Friday, January 15, 2010

The Pressure's On

In a nut shell, this blog is about being healthier. I have mentioned previously that heart health is particularly important for women (and men) with PCOS and/or diabetes. It is my hope that following the guidelines that we have implemented for 2010 will maintain or improve my heart's health (and yours, too!). In an effort to support this theory, I will periodically post results from lab work or meetings with my doctors.

Yesterday, at a routine appointment, I was told that my blood pressure was 115/65. "Perfect," she said. To put that into perspective, readings that are above 90/60 and below 120/80 are condsidered normal or healthy. So, good for me!

In the next few weeks, I am supposed to have blood work done showing lipid and cholesterol levels, thyroid hormone levels, and blood sugar. I will keep you posted.

Hot Sauce

There are very few things that cannot be bettered by the addition of a splash (or 10) of hot sauce. So, last week, we quickly whipped up a batch to alleviate our suffering without it. There are a million ways to make hot sauce. This is only one version, but we will surely test many more...especially since the bottle broke last night, and we are once again without hot sauce -- a total bummer.

When you are blending the hot sauce, be sure to use the lid. Just remove the center piece so that you can drop the peppers in while the blender is running. This makes is much easier to liquefy the peppers. It is best to let the flavors meld and mellow for a few days before using it.

1/4 pound (about 15) serrano peppers
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon salt

1. Wash the peppers and remove the stems.
2. In a blender, combine the salt and vinegar.
3. With the blender running on low speed, drop in the chiles, one at a time.
4. When all the peppers are in the blender, run it on high for at least 3 minutes. The final product should be homogenous and free of lumps.
5. Pour hot sauce into jar. Store in the refrigerator.

The top photo was taken at a market in Cuernavaca, Mexico while I attended classes at La Villa Bonita Cooking School. The bottom photo was taken at St. Louis, Missouri's Soulard Market. (Forgive the quality. I was unable to locate the digital copies, and I was forced to scan in the printed photos. I vow to be more organized in 2010!)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Center Aisles

Nutritionists and journalists (such as Michael Pollan) regularly remind consumers to avoid the middle aisles of the supermarket. The theory, and one that I wholly support, is that raw, unprocessed, non-packaged items like fruits & veggies, meat, dairy, etc are found on the perimeter of the store. Center aisles usually contain shelf stable packaged goods that may or may not be healthy. Soda, chips, cookies, and frozen dinners are all found in the center of the store.

Still, healthy and minimally processed options can be found even in those dreaded middle rows. In search of a quick, late-night snack, Ben went out to our neighborhood grocery store, Safeway. Tucked amongst high-fat microwave popcorn, over-sugared granola bars, HFCS-based candies, and sodium-laden roasted nuts, we found raw almonds, dried figs, old-fashioned kernels of corn for popping, and locally made, high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate. In all honesty, we probably ate more of these items than we should have, but it's better than the alternative!

Helping Others

This blog was created with the intentions of helping others to eat better. So, in the spirit of helping others, we donated money to the Red Cross International Response Fund. Whatever organization you choose to donate to, please help the people of Haiti. Even if you can't give very much, remember that every penny counts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

When Cheating isn't that Bad

Just after my earlier post on cheating, I trekked over to my local Whole Foods to pick up ingredients for this week's recipes. Feeling particularly guilty about said confession, I searched high and low for a soy sauce that I might not feel so bad about using. What I found was Bluegrass Soy Sauce. This is what the company has to say about their microbrewed, small batch, single barrel product,

"This sauce is from the only small batch soy sauce brewery in the United States. It's made from whole non-GMO Kentucky grown soybeans and pure limestone filtered Kentucky spring water. The result is a smoky, brothy sauce with hints of oak and a mild sweetness reminiscent of fine Kentucky bourbon."

A small, U.S. company brewing "all natural-preservative free" soy sauce containing only: non-GMO soybeans, wheat, sea salt, and spring water. Now that's something that I can feel good about.

(P.S. The photo above is from the company's website. It is not my work.)

We're Cheating

...but only a little

In an ideal world, I would not put one droplet of "processed" food into my shrine of a body this year. But, guess what? I do not live in an ideal world. Do you? Because, if so, I would like to be invited over to your place! What do I mean?

I am a regular contributor to the Boston Globe which means that I spend a fair amount of time testing recipes for my columns. My editor would absoulutely have a fit if I asked the readers of the Boston Globe to embark on an unprocessed mission and make things like homemade ketchup or tortillas. That being said, we have a few things in our pantry and fridge that do not meet the criteria for the year. However, (and this is big) we reside in one of the most expensive cities in the country (if not the world). And, I have the (un?)fortunate pleasure of working an hourly job as a baker. Bakers, I will have you know, are not the highest paid folks out there. So, in an effort to avoid bankruptcy in 2010 (something else that I highly recommend), we will be eating the results of our Boston Globe recipe testing even though the dish does not fully meet our "unprocessed" standards.

We will, nonetheless, keep our goals and parameters in mind when creating new recipes for the Globe. We are most definitely making an effort to include a minimal number of ingredients that do not fit our plan. I will give you an example. Today, I am testing an adobo pork recipe that calls for soy sauce. (All of the other ingredients in the recipe do meet our demands.) Since, I have yet to figure out how to ferment my own soy sauce, I will be using commercially prepared version. To be clear, this does not mean that we will be commercially prepared soy sauce in other dishes. If we make exceptions, it will only be for the Boston Globe recipes. Just because we have it in the house does not mean that we are free to use it.

Please accept my confession, and don't judge too harshly! ;)

A Winning Combination of Hearty Meals

The following two recipes are from the new column in the Boston Globe called Sunday Suppers. The idea is to make a meal on Sunday from which you can easily transform the leftovers into something new for Monday.

Sunday supper becomes doubly satisfying when your favorite sports team is winning and you’re passing bowls of hearty chili. If chili doesn’t seem to be a dish you can reconcile with your resolution to slim down, rest assured that this version is healthy (and happens to be thrifty too). It’s a vegetarian bowl with a spicy kick, so it will stand up to the meatiest opponents.

Begin with dried beans, which need an overnight soak to soften. Saute onions with poblano and jalapeno peppers, adding the spices to the oil to release their aromas. When the beans are cooked, stir some bulgur into the pan. This will make the dish feel hearty and filling at a fraction of the price - and calories - of ground meat. Bowls are garnished with grated cheddar and avocado.

The long-cooked chili and a little advance work mean an easy Monday. While you prep the chili, chop the ingredients for the burritos. Then, as the chili simmers, put on a pot of taqueria-style rice for tomorrow’s dish. There’s enough filling to make 8 rolls. If you don’t need that many for dinner, pop a few in the freezer or wrap them in parchment paper (instead of foil) and tote them to work. A quick pop in the microwave and lunch is hot. So, before you head for the couch, assemble, roll, and wrap the burritos. Two meals ready to eat.

(Leave out the cheese and the sour cream to make both of these dishes vegan!)

Vegetarian Chili

Serves 6 with leftovers

1 1/2 pounds dried red kidney beans
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cans (28 ounces each) diced tomatoes
5 cups water
1 1/2 cups bulgur
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 ripe avocado, peeled and diced
1 cup shredded cheddar

1. In a large bowl, combine the beans with enough cold water to cover them by several inches; soak overnight at room temperature.

2. Drain the beans; set aside.

3. In a large flameproof casserole, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions, poblano and jalapeno peppers, garlic, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the onions are tender.

4. Add the tomatoes, beans, and water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. The mixture should be soupy; add more water if necessary.

5. Stir in the bulgur, salt, and black pepper. Recover the pan, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

6. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and black pepper, if you like.

7. Ladle into bowls (save 2 cups for tomorrow’s burritos) and garnish with avocado and cheddar.

Rice and Bean Burritos

Serves 8


1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed
3 cups water
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight fitting lid, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until tender.

2. Stir in the cumin, chili powder, and turmeric. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, or until the spices are aromatic.

3. Add the rice, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 16 minutes or until tender.

4. Remove the pan from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.


8 flour tortillas (10 inches)
4 cups cooked rice
2 cups vegetarian chili
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
Hot sauce, to taste

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Lay the tortillas on the counter. In a mound from the tops to the bottoms of each one, layer rice, chili, tomatoes, cheese, avocado, sour cream, cilantro, and a dash of hot sauce.

3. Fold the top and bottom edges of a tortilla over the filling. Roll the tortilla up, completely encasing the filling. Wrap in foil (wrap in parchment if reheating in microwave tomorrow). Set them on the baking sheet. Continue folding the remaining tortillas.

4. Heat the burritos for 20 minutes or until hot in the center.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Apple Butter

Making apple butter is fairly simple, but it takes a long, long time. I recommend using a Crock-pot. Stove-top versions are ok, but they tend to burn if you don't watch them carefully. I've read that you should not use granny smiths, instead choosing sweeter varieties. However, we threw in a bunch of granny smiths (just to use them up), and this batch was delicious! The only other trick is to use a scant amount of cinnamon. The apples are extremely flavorful once they have cooked down all day -- no need to overpower them with baking spices.

In an effort to make things healthier, we used fruit sweetener instead of cane sugar. It is a syrup made from concentrated fruit juices. The sweetener is great for baking, and tastes sweeter than cane sugar. So, you can use less.

Makes about 2 cups

8 apples
1/2 cup fruit sweetener
2 cups water
Pinch salt
1 stick cinnamon (about 1.5 inches long)

1. Scrub the apples. Do not peel them. Cut them (cores and all) into chunks.
2. Combine apples with sweetener, water, and salt in a large pot.
3. Cook the apples, over medium heat, for 2 hours or until completely broken down. Stir often, breaking up the apples with a spoon. Add more water if it becomes too dry. The final mixture should resemble apple sauce.
4. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Use a ladle or a rubber spatula to push the pulp through the strainer, leaving the seeds and skin behind. Discard the seeds and skin.
4. Transfer the pulp to a Crock-pot. Turn it on low for 8 hours. Stir occasionally, making sure to scrape the sides well.
5. After 6 hours of cooking time, add the cinnamon stick. Leave the lid slightly ajar to allow for reduction.
6. Cook for an additional 2 hours. Remove cinnamon stick. Transfer to jars or plastic containers with lids. Store in refrigerator.