Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Don't Be A Turkey: Thanksgiving Food Safety

I just read an informational sheet entitled "Keeping Poop Off the Plate During A Holiday Meal." Hilarious title, serious topic.

Do YOU know how to properly prepare a turkey?

To avoid making people sick remember to:
  • Thaw your turkey in the fridge, microwave, in cool water, or on the counter. Make sure the center of the turkey is thawed.
  • Clean utensils and work surfaces after preparing raw turkey for roasting.
  • Wash your hands after getting the turkey ready.
  • Cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Don't wash your turkey. When washing, the pathogens can contaminate the sink, the faucet, other parts of the kitchen and your hands.
  • Refrigerate leftover turkey within 2 hours of taking it out of the oven. Turkey should be cooled to 41°F within about 14 hours by putting the sliced up leftover turkey in a 1 quart zip-lock bag and laying the bags flat on the shelf in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Sound of Silence and Shoes on Pavement

Sir Cakewalk and I have now been running together for a few months. We are currently training for a 10 miler the first weekend of December. It has been an awesome experience. I've never been able to run with another person so consistently before. It's motivating and it makes the whole task of running more fun.

But we are now up to running 3-4 times a week and logging more than 8 miles on our long runs. That's a lot of time to spend together, even for newly weds. We often talk about work and what not, but that usually only lasts a few minutes. When we run out of something to say, we can hear our own breathing, feel every ache more distinctly and my brain starts yelling that it is time to stop this madness and do some chillaxin.

Being bored during a run hasn't been a problem for me before. When I'm training by myself I try to mix it up by running different routes, different terrain, etc and by either listening to music or audio books or watching tv shows like Gossip Girl while on the treadmill. But putting on headphones defeats the whole point of having a running partner.

So now we are in search of conversation topics.

Last week we did 4 miles in the rain and discussed our first memories of food. That was fun.

Anyone have fun ideas for conversation? The more random, the better. Ideally it would be something open ended that we can keep rolling while we hit the pavement for 45+ minutes.

What else do you do to keep your workouts interesting?

PS I totally need a cool pic of us running together. I don't think I have a single one. I have plenty of myself at races or running events. And those are just soooo flattering. ;) But I need to share a picture here, don't I? I mean, blogs need pictures....

Turkey Day Menus

What are you having for Thanksgiving dinner?

This year I won't be cooking like last year. I'll be with some of my family who don't exactly share my proclivity for homemade, local, and healthy food. (Not that I think holiday meals should be healthy, necessarily.) And my Dad still doesn't understand that being a vegetarian means I don't eat ham OR turkey. Silly Dad. ;)

It's not that I need anything special for holiday meals. I don't need a tofurkey or some elaborate vegetable assortment. And I may even eat a little meat if I'm so inspired. But really, I just need GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE and a few decent side items. I mean, we all have those one or two things we HAVE to have on Turkey Day, right? (What your must-have item?)


This year, Sir Cakewalk is making Greek Celebration Bread and my Dad has invited me to make a dish as well. So I am on the hunt for a tasty, indulgent, but vegetable-centered dish.


A co-worker recommended a cauliflower casserole of some sort.

I'm gonna do some hunting but would love suggestions for recipes that fit my criteria but also are not too hoity toity and will please the average American (aka my family including two teenage siblings.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reader Question: Improving Pasta

I just received this question from a loyal reader:

"My husband and I have bought a TON of pasta since it's super cheap and has even been on sale lately. We typically either make:

baked ziti
pasta with a sauce (canned - vodka, 5 cheese, etc etc)

So...any pasta recipes that are still simple but a little more versatile (so pasta doesn't get boring) and maybe includes some healthy stuff?"

Why yes, yes I do have some suggestions for you. But first, kudos for stocking up on a staple while it is on sale! The key to making delicious dinners with limited time is having a well stocked pantry!

First of all, one "recipe" I often recommend for a quick, healthy, cheap meal is to take a canned or pre-made pasta/tomato sauce and beef it up (no vegetarian pun intended) with vegetables and/or fresh meat. I personally HATE eating boxed pasta with canned sauce. Blah! By just adding a few ingredients you can take something simple by ho-hum and make it tastier and better for ya.

I usually add whatever I happen to have on hand. Or if I know I'm making pasta (which I may be doing tonight since I have a long run tomorrow am) than I might pick up a few additions at the store.

You could add:
  • Olives (from the olive/salad bar or canned)
  • Spinach (again you can get a few leaves from the salad bar at the store or buy a bag of baby leaves)
  • Onion
  • Bell pepper
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Ground beef or turkey
  • Zucchini/Squash
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
You can use fresh produce or frozen or you could use discounted produce that is starting to go bad. You can even use something leftover from the night before. The great thing about adding items to pasta sauce is that they get incorporated into the flavor, so they don't have to be the most awesomest or freshest. You can add them directly to the sauce and let them stew a bit or you can saute them separately, then add the sauce and allow it to heat through (my preferred method.) Then you can top it with a sprinkle of fresh cheese if you so desire.

I also recommend playing with non-tomato based pasta dishes.

I like to saute some veggies (usually spinach, olives, onion and maybe capers) and then toss them with EVOO and cooked pasta. You could add fresh herbs to for an extra fancy touch.

I also LOVE pesto. You can buy a small jar at the store. It's usually a bit pricey compared to the tomato sauces, but you only use a tiny bit at a time, so it lasts for several meals. OR, you can try making your own with fresh herbs, pine nuts or walnuts and EVOO. This is the basic recipe, courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa. The only pesto I would not recommend is the kind that comes in a seasoning packet. It isn't real pesto, it's pesto flavororing and it's kinda weird both in taste and consistency.

Finally, you can play around with Asian inspired pasta dishes....think Lo Mein. There are many recipes out there, but basically something like this. You can use regular pasta and simple ingredients to make something "exotic."

I encourage you to play around and try different recipes. Pasta is one of those dishes that is hard to mess up and even if you do, it's so cheap it usually isn't a big deal. Take a look at eatingwell.com for some healthy suggestions.

Do you have a pasta recipe to recommend?

Do you have a question for the Realistic Nutritionist?
Email me or post your question as a comment and I promise I'll answer it!

Aren't you glad I didn't start this post with "I just got a letter, I just got a let-ter. I just got a letter, I wonder who it's from!"

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Twinkie Diet

Three days ago a co-worker sent me an email entitled "This made me think of you" with a link to an article about the "Twinkie Diet."

The next day my father sent me an email that stated "This is interesting! What do you think?" with a link to the exact same article.

Then, yesterday my husband (Sir Cakewalk) sent me an email with just a link to an article. The same article. PS the word "husband" still sounds weird to me.

So what is this Twinkie Diet?

Don't get too excited yet. It isn't quite what you might expect...

Basically, a nutrition professor wanted to make a point with his students. He wanted to emphasize something that credible nutrition professionals already know but fad diet gurus love to ignore and the public loves to believe. He wanted to show that it doesn't really matter where your calories come from, that to lose weight you have to cut calories, period. In regards to weight loss only, it does not matter if your calories come from protein, carbs or fat. It DOES make a difference, however, in regards to overall health.

SIDE NOTE (because I cannot emphasize this enough): Your brain runs on carbohydrates, DO NOT eliminate them from your diet or you will face significant health consequences.

Back to the article. So the professor ate only twinkies, chips, and convenience junk foods for 6 weeks. And he lost weight. Why did he lose weight? Because he restricted his caloric intake. The interesting side effect was that some of his other health markers (cholesterol levels, for example) as improved. However, this can easily be explained because losing weight, even just a moderate amount, can have significant effects on your health. Your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar may all show improvement when you lose just 10% of your weight.

What this mini and very unofficial experiment supports is that the type of diet you choose makes no difference (in regards to weight loss only) as long as it requires caloric restriction. And nearly all, if not all, diets do utilize caloric restriction, even Atkins. Other, more official studies have shown that while there is some variation in the success of specific diet plans in the short term, over the long term they all show the same results. Additionally, studies have shown those who are most successful at weight loss chose a plan that works well for them.

So the overall point is this: If you want to lose weight pick a plan that works well for YOU and that you can maintain for the rest of your life. As a nutrition professional who is truly concerned about your health not just the reading on your scale, I would prefer that that diet emphasize fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean meats (if any) and not include anything radical or expensive. I know that "moderation" isn't sexy, but it works. Anything or anyone that tells you something else is trying to pull the wool over your eyes and/or sell you something.

And, please, eat something besides JUST twinkies for dinner tonight. ;)

Persimmons & Baby Food

A friend and reader just shared this link with me which discusses using persimmons to make baby food.

Very cool!

If you are a parent, do you/have you/will you make your own baby food?
Will you encourage your children to try new fruits and veggies, even at a young age?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Magical Fruit Makes a Perfect Meal

I don't want to make a habit of talking about what I cook and/or eat on here. There are many other websites/blogs that already do that. Instead, when I talk about a food or meal I've prepared or eaten, there is a point to be made or a lesson to share. I will also share simple, quick, healthy recipes, when appropriate, I just don't want the recipes themselves to be the focus, but you understand, right?

So I'm going to lay out my objectives for this post now. By reading this post you may learn that:
  • Beans are nutritional powerhouses that are cheap, easy to prepare and make great meals.
  • When you get bored with your recipe collection, all ya gotta do is a little cookbook reading or internet searching and be willing to try something new.
  • Homemade bread, real butter and mulled wine are all delicious and perfect on a cold day.
  • Easy meals can often be made with simple items you already have (or should have) in your pantry.
  • Herbs make all the difference.
And now, the post:

Last night I made a new dish, White Beans with Tomatoes, Garlic and Sage. That is actually the title of the recipe. Apparently it is a traditional Italian meal, according to my trusty Best Recipe Cookbook. It was simple, quick, healthy, cheap, and delicious.

I came about the recipe because I've been in a cooking rut and wanted to do something new. So I busted out some of my cookbooks and flipped through. In the Bread Baker's Apprentice (the bible of bread making and a GREAT book for anyone that likes bread or wants to learn how to make bread), I found a few recipes for Sir Cakewalk to attempt. (He is the baker in this relationship.) He agreed to try Christopsomos, a Greek celebration bread that has a hint of sweetness.

Here is the bread from above:

In the Best Recipe Cookbook I was actually looking at souffles when I passed a recipe for White Beans with Tomatoes, Garlic and Sage. It had such a long title and yet sounded intriguingly simple! I read about the history of the meal and how best to prepare it. I did a few modifications, of course, but pretty much stuck to it. The best part was, I already had almost everything I needed: a few cans of white beans, canned diced tomatoes, fresh sage (which I had to buy for $1.99), garlic (I used my elephant garlic which I will post about next), and a little S&P. I also added a bit of diced onion and celery, because I had them on hand and needed to use them up.

I highly recommend stocking your pantry with cans of beans and tomatoes. These are the two canned vegetables that I allow in my pantry. I do also have dried beans, which are much cheaper and have less sodium, but they do require a bit of forethought, of which I often have none. Canned tomatoes are useful in soooo many ways. You can make a pasta sauce, use them in soup, stew them with some veggies like ratatouille, use them in Mexican dishes, etc etc. Buy them on sale and stock up. I usually keep diced on hand. I also always have garlic and onions in my pantry. They add flavor to anything and everything and they last a very long time. I buy both in bulk.

I did not have the sage on hand, as fresh herbs are out of season. But it was readily available at the local HT. If you haven't tried cooking with fresh herbs, I highly recommend you try it. It adds a lot of flavor to a dish without adding calories, cholesterol, fat, etc.

Anywho, to make this recipe I:
  1. sauteed the diced garlic, onion and celery in my new awesome stainless steel skillet with EVOO.
  2. After it cooked a bit I added the chopped sage.
  3. Then I added the tomatoes and beans (both well drained) and allowed it all to simmer for about 10 minutes. It became thick and stew like and made the house smell wonderful.
This pic should be horizontal, but you get the idea. ;)
We served it along with a slice of Cakewalk's bread and fresh butter. We also enjoyed a glass of mulled red wine with the meal. This we made while the bean concoction of was stewing by adding mulling spices from Williams-Sonoma to a bottle of cheap red wine and allowing it to simmer. Then we poured a glass for each of us and added a teaspoon of sugar to each. (The spice container recommends adding sugar to the wine while it cooks, but the amount seemed a bit much to me, so we waited and only added a bit to our personal liking and avoided extra sugar and calories.)

The meal was warm and filling. Beans are particularly filling and satisfying because of their fiber and protein content. The real, fresh butter added a bit of richness to the meal and the bread was slightly sweet, as was the wine. It was the perfect meal for a cold Sunday, especially after a long, hard run (Cakewalk and I are training for a distance race together!).

So, did ya learn something?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Definitely Persimmons

I made the persimmon salsa. I served it with tuna, brown rice and veggies. The fruit tasted a bit like papaya. The salsa was great with the fish, which I browned in a skillet after peppering both sides.

I will definitely do this again!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Perhaps Persimmons

I've been bad. I got a couple persimmons in my Papa Spud's box last week and I still haven't used them in anything. In fact, I had no idear (intentional "r") what to do with them and kept forgetting or getting to busy to do some recipe research...

...until today! I just checked out some of my fav websites to get the low down on this cute little fruits and how to eat them. I mean, I know most fruit is obvious, but who would know how to handle a pomegranate unless someone showed you? (PS I can totally tell you how to handle a pomegranate.)

So persimmons are packed with Vitamin C, Fiber and have some Vitamin A.

They apparently can be traced back to ancient China. Can't everything be traced back to ancient China?

There are two types of persimmons: astrigent and not astrigent. The former need to be allowed to ripen before eating or they apparently taste like sour patch kids without the sugar. The latter do not need to be ripened to be enjoyed. The former look like hearts and the latter look like small pumpkins. I believe I have the latter, so I could have eaten them last week if I wanted to. Oh wellz....

<---Former Latter--->

You may have also seen "Fuyu" at the store or in recipes. These are one type of the non-astrigent persimmon, associated with Japan but now widely available in the US. Again, I think I may have this type.

So what do you do with them?

I'm going to make a salsa. When in doubt, most fruit make a yummy salsa that can be put on grilled seafood or eaten with pita chips, etc.

I did some searching and found a recurring recipe for persimmon salsa that I'm going to try tonight served with tuna steaks and broccoli.

It goes a little something like this:
  1. Peel and cube 3 persimmon (I only have 2, but it will still work...don't worry so much about quantity of ingredients with something like a salsa, and remember that you can always switch things around to, depending on what you have on hand.)
  2. Mince one small onion
  3. Mix with ~1T of lime juice
  4. Mix in some chopped fresh herbs (you can choose basil, mint, or cilantro to name a few)
  5. If you want it spicy, add a bit of minced chili pepper
  6. Finally, add a bit of fresh, grated ginger. Remember that fresh ginger is actually pretty cheap. A little bit goes a looooooong way. It's offerred in most stores in gnarly clumps. Don't be afraid to break off a small bit if that's all you need (which is usually the case.) It should cost less than a buck and it adds a lot of fresh flavor and dimension.
  7. Allow the salsa to chill until serving.
I'm going to make the salsa and then toss into the fridge. While it's totally chillin like a villian, I'm going to saute or grill my tuna steaks. These will be about 4 ounces each. They are on sale right now at HT! Then I'm gonna toss a steam fresh bag of broccoli into the microwave and then season it with some S&P. All in all I expect this dinner to take less than 30 minutes. It will be light and healthy and cheap. You can make it to your liking by using any seafood or even chicken breast and any frozen veggie. You can also add a little brown rice to beef it up a bit if you like.