Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Geography of Food

This weekend, the Mrs. went to a craft festival sponsored by a Russian Church in a nearby town. One of the features was food. She told me she was going to bring home some Russian food for dinner. I was intrigued as I had never had Russian cuisine before.

I couldn't wait for her to get home because I was hungry missed her. Now, here's the surprise: Russian food is pretty much like Polish or Hungarian food.

We had something similar to pierogi (but they were triangular) and some kind of savory blintz. We also had stuffed cabbage.

Now, I have no idea why this surprised me. This is a part of the world that shared not only the same political and economic structure for 50 years, but it has the same climate, which means certain produce is available. That would be wheat (from the breadbasket of Europe (the Ukraine) and potatoes from all Eastern Europe. Meat is almost like a condiment, and again, this makes perfect sense because the region is rather poor, and meat is expensive as it uses up so many resources.
I did a little research and found quite a few Russian recipe sites.

Here's one with something we really enjoyed yesterday: pasta with mushrooms.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The best veggie burger

Plenty of meat analogs are available for someone who craves a burger, but doesn't want to eat meat, whether it is a permanent change or just for the day.

Get real, most of them taste pretty bad. While some may be more burger-like than others, none quite fits the bill.

And on top of that, they are very expensive, and some can be high calorie.

What to do, what to do?

My favorite alternative is a portabella mushroom burger. Once grilled, it can be dressed like a burger


and best of all, it is almost a calorie-free food. 100 gms (about 3-4 oz) has only around 20 calories, it's low in sodium, has a couple grams of protein, and no fat. It can be grilled, or just quickly cooked in a frying pan. Just brush lightly with some olive oil, and sprinkle a little garlic powder on and it's good to go.

As they cook, they become more "meaty." And because it is always a good thing to stretch the food dollar and use everything, save the stems. They can be used in many ways, whether diced and put in stuffing for another dish, or just added to a soup or stew.

While the traditional method of cleaning 'shrooms is by brushing the dirt off them, I always prefer to wash them. Alton Brown dispelled the myth that they act almost like a sponge and in reality, they absorb very tiny amounts of water during washing.

Tonight's dinner was a nice portabella burger on whole wheat with a slice of soy cheese. I'm feeling so healthy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tales from the Toaster

Sure a good sounding title, huh?

Lately the Mrs. has been buying bread from bakeries, and this is a special treat. She gets it sliced a litle thicker, and such a hearty slice just seems to make even better toast, if that could be possible. I have my own theory about this. When the bread is toasted, it just becomes such a perfect combination of textures that the whole toasting experience is enhanced. Oh yeah. The crunchy outside, spread with some peanut butter slowly melting into it, and the warm soft inside.....sounds almost like a romance novel, doesn't it? Top it with some fruit preserves, and it is as good as any dessert I've ever had. And much better than a typical breakfast.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

MMMM, blackberries

I haven't been posting as regularly here as I should. No particular reason, just haven't had a lot to write about.
I've been really enjoying the blackberries this season. Seems like they have been extra delicious. But what is up with the inconsistancy in a pint of berries?


One may be succulent and delicious, oozing juicy blackberry goodness, and the next, not so much. It may even be a little bitter. But, oh, when I hit a great one, it's possibly my favorite fruit. And it's healthy.

According to Driscoll's website:
A one-cup serving of blackberries provides:
60 Calories with 2g Protein and only 1g Fat
50% of your day's supply of Vitamin C
32% of your day's supply of Fiber
9% of your day's supply of Folic Acid
6% of your day's supply of Iron
4% of your day's supply of Calcium
4,654 ORAC Value

ORAC is the number assigned to a foods anti oxident value and is believed to aid in keeping us healthy in so many ways. many believe higher ORAC value foods help in prebventing the ravages of aging.

By the way, the USDA rates berries at 7700+, which makes them a nutritional powerhouse.

I'll have some toaster updates soon.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Farmer's Markets Are Open

Over the weekend the local Farmer's Market opened up, and the Mrs. was there right about opening time. This is pretty important when shopping at these markets because they don't bring tons of extras. they usually bring what they expect to sell, and little more. Plus, the "early bird" gets the choicest fruits and vegetables.
One thing she bought was strawberries. They were kind of pricy, about double the cost of Shop-Rite, but we believe in supporting the local guy when we can. But boy, were they worth it. They were possibly the perfect strawberries. Red, sweet, with just the hint of a tangy undernote that made me fully appreciate a fresh local berry picked at the peak of flavor.
I never put sugar or any enhancements on my berries anyway, and it would have been a shame to do it to these. They were the strawberriest.

She also had some fresh spinach that was turned into a quick dinner after being sauted and tossed with some Sicilian extra virgin oil and whole grain pasta.

She also stocked up on other fruits and vegetables that we will be enjoying during the week. One advantage of buying locally is that the produce lasts longer. Rather than spending a few days in a warehouse, then being shipped to us, we are getting wonderful food that was picked just a day ago about 20 minutes away from here. It has more vitamins, and much more taste.

We are making a conscious effort to eat from nature's bounty this summer. I'd have to say we are off to a great start.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Recipe--Cheap eats

The Mrs makes this pretty regularly. It qualifies as cheap eats, and a healthy meal, too. She can even make it vegan.

This is either German or Hungarian in origin. Quick to make and pretty tasty.

Start with either a bag of sauerkraut, or 2 bags of cabbage sliced for cole slaw. She buys one of red cabbage and one of green when she does the fresh cabbage option.

1 TBS of oil

1 large onion

1 lb of ground turkey, beef, or 1 package of Griller Crumbles

1 Lg can of tomatoes (crushed, diced, or whole is fine)

clove of garlic

hot pepper to taste

Start by sweating the cabbage or saurkraut. (BTW, rinse the sauerkraut first)

Then add the onions, then when they are nearly done, the garlic.

She usually browns the turkey/beef in a seperate pan. If she uses the Crumbles, she can skip this step.

Once the veggies and meat are done, she puts them all together in a pan, adds the can of tomatoes, sprinkles on hot pepper flakes, and lets it cook on low heat for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4-6. Tastes great (maybe even better) the next day.

This is low fat, low cal, and has the benefits of cabbage, a cruciferous, cancer fighting vegetable.

Let me know if you enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Foods of our forefathers

I know plenty of us have an image of grandma spending hours in the kitchen preparing complicated 5 course meals richly laden with sauces and home made breads.

Maybe some did, but I don't think most had the time or energy to do that. But what they did do is cook inexpensively. Most of the great dishes we love as ethnic cuisine, for the most part, came about because they were cheap.

A lot of Italians ate greens and pasta because they were dirt cheap. The greens were often found growing wild. I remember the old ladies used to go in the fields across the street from my home (and I lived in a small city) and pick greens throughout the growing season.

Early spring was dandelion. Before the flowers bloomed, the little weeds were excellent eating. And if it was a bumper crop, well, grandpa made some dandelion wine.

As the season progressed, they picked other greens, and incorporated these freebies into their diets.

Broccoli rhab should be out soon. This is a gourmet dish on some restaurant menus, costing 10 bucks or so a plate. It can be made at home for under a buck. Bitter greens like this can be very beneficial, health-wise.

Still others that I knew had gardens. Again, this was in a city, and I am talking about realtively small pieces of land. The entire property, including the house, couldn't have been more than 40' x 100'. And one neighbor, in particular, grew nearly all his family's tomatoes, peppers, onions, corn, grapes, zucchini, and beans. They canned a lot of it, too. He saved scraps for fertizer, and saved his seeds from year to year, so his cost was minimal.

Today, we would put up an awning, he had a grape arbor. It provided shade, fresh fruit, and some wine. This was a serious urban farmer.

And he wasn't the only one. It was common to see such things in very small spaces. We have gotten away from that, I think.

It may be too late to do much planting right now, but there may be some later crops that can be put in. At the very least, make plans for next year. Nothing is better (or cheaper) than fresh produce right from your own garden. And no need to worry about getting diseases from produce you grow yourself, organically, like tomatoes with salmonella.

Farmer's markets are getting ready to open. Pay them a visit for the best produce at the best prices. Eat seasonally and save the most.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Easy pasta e fagioli

One of my favorite meals is pasta e fagioli. If you grew up around Italians, you heard it called pasta fazool.
And it is a very inexpensive meal. And, to top it off, it's very healthy.

Serves 4

I start with a large onion. I chop it in big pieces because we like onions, but if you and your family aren't big fans, then just dice the onion. I sweated the onions in a 2 quart saucepan, using my garlic infused oil described in previous posts, but any would be fine. Just add a clove of garlic as the onions are nearly done if you don't have the garlic oil. Burnt garlic is nasty, so add it when the onions are almost done.

Then add a large can of tomatoes. I used Whole Foods store brand organic (365) whole tomatoes so I got the best for less. Pureed or chopped would work just as well. Use whatever you get on sale.

Add 2 cups (or one 16 oz can) of white Northern beans (or whatever you have on hand or got on sale.) I use White Northerns that I buy dried and then soak overnight, and cook first.

Let it simmer for a few hours on the lowest heat. This would be great in a crock pot.

Add some oregano (tsp) near the end of cooking.

Usually this dish would then have pasta (cooked first) added and simmered minutes before the end.

Garnishing with grated Romano cheese is optional.

Here's how I keep it healthy:
I use whole wheat pasta (ziti this time) and can control my pasta portion. I use it almost like a sauce, mixing a large ladleful with my pasta portion in the bowl.

It is good for diabetics because white beans have been shown to help control blood sugars. Also, various studies have shown that a vegetarian diet is better for diabetics. I like making it this way also because by not adding the pasta until serving, it doesn't get mushy when left over. I always make a batch large enough for leftovers. : )

Nice variation: don't add the pasta, and use a stick blender, and turn everything into a creamy soup. Very low cal, and tasty. Especially good for winter.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Need some cheap eats

The price of food is skyrocketing. Factor in all the other rising costs (fuel and healthcare) and I need to do something. Between the Mrs.'s short commute to work, and her healthcare cost increase, we are now bringing in $150 less per month.

About the only variable left is food. What to do?

I've been giving it a lot of thought lately. My grandparenst never had a lot of money, so what did they do?

They ate seasonally, and they ate beans. I'm working on some recipes for beans as we speak. One of my favorites is pasta e fagioli, which is a heart soup.

Only problem is I make it in big batches, and it's not a freezer friendly dish. Gets too mushy, while the pasta gets too gummy. I did make a sort of creamy bean soup that tasted like pasta e fagioli, but I want something with a bit more body.

I'll be experimenting in the kitchen in the next few days. I want to make something similar to a pasta sauce, loaded with beans. Sounds weird, but I have to google some recipes and see what I can adapt for my highly refined tastes.

I can hear you snickering. You call my tastes weird, but we'll see after you have your first PB&T sandwich later this summer.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What's up with Hell's Kitchen?

This crop of would be head chefs must be the worst ever in the short history of the show. In about 4 episodes, Ramsey will turn over the stewardship of one of his restaurants to one of these 5 remaining cooks.

All except for Petrozza and Bobby seem clueless.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like Ramsey is leaning towards either/both of them. It's still early, but they are the only two that haven't really annoyed him yet. At least they haven't done it too much.

I still like the show, but it isn't can't miss TV for me. Just a lot of yelling with very little cooking going on.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Mrs. had some fish at the Showboat. It was ok, but the creamed spinach tasted like nothing I ever had before. It might have had cinnamon in it. I should have asked for the recipe, but I was afraid the chef may have thought we liked it. It was kind of nasty.


The nachos were a disappointment, too. They looked good, but were strange, also.
Totally processed tasting, like it was covered in melted Cheez Whiz. At least dinner was cheap. And the roasted pepper on mine looked pretty, and tasted ok.


But I did have some fun, acting as if I were a photojournalist.

I have no life.

But one thing bothered me more than the bad food. The big basket of not to be eaten rolls. We didn't eat them, and most tables left at least a couple of them.

With the cost of food, and the many hungry people in the country, it's a shame. Within a few hundred feet of where we were, I know there are homeless people living. Yet these things were tossed. Wouldn't it make more sense to ask if the diners wanted the rolls, and to donate the rolls normally doled out to those unfortunate folks living under the boardwalk?

Makes sense to me.