 

My absolute favorite rhubarb thing is a Persian lamb (or beef) and rhubarb stew (or “khoresh”).  Truly amazing.  Take some cubed lamb or beef and brown it with onions, then add some cinnamon, preferable true cinnamon from Penzey’s or your favorite serious spice source.  Add water or stock to cover and then simmer until the meat is tender.  Then add some cut up rhubarb, and lots of parseley, like a bunch worth or more, and some fresh or dried mint and salt & pepper to taste.  Cook until the rhubarb is just tender, then serve up with Persian saffron rice.

Truly amazing.  It’s worth getting the good cinnamon for, and some quality mint.  I use dried Bulgarian spearmint, also from Penzey’s. 

There are some other really great Persian meat/fruit combinations, like chicken and pomegranate, and beef w/ peaches.  Check out Najmieh Khalili Batmanglij’s New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies for all this and more.  It’s my favorite Persian cookbook.  I have a couple others that I can’t think of titles for right now.  Maybe it’ll come to me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004 10:23:57 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]