Sunday, March 29, 2009

Rice Pongal

This is great Indian comfort food. Super easy and delicious. Also a great vegetarian meal when eaten with a salad or sauteed greens - the combination of the rice and lentil builds a complete set of proteins so you won't be lacking anything without the meat.
I got this recipe about 10 years ago from a good friend I used to work with. I used to work at a company where most all of us ate lunch together and shared what we brought - that was a really fun and rewarding experience. I have since not heard of or ever worked for a company with a group of people like this. It was great because we had American, Indian, Cambodian, and British folks all eating a variety of delicious meals from their local areas. All were very simple, but if they were new to you, it really didn't matter because the flavors were unlike what you were used to.
Long story short, this is one of those completely simple meals I learned about and fell in love with. While you can probably use any kind of lentil, I recommend finding an Indian Grocery or going to New Leaf or Phipp's ranch to get the little yellow moong dal as they are called. They have a fantastic flavor and really make this dish.
This is a good re-heat dish and I actually will eat it cold - perhaps I am really that in love with it.

Rice Pongal
1 cup rice
1 cup moong dal

Soak the rice and moong dal overnight in enough lukewarm water to cover. Drain and rinse and bring 6 cups water to a boil. Dump in the lentils and rice and cook on medium-low for about 30 minutes. This is supposed to be more like a porridge, so watch it and do not get it super dry, but not watery still. Season with a good amount of sea salt until it meets your tastes. Set aside (this can be done a day ahead of time if you are pressed for time).

4 tbls grapeseed oil or canola oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 cup raw cashew nuts
1 tsp black peppercorns roughly crushed
1" piece of ginger, chopped
4 green chillies, cut in half, de-seeded and then cut in half again

In a pan warm up the oil over medium-low heat. This is important - do not heat the pan super high! Also do not walk away, this is a critical step.
When the oil is warm drop in the cumin seeds and stir well until the cumin seeds start to sputter and you can just smell the cumin. Then drop in the peppercorns. Then add in the cashews and continue stirring until they are lightly golden. Now add the green chilies and ginger and fry for about 1 minute.
Then add the rice-dal mixture and mix well. Season with additional salt or pepper if needed.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Weekly Menu 3/22/09

Sunday: Homestyle ribs (homemade rub, smoked and homemade bbq sauce), coleslaw, baked beans and sauteed greens

Monday: Simple sausage and green (cabbage and kale) soup

Tuesday: Garbanzo beans in Indian curry, mixed green salads with shredded chicken and balsamic vinaigrette

Wednesday: Vegetarian night with Rice Pongal (watch for the recipe this week-it's a delicious Indian porridge type dish that is well seasoned) and sauteed kale and chard

Thursday:Braised pork chops with sauerkraut and green apples

Friday, March 20, 2009

Velveeta and Cheddar Commercial

A family holiday staple when I was growing up was this broccoli casserole that was rice, frozen broccoli, onion and Velveeta basically. It was the tastiest thing I always thought.
Yes, the holistic nutrition educator and food coach used to eat Velveeta! Part of the reason I do what I do today though is from my own experiences. After eating in a more traditional way, I have found optimal health (oh I do apologize for the evangelical element of this post, but stick with me for a few more moments).
So onto my point - yesterday I watched a commercial where a mother and son are in the grocery store and she is on the phone and because of hard times is cutting everything she needs from the store in half because she is 'cutting back'. Then it pans to her picking up Velveeta and a block of cheddar and it says something to the effect of "You don't have to cut back because Velveeta is just as good as cheddar".
Of course they don't say they have the same nutritional value - that would be a lie. But by holding them up to each other, and saying Velveeta is just as good as cheddar implies that they are the same. Give me a break!
Read the ingredients on Velveeta next time you are in the store. It's plastic cheese basically. If you can't read the ingredients, why are you eating that? With everything else we have in terms of pollution, bad eating habits as a kid, health issues, etc etc, why eat these types of things? If your answer is that eating on a budget means cheap food, think again! Feeding the whole family for your health is more than feasible on a budget.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Curry Clarification

I wanted to let everyone know that I will be posting my Indian curried recipe next week. And I wanted to clarify that Ethnic Curries (Indian, Thai, etc) are not the same as the yellow curry powder you get from McCormick or find in egg salads or chicken salads.
Just for the record, I don't even have that in my pantry because something about those flavors just makes me sick.
Indian curries vary in technique, but are a mixture of spices like fennel, cumin, coriander (cilantro seeds), cayenne, paprika, turmeric and more. Sometimes the seeds are used, sometimes the ground versions. Just depends.
Thai curries I refer to usually are more chilies plus lemon grass, kefir lime leaves, coconut, etc.

If you were worried that I was using the yechy yellow curry powder, rest assured the recipes I am making are much more complex and tasty than that. I particularly like these recipes because they take something as simple as a vegetable and spice them up, make them fun and you will want to simply snack on just this. I kid you not!
From a health perspective, herbs and spices are considered a booster food in my book. They pack a good amount of trace elements that you don't get from other foods. We know that for example, yellow spices like turmeric and saffron are very good for liver support. We also know that things like

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spicy Turmeric Chicken Soup

I love making soups for dinner with random stuff in the fridge. Especially when I totally jack something as simple as chicken up in the crockpot...again, whoops.
In any case, dry chicken is great in soup because it gets all shredded and no one can tell! So you can still tell yourself that you are the perfectionist and Martha Stewart you always knew yourself to be...

In any case, I start my simple soups with 4 ingredients I always have in my fridge: onion, carrot, celery and olive oil or butter or your choice.

I get that all softened and then I toss in as much stock or a mixture of stock and water that I have on hand. Add salt and then add the softer vegetables and the chicken (if you have). This week I had the following in my fridge, and all just happened to go great with the turmeric chicken flavors (think Indian or Middle Eastern):
fennel, thinly sliced
green beans

Spinach cooks really quickly so it went in last. I had the soaked brown rice already cooked so it was simple assembly. You just simmer the stock with the veggies and the leftover chicken. Then place a portioned scoop of brown rice in each bowl, and ladle in as much soup as you would like.
EASY! Very nutritious.

Spicy Turmeric Chicken

I am trying extremely hard to find recipes that work in the crockpot. In our house, we are really picky about how dishes turn out in that tool. It is a super valuable tool, but it does take a bit of patience in mastering it.
My friend Catherine over at Studio 4 Pilates gave me a suggestion for this book called "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes" and I got the entertaining version. She likes it (and subsequently so do I) because not one recipe as far as I can see has canned soup, pre packaged rice, etc etc - it's all real, whole food!
I just got this book and the first recipe I decided to try was the Spicy Turmeric Chicken. She adapted it from Madhur Jaffrey and I just love her recipes so seemed like a win. I overcooked the chicken. I think the rule of thumb for not drying chicken out in a crockpot is low for 6 hours.... I knew this but for some reason had a lapse and did 8. Whoops.

Basically this is what you do:
1 tbls ground cumin
1 tbls paprika
1 tbls ground ground turmeric
1/2 -1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 1/2 tsp salt
you can add garlic, I forgot
and then either the juice of two lemons or water to make a thick paste

Skin a chicken and rub the paste all over the chicken inside and out.

Oil the inside of the crockpot, set on low for 6 hours. No need to add liquid, it will create it's own.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekly Menu 3/15/09

This week's menu is inspired by my having an extremely busy and packed last week (so doing most cooking on Sunday like usual was voted out), with the upcoming week being just as rigorous, plus my recent research to build a group class for eating sustainable and natural foods on a budget (oooo imagine that!).
So in general, this is simple, but good food. It uses ingredients from one meal to make another - which is good on the pocket and good for quick weekday meals.

Monday: Curried cauliflower and roast chicken
Tuesday: Chicken soup with a base of carrots, celery and onions with wilted greens and soaked brown rice
Wednesday: Pork and vegetable Thai curry over rice
Thursday: Roasted beet salad topped with a simple vinaigrette and toasted almonds with soaked quinoa
Friday: Leftovers

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Perfect Insurance Plan for a Recession

Today I was reading the March edition of Oxygen magazine and on page 104 is a blurb titled "Avoid Sick Days". It goes on to say that studies have shown that clean eating (this is an Oxygen favorite term which basically means you don't eat any processed, refined or fake food - just the real stuff and in the right proportions) leads to stronger immune systems and less sick days.

I don't think it is necessary to read this in a magazine to know it is true, but I thought it was a nice reminder to it's loyal readers that a cute figure is not the only thing you get with an active lifestyle and good eating habits!

I want to speak from personal experience that since I really cleaned up my eating, and furthermore, focused on having a truly healthy digestive system, I rarely get sick. And when I do, it is about 1/4 what my peers are going through. Winter 2007 a family member got the flu really bad - like literally out for 4 days straight. I took care of them through it, and I didn't get anything. Nada. Most people would think this was a death sentence to get it within hours. Not here.
Along these same lines, a conversation I overheard a few days ago where someone said they don't like going to the gym because they feel like all the germs make them sick. Let me correct anyone who thinks this, and instead say that germs don't make you sick - the inability for your body to fight invaders is what makes you sick.
And what is responsible for fighting invaders? Your immune system? And what is responsible for 70-80% of your immune system?
You guessed it, YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT!!!

What you eat matters. Really it does. And when you think about how much it costs to be sick - preventing that by eating real food, and balanced meals looks a lot cheaper and less of a time burden. In a time where money is of high concern, stress is extremely high and unemployment (and therefore the possibility of having no insurance) is at an all time high, you need to be more forward thinking about what you put in your body.
So do yourself a favor, and take the time to eat real food!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Weekly Menu 3/8/09

This week's menu is another quick, but high on the flavor profile.

Sunday: Sushi Sunday (lazy man sushi combo's with brown sushi rice, nori, and then tuna salad, avocado, cucumber, line caught natural smoked salmon, jalapeno and sesame seeds)

Monday: Chicken from the book "Arabesque" and a simple salad. Will let you know how this goes. Stay tuned....

Tuesday: Vegetarian night with Indian curried potatoes and cauliflower, topped with yogurt and served over rice with chutney

Wednesday: Grilled fish over greens with potato and butternut squash hash

Thursday: Artichoke heart crustless quiche and salad and leftover hash

Friday: TBD. Hopefully something fun and delish

Monday, March 2, 2009

Salad Dressings

These can be used for green salads - warm or cold as well as grain salads. Make a full batch and keep them in the refrigerator to replace store bought dressings. These are better for you because they use ingredients you can control the quality of and freshness. It is also more cost affordable which we all love!

Italian Dressing
½ cup balsamic
¼ olive oil
2 tbls mustard powder or 2 tbls Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
2 tsp dried oregano
2 crushed garlic cloves, finely minced

Mix all ingredients and store in a jar.

Citrus Vinaigrette

2 tbls orange juice
1 tbls dijon mustard
1 tbls rice or cider vinegar
1 tbls olive oil

Whisk and store.

Cilantro Vinaigrette

1 tbls honey
3 tbls olive oil or veg oil
handful of cilantro
salt and pepper
½ tbls Dijon
1 lime, squeezed
½ -1 roasted jalapeno (optional)

Put all ingredients in blender. Adjust to your likings.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekly Menu 3/2/09

This weekend was majorly busy for us, and this week is equally nuts. Means no time to really think about a meal plan and no time to do serious grocery shopping and preparation. So what to do? We all have this happen on a regular basis. Typically the answer is not eating well rounded and balanced meals, or grabbing the telephone to call in an order. While that could still happen this week (and I am okay with that because 80-90% of the time, I do what it takes to eat as best as I can), I made a few simple efforts to make sure we had meals for this week.
Here is what I did:
1. Started defrosting a few soups I have in the freezer for quick meals when we come home so it is just there and ready. This has been easy since the past few weeks we have had a few soups. I just double the recipe or wrap up what we can't eat and in a few weeks you have another meal. Easy!
2. Made sure I had a few greens that cook quickly (spinach, chard, dandelion) and a few raw veggies to snack on. All I have to do is spend 20 minutes today chopping and sauteing and storing away for lunches throughout the week.
3. Bought a pre-made rotisserie chicken. $10 for a natural chicken at our local New Leaf is not too bad. I shred it, mix it with raisins and celery and walnuts and some homemade mayonnaise that we keep on hand (YES, this is worth the effort and learning curve) and top that on spinach and you have a delicious and healthy and quick meal with just a little help from the store.
4. Picked two proteins I could make quick and easy meals out of. This week we did a pork roast because it was on sale and will mix it with veggies and curry paste. The second is a good natural sausage with onion and bell pepper and a salad.
5. I have enough veggies that are quick cooking to do a nice vegetarian meal. I need to make rice for the curry anyway so all I have to do is soak lentils at the same time and cook those up. The lentils and the rice with the vegetables will provide a complete protein so we save money but nourish ourselves with a well balanced vegetarian meal.

All in all this should hold us over all week. Here is what we are doing:

Monday: Waldorf chicken salad over spinach with vegetable puree soup
Tuesday: Pork and vegetable curry over soaked brown rice
Wednesday: Celeriac root soup with sausages and bell pepper and onions
Thursday: Brown rice and lentils mixed with grilled zucchini and radicchio with citrus vinaigrette
Friday: Leftovers