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

 

Advertisements

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

Bone Broth: A How-To

Stock Pot

Homemade chicken broth, or bone broth of any kind, is a highly nutritious food and one that’s been in the press quite a bit lately (New York Times, Forbes, etc.). Essentially, it is the liquid that results from cooking down bones/meat + vegetables + water for anywhere from 6 to 24 hours (if you add salt and seasoning to it, it’s called broth; if you don’t, it’s called stock).

Bone broth dates back to prehistoric times, but has recently been rediscovered for its health benefits. While there are a lot of magical claims swirling around on the subject, here are the top three reasons I love it and consider it an important food:

  • Homemade broth is full of nutrients, including calcium and magnesium, two important minerals that we can absorb easily through drinking/eating it. Bone broth also contains glucosamine and chondroiton, which are thought to help ease arthritis and joint pain (many people take these in supplement form, but broth is an excellent all-natural source).
  • Bone broth is rich in gelatin. Gelatin is source of protein, helps support digestive health (many say it can help heal digestive disorders), and keeps our skin, hair, and fingernails healthy and strong. Everyone benefits from adding gelatin to their diet.
  • Bone broth proves our Moms are always right. Studies now show that chicken soup does indeed help cure colds and flu. Why did we ever doubt them? 

To summarize, bone broth is good for our guts, bones, joints, and skin (and soul if you’re still following Jack Canfield). It also happens to taste great and turns every soup we make into something remarkable… which is probably why I make a huge batch of the stuff every other week. The flavor of homemade broth is rich and decidely umami. Store-bought versions just don’t compare, from both a health and taste perspective. Just check out the ingredients next time you buy a can or carton; it’s full of flavorings and preservatives that try to mimic the flavor of the real stuff, but always fall short.

The good news is that you can make your own homemade broth for next to nothing, using ingredients you probably discard otherwise. Just how do you it? Here is my simple and easy method: I keep a gallon-size “broth bag” in my freezer at all times. Whenever we have bones left over from a meal, such as roasted chicken, they go in the bag. Whenever I have vegetable cores and scraps leftover from food prep, they go in the bag. When they bag is full—I try to fill it with roughly half bones and half veggies—I dump the contents into a big pot, cover it with water, add some peppercorns, and let it simmer all day or night. In the end, the bones are so broken down you can easily snap or crush them, all the veggies are spent, and the resulting liquid is full of both nutrients and flavor. I strain and discard all the solids, add salt, and refrigerate or freeze the broth, using it throughout the week to make soups and stews, braise other meats and vegetables, and cook rice in. It’s indispensable in our kitchen.

Any combination of meat/bones and veggies will work. In the broth pictured, for instance, the following is what I used. The first three items were leftover from cutting up a whole (organic) chicken, which is super easy and cost-effective once you get the hang of it. All of these items filled one gallon-size freezer bag:

  • two raw chicken wings, including tips
  • one raw chicken back (the part between the breasts)
  • one giblet pack that was inside the whole chicken (I took out the liver piece—it’s too strong for broth)
  • one pork bone shoulder (leftover from slow cooker pulled pork we had made)
  • roasted chicken thigh bones (meat had already been eaten off; we had baked the thighs)
  • kale stems
  • carrot peels
  • outer leaves of a cabbage
  • base of a bunch of celery, including leaves
  • base and tops of a few summer squash/zucchini
  • onion skins
  • ginger peels
  • turmeric peels

I realize that some people may wrinkle their noses at this list and the prospect of cooking down chicken bones and other otherwise-unsavory parts, but I actually find it to be quite a beautiful and respectful act. Using all these parts allows us to use the whole animal—not just the all-mighty “boneless, skinless chicken breast”—which is much more considerate and ethical to both the animal and our environment as a whole. It goes without saying that choosing and using organic meats (preferably pastured and local too) is also part of this. The good news here is that most of these items are quite cheap, and very often on sale. I never pay more than $10 to $12 for a whole, organic chicken; chicken thighs on the bone are usually under $5 for a pack of 5 to 6; and sometimes you can even find “chicken backs,” which are sold expressly for making broth, for just a few bucks.

I’ve provided a template recipe for making your own bone broth below, which I encourage you to use as a jumping off point. Try it once and I promise you’ll be a convert.

[Hover over the photos for captions.]


Bone Broth
You really can’t “mess up” broth—basically any bones or meat-on-the-bone you can save/use are great. The meat can be either cooked or uncooked; I usually use a combination. As for vegetable scraps, with the exception of potatoes and tomatoes, any sort are welcome. // All this said, if you really want to make things easy on yourself: buy an organic rotisserie chicken from the store, remove all the meat and use it in other meals, and cook whatever remains along with a bunch of carrots, celery, and an onion. You could also do this with a raw whole chicken too. // Yield: About 16 cups

Meat Parts (cooked or uncooked; with or without meat attached; organic highly preferred):
Leftover pieces of rotisserie or roasted chicken, including bones with or without meat on them (eaten or uneaten—you will be boiling it for hours so you really needn’t worry about contamination)
Chicken wings, including tips
Chicken backs and/or feet (I realize this sounds weird, but they make great broth!)
Beef, lamb, or pork bones

Vegetable Parts (basically anything you’d put in the compost bin; organic wherever possible):
Kale, chard, or any other hearty greens, stems especially
Cabbage, outer leaves and core especially
Celery, including bottom core and leaves
Carrots, including peels and tops
Cilantro or parsley stems
Onion and garlic skins (or just a whole onion, quartered)
Leeks, especially the (typically inedible) green tops
Lemon peels

Other Add-Ins (for Flavor):
Whole peppercorns
Bay Leaf
Any herbs you may have, such as rosemary or thyme
Kosher salt

Save up any of the above items in a gallon-size plastic bag, keeping it in the freezer.

Once the bag is full, pull out the largest stock pot you have, and dump it all in (no need to thaw). Cover with filtered water and add any of the “Other” items you like. I usually just do a handful of peppercorns, and add the salt at the end. You could also do this in a slow cooker instead, and just cook on low overnight or all day. Both methods are great; I’ve just been doing the stove-top version lately as the smell of the broth cooking literally wakes me up in the middle of night when it’s in the slow cooker, ha. (I have a ridiculously sensitive sense of smell.)

Bring to a boil then reduce to very low simmer and cook for at least 4 hours, ideally 6 to 10. Add water as needed if it looks like it’s cooking down too much. By the end of cooking, the liquid should be a rich golden color, with some oil drops on top (this is a great sign and = flavor).

Strain all the liquid (broth) and discard the solids. Add salt to taste—if you think your broth is too strong, add additional water until it’s as you like. I usually don’t though, even it’s really rich, because I like to freeze it in this “condensed” form, and then just add more water once I’m actually using it to make soup or other things. It takes up less space in my freezer this way.

Allow to cool and then transfer to large glass jars or other storage containers; refrigerate until needed. If your jars develop a layer of fat on top after chilling, that is great (see photo below). This actually helps seal in the broth and allows it to keep in the fridge for longer (just don’t break the seal). I just mix this layer back into the broth once I’m ready to use.

If freezing, carefully pour the strained liquid into gallon size freezer bags. Lay flat on a baking tray and freeze until “sheets” are solid (see photo below), then just stack them in your freezer. Run under warm water to defrost.

Use your broth any and everywhere! (Or be super trendy and drink it plain.)

Final Broth

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!

Roasted Cabbage

Roasted Cabbage Close-up

When I posted a shot of this roasted cabbage on Instagram a few weeks back, it quickly became one of my most liked photos.

Why? I would guess that it’s because people gravitate toward things that are both simple and beautiful—in life, in others, and especially in food. I love that. I get that.

We started roasting cabbage like this last summer, back when our CSA haul featured cabbage almost weekly. Months later, we’re still eating it this way, usually as part of a quick weeknight meal along with some sausage and white beans in olive oil (recipe coming soon). Leftovers always go into my lunches along with some feta or goat cheese.

Roasting vegetables is one of my favorite cooking methods. The process is simple yet it results in such full flavors and textures that you really can’t help but love the end result. I understand people not liking steamed vegetables. But roasted ones? Come on. They’re dreamy.

In the case of cabbage, roasting the rounds whole creates an end result so tender that you can even eat the core. The inner ribbons turn silky soft, while the very outer edges char slightly and taste similar to a kale chip, only a million times better. If you never thought cabbage could be addicting, try this and get back to me.

Roasted Cabbage Before Roasted Cabbage After


Roasted Cabbage
Use the biggest, sharpest knife you have for cutting the cabbage and be very careful, as the whole thing can take a little work to cut through. The garlic is optional. You can also sprinkle any dried herbs you like on top, such as oregano, thyme, or whatever goes best with the rest of your meal. I just kept mine simple here.

One whole cabbage, red or green
Olive oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper
Garlic cloves, whole (unpeeled or peeled—unpeeled is probably better to avoid burning)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cabbage upright on a cutting board, core/stem side on the bottom. Slice straight down into one-inch thick rounds, or as close to that as you can get. It doesn’t need to perfect.

Place rounds on a baking sheet. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt (I use kosher) and pepper. I find cabbage needs quite a bit of salt, so don’t be shy. Place a few garlic cloves on the sheet along with the cabbage, brushing with a little olive oil as well.

Roast for about 30 minutes, until the tip of a knife slips easily through the core. Smash the roasted garlic cloves into the cabbage and serve.