Sign up

You deserve to feel great, look great & LOVE your body

Enter your email for your FREE starter kit to get healthy & lose weight without dieting:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Splenda linked to cancer, fish reduces Alzheimer’s risk, and winter tomatoes get respect

by | Feb 12, 2016
For the Love of Food

For the Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup. 

This week Splenda linked to cancer, fish reduces Alzheimer’s risk, and winter tomatoes get respect.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Reasons You Hate To Cook (And What To Do About It)

by | Jul 25, 2012

Photo by liber

I don’t like the word hate and try not to use it. I especially dislike it when it is applied to any kind of food or cooking.

Do you really hate asparagus? Or are you just whining about something you haven’t bothered to learn to appreciate? Yeah, I thought so.

My theory is that most people who profess to hate cooking are actually just making excuses to avoid it. Why would anyone really hate cooking? What did cooking ever do to you?

The sad part is that cooking is a wonderful skill to have. Not only does it save you time and money on food, it can also contribute to better health, bring you closer to friends and family, and be a great creative outlet for stress.

You don’t have to love cooking, but knowing the basics and feeling competent in the kitchen can open a world of opportunity to improve your quality of life. But sure, go ahead and hate it if you want.

For the cautiously curious, here are a few of the obstacles that may be preventing you from getting past your pessimism and what to do to get over them.

10 Reasons You Hate To Cook

(And What To Do About It)

1. You suck at it

The first thing you need to do is understand the difference between not liking cooking and not liking to be bad at cooking. Big difference. I didn’t like being bad at cooking either, but there is a pretty easy solution: learn how. It’s much easier than you think.

2. You’re slow

I know you’re busy. We all have better things to do than slave away over one lousy meal. But when you aren’t experienced in the kitchen the planning, shopping, chopping, cooking and cleaning involved in making a meal can feel like it takes forever. That’s because it does.

I can always spot a kitchen rookie by how long it takes them to chop an onion (seriously it takes like 20 seconds max). The good news is with a little practice and some decent knives (see point 3) you can slash the time you spend making a meal until you barely notice.

Ditto for cleaning up. Seriously, put some muscle into it and it’s over in no time!

3. You have crappy knives

I generally don’t advise spending money to solve problems, but knives in the kitchen are an exception. Spending $50 on a half-way decent chef’s knife can do wonders for your kitchen confidence and efficiency.

And you probably already know what an inspiration a shiny new toy can be.

4. You pick complicated recipes

Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten have less than 5 ingredients. If you’ve never cooked anything in your life, cassoulet shouldn’t be your first choice.

Rather than finding a recipe and deciding to cook it, start with an ingredient that is seasonal and you know you enjoy. It’s hard to mess up kale and garlic. Learn to fly before you jump off a cliff.

5. You choose out of season ingredients

The main reason people don’t like _(fill in the vegetable)_ is because they have only had it from industrial farms that grow foods out of season. I agree, you’d have to be a masochist to like these impostors.

Farmers markets and dedicated produce stands are your friends. In season ingredients taste worlds better than the out of season stuff shipped from the opposite hemisphere. Your food doesn’t have to be 100% local, but at least pick foods that grow in the same season you happen to be living in. This alone could completely change your cooking experience.

6. Your pantry is inadequate

It can be really annoying to flip through a recipe book or food blog and realize that you need to make one or many grocery trips in order to make any dish because you don’t have olive oil, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar or red chili flakes. If you don’t know what belongs in a basic pantry, check out my free How to get started eating healthy guide for a rundown.

7. You cook everything to death

Just because your mom cooked broccoli until it was dark gray and could be eaten by an infant doesn’t mean that’s how food is supposed to be prepared. Most vegetables cook quickly and taste better when they haven’t been incinerated. When your vegetables turn bright green in the pan, that’s your cue that the cooking is nearly done.

8. You only cook for large groups

Your first cooking forays shouldn’t be huge productions. Start simply and don’t bite off more than you can chew by promising to host a dinner or bring food to a potluck of 30 people. Start by volunteering to help in the kitchen with someone who knows what they’re doing. Make a side dish, or a simple one pot meal for yourself.

Practice makes perfect, and you want your first experiences to go smoothly to build your skills and confidence.

9. You only cook for special occasions

New cooks don’t need any extra pressure in the kitchen. If you’re just learning your way around the range, maybe you should hold off on hosting Thanksgiving dinner or Mother’s day brunch. It can be stressful to just coordinate a large meal, you don’t need the added pressure of possibly ruining a family holiday. If you want to contribute, volunteer to make the salad or biscuits. Start your real kitchen adventures in the privacy of your own home.

10. You don’t ask for help

If you are truly new to cooking, you may as well acknowledge that you will be slow and lack the basic skills and intuition of a seasoned chef. You are definitely capable of getting there, but in the mean time make your experience as pleasant as possible by letting others contribute their expertise and knife skills when you want to cook. It is also nice to have an extra pair of hands for cleanup.

Do you really hate cooking? Or are you just looking around the room and saying that you hate things?

Originally published May 31, 2010.

ATTENTION: Due to the excessive negativity of some recent commenters, I am permanently closing the comments on this post. If the contents of this article make you want to scream in rage, stab someone, punch a wall, or hurl yourself off a bridge, I suggest you find a therapist.

Tags: , , , , , ,

For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 29, 2012

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week, the final coffin nail for low-fat diets, how to get kids to eat healthier and the truth about food expiration dates.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I Love You Mom, But You Suck At Cooking Vegetables

by | Jun 18, 2012

Photo by Telephone Melts

A strange thing happens to some people after their first few experiences with perfectly cooked farmers market vegetables. It is not always easy to admit, but after awhile you might find yourself thinking that the veggies you grew up eating were, ahem, pretty horrible.

It is common for people of both my generation and my parents’ generation to have been raised on frozen spinach, canned beets, over-steamed carrots and boiled broccoli—foods that would make anyone with taste buds pick up their fork and run to the nearest steakhouse.

Is it any wonder that vegetables rarely rank on anyone’s favorite foods list?

Unfortunately, sometimes these negative early experiences can create life long food aversions that could have been avoided with a little extra TLC in the kitchen. They also help propagate the unhealthy eating habits that are now so common in America.

But our exposure to bad vegetables isn’t really Mom’s fault. Over the past 50 years America has been seduced by the allure of convenience. We’ve come to believe that meals come in packages and cooking is too hard and time consuming to bother with. We rely on supermarkets for our fruits and vegetables, which we expect to be the same year round.

The watering down of our food culture is directly responsible for our vegetables losing flavor (they are bred for shelf life, not taste) and us losing our ability to make them palatable. As a result vegetables have become an afterthought, something we eat from guilt and obligation, not from love.

But the good news is that this trend is reversing. People are starting to understand that where food comes from is important and has a tremendous impact on how it tastes. We are learning that it is worth it to go out of our way and spend a little extra money (at least occasionally) for the best ingredients. Restaurants are beginning to pride themselves on serving locally sourced foods–it is no longer uncommon to see farm names printed next to ingredients on menus here in San Francisco.

Focusing on quality ingredients and real foods is forcing us to reexamine cooking as well. I remember how surprised I was the first time I realized that instant oatmeal only saves about 3 minutes compared to real oatmeal and that sautéing fresh spinach is easier than making a bag of the soggy frozen kind. Not only are we starting to understand that taste is worth sacrificing a little convenience for here and there, but also that the inconvenience we feared isn’t as big a deal as we might have guessed.

But not everyone has been converted quite yet.

Learning to shop for and cook seasonal foods does involve a learning curve, and the first steps are always the most difficult and intimidating. (These aren’t exactly skills we pick up in school or learn in our daily lives.) To get and cook real food requires finding local farmers markets and knowing how to work a stove, for starters. Since farmers markets don’t usually run daily, a bit of foresight and planning are necessary if you hope to make it a part of your weekly routine. Working a stove demands some basic understanding of how food reacts when heated.

One of the reasons I wrote Foodist is to show you that these things aren’t actually as difficult as they may seem at first. And once you acquire just a few basic cooking skills—stir fry in olive oil, oven roasting, basic grain and legume preparation—expanding your culinary repertoire to include dozens of your favorite dishes isn’t much of a stretch.

One of the perks of starting with great ingredients is that messing up a meal is much more difficult than it is when you start with low-quality ingredients and rely on additional hacks and seasonings to mask the lack of flavor. Bad vegetables are almost always either over-cooked or under-salted, so if you can get these right you are most of the way there. Just a few extra seasoning tricks like garlic, chili flakes or lemon zest can elevate almost any green vegetable into something worth building a meal around.

Cooking vegetables well is neither an art nor a science. Learn to prepare a few of your favorites well, then branch out from there. Then next time you visit your parents, maybe you can volunteer to cook dinner and show them how broccoli is supposed to taste.

Have bad childhood memories turned you off to any foods?StumbleUpon.com

Modified since originally published on March 8, 2010.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Cook With An Unfamiliar Ingredient

by | Apr 27, 2009
Amaranth

Amaranth Leaves

Last week a new farmers market started up at the UCSF Mission Bay campus where I work. As someone who makes it my business to know what’s happening at our local markets, I was very interested to check out what they were offering. To my surprise and delight, there was a tremendous variety of interesting, high-quality goods and produce. But I already had a bunch of fresh groceries at home from my Saturday market trip, so I only purchased a few special things I just couldn’t resist.

The first thing that caught my eye were the beautiful Asian greens I spotted at the beginning of my exploration (sorry, I’m not familiar with these farms yet so I do not remember the name). I had never seen okra or bitter melon leaves for sale before, though I am familiar with these vegetables. What really grabbed my attention though were these beautiful amaranth leaves.

I had always considered amaranth a grain, and did not know it was also a leafy vegetable. But apparently amaranth greens are incredibly popular in India, Africa, China, Vietnam and Greece. The leaves are fairly delicate and I would describe the taste as similar to spinach if spinach were Indian. In other words, the leaves have earthy and spicy undertones reminiscent of chai tea. Needless to say I was very excited to see what I could make with them.

When I got home with my greens I did a quick Google search for amaranth leaves recipes and virtually everything that came up on the first search page was for Indian dishes–perfect! I read through a few of them and realized that the most common use for amaranth leaves is in a lentil dish with spices and tamarind.

Since I had most of the required ingredients in the house, I decided to give it a try. Not too long ago I purchased an assortment of red and yellow Indian lentils from a specialty store in my neighborhood. Usually I have concentrated tamarind in my refrigerator for those occasional Thai food cravings. I didn’t have the fresh tomato most recipes called for, so I used half a can of diced tomatoes from my pantry (I used the rest in my roasted fava beans dish). I also keep standard Indian spices in the house such as cumin seeds, garam marsala (a traditional Indian spice blend), curry powder, tumeric and ghee (clarified butter).

See how easy it is to be creative when you have a well-stocked pantry?

The dish turned out amazing, and the batch I made was so large I have been eating it for days (not bad for a $2 ingredient). But I am not going to give you the recipe, because that is not the purpose of this post. Instead I wanted to give you an idea about how I approach shopping and cooking. If something is unique or catches my eye at the market, I inquire to the vendor about what it tastes like and how it is used. When I get home I look up recipes online until I find one or two that look yummy and are not too hard to make. Sometimes this involves changing the recipe slightly to match the ingredients I have available, or combining two or more recipes together to accommodate my own modest cooking skills or time allowance.

You do not have to be a brilliant chef to explore cooking this way, and you will certainly get better at it the more you practice. The key is digging through Google until you find a recipe that doesn’t scare you too much. You can also try services such as Recipe Puppy that allow you to type in an ingredient and receive a collection of recipes from around the internet. Recipe Puppy didn’t work particularly well for amaranth (no results), but it is useful for most ingredients and can be a terrific source of inspiration.

Next time you shop, go out of your way to find something you haven’t cooked before and see what you can come up with. Who knows, you may actually find a new favorite food and upgrade your healthstyle in the process!

Don’t forget to come back and let us know what you learned. Tell us your favorite accidental ingredient discovery!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Seasonal Shopping

by | Apr 13, 2009
Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Every Saturday morning I wake up as early as I can (usually not very early) and head to the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to buy my vegetables for the week. Seasonal vegetables are the foundation of a healthy diet, and buying them each week is the single most important step you can take to upgrade your healthstyle.

(This post is part three of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry and part two is Essential Groceries. Subscribe to Summer Tomato to get more free healthy eating tips)

Why Vegetables?

Decades of research on diet, nutrition and health have universally confirmed that a vegetable-based diet can reduce your risk of (and even reverse) almost every disease. Debates still rage regarding the mechanism by which vegetables improve health (Is it because they replace bad foods? Contain antioxidants? Are low in calories? Low in fat? Low in protein? Have low glycemic index?), but for you and me the reason doesn’t really matter. The important point is that vegetables are proven to make you healthy. Those other questions are only important to people who want to bottle that benefit and sell it to you at a premium.

Interestingly, one of the most consistent findings in nutrition science is that any attempt to isolate a specific element of food and create a useful dietary supplement fails to mimic the benefits of the whole food. The lesson from all of this is that you are much better off spending your money on vegetables and other whole foods than on nutritional supplements.

Why Seasonal?

If you have ever wondered how much vitamin C is in a tomato, please stop. The idea that one tomato is the same as the next is ludicrous, yet this is the kind of logic we have accepted from grocery stores and the food industry in general.

Anyone with taste buds can immediately tell the difference between a sweet, ripe heirloom tomato at the height of summer and a mealy red beefsteak from your grocery store in December. These foods taste wildly different because of how they were grown, so doesn’t it stand to reason that they may have different nutrient levels as well?

In fact, there is a tremendous difference in nutritional quality of foods grown in the correct season and in good soil. Seasonal organic produce is substantially better for you than the conventional produce at Safeway, and this difference is reflected in how your food tastes.

For these reasons, shopping in season can do wonders for how you think about vegetables. A salad may sound boring to you, but how about miner’s lettuce tossed with arugula, Tokyo turnips, Mediterranean cucumbers, ruby grapefruit and sliced almonds? If you are more excited to eat vegetables because they look, sound, smell and taste delicious, then you will lose weight and become healthier by default. Your daily greens will be a joy, not a chore.

Seasonal produce is also more affordable than out of season produce that was grown in a greenhouse or shipped halfway around the world.

How To Shop Seasonally

Farmers Markets

As I mentioned above, my preferred place to shop for vegetables is my local farmers market on Saturday. Farmers markets are wonderful because you have access to the freshest local and seasonal vegetables available, usually just picked the day before. This means that not only are you guaranteed vegetables at the peak of their season, you can even go from stand to stand and find the batch you like best. You can also discover interesting and unique offerings (like the chocolate persimmon), and build relationships with local farmers. If you are lucky enough to have a weekly farmers market in your area, it is certainly worth it to commit yourself to go every week.

Read this blog on Saturdays to keep up with local finds in the Bay Area and California in general.

CSAs

Unfortunately, farmers markets are not practical for everyone. Some people have time constraints that prevent them from attending a weekly market. Luckily there are some alternatives available. One option is the CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture. When you subscribe to a CSA you have pledged support for a particular farm (or sometimes a group of farms), and in exchange receive a box of seasonal produce each week or on an agreed schedule. The biggest convenience of joining a CSA is that the times arranged for delivery or pick up are much more flexible than the weekly market. There are CSAs for vegetables, as well as meat and dairy.

From what I understand, individual CSAs can vary substantially in how they are run and what they provide. If you are interested in finding a CSA in your area, I recommend spending some time researching your options and deciding what works best for you.

I have personally never belonged to a CSA and would love to hear about your experiences if you have.

Local Produce Markets

Even without a farmers market or CSA it possible to shop in season. Most cities and suburban areas have local produce markets and/or health food stores that focus on fresh vegetables. While not everything in these markets will be seasonal and local, they usually provide a nice alternative to large chain grocery stores to at least supplement your produce shopping. For more information you can read my article about how to find local produce markets in your area.

Grocery Stores

Even if none of these options are available in your neighborhood, it is still likely that the most affordable and best tasting food at your regular grocery store is whatever happens to be in season. Thus it is still worth it to keep up on local produce trends in your area.

Conclusions

Eating your vegetables is the most important thing you can do for your health, and neither nutritional supplements nor regular workouts can substitute for a healthy diet. Whether you have access to farmers markets or not, you are better off eating any vegetables than no vegetables at all. The same is true if you are considering conventional vs. organic produce.

If farmers markets are not available to you year-round there are many ways to get seasonal vegetables and fruits. But the first step is committing to your health and your future by making sure seasonal, fresh vegetables are a part of your personal healthstyle.

Subscribe now to get more free healthy eating tips delivered to your inbox.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,