Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keep it simple

I don't spend a lot of time reading about studies with the latest fad diets and health claims. It does seem like what was good for us yesterday is no good for us today. My favorite was when dark chocolate was declared good for you. I didn't hesitate to embrace that concept, regardless of what new research might come and say some years from now. A square or two a day keeps me happy!   I don't remember where coffee is these days?  Villain?  Savior?  Use in moderation and I think I'll be OK.

This article, Eating Brown Rice to Cut Diabetes Risk, in the New York Times caught my eye."Just replacing a third of a serving of white rice with brown each day could reduce one’s risk of Type 2 diabetes by 16 percent, a statistical analysis showed. A serving is a cup of cooked rice."

Pretty simple.  Pretty low risk.  Easy to try.  Big payoff, because you can do so much with brown rice.  The simple concept that I remember most vividly from my reading of the books by Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman about the health effects of a simpler diet was the difference between whole grains and processed grains, how our body handles them, and what it means for keeping weight in check.  Whole grains and vegetables make you feel more "full", so you don't overeat.  And if you DO eat a lot of these, they don't make you fat.

Brown rice is a perfect example.  Brown rice is as easy to make as white rice, it just takes 45 minutes instead of 20.  Make some extra and you'll have some for another meal or two, in different incarnations.  It's a perfect start to any meal. 

So, if you've been looking to make some changes, start with the brown rice.  Give it a chance to shine in a tasty pilaf or cold rice salad with bold flavors.  And once you get the hang of brown rice, you might find yourself wondering about other whole grains for variety -- wheat berries, buckwheat (kasha), quinoa, and more that I haven't tried yet.  Get a cheap rice cooker, and you can do any of these grains as easily as you can do white rice.

Bittmans's book, Food Matters, suggests that entry to this world of whole grain, real food cookery starts with a pot of beans.  Good idea.  But a pot of brown rice may be so much simpler and less intimidating.  Try starting there.  It's simple.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thinking one or two moves ahead

IMG_4486I'm on a little weekend retreat on a lake in Maine.  There aren't any grocery stores within easy driving distance, so I needed to do at least a little thinking about what food I'd bring, so  I didn't end up eating crackers, cheese and peanut butter for two and a half days.

I didn't know exactly what I'd have, but I knew I had stuff in the fridge that could easily be transported in a cooler -- basically moving my food stores up north.  But I had to be selective.  And I only wanted to "cook" one night.  So, the food puzzle became, "what food can a bring that will be cooked once, and lend itself to multiple interpretations?"

Into the cooler/provisions bag went:
  • Shriveling Asian eggplants (2)
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • One cup of brown rice tossed into a plastic bag
  • One avocado
  • One lime
  • One half a large red onion
  • One half a long English cucumber
  • One heckuva lot of marinating Korean style beef from the HMart, needing to be eaten.
  • Granola
  • Milk
  • Assorted fruits and snacks (which don't count for this little exercise)
One the way up, I thought some corn on the cob and tomato would be good too, in unspecified ways.  I bought more corn than I needed for one meal, because cold corn cut into salads is fantastic.

There was plenty of meat for a crowd, so I figured if I grilled it the first night, it would be useful for several meals to come, in various ways.  I'll probably end up bringing some home.

It was still pretty hot out by the time I was ready to cook, so doing almost everything outside made some sense.  I got the rice going, because that would take the longest -- 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, I sliced the eggplant and brushed them with oil for grilling on low heat, and removed the silk from the corn to roast on the same low fire, encased in the silkless husks.  The eggplant were ready in ten minutes, the corn in 15.  I created yet another variation on the "dress the eggplant after you grill them" theme, this time with oil, cider vinegar, habanero pepper sauce (a few drops), regular paprika (didn't have smoked), garlic powder (forgot the fresh garlic, doh!), salt/pepper.

So the first night was pretty straight-ahead, after I grilled the meat.

For lunch today, I had a pretty good assortment of things from which to create something tasty.  Cut the kernels off a couple of ears of the corn, chunked the avocado, diced some tomato, pulled the leaves off a good handful of parsley, tossed in about half the leftover corn, and remembered the red onion at the last minute.  Dressed in a little olive oil, lime juice and salt/pepper and it was a meal, accompanied by a little beef sandwich. Forgot I had cucumber, which would have been a good addition -- perhaps for tonight's rendition.  And the leftover eggplant is still waiting to be used.

Nothing fancy, but a satisfying lunch -- one that I'd pay for if I were out somewhere.  I still have a couple of meals to go, and I now have the salad plus a few other items.  No need to cook everyday, just leave some open ended opportunities for the use of the leftovers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back from Europe, Now Exploring Asia

Wake up! Wake up!

While in Europe for 11 weeks, this little blog as been on sabbatical too. It's time to wake it up!

We had some spectacular meals while traveling. Some disappointments. And some that got us adequately fed to keep going from day to day. We discovered that it was tough to pick the memorable meals -- sometimes they just came out of nowhere and surprised us. Like the braised pork knuckle in the beer joint in Regensburg. Or the rotisserie rabbit from the chicken man in Ansouis. Or that dried out gnocchi that I discovered could be pan fried.

DSC06307But it wasn't till we hit northern Europe that we found meal after meal of reliably great food. Like this one from a fabulous Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam. Unlike the France and Italy, which seem mired in the past, where you were hard-pressed to find any food other than French or Italian, the Dutch have embraced a wide variety of cultures, and their food has benefited from this. Even in the restaurants that were not primarily Asian or middle-eastern we found a sense of adventure and experimentation that led to fun, tasty meals, prepared by fun, energetic chefs.

I do prefer the bold, knock-your-socks-off flavors that come from Asia and the Middle East over the more subtle flavors of Europe. They take hold of your palate, shake it around, and don't let go. Yum.

Before we left, I discovered the HMart, a relatively new Asian grocery mega store in Burlington, MA. Every aisle is jam-packed with tasty goodies. And I don't know what to do with most of it. An opportunity!

Eleanor and I took our first visit since "the trip" a couple of days ago, and she was pretty good about keeping me for over-buying, saying several times, "Dad...remember, we've got to eat that stuff before it goes bad". Point taken.

My problem in the past with the HMart has been that I don't know what to do with anything. But then I don't remember what the possibilities are when I'm home preparing for the NEXT visit, so I'm never prepared. So this time, I snapped pictures of the stuff that intrigued me, and that I needed to learn more about. And I bought a book on Amazon, still to come, called, Asian Ingredients: A Guide to the Foodstuffs of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, which promises to help me figure some of this stuff out. Here's some of the stuff I've got my eye on...a SMALL sample. Greens galore. Tubers and roots and fruits and greens. Greens.
A visit to the HMart

And the prices were very reasonable.

And fish. I'm very excited about trying out the fish. They have a spectacular fish counter with LOTS of fish, that mostly looks very fresh, which they will dress for you any way you want. Next time, I'll be prepared. I founds some good recipes in a book that Susan had on the shelf.

In the meantime, I had a lot of greens on my hands -- something called Yu Choy, which looked like a cross between spinach and mustard greens and bok choy. And Shanghai bok choy, which was smaller than regular bok choy, but bigger than baby bok choy. And some hen-of-the woods mushrooms. And a new tamari sauce. So I prepared what to me has been my go-to Chinese food preparation, which I haven't done much of in years:
  •  Marinate thinly sliced meat (in this case, frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joes) in a mixture of a few tablespoons of soy sauce and dry sherry, some splashes of rice wine vinegar, and a teaspoon or so of corn starch.  
  • Prep all the veggies in advance, minced garlic, bit-sized pieces of scallion, and the chopped greens.
  • Stir fry the scallions, then the garlic for 20 seconds or so, then add in the greens, and when the greens are a little wilted and bright green, pull them out of the wok and set aside.
  • Stir fry the chicken in a some oil and garlic in batches, until just done.
  • Add back in the veggies, turn the heat down, and add a sauce made of the same soy/sherry/vinegar/corn starch mixture as the marinade, till heated through and shiny.
  • At the very end, stir in a couple of teaspoons of crab paste.  Secret ingredient.
  • Serve over rice (in this case, brown rice).

Anyway.  There's a project a-brewing to experiment my way through the HMart.  It may take a decade or two, but I think I'm up to it.  Stay tuned!


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