T Minus Two Type Two Diabetes and Other Passions

29Jul/130

Mealtime Monday: Selling My Soul in Single Serving Packages

When we are all shivering in the dark on the mountainside we have fled to because most of the continent is under water due to the melting ice caps, it may be my fault.

I am not as "green" as I wish I was. But, I try to pay some attention to the amount of packaging I contribute to the waste stream.  Paying attention does not always produce action, but I've almost always avoided feeding myself out of plastic single-serving containers. I realize that food sold this way is a good solution for a lot of people: I'm not being critical. It's just that this has long been a way I try to contribute.

But, I've been having a struggle.  I have a problem, when I take my lunch, about taking enough food. I can take a sandwich, a generous bag of veggies, and a piece of fruit, but by mid afternoon I'm noticing that my keyboard is looking tasty. I have sometimes pulled this off, but then it seems to take forever to assemble all my little bags of food.

So, I went to the store tonight, and I was just sick of it. So sick of it, in fact, that I invaded the Forbidden Zones in a big way. Individual servings of yogurt. Individual servings of vegetable juice. Even (forgive me, redwoods) little cups with fruit in gelatin. As Opus the Penguin once said in a Bloom County comic strip, "Moral failure is such a bummer."

I know this can't continue. I tell myself (and I actually don't think I'm lying) that if these foods help me meet my objectives, that I can buy bigger containers of yogurt and juice and make individual portions. I could even make my own gelatin salad, should I really like that. This is a one-time-only transgression.

I'll see you on the mountainside. Bring extra candles.

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15Jul/130

Mealtime Monday: Gazpacho

 

Gazpacho is a vegetable soup from Spain. It's a great summer food because it requires no cooking and it is eaten cold. (You can read more about it here.) I've tried it twice before and been unhappy with the results, but I love the idea of it so much I'm willing to keep trying once in a while.

This time, I made it from this recipe. This particular recipe doesn't call for the inclusion of stale bread. It leaves the vegetables chunky, which I prefer over a puree.

I followed the recipe with only one modification, which was to include some ground kielbasa sausage in order to add some substance to what is otherwise just vegetables. I chose kielbasa because it's said to be a good substitute for Spanish chorizo, which my market didn't have. (Spanish chorizo is a cured sausage much different than Mexican chorizo.) The stale bread called for in many recipes would probably be another way to make it more filling. Adding some cooked rice or pasta right before serving would also help. (I'm guessing that the pasta or rice additions, and probably the sausage, are completely inauthentic.)

I wonder if the "large tomatoes" I used were bigger than the author's. I had too many vegetables for my food processor, so I had to process them in two batches. I wound up with quite a bit more soup than the predicted 4-6 servings.

I ate it with the addition of some sour cream, and it's delicious. I'm going to add this recipe to my personal cookbook.

 

 

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1Jul/130

Mealtime Monday: Pasta And

I like eating pasta. But, even though I have moderated my expectations, the amount of pasta that is appropriate for me to eat in a serving falls short of a satisfying meal. One of the most disappointing moments of my life was when I measured out the amount of macaroni I could eat under a structured meal plan I tried for a while.

But I've recently found an approach that helps. It's not original to me – I got the inspiration from Bobby Deen's show "Not My Mama's Meals" on the Cooking Channel. After weeks of not knowing how to describe it, I've taken to calling it "Pasta And".

It's really very simple. All I do is find things to add to the pasta that add flavor, nutrition, and volume without adding many carbohydrates. I find that my additions can make up a third to a half of the final dish, and it still feels like a pasta dish to me.

Last weekend, I made up some "Macaroni and Cheeseburger". My additions to a standard boxed Mac & Cheese included: lean ground beef which I had browned rinsed and dried; tomato which I had diced rinsed and dried; pickle slices, also diced, rinsed and dried; a little bit of mustard, and green onions. The reason for rinsing and drying my additions was to keep that from turning the sauce funny colors were making it soupy.

It was delicious, although I'll use more pickle next time. And it still felt like mac & cheese, only tastier.

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24Jun/135

Meatless Monday: Mushy Peas

A couple of weeks ago, over the course of just a few days, I heard a reference to a traditional British dish "mushy peas" on a food show, saw a mushy peas stand in a game I was playing, and heard a rant from a food critic on how we undercook peas in the United States. (His point was that the quick boil method popular here is the best when the peas are just-out-of-the-garden fresh, but that we rarely have those.) So, it started to look like the Universe wanted me to make mushy peas. Besides, it just sounds so ODD.

So I did some poking around and found this recipe from British chef Jamie Oliver. I'll spare you the series of misadventures that kept me from making that recipe, but it was starting to look like the Universe had changed its mind and didn't want me to cook mushy peas after all.

But, this afternoon, I found that I had time, inclination, and (wonder of wonders) ALL of the ingredients at my disposal. I made the recipe pretty much as laid out, except that I only made about a quarter the amount, and when you quarter a recipe not originally designed for an army, "some" becomes a critical culinary measurement.

It was good. The texture was odd, but I got past that quickly. It was also easy and quick. Into the rotation it goes. I'll probably play with alternatives to the fresh mint – it was tasty, but most fresh herbs are pretty pricey at my market.

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18Jun/130

Supper Time

There are many reasons to eat, and most of those reasons to eat are also reasons to cook. Furthermore, there are reasons for cooking that aren't directly related to eating, at least the cook's eating. When I cook, the reasons are basically two: I cook as a hobby, and I cook to make supper.

Cooking as a hobby is fun for me, and it's an important creative outlet as well. My cooking-as-hobby manifests all the distractibility that is such a big part of my nature. It is this impulse that has led to most (not all) of my cookbook purchases and the drive to play with exotic ingredients. And, with my distractibility, cooking-as-hobby waxes and wanes, not with the tides but in sync with interior movements I have never even begun to understand.

Cooking to make supper is a different kettle of fish, or perhaps a different bowl of soup. "Supper" is an interesting word, because what Americans call their evening meal is one of those linguistic markers that depend largely on where they were raised and where their parents were raised. In my family, "dinner" was a special occasion meal, such as Thanksgiving dinner. The meal we ate some time after my dad got home from work was called supper. If cooking as a hobby appeals to my mind, cooking to make supper appeals to my soul.

(Confession: I've seen so many cooking shows that I now think of "dinner" instead of "supper". But "supper" works well for this post. Even though I call it something different, supper is still what I'm thinking of.)

So what is "supper" to me? Well, those at home didn't always meet this standard (we also ate a lot of sandwiches), but a good supper in my view is simple, nutritious, and easy. It's filling and homey. It doesn't require advanced prep beyond getting something out of the freezer. It doesn't have do be 'delicious' - 'pretty good' is good enough, but it's a big bonus if I look forward to whatever I've planned during the day. Leftovers for lunch the next day are another bonus.

Do I cook 'supper' every night? No: I'm still getting there. But when I pull it off? It's victory.

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10Jun/132

Meatless Monday: Ugli Fruit

(Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/72/Ugli.jpg/220px-Ugli.jpg)

At the store yesterday, I noticed they had some Ugli fruit. I bought one as an experiment.

Ugli fruit (which turns out to be a trademark for a hybrid from Jamaica) looks something like a grapefruit in serious need of a dermatologist. I found a couple of different approaches to eating it (including this helpful article, which covers selection as well as eating), and decided to eat it as I would a grapefruit by cutting it in half at the 'equator' and digging the sections out with a spoon.

The Ugli fruit is something like a grapefruit inside, too, with sections separated by a thick membrane that doesn't seem all that edible. The flesh, however, is juicy and delicious, tasting quite a bit like a canned mandarin orange.

It's yummy. I wouldn't hesitate to get another one.

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27May/130

Meatless Monday: A Bean Salad Template

My favorite recipes are those that can be regarded as starting points, or templates, rather than precise instructions. With hot weather coming, I wanted to have such a template for bean salads. Bean salads are prepared cold, they're eaten cold, they keep for a while, and they're filling. My hope is to be able to make one that's delicious as well.

The starting point I used was the "Essential Bean Salad" from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian". I urge you to consult it if it's available to you: I have and love the app. However, I made enough changes to feel free to share what I did.

All measured ingredients are approximate. The optional ingredients are there to provide the variation in texture and flavor I value.

After the recipe itself, I'll provide the template for this recipe as I see it.

Ingredients

2 cans beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 to 3 cups of cook dried beans. I used one can of black beans and one can of cannellini beans. Use the beans you like.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp vinegar (I used red wine vinegar, I think, but don't think it matters. Lemon juice would also work.)

1 tbsp minced shallot (red onion would be great)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp minced Fresno chile, not using seeds or ribs (optional)

1 tbsp chopped refrigerated sun-dried tomato

 

Directions

Gently stir the chile (if using) and the sun-tried tomato ( if using) and the shallot into the beans.

Combine the oil and vinegar and add salt and pepper until it tastes good.

Gentily stir the oil/vinegar mix into the beans. Refrigerate.

 

Template

Here's the essence of this recipe: Combine enough beans for the people you need to feed with salad dressing, either homemade (as above) or purchased. Add other ingredients you think will help it taste great.

Isn't that easy?

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20May/131

Meatless Monday: Ramentary

There are some foods that exist simultaneously on several levels. Hamburgers, for example can be bought by the bag at a greasy spoon, enjoyed at a good diner or casual restaurant, or indulged in at a 'white tablecloth' joint.

Such it is with ramen noodles. Most Americans know ramen through the cheap little packets that sustain so many college students between pizzas. Ramen soup (BETTER ramen soup) can also be consumed at the noodle restaurants many cities have. But, increasingly, there's a middle path. Packaged ramen costing $1 to $2 a pack can be purchased at Asian markets, and some companies making Asian foods for American consumers are producing similarly-priced offerings found in some supermarkets.

I've eaten a lot of cheap ramen. Before my diagnosis, I often had a pack or two as a meal. I didn't eat it as a soup, though: I'd cook it, drain it, add butter and part of the seasoning packet and eat it like pasta. For several years, I've rarely had it: it just hasn't seemed like a good idea to get back into that.

Lately, though, I've been getting back into it, although in different ways. Ramen soup is a nice quick meatless meal (although meat can certainly be added), and I have discovered that a ramen soup supper is pretty easy on the rumbly on my tumbly. Plus, it's quick – I can get home, put the water on the stove, and decide exactly what I'm doing while it comes to a boil.

So, after a lifetime of the cheap packets, I've been exploring some of these mid-priced brands. I began by visiting my local Asian market armed with this list (which, you will notice, has PICTURES) and wandered up and down the aisles looking for listed brands – I actually found several. A local supermarket had some other options.

Thus far, I have to say that while I like the flavorings better in the mid-priced options, and the texture of the noodles is better, I'm not sure the difference is worth the additional trouble for me in getting them – especially since I'm inclined to add stuff to my soup anyway.

So what can be added? All sorts of spices, seasonings, and condiments can be added. Precooked or quick-cooking vegetables can be added – scallions are a good option, and I like frozen peas. Precooked meat can be added, if you like. Many people like to stir an egg in right before adding the seasoning packet. Think of it like a sandwich - this is not a time for a recipe, this is a time for figuring out what you like.

Updated to correct a botched hyperlink.

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27Apr/132

Meatless and Lazy

The last few days, as happens to me occasionally, I've been in a frame of mind that cooking just felt like something I want to do. To peg the level for you, I'd rather cook than have my teeth cleaned, but I'd rather clean my bathroom than cook.

For whatever reason, I don't tend to notice that I'm in this situation until I reflect and note that I've eaten almost all my meals away from home. This pattern of eating is not good because of the tendency to grow my waistline and shrink my wallet. So, it's a positive that I've noticed my lack of culinary motivation and plan accordingly.

Sometimes, I've responded to this by buying a loaf of bread (or package of sandwich this), a package of sliced ham, and a package of sliced cheese. I can go for days at a time on little beyond ham and cheese sammiches. But, since I'm trying to eat less meat these days, I'd prefer to do it differently.

I'm leaving for the store in a few minutes. Here are some of the things I plan to pick up:

  • ready to eat fruit
  • raw veggies, such as celery and green beans, that don't require cooking
  • hummus, for dipping veggies or sandwich makings
  • salad stuff
  • a frozen meal or two

Supplemented by some stuff I already have, this should feed me for a few more lazy days.

 

1Apr/130

Garnishments

I had a cooking epiphany last night.

When I was a kid, my family didn’t eat out too much. When we did, it was likely to be drive-in burgers. But, once in a while, we would go to a “sit down” restaurant called King’s Food Host (see picture of the ACTUAL restaurant below). A hamburger platter from King’s came with a little sprig of parsley on it. My parents explained that the parsley was really there to add color and, though you could eat it, it wasn’t really intended to be part of the meal.

(Photo from http://restaurant-ingthroughhistory.com/2011/05/04/frenchies-oui-oui/. I find it astonishing that I found this.)

Nowadays, many chefs are offended by the notion that garnishes aren’t intended as part of the meal, and many recipes include garnishes. Even though I’ve sort of understood that it wasn’t true, I’ve usually translated “for garnish” on a recipe as meaning “optional”, and I’ve chosen to ignore it most of the time.

One of the things I cooked over the weekend was a chile corn chowder (from a recipe at http://www.food.com/recipe/chile-corn-chowder-284361). When I had a bowl of it last night, I wondered if some of the roasted red peppers I pickled a while back would be good. So I dug out a few pieces of the pepper, sliced them into largish pieces, blotted most of the brine off, and tossed them in my soup.

The peppers were delicious in the soup.They provided a contrast in flavor and texture, and they also provided a hit of freshness.

And it hit me. Garnishments aren’t about adding color (though they can certainly do that, too). Garnishments are about completing a dish by adding contrasting elements that would lose their value if cooked into the dish.

That’s important. And it can’t be accomplished by a sprig of parsley tossed next to the French fries.

I’ll probably continue to ignore garnishes from time to time, especially when they’re in the form of fresh herbs, which (other than a few basics I can buy loos) cost me $2.99 a pop at my grocery store.

But, I’ll be ‘garnishing as directed’ a lot more often.

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