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A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by | Apr 26, 2010
Springtime Quiche Recipe

Springtime Quiche

Today I’m excited to have one of my favorite scientists and healthy eating bloggers, Jenn Cuisine, sharing her story. Jenn is an amazing cook who has learned gluten free cooking because of her husband’s gluten intolerance.

I find Jenn particularly inspiring because despite her culinary restrictions, deliciousness is always her top priority. She cooks amazing, healthy food and takes beautiful photos. In fact, it was months before I even realized her recipes were gluten free.

Jenn Cuisine is perfect for anyone interested in delicious, healthy recipes. Follow her on Twitter @jenncuisine

A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by Jenn

Hello! And thanks so much to Darya for inviting me to talk with you all. I have always been a big fan of Summer Tomato, the vast wealth of information that Darya provides about health and tasty food is just simply amazing!

The month of May, Celiac Disease Awareness month, is quickly approaching, and so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about my family’s gluten free experience and how we get on in the kitchen.

My husband is not technically celiac, but is very intolerant to gluten and has many similar symptoms as celiac disease. Never having had any problems with gluten myself, I panicked a little bit when I found out. I learned about his condition soon after we started dating, and was completely overwhelmed at the thought of making gluten free food.

“No bread? No pasta?  No flour? OMG what in the world am I going to make for him??” This put a serious wrench in my plans to win over his heart with some fabulous home-baked goods, like my dad’s famous peach pie.

I was utterly clueless about how to prepare gluten free food, and my husband didn’t have a good handle on how to eat GF back then either. He was constantly miserable and reacting to everything, and just didn’t have the kitchen know-how to consistently create tasteful gluten free meals. Gluten free became a learning experience for the both of us. And together, by learning how to cook all over again, we fell in love.

At first, I felt that making gluten free food shouldn’t be a big deal. I wanted our lives to continue as if being gluten free were a mere afterthought–but I quickly realized this is not how this works. GF is a permanent and ever present part of his life, which needed to be acknowledged. Some foods are challenging and others are simple, but no matter what we will be gluten free. This is not some fad diet for us, this is a part of who my husband is, and therefore, who I am.

We started out simple and slow, at first relying on a number of packaged foods. However, these products really weren’t fulfilling taste-wise and were quite pricey for our grad-student budgets. Thus began my venture off into the world of gluten free cooking from scratch, learning about various alternative flours, binders and ratios.  I even managed to successfully make my dad’s peach pie.

As time went on, cooking transformed from something I used to stress over into part of our daily lives that we both can now proudly embrace. Gluten free cooking is not a handicap. If anything, GF has been liberating, because I have grown to appreciate so much about food, flavor, creativity and love.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that GF cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, most of what we cook on a daily basis needs no alterations, no substitutions. I find it’s best this way. After all, food shouldn’t be a fuss–that takes the fun out of it. Cooking should be relaxing, a time for sharing, and a time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We learn from each other this way, and bond over soups bubbling on the stove, chicken roasting in the oven, or pastries being rolled out.

These are the little joys that food and cooking can bring us, little ephemeral moments of bliss, which are not limited to only glutenicious dishes. Through learning how to create food gluten free, I’ve learned to enjoy cooking all over again.

There are so many tips and tricks I have learned along the way–to remove the stress and panic that can so easily overwhelm the newly GF. If you are just starting out in the realm of gluten free food, here are some helpful little bits of advice:

1. Explore!

Be adventurous and try those grains you’ve never seen before. Quinoa, amaranth, millet. Each has a new, different flavor and often contains more nutrients than plain old white rice flour.

2. Find a recipe for a GF mix that you love?

Mix a bunch of the dry ingredients together ahead of time and store the entire mix in one container. This way you aren’t always grabbing a thousand ingredients at once, making baking just as easy as if you had plain old wheat flour in your pantry.

3. Embrace the flourless

Roasts, salads, soups, stir fries, risottos, curries. All of these things are very easy to cook without any substitutions. Many dishes are decadent without ever needing flour, from a simple tapioca pudding to a sophisticated chocolate soufflé.

4. Look to Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines

Several foods from these cultures are naturally gluten free, involve lots of great fresh legumes and produce, and pop with flavor–you may find some great gluten free ingredients at ethnic food markets as well.

5. Practice

Don’t be afraid to mess up! You may not find the perfect whole grain gluten free bread recipe on the first try, but don’t give up. With all things, practice and patience will yield great results.

Today I am sharing with you one of my favorite gluten free dishes to make, a quiche. Pie crusts and the like are great for adapting to be gluten free. They need none of the elasticity or network of air pockets that gluten develops in a bread dough. You can make a decent pie crust with just about any gluten free flours, as long as you keep around 1/3 of the flour a starch, like the tapioca I’ve used here.

In this recipe I like adding the cream cheese because it makes for a great texture–cream cheese is common in several glutenicious quiche crusts as well. Fillings are also extremely versatile, and baking is generally forgiving. I chose to highlight some of my favorite springtime vegetables–spinach and asparagus–but you can add in whatever you want!

Asparagus, Spinach and Bacon Quiche, Gluten Free

Gluten free quiche

Gluten free quiche

Ingredients:

For the crust:

1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
4 oz. cream cheese
1 stick (4 oz.) butter
salt, pepper, herbs

For the filling:

5 eggs
2 shallots, peeled
2 cups fresh spinach
1 bunch asparagus, chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 oz. gruyere, grated
¾ cup milk

Directions:

1. Add all of the ingredients for the crust into a food processor and pulse until it comes together into a ball of dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil and sauté minced shallots until softened. Add in fresh spinach and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until wilted.

3. Remove dough from fridge, roll out in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (gluten free dough tends to be a bit sticky) until ¼” thick. Peel off top sheet of plastic wrap, flip and transfer to a 9” spring form pan. Press into the bottom and sides of the pan, and then peel off the remaining layer of plastic wrap.

4. In a large bowl, beat eggs and then add vegetables, bacon and cheese, and then add in about ½ to ¾ cup milk. Pour into quiche, cover edges of the crust with foil, and bake about 45 minutes (this will be longer if you make a taller thicker quiche as I did here), or until it has set and crust has nicely browned.

5. Let cool about 10 minutes, unclamp spring form pan, slice, and top with some fresh greens to garnish.  Serve and enjoy!

What are your favorite gluten free recipes?

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Quick Fix: Super Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

by | Feb 8, 2010
Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

It has been forever since I’ve posted a recipe, and I apologize. The thing is, I’ve been really busy. And when I’m busy my meals don’t tend to be super interesting or fancy.

But they are definitely delicious.

Kale has been my favorite instant meal lately. I can usually find three different kinds–curly, Tuscan (aka dinosaur), and red Russian–and they all work with this recipe. You can also substitute chard or any other sturdy greens to mix things up. If you want to make your life even easier look for kale with smaller, young leaves so the stems are tender enough to leave in while cooking.

The key to making a plain green vegetable worthy of an entire meal is adding something with protein or fat (preferably both). Nuts work perfectly, as do any kind of beans or lentils. This recipe calls for pecans, which are wonderful, but I usually use roasted pistachio nuts since they don’t need to be chopped. I was out of pistachios today since I ate so much kale last week (these things happen).

For me this meal is a perfect lunch. Alternatively you can serve it as a side dish and it can serve a few people. If you would like a little more substance serve it with lentils and brown rice or quinoa. I will sometimes have sardines or smoked mackerel or trout on the side.

Super Easy Kale With Pecans Recipe

Serves 1-3 people. 10 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale or chard
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or pistachios
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Sea salt to taste

Start by mincing your garlic, just to make it a tiny bit healthier. Rinse your greens and place them all on a cutting board oriented in the same direction. If the leaves have very thick stems you may want to remove them as explained here. Personally I buy greens that are fresh and tender enough that I rarely bother removing stems.

Pile the greens on top of each other. Starting at the tip of the leaves, cut 1 inch strips until you have cut the entire bunch. If you are using Tuscan or red Russian kale, a lot less chopping is necessary because the leaves are thin and only need be cut in one direction. If your leaves are wide, cut them into 1-2 inch squares. It’s okay if your greens are still wet, the water will help them steam.

Using a pan with tall sides and a lid, add the nuts and turn it on medium heat. Lightly toast the nuts, stirring regularly with tongs. After 2-3 minutes, add olive oil to the pan and allow it to heat up. Add your chopped greens to the pan, sprinkle generously with sea salt and toss with tongs. Cover.

Stir the greens occasionally so they don’t burn, always replacing the lid after stirring. Continue cooking the greens as they wilt and turn dark green. If they start to burn lower the heat, add 1-2 tbsp of water and cover again to steam.

Kale is done cooking when it is dark green and the stems are tender. Unlike spinach, it is very difficult to over-cook kale because it retains its crispness very well.  Before turning off the heat, use tongs to clear a space in the center of the pan and add your minced garlic in a single layer. Allow the garlic to cook until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, then mix it up with the kale and nuts. Add half cup of beans or lentils at this point if desired.

Continue to cook greens uncovered for another minute or two. Taste test a leaf for saltiness and adjust to taste (be careful if you are using chard, it is naturally salty and easy to over-season).

Serve immediately.

Who loves kale as much as I do?

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Simple Eggs Recipe: Spanish Tortilla With Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

by | Sep 30, 2009
spanish-tortilla1

Spanish Tortilla

I’m super excited to announce that Danny Jauregui is sharing one of his recipes today at Summer Tomato.

Danny is a Los Angeles based food blogger. You can read his recipes on Over The Hill And On A Roll, and his food photography and blogging tips on Food Bloggers Unite!

Definitely visit Danny’s blogs and check out his incredible food photography, you’ll be blown away.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a Spanish tortilla and had no idea it was this easy. But now I seriously want to get that cast-iron skillet I’ve had my eye on….

Spanish Tortilla With Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

by Danny Jauregui

Spanish tortillas are my go-to dinner when I’ve had a rough workday. I love that you can take two healthy ingredients and easily create a mouth-watering dish. A Spanish tortilla is a bit like an omelette, only much easier to make. Thinly sliced potatoes are sautéed with onions at which point eggs are added and cooked until done.

Sliced like a pie, the Spanish eat a tortilla at room temperature with a light salad, which is my preferred way of enjoying it. I also like to serve it for brunch parties, just for a touch of variety.

In this version, I add Mexican flavors by including chopped cilantro and a Chipotle-Lime vinaigrette. Filled with nutrients and bursting with familiar flavors, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

Simple Potato and Egg Spanish Tortilla

spanish-tortilla2Ingredients:

6 Eggs

1 Large Potato, thinly sliced

½ Large Yellow Onion, thinly sliced into rings

1 ½ Tablespoons Olive Oil

½ Teaspoon Salt

¼ Teaspoon Pepper

¼ Cup Chopped Cilantro

Directions

Slice potato and onions into thin slices. The exact size is not important. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom pan or preferably a cast-iron skillet. Wait for olive oil to almost begin smoking and add the onions and potatoes. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper. With a wooden spoon stir potatoes and onions to coat in oil, lower the heat to medium and cook until they are soft, stirring occasionally, for a total cooking time of 5 minutes.

While potatoes are cooking combine the eggs and cilantro in a bowl and lightly whisk together. When potatoes are done, make sure they are lying as flat as possible in the pan and add the egg mixture. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes or until most of the egg on the bottom is thoroughly cooked. The top of the tortilla will not be cooked and should look runny.

Turn the broiler of your oven on, remove pan from burner and carefully place under broiler for 2 minutes, or until the top is slightly golden brown. Eggs cook fast, so keep your eye on the broiler. (If you don’t have a broiler simply place a cover on the pan and continue cooking on medium heat until top is solid and not runny).

Once top is brown, remove from broiler and let cool for 10 minutes. At this point you can slice it straight out of the pan, or flip it like I did. To flip, run a knife around the edge of the tortilla to loosen, place a plate upside down on top of the pan and flip the whole thing over. The tortilla should release easily.

Add some sliced avocado and your favorite salsa to really spruce this meal up, or make this Chipotle-Lime vinaigrette like I did.

The Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette adds a nice smoky and acidic note to the boldness of the potato and egg. Delish!

Chipotle-Lime Vinaigrette

4 Tablespoons Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Adobo Sauce from a Chipotle Pepper Can

2 1/2 Tablespoons Lime Juice

¼ Teaspoon Salt

Adobo sauce is the smoky sauce that is included in Chipotle peppers. If you want a bit of spice, take half a Chipotle pepper and chop it super fine and add to vinaigrette.

Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Drizzle vinaigrette onto sliced tortilla.

What flavors do you pair with a Spanish tortilla?

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Quick Fix: Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

by | May 18, 2009
Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

Cinco de Mayo is one of my absolute favorite holidays. Half my family is Mexican, so I have memories of tacos and Coronas by the pool while basking in the first hints of summer sun. Good times!

Unfortunately this year I was too busy to even go out with friends for some real Mexican food (or at least San Francisco’s version of it). Instead I made a quick, healthy quinoa salad using Mexican herbs and spices to help me feel like I didn’t completely neglect my heritage.

You can find all these ingredients at your regular grocery store. I used arugula, but you can substitute spinach if you prefer. I also recommend being creative with your spices (jalepeño or cumin come to mind). If you have fresh salsa or pico de gallo around you can stir in a spoonful or two at the end to accentuate the Mexican flavor.

I recommend making extra so you have leftovers for lunch the next day!

Mexican-style Quinoa Salad

(serves 2-3)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • Half bag of arugula or baby spinach
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 spring onion or shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Lime
  • Tapatio or favorite Mexican hot sauce

Rinse and cook quinoa. Crush and mince your garlic. While your quinoa is boiling, halve your tomatoes and dice your onion and pepper. If using a spring onion, save some of the green onion slices for garnish. Remove the stems from your cilantro. Dice your avocado and sprinkle it with salt.

When your quinoa is finished cooking, heat a frying pan on medium high heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. Add onions and red peppers and cook on medium high heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn off heat and add quinoa, stirring to mix. Fold in arugula or spinach and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.

Transfer quinoa mixture to a large serving bowl and add avocado, tomatoes and cilantro. Squeeze in juice of half a lime and add a few dashes of Tapatio or Tabasco to taste. Gently stir, being careful not to mash the avocado chunks.

Adjust salt and spices. Garnish with green onion slices, extra cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime.

Do you try to recreate nostalgic moments with certain spices and flavors?

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Quick Fix: Collards, Carrots and French Green Lentils

by | Apr 24, 2009
Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Last week I wrote about the perfect balanced meal and featured a picture of my dinner the previous night: collard greens, carrots and French green lentils. Since then I have had more than a few requests for the recipe and am happy to provide an encore to the How To Get Started Eating Healthy book.

Lentils are incredibly nutritious and easier to cook than dried beans. They also have the third highest protein content of any plant. A single serving of lentils contains 18 g of protein, 63% of your daily fiber and 37% of your iron in only 230 calories!

That’s more iron than 1,123 calories of prime rib. Remember when I said every plant could be considered a superfood? Well, lentils are no exception.

Lentils and other legumes are also great for weight loss and are a fabulous alternative to grains for individuals who are insulin resistant or diabetic, since they have minimal impact on blood sugar.

For a pan cooked dish, you want lentils that are fairly robust and maintain their shape after cooking. I prefer French green lentils, but standard brown lentils also hold up pretty well. Simply boil them in excess water with a pinch of salt for 20 minutes or so until tender (do not overcook). Strain, then toss them in with your vegetables at the end of cooking just to coat with flavor and heat through. Lentils freeze well, but can be kept fresh in the refrigerator 3-5 days.

In this recipe, kale or chard can easily substitute for the collards. If you want to use spinach, add it last after the lentils. Fold it in and allow it to wilt into the dish.

Collards, Carrots and French Green Lentils

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 collard leaves
  • 4-5 medium carrots
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils, cooked
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 clove garlic
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • lemon juice (optional)
  • chopped parsley (optional)

If you are making your lentils from scratch, quickly pick through them for pebbles, give them a rinse then boil them in excess water with a pinch of salt for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Even though I rarely consume more than half cup (cooked) in one sitting, I usually like to cook up at least one cup dry (at least 4 servings) and save the rest for later. Start them boiling as soon as you step into the kitchen and start cooking your vegetables at least 15 minutes after you turn them on.

In the mean time clean and chop your leek and mince your garlic. Peel and slice your carrots at a sharp angle to maximize the surface area for cooking. Clean your collard leafs, chop off the stems then stack them on top of each other in a pile. Cut into one inch squares, removing any sections that have thick pieces of stem.

Heat a pan on medium heat, then add olive oil. When the oil swirls easily in the pan, add the leeks and allow to cook for 1-2 minutes, until the pieces break up and become tender and translucent. Add carrots and stir. Cook 2 minutes, then add collards. Sprinkle with sea salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally.

Be careful with your heat when pan frying collard greens–don’t let it get too high. The leaves easily trap steam from cooking, and I had a few jump out of my pan onto the floor. They make a loud popping sound too, which is very exciting. If it makes you feel safer, you can cover the greens for the first minute or two while they soften.

Shortly after the collards turn bright green from cooking (4-5 minutes), clear a space in the center of the pan and add your minced garlic in a single layer (you can add a touch more oil if necessary). Let garlic cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant, then add the lentils and mix with the other vegetables. A squeeze of lemon juice, zest or a dash of vinegar is a good addition here, if you like. A sprinkle of your favorite herb, e.g. Italian parsley, basil or thyme, adds depth and complexity if you have them around.

Continue cooking 3-4 more minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. If you are using cold lentils, cook until warm. Adjust salt and serve.

This dish is wonderful as a main course, by itself or with brown rice. It can easily be scaled to accommodate a large crowd if you have a big enough pan.

What flavors do you love to pair with lentils?

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Automatic Health: Lessons From Personal Finance

by | Apr 3, 2009
Healthy Breakfast

Healthy Breakfast

Probably the biggest misconception about health and weight loss is that it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to succeed. Another myth is that it requires a substantial time investment.  In fact, neither excessive willpower nor time are necessary to be healthy and thin. So isn’t it useless to trying to force them on yourself? I think so.

After reading a captivating article by Ramit Sethi on Tim Ferriss’ (The Four Hour Work Week) blog, I learned most people have the same delusions about personal financeas they do about health—-they think paying off debt and saving money require willpower and time. So we should not be surprised that the solutions for personal finance offered by Ramit are the same fundamental strategies necessary for investing in your personal health. Make no mistake about it, your health is an investment. And a pretty important one at that.

Today I am going to show you how the advice and reasoning Ramit uses in his article can apply to health and weight loss, and how automating these steps can help you achieve your goals. In future articles I will describe in detail how to implement each step. Be sure you are subscribed with either RSS or email so you can follow the series.

Choice Paralysis

Ramit starts by pointing out that we have dozens of choices to make every day when it comes to money. The same is true for health. Should I eat breakfast? Should I pack a lunch? Am I going to the gym?

“Faced with an overwhelming number of choices, most people respond in the same way: They do nothing.”

Clearly “nothing” is not a winning strategy. In both finance and health you must set your default activities so that you will automatically contribute to your long-term goals. Automation is the essence of healthstyle.

Establish a Foundation

Ramit says the first step to automating your personal finance system is to make sure you are getting the best deals you can from your financial institutions, meaning that you have the lowest possible interest rates and are not paying annual fees. Not doing this is equivalent to throwing money away.

In health the first step in establishing your foundation is having the tools you need to succeed. Since how you eat is the biggest factor in determining your long-term health and body weight, you must have the ability to eat properly. In our modern lives, this ultimately means you need to know how to cook for yourself. You will never get healthy eating at restaurants every day. This is the same as throwing your health away.

Therefore it is essential that your kitchen is supplied with the tools you need to cook, eat and store your food. This may seem obvious to some of you, but for many people the kitchen is a foreign and scary place. To assist both newbies and veterans in upgrading your kitchenstyles, I have put together a section of the Summer Tomato Shop called Kitchen Gear (go to the Shop then use the navigation in the sidebar on the right).

Kitchen Gear is grouped into categories that are meant to help you find exactly what you need. The Basics has all the essential items for a functional kitchen. Additionally, below each item I give a brief description of why it is on the list.

If you regularly follow my blog, however, you will soon find that I sometimes use items that are not in The Basics. Usually you can find these in Accessories. In general, Accessories are items that are not absolutely necessary for cooking, but they can make your life a whole lot easier if you have them. For example, you can peel vegetables with a knife, but a vegetable peeler makes it quick and easy.

Storage & Transport has products that help you mobilize your healthstyle, which is especially important if you work away from home during the day. There are also reusable grocery and farmers market bags available.

The Finer Things offers the top-of-the-line products that I wish I had (okay, I have a few of them). I have spent an embarrassing amount of time reading reviews of kitchen products and appliances, and these are the products I envision in my future dream kitchen. For those of you who can afford them, this is your list.

I feel confident in the quality of the items I recommend–I own or have used most of them. I also consider price in my recommendations and try to make this clear in my explanations. If, however, you feel you want an item that is different from what is on my list, you can still navigate to and purchase it through the Amazon links on this website to support this blog. My store is run through Amazon.com and almost always represents the best prices on the internet.

Automate the Basics

The next step in Ramit’s personal finance plan is to automate your bank accounts so that regular payments and savings deposits occur as soon as you get your paycheck (also automatic). This takes care of all your goals and gives you the freedom to make personal decisions with the rest of your money without worry, guilt or willpower.

If you are like most people the structure of your day stays pretty much the same all year long (particularly Monday through Friday). We wake up, go to work (or equivalent), come home, eat, spend time on personal things then go to bed. This structure provides us an excellent opportunity to optimize for health.

Breakfast. One of the simplest things you can do to improve your health is eat breakfast, particularly whole grains and fruit. To easily begin improving your metabolism and blood sugar control, find a couple whole grain cereals you like and start eating breakfast every day. If you think you do not like to eat first thing in the morning, you are most likely dehydrated. Wake up, drink water, then eat breakfast.

Lunch. For many people lunch is the most difficult meal to make healthy because they do not prepare for it, get stuck at work with no food and end up going out and eating something unhealthy. But since you know you always eat one meal at work each day, this is something you can easily automate in your favor.

Each weekend you need to plan in advance what you will be eating for lunch all week. Make sure you cover at least 4 days, but five is better. There are several ways to approach this: you can bring ingredients and prepare your own lunch at the office, make a large batch of food on weekends especially for lunch during the week, or make enough food each night at dinner that you have leftovers for the next day. All these strategies are effective because they help you avoid buying your lunch.

Shopping. In order to accomplish the two above points, you need to set aside a little bit of time each weekend to go grocery shopping and plan (or at least consider) your meals. This time must be non-negotiable; ultimately it saves you time later in the week. For my personal healthstyle the weekend always includes a trip to the farmers market, but there are many other options if this is not realistic for you.

Effective shopping has several components. You must always have the basic stocks of items in your pantry, freezer and refrigerator. You need to shop regularly for staples (milk, for example) and fresh items must be purchased weekly. Details on how to shop for all these components will be given in future posts.

Dinner. People expect the most out of dinner. It generally needs to be quick (I’m starving!), simple (I’m busy!) and delicious (I’m picky!). Luckily, the changing seasons offer great opportunity to keep variety in our dinner menus without needing too many different cooking techniques. If you can get at least a few of the basic skills under your belt, you can make an infinite number of healthy, interesting and delicious meals. Basic cooking techniques will also be summarized in future posts.

Work exercise into your daily routine. Physical activity is essential for staying fit and trim, but it doesn’t particularly matter where you get it. The important thing is that you make it happen consistently by incorporating it into your average day. Personally I walk to work, take the stairs, and make it to the gym for cardio and weights whenever I can.

Whatever method you choose as your source of physical activity must be your default, and skipping your exercise must be the exception. If you prefer using a gym, make sure you have a membership, a gym bag and the necessary apparel to workout at all times. Don’t like the gym? Find an activity that you enjoy and recruit friends to join you. Even if you prefer not to engage in formal workouts at all, you can make an effort to increase your non-exercise daily activity. Some scientists think non-exercise energy expenditure may be especially effective for people who are trying to lose weight but dislike structured workouts.

Tweaking Your Style

Ramit’s final recommendation for automating your personal finance is to customize your plan for your personal circumstances.

We are all individuals and have different needs and preferences, especially when it comes to food and exercise. I do not recommend trying to incorporate every ounce of my advice into your life at the same time. Try the things that are easiest for you and see how they work. Once a few new habits are formed, you can try to tackle some harder ones. As you grow and evolve into your own healthstyle, you may find things that never worked for you before are suddenly feasible. Or you may come up with your own hacks to optimize your health and fitness.

This blog is meant to be a source for suggestions and guidelines, not dogma or a regimented plan. Discovering and improving your own strategies for success are essential for building a lasting healthstyle that reflects both who you are and who you want to be.

How will you upgrade your healthstyle?

Read more on How To Get Started Eating Healthy:
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North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

by | Mar 16, 2009

Moroccan cauliflower stewA little over a month ago I published a recipe for a warming Moroccan vegetable tagine. As would be expected from a tagine, the recipe (modified from Mark Bittman’s blog Bitten) contained dried fruit and was spiced almost like a dessert (with cloves and cinnamon) but with a rich, savory undertone.

Last week I tried a thinner, spicier variety of North African soup. Again from the New York Times, this stew was loaded with beans and vegetables and is served on a bed of spiced couscous. More brothy than the tagine, this recipe packs a unique heat that gives it a completely different feel from its richer, sweeter counterpart.

Since North African cuisine is unfamiliar to most Americans, it is my pleasure to showcase its delicious versatility.

I changed the recipe slightly from the original version, mainly in the interest of time. Personally I have no patience for beans to cook, so I used a pressure cooker then added the beans to the soup later rather than cooking them in the broth itself (which takes hours). To replace the bean soaking water that the recipe calls for, I substitute 1 qt chicken (or vegetable or beef) stock and some of the bean cooking liquid. In my opinion, this change does not have a big impact on the flavor. It may even improve it.

Also, after following the original recipe I thought the soup tasted a little dull. I rescued it with the juice of a Meyer lemon, which really highlighted the depth of spice and flavor in the dish.

I made my harissa from a powdered mix I bought a few weeks ago from Tierra Vegetables at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. They told me it is the one used at Chez Panisse (when on the menu). I know, I’m spoiled rotten.

I will provide a recipe here for making your own. If you have a blender or food processor, the recipe is not terribly difficult to follow. You will make more than you need for one soup, but you can freeze the rest indefinitely. It is a wonderful spicy sauce that is great on meats or in stews. I realize that making harissa is a little intimidating, but it is amazingly delicious and is definitely worth the extra work. It really isn’t that hard either.

Alternatively, Whole Foods and other specialty stores often carry pre-made harissa.

North African Couscous With Beans and Cauliflower

Harissa:

  • 6 dried ancho chilies
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 0.25 – 0.5 cup olive oil

Gently rinse chilies or wipe off dust with a damp cloth. Remove and discard the seeds and tops of the chilies and soak them in hot water for half an hour. Discard the soaking water, cut up the chilies and place them in a blender with all other ingredients except the olive oil. Blend into a smooth paste. Remove the paste from the blender and slowly mix olive oil into the mixture. DO NOT overwork the olive oil, it can become very bitter if you are not careful with it.

Stew Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 2 cups dried white beans, soaked in 2 qts water overnight
  • 1 qt chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (or 0.5 tsp ground)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (or 1 tsp ground)
  • 2 tbsp harissa (recipe above)
  • Meyer lemon juice to taste (half lemon)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 cups couscous (whole grain is slightly better)
  • 0.5 cube chicken bouillon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste

Put beans in a pressure cooker and follow the instructions for cooking the kind of beans you are using. In the meantime if you are grinding your own spices, toast them lightly for a few minutes on a skillet then grind them into a fine powder in a spice grinder. Set aside. (You can use these same spices to add to the harissa, just double the amount then split it in half.)


In a large soup pot, heat olive oil and add onion. Cook, stirring regularly until the onions are tender and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ground spices and 0.5 tsp salt. Cook and stir spices until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add the stock, 1 extra qt of water, the harissa and tomato paste (I recommend the kind in a tube, which keeps indefinitely once you open it). Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Remove 0.5 cup of broth and set aside.

Add cauliflower florets to the simmering broth and cook, partially covered for 20 minutes. Your beans should be done by the time the cauliflower is tender. While the stew is simmering, follow the instructions on your box of couscous and substitute the broth you reserved for 0.5 cup of water, also adding the half bouillon cube.

There is something of an art to getting couscous to cook right. I usually end up adding slightly more dry couscous than the box calls for using the given amount of water. After boiling the liquid and removing it from heat, if when you add the dry couscous to the pot you cannot see individual grains under the liquid surface, then I would add slightly more couscous until you can just see it, like pebbles in shallow water. I know this is vague, but I always have to eyeball it to get it right. It’s not the end of the world if you’re off a little, since this is going into a soup anyway.

Also be careful while your couscous is steaming. Steam it (covered) exactly 5 minutes then fluff it immediately with a fork (be gentle with the grains). Over-cooking or over-watering your couscous will make it clumpy and gummy–not ideal.

When your simmering cauliflower is tender, add all the beans and 1 qt of their cooking liquid. Return the pot to a simmer and add lemon juice, salt and adjust harissa as desired. You may need to add the juice of the entire lemon. It should be bright and spicy. Stir in peas, parsley and simmer 5 more minutes.

To serve, scoop a large spoonful of couscous into the bottom of a bowl and a generous portion of the stew on top. Garnish with additional parsley and harissa.

I am very interested in your experiences with making or buying harissa. Any suggestions or recommendations are appreciated.

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FAIL: The Wild Radish Rapini Challenge

by | Mar 11, 2009

Want to get people to eat more vegetables? One way NOT to accomplish it is to have them eat something that doesn’t taste good.

I tried a recipe for radish rapini (radish greens) this weekend that really let me down. The rapini itself was delicious, but overall the dish was a huge disappointment.

All is not lost, however. I’d be willing to bet just a minor tweak could transform this dish from cloying to classic!

The Challenge

You might remember that Saturday at the farmers market I was challenged by Knoll Farms to buy and prepare some of their wild radish rapini. I didn’t really accept the challenge, which would have involved giving them my name in the event that I seriously wanted my money back after trying it (I still don’t). But I did buy their greens and borrow their recipe.

Admittedly it was a mistake on my part to tell you guys I would try this recipe before really reading it (I have a tendency to skip this critical reading step before deciding to cook something–probably not the best habit). But once I made the commitment I didn’t want to mess with the recipe too much.

In retrospect I wish I had gone with my gut on this one and altered it anyway.

My Main Complaint?

Their recipe called for equal parts coconut oil, raw honey and tahini. Tahini I can understand. It has a wonderful rich, smokey flavor that I use on greens regularly. I have no experience with coconut oil, but have heard good things and was interested in trying it.

Honey is a different story.

Personally I would never put honey on greens. Raw or “healthy” or whatever, sugar is sugar. It is hard enough to avoid sweets in this food culture without adding sugar to vegetables.

My brain warned me of all these things. But for you, dear readers, I followed the recipe anyway.

Taste

From a culinary perspective, the honey was just as unsavory (um, pun intended). I freely acknowledge that there are a few dishes where a touch of honey/sweetness can add a nice element and heighten the dish. I was willing to give the Knoll folks the benefit of the doubt for 2 reasons:

  1. I have never had “raw” honey and thought maybe it would taste different than the honey I was used to. It didn’t.
  2. I thought there was a chance the sweetness would balance the smokey flavor of the tahini (I was dreaming of Hawaiian BBQ). Maybe a different ratio of honey and tahini works, but it certainly doesn’t at 1:1.

So from my perspective the dish was too sweet. Sickly sweet. The honey completely overpowered the brightness of the greens (which were wonderful!). If I had to change only one thing in this dish, I would substitute Meyer lemon juice for the honey.

I bet that would be good! It could also use some garlic.

The Recipe

When I cooked the greens I followed their recipe exactly. I blanched them for ~4 minutes until they were bright green, squeezed out the water and cut them up. The taste test I did at this point was really encouraging.

I premixed the wet ingredients. Both the coconut oil and the honey were solid at room temperature so I microwaved them for 15 seconds.

When I tasted the dressing at this point I knew it would be too sweet, so I only used about half of it. I had already halved the dressing ingredients because I had fewer greens than the recipe called for, so there is no chance that I had simply “over-dressed” the greens. The dressing was bad. Really bad.

Tempeh

To make a complete meal I cooked up some tempeh to toss with the dish. Tempeh is an Indonesian-style fermented soy product. It is an interesting ingredient that takes some getting used to, but once I figured out how to cook it I fell in love with it. For herbivores and omnivores alike, it is a great source of protein that adds both depth of flavor and nutrition to any vegetable dish.

I prepare tempeh by thinly slicing it and lightly cooking it in olive oil until golden brown. (In this recipe I thought I might try something new and cook it in the coconut oil, and it was a complete disaster. It started smoking almost instantly and I had to add olive oil to the pan to prevent excessive burning.) After it has browned slightly on both sides I toss in a few tbsp of light soy sauce, which quickly sizzles, caramelizes and coats the tempeh.

It is important to keep stirring constantly (it could be described as “frantically”) for about 30 seconds after adding the soy sauce then immediately remove the tempeh from the pan. If you try this at home, be extra careful not to burn it.

Usually I eat tempeh tossed with either kale or broccoli shoots pan fried with garlic, served on a bed of brown rice. I guess it is ironic that my favorite garnish is a drizzle of tahini.

In this case I added the tempeh to the rapini greens. The whole thing was okay, but rather unsatisfying compared to my normal dinners. I probably should have tried this recipe instead.

Conclusion

All in all, this is not the recipe I would choose if I wanted to get people to like a new vegetable. In my experience the best way to get someone to appreciate something new is to add bacon.

Maybe next week I’ll try wild radish rapini again with my own recipe, or maybe something new and exciting at the market will distract me. We’ll see.

Share your favorite recipes (or links) for great ways to cook unusual foods!

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10 Steps To A Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

by | Feb 1, 2009

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think Valentine’s Day should be about romance. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick to the usual Valentine’s clichés to do it right.

For me, nothing is less romantic than aping exactly what everyone else is doing. Roses are beautiful, but there are 364 other days in the year to buy roses. (Hint boys: If you really want to woo your lady, bring her flowers when she isn’t expecting it).

Valentine’s Day dinner is your perfect opportunity to get creative.

When most people think of a romantic meal they envision a fancy French restaurant with candles, snooty waiters and expensive wine. I will not deny that I love restaurants like this, but you couldn’t pay me to go to one on Valentine’s Day.

The problem is that every year on February 14 restaurants are bombarded with customers, and to prepare they usually arrange a special prix fixe (i.e., price fixed, pronounce “pre-fee”) menu that costs way more than normal. Prix fixe menus are arranged into several courses where you pick from a short list of items for each course. These menus are almost always more limited than the restaurant’s traditional menu and lock you in to a preset number of items that you may or may not want.

Why not do something really romantic and make dinner yourself?

Cooking a romantic meal is not actually as hard as it sounds. The trick is investing time and money to be sure you get the best ingredients. The next step is picking through recipes until you find ones that are within your means.

I recommend aiming high. Preparing ambitious and exotic recipes is incredibly rewarding and will give you and your lover a fresh appreciation for the artistry of fine food and cooking.

Here are 10 steps for planning your perfect Valentine’s Day dinner:

  1. Plan in advance. The reason cooking at home is more romantic than going out is that you take the time and effort to do something thoughtful for your sweetheart. Do not skimp on the planning stage, that’s equivalent to buying a gift from Walmart. You will need the time for research and ingredient acquisition.
  2. Pick your ideal meal. At the beginning do not exclude recipes because you think you cannot cook them. You may be surprised by how easy it is to make a perfect filet mignon on an electric stove.
  3. Compile recipes. The internet is overflowing with fantastic gourmet recipes. Spend an hour or two searching for your favorite dishes and find the ones that sound the most delicious and seem within your means. At this stage you can start excluding recipes/dishes that are outside your technical prowess, but beware there is an easier way to do almost everything. You should also start noting the similarities between recipes for the same dish. This will help you when it comes time to put the meal together.
  4. Don’t forget dessert. Baking is more of an exact science than normal cooking. If this is out of your league (it is definitely out of mine), it may be a good idea to order something exquisite from your favorite bakery.
  5. Make the final cut. Choose dishes not only because you like them, but because the flavors go well together and you think you can get them all on a plate at about the same time. Consider presentation and appearance as well. Things that can be made a few hours or even days ahead are particularly nice. I usually end up mashing a few different recipes together to create the dish I want.
  6. Invite your date. Now that you have your menu it is time to invite your sweetie to your Valentine’s Day dinner. Tell him/her you have an amazing meal planned especially for them. Awwww, so sweet!
  7. Research your ingredients. Start early to make sure you can get the best of everything you want. If you don’t know what the best is, find out! If you want to have a special cut of meat or a certain spice or vegetable, spend some time on the internet to discover where and when you can get them in your city. Farmers markets are the best place to get most foods, but are usually only held 1-2 days per week. Luckily for you, this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. Do your planning now and go to the market early so you do not miss out.
  8. Prepare your kitchen. Check your kitchen to make sure you have everything you need for your perfect meal. If your recipe requires special equipment, go buy it right away. If you cannot find it, do some research on acceptable alternatives or see if you can borrow what you need from a friend.
  9. Arrange your props. Candles, music, champagne flutes and mushy cards add to the ambiance of your special evening. Do not forget to pay attention to these details.
  10. Make your meal and have a wonderful time. If you start with good ingredients, it is hard to mess up too bad, but do not let it ruin your evening if things don’t turn out as perfectly as you envisioned. Remember, you are doing something incredibly special for the one you love and that will earn you major bonus points. It is a scientific fact that a meal cooked from the heart tastes better than anything handed to you on a silver platter.

What are your favorite special occasion recipes?

UPDATE: This article is also available at Synapse.

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Green Up Your Pasta Puttanesca With Kale

by | Jan 11, 2009

I was never sure if I liked pasta puttanesca. In fact I am not even sure how many times I had eaten it before last week. That’s why I was so surprised when I found myself suddenly craving this distinctly Mediterranean medley of flavors.

Who knew?

I admit that anchovies, capers and olives scare me a little (okay, a lot) with their pungency. For that reason–once I decided I had to make it–I was careful to get high-quality ingredients (the antidote to every scary food you think you don’t like). The last thing I wanted was overly fishy pasta for dinner.

I got my anchovies from Whole Foods, and the kalamata olives and capers from Trader Joe’s. I got my canned tomatoes from TJ’s as well.

The only other ingredients required were olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and parsley.

The recipe I used was a super easy one from Cook’s Illustrated (you have to pay for a subscription to see their recipes) that claimed you could make the entire sauce while your pasta is boiling. I have the utmost faith in Cook’s to guide me through a flawless meal, so I made very few changes to their original recipe.

My main concern was that as a single, busy person in the city I wanted a more balanced meal than just pasta and sauce, and I would rather not go to the trouble of making a side dish. I solved this problem by adding some steamed dinosaur kale to the puttanesca, which turned out to be a perfect, crispy complement to the robust sauce and chewy pasta. The dish ended up truly fabulous.

You can use whatever kind of pasta you like, but this time I went with rigatoni.

———-

Pasta Puttanesca With Kale

(modified from Cook’s Illustrated)

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 8 anchovy fillets, minced
  • 0.5 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp capers, rinsed
  • 0.5 bunch dinosaur kale, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 0.25 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp red chili flakes
  • rigatoni or pasta of choice

Place a steam basket into pot of shallow water and boil. Add kale and cover. Steam 10 minutes.

Bring several quarts of water to a rolling boil (prepare sauce in the meantime). When water is boiling add 1 tsp salt and pasta. I prefer to make only enough pasta for one meal (~0.5 cup dry), since it does not keep particularly well once cooked. The sauce makes 4 servings and stores up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Press or finely mince garlic and soak it in 1 tbsp of water in a small cup or bowl. Open your can of tomatoes and drain them, reserving 0.5 cup of liquid. Prepare all other ingredients before adding pasta to the water.

Immediately after starting your pasta boiling, heat a pan on medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil. When the olive oil swirls easily in the pan add anchovies, garlic mixture and chili flakes. Stir continuously until garlic just begins to brown, about 2 minutes, then add tomatoes and simmer.

When pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pot. Moisten pasta with some reserved tomato liquid and toss.

After sauce has simmered about 8 minutes toss in capers, olives, kale and parsley. Mix to combine. I tossed in some excellent Stonehouse olive oil at this point to brighten it up. (Don’t bother with this if you only have cheap olive oil.)

Add an appropriate volume of sauce to your pasta, toss and serve immediately.

If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and tell us what you think!

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