Thursday, January 24, 2008

Salads are Boring

Over the years I’ve shared meals with a host of people that I don’t know well and for whatever reason, they don’t know me too well, either. Inevitably, I’m asked what I do for a living to which I respond, “I’m a dietitian.” And each time I get the same reaction:

The person stiffens up and says something to the effect of, “Oh, well then I don’t want you to see what I’m eating... you’ll probably think it’s terrible.”

Then the dreaded, “So what do you think about the (you fill in the blank) diet?”

And so the conversation goes...

First, let me say that I could care less about what other people are eating – it’s not my job to judge. Those same people that are concerned about my impression of their eating habits are the first to make a comment when I don’t order a salad – “what, no salad for the dietitian??” Let me just be honest and say that I think salads are, for the most part, boring (unless loaded with creamy dressing, meat and cheese) and it’s rare that I order a salad as a meal.

Second, I’m tired of fad diets. My motto is: everything fits in moderation. Suffice it to say, I do eat a little of everything in moderation. And I love food.

To a dietitian, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I respect those who eat to live and often forget to eat or choose to do other things with their time for various reasons... I, on the other hand, wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner. Each unto his own...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I've just spent the last few days with a friend who only eats a few bites... nothing more, nothing less, no matter how irresistible the food is.

I've heard of people doing this "willpower" thing- a practice in which a person can have a plate in front of them, teeming with delicious food, and not take more than a few tasting bites before putting the fork down for the duration. Quite frankly, I'm appalled by this kind of behavior.

Yes, you guessed it: I grew up in a "clean your plate club" kind of family. We didn't necessarily overeat but we ate all that was put before us or we felt guilty about it. I didn't know any different until I began studying nutrition in college and became much more aware of what it means to actually over eat. It was at that point that I started using smaller plates, which made for smaller portions, so I could still be an official member of the "club."

Going to restaurants, however, presents a challenge when faced with maintaining my membership status. Portions are generally huge - though I've found that price and portion size are inversely related - and it's more difficult to maintain self-control if the food is especially good (as the chicken curry at a local Indian restaurant was on Saturday night). As a foodie, I live to eat... but as a nutrition professional, I'm also conscious of not eating too much.

So I'm posing this question to the other health-conscious foodies out there: how do you manage not to overeat?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Apple Magic

I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal this winter, thanks to a Costco run last summer – I now have more quick-cooking oats than I know what to do with. To keep things interesting I’ve made Swiss oatmeal (a la The Corner Bakery), oatmeal pancakes, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and various quick breads that use oatmeal. However, I’ve found that there’s nothing better than a bowl of hot oatmeal on a winter morning, topped with crisp apples sautéed in a little butter and brown sugar... yum.

Unfortunately in making this hearty breakfast earlier this winter I found my Costco-sized bag of brown sugar to be hard as a rock. Faced with this dilemma time and time again, I’ve tried different methods of keeping brown sugar soft. Plastic bags, canisters and terracotta discs that claim to keep it fresh - none of which actually did a whole lot. And then I discovered the apple.

I placed an apple in the brown sugar bag, sealed it shut and let it work its magic. In less than a day, the three pounds of brown sugar were no longer hard as a rock. I switch out the apple every 2-3 weeks and replace it with a new one.

Note, in the interest of full disclosure, I work for the apple industry which means that I eat a lot of apples and I frequently experiment with them in cooking. Consequently, I may talk about them periodically on Live to Eat. But this blog is not about apples – although I am continually amazed at the fruit’s versatility and ability to protect and heal the body – it is about food.

Check out this excellent recipe for Apple Harvest Oatmeal.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

3 Reasons for Making Pizza at Home

Friday night is pizza night in our house. Homemade pizza. Yes, we make pizza together and then settle in for a movie on the couch. It's a tradition that started with my husband's family, and he's been doing it for more than 30 years - not a bad tradition to marry into since I've always been a fan of pizza.

But the idea of making pizza is slightly intimidating for those of us who are used to pizza arriving in 20 minutes or less, usually on a night when there aren't 3 hours available to prepare a meal (yes, that's how long it takes from start to finish). You may be asking why anyone would venture to make pizza when it's so easy and convenient to have someone else do all the work... well I have my reasons why, as it turns out, pizza night is worth the time and effort.

  1. Stress reduction - after a long week of work, it's great to take out your agressions on a ball of dough. Sometimes we cheat with a pre-baked crust like Boboli, but the best pizza dough is made by our Breadman Pro bread maker (which is sorta cheating, too, but...). It's very forgiving when you take a rolling pin to it, punch it and pound on it until it's flat. Drinking a glass of Malbec while doing so also helps to reduce stress.

  2. No need to compromise - ordering pizza should be easier but there's always discussion about what to get ("no anchovies, please...," thick or thin, meat lovers, cheese lovers or veggie lovers?) and compromising can be a challenge. In making homemade pizza, anything goes. Everyone has equal opportunity to "decorate" their own (or half of their own) pizza with whatever they so choose. Last night, in fact, I topped my thin-crust pizza with handfuls of cheese, leftover ham, fresh pineapple and sliced red pepper, cooked until golden brown, while my husband opted for olives, mushrooms, peppers and ham. YUM!

  3. It's just more fun - we actually have fun making pizza. It's fairly low stress which means you can't screw it up, even if you're not much of a cook. This is also nice because I've often left out key ingredients (e.g. baking powder when baking cakes) or added the wrong ingredient (e.g. salt when it calls for sugar) because I was busy talking to guests or family while cooking. Pizza night is a good opportunity for families and friends to hang out together, get creative in the kitchen, drink a glass of wine and enjoy the delicious fruits of their labor.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Behold, My New Favorite Kitchen Tool

Where has this been all my life?? The Williams-Sonoma 11-Ball Tip Whisk is officially my new favorite tool in the kitchen, thanks to my mom who also had the same revelation and gave me one for Christmas. I love this whisk.

I've used this to make a thick roux, pancake batter, omelets... it's perfect because unlike other whisks, food doesn't get stuck between the wires. At $24, it's bit on the pricey side but completely worth it. The only drawback is that it doesn't come in a variety of sizes.
I have a small kitchen so I don't want a lot of clutter, but I'm always looking for those multi-purpose, time-saving devices that make cooking more enjoyable...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

UPDATE: The Luckiest Meal Ever

Based on the meal I just ate, 2008 promises to be the luckiest year ever... no, it's not because the traditional New Year's Day lucky meal was so delicious. In fact, it was quite the opposite - this was the most disappointing meal I've made in a very long time, one in which everything burned. But we ate it anyway, all in the name of good luck. And on the bright side, there's nothing like a terrible meal to make you appreciate good food.

I'm not really sure how it happened but it might have something to do with the 40 year old crock pot I used to cook the hoppin' john. As for the kale... well, I have no idea how I managed to burn it. But one thing is for sure: after eating charred kale that smelled of old cigars, hoppin' john with burnt ham and peas, and dry, lackluster cornbread, I think my husband and I deserve a little extra luck this year.

Lucky New Year’s Meal

Today I’m busy preparing the traditional New Year’s Day lucky meal of black-eyed peas, cooked greens and pork. Now I have no idea if this meal really brings me luck but I’m afraid to find out what happens when I don’t eat it. My mother, a native Virginian, has made the traditional Southern version of this meal for as long as I can remember -even if I had force a few bites of collard greens and hoppin’ john down as a kid in order to reap the benefits, I did so. And, all in all, I’ve been a pretty lucky person.

So this year I’m trying a couple of new recipes in hopes that this meal is as tasty as it is lucky, which is a challenge when you’re working with bland black-eyed peas. They are, of course, an important part of this meal because they symbolize wealth, but I’ve decided that they are among my least favorite legumes so it’s fitting I only eat them one time a year. To give them some flavor I’m spicing my hoppin’ john up with the addition of some Cajun seasoning and ham because pork represents prosperity. It’s my own variation of a Cooking Light recipe that is delicious on its own (see below).

Maybe it’s because the cooked greens also symbolize wealth, or “greenbacks,” that I’ve come to like them much more as an adult than I did as a kid. I’ve also discovered that greens are an excellent vehicle for bacon (which, by the way, makes everything delicious) and are much more enjoyable when loaded with salt and fat. Though my mom never made them this way, true Southern greens are slow cooked with fatback, ham hocks and/or bacon. Being fairly health-conscious (as a dietitian and all) I’ve decided to sauté kale with onions, salt and pepper and top it off with cooked, crumbled bacon. Real bacon, since (thankfully) I’ve finally realized that turkey bacon just doesn’t cut it.

One of my favorite blogs, DC Foodies, has a good synopsis of the lucky meal traditions.

Hoppin’ John
2 16 oz packages frozen black-eyed peas
2 cups hot water
¾ cup sliced green onions
¾ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 t hot sauce
1 T Cajun seasoning
Generous pinch of salt and pepper
1 vegetable-flavored bouillon cube
1 cup cubed ham
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with onion, undrained
2/3 cup uncooked converted rice
½ c slice green onions

Combine first 9 ingredients in crock pot and stir well. Cover and cook on high 4 hours. Stir in tomatoes and rice, cover and cook 1 hour or until peas and rice are tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in green onions.

Yield: 6 servings

Best of luck in the new year!