Tuesday, March 31, 2009

City Kitchen Chronicles: Beyond Thunderdome

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

"With the economy in a dark, dark place, we thought it was pretty obvious where society is headed. So TBTL introduced The Thunderdome Beach Diet. Can you eat for $3 a day?”

That was the call to arms, or at least, the announcement, posted on the website of TBTL, one of my favorite podcasts. TBTL, or Too Beautiful To Live, is a radio show from Seattle. It’s funny, smart, random – sort of like a really fantastic blog, but in radio format – and in the last year I’ve come to have a lot of affection for it and its hosts.

And, for a little more background: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is the third movie in the Mad Max series (I had no idea there was more than one), about Mel Gibson … um, doing stuff … in post-apocalyptic … somewhere. Australia, maybe? I have never seen these movies.

Anyway, the point is, Thunderdome = a scarily near-future world where society’s fallen apart and things are a little more primal, a lot more dangerous, and, ha, isn’t that where things seem to be going with our economic crisis.

This sort of pop-culture-referencing, topical-yet-not-too-serious sensibility is part of what I love about TBTL. Their Preparing for Thunderdome series sounds like a fun way to acknowledge the economic crisis but have an excuse for adding some silly stuff to the show. (see: Week Two, Fighting in Thunderdome.)

But when I heard about the planned Thunderdome Beach Diet, I was … cautious. The plan: for four days, eat on $3/day. (This includes booze, a true test for my beloved TBTL hosts – they ended up just going sober.) It’s not the first eat-on-very-little project I’ve encountered – there’s the One Dollar Diet Project, 30 Bucks a Week, even Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. But I was mostly concerned because of how many people (hi, this is me) eat on a limited budget daily. Not as a project. Not as a whoa, this is crazy, can’t wait till it’s over and we get to go back to normal sort of thing.

Because I’m one of those people, the people who think about how much we’re spending on food all the time. Sometimes I splurge, but my bank account feels it. It’s never carefree, never just oh, whatever I want. It’s: well, if I buy this, then I can’t see a movie this weekend, or I have some soup in my freezer, so I guess I can go out for a drink. I didn’t want this project, and the way TBTL handled it, to be about emphasizing the distance between their lives and mine, and I was sure I couldn’t be the only listener feeling that.

I was also hearing a lot of talk about ramen, and if I’ve learned one thing from reading, and then writing for, this website, it’s that you can eat really cheaply and still get vegetables and protein and whole foods and general healthiness. Unless you’re in college, talking about ramen means this isn’t a real way to eat.

And so last week, the hosts of TBTL went on The Thunderdome Beach Diet, living on $12 for four days. Three people are on the show – host Luke, producer Jen, and engineer Sean. And each took a different approach.

Sean bought milk and cereal, and ingredients for a giant egg, cheese, and rice casserole that he ate for the week. Luke bought eggs, tortillas, beans, jalapenos, a bag of salad greens, and some cheap chicken thighs that turned out to be mostly bone. And Jen… well, Jen had surprise dental surgery in the middle of the week, but I think her plan was a lot of rice, eggs, and canned green beans.

Hearing those menus, first of all, made me seriously appreciate how much I’ve learned in the year or two I’ve made eating cheaply a priority. (Well, I’ve made paying off my damn credit cards a priority, and in order to do so, I eat cheap. And in order to be healthy-ish, I don’t live on ramen.) Some TBTL listeners did the diet along with the hosts, and the hosts were shocked at what people were eating for $3 a day – tasty sandwiches and hot chocolate and homemade popcorn. But when you know how to cook from scratch, from ingredients, you save so much money. Every time they described a meal of canned beans or milk and cold cereal, I thought of what you can save cooking with dried beans, or how much more filling and healthy a bowl of oatmeal can be (and cheaper, too, I think), or how you can buy flour and make your own tortillas.

But this is knowledge that we’re not born with, that we don’t pick up in school or even necessarily from our parents. Thank goodness for the internet, and its gift of sixty-cents-a-serving lentil soup, and bless the $1.50 bag of frozen spinach.

That was my main takeaway – gratitude and appreciation for the knowledge I’ve gained, the skills and awareness that’ve changed how I look at food – at what I eat, what I buy, the way I spend my time (cooking). But what did the TBTLers learn?

Wrap-up included a lot of “It’s amazing (and shocking) that people live like this all the time.” Luke said something at one point about how it made him realize that having money means not needing to be careful – if the chicken’s gross, he can go out to eat; if the eggs break, he can go buy more. But not in Thunderdome! As much as I can think he’s naïve or sheltered to have never realized that before (and he happens to have grown up without a lot of money), maybe I’m naïve to assume that everyone should have that sort of awareness, or that everyone should already know how to eat cheaply without resorting to ramen or fatiguing repetition.

Sean was pretty happy with his week of casserole, although he readily admitted he couldn’t eat like that forever, but Jen felt a strong emotional drag from her diet. Not to have choice, not to have indulgence, not to get the pleasure she was used to from her favorite wine or tasty cheese and crackers – it really brought her down. I wanted to be able to reach through the radio and say, “It doesn’t have to be that way! There is variety! There are vegetables!” But also: “Dude, I totally understand.”

But, of course, after Friday, the TBTLers went back to their previous ways – their bigger budgets and different concerns. And those of us living on a little less are still eating with what money we have. But The Thunderdome Beach Diet made me realize that what I know, what I know how to do, is, in a weird way, sort of special. Like I have this secret knowledge, the key to unlocking the grocery store or whatever, a magic spell that turns a beans-and-eggs budget into kale and delicious soup and chocolate. (I totally budget for good chocolate.) And as much as it’s most of the time a huge pain in the butt, it’s good to remember that it’s kind of awesome, too.

(Photos courtesy of Spartan Tailgate and Ning.)

Tuesday Megalinks

This week, it’s bargain shopping, making the most out of what you have, and a little dash of sports news, just in time for baseball’s Opening Day. Viva la Mets! (Pleaseohpleaseohplease.)

Culinate: For the Love of Meat, What Would You Pay?
Jake pays about $8/lb for meat he receives as part of a CSA, and for him, it’s worth every penny. Here, he explains why well enough to make him a finalist in Culinate’s blogging contest. (P.S. This made me crave sausage.)

Eat Me Daily: Cooking in Outer Space
You think cooking in your tiny kitchen is tough? Try it on a spaceship. Astronaut Sandra Magnus spent four months on the International Space Station, where fresh food was limited and tortillas became her best friends. For extra fun, click on her NASA slideshow, where you’ll learn more than you thought possible about rehydrated tomatoes. Really neat stuff.

Eater: First Looks at Citi Field's Shake Shack
METS FANS, REJOICE! This might even make up for the inevitable collapse in the last week of September.

Hillbilly Housewife: $45 Emergency Menu for 4 to 6
HH updated her from-scratch, nothing-in-the-pantry menu to reflect 2009 grocery prices. If you or someone you know is in dire straits (or you’re just looking to cut waaaaay back on your food expenditures), this is a fabulous place to start. One of the most valuable sites on the web, especially right now. (Thanks to Simple Dollar for the link.)

Kitchen Stewardship: A Reduced Produce Primer
You know that bargain produce shelf? The one that’s waaaay in the back of the grocery store? The one behind the POM display, next to the apple chips? Sometimes, it offers bounty beyond your wildest dreams. Other times, it’s yellow broccoli and apples that should’ve been thrown out during the Hoover administration. This post tells you how to tell the difference.

Like Merchant Ships: Bargain Secret – Bakery Thrift Stores
Oh! And while we’re on the subject, check out this post about how to choose the best bread from your local discount bakers. Mmm … Pepperidge FAHHHM.

Money Saving Mom: Eating From the Pantry Challenge - The Finale
Crystal, mom of two, just fed her family for an entire week on nothin’ but pantry staples. Somehow, the meals stayed pretty well-balanced and tasty-looking. Behold!

MSNBC: Thrifty shoppers ‘Sold!’ on grocery auctions
Man, lots of stuff on discount shopping this week, right? Anyway – and I’ve never heard of this before, but it sounds fun – eight different states have been holding auctions for meats, produce, personal supplies, and more. Attendance is apparently insane, and folks are walking away with 50% savings off their grocery bill. Readers, has anyone tried this? Do tell.

New York Times: Comrades at Arms - Two Food Writers in a Kitchen Smackdown
Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni pitted two friends in a cook-off, where a three-course gourmet meal for six had to be kept under $50, total. Now, you can see this in one of two ways:
  1. Totally tone deaf. Once again, the Gray Lady has no conception of real-world budgetary constraints, OR
  2. A great piece that perfectly pitched with the financial times. After all, as Bruni himself notes, “It's not easy to dazzle at $8.50 a person [for] at least three courses.”
I’m going with Choice B, with some reservations. Just for contrast, here’s Jezebel’s response (Due warning: profanity is employed early and often.)

Serious Eats: Is Artisanal, Handmade Food Always Better?
SE guru Ed Levine bought four items at the farmer’s market. Two (apple candy and popcorn) were excellent. Two (sausage and peach preserves) were awful. The contrast raises the question: “Are serious eaters down with eating bad food if it's made by hand by someone with the best intentions?” Great essay, dozens of thoughtful comments.

Slate: The Locavore's Dilemma - What to do with the kale, turnips, and parsley that overwhelm your CSA bin.
Funny, observant, and informative, this piece by Catherine Price should resonate with anyone who’s been overwhelmed by their CSA bounty. She notes, “After three years of practice, I've figured out simple ways to deal with most of these problem vegetables: I braise the turnips in butter and white wine; I sauté the kale and collards with olive oil and sea salt; I wait until the parsley shrivels and then throw it out.” With a special guest appearance by minimalist extraordinaire Mark Bittman.

Sports Illustrated: How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke
This has absolutely nothing to do with food, and everything to do with how crazy I thought this fact was: “By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” If centerfielder Torii Hunter’s story about investing $70,000 in a raft for couches (in case of a flood, naturally) doesn’t hook you, nothing will.

Yahoo Green: Learn to Cut Your Food Bill by 25%
According to … uh, somebody … we waste about 25% of the food we buy. That means that a full quarter of our groceries rot, mold, spoil, or get thrown out as unwanted leftovers. STOP THE MADNESS.

Yahoo Hotjobs: Food for Thought on Lunch Interviews - 10 Do's and Don'ts for Making the Best Impression Over a Meal
Ooo! Great piece about taking the relaxed approach to job interviews. Among the nuggets: DO research the restaurant, DON’T be rude to your waitress, and for the love of Pete, TRY TO relax a little

Finally, CHG was lucky enough to be featured in the Make it From Scratch blog carnival this week, over at Christ’s Bridge.

(Photos courtesy of I Want One of Those, Qanik, and Super Eco.)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Napa Cabbage & Red Onion Salad and Paul Rudd: Together at Last

Mostly in life, it’s the little things that make the big things work. Clocks are powered by tiny, irrepressible gears. People are powered by small, delicate organs. Good movies are powered by Paul Rudd.

Recently, The Boyfriend and I realized that every solidly funny film we’ve seen since 2004 has starred Rudd in some capacity (Pixar films excepted). Adorable and dorky (adorkable?), he’s made Anchorman, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models, and now I Love You Man much better for his presence. Maybe it’s the timing, or the fact that in less comic circumstances, he’s a stone hottie. Either way, the guy is MAGIC. He even made the last season of Friends almost tolerable, long after Phoebe and Ross drove most fans to tear their own spleens out.

Still, Rudd isn’t a superstar. He’s simply a smaller player in big films that wouldn’t work without him, kind of like today’s recipe. (How’s that for a segue?)

Let me explain: on its own, Napa Cabbage and Red Onion Salad is pretty good. A slaw-type dish, the combination of cilantro, ginger, and toasted sesame oil push it above most of its brethren. Still, I’m not sure I’d eat a big bowl of it for a snack. First, there’s the onion breath issue. Second, it just feels like it needs something else.

See, on top of chicken breast, Napa Cabbage and Red Onion Salad could be divine. Mixed with cold noodles, I could see it turned into a great light dinner. Paired with a burger? Perfection. All of these possibilities could morph this solid, capable dish into something much bigger than itself, while elevating the dish as a whole.

Essentially (and here’s where we tie this all together), it’s like taking Paul Rudd and sticking him in a pretty good comedy. All of a sudden, both become awesome. (BAM!)

Of course, should you try to make this yourself, there are two things to know:

1) To reiterate: this dish is VERY oniony. You won’t be making out with anyone for quite awhile afterwards (unless he/she REALLY loves you). If you’re averse, I might up the cabbage to three cups to counteract the onionosity.

2) I reduced the salt by half a teaspoon. If you like salt, add more.

In conclusion, go see I Love You Man. And bring some of this salad. Together, they could make each other even better.

Napa and Red Onion Salad
Serves 4
Adapted from Beyond the Great Wall by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

1 small or 1/2 medium large red onion (1/4 pound), sliced into 1/8-inch crescents
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
4 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste
About 1/2 cup coriander (cilantro) leaves

1) Put onion into a wire sieve. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Toss. Let drain 10 minutes.

2) To a large bowl, add cabbage. Pour boiling water over cabbage. Walk away for 2 minutes. Drain. Put cabbage back in bowl.

3) Rinse onion with cold water. Squeeze to get extra water out. Add to cabbage bowl.

4) In a small skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add ginger. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add vinegar. When it starts bubbling, pour contents of pan over cabbage mixture. Toss well. Add remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Toss again. Serve right away OR let it hang out for about an hour. (I left this overnight, and liked it much better after sitting.)

5) Season with a little more sesame oil and salt before serving. Add cilantro. Toss. Serve

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
46 calories, 2.3 g fat, $0.58

1 small or 1/2 medium large red onion (1/4 pound): 49 calories, 0 g fat, $0.18
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage: 40 calories, 0 g fat, $0.65
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, or to taste: 87 calories, 9.3 g fat, $0.40
1 tablespoon minced ginger: 5 calories, 0 g fat, $0.16
1 tablespoon rice vinegar, or to taste: 1 calorie, 0 g fat, 0.24
About 1/2 cup coriander leaves: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.66
TOTAL: 184 calories, 9.3 g fat, $2.31
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 46 calories, 2.3 g fat, $0.58

Friday, March 27, 2009

Grasslands Herb Salsa: Sweet Mongolia

In the past 20 months, we’ve featured recipes from India, Israel, Italy, and … well, many other countries beginning with the letter “I.” But it’s pretty rare we get to highlight food from outer Mongolia. Or rather: from a town located between Mongolia and Siberia called Manzhouli. (Thanks, Serious Eats!)

In olden days, we used “outer Mongolia” as a synonym for “very far away.” (Also see: Guam, Mars, East Bumble****.) Up until several hours ago, the only things I knew about the place is that it borders China, and my friend J was considering working on a Habitat for Humanity project there. (Which I’m fairly sure solicited a shocked “MONGOLIA?” from each and every person she told.)

But now, I’m a virtual expert. (Meaning: I looked at Wikipedia, which is a virtual reference guide in the computer sense.) For instance, did you know Mongolia has a Pegasus on its coat of arms? Or that it’s a parliamentary republic? Or that its national anthem is titled "Монгол улсын төрийн дуулал"? (Literally: “Welcome to Mongolia. Instead of Mints, You Will Find Mutton Jerky Under Your Hotel Pillow.”) Well, now you do.

Apparently, beyond noodles and awesome barbecue (which may or may not be an actual regional invention), Mongolians are also fond of roasted meats – especially goats and sheep. Turns out, they need the animal fat to survive the winters, which, being a total cold weather wussy, would cause me to perish in under 20 seconds.

This recipe, Grasslands Herb Salsa, is a topping for those roasted meats. It’s from a gorgeous cookbook called Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, which was nominated for a James Beard Award earlier this week.

Essentially, it's a simple cilantro-based salsa that’s entirely unimpressive on its own, but morphs into something highly delicious when applied to pan-cooked chicken breast. In fact, The Boyfriend and I have eaten chicken two of the last four nights, just for an excuse to use the salsa. There are about two tablespoons left, so he should expect chicken on Saturday night, too. Poor guy.

Should you decide to make it yourself … actually, there’s not much to know. It’s only 12 calories a serving, and it’s simple enough that a kindergartener could make it. Granted, it would have to be a kindergartener who’s accustomed to food processing, but you get the picture.

Anyway, happy weekend, sweet readers. Hope your days off are as cool as Mongolia. Cooler, even.

Grasslands Herb Salsa
Makes about 3/4 cup, or enough for six chicken filets
Adapted from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China

2 cups packed cilantro (a.k.a. coriander) leaves and stems
1/2 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1) In a food processor, puree herbs and scallions until they're a "coarse paste." Add vinegar and salt. Pulse. Salt and pepper to taste. (I needed a little more salt.)

2) Pour into a small bowl. Allow guests/family to spoon their own salsa on to their meat.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
12 calories, 0 g fat, $0.37

2 cups packed cilantro (leaves and stems): 7 calories, 0.2 g fat, $1.50
1/2 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and tender green parts): 16 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.22
2 tablespoons rice vinegar: 50 calories, 0 g fat, $0.48
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 73 calories, 0.3 g fat, $2.21
PER SERVING (TOTAL/6): 12 calories, 0 g fat, $0.37

Thursday, March 26, 2009

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
Raw Food, Real People
You know, I initially visited this site to see if Nathan and Kelly could make it the entire month eating only raw foods. But now I’m obsessed with their Halloween costumes. Either way, good times.

Food Comedy of the Week
"Rowlf and the Swedish Chef" from SNL
I’d never seen this sketch before last week. On a scale of 1 to 10, its adorableness rates a Pierdy-pierdy-pier mork mork mork! (Meaning: 12)

via videosift.com

Food Quote of the Week
"An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup." - H.L. Mencken

Food Movie Clip of the Week
No Man Can Eat 50 Eggs scene from Cool Hand Luke
Man, Paul Newman was a babe.

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
“New York is a City of Tough-Ass Grannies” from New York Magazine
From 86-year-old Elizabeth Maropolous to 56-year-old wheelchair-bound Margaret Johnson, these are six of the roughest, toughest, mugger-fighting-offingest old birds in the tri-state area. Dangerous? Maybe. Awesome? Most definitely.

Veggie Might: Who Wants a Vegan Bran Muffin?!

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

I do! Seriously. I do.

My mom was that mom: first on the block to substitute carob for chocolate, rarely bought sweet cereal or pop, and always, always packet carrot sticks and an apple in my Tupperware lunch box instead of cookies or cupcakes. (I only got Ho-Hos on field trip days.)

We were not wholly deprived of junk food or butter- and cheese-laden comfort food, but a frugal, borderline health nut, Mom liked to make her mom’s meat-and-potatoes Midwestern recipes (and my Dad’s Southern fried family classics) healthier whenever possible and cheap pretty much always.

The New York Times’ ran a terrific article in the Health section last week called, “Who’s Cooking? (For Health, It Matters).It sites a public health study that claimed whoever does the cooking is the “nutritional gatekeeper” of the home and determines the health and eating choices of the family “not just home meals but children’s lunches, snacks eaten outside the home, and even what family members order at restaurants.”

A further study at Cornell University found that five “cooking personalities” emerged when the researchers asked “family cooks about their personalities, cooking methods, and favorite ingredients.”

“Giving” cooks love to cook, especially comfort food and baked goods; “methodical” cooks follow cookbooks to the letter; “competitive” cooks live to impress; “healthy” cooks focus more on nutrition than flavor; and “innovative” cooks thrive on experimentation which, according to the study, “lead[s] to more healthful cooking.”

I’m pretty sure that Mom rides the line between Giving and Healthy. For all of her attempts to pump my brother and sister and me full of celery and homemade granola, she alternately took pity on us with fried chicken and super-duper hamburger pie. Dad swooped in on the weekends for Pancake Saturday and Grilled Cheese Sunday.

Which explains my own split personality. I scored Innovative with Healthy tendencies. (You too can take the corresponding cooking personality quiz!)

Seven times out of ten, I will make the healthy choice when choosing what to eat—at home or out—but I rarely will I sacrifice taste for nutrition. Luckily, I live in NYC, mostly cook for myself, and am rarely faced with that choice. (Those other three times, I order nachos from the Chinese taco joint down the street.)

I share Mom’s zeal for cooking healthy meals and desserts, but I take great pains to make the “good for you” parts barely detectable. I like to experiment with unusual ingredients and create my own recipes. And there is no end to my pleasure when a hard-core meat eater raves about one of my vegetarian dishes, or, even better, people are fooled by my vegan baked goods. I love showing that animal products are not necessary for food to taste fantastic.

And speaking of fantastic, it took some trial and error, but, using Joy of Vegan Baking as my guide, I made some pretty amazing bran muffins this weekend. They’re a hold over from my deep-fried granola childhood, and I love them still. When not dry as cardboard, raisin-free, or banana-free, I heart bran muffins.

My first attempt was cardboardesque. Instead of using a powdered egg replacer, I tried the unfamiliar-to-me flaxseed egg replacement method detailed by the cookbook. The idea is to add water to ground flax seeds in the food processor to create viscose goo similar to egg whites.

Well. What an omega-3-rich mess. First of all, I only had whole flax seeds. No problem, I thought, I’ll just take them for a twirl in the coffee grinder. Not so fast there, Speedy. They immediately clumped, slowing my grinder to a wheeze.

In the mini-food processor, the clump remained mostly whole seeds, but I added the requisite water anyway. The goo began to ooze after a few minutes, but the seeds never became “ground.” Oh well, I thought, I’m sure it’s fine.

Not fine. The batter was coarse and clumpy, resulting in coarse, clumpy-looking muffins. Plus, the 3/4-cup of sugar was just not quite enough to take the bran muffins from health food to good food.

The original recipe also called for (sigh) raisins, which I replaced with glorious sliced almonds. I have nothing bad to say about the almonds. They were the good part.

Rinse. Repeat with powdered egg replacer and 1 cup of sugar. Viva la difference!

Moist, chewy, just the right amount of sweet, and not too dense, Batch Two was straight from Crunchy Granola Heaven. If the other corduroy bell-bottomed kids could taste these, they’d want to trade for their Zingers and Sno-balls.

Sorry, no thanks, I’d say. Tell your mom to make you your own bran muffins.

Tasty Almond Bran Muffins
Adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking
Recipe yields 24 muffins
Serving size: 2 muffins

2 1/2 c wheat bran
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 c brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 tsp powdered egg replacer (like Ener-G; equivalent to 4 eggs)
1/2 c water
1 cup soymilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1) Preheat oven to 400°F.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine wheat bran, wheat flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt.

3) In a large Pyrex measuring cup, combine soymilk and canola oil. Whisk together.

4) Add egg replacer to a food processor or blender. Puree until it's frothy. Pour into a small bowl.

5) Carefully pour soymilk mixture into egg foam. Stirring super-gently until it's all combined. Add almonds.

6) Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Stir until dry ingredients are just moist, and everything is barely combined. Don't overdo it, or risk a weird muffin consistency.

7) Distribute batter evenly into a greased muffin tin or muffin cups within a muffin tin. "If you have any empty cups in your pan, fill with water to ensure even baking." Bake until finished in the middle. (Use a toothpick to check.)

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
234 calories, 9.4g fat $0.30

2 1/2 c wheat bran: 300 calories, 5g fat, $.78
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour: 600 calories, 6g fat, $.54
1 c brown sugar: 837 calories, 0g fat, $.57
2 1/2 tsp baking soda: negligible calories and fat, $.06
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
6 tsp Ener-G egg replacer: 60 calories, 0g fat, $.15
1 cup soymilk: 90 calories, 4.5g fat, $.40
1/3 c canola oil: 660 calories, 74.6 g fat, $.42
1/2 cup sliced almonds: 264.5, 22.5g fat, $.86
Totals: 2811.5 calories, 112.6g fat, $3.70
Per serving: 234 calories, 9.4g fat $.30 (2 muffins)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Information Central: 32 Free Food Charts, Checklists, and Wallet-Sized Guides

Have you ever puzzled over how many tablespoons are in a third of a cup? Have you ever been stuck in a grocery store, wondering if tomatoes were in season? Have you ever wanted to find some way – ANY way – of telling a chef that yes, you REALLY ARE allergic to dairy products, and yes, that means you can’t have butter? (Butter being a dairy product and all.)

If only … IF ONLY there were small, portable documents that included this kind of data; files you could stick in your wallet, slap on your refrigerator, or even staple to your forehead if need be.

Well, look no further sweet readers, as today’s post is all about instant information in conveniently-sized packages. From sustainable sushi to weekly menu plans to pesticide-free veggies, what follows are 32 downloadable charts, guides, and checklists guaranteed to prevent you from agonizing over food ever again. (No, we’re not exaggerating. Why do you ask?) They’re all completely free, and with one or two exceptions, they’re all wallet-sized cards or single-page documents. Some may require Adobe Acrobat, but many don’t.

Two quick points before getting to the alphabetically-sorted list:
  • Each entry deals primarily with some aspect of food (cooking, shopping, health, diet, etc.). For downloadable budgets and finance sheets, please head over to Get Rich Slowly.
  • Better Homes and Gardens apparently has quite a database of downloadable charts, but you have to join the site to gain access. Log on if you're among the willing.
Of course, if I missed something, please let me know. The comment section is eagerly awaiting ideas.


Celiac’s Disease Cards (wallet-sized card)
From Celiac Travel

Dairy Allergy Card (wallet sized card)
From About.com
Note: it's a list of foods to avoid that contain milk

Personal Diabetes Care Card (wallet-sized card)
From the NYC Department of Health

Translatable Allergy Cards (wallet-sized card)
From Allergy Translation
Note: these are largely for restaurant use, but could come in very handy in other situations.

Wallet-Sized Medical History (wallet-sized card)
From MedIDs.com


Food Safety Guides (multiple charts)
From the USDA
Note: there are several charts here – basically, everything you ever wanted to know about handling food, but was afraid to ask. (A primer on Turducken safety, anyone?)

Food Storage Guide (two-page chart)
From the University of Nebraska
Note: scroll down to "Refrigeration and Food Safety" and click on PDF.

Kitchen Equivalent Measurements (single-page chart)
From TipNut.com

Recipe Ingredient Substitution Chart (two-page chart)
From TipNut.com


Daily Average Nutritional Intake (wallet-sized card)
From Nestle
Note: "Daily Intakes are based on an average diet and can help you understand what’s in your food and how it fits within your balanced diet."

Food and Fitness Journal (single-page chart)
From Web MD
Note: scroll to bottom for chart

Wallet-Sized Portion Size Guide (wallet-sized card)
From Web MD


Tip Calculator (wallet-sized card)
From iTipping.com
Note: link is at the bottom


Healthy Fish Guide (wallet-sized card)
From the Washington State Department of Health

A Guide To Buying Fish for Women, Children and Families (wallet-sized card)
From the City of Toronto

Pocket Sushi Selector (wallet-sized card)
From the Environmental Defense Fund

Sustainable Fish Guide (pocket brochure)
From the Monterey Bay Aquarium


Chart of Beef Cuts (numerous single-page charts)
The Virtual Weber Bullet

Chart of Pork Cuts (numerous single-page charts)
The Virtual Weber Bullet
Note: scroll down for pork. And goat and lamb too, if you're interested.

Glossary of Meat Production Methods (wallet-sized card)
From Sustainable Table
Note: this is FANTASTIC. Please check it out even if you don’t plan on downloading.


Organic Essentials (wallet-sized card)
The Organic Center
Note: Midway down on the left-hand bar is a link called “Organic Essentials.” Click on it, wait for the pdf to load, and choose “back copy.”

Seasonal Fruit Chart (1-1/2-page chart)
From the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture

Seasonal Vegetable Chart (1-1/2-page chart)
From the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides (wallet-sized card)
From the Environmental Working Group


$45 Emergency Menu for 4 to 6 (two-page chart)
From Hillbilly Housewife
Note: includes a detailed menu, price breakdown, and shopping list.

Grocery Price Book (single-page spreadsheet)
From No Credit Needed

Healthy Shopping Guide and List (single-page checklist)
From Web MD
Note: scroll to bottom for chart

Kitchen Gadget Checklist (single-page checklist)
From The Nest

Pantry Checklist (single-page checklist)
From The Nest

Stocking a Bar Checklist (single-page checklist)
From The Nest

The Ultimate Grocery List (single-page checklist)
From GroceryLists.org

Weekly Menu Plan (single-page chart)
From WebMomz

That’s all I can find for now. Readers, did I miss anything? Please leave your suggestions in the comment section.

(Photo courtesy of Medill Reports.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tuesday Megalinks: Not-so-elderly Woman Behind a Laptop in a Large Town Edition

Today, Pearl Jam is reissuing Ten, the greatest, bestest, seminal-iest album of my adolescence. I had it on cassette, and listened to it so much you could hear Side A’s music when Side B was playing. To celebrate its 18th anniversary (lord, I’m old), today’s megalinks include a few of my favorite songs from Eddie and the boys.

Consumerist: FTC To Require Advertisers Using Testimonials To Show Typical Results
Man, what a development! From now on, businesses will have to portray the actual, average results of their product, meaning they won’t be allowed to show a person who lost 400 pounds and then add a tiny “results aren’t typical” caveat at the bottom. Needless to say, corporations aren’t happy because they’ll lose the “aspirational” allure of the product, which will drive away customers. Crazy.

Epi-Log: Recession Dining – The Numbers Battle
Prep your calculators, folks. There’s lots of exciting math in this one: “So is the recession bad for the restaurant business and good for home kitchen appliances? Or is it the other way around?”

Globe and Mail: Picky Eaters Can Be Converted
How? By sitting down together and eating dinner as a family. Veddy interesting. (Thanks to Slashfood for the link.)

Healthy Eats: Healthy, Kid-Friendly Snacks
Fruits, veggies, food on sticks: it’s a cornucopia of child-sized snackage in alluring rainbow colors. Collect them all!

Jezebel: Study Finds Obesity May Be As Bad As Smoking
Severe obesity – sporting a BMI of 40 to 50 – will take a decade off your life, according to a recent study. Is not so good. (18.5 – 24.9 is considered normal.)

Jezebel: Sugar Now Being Branded As a Health Food
Look, here’s the thing: sugar isn’t particularly bad for you in moderation. Neither is high fructose corn syrup. But we (Americans) don’t eat either in the amounts we should. We consume massive quantities of both substances, ignoring healthy foods in the process. So this whole sugar v. HFCS debate? Is nothing but smoke and mirrors. We’re missing the larger point by concentrating on minor details.

The Kitchn: Have You Ever Had a Dish That Changed the Way You Thought?
Oh, yes. Two cauliflower and one red cabbage dish. In the last month alone. Life is good.

The Kitchn: A New Kitchen Garden for the White House
Super-neat blueprint for the Obamas’ new veggie garden. Apparently, there will be LOTS of room for spinach. Popeye will be pleased.

LA Times: Can two people eat on $67 a week?
This should be called “Can two gourmands eat on $67 a week?” The answer is: essentially yes. Fun lessons are learned.

LA Times: Student obesity linked to proximity to fast-food outlets
UC Berkeley took a look at some McDonalds. Then they looked at some high schools. Then they tried to figure out how close they were to each other. Then they came up with this: “The presence of an outlet within easy walking distance of a high school -- about 530 feet or less -- resulted in a 5.2% increase in the incidence of student obesity compared with the average for California youths.” Thanks, hippies!

Money Saving Mom: How to Save Money When Eating Out
Nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s nice to have all the tips in one place. Worth revisiting if you’re restructuring your meal plan, as well.

MSN Smart Spending: DIY -Homemade pizza is easy, delicious and cheap
To paraphrase Mugatu, “Homemade pizza: it’s so hot right now.” Karen Datko explores the trend, and comes up with a few different recipes to match our citizens' different tastes.

New York Daily News: Great meals and deals: Dine in Brooklyn program serves up three courses for $23
Yo! Youse guys in BK! It’s freakin’ restaurant week! Grab a Hamilton and getcherself ta your favorite brunch place. What? You don’t got no dough? FUGGEDDABOUDIT. (These geographically-based accent stereotypes were brought to you by: the letter L and the number 2/3 train to President St.)

New York Times: Eating Food That’s Better for You, Organic or Not
Mark Bittman sounds off on the organic debate. His verdict: forget labels and just eat some vegetables, dagnabbit.

New York Times: Is a Food Revolution Now in Season?
The food-conscious Obama administration could very well usher in a new era of sustainability, health, and awesome cooking. (The revolution will not be televised! Unless you eat dinner when you’re watching TV.)

Readers Digest: Healthy Eating Begins at the Supermarket
Like the MSM post, this isn’t anything new. But it goes the extra mile with the tip explanation, making them simple and attainable for just about everybody.

Serious Eats: 30 Things To Do With Leftover Salsa
#31: Put on head. Pretend it’s vulture poop. Shock family into believing there are vultures in Manhattan. Giggle with evil.

Serious Eats: Alice Waters on 60 Minutes
The Slow Food Queen recently spoke with Lesley Stahl, and came off … less than populist. (Snobby, is what I’m saying.) Serious Eaters have opinions.

Serious Eats: Reducing Food Costs – Cooking with a Friend
Note: this is about cooking WITH a friend. Not COOKING a friend. I read the title too fast at first and thought it was going to devolve into a Silence of the Lambs situation.

Serious Eats: Urban Chickens in the Bronx
And you thought New Yorkers only kept tigers and alligators in their apartments.

Slashfood: What Nutritionists Eat
If you guessed, “nutritious food,” you get a gold star. But there’s other stuff, too.

Zen Habits: 17 Arse-kicking Strategies to Stick to Your Diet and Get Fit
Really solid list of inspiration, presented in ways you might not be used to. Zen Habits is a great blog to get into in general, but Leo’s food and fitness posts tend to be particularly stellar.

CHG was included in two blog carnivals this week, as well:

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chorizo and Potato Frittata: 'Til We Meat Again

(You guys! My column over at Serious Eats today is on Daniel Boulud’s recipe for Red Cabbage with Honey and Apples. I loathe red cabbage with the white-hot intensity of a thousand angry suns, and still thought this was DELICIOUS. We have enough to feed the entire block until 2022. If you get the chance, check it out.)

One of the trickiest things about healthy cooking is figuring out how to use meat. Lean cuts like chicken breast, pork tenderloin, and flank steak aren’t too terrible of an issue. In general, they can be consumed in greater quantities without causing crazy damage to your diet. On the other hand, while undeniably delicious, overdosing on fattier meats like pork belly and sausage will end your newest bout with Weight Watchers faster than you can say, “I’d like another serving of Bacon Explosion, please.”

That’s why it’s always a pleasant surprise to discover a healthy recipe that features fatty meat in a way you can actually taste it. Like say, my slightly altered version of Jamie Oliver’s Chorizo and Potato Frittata (found via Serious Eats). Chorizo is a Spanish sausage with a distinct, spicy flavor, and it permeates the entire dish without overwhelming it. Even better, since the sausage is cut up into small pieces, you’re guaranteed to get a chunk with almost every bite. Really, it’s like having your cake-izo and eating it, too.

It should be noted, though, that the sausage isn’t the frittata’s only highlight. While the potatoes are cooking, Oliver asks you to prepare an easy shallot/parsley/lemon topping that’s added to the dish at the very end. Having tried it, I have to say - it’s absolutely indispensible, and will probably make appearances on various meals in the future. Yum squared, dude.

As always, there are a few notes, should you attempt the frittata yourself:

1) The potatoes make this thing dang hearty. Thusly, it’s suitable for breakfast, brunch, lunch, linner, dinner, or late night after you’ve had a few brews. Go crazy.

2) To save fat and calories, I substituted 6 egg whites for 4 whole eggs, cut the chorizo by 1-1/2 ounces, and subtracted a potato. I think I lost about 9 grams of fat per serving that way, and it still worked out VERY nicely.

3) Use an oven-safe pan, and be careful with the handle once it’s finished. That thing is HOT, and twice in the last week, I’ve barehanded a fresh-from-the-oven vessel. NOT GOOD.

4) My sister liked this. She only likes: gum, Diet Coke, spaghetti. I consider it a coup.

5) I’m not ashamed to admit: I ate my piece with my hands, as if it was pizza. I highly suggest trying this, but waiting until it cools off a little first. Good times.

Readers – how about you? Any healthy recipes where bacon/sausage/filet mignon is prominently featured? Do tell.

Chorizo and Potato Frittata
Serves 4
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

3 small red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into small chunks
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
6 large egg whites
2-1/2 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, chopped into 1/3-inch pieces
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
2 small shallots, peeled and very finely sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
A bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked, very roughly chopped

1) Boil potatoes in salted water until tender enough to pierce through with a knife. Drain. Pour back into pot. Let dry out a bunch.

2) Preheat oven to 375°F.

3) In a large ovensafe skillet, heat potato and chorizo over medium-high. Saute 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chorizo should have rendered its fat by the end.

4) While the chorizo and potatoes are cooking, add eggs, salt, and pepper to a bowl. Whisk 'em all together.

5) After that, slice up the shallots. In a small bowl (separate from the eggs), combine shallots, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. "Pinch shallots with your fingers to dress." Marinate a few minutes.

6) Okay. By now, the chorizo and potato should be done. Put them on a plate. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of olive oil to the pan. Add rosemary and jack heat up to high. Cook until a little crispy. Add eggs. Quickly add chorizo and potato pushing them around so they're evenly spread out. Put pan in oven. Cook until the eggs are set, a little puffy, and are ever-so-lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and immediately remove frittata from pan.

7) Add parsley to shallot mixture. Sprinkle over frittata. Serve right away.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
215 calories, 10.7 g fat, $0.85

3 small red potatoes: 190 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.47
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
2 large eggs: 147 calories, 9.9 g fat, $0.25
6 large egg whites: 103 calories, 0.4 g fat, $0.75
2-1/2 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage: 323 calories, 27.2 g fat, $1.07
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked: 2 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.18
2 small shallots: 41 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.53
Juice of 1 lemon: 13 calories, 0 g fat, FREE (I paid for the zest in last Friday’s recipe)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil: 39 calories, 4.5 g fat, $0.04
A bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.10
TOTAL: 860 calories, 42.6 g fat, $3.41
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 215 calories, 10.7 g fat, $0.85

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kale and Mushrooms with Polenta: Temptation

Things I was tempted to do for today’s post, but ultimately resisted:

1) Inspired by the most recent episode of 30 Rock, I wanted to put up several pictures of a young Alec Baldwin. Because, really, have you SEEN that guy in his twenties? He made Brad Pitt look like Ernest Borgnine after a chainsaw accident.

2) Comment on this AV Club piece about the music you just can’t listen to anymore, “because of the memories you associate with them.” For me, it’s Jeff Buckley. My friend H turned me on to him back in 1995, a full decade before “Hallelujah” popped up on The O.C. or American Idol. Grace was a perfect album for a perfect time, and now he’s dead and his music isn’t my special secret anymore. Don’t get me wrong - the specialness isn’t totally gone (his voice continues to be a space-and-time-stopper), but it’s diminished a bit. Or maybe I’m just old and cranky.

3) Post a link to Jamie Foxx’s new video, if only because director Ron Howard makes several prominent appearances. I gotta admit, I never thought I’d see Opie rolling with T-Pain and a bottle of Cristal.

4) Discuss my wedgie. It’s epic.

5) Apologize for discussing my wedgie. This is a food blog, for pete’s sake. We have to maintain a modicum of class around here.

6) But seriously, it’s huge.

7) Lament Binghamton’s quick exit from the NCAA tournament. Though I went to a rival SUNY (State University of New York) and was not aware we had sports, it’s nice to see public school kids represent.

8) Write a poem about Kale and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta, a recipe from Epicurious/Bon Appetit found via Serious Eats. It would go like this:

Flavored by bacon and milk and butter,
and enough lemon to make my tongue flutter,
is a dish so creamy, substantial, and great,
I want to ask it out on a date.

Alas, the dinner is food and not people
or in three years, we’d be found in a steeple
saying our vows and planning a life
together as Kale with Mushrooms and wife.

But anyway back to the task at my hand,
describing this dinner, so pleasant and grand.
No side dishes needed, I swear and it’s true:
This should feed about three, including you.

The price is a pittance, when you take in the taste,
and I promise, there’ll be no barfing or waste.
For when you are asked, “hey hon, what is shakin?”
You can say: “It’s veggies! With corn stuff and bacon!”


Anyway, that’s what I was tempted to do with today’s post. But I’m not gonna do any of them. Instead I’m just gonna list the recipe and its picture. (And tell you not to skip out on the lemon zest. It’s vital.)


Kale and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta
Serves 3
Adapted from Nick at Serious Eats who adapted it from Epicurious/Bon Appetit

1/2 pound kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 cups 2 % milk
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup polenta
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 slices bacon, chopped
2 ounces mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest (about 2 medium large lemons)
1-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

1) In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat milk, water, polenta, salt, and pepper over medium heat, whisking frequently/almost the whole time. Once it simmers, drop heat to medium-low. Cook 15 or 20 minutes, until it's thickened and polenta-like, stirring occasionally.

2) While this is happening, fill a medium pot with water. Set it on high heat and boil. Once it's boiling, add kale. Cook 5 or 6 minutes, until wilted. Drain. Set aside. (Note: Several people suggested sautéing the kale with the mushrooms, thus skipping the boiling process. I haven’t tried it, but it should work.)

3) In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat. Cook until crisp, stirring frequently. Take bacon out of pan and set aside on a plate. Add mushrooms to pan. Saute about 6 minutes, until they're pretty much cooked. Add kale, bacon, garlic, and broth to skillet. Boil it for about 5 minutes, so it reduces. Kill the heat. Stir in thyme, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste.

4) Go back to the polenta pot. Add butter and parm. Stir. When both are thoroughly incorporated, scoop some polenta into a bowl or on a plate. Add a heap of the mushroom/kale mixture. Serve. Rejoice.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
435 calories, 16.6 g fat, $1.72

1/2 pound kale, stemmed and roughly chopped: 114 calories, 1.6 g fat, $0.99
2 cups 2 % milk: 245 calories, 9.8 g fat, $0.49
1 3/4 cups water: negligible calories and fat, FREE
1 cup polenta: 505 calories, 2.3 g fat, $0.99
1/4 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/2 teaspoon black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
2 slices bacon, chopped: 122 calories, 9.4 g fat, $0.35
2 ounces mushrooms: 12 calories, 0.2 g fat, $0.33
1 garlic clove, minced: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.04
1/4 cup chicken broth: 4 calories, 0 g fat, $0.08
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped: 2 calories, 0 g fat, $0.22
1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest (about 2 medium large lemons): 1 calorie, 0 g fat, $0.60
1-1/2 tablespoons butter: 151 calories, 16.9 g fat, $0.13
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated: 144 calories, 9.5 g fat, $0.91
Salt and pepper to taste: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
TOTAL: 1304 calories, 49.7 g fat, $5.16
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 435 calories, 16.6 g fat, $1.72

(Alec Baldwin photo courtesy of Doodad Kind of Town.)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CHG Favorites of the Week

Food Blog of the Week
The Atlantic’s new food blog
Holy moly. For a blog that’s just a few weeks old, this is already stuffed to the nines with content. It looks like it covers a vast mishmash of topics, and, uh … well, according to site master Corby Krummer: “you'll find a tasting menu with what I hope will be just enough writing and pictures to keep you nourished but a little hungry for what's next.” So take that and put it in your hat.

Food Comedy of the Week
"FDA Approves Salmonella" from The Onion
Brilliance: “One of several new foods to feature the motile microorganism is Salmonell-Os—an O-shaped breakfast cereal packed with hearty typhoid clusters—which is expected to hit grocery stores by April.”

Food Quote of the Week
This week, a trio from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

“What? You ate the whole ... wheel of cheese? How'd you do that? Heck, I'm not even mad. That's amazing.” – Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to his dog Baxter

CHAMP KIND: I will take your mother out to a nice seafood dinner and NEVER call her again!
WES MANTOOTH: Dorothy Mantooth is a Saint!
RON BURGUNDY: Hey, let's leave the mothers out of this.

BRIAN FANTANA: So the team pancake breakfast is tomorrow morning at nine, instead of eight.
RON BURGUNDY: Oop ... I almost forgot. I won't be able to make it, fellas. Veronica and I are trying this new fad called uh, “jogging.” I believe it's “jogging” or “yogging.” It might be a soft j. I'm not sure, but apparently you just run for an extended period of time. It's supposed to be wild.

Food Movie Clip of the Week
Milk Was a Bad Choice from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
I actually got to use this line once, on a road trip with two friends to the Clinton library in Arkansas. It was 94 degrees and humid out that fine day, and the milk council was giving away free lunch-sized cartons of their skim varietal. Never my in life had a movie quote been so apropos.

Totally Unrelated Extra Special Bonus of the Week
Will You Be Our Date to Duct Tape Prom? at New York Magazine
Every year, Duck brand duct tape sponsors a contest for American high school kids. Their mission: to make the best/craziest prom getup they can – entirely out of duct tape. The winner receives $3000, and as you can imagine, kids go nuts. 2008’s victors are pictured below, and New York Magazine has a neat slide show of this year's contestants.

Veggie Might: Curry World Tour ‘09—Pindi Chana

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading about and experimenting with Indian curries. It’s been an enlightening and delicious endeavor. And naturally, I got a bit in over my head.

I’ve been reading Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham, a few Indian cooking blogs, and my new favorite cookbook, World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey

Collingham’s book is a fascinating, in-depth, if somewhat academic, look at the history of India and its cuisine. It even has recipes that accompany every chapter. I’m just a couple chapters in, and I know more about the Mughals and the Hindistanis than I ever thought I could.

What’s interesting is the contrast between the decadence of the rich, meat-heavy dishes of the Muslim Mughals and plain, simple vegetarian food of the Hindistani ascetics. The merger of the two cuisines, as far back as the 5th century, began to give an identity what we know as Indian food, combined with the European influences, shaken for a few hundred years, and poured out into delicious.

Since I planned for a culinary trip around the world, I figured it was time to invest in the Madhur Jaffrey book I’d been drooling over for months and months. We’ll visit World Vegetarian soon; it’s a lovely book with colorful anecdotes for every recipe. I enjoyed experimenting, trying several dishes, mucking up a couple of them, but I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.

I needed someone to hold my hand and say, “Leigh, you want to learn about Indian cooking? Start here.”

Someone like Meena at Hooked on Heat. Her Indian 101 and Intro to Indian series is the perfect entry-level cooking guide for the beginning Indian cook. Or Quick Indian Cooking, where Mallika has provided an extensive glossary that clears up a lot of my questions, like what is asafetida? There are also great how-tos at Salius Kitchen.

Here are some of the basics I picked up:
1) As we discussed last time, curry is made with vegetables (and meat if you must) and sauce cooked together and served with rice or bread (naan, roti). Curry should never be made with curry powder. Or ketchup. (I never would have thought of that. I hate ketchup almost as much as bananas.)

2) Curries frequently contain some or all following ingredients, so you might want to stock your pantry: cumin seeds, cumin powder, mustard seeds, coriander powder, garam masala powder, garlic, ginger, and green chilies the size of a pinky finger.

3) The flavors of curry vary by region, and are just too vast to name. I know, I really wanted a list too.

4) You can use just about anything as your curry base, vegetable-wise. I made a beet-mushroom curry from World Vegetarian a couple of weeks ago, and wow! It was something. Day one: awesome. Day two: beety.

All fired up and ready to cook, I started at the beginning with HoH’s Pindi Chana. Oh Maude, it did not disappoint. It’s fiery, sweet, tangy, and delicious. And it was so easy too, perfect for a weeknight meal. This time around I did not try to make the garlic-ginger paste. Instead, I used 4 cloves of garlic and 1 1/2-inch piece of grated ginger.

Even with something unfamiliar, I made a few changes. For one thing, I forgot to soak dried chickpeas overnight and used canned instead. My friend P has already scolded me. He is excited by my interest in his native cuisine, but he made me promise to always use dried beans from now on.

I also used canned tomatoes (which met P’s approval, since tomatoes aren’t in season), and I left out two ingredients that would have required a special trip to find: dried mango powder and dried pomegranate. Hey, what I don’t know won’t hurt me.

A recurring trick among the Indian recipes I’ve tried is to heat the whole spices in oil first thing to release their flavors. The whole house smells wonderful within seconds. When the onions and garlic go in, stand back. You may not be able to control yourself. But do. It’ll be worth the wait.

Pindi Chana (Spicy Chickpea Curry)
Adapted from Hooked on Heat
Serves 4 as main dish, 6 as side dish

2 15-oz cans chickpeas (see the original recipe for dried bean instructions)
1 tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes (use a large, fresh tomato when in season)
2 green chilies, finely chopped
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (or 4 cloves garlic, minced and 1 1/2 inch piece ginger, grated)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
salt, to taste
cilantro, chopped for garnish (about 1/4 cup)
water, as needed

1) In a deep pan or wok, heat oil. Add cumin seeds. Cook 'til they begin to pop.

2) Reduce heat to medium-low, and add in onions, green chilies, garlic, and ginger. Cook a few minutes, until veggies are lightly browned.

3) Add salt and spices. Stir. Cook a few more seconds.

4) Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir. Cook a few more minutes, until well incorporated.

5) Add chickpeas and 1 cup of water. Drop heat to low. Cook 8 to 10 minutes.

6) Top with cilantro. Serve warm. Naan (bread) and rice make excellent accompaniments.

7) Breathe deep and try not to eat it all at once.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
263 calories, 7g fat, $1.11 (4 servings)

2 15-oz cans chickpeas: 700 calories, 14g fat, $1.58
1 tbsp canola oil: 120 calories, 14g fat, $0.08
1 medium onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
1 large can diced tomatoes: 150 calories, 0g fat, $1.79
2 green chilies: 4 calories, 0g fat, $.16
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste: 23 calories, 0g fat, $.08
1 tbsp tomato paste: 15 calories, 0g fat, $.10
1 tsp cumin seeds: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/2 tsp red chili powder: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp coriander powder: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp cumin powder: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp garam masala: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1/4 cup cilantro: negligible calories and fat, $.02
Totals: 1052 calories, 28.2g fat, $4.43
Per serving: 263 calories, 7.05g fat, $1.11 (4 servings)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Last-Minute Little Dinners for One: Tips, Ideas, and 25 Recipes

A few months ago, our own Jaime posted a piece called Little Meals for One. It was a brief, well thought-out article all about simple, small-scale home cooking. I loved it, as did many readers who were looking for both inspiration and validation. (A spoonful of peanut butter IS TOO a meal, dangit.)

Because sometimes? You just want food in your mouthhole. You want it in a single portion, and you want it a.s.a.p. Why? Well, maybe you’re late coming home from the office. Maybe it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in August, and you have no great urge to further heat your already-sweltering apartment with a 450ºF oven. Maybe you’re just really hungry, and whipping up a whole lasagna for one person seems totally freaking insane.

Unfortunately, quick, single-portion recipes are hard to come by, probably because it’s difficult to prepare most gourmet meals in smaller serving sizes. So, how do you do it? How do you make a convenient, speedy meal without resorting to A) expensive and unhealthy processed food, B) takeout, or C) licking crumbs off your kitchen floor?

Well, first, it’s good to keep tricks these in mind:
  • Keep your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer stocked with food easily portioned into small servings: eggs, cheese, pasta, etc.
  • When you buy bigger packages of food (meat, veggies, etc.), portion them off in smaller grab-and-go bags as soon as you arrive home from the supermarket.
  • Look for recipes where you broil, grill, steam, sauté, boil, and microwave. Avoid recipes where you roast, braise, soak, brine, or marinate.
  • Keep low-cost, high-impact condiments and ingredients handy. Stuff like soy sauce, capers, olives, roasted red peppers, parmesan, curry powder/sauce, Dijon mustard, and horseradish can lend big flavor to tiny dishes in a hurry.
  • Don’t limit yourself to traditional dinner cuisine. Breakfast and lunch foods taste just as good at 7pm.
  • Don’t limit yourself to traditional American cuisine. Soups, curries, and stir fries are healthier and just as fast as burgers and hot dogs.
  • Consider raw fruits and vegetables for side dishes. They’re healthy as all get out, and take zero time to prepare.
  • Load up your freezer to your heart’s content. Frozen meats and produce can be defrosted quickly and cooked even faster. Consider canned versions of certain foods, as well, but be discerning when it comes to both sodium content and taste.
  • Before you do anything, scan your fridge for ideas and ingredients. Bits and pieces can become ingredients in larger, more delicious meals.
  • Speaking of bits and pieces, consider using many smaller foods to create one large meal. Eggs, a piece of fruit, and a side of refried beans never killed anyone.
  • Most of all, K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Sistah)
After that, it’s always a good idea to refer to the basics: a.k.a. Dinners You Learned to Make When You Were 12. Often, these are the easiest options because you already have the ingredients on hand AND you're familiar with the foods. Like:
  • Bagels (with low-fat cream cheese, lox, butter, PB&J, etc.)
  • Baked potatoes
  • Breads (with dips, cheese, veggies, or quick soups)
  • Chicken or turkey sausages
  • Cottage cheese
  • Couscous mixed with anything (chopped vegetables, beans, etc.)
  • Crackers with toppings of your choice
  • Eggs (omelets, scrambled, sandwiches, baked, etc.)
  • Fruit
  • Grilled or broiled chicken or pork tenders
  • Mashed black, pinto, or cannellini beans
  • Oatmeal (sweet or savory, a la Mark Bittman)
  • Pasta (with sauce, vegetables, cheese, etc.)
  • Pierogies (boiled/steamed)
  • Pizza bagels/English Muffin pizzas
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Raw vegetables with simple dips (hummus, baba ghanouj, etc.)
  • Rice mixed with vegetables and/or salsa
  • Salads (vegetables, fruit, bean, or otherwise)
  • Sandwiches (hummus, PB&J, grilled cheese)
  • Shish kabobs (meat, veggies, or fruit broiled on a stick)
  • Smoothies
  • Steamed or sautéed veggies
  • Stir fry
  • Turkey burgers
  • Wraps and/or soft tacos
  • Yogurt
If those fail to float your boat, you might want to do a quick search for some recipes around the web, using the terms "Meals for one," "single serving," or "15 minutes or less." Here are some fast, simple, cheap, healthy suggestions from CHG. All of them can easily be rescaled to feed one person.
Sweet readers, how about you? What do you eat when you need something small, fast, and nutritionally sound? Do tell. Let's make this the biggest single meal list, ever.

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