Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Archive for the ‘Cultural food’ Category

Food, Glorious Food


So it seems there is a rash of food-related movies (a rash meaning 2 in one week). Since the big “foodie” movement, food is on the minds of average people, in a big way. With 24 hour Food Channel programming, gourmet and specialty foods, “slow” food, organic gardening, etc., it’s hard not to be affected by it.

So I went to see “The 100 Foot Journey,: which is a wonderful and uplifting movie with many themes. It features food, but only as a metaphor for relationships, overcoming bigotry, recognizing and helping a talented person, and the requisite love story thrown in for good measure. And no one is a better chameleon than Helen Mirren, who plays the female lead.

So the food itself was incidental to the story, but was handled with great artistry. I loved the sensual preparation of the food and the real life situations that it inspired.

Another movie, seemingly coming out of nowhere, was “Food.” It was released months ago but I saw no publicity, nor was it playing anywhere until this past week. So of course, I went to see it. Another great story NOT about food, but using it as a backdrop for the multiple themes of the movie. The story line was about relationships: between a boy and his father, a man and his (amicably divorced ex-wife), a man in search of his passion, friendship, loyalty and reconciliation.

Still, the visuals of the food made me hungry. I could almost taste it. I could feel the chef’s passion come through in his loving preparation of a grilled cheese sandwich. And it didn’t hurt to see how food brought so many people together and delivered a happy ending.

Bon Appetit!

Faux Aged Modena Vinegar


OK, I admit it. I have become addicted to aged vinegar. And when you need a lot of something that is expensive, you need to look for alternatives. I searched for “faux” aged vinegar and found a good number of sites, many of them with the same recipe. So I set out to experiment.

Having tried in the past to reduce vinegar, my big takeaway was that you DO NOT do this in the house. Your lungs and eyes will sting and you will choke from the acid in the air. I am not kidding about this. Do it outside. I went and bought a $15 single burner that I could use outside on the deck (a good investment since one good bottle of aged vinegar easily goes for $35 and up).

The first recipe had to boil for awhile to reduce it. I left it unattended and it seized, like candy when it exceeds the perfect temperature. I threw away the pot and tried  another recipe, this time attending to it as it boiled. It wasn’t quite right. So I adjusted a bit until I found what I considered very passable “aged” vinegar, for the price – less than $5.00. for 8 oz.

Don’t be put off by the sugar, as I initially was. As vinegar ages, the natural sugars emerge and it is indeed sweet. So try it and let me know how you like it.

Ingredients:

1 cup inexpensive Modena vinegar. I like Trader Joe’s in the 33.8 oz jug. $3.50
4 oz. inexpensive port wine
3 Tbs. packed light brown sugar
3 Tbs. Turbinado sugar

Directions:

Combine the vinegar and port wine in a stainless steel pot. Bring to a medium boil.  Let it boil for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add sugars, stir to dissolve and continue boiling . Watch it closely and stir continuously, for another 4 minutes.

Remove from heat, let cool and enjoy!

*If you want it a bit thicker, boil it longer, but before you add the sugar.

You can add an essence like blueberry. Wash and thoroughly dry the fruit and add it for the first boil. Strain the mix prior to adding the sugar and continue boiling as above. You can reduce the sugar slightly when adding sweet fruit.

Grilled Japanese Eggplant


IMG_0583

I needed a side dish to bring to a party and had all these cute little eggplants from the farmer’s market. “What to do with them?” I thought. Well I figured making an Asian inspired dish would fit the bill, and I would feel good about bringing a healthy dish.

The eggplant is a nutritional winner. Low in calories and fat, rich in fiber, it has a low glycemic index, contains many essential vitamins and minerals and is high in antioxidants. These properties are effective in helping to control cholesterol ,  sodium and the inflammatory processes that are harmful to our bodies.

And now, the recipe . . . . . .

Use the long, skinny, baby eggplants. I used the purple and white striped variety, but any color will do. You do need the thin, baby variety however, as they have no seeds and are ore tender than the mature types.

Ingredients:

12 baby eggplants, washed, stems removed and sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup soy (regular, tamari or reduced sodium)
1/3 cup sherry or port wine
3 TBS sesame oil
1 tsp hot pepper flakes, ground (can substitute another chili-based hot sauce)
4 cloves of finely minced garlic
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
Roasted sesame seeds
Optional: fresh grated ginger (about 2 tsp)

Directions:

Mix the soy sauce, sherry, sesame oil, pepper flakes, garlic, and black pepper and pour into a large , flat pan (a foil-lined cookie sheet is good). Place the eggplant halves in a single layer, into the pan, cut side down. Let them marinate for half an hour on the counter.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees for a convection oven, or 400 for traditional oven.

After half an hour of marinating, pour off the excess marinade into a bowl and set aside. Place the eggplant pieces into the oven and roast for 10 minutes. Turn the eggplant over, cut side up, brush with some leftover marinade and roast for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the eggplant from the oven and sprinkle roasted sesame seeds on top. This can be served hot or at room temperature.

You can also grill them on the barbecue, but use one of those mesh grill pans or the delicate eggplant will get too mushy and fall through the grates of the grill. Cook on lower heat and for less time than in the oven.

Foods of Different Cultures and Weight


I have a great excuse for the long hiatus. I was traveling. For nearly three weeks, I ate in England, South Africa and Israel. Very different cuisines, I can assure you. To be honest, I won’t even count England because I ate Italian food in London while in transit to the other two  countries. I had already made up my mind that I didn’t care to eat traditional English food such as kidney pies and blood pudding. Too much carnivorous fare for my taste, and not necessarily the body parts I would choose.

In South Africa, at a resort in a game preserve, I found the food not to be too unfamiliar. There were just a few new flavors, but nothing exotic. I was surprised to find chicken livers with onions (secretly, a favorite), but I first had this food at my Jewish grandmother’s house. The most exotic I would say, was the venison stew. Nicely flavored and tender. I waited until after tasting it to ask what kind of meat it was, lest the answer influence my perception. “Oh, it’s wildebeest,” I was told. All I could think of was those stampeding animals who killed Mufasa in the Lion King. It was actually quite good. They served a lot of meat, in spite of the fact that vegetables and fruit grow in abundance in those parts. I guess it is their perception that Americans want their meat – and they accommodate.

Israeli food is really not a specific cuisine; rather a mix of the many cultures that inhabit the land and those of the people who came to live in Israel from around the world. You will find Moroccan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Eastern European, Spanish and Indian influence. For sure, fruits and vegetables are dominant in most meals. Produce is abundant and cheaper than in the US.

As a nutritionist, I am always looking at the composition of healthy to unhealthy weight in the population, and the foods that are commonly eaten, the lifestyle, etc. I was struck that obesity was prevalent in the bush of South Africa until I visited the supermarket and saw an entire aisle with chips and other junk foods. Also, prepared foods were fatty, greasy meats and white floured grains and bread. There was plenty of soda, and kids were seen carrying bottles of Coke and sipping other very sweet drinks.

In contrast, there was much less obesity in Israel, in spite of large portions of foods at mealtimes. Because the meals consist of so much more vegetable than meat, caloric intake is lower. In the cities, many people walk and use bicycles; another healthy lifestyle habit contributing to healthier weights.

We should take a lesson. I will be. This weekend I am entertaining friends. The menu will be vegetarian. Tonight I had a vegetarian meal. I am committed to making at least 2 nights per week “meat-free” in my home. Prepared with a variety of spices and herbs, vegetables are actually delicious! Check out my recipes. I will be adding more vegetable inspired dishes.

Quick and Healthy Chili


Healthy Chili

Healthy Chili

I don’t often use canned goods and packaged spices, but if you find good ones, there is no reason not to when you are in a hurry. This recipe doesn’t take long to prepare, but you want to plan to be around the house to stir frequently so the beans don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. The healthy beans and tomatoes make this a powerhouse of good nutrition.

This recipe makes 6-7 quarts, enough for a couple of family dinners and some for the freezer. I package it in portion sized containers for fast defrosting and eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2   28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (choose one without added sugar and salt)
  • 3  15.5 oz. cans of beans, drained and rinsed of the starch. Use any small beans such as navy, pinto, black, etc. I like to mix mine so I get the benefits of the nutrients in the different beans.
  • 1  15 oz. can of corn (no added sugar or salt). This will be added toward the end of the cooking cycle.
  • 2  packages of chili seasoning mix (more if you like it very hot. Two packages gives it a little kick). Note: look for a brand that has no preservatives or other chemicals. The ingredient list should have just spices. I use Sauce Supreme, which I find in the job lot store.
  • 2  lbs. of ground turkey or white meat chicken
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 very large or 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
  • Olive or canola oil for browning onions and chopped poultry

Directions:

Brown the onions in a small amount of oil, in a large, heavy stock pot. Put aside. Brown the chopped turkey/chicken in oil (because there is little fat, it will stick to the pan. If  you want to eliminate the oil, or use less, use a non-stick pan).

Add the crushed tomatoes, rinsed beans, water and chili seasoning. Simmer on a medium to low temperature. You want it to bubble slightly, but not burn on the bottom. Stir every 10 minutes, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so the beans (which are heavy and settle) won’t burn. Cook for 2 hours to soften the beans and meld the flavors. Add the corn in the final 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Leftovers may be frozen.

Bon appétit!

Strategies for Managing Holiday Eating


Pardon my hiatus. No, I haven’t been absent because I went off the healthy eating wagon and started eating junk food (though the impending holiday season is beginning to present many challenges to my commitment to remain sugar-sober).

With this in mind, I began seeking treats that would not compromise my commitment, while allowing me to partake in the eating festivities. Lucky you! My search will deliver some healthy alternatives to the sugar and fat-laden holiday treats. Caution: they will still be on the cusp of healthy, so don’t get too giddy. It will make traditionally VERY unhealthy options into HEALTHIER options. Stay tuned for recipes in upcoming posts.

While you wait, I will offer some pearls of wisdom about eating during the holiday season without feeling deprived. First let me preface this by saying it is OK to indulge a little. Serial overindulgence – not such a good idea.

Focus on the purpose of holiday gatherings. Surely it is about being with family and friends first, and yes, that goes with eating. But, food need not be the focus alone. Plan other activities: walks, movies (hold the high calorie candy), trips to the city, shopping together, etc.

The most common temptation and least healthy choice is the appetizer. Those pretty, flaky little things passed on trays during cocktail hour are laden with fat and calories – more pound for pound than nearly any other food. So how do you dodge this bullet? Try to eat something healthy or have a hot cup of broth or tea before you go to the party. It will curb your appetite. When there, look for shrimp cocktail. The sauce typically is tomato based with spice and nearly fat free. Shrimp has no fat, though it is high in cholesterol, so eat modestly. Vegetable crudities and fruit are often available on a table. Fill up on these so you are less tempted to eat less healthful options.

Avoid anything wrapped in bacon or flaky pastry dough (ie.-cocktail franks), food that is  deep fried or swimming in cream sauce. If you are trying to monitor desserts, look for fruit, sorbet, or just limit yourself to one small pastry or one cookie.

It is possible to survive the onslaught of holiday festivities if you prepare yourself mentally and look for healthier options. If you are going with a partner, ask him or her to help remind you with a gentle signal (or a hammer to the hand if they need more severe assistance).

Happy holidays!

Passover Foods: good for any time of year


My son was home from school this weekend but opted not to join us at a friend’s seder. While I was disappointed, I was gladdened when he asked the next day, if we could prepare some traditional Passover foods. Even better, we were going to do this together. So I made the chicken soup (which I am famous for, if I say so myself); he made the matzah balls. I made the charoset (see next blog entry for more explanation and recipe); he made the noodle kugel, using a friend’s age-old recipe which is quite delicious and versatile in the possible variations. Here is the recipe:

Makes one 8×8 tray. I usually double it. It can be frozen, then defrosted and reheated, covered.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb. medium egg noodles, parboiled. Strain; do not rinse.
3 eggs
8 oz cottage cheese*
1 C sour cream*
2 Tbs. brown sugar 
1 tsp pure vanilla
1 1/2 C milk*
Optional: 1/2 C crushed cornflakes (I don’t use them as I like the browned noodles themselves)
*I use reduced and/or fat free cottage cheese, milk and sour cream. It doesn’t change the taste but cuts out a lot of fat.
Variations: you can add 1/2 of chopped apples, raisins or cranberries and/or sliced or chopped almonds 

Add all ingredients, mix well and place in greased 8×8′ baking pan. Top with cornflakes if desired. Bake at 325 degrees for 55 minutes or until the noodles begin to brown. Remove and let settle for 10 minutes before cutting.

The Pleasure of a Simple Meal


Yesterday I took home a wonderful cheese I had never had before. I got it at a store where the owners know their products and how to match your tastes with a selection of cheese. I took it home with a loaf of bread from the French bakery down the road.

Along with a glass of wine and simple mixed salad of 4 lettuces, small multicolored sweet peppers, mushrooms, tomato and good extra virgin olive oil and Modena balsamic vinegar, called it dinner.

It brought me back to Riomaggiore, where my husband and I stayed 2 days last year. After traveling around Italy, eating in restaurants (not that i am complaining about this at all), we wanted a simple dinner. Since we had a kitchenette and a view to die for, we tossed up some fresh pasta with pesto, a specialty of the region, with a fresh salad and grated parmesan reggiano, bread and of course wine. We sat and watched the sun set, living “la dolce vita” with the simplest of  meals. I never felt so at peace. So last night evoked this memory, but without  a view of the Mediterranean. I had to settle for the golf course out the back window.

Pesto Sauce: easy and delicious!


Pesto ready for pasta

Pesto sauce is a great accompaniment to pasta of course, but yesterday I used it in a baked fish recipe. It was scrumptious! I altered the usual recipe, halving the olive oil, so there would be less “oozing” when the fish was cooked. Why waste this precious extra virgin olive oil?

Here is the standard recipe. In a later post, I will note the changes to this recipe as incorporated into the fish dish.

PESTO SAUCE

2 cups of basil (I prefer to replace 1 cup with parsley for a less potent taste)

3 cloves of garlic

1/3 cup shelled pignoli (pine) nuts

1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Chop basil/parsley, garlic and pine nuts briefly in food processor. Scrape bowl. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until blended. Add cheese, blend and serve with whole wheat pasta. Remember it goes a long way, so don’t drown the pasta in the sauce. It is used more like a butter. Put a tablespoon on the pasta. It will melt and coat the pasta. It is hard to find a good tasting whole wheat pasta with a good “bite.” I like Trader Joes’ brand best, especially their thin spaghetti in the cellophane wrapper.

Roasted Tomatoes


Roasted Tomatoes

Technically a fruit, we use tomatoes more like a vegetable. Tomatoes are SO healthy! They have no fat or cholesterol, very few calories, sugar and sodium, yet pack a lot of flavor and nutrients. They have a good dose of Vitamins A, C, K, folate and choline, and minerals calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Their high antioxidant content makes them good cancer fighters as well, sweeping up all those free radicals we accumulate from other “bad” foods, particularly those with nitrates and nitrites, grilled foods, etc.

Roasting tomatoes brings out the intense tomato flavor that is delicious with the right herbs and spices. I find the best complement to tomatoes are spices used frequently in Italian cooking: parsley, oregano and basil. Because they will bake and absorb the seasonings, you can happily use dried herbs, but feel free to use fresh if you want to.

I use many kinds of tomatoes, but the juicier varieties are the best. Roma tomatoes are nice, but tricky to stand in the baking dish due to their shape. Slice lengthwise if using this variety. Here is the simple recipe. Enjoy.

Discard the stem. Slice tomatoes in half and line up on a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle the tomatoes with dried oregano, basil and parsley (equal amounts of each) and a dusting of salt if you like, though it is not necessary if you are minding your sodium intake.

You can also sprinkle with grated parmesan or romano cheese (then don’t use the salt) and bake at 350 degrees. The length of time depends on the size of your tomatoes. For cherry tomatoes, 20 minutes will do. For medium to larger ones you will need at least 30 minutes, and up to 45 minutes. Remove and serve!

Also good at room temperature, so you can make it a little ahead if you need the oven for other dishes.

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