Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 16 Foods and Foodie Things of 2010

You are what you eat! So here are 16 things that made my year.

16. Apple Chips
A great (and sweet) alternative to a potato chip or a granola bar.

15. Sugar Snap Peas
Like to munch snacks on the road? Put a bag of these in your passenger seat. Thirty-five calories for 2/3 cup and some serious Vitamin C too.

14. Brussels Sprouts
This emerald vegetable is like the helpless nerd everyone loves in spite of himself. Don't cringe, just try them.

13. The Orange
Have you ever had that post-dinner sweet tooth? An orange will do the trick. They were a delicacy in the Victorian era, you know. Hydrating, fun to eat, and packed with a full day's worth of Vitamin C. Forget the juice. The real thing has only 80 calories and 1/5 of your daily recommended fiber.

12. Fresh Basil
Smashed up into pesto, sliced into pasta noodles, sprinkled onto a sandwich...I kept a happy plant on my porch until the first frost. Then the plant...not so happy.

11. The Baguette
Though I haven't quite mastered the art of Julia Child's French baguette, I have certainly enjoyed trying.

10. Figs
Dried or fresh, these taste great as a snack. The dried ones taste just like the Newton, but minus the cakey exterior and the weird ingredients. Fresh figs are expensive, so buy them in the fall, when they are in abundance. In 2011, I'll experiment with figs in recipes.

9.Free Range Eggs
My go-to dinner is scrambled eggs with onion, garlic, carrots, green pepper, and any other misfit veggies or meats around the kitchen. This year I learned that chickens are meant to roam free and peck at bugs and other critters on the land. When they eat this way, the fat content in their egg yolk is an ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Chickens kept in pens and fed grains, or chickens fed "organic" food, or chickens on a vegetarian diet are deprived chickens that produce a lesser egg. The low protein diet upsets the balance between the omega-3 and omega-6 fats in the egg yolk. Why does this matter for humans? The type of egg you eat determines the type of fats you consume. Buying free-range eggs is costly but worth it.

8. Goat Cheese
Besides the fun of saying "Fromage de Chevre," this stuff has a unique flavor that reminds me of tinkling bells and purposeful "baas" high in the Pyrenees. Put it on a pizza, pair it with a cracker and fig jam, toss it in a salad with pears and walnuts.

7. Soft Corn Tortillas
Like a little hug for your breakfast burrito or your turkey taco. And corn tortillas stack up against flour. Seventy calories versus 140. One gram of fat versus three. Fourteen grams carbohydrates versus 25. Careful--most grocery store corn tortillas contain preservatives. Grab them at Whole Foods. Extra points for sprouted corn. (And for those of you who have hated corn tortillas your whole life--try browning in a pan before eating.)

6. Plain Lowfat Yogurt
Gone are the days when I'd eat a Yoplait in two bites and go into a sugar crash. Gone are the days in which I'd eat fat free, sugar free yogurt and still feel hungry. Plain, lowfat yogurt is great by itself. Or, try stirring in a little honey, jam, or granola. It has the same amount of protein as two eggs and a third of your daily recommended Calcium.

5. Fresh Pasta
Mama mia! This is the real deal. Makes boxed pasta look like a diet drink.

4. Butter
Julie and Julia author Julie Powell claims you can never have too much butter. I disagree. But for goodness' sake, why use margarine or that sneeze of a cooking spray when you can use good old butter? If you don't believe me, grab some mushrooms and brown them in three separate pans. Use Pam, margarine, and butter. Then, tell me which tastes the best and leaves you the most satisfied.

3. "Five" Ice Cream
Haagen Dazs makes up for a name that prompts a "Gesundheit" with this simple, honest-to-goodness ice cream. A pint of this got me through a lot of tough spots. Excuse me, did I say a pint? I meant a single half cup serving. Who eats a pint of ice cream in one sitting?

2. Olive Oil
Olive Oil was the starting ingredient for nearly every dinner I made this past year. I learned that "Extra Virgin" olive oil is the best because it comes from the first cold press of the olive. Other olive oils, such as "pure" and "light" are really lesser olive oils in disguise. They use second-rate olives and go through multiple presses.

And the #1 Food of 2010...
...drumroll please...
...I can't hear you...

1. Lobster!
I cracked open one of these babies for the first time on the Fourth of July. I ate her on the lawn of a 17th century farmhouse at a Benedictine Abbey. Quite an adventure, but tasty nonetheless, especially dipped in butter. Lobster: not a date food.

All-Natural Snack Bars

Munching on granola bars has practically replaced baseball as America's favorite pastime. Ok, not quite. But they are a popular snack. Many people reach for a bar (or two) in the morning, or during the mid-afternoon crash. I kept a box of Fiber One bars in my desk at school for several years.

Today I don't typically go for the granola bar. Why? The everday granola bar contains too few calories for a sustaining breakfast or snack, too much simple sugar, the wrong kinds of fat, and not enough fiber. If the granola bar claims to compensate for any of these problems, it probably does so artificially. If you eat a granola bar, you'll end up feeling hungry and tired, and you'll probably grab a second one. Additionally, most 'sport' granola bars have vitamins and minerals that are added chemically, instead of occurring naturally in the ingredients of the bar. Check out a PowerBar or Luna Bar label sometime.

There are also suspect ingredients in most commercialy-produced bars. Three examples:

Quaker Granola Bar: High fructose corn syrup free. That's good, right? includes regular corn syrup. It also has the preservative BHT(1).

Special K Chocolate Delight Protein Snack Bar: Contains partially hydrogenated oils and the preservative TBHQ (2).

Hint: If an ingredient is an acronym, it's probably not naturally occuring and it probably isn't good for you.

Fiber One Chocolate Chip Snack Bar: Its 22-ingredient recipe contains high maltose corn syrup, caramel color and mixed tocopherols "to retain freshness" (3).

There are some naturally commercially produced bars that offer a change of pace, like Larabar. The bars come in unique flavors, and, because they contain all-natural ingredients, are a great blend of protein, fiber and carbohydrates. I like the "Apple Pie" bar, which contains the following ingredients: dates, almonds, unsweetened apples, walnuts, raisins, and cinnamon. That's it!

I returned home from the 2008 Austin Marathon convention with my runner's bag full of tiny Larabar samples. While munching on some savory flavors, I began to wonder if I could recreate the Larabar experience in my own kitchen. You can buy all the ingredents at the store, after all. So, I set out to make my own all-natural snack bar.

Warning: This is a pretty horrible recipe as far as measurement and technique go,even though the final result tastes great. Making it is kind of like working with adult Play-Dough. I just kind of winged it. Wunged it. Whatever.


6 Cups dried Dates, pitted
3 Cups dried Apricots
2 Cups dried Figs
2-3 Cups Nuts of your choice (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.)
1.5 Cups Oats, Toasted
Olive Oil

Wooden Spoon
Flat Baking Sheet, preferably 1/2 inch deep
Large Pot
Knife and Cutting Board
Wax Paper
Tupperware Containers or Ziploc Bags

1. Chop up the dried fruit and the nuts and place in separate bowls. (I like fruits and nuts coarsely chopped, but you could also find a machine or take the time and finely chop the ingredients.)
2. Add about 3T olive oil to a large pot and place it on the stove over medium temperature. Dump the dried fruit into the pot. Heat it until the fruit softens and becomes sticky, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
3. When the fruit is very soft and sticky, gradually stir in the nuts and oats into the mixture. Mix until fruit, nuts and oats are evenly distributed. (You might consider adding a tidbit of molasses if the dry ingredients refuse to stick with the fruit.
4. Turn off stove and transfer mixture from pot onto cookie sheet. It will be hot! Using your hands and the wooden spoon, spread the mixture evenly across the baking sheet until the entire sheet is covered. Leave mixture to cool in the baking sheet.
5. After several hours, cut your fruit bars in the desired size, and transfer them into plastic bags or a tupperware container. Since the bars will be slightly sticky, make sure stored bars are separated with wax paper.
6. Enjoy for breakfast or snack! And share. (I think this recipe made about 60 bars.)



Thursday, December 23, 2010

Un Déjeuner Fantastique

Like simple ingredients combined in an effective dish, several factors transported me from a small corner cafe at Clay Terrace mall to a rustic country restaurant in France. The Zay women lunched at Petite Chou in Carmel, Indiana. We ate immersed in wintry natural light around a thick wooden table as long and broad as the side of a barn. Coffee was self-serve at a bar; croissants beckoned delicately from behind glass. Large 18th century maps of Paris stretched across the walls. Newspapers were on hand. People leaned over tables and plates in earnest conversation.

My aunts and cousins were tempted by breakfast crepes, open-face egg sandwiches, and goat cheese salads, and I ordered Warm Mushroom Duxelles. In classic French cooking the mushrooms are cooked until all liquid boils away, then the mushrooms are made into a kind of paste and spread over bread. I enjoyed Petit Chou's mushroom duxelles, which consisted of a variety of local mushrooms, coarsley chopped and cooked slowly, then served with a butter and white wine sauce over thick slices of French bread. It was a fantastically simple yet satisfying meal. I would make mushroom duxelles at home and would certainly try Petit Chou again.

Check out the website:
Check out the menu:

(And yes, I had to use a translator to write the title. Sigh.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wild Yeast Breads

Below: Some breads I've made with the wild yeast. Yum!
First photo: Simple white boule.
Second photo: White/wheat batards.
Third photo: Multi-grain dinner rolls (white, wheat, rye flour, oats, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, bulgur, molasses, brown sugar).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Mortar and Pestle: For an Adventurous Cook and a Strong Arm

When I was in second grade, I was having a hard time sharpening my pencil in Ms. Frye's obstinate manual sharpener. Ms. Frye laughed at me. "You need to give it a little oomph!"


Ms. Frye laughed again, finished sharpening my pencil, and explained that "oomph" is slang for some serious muscle power.

A mortar and pestle is a kitchen tool that indeed requires 'oomph,' or 'elbow grease.' To use it is to assume a task far less delicate than mincing or chopping, but the mortar and pestle is an iconic reminder of a cooking truth--things taste better smashed.

Some may say it better, but simply put, I think smashing ingredients brings out more flavor than making clean cuts. That's why garlic presses are so popular, and why crushing half a lemon over a tilapia filet adds more flavor than simply placing lemon slices on top.

I have seen mortar and pestle sets at Target, Ikea, and World Market for anywhere from $10-$20.

Some ideas for the mortar and pestle:

Season a Stir Fry (3T): Obtain fresh ginger, garlic, and any spices you wish. Coarsley chop a few cloves of garlic and chunks of raw ginger (take the skin off the ginger first). Add them to the bowl. Then, add some sea salt (the coarse sea salt adds friction and aids in the mashing of the tough ginger). Mash until a paste is formed. Add it to your stir fry. Add in the final moments of cooking for an especially loud flavor.

Make Guacamole (1 cup): Chop onion and garlic in whatever quantities suit your taste buds. Cut an avocado in chunks. Add the onions, garlic and a little salt to the bowl and smash. Then, add the softer avocado and blend. Dice a roma tomato and stir it in. Season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Eat it right out of the bowl!

Mix spices: Blend spices in traditional baking recipes with the mortar and pestle before adding them to the batter. This "activates" the flavors.