What’s Been Cooking

Park Walk

It’s been another busy month around here, with more work trips (this time to L.A.) and time spent outdoors enjoying the last of the fall foliage (photo above Suraj took on one of our many walks at a park nearby). This week, I’m off to Buffalo for Thanksgiving and am really looking forward to the break.

I don’t have a set recipe for today, but thought I’d just share some links to things I’ve been cooking these past few weeks, in case anyone is looking for inspiration:

–These sweet potato waffles are my new fav. I made this recipe for the first time a few weeks ago, after finally buying a new waffle maker, and they’re awesome. We have a stash stored in the freezer and they are excellent re-toasted and spread with peanut butter and fig jam (trust me on this one…).
–For a quick, ready-made lunch solution, I made a big batch of these freezer burritos a few weeks ago and can’t recommend them enough. I kept them vegetarian and used sour cream, refried black beans (this recipe), brown rice, sauteed ripe plantains, and cilantro for my filling. They reheat in about a minute in the microwave. Suraj is a huge fan. I may do another batch soon, with scrambled egg, for a breakfast version.
–This wild salmon soup is a staple for us, and is especially easy to throw together when I have homemade broth on hand. We usually use potatoes in place of the squash.
–I thought I didn’t like teriyaki until I tried this recipe, and now I’m a total convert. It’s SO simple and SO good. We had it for dinner last night with garlicky green beans. You can get chicken with the skin on (vital for this recipe) at Whole Foods; it’s in the sealed packages.

As for Thanksgiving, here’s a few things I’m taking home with me, as well as what I’ll be making there (each of my siblings is bringing a dish or two, and my mom’s got the rest…homemade pies included. So excited!):

broccoli cheese bites. Super easy to throw together and will be a good breakfast/snack during my 8-hour drive. Would also make a great appetizer if you did them in mini-muffin pans.
butternut squash and orzo salad. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for months, after my friend Jess sang its praises. She was right; it’s great! I’m packing a huge container and we’ll likely eat it for a few lunches this week. I subbed feta for the blue cheese.
hummus. This is something I seem to take home and on vacation without fail (mainly because my sister loves it as much as I do). This recipe is my go-to; it’s so smooth! I add a little more water and/or olive oil at the end, and it’s done it about 30 seconds in my Vitamix. We’ll probably have it with salad and pita at some point. (Sidenote: Have you ever had pizza with hummus for dipping? You’ll never eat it any other way once you do.)
Italian vinaigrette. Is it weird that I am packing my own salad dressing to take home? Well I don’t care if it is because this is my new favorite dressing and I can’t imagine any salad without it. I also plan on using it in a panzanella (bread) salad I’ll make while I’m there, for which I’ll use this sourdough for the bread.
s’mores cupcakes. I made these a few weeks ago for a Halloween party, and they were a total hit. I’m going to make them again at Thanksgiving, for the kids (in hopes that they will eat them instead of all the pie).

Hope everyone has a fantastic holiday!

Thanksgiving Table

 

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Garlicky White Beans in Olive Oil

White Beans 2

Between work and weekends away, September was full. I started the month by participating in two back-to-back swim races—the first a 2-mile swim in the Merrimack River, and the second a 1.4-mile ocean swim in Cape Cod. I should probably preface this all by first telling you this: swimming in races, or competitively at all, is very new to me. I’ve never been on a swim team, or done a triathlon, or anything like that. I swam a lot as a kid, but that’s about it.

My close friend, Jen, however, is an accomplished swimmer and equally great cheerleader. After a few lessons with her last year (in which I actually learned to breathe properly while doing laps—eureka!), I felt good enough to try the 1-mile version of the Merrimack swim. I survived, and vowed to do it again this year, only this time aiming to complete the 2-mile stretch instead of the one. I also decided to finally join her for the ocean race, which I wussed out of last year because 1) shark sightings, 2) choppy waves, and 3) fear of swimming the wrong way into the great abyss.

Swim Race

Alas, both were great events. Exhausting and humbling too (the 60-70 year old bracket is NO JOKE). My favorite by far was the ocean swim. Over 400 swimmers, amazing views, great crowd, and a chance to swim in the open ocean—it was a really cool 53 minute moment.

After the swims followed a work trip to Pennsylvania (during which I also visited my sister and her family, woohoo), and then my birthday. And here we are. October. One of my very favorite months. For eating and for just being. And also for wearing scarves.

Continuing on this fall theme, I’ve wanted to post this recipe for white beans for a while now. I have been making them for years and it’s another staple in our house, especially in these cooler, heartier months. We eat beans and lentils a lot, a fact which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. They’re such a great protein source and I find them especially perfect for incorporating into packed lunches.

This particular recipe is dead easy too—cook your white beans (or use canned), then simmer them in olive oil, garlic, and maybe a few spices until they’re silky smooth and flavorful. The recipe is very similar to the garlic confit I talked about here (tip #7), but probably even more versatile. You can eat the warm beans and oil with bread, toss with pasta, mix into salad (the oil is an instant dressing), spoon over cooked chicken and rice, or purée into hummus. And because oil is a natural food preserver, you can keep a jar in your fridge indefinitely, pulling it out whenever inspiration, or time, is running low.

Garlicky White Beans in Olive Oil
You can always use canned white beans in place of cooking your own—I just prefer doing it myself as it’s cheaper and I prefer the taste. If you end up cooking too many beans, just toss the extra in a freezer bag and lay flat to freeze (as I mention here—see tip #4), then crack off a chunk whenever you need them.

1 cup dried white beans (navy, cannellini, “small white,” or whatever you like), soaked overnight in water
Olive oil (I prefer “light” not extra-virgin for this, because you’re heating it)
Kosher salt
6 to 7 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
Spices: red pepper flakes, dried basil, oregano, etc.

[If you’re using canned beans, skip directly to the next paragraph.] Drain and rinse the soaked beans and transfer to a cooking pot. Cover with at least one inch of water and bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender—this usually takes around 20 to 30 minutes but will depend on the size of the bean and how long you’ve soaked them for. You want them cooked all the way through and somewhat tender, but not falling apart.

Drain the beans well and return to the pot. Cover with enough olive oil to cover by about 1-inch. Yes, it’s a lot of oil, but it can be used/re-used in tons of ways! Even if you end up eating all the beans out of it later, the garlic-infused oil that remains is great as a salad dressing, as a bread dip, or drizzled over pasta.

Heat the beans and oil on low until you start to hear the oil sizzling a bit, but not popping like crazy, which would be dangerous. Add the salt (a generous amount—I probably use a teaspoon of kosher salt at least), garlic, and any spices you like. I use the three spices listed above—a big pinch of each. You’ll have to taste as you go along for seasonings, but just add whatever looks good to you. You could also add garlic powder, fresh herbs, or even a few tablespoons of pesto.

Cook on low for 20 minutes or so, until the seasonings are fragrant and the beans are really tender—it’s okay if they start falling apart. Just be careful not to let the garlic brown (instead of leaving them whole, you can also finely grate/microplane the cloves, which allows them to just melt into the oil—both are excellent).

Once the beans are silky smooth, remove from heat, cover, and let sit until warm but not hot. Serve however you like (see suggestions above), or transfer to a large glass jar and refrigerate—it will last indefinitely so long as the oil is covering the beans completely. I’d argue it even gets better with age.

White Beans 3

Sofrito (a Dinner Savior)

Sofrito

It’s been a busy couple weeks around here. First I came down with some wicked virus that nearly knocked me out cold, then it was Suraj’s birthday (which we celebrated by way of a day-long music concert with friends and this cake), and finally it was off to Austin, TX for a work conference.

The conference was great and I got to meet up with a few of my wonderful authors, but my wallet was lost/stolen the first night we got there, while out exploring, and I’ve spent way too much since then trying to cancel and replace everything. Thankfully, I did make it through airport security sans ID (after some serious TSA questioning and a way-beyond-first-base pat down) and all is back in order now.

Despite that little setback, Austin was fantastic. The food was amazing, the vibe was welcoming and fun, and the city itself was beautiful. My top food picks, in case you ever plan on visiting, were Homeslice Pizza, Kerbey Lane Café (fried green tomato BLT, oh my), The Salty Sow (we magically got in without reservations, score!), Amy’s Ice Cream, Bangers, and Easy Tiger (amazing breads—I flew home with two loaves). Oh, and I also fell in love with Uber there. SO much better than taxis.

Coming back home from travel, I’m always anxious to get back into the kitchen, but rarely have the energy + groceries to jump in full-steam. That’s where my ultimate back-pocket recipe, aka sofrito, comes in. It is one of my freezer MUST-HAVES.

If you’re not familiar, sofrito is a simple Spanish sauce made of vegetables blitzed in a blender—mainly tomatoes, peppers, and onions. It takes almost no time to prepare but is the perfect avenue to any number of flavorful meals. You just heat, add in any meat, seafood, and/or vegetables you like, and serve with rice or pasta.

And just like that, you’re back in the dinner game.

Sofrito Meal

Sofrito
I like to make the full recipe here, then remove half, cool, and freeze in a gallon-size freezer bag (as I did with the broth here). That way I have one meal ready for now, and one I can make later. Along with the sweet bell peppers, we also like to add in a few Indian chilis, which I recommend if you like things hot. I’m sure other herbs like parsley would be welcome as well (this is a great way to use up CSA overflow!). If you’d like to thin down the sauce, just add broth or white wine. // Yield: 4 cups, at least

1 large can (28 oz) peeled plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano
2 red bell peppers (or 1 red + 1 green), roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 bunch cilantro, stems included
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients except for olive oil in a blender or large food processor (or work in batches). Pulse until finely chopped. I like to be a little bit rough (as pictured), rather than totally smooth, but it’s up to you.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduced, 25 to 30 minutes (reduce heat if browning at edge). Add salt to taste.

If saving any portion for later, remove from pan, let cool completely, then transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks, or freeze up to 6 months.


To turn your sofrito into meal: After the sauce has cooked down, add in any protein you like, such as chunks of boneless chicken or seafood, and cook until done. Our favorites are chicken thigh meat, mussels, shrimp, or a combination of seafood (such as Trader Joe’s seafood trio).

Serve hot with pasta or rice.


To make my all-time favorite sofrito meal (pictured): While the sofrito is cooking down, boil a pot of water for rice. Rinse 1 cup (or more) of basmati rice, then add to boiling water. Cook, at a boil, for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Keep warm in a covered bowl.

Peel 2 large, very ripe plantains and cut into slices. Salt the slices well and then fry in a little coconut oil until browned on both sides. This should only take a few minutes. (Fried plantains are SO easy, and SO delicious.) Set aside and/or cover with foil to keep warm.

Add peeled, uncooked shrimp to the simmering sofrito (we do about 20 to 25 shrimp) and one green pepper (cut into chunks) and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the shrimp is opaque and green pepper is somewhat tender.

Top sofrito with additional cilantro if you have it, and serve alongside basmati rice, fried plantains, and avocado (I like a little Greek yogurt on top of the plantains too).

Sofrito Meal 2

Ribollita Soup

Ribollita Lunch

We are a soup-loving household. I grew up on homemade chicken noodle soup; Suraj on dal and sambar. The roots run deep.

Soup ticks all our boxes. Can it be made in advance?—check. Is it a one pot meal?—check. Does it contain vegetables?—check. Does it contain protein?—check. Can it be eaten with bread?—check check check (okay, this last one may just be me…).

Ribollita is one of our very favorite soups and on an almost weekly rotation here. It’s Italian—Tuscan, to be precise—and features veggies, beans, and bread, which in my mind, is the ultimate trifecta. We add sausage as well (mostly to satisfy Suraj’s usual “Where’s the meat?” question), but seeing as it’s a soup with peasant origins, this can easily be skipped should you so choose. I’ve made both versions, and neither lasted long.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the leftovers here are actually better than the first serving, which makes the next day’s lunch something to really look forward to. I have one last bowl left for tomorrow, expertly hidden in the back corner of the fridge. Territorial? Maybe. Smart? Hell yes.

Ribollita Bowl

Pre-crouton dousing.


Ribollita
Quite a few ingredients here can be substituted as you like. You can use either hot, mild, or sweet Italian sausage, or skip entirely if you’re vegetarian, and just start with sauteing the vegetables in a little olive oil, and then using vegetable stock later. You could use celery instead of kale stalks (as is traditional—I just didn’t have any and didn’t want to waste the stalks). And/or you can skip the white wine and use more broth instead (though most of it cooks off anyway—and it imparts a perfect tang, in my opinion). You can also add in any other veggies you like, such as diced zucchini or cubed potato (which is especially good if you’re doing a vegetarian version). Play around! It’s only soup! // Adapted from Bon Appetit. // Serves 6 to 8.

2 cups coarsely torn day-old hearty bread, such as sourdough*
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more
1 pound Italian sausage (we like hot), casings removed
1 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, finely chopped
5 to 6 kale stems, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stems/ribs removed, leaves torn into small pieces
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups cooked white beans (I used some from my freezer, which I had previously soaked and cooked; you can use canned if that’s what you have)
8 cups chicken broth (I used homemade)
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan, shaved or grated, for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss bread cubes and olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy, about 15 minutes. Let croutons cool.

Using your hands, mix sausage and wine in a medium bowl until smooth. Transfer to a large soup pot set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until firm but not browned, about 4 minutes.

Add onion, carrots, kale stems, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender but still hold their shape, 20 to 25 minutes. Add kale leaves, tomatoes, beans, and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors have melded, about 1 hour. Add kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Divide soup among bowls and top with croutons and a grating of Parmesan.

*Ribollita is the landing place of all the little knobs and crusts of sourdough that don’t make the toast cut but that I can’t bear to throw away either.  I save them up in my freezer, and when my bag is full, the soup pot immediately gets turned on. That said, any type of hearty bread will work just fine. We recently used some garlic Tuscan from Wegman’s (!) and it was perfection.


Eating Habits, Part II

everyday breakfast

[For Part I, click here.]

I’ve always found it interesting to see/hear what people eat in a typical day. I mean, I cannot be the only one who thought that the best part of MTV’s Cribs was seeing what was in the fridge, amIright?

So here’s a quick glimpse at what a typical few days of eating looks like for me. While I’m obviously not as interesting as a celebrity, you may come across one or two things that surprise you (coughcough, Domino’s pizza, coughcough).

I wrote down every.single.thing, and looking back at it, it appears I eat a heck of a lot of food. (Do any of you out there keep a food journal? …because I found it slightly terrifying.) Perhaps I do eat more than others, but it’s important to note that it is all in moderation and I work hard to stop when I’m satisfied, not bursting at the seams. I gauge this by mostly by the fact that I can still happily think and talk about food even once I’ve finished eating. I don’t mean to say that I still feel hungry, but looking at a recipe or a photo of food doesn’t gross me out—if it does, I know I’ve gone overboard. (Try it for yourself next time you’re eating. Can you not even stand the thought of food after finishing your meal? If so, consider stopping a few minutes before you get to that point in the future.) This is a particularly important strategy for me because the majority of my work day is spent dealing with food-related things. It would be a shame to not enjoy that!

A few final notes before we get to it:

  • You will see four days documented here—three weekdays, and one weekend day. I didn’t plan in advance for this. It was just a normal week.
  • I took photos three out of the four days. If you hover over the images, a caption should give a brief description of the food, with detailed info in the text below. Please forgive the bad lighting/poor quality of some of the shots! I snapped these really, really quickly and some were taken with my smudged-up iPhone camera.
  • Any cooking I did was either just for me, or for both Suraj and me. Still, I cook in large batches, usually making enough to serve a family of 3 to 4, so we always have leftovers.
  • Unless otherwise noted with a brand, everything logged is homemade—this includes nut butter, jam, yogurt, kombucha, broth, bread, desserts, etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, I keep my sanity in this regard by making things in big batches well ahead of time, usually on the weekends, and freezing a TON of staple items. I keep track of it all in a digital list (the Evernote app) so I always know what I have, wherever I am. This is particularly helpful in planning meals a day or two ahead (my typical strategy) and making sure nothing gets wasted. Even with a small freezer and limited living space (my jam resides in the linen closet…), it IS possible to set up a system like this.
  • Wherever I could link to the recipe I used, I have.
  • Milk is always organic and whole, as mentioned in my last post.
  • I enjoy a small amount of carbs at every meal (sorry, Paleo people) and have a deep love affair with sourdough. Probably don’t even need to mention that again at this point.
  • There’s quite a bit of repetition/re-using of the same items (in different ways) here. My breakfasts are pretty standard and with a full-time job, lunch is nearly always leftovers reconfigured in some new way. Heck, sometimes dinner is that too. I’m guessing that’s the case for most of us though. Due to a very long commute (1 to 1 1/2 hours each way), I work from home two days a week, so on those days, I can at least make myself a fried egg, for which I am especially grateful.
  • It’s not really represented here, but we do eat out once, sometimes twice, a week (Friday nights guaranteed). Our go-to places are sushi, Sichuan Chinese (authentic, not American Chinese), and a local Mexican place. For lunch out, we either go for Vietnamese pho (soup) or South Indian vegetarian (dosas!). We aren’t really chain-restaurant people, as you can tell. And you already know we like spice.
  • I/We eat late compared to most Americans. Breakfast is around 10 am, when I start to feel hungry, lunch is around 2 pm, and dinner is not until 9:30 pm or later on most nights. This is what works best for us, and why I usually have a snack or two late in the afternoon or early evening. Late dinners are common practice in Europe and India, and most of the world I would guess, just not in the U.S. (I realize that it also helps that we don’t have small kids.)
  • There are more desserts listed here than what we would normally have, as I was doing some volunteer recipe testing for the baking chapter of an Italian cookbook (tough life, I know). When I’m testing stuff, I usually just keep a slice or two for us, then take the rest to work. Instant portion control.
  • I added in what exercise I did each day, as I do think that affects appetite. If there wasn’t so much *#@#! snow outside, there’d be a lot more walking in there, as that’s one of my favorite activities. I workout on weekdays, but not usually on the weekends. As for the yoga, I am impressed with myself that I went twice this particular week, but that was more just a strategy to avoid Boston evening traffic than any real commitment. Going forward, I’ll probably just go one night a week (and grocery shop on the other, if you really want to know).

Okay, on to the food!


Monday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic (a good detoxifier to start out the morning), diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 1/2 small pieces sourdough rye toast (I bought this bread from the Amish months ago and keep it in the freezer at work), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one piece, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // small cup of raspberries and blueberries // black tea with milk and 1 drop of liquid stevia (I use this minimally) // small glass kombucha (about 1/2 cup)
Afternoon Workout (lunch hour): 1-hour barre class
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): lemon rice // sautéed zucchini rounds // sautéed kale and collard greens with onion // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // small glass kombucha
Snack: 1 piece fruit & nut chocolate (leftover from recipe testing)
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga class (very basic—just my speed)
Dinner: roasted chicken (bones saved for broth; leftover meat saved for soup) // roasted broccoli and cauliflower // warm farro salad with cashews, garlic olive oil, and goat cheese (farro is a whole grain; as covered in my last post, it came straight from the freezer; I had previously soaked it overnight, cooked it, then froze it flat in a gallon-size bag; I just chipped off a piece for dinner and warmed it up with the other ingredients) // sauerkraut // glass of Mirassou Cabernet
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk
Supplements: probiotic pill (I don’t take these normally but just want to finish the container leftover from my post-antibiotic regimen) // dash of bitters in my water (this is an age-old practice that helps with digestion after meals; I am working with the company in the link provided on a book, and I love their products)

Tuesday

Drive to Work: turmeric tonic, diluted with additional water
Breakfast: 1 slice sesame sourdough (again, from the freezer), Kerrygold butter and 1/4 avocado smashed on top of one half, and almond butter and jam on the other half // 1 hard-boiled egg // 1 clementine // black tea // small glass kombucha
Afternoon Workout (gym @ lunch hour): 20 minutes stair-climber + 30 minute interval class (bodyweight exercises)
Lunch (packed leftovers; eaten at my desk): 3 small pieces Domino’s pizza (we had ordered this for the Oscars—it’s really the only takeout we get, and we have it just a few times a year, usually for parties, but I unashamedly love it. I probably should have had 2 slices, not 3, but I was starving from the gym) // 1 apple // celery sticks // Joseph’s-brand garlic hummus // small glass kombucha
Evening Workout: 1-hour yoga
Snack: gelatin fruit snacks (loosely based off this recipe)
Dinner: lamb stew with potatoes and carrots (leftover from the weekend) // multigrain sourdough with Kerrygold butter // sauerkraut
Dessert: small slice of ricotta & sour cherry tart (leftover from recipe testing) // small glass of milk
Other: lots of water and tea, both herbal and black with milk // 1 cup coffee with milk and 2 drops liquid stevia
Supplements: probiotic // dash of bitters in my water

Wednesday

[This is my work-from-home day.]
Upon Waking:
warm water with lemon (another good detoxifier)
Breakfast: blueberry sourdough waffle (again, from the freezer) with Trader Joe’s flax-chia peanut butter and Tropical Traditions coconut butter // 1 egg fried in olive oil // 1/3 avocado // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar // small glass kombucha
Lunch: Asian-style chicken noodle soup (before the work day began, I put the leftover roasted chicken bones from Monday, some vegetables scraps, a few peppercorns, and water in a big pot on the stove, and let it simmer all morning. By afternoon, I was able to strain the fresh broth and use it for lunch [and dinner]. I spiked the lunch broth with a dash of soy sauce, a dash of fish sauce, and miso paste, then added the leftover roast chicken meat, thinly sliced onion/garlic/ginger, kale, and a packet of ramen noodles, discarding that flavor/sodium bomb packet thing. I garnished it with scallions and Thai basil, both of which were also leftover from previous meals. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes.) // small cup of yogurt with crushed nuts, dried cherries, and raw honey
Snack: small Starbucks coffee with h&h and sugar (Suraj picked this up for us) + 2 small pieces fruit & nut chocolate (so yeah…that recipe was a total winner…)
Evening Workout: 30 minute swim
Dinner: mussels in garlic-cilantro broth (same base broth mentioned above—there’s a million ways to dress it up!) // leftover sautéed zucchini and roasted cauliflower // multigrain sourdough
Dessert: 2 Lindt sea salt chocolate truffles (my all-time fav chocolate/weakness) + small glass of milk
Other: shot of beet kvass (fermented beet juice, another great, cleansing drink; I will post about it sometime)
Supplements: probiotic // fermented cod liver oil

Weekend (Saturday)

Upon Waking: warm water with lemon
Breakfast: savory Indian pancakes (also known as moong dal cheela—they’re made from soaked lentils and they’re awesome!) with Fage whole-milk Greek yogurt, garlic chutney, ghee, and store-bought Indian pickle // 1/3 avocado // fresh fruit salad // small glass kombucha // Indian-style black tea with milk and 1 teaspoon sugar
Lunch: ribollita soup (I used cooked beans from the freezer, prepared as covered in my last post) // raw-milk cheddar // apple slices
Snacks: one small piece of biscotti (more recipe testing) + cappuccino // kefir smoothie (kefir + frozen banana + strawberries + coconut water)
Dinner: bayou dirty rice (I am trying to eat more liver because it’s so good for you, and this was a great recipe for hiding it in) // shrimp in a tomato-veggie sauce // champagne (a Saturday night staple!)
Dessert: one scoop Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream with peanuts and “magic shell” chocolate sauce (just chocolate and coconut oil, melted down together—we keep a jar of it the fridge and pop it in the microwave for a minute to re-melt, then drizzle on ice cream and it hardens instantly)
Exercise: None, unless you count standing at the stove
Other: oolong tea


So that’s everything! I hope it’s been useful, and that you see that nobody’s perfect—and that that’s not the goal. Build on what you can do, and go from there. Maybe you start out following the 50/50 rule (eat your best half the time, let the other half slide), then go for 60/40 the next week. Remember that whatever you can do is a step in the right direction!

Eating Habits, Part I

Home

I grew up in an old farm house (that’s it up there), the fourth of five siblings. While most of the house’s farmland was sold off well before my parents ever moved in, my Dad, a carpenter by trade, built a small silo on part of the remaining land. The “playhouse,” as we called it, had two levels, separated by a small wooden staircase. The first floor housed our bikes, yard tools, a wheelbarrow, and a balance beam, if I remember correctly (between this, the two trapezes, and the set of high rings my Dad made for us, it’s really a shame none of us ever joined the circus…).

The second floor of the playhouse was mine and mine alone. Unlike our shared bedroom, this illustrious space (which had one single skylight for light and was probably 12 feet in diameter), was just for me. It was my sanctuary, and, in turn, where my imagination felt the most free.

In my house, I created bunk beds from benches in the yard; a “fireplace” from leftover bricks; and a little kitchen compiled from old dishes my mom would let me pick out from her friend’s antique shop. To “cook,” I’d pick berries (inedible ones, always much to my disappointment), and mash them up to make “pies.”

The playhouse isn’t there anymore, but I still feel like it is. (I still feel this way about my Dad, too. Both are so clear, and so loved, in my mind.)

I’ve been thinking of that beloved space a lot lately, because in a way, I think this little blog has begun to serve a similar purpose. This is a place where I come to play around. To use my mind. To talk about nourishment, and to be nourished. It is my flow. And I love that.

I also love the community that is beginning to grow here. I’ve heard from so many people who are interested in living more wholesomely, or just trying new things, and that is amazing to hear. We’re all after the same goal!

With these comments and emails have also come great questions, many of which, interestingly enough, have revolved around the day-to-day specifics of what, exactly, I eat. What milk do I drink? Why am I eating white rice? (answered here) Do I soak my grains/nuts/beans? Am I a vegetarian? The list goes on.

All of those questions helped inspire this post, which I’ve broken into two parts/posts. First, I’ll go food group by food group, telling you what I eat, what I look for, what I prefer, and so on. In my next post, I’ll share a food journal of exactly what a few days of eating looks like for me—yep, every single meal, snack, drink, dessert, etc. It will be a full tour of the Eat & Edit “playhouse.”

Before I get started though, let me be clear: How we eat is perhaps one of the most personal facets of our lives. We all have to do what’s right for us. What I’ve shared here is not meant to be all-or-nothing plan for others to follow—it’s just what I do personally (and it’s taken me many years to get here)! If you want to pick up one or two of these habits, that’s great! Change doesn’t have to happen overnight.

While I am not a nutritionist (though I’d love to be one someday) and I’m certainly not the fittest/leanest/most-disciplined person out there, I do a TON of food-related research every day (it’s my job after all) and I am keenly aware of what works best for me and makes me feel, well, happy and alive. I’ve been following this “real food” lifestyle for at least 10 years now, and can attest to this:

  • I very rarely, if ever, get sick and cannot even remember the last time I had to go to the doctor for a flu, cold, infection, etc. I take no medications.
  • My cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which were high when I was overweight as a teenager, are great. My BMI is healthy/normal.
  • I have a ton of energy; Suraj will verify that I pretty much never sit down.
  • I sleep well.
  • I’m told (thanks, Mom) that I have good skin and usually get pegged for being younger than I actually am. (I am 32.)
  • I have no allergies/sensitivities (which can result from other body imbalances and are not always “unavoidable”; here’s a link to a study, for instance, about allergies and the gut).

I think a healthy diet plays a role in many of these areas, and more. So let’s get started!
(Hover over the photos for captions.)


My Overall Philosophy
Eat food in its purest form—whole, unadulterated, real. Eat the foods your great-grandmother ate, or would understand. Stay away from packaged products, unless all the ingredients listed are familiar to you and there’s only a few. [Did you know a Nutri-Grain bar contains more than 40 ingredients?] If you can’t decipher the label, don’t buy it!

Eat in moderation and don’t restrict anything. I like to practice the 80/20 rule, focusing on eating my best 80 percent of the time, and being okay with it if 20 percent slides.

A big part of my approach to food has been inspired by the book Nourishing Traditions. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more about sound nutrition.

Fruits & Vegetables 
Eat all the vegetables you can, as many and as much as possible. Fresh produce accounts for the bulk of our shopping budget. We eat vegetables with nearly every meal, and both Suraj and I love them all—okay, with the exception of eggplant. Neither of us can stand that one.

I buy organic for the Dirty Dozen, but don’t have the budget to do it for everything. Last summer we did a CSA too, which was great. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know I forage a bit in summer too—there are wild edibles everywhere! You can check with your local parks department to see if they have any walks you can sign up for. I’ve gone on both a general “foraging edibles” walk and one for just mushrooms.

In terms of preparation, we like both raw and cooked (usually, roasted) veggies, and I love fermenting them too—cabbage and carrot being my favorites (I’ll post about this someday soon). I save any veggie scraps—cores, peels, roots, etc.—in a gallon-size bag in my freezer, and when it’s full, I use them to make homemade broth.

Meat & Seafood
I have never been a vegetarian, though a lot of people seem to think I am. Before I moved in with Suraj and lived on my own, though, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go a week or so without eating meat (more so out of laziness than anything else). Now we eat meat or seafood at least once a day. Suraj grew up a vegetarian, but after trying fish, he never looked back. For religious reasons, however, he does not eat beef, so it’s not something I prepare at home.

We always buy our chicken, lamb, and pork organic (they honestly taste 100x better), and try to get it on the bone whenever possible. Bones are nutrient-dense and are essential to making deeply flavorful dishes—curries and stews especially. Once we’re done with the meat, I add the leftover bones to the broth bag (mentioned above), and simmer them all day long for stock.

For seafood, we look for sustainable choices and favor whole fish (again, with bones), as well as shrimp.

Dairy & Eggs
We drink whole, organic milk that is pasteurized but not “ultra-pasteurized,” which means it’s completely dead. While raw milk is available here in New Hampshire, we don’t typically get it. Pasteurized works for us. Whole milk is our preference because all the others are way too processed for my tastes (skim milk often has highly-processed “milk powder” added back into it after processing to make it drinkable). Prior to World War II, Americans didn’t even know what skim or low-fat milk was, so I’m sticking with tradition.

Sidenote: There was a time when I thought almond milk was great, but after looking more closely at the ingredient label, I dropped it completely. Most plant-based milks contain carrageenan, an additive that’s being put in all sorts of foods, and is raising a lot of health concerns (Prevention Magazine). So unless I make almond milk at home—which is super easy—I just stick with dairy milk.

Aside from drinking it plain, I use whole organic milk to make yogurt and kefir, a fermented dairy drink which I’ll post about very soon. If I buy yogurt, my choice is always plain Fage (full fat). It’s ridiculously creamy.

When it comes to cheese, I favor raw-milk, well-aged varieties, my favorite being cheddar. As for eggs, see my post about them here.

Beans & Lentils
We are bean lovers through and through, which is a good thing because so many Indian dishes feature them. That said, we don’t buy canned beans (which are often full of sodium and preservatives) and instead favor dried. I soak dried beans—including chickpeas, white beans, black beans, whole lentils, etc.—overnight in water, stirring in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. These helps break down the beans and makes them easier to digest.

The next day, I drain and rinse, then cook the beans in fresh water. Soaked beans cook up pretty fast (in my pressure cooker they only take about 10 minutes; on the stove about 30 minutes) and they’re also hugely economical. I keep however much I need for the week in the fridge, and transfer the rest to a gallon-size freezer bag. I freeze the bags flat on a baking sheet, then once frozen, stack up alongside whatever other staples I have in there (broth and grains, usually). When I want to use the beans in a meal, I just chip off a portion and toss them in to the dish (they defrost in minutes).

Grains & Nuts
I love and cook with all sorts of whole grains. My favorites are probably farro and quinoa, because they go well in anything. As for nuts, I don’t discriminate. They’re all wonderful.

I prepare grains and nuts in the same way I prepare beans (see above)—soaking them overnight in an acidic solution to help break down the phytic acid they contain (as I talked about in my Lemon Rice post). For grains, I then rinse and cook, often freezing in the same manner as with beans. Sometimes I sprout my grains before cooking, but that’s a step/method for another day.

After soaking nuts, I drain then dehydrate for 24 hours, until they’re nice and crispy. I use a dehydrator, but if your oven goes down to 150 degrees or less, you could try it in there too. Nuts prepared in this manner are called “activated nuts” and they are SO delicious. They’re also much easier for your body to digest, and you get more nutrition out of them. I eat them plain or toasted with a little maple syrup and butter. I also grind them into nut butter with some coconut oil.

Bread & Baked Goods
Good bread is essential to me. Nine times out of ten, it’s homemade and it’s sourdough. For Indian meals, I make whole-wheat chapati or paratha. Both we keep in the freezer at all times. Once in a while I’m fine with eating a regular, yeasted bread or roll. It’s all about moderation.

I love to bake other things too, and if the occasion calls for it, will use white flour. Most times though, I favor sprouted spelt flour, as in these cookies.

Oils & Fats
That’s all covered for you here!

Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are like magic to me. They keep my stomach happy, my food well digested, and my gut and body healthy. If you are not already eating fermented foods, I really encourage you to add them into your diet. They are a traditional food staple that only seem to have been forgotten about in the last century or so (directly the same time that our population’s health started going downhill…).

I try to eat something fermented with every meal. My favorites are homemade sauerkraut (this recipe is my all-time favorite; I always add it to my salads), kefir, yogurt, sourdough, kombucha, and beet kvass.

Sweeteners & Desserts
When baking, I like to use coconut sugar. For non-cooking applications, it’s usually raw, local honey or maple syrup. For tea, I’ll use a drop of pure stevia extract (in liquid form, which is much more natural than powdered) when I’m at work; at home, we just use a small spoonful of white sugar. 80/20 rule! 

As far as desserts, I fully admit to having a sweet tooth (directly inherited from my dad). A very small scoop of homemade (or Haagen-Dazs) ice cream or a piece of dark Lindt chocolate after dinner is our usual.

Why Haagen-Dazs? Check out the ingredient label—only real ingredients! Here’s their vanilla ice cream label: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, vanilla extract. (In this case, I’m fine letting the skim milk slide.) No other ice cream on the market keeps it as plain and simple as they do.

Beverages
I drink water throughout the day, and with meals. Other daily drinks include tea, milk, plain seltzer, and kombucha. I brew kombucha myself, and was able to quit soda nearly completely after starting that (I will still occasionally have a small glass of Coke with pizza, but that’s only every few months).

I like to have a glass of red wine (Cabernet) in the evenings, or a VERY watered down Scotch and seltzer. (I got Suraj to like salad, he got me to like Scotch.)

Supplements
I’m not really a vitamin and supplements kind of girl, but I do take a probiotic pill on occasion (such as after recently having to go on antibiotics after being bit by Lyme-positive tick—joys of New England living!), and fermented cod liver oil when I remember it (I like Green Pastures brand, in cinnamon liquid flavor). Everything else I think our bodies can get from food.

Foods I Strongly Dislike (that may or may not surprise you): Shredded or crumbled cheese—the convenience factor here means preservatives and funky junk are added to keep it fresh; you’re better off just grating that mozz yourself // Granola—I don’t really consider this a health food, since it’s super high in calories and filled with sugar, and I find unsoaked/raw oats very hard to digest // Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—I know it stinks to hear this, but if your bread, pb, and jelly are all store-bought, this is basically a dessert (here’s a visual; scroll to the bottom) // Microwave popcorn—it takes 2 minutes to make your own! and you can put REAL butter or ghee on it! // Flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt (Ron Swanson, you are my hero) // Boxed cereal—even the “healthy” stuff (again, just read the label) // Okay, I’ll stop here…

Exercise & Fitness
I try to work out several times a week, whether that is outside walking/running/biking, at the gym, or at the pool in our apartment complex. I work out because it settles me and helps me focus my energies, and because it just makes me feel good (and hungry!). That said, I’m not a fitness junkie and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type to run miles everyday or compete in any type of competition. While I’d love tighter abs (and leaner legs, while we’re at it…), I’m happy with just flushed cheeks and calm psyche too.

Whew, okay! Anybody still awake out there?! Until next week!

Thai Red Curry

Curry Meal 2

Have you ever wondered how, no matter what Thai restaurant you go to, the curries taste almost exactly the same? Thai green curry here = Thai green curry there, and so on.

Either there’s some really phenomenal master recipe they all keep sharing, or they’re all using the same (ready-made) curry paste.

Spoiler alert: I’m 99 percent sure it’s the latter.

I certainly don’t blame them though. Curry pastes are a very complicated thing. They require a long list of ingredients, many of which most of us don’t readily have access to (lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, etc.), and a good deal of measuring, chopping, blending, pounding, and so on. I remember making one once, and it took me the better part of an afternoon. If the end result had been outstanding, it might have been worth it, but sadly, it wasn’t.

Enter Maesri-brand curry pastes, aka small little tins of magic. I read about them on an Asian cooking blog years ago, and bought a can the next time I was at our local ethnic grocery store, because, to my amazement, it only contained real ingredients. Here is the label for Maesri’s red curry paste: “Ingredients: dried red chilies, garlic, shallot, salt, lemongrass, sugar, kaffir lime, galangal, spices (coriander seeds, cumin, cardamom). Product of Thailand.” Amazing, right? No fillers, no food colors, no things-you-can’t-pronounce. Better still, the flavors will blow you away. It’s restaurant-quality… quite literally.

It’s probably already assumed that we eat very few canned/packaged goods in our household, which is true, but we do have a few exceptions: diced tomatoes, coconut milk, and this curry paste. The last two combine to build the foundation of the wonderful Thai red curry recipe below. Add in whatever meat/veg you like, boil up some rice, and in less than 30 minutes, you have one fantastic meal on your plates. It’s one of our weeknight staples. I hope it becomes one of yours, too.

[A note on Thai curry, if you’ve never had one: they are only mildly spicy (nothing close to Indian curries). My best description would be richly flavored, subtly sweet, and creamy. Most people, kids included, enjoy them. Green, red, and yellow Thai curries are three of the most popular. I’ve used red here, but the pastes can easily be interchanged (the red has a very tiny amount of sugar; many of the others do not, such as green). Red and green are our top choices, but there are quite a few different varieties made by Maesri (some of which contain soybean oil, so I avoid those).]

Curry Close-Up


Thai Red Curry
A few notes: You can really use any vegetables or protein you want (or skip that part and make it vegetarian). In other iterations, we’ve used shrimp, mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and asparagus—all with great success. You really can’t go wrong. As for the coconut milk, I always use full-fat because I love how thick and creamy it is… and because I truly believe that healthy, unadulterated fats are better for you than “skim” anything (if you really want a lighter version though, just use one can of coconut milk + water).

1 small can Maesri red curry paste (here’s what they look like)
1 1/2 to 2 cans full-fat coconut milk (I like Aroy-D brand because it has no preservatives)
1 lb boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into one-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into one-inch pieces
1 yellow zucchini/squash, cut into one-inch pieces
10 baby bok choy, ends trimmed
Scallions, for garnish
Thai basil leaves, torn, for garnish (optional)
Jasmine rice, for serving

Combine the curry paste and 1 1/2 cans coconut milk in a large pot or saucepan, whisking to combine. Bring sauce to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring occasionally with a spatula so it doesn’t scorch.

Once hot, add the chicken pieces and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. (If you’re using chicken breasts, this will probably take less time. We always use organic chicken thighs because they have more flavor and are absolutely delicious when cooked in sauce or for long periods. Instead of becoming stringy like breast meat, they become mind-bendingly soft and tender. I encourage you to give them a try even if you “think” you don’t like them; I’ve converted quite a few people who were previously on the fence about them). Add remaining coconut milk if you think it needs it.

Once the chicken is done, add all of the vegetables and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes only, until vegetables are just cooked, but still have their color and a little bite. Add salt if you think it needs some.

Garnish with scallions and serve hot with rice.

My favorite way to cook jasmine rice: Rinse grains thoroughly and soak in water for 15 to 30 minutes, while you’re preparing the rest of your meal. –> Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add drained/soaked rice and boil for 10 minutes, just as you would pasta. –> Drain and return rice to pot. Cover and let sit/steam for a few minutes. Serve hot.


Eating our way through Bangkok in 2011.

Eating our way through Bangkok, Thailand in 2011. Any country where street food is the food is a country for me.