Friday, May 30, 2008

Internet round up - tips, tricks, articles

I am a complete novice in the kitchen and so I'm always looking for helpful tips to make cooking less arduous for me.  That's when I turn to the internets for advice.  And in the most desperate situations, reservations on Open Table.com .   Here's what I found this week...



I am most painfully aware of my kitchen shortcomings when dicing an onion.  It's a slow  and ardous process which typically devolves into me hashing at the poor onion like a serial killer.  But not anymore, baby!  Video of how to chop an onion - look, so easy!


All you ever wanted to know about knife skills and chopping stuff up can be found here.  It's one of the most comprehensive posts I've seen!  And in case you're more of the tactile/visual learner, here's a video of a guy cutting up some celery using a fancy technique.



Lunch in a Box suggests using a chopstick to create individual portions when freezing meat, but I'm sure it could work for other foods as well.


The article "Finding the Best Way to Cook All Those Vegetables" in the New York times by Tara Parker-Pope sheds some light on how to best prepare the veggies that I'll be eating.  

It reviews research that looks at the nutritional effects of how items are prepared and what accompanies them, Of course there's no easy answer in terms of preparation as "water-soluble compounds like vitamins C and B and a group of nutrients called polyphenolics are often lost in processing" but processing breaks down cell walls and allows some nutrients to be released.  Moreover,  "fat-soluble compounds like vitamins A, D, E, and K and the antioxidant compounds called carotenoids are less likely to leach out in water."

A few interesting results:
  • Fresh spinach loses 64% of its vitamin C after cooking
  • Canned peas and carrots lose 85-95% of their vitamin C
  • Processed tomatoes have higher lycopene content than fresh tomatoes
  • Steaming/boiling broccoli caused a 22-34% loss of vitamin C but microwaved and pressure cooked broccoli retained 90% of its vitamin C.
  • When salsa or salad is served with fat-rich avocados or full-fat salad dressing, diners absorbed as much as 4 times more lycopene, 7 times more lutein, and 18 times the beta carotene than those who had the veggies plain or with low-fat dressing.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

French Green Lentil Soup

Behold! My second veg meal - what can I say? I love the soups... This is actually my first time cooking lentils - how exciting! Well, I was excited, anyways. The soup was very rich tasting and hearty. If paired with a side salad and a piece of whole grain bread, this would make a very filling and satisfying meal. I actually ate a little too much of it and now my stomach hurts... I'm still getting the hang of the "not too much" part of the EFNTMMP lifestyle...



I ate my bowl with one of my favorite Trader Joe's items - a piece of Tandoori naan.

Michael Pollan writes:

Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

Nothing suspicious with the TJs Tandoori naan! Check out these ingredients - wheat flour, water, milk, yogurt, sunflower oil, and salt. You stick it in the oven and it gets all warm and crispy and soft. Pure heaven.


French Green Lentil Soup

Recipe is taken from The Occasional Vegetarian, pg. 81

Ingredients:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups lentils, washed and drained
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 c diced carrots
1/2 c diced celery
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tbsp Porcini powder (I just used dry porcini mushrooms)
Fresh coriander (cilantro) for garnish (optional)


1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat until it begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the ginger and saute for a few seconds.

2. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaf, cumin, and lentils. If using dried mushrooms instead of the powder, mince and add them to the soup. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

3. Add salt, pepper, carrots, celery, tomato sauce, and Porcini powder if using. Cook over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Serve hot.

Source:

Lee, Karen and Porter, Diane (1995). The occasional vegetarian: More than 200 robust dishes to satisfy both full- and part-time vegetarians. New York, NY: Warner Books.

Thank god Top Chef is ending

Can I say that an all steak episode of Top Chef isn't the best way to kick off my eat food. not too much. mostly plants. month?  

Antonia's dish of a bone-in ribeye, roasted fennel/onions, and potato gratin looked divine.



But it also looked so incredibly heavy... I think I could probably get through a fourth of meat hunk and then I would just feel it sitting in my gut for hours.  

If I ever get my hands on some bison, I'd like to try Dale's recipe of Lemongrass Mango Bison lettuce wraps.


 And with only one exception (what is yuzu juice?), all the ingredients seems pretty accessible.  I'll probably end up making this with tofu or something if I can't find the bison.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lazy cooking

So says Michael Pollan:

A hallmark of the Western diet is food that is fast, cheap, and easy. Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food; they also spend less than a half hour a day preparing meals and little more than an hour enjoying them. For most people for most of history, gathering and preparing food has been an occupation at the very heart of daily life. p. 145

I can really identify with this.  When you look at animals in the wild like those adorable meerkats on Meerkat Manor basically their entire day is consumed with foraging/hunting and sleeping.  Generations ago the mere act of preparing a breakfast would have taken at least an hour.  Nowadays, all you need to do is pop open a can of Pillsbury Golden Layers(r) Butter Tastin'(r) biscuits and you got yourself some good eatin'!

I must admit that I'm a lazy cook.  My typical recipe for spaghetti consists of the following:


Ingredients:

1 package of whole wheat pasta
1 jar of Barilla Basil-tomato sauce
1 package of ground turkey breast
1 bottle of wine, the Orin Swift Prisoner if I feel like being fancy



Procedure:

1. Open wine.  Pour generous glass.  Drink wine.
2. Place turkey in skillet.  Cover skillet.
3. Place pot of salted water to boil.  Drink wine.
4. Head to the living room to watch latest reality show on the tube.
5. Walk back to kitchen to retrieve wine glass.
6. Drink wine and laugh at the funny buffoons on tv.  That Tila Tequila is so crazy!
7. Head back to the kitchen - throw the pasta in the boiling water.  Refill wine glass
8. Crumble ground turkey, add sauce.
9. Turn on the radio and bust a move while waiting for the pasta to cook.
10.  Drain pasta, spoon sauce on top.
11.  Add shaved parmesan and fresh basil as les pi├Ęces de r├ęsistance and to make it uber Klassy


Shameless, I know.  But a couple of days ago, I made a vegetable soup from scratch (more or less) using the carrots and peas I picked up at the Farmer's Market.  I had it for lunch today (unfortunately I left my Trader Joe's whole wheat tandoori bread in the car and since I'm still trying to take it easy on my ankle, I couldn't go and retrieve it.  Nuts.)  But the soup was surprisingly satisfying and I'm happy!  Good thing too, because I have a whole pot of it in the fridge.  I'll post the recipe when I get home...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why am I doing this?

I probably should have written this post earlier, but whatever.

So why am I doing this?

1.  Health reasons.  Vegetables have tons of nutrients that science is just starting to understand.  My body needs that.  When I have eaten more deliberately in the past, I've felt better.  

2. Connection to the past and other people in the world.  I want to eat like people did generations ago.  I want to eat like people in other cultures do.  I also want to connect with the people that grow my food.

3. Sustainability.  Locally grown produce leaves a smaller ecological footprint than food that shipped farther away.

4. Something to talk about with my mom.  She is *totally* in to nutrition and vegetables.   So much so that she has a photocopied article listing the "power foods" (spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, etc.) on her fridge.  So much that she eats a bizarre concoction of tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli every day for lunch at work.  She's always wanted me to run a marathon - and believe me, that isn't happening anytime soon - so at least I can eat some asparagus and call it a day.

5.  Meat, while tasty, takes a lot of work.  Work to get to me, work for my body to digest, work to be produced, work to deal with the byproducts of production.   And the meat industry isn't too cool.

6.  Meat is apparently difficult for me too cook - I still have flashbacks of the great food poisoning nightmare of February 2008.  Ugh.  Picture me vomiting 4-5 times a day.  Picture me on a walk with my dog vomiting into a trash can in an alley.  Since that incident I haven't cooked any meat save a pork loin roast, ground turkey, and a chicken breast.

7.  Farmer's markets are fun!   And they have free samples.

8.  I can learn some new veggie options/recipes.

9.  I always do some sort of project with bizarre fervor.  Past projects have included: scrapbooking, yoga, exercise, bird feeding, etc.

10.  Now I have a reason to go into Whole Foods.


Santa Monica Farmer's Market, visit 1

So today I went to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market to check things out... We went to the one near Cloverfield and Pico that is open on Saturdays from 8:30 to 1pm.




It was really fun... There's something about seeing nature's bounty laid out in a colorful array that makes me feel practically giddy. I'm a sucker for veggies that look all gnarled and like someone just pulled them out of the ground. I mean look at these multicolored carrots:


And of course the best thing about the Farmer's Market are the samples. These peaches were amazing.


A lot of the produce is more expensive than the things you'd find in your supermarket (even in the organic section) but some items are cheaper. For example, they had these huge bundles of fragrant herbs (basil, dill, rosemary, thyme, mint, etc.) for a dollar. You'd buy a fourth of the amount for 2 bucks at the grocery store.



Other items were also cheaper and better quality, like the blackberries (Mr. Insomniac bought a cup of those.) One thing I learned about the Farmer's Market is to look around at all the stalls before you go off buying... I bought some asparagus at one stand and saw a much better selection at a cheaper price at another stand. Rookie mistake, I suppose.

Here's my attempt to take a picture of what I ate like WeezerMonkey does in her fantastic blog.  Unfortunately I forgot until it was too late and I had eaten most of my taco al carbon.  Next time I'll exercise more restraint.  It was good though.


This was just a "trial" visit, so I didn't buy much. I bought a bunch of carrots from a farm in California for $1.50, a half pound of snap peas in the shell for $2.00, and a bundle of asparagus for $2.00. I ate the asparagus as soon as I got home and snacked on three of the smaller carrots. The flavor is simply amazing - they are sweeter than any carrots that I've ever had. I even gave a baby one to the carrot connoisseur of the house. It passed his test.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sites, blogs, and restaurants that I'm totally feeling...

Will be updated on  regular basis... but I'm digging these.  Some are old favorites, but most are new to me.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions!

Emerald City: Los Angeles Times.  Siel follows the road to green living in Los Angeles.

Mighty foods.  The who, what, how, and why of natural foods.

Eat wild.  Grass-fed and pastured meat.

The Ethicurean.  Chew the right thing.

Slow Food USA.  Supporting good, clean, and fair food.

WannaVeg.  Go vegetarian one day a week.


Restaurants

Greenleaf gourmet chopshop - I pass this place everyday on my drive to work... it recently opened and the menu looks really tasty

Bloom - looks really yummy

Tender Greens - one of my favorite places to eat in Culver City



Preparing for the Farmer's Market






So says Michael Pollan in his Unhappy Meals article:

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.

The Farmer's Market, man!  I'm actually going to be doing a lot of produce shopping there as opposed to getting snacks and those yummy grilled sausages that I have gotten in the past.  Living in California, it seems like there's a Farmer's Market on every corner.  Well, I exaggerate a tad...

But here's a list that I found in the LA Times.

At first I was a little annoyed - several markets that I'm closest to operate during working hours, and sometimes during the middle of the day (Century City - 11-3pm?  Really?).  Some of us in Los Angeles actually have 9-5 job that require us to be at work Mon-Fri.  I know that's not the norm in this town, what with the camera operators that work 4 months out of the year and make six figures or the SAHMs or the "producers" - but there are at least a dozen of us poor bastards.  

But once I really looked at the list closer, there were tons of markets that were open during my off-work hours that were nearby.

Places that are closest to me (most are under 5 miles) are the Culver City Farmer's Market (Tuesdays, 2-7pm), Westwood (Thursdays, 1-6pm), Santa Monica Organic (Saturdays, 8:30-1), Santa Monica regular (Saturdays, 8:30-1), Beverly Hills (Sundays, 9-1), Westchester (Saturdays, 8:30-1),  Santa Monica (this makes three in that city alone) (Sundays, 9:30-1), West Los Angeles (Sundays, 9-2), Westwood (Sundays 10-3pm), .

Eight farmer's markets...not too shabby.  I think a field trip is in order for me to get an idea of the inventory (although I'm sure it changes on a weekly basis).  I've been to the Culver City market and know exactly what to get (oh hummus guy - I'm thinking about you!) - maybe some artisan chocolate as well... some honey for my morning oatmeal, etc. etc.  However, I've never been to the Westwood one.  So I'll check it out next week.  And maybe swing by one of the Santa Monica ones this weekend.  In the past when I've gone, I've eaten breakfast there and looked at letterpress stationery.  This time it'll be about business.  All fruits.  All veggies.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Preparation, Day 1




So yesterday I crutched my way (I'm on crutches because I sprained my ankle saving a pre-schooler from the path of an oncoming Hummer) to my local library.  I had craftily secured a copy of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food by calling the reference desk and making the librarian grab me the last remaining copy on the shelf.  I knew, just knew, that some yuppy would have taken it away from me had I waited until after work.  

Along with that book, I picked up this book (The Occasional Vegetarian).  And this book (The Pretty Darn Quick Vegetarian Cookbook) because the recipes looked simple.  And this book (30 minute Vegetarian recipes) because it had pretty pictures.  I wanted to get this book (How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), but it weighed a ton and I was on crutches and already had a handful and didn't want to drop everything in the lobby and go down like a ton of bricks.

When I finally made my way to the circulation desk and heaved the books in front of the librarian, she commented that she liked my books.  Wasn't sure how to respond to that, but okay.

I've started reading In Defense of Food and there are lots of interesting tidbits that I'll discuss in upcoming posts.  So my next steps are to research what vegetables are in season at the moment, and to check out the resources at my disposal.  This means paying a visit (for the first time in Los Angeles, I might add) to Whole Foods.  I also plan on visiting the Beverly Hills and/or Santa Monica Farmer's Market this weekend.  I'm pretty aware of Trader Joe's (that's where I plan to pick up some staples - nuts, dried fruit, oatmeal, hopefully bread, etc.).  I've also gotten more book recommendations from folks like grrly, so I want to check those out as well.  And I also plan on following LizzieB's recipes.

And so it begins...



updated to get some picture practicin' in.  Blogs are fun!



Pre-test foiled

Like any good researcher, I had wanted to take some pre-efntmps (eatfoodnottoomuchmostlyplants) measurements (weight, waist size, etc.) and get my cholesterol checked, but Mr. Insomniac is paranoid about the  health insurance industry and doesn't want a marker of "moderate high levels of cholesterol" to go down onto my chart.  I did take a cholesterol test years ago and it wasn't high, but some of my levels hovered around the moderate level.  At any rate, Mr. Insomniac thinks it's foolish to check a cholesterol "just for the fun of it."  So I will yield to his expertise.  Kill joy.

I will take my weight though.  And put it out on the internets.  I ain't scared.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My inspiration

Today I read this article in the New York Times magazine by Michael Pollan and it completely resonated with me me as I have been thinking about reforming my eating style for quite some time.

At the end of the article, he outlines 9 basic tenets.  For some reason, I can't copy and paste them all here (you should know that this is my first blog, and I'm definitely a novice), but here they are in brief:

1. Eat food.
2. Avoid food products bearing health claims.
3. Avoid food products containing unfamiliar names or food products with high fructose corn syrup.
4. Get out of the supermarket.
5. Pay more, eat less.
6.  Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
7.  Eat more like the French, Italians, Japanese, Greeks.
8. Cook and if you can, plant a garden.
9. Eat like an omnivore.  Add new species and foods.

I plan to follow these rules for 30 days, beginning June 1, but hopefully I will be able to uphold many of these principles for longer than 30 days. 

At first glance, some of these look pretty easy.  Getting out of the supermarket, for example, won't be too much of a challenge.  There's a Farmer's Market less than 2 miles from me on Sunday (I think?)  and a really good one that I've been to a few times in Culver City.  Typically I would go to the Farmer's Market to get things like hummus, pita chips, a few veggies, plums, and assorted food from vendors (chicken empanadas, sausages, roasted chicken, etc.).  So not too bad... but now I'll be purposefully shopping for more veggies.  And I'll have to make a commitment to go on a weekly basis.

Others, like "eat mostly plants", are tough.  I like meat.  I like it a lot.  It's tough for me to imagine a dinner without meat.  I sometimes scoff at people who order salad at restaurants while I bite into a nice juicy hamburger.  Life's too short for arugula, I would think.  Or I would roll my eyes at the women who would sit down to a plate of baby field greens while their date gnaws on a porterhouse.  That's not me, I would say, triumphantly.  I eat what I want.  Restrictions on eating always seemed to be a "feminine" thing and I resisted any attempts to play into the "I'll just have a salad" stereotype.  But I'm starting to see and realize that what I consume directly impacts my overall health and the world around me.   I'm not going to cut meat out of my diet completely, but I'm not going to let it be the centerpiece.  Meat is a side dish.  That's my new mantra.




It's official!

A blog to document my 30 days of following the Michael Pollan mantra of "eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants."

This should be interesting...  heh heh

More to come (i.e., who I am, why I'm doing this, preparation, etc.)...