Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baby, it's chili inside

It's chili inside my belly, is what it is.
Once a month, I make a big crock-pot full of chili. I've never used a recipe and just adapted whatever my mom told me to do. Thought I'd share!
You'll need a crock pot. I usually use 2 cups of broth, 2-3 cans of beans (just depends on how beany I'm feeling), and a big can/glass jar of tomato puree. The puree is essential to my chili; I recently tried pureeing diced tomatoes instead and it was boring.

Then, I chop up one big or two small bell peppers or other sweet pepper variety, one small onion, and either three jalapenos or one serrano. Honestly, I use different hot peppers every time so just trust your gut, literally, depending on how spicy you want it. Just be careful with those serranos. One is plenty. And WEAR GLOVES.
I sautee the chopped vegetables in oil on medium heat (sometimes I use olive, sometimes coconut) until they're crisp-tender. I usually sprinkle some chili powder, cayenne, cumin, garlic powder, and salt on it while it's sizzlin'. Then I set them aside.

I usually add some meat to my chili. What I do is go to the farmers market and get a pound of pastured stew beef. Then I cut it up while it's still a little frozen (easier that way) into 1/4  pieces. I'm not a fan of ground beef, and this way, I really get to experience the texture and tenderness of the meat. And the taste! I am thoroughly convinced that this chili would be fine without it, though. I sautee this in the same pan with the same spices until it's nearly done.

Then, I dump all the veggies, the meat, the entire can of puree, and all the beans into the crockpot. I usually add a little broth, add spices, add broth, and add spices until I end up with the desired soupiness and spiciness. The spices are a blend of chili powder, cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, and sea salt. I usually find that if it doesn't have enough umph, it needs both more cumin and more salt.
Here's what it looks like before the liquids are added.

Then I cook it on low for...ready? 11 HOURS. So I either do the prep the night before and throw everything in as soon as I wake up, OR I start it a few hours before I intend to go to sleep and let it cook overnight.
Serve over short-grain brown rice and ENJOY! So good. Had some today.

Let food be thy medicine

I really like this one-panel comic. I like to think that good health is a combination of many things, but what you put inside you is certainly one of the biggest factors. I'd rather eat a head of lettuce than swallow some pills to get healthy and stay healthy. I like to think that our bodies are capable of healing more than we realize, we just have to give it the resources it needs. I've watched documentaries and read articles stating that most people can completely reverse diabetes just by changing their diet, and I believe it.
Personally, I use a combination of food (I include herbs in that bunch) and drugs to get me through something tough, but usually I go for the drugs whenever I am super miserable, like I can't go to sleep or swallow. Otherwise, I find that avoiding sugar, eating lots of (usually raw) plants, sipping on things that sooth my aching body and my soul like soup and tea, swallowing immune-system-boosting herbs, and BEING HAPPY does the trick.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Swap-O-Matic

Check it oouuut! A vending machine in which you donate items to receive items! Watch the video here.
"To use the Swap-O-Matic, you register with an email address using the machine's touchscreen interface. New traders start out with three swapping "credits." Donating an item earns additional credits, which can be redeemed for anything else in the machine." Read the full article here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

6th worst article on the Internet

I discovered a link to 6 Worst Soups in America today. While their intentions are good, I still have a beef with this article. Har har. Pun totally intended. I don't like its strong emphasis on calories and its blatant disregard for nutrition.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a food scientist. I am not a certified nutritionist. All I have is what I experience, and what my instincts and common sense tell me about what I read. I am ok being wrong, but this is what I think.

It's not all about calories
The article lists six (totally unpopular) canned or restaurant soups and these key characteristics: Kind of soup, and calories, fat, and sodium per volume. It then proceeds to explain why each soup is bad. It does give you an alternative, but even those, I think, are kinda stupid, which I promise I will elaborate on. The article unrightfully puts all the responsibility of losing weight on how many calories you consume, which completely simplified, is true. But you could also eat absolute crap (literally poop, possibly) every day and lose weight if you consumed fewer calories than you burned. But, you'd also die. Because poop and crappy food have no nutrients. So you could be thin, but also wildly unhealthy. WILDLY.

This is common sense. This is instinct. 
They're not the six worst soups in America, they're the six most calorie-dense.

Full fat is better than no fat...?
The war on fat and salt regardless of amount or quality is getting out of hand. Read all about my rant on this "war" next week. It's more real than the war on religion, Rick Perry.

Sure, maybe a can of Amy's lentil soup has 460 calories, but you can bet I'll feel very satisfied with the fats (which, by the way, may be very good for me), protein, and fiber in those legumes I just consumed. Should I eat it every day? Probably not, but would you even want to? Should I eat the whole can? Not unless I'm hungry for the whole can! Eating healthfully is a balance. 
What if I get the alternative, and feel completely unsatisfied? What if I eat the whole can and still feel hungry? This is unlikely to happen with the calorie-dense soup for someone who doesn't over-eat, but over-eating's a can of worms (soup?) I don't want to open here. It'll get all over my desk.

Eating less of it
If you eat smaller portions, you will likely eat more frequently, your metabolism will speed up, and before you know it, you'll often rely on healthful, calorie-dense foods to fuel you. Well, it's not guaranteed, but it's likely that if you move your body around a little every day and don't eat more than you need, you will have a pretty snappy system. :: Eats some almonds ::

Eat This, Not That!
The problem with their recommendations in this article is that they're telling you to substitute something you like for something you may or may not like, or something that's not even the same kind of soup! And in any case, substitutions can be dangerous, because if you want a donut and someone gives you a sliced pineapple ring for a substitute, you might go "Hey, this pineapple ring is good!" But you may still very much want that donut. You might even want it until you get it.
I also dislike these kinds of comments: "Here are a few foods than contain less saturated and trans fat: Burger King Triple Whopper, 13 Taco Bell Steak Nacho Cheese Chalupas, and an entire medium-sized pepperoni pizza from Domino's. " How is that helpful? Are people now going to think that eating a Whopper is better for them than a tomato basil bisque and will help them lose weight?
Perhaps the message should be, "Eat these calorie-dense foods in moderation." Or..."Make your own, fresh soup and try not to buy processed, canned soup" or "try eating fewer cream-based soups for a little while and see what happens" (the reason being that cream-based soups often have fewer vegetables/nutrients and more "extra" ingredients like thickeners and sugar. The french eat a lot of dairy and fat, and they don't have the health problems we do...I firmly believe that dietary fat is not the enemy).

Maybe it'll help
Perhaps the problem I have with this article stems from the fact that I eat to be healthy, not to be a certain weight, and I think we should be focusing on health regardless of whether we're trying to lose weight. Losing weight is usually a fairly short-term goal and people want fast results. Health and longevity don't always show up as benefits, especially if nothing ever goes wrong. It's like not stepping in a pot hole every day, whereas losing weight is like someone giving you a present on the street every day. So, I get that my perspective may be uncommon.

It's simple, but it's not black and white
I don't think eating has to be complicated. But I also believe that when we say "fat always bad, low-sodium always good," we're cheating ourselves out of really understanding what our body wants and needs. Eating becomes complicated when it becomes solely an intellectual exercise, because it seems that we've lost touch with the instinct. Just like a woman instinctively knows how to have a baby, so do we all know how to eat food to prolong our lives and ultimately our species. You control what goes into your body, except when you're 5 and a camp counselor forces apple sauce down your throat over the water fountain while you gag.
Anyway, I believe we all somehow know what's good for our health and what's bad for our health, but we've gotten lost in a sea of misinformation, most of which is implying that we don't know how to eat.

Don't believe everything you read

Yesterday I came across this lovely picture on Facebook, asking the capitalized question: "Can You Guess What McDonald’s Food Item This Is?"

At first I was like, "uh...strawberry soft-serve." But then I remembered seeing on How It's Made (TV show) footage of someone mixing what would soon become the insides of hot dogs, and it looked just like this. Gross. But it said it was from McDonald's, so I figured it must be mechanically separated chicken for their nuggets.
I decided to do some research. Snopes had posted this article, and says that law requires companies to label mechanically separated meat as such. Apparently, McDonald's does use white chicken meat for their nuggets, not mechanically separated chicken. I know, hard to believe. I hope Micky D's isn't lying, though, because that's always possible.
The article debunks a few untruths but also backs several of them up, and I think most people would be pretty grossed out by those truths. 
I guess the moral of the story is you should definitely be grossed out by processed foods in general, but sometimes it pays to do a little research when something seems too gross to be true.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Homemade garlic SASS

I accidentally made sesame garlic SASS today, and I'm so glad I did. It's my all-time favorite salad dressing (and local, too!) so I'm pretty stoked I can make it myself now, if I want to. 
Wait, you thought I figured this out on my own, didn't you! Naw. It's this. You blend these things up in a blender or food processor:

  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup tamari
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • black pepper to taste

Thai red curry with salmon

Thai Fresh is even better than you thought
Did you know that Thai Fresh on West Mary street has a coffee shop (Thrice), homemade ice cream and sorbet, cooking classes, local soaps and produce, and Thai ingredients in addition to all their awesome Thai food? What that is, is totally awesome. 

I went in there on Saturday to get ice cream but walked out with a bell pepper and some red Thai curry paste. I'm sure the opposite is usually true. That night, I made grilled asparagus, wild rice with diced mushrooms, and wild-caught Alaskan salmon. The theme of this dish was curry, which I sprinkled liberally on everything. It was great! But we only ate 2/3 of the salmon. 

Leftovers + curry paste = a beautiful concept
After stopping by the HOPE Farmers Market for some green things, I headed over to Central Market at Westgate to get the ingredients I needed for my spontaneous Thai meal that wasn't at the market (bell peppers, onions, and coconut milk). By the way, there was a young man at HOPE that had never been to a farmers market before, and asked a farmer where the bananas were. The farmer was polite, but smiled and said "There aren't ever any bananas at the farmers market". Poor dude. I hope he got his bananas eventually.

Anywho, I decided I would use some leftover ingredients that were begging to be combined with red, spicy goodness: King Soba brand Thai rice noodles and the curried salmon. Perfection! The rice noodles were cooked for absolutely no reason. I had boiled some beets and didn't want the beautiful, nutritious, pink water to go to waste, so I threw in some rice noodles and said "someday I'll eat these. Because they're pink." That day was today. Tonight. Whatever. 

Concept becomes reality

  • Thai red curry paste
  • Coconut milk (full fat, baby, yeah!)
  • Cooked salmon
  • Onion
  • Red bell pepper
  • Bamboo shoots

I dropped some coconut oil in my skillet and sauteed them onions and peppers until I couldn't stand it anymore. Did I mention that the entire time I was at the market, store, and cooking, I was ravenous? Terrible idea. Terrible. 

I looked at the instructions for the curry, which asked me to stir-fry the paste with coconut milk. Stir-fry a sauce? Well, OK! I basically just poured in the liquids and mixed it around for a little while.

Approximately 30 seconds later I decided to just put everything in and let it simmer, because damnit, I was hungry.

It. Is. Glorious. It's just as good as anything I order at a Thai restaurant. Or maybe I'm just so hungry and I have no idea what's good or bad anymore, but I think I'm thinking clearly, here. I'll know for sure tomorrow when I have it for leftovers.

I also knew I'd run out of beet-colored rice noodles after my second portion, so I grabbed this rice stick and boiled half the bag for the rest of the glorious leftovers. 

Want tips for buying salmon? Check out this post.

Tips for buying salmon

Where to buy
I live in Austin, so I buy my wild-caught salmon at Central Market nearly always, but Whole Foods should have it for around the same price. You can tell it's wild-caught without even looking at the label, because it's RED. Why should you care? Well, you don't have to. But if you want to actually get some nutritional benefit out of your salmon, you probably should.

Is all salmon red, and why does it matter?
Most wild salmon eat krill (a type of shellfish) and insects that contain carotenoids; it makes them pink. When the salmon eat the krill, they also ingest omega-3s, which we benefit from when we ingest them. I did recently try a "grade B" river salmon that wasn't red, but more of a pale, rosy pink. Their diet is just not as rich in animals with carotenoids, but it was still excellent.

Farmed salmon are fed grains mostly, in pellet form. Therefore, their flesh is actually gray. They probably do not have as many omega-3s as wild-caught, and you can bet they have too many omega-6s. So, how do these farmed salmon get that pinkish color? Well, their feed is colored. Farmers pick a shade of pink from a color wheel for their farmed salmon. And that, my friends, is just messed up.

What other differences are there between wild-caught and farmed?
Salmon farmers also use antibiotics and pesticides. Basically, farmed salmon are just as industrialized as their land counterparts: confined, fed substances they did not evolve to eat (grains), and given high amounts of drugs and chemicals to keep infection and pests away.

Wild salmon populations are usually very well-managed, so you're doing their species and the environment a favor when you don't support salmon farms, also. 

Look, I just care about overfishing
Fair enough...check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can print off a pocket version of their seafood recommendations based on scientific research done every 6 months, or download the smartphone application. They even have a sushi version!

Beware...salmon you order at a restaurant is farmed. You'll be able to tell as soon as they serve it. However, I've noticed that some of the fanciest joints in town do offer wild-caught fish...but never salmon, for some reason. When in doubt, ask the server, who will undoubtedly have to go ask someone else, but it's worth it.

Do farmed and wild-caught salmon taste different?
Yes, so if you are put off by the wild-caught salmon, I say go with your gut. When you cook it, you'll see opaque white fat oozing out where ever it can. At first this looks strange but luckily, it's not something you experience when you eat it. You'll also notice it's much denser and not as smooth. This is because in general, wild-caught salmon has less fat than farmed salmon. I'd say it's impossible to screw up a farmed salmon fillet, but it's possible with wild-caught; it can be overcooked and it will get dry, so be watchful.