What I Learned During “No Meat November”

30 11 2010

Since Test Kitchen Tuesday didn’t exist when I started doing a little experiment I dubbed No Meat November, you may be scratching your head a little on this one. And, you may think I have a thing for slightly imperfect alliterations…

Despite our short history together, I reckoned the outcome of NMN was worthy of discussion, so I wanted to share a little with you, and hear any comments if you have dabbled with (or maintain a) meat-free diet.

Why No Meat November? Vegetable Bounty
In my case, it’s really a fairly simple reason: I read a lot of vegetarian and vegan-focused food blogs, and they are so interesting and thought-provoking that I have been weaning down my meat consumption considerably without really trying. It has been sort of a side-effect of the blogs I read, as I’m always trying new vegetarian and vegan recipes.

I know for a lot of people, deciding to temporarily or permanently eat vegetarian is a big decision with lots of very important reasons behind it, but I think it was just sort of a natural progression for me. I do consider animal rights and environmental issues very important; however, in this case, those items weren’t the driving factor.

I have never really been that big of a meat eater, though I do confess to enjoying a good hamburger now and then. 2Chili, on the other hand, is definitely a meat eater. So, the real challenge of No Meat November was not what to feed myself, it was what to make so that we would both be happy. I had no intention of inconveniencing him if I could help it, and I think for the most part, I succeeded.

How Did it Go?
No Meat November was surprisingly uneventful. I reckon this is because I was already eating very healthily, that the omission of a small fraction of my diet didn’t really change anything. General observations:

  • My weight did not change. I am at a happy weight, and wasn’t trying to lose weight at all, but some folks I know insinuated that I would melt away to nothing by not eating meat. Not true. I am 1/2 pound less today than I was November 1; so, the let’s call that the same.
  • My mood was better than ever. Honestly, I have felt super optimistic and positive all  month long. I am generally pretty content, but, I have been especially so this past month. I can’t solely point this to not eating meat, of course. Perhaps I just had a good month.
  • I easily consumed plenty of protein every day. I think most non-vegetarians believe you can’t get enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Or, you have to eat tons of processed soy products like tofu and textured vegetable protein to do so. Now, I can’t speak for a vegan diet, because I did still eat cage free veg-fed eggs, organic skim milk, and organic Greek yogurt and cheese. And, I love my honey. We only had tofu once during November and I was getting on average about 110-120 grams of protein in a day from a variety of sources, including plenty of grains and legumes, which is more than plenty for a female athlete. My diet is generally 60% carbs/20% fat/20% protein, and I had no problem fulfilling those ratios.
  • I didn’t have a hard time finding vegetarian options the times we ate out.
    • The biggest challenge was at Wendy’s, 2Chili’s weekday spot to grab, well, chili. After one very frustrating visit, I figured out to order an Apple Chicken Pecan Salad, and ask for no chicken, and then add some chickpeas I brought from home. Easy peasy.
    • The biggest surprise was at Azteca, a local Mexican food chain, which had a pretty big vegetarian section of their menu, including really good veggie fajitas. Really good.
  • 2Chili was very supportive, and ate pretty much whatever I served him. If I was eating something really far out there, I made him a separate dinner. And, even though I offered to do it, he proudly cooked his own Thanksgiving dinner of turkey breast, creamed corn, his mom’s traditional stuffing, and, cranberry from a can (the only way he likes it – with ridges still in tact).

Moving Forward
The natural next question is if I’ll keep this up or not. I have thought a lot about this and don’t have a great answer. I feel good, have not been inconvenienced in the slightest, and our grocery bill went down. I decided to not put pressure on myself to make a firm decision, but rather, do whatever feels natural over the coming months. If I eat meat, it will be because I want to, not because I feel some sort of social pressure.

What about you? Do you, or have you tried eating a vegetarian diet? Do share your experiences!

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Soft Knotted Rolls

29 11 2010

As we know, 2ChiliBreadBowl and bread go hand in hand. So, when I find interesting new ways to prepare his daily bread, I am happy to test them out. Ever since I figured out to mix and let dough rise in the bread maker and cook in the oven, I have been pretty successful with new bread creations – 9 times of out of 10 they are a hit, and these soft knotted rolls were definitely a hit.

Reminiscent of a crescent roll, they instill much more of a sense of accomplishment than rolling out some premade dough.  Which, by the way, I could never seem to get into the proper shape anyway. I have always been geometrically-challenged, so perhaps that was the problem – I couldn’t unlock the code on how to make an oddly-shaped triangle into a crescent, which apparently should be so easy even a fake talking dough-boy can do it!

If you share my geometric challenges, I can confidently state that you will have no problems with these rolls. They require tying a knot, but no awkward triangle rolling. And, they are dee-lish-ious.

image

By the way, that is some of the Butternut Squash Soup I wrote about over at Cheap Healthy Good.

Soft Knotted Rolls

Downloadable Word Document Recipe

Original Recipe/Inspiration: The inspiration was a recipe from King Arthur Flour for garlic knots, but I went a slightly different route with them, making them a little sweet instead of savory.

Time Required:

  • 5 minutes to add ingredients to bread maker
  • 90 minutes to mix dough and rise in machine
  • 10 minutes to roll into knots
  • 15 minutes to bake

Skill Level (out of 5): PlatePlate

2Chili’s Taster Rating (out of 5): StarStarStarStar

Makes: 10 rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/8 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • Drizzle of honey

Method:

  • Add all ingredients except the honey to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer, set it to the “dough” cycle, and start the machine 
  • When the dough has completed its cycle, remove from the mixer pan and roll out into a loaf onto a lightly floured surface
  • Preheat oven to 350 F
  • Cut into 10 equal pieces and roll into ropes about 10-12 inches long, adding flour if the rope becomes sticky
  • Tie a knot in the center of the roll, and tuck the loose ends into the center, and place on a lightly sprayed baking sheet
  • Drizzle each roll with a little bit of honey
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes, until bottoms are lightly browned

Nutrition:
From SparkPeople’s recipe calculator:

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The Verdict:
We both agreed these are tasty and worth making again. They are soft and only slightly sweet, and if you spread a little Nutella on them, they taste like a chocolate croissant!





Weekly Roundup – 11.27.10

27 11 2010

I read a lot of blogs and articles over the course of the week. For me, the big appeal of the blogosphere is the variety of perceptions you can get by what other people are saying, reading, and linking. This week was a little slow on the content, of course, but here are my favorite tidbits of the week:

  • saltReducing Sodium in Canned Beans – Eating Rules. I am very vocal about trying to reduce sodium as much as possible (probably annoyingly too vocal), and always rinse canned beans, but had never thought to actually soak them for 30 minutes. I try to prepare dried beans whenever possible, but sometimes, you just need the convenience of those canned beans. So, soak ‘em for half an hour, and cut the sodium by half!
  • Sweet Potatoes Are Not Just For Thanksgiving Anymore – New York Times. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that 2010 was the year I discovered the sweet potato. I grew up in the south (okay, Texas, but that is basically the south), where they definitely have more of a following than the west coast, but I pretty much always avoided them at holiday gatherings, turned off by the marshmallow topping that accompanied them. I wish I could go back in time and try a sweet potato au natural. Yum! And, don’t get me started on sweet potato fries…
  • Drowning Out the Food Noise – I saw this one in Casual Kitchen’s link round up, and really liked it. You are responsible for the food decisions you make, and packaging and commercials are designed to entice you to buy, and buy, and buy. My favorite line in this article is: “Vanity aside, the idea of being at a healthy weight should be about just that: health. This is not about fitting in a size “0″ .” Well said!
  • Eat a Beet – A Girl and Her Carrot. It’s not often you come across a thorough description of what to look for when selecting and what to do with once you’ve acquired a beet…
  • What to do with Leftover Turkey – MSNBC, from David Zinczenko, author of “Cook This, Not That!” Two ideas for turkey leftovers I wouldn’t have even thought of: a Rueben sandwich and turkey tacos.
  • Pie Chart – This one is just for fun, and apropos for post-Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and suffered no broken bones, obtained no bruises, and received no verbal attacks in the process of participating in either event! The holiday season is upon us! Go forth and eat well!





Weekly Roundup – 11.27.10

27 11 2010

I read a lot of blogs and articles over the course of the week. For me, the big appeal of the blogosphere is the variety of perceptions you can get by what other people are saying, reading, and linking. This week was a little slow on the content, of course, but here are my favorite tidbits of the week:

  • saltReducing Sodium in Canned Beans – Eating Rules. I am very vocal about trying to reduce sodium as much as possible (probably annoyingly too vocal), and always rinse canned beans, but had never thought to actually soak them for 30 minutes. I try to prepare dried beans whenever possible, but sometimes, you just need the convenience of those canned beans. So, soak ‘em for half an hour, and cut the sodium by half!
  • Sweet Potatoes Are Not Just For Thanksgiving Anymore – New York Times. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that 2010 was the year I discovered the sweet potato. I grew up in the south (okay, Texas, but that is basically the south), where they definitely have more of a following than the west coast, but I pretty much always avoided them at holiday gatherings, turned off by the marshmallow topping that accompanied them. I wish I could go back in time and try a sweet potato au natural. Yum! And, don’t get me started on sweet potato fries…
  • Drowning Out the Food Noise – I saw this one in Casual Kitchen’s link round up, and really liked it. You are responsible for the food decisions you make, and packaging and commercials are designed to entice you to buy, and buy, and buy. My favorite line in this article is: “Vanity aside, the idea of being at a healthy weight should be about just that: health. This is not about fitting in a size “0″ .” Well said!
  • Eat a Beet – A Girl and Her Carrot. It’s not often you come across a thorough description of what to look for when selecting and what to do with once you’ve acquired a beet…
  • What to do with Leftover Turkey – MSNBC, from David Zinczenko, author of “Cook This, Not That!” Two ideas for turkey leftovers I wouldn’t have even thought of: a Rueben sandwich and turkey tacos.
  • Pie Chart – This one is just for fun, and apropos for post-Thanksgiving!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and suffered no broken bones, obtained no bruises, and received no verbal attacks in the process of participating in either event! The holiday season is upon us! Go forth and eat well!





Product Review: Ninja Professional Blender

26 11 2010

Don’tcha just love to blend?

I don’t know about for you, but for me, blending is cathartic. It lets me get out my pent up anger on innocent pieces of fruit and vegetables. A few pulses, a swirl of the blades, and even the most frozen of items can be turned into liquid deliciousness. I love to blend so much that I wrote an ode to green drinks on my non-cooking blog last month.

A few weeks ago, I dropped the glass jar of my trusty red Black & Decker blender, and had a dilemma on my very messy hands. Initially, I thought I’d just replace the broken glass jar and go on about my day. But, replacement jars cost almost as much as a new standard blender, and, once you add on shipping, they can be more.

Ironically (or perhaps coincidentally), 2Chili had been on my case to buy a heavier-duty blender because he felt I blended enough to warrant something beefier. Translation: he was annoyed by the length of time he was required to listen to smoothie blending during football games or other important entertainment. He had a fair point.

After quite a bit of research online, I could not find a blender on Amazon.com, my preferred shopping destination, that met the “looks good” and “gets good reviews” qualifications I had in mind. As much as I would have liked to get a Vita-Mix, I couldn’t pull the trigger on a $500 blender. So, we got in the car and headed to Target one night to see if perhaps there was something there that at least fit the “looks good” category.

We came home with something called the Ninja Professional Blender. It was the only one they had, and, we came this close to not getting it because we couldn’t figure out how to get the blasted thing off its base in the store. Turns out the floor model was glued together. Jeesh.

DSC_0825 DSC_0824

So, is it all ninja-like and stuff?

Well, I have never met a ninja, but I imagine if ninjas could blend, they would blend at least this well. I have given it some fairly decent challenges, like frozen cubed pumpkin, and lots of ice, and it blends them up like nobody’s business. It has some cons, though, which I’ll get into below. For the record, removing the jar from its base just requires a very simple twist.

Pros:

  • Very powerful. It has a 1000 watt motor. For the price (roughly $99 not on sale), that is pretty amazing.
  • High volume. At 72-ounces, the pitcher can hold a lot of whatever it is you are blending.
  • Locking lid. The lid locks down, and you can’t run the motor without the lid locked. This is good from a safety perspective, but also from a “no splattering” perspective. How many times have you had the blender lid blow off and its splatter everywhere when blending up a pretty full jar of goodness? I am not embarrassed to admit that happened to me quite a bit in the past. No longer. The lid locks down and doesn’t budge until you release it with a “release” button.
  • Nifty pour spout. You can blend up your favorite smoothie and pour it out neatly, without worrying about that landslide of smoothie that could come flying out at any minute if you’re not careful. This is a nice touch!
  • Blends pretty much anything in no time. I would say my blending time has been cut at least in half, if not by 75%. Because there are three blades that rise into the blender, instead of just one at the base of the jar, there is less of a worry about getting the delicate balance of liquid-to-solids down just right. Put in your ingredients, and either pulse to combine, or blend at a speed of “1,” “2” or “3,” and the machine takes care of everything. I can blend things into an ice cream consistency now because the machine will blend with a lot less liquid.
  • The blades are removable. No more scraping at the bottom of the blender jar to get out that last bit of whatever you’ve blended – just release the lid and pull out the blades, and you can easily remove all the mixture.
  • Easy to clean. I was initially leary about putting the jar into the dishwasher, even though the instruction manual says it’s dishwasher safe. But, after a few times of cleaning it with the other method listed — putting a drop of detergent into the jar, with the blades in tact, fill with water to the 3/4 line, and blend for 20 seconds — I decided to try out the dishwasher. And, I can confidently report, it is perfectly dishwasher safe. After about 10 dishwasher cycles, it still looks brand new. No fogging, which is what I was worried about. I think this plastic must be very heavy duty, unlike the plastic on my food processor jar!

Cons:

  • It is tall. The assembled blender just barely fits under our upper cabinets. I have to be really careful sliding it under the cabinets, as the “release” button on the lid protrudes a bit and can get caught on the face frame of the cabinet. Also, it can be awkward to fill using the water spout in your fridge (if you have such a thing, as we do).
  • The blades are removable. Yes, I know that was also a “pro.” The thing is, if you’re not careful and leave the blades lying around, they can do serious damage to human flesh. Just ask 2Chili. He managed to cut his hand the very first night we had the blender. After that, I started either cleaning the blender immediately, or, if I put it in the sink, I made sure to store the blades in the blender jar.
  • The jar is plastic. I really, really didn’t want a plastic jar, as we all know what happens to plastic over time. It gets foggy and scratched. But, I did break a glass jar, so I guess there is no really perfect solution here. Just be careful when removing the blades, because if you touch them to the jar, well, the jar scratches.

The Verdict:

I found it amusing that product description for this blender states that “it’s a socially positive appliance that can bring joy to all.” I doubt it will really help you in social situations unless you are a margarita-blending maniac or you regularly hang out with the crew from Jamba Juice. But, it does blend and it blends well. If you are looking for a heavy-duty blender with a low-duty price, you might want to check this one out. I have never used a Vita-Mix, so I can’t compare this “professional blender” with the gold standard for blenders. For my very pedestrian purposes, it works great!

If you enjoyed this review and decide to purchase this blender, purchasing from Amazon via this link – Ninja Professional Blender – helps support Test Kitchen Tuesday by providing a small referral fee from Amazon. Thanks for stopping by!





A Bountiful Harvest

25 11 2010

Much like the Postal Service, FedEx, and Santa, Full Circle Farm will apparently stop at nothing to make sure their members have a happy holiday. Even though Seattle is currently crippled by frigid temperatures and icy streets, they managed to make our delivery today. It is quite the spread, and I’m excited to see what all these goodies turn into over the coming days. There is one thing I know for certain, though: there will be sweet potato pancakes!

FCF_11.24.10

Someone else is thrilled, too:

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2Chili, Pipa the carrot-loving lab, and I wish you a happy and safe Thanksgiving!





Kitchen Sink Stir Fry

24 11 2010

Every other Tuesday, I get a produce box full of organic goodies from a local CSA called Full Circle Farm. It’s a real treat that I look forward to. I like supporting a local farm, and love the convenience of having a variety of veggies delivered to our front door. From FCF, I have learned about delicata squash, romanesco broccoli, blue potatoes, purple carrots, kale, chard, and the list goes on and on and on. Bottom line: yay, CSA!

But, this week, due to the snow and ice in the Seattle area, my produce box has been delayed. I was sad to open the front door and not see my new box of goodies Tuesday morning, but completely understand the delay. After two weeks with very little produce replenishment, my selection was pretty weak, which left a bit of a head-scratcher for this week’s Test Kitchen.

MP900387007However, I remembered I had a block of tofu in the fridge, and could probably throw together a “little bit of this/little bit of that” to put together a stir fry. I should also note, as a random, yet relevant side note, I have been doing a little experiment lately that I dubbed “No Meat November.” Basically, I have been using the month of November to try out an exclusively plant-based diet. While I am generally not into processed soy foods, every-so-often tofu seems okay to me. 

Here’s where I netted out with ingredients for dinner:

  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • 1 stalk of broccoli
  • A handful of sugar snap peas
  • 1 zucchini squash
  • 1/2 a sweet onion
  • 1 green bell pepper

Surely I could turn that into something, right? Right! Sadly, I do not have a photo of the actual end result. To be honest, it wasn’t that pretty.

Kitchen Sink Stir Fry

Original Recipe/Inspiration: I used the sauce from this recipe, but the stir fry was sort of “winged.”

Downloadable Word Document Recipe

Time Required:

  • 10 minutes to prepare veggies
  • 20 minutes to cook stir fry

Skill Level: Plate

2Chili’s Taster Rating: StarStarStar

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • Assorted veggies of your choice. I used:
    • 1 stalk of broccoli
    • A handful of sugar snap peas
    • 1 zucchini squash
    • 1/2 a sweet onion
    • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 block of drained and pressed extra firm tofu
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water

Method:

  • Combine the first 6 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
  • Wash and chop veggies you will be using
  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat, and add onions; Sauté for 1-2 minutes
  • Add tofu and sauté for 3-4 minutes until tofu is lightly browned
  • Add remaining veggies and sauté 3 minutes, and then pour in sauce
  • Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 10 minutes, until your veggies are cooked but still firm
  • Mix together cornstarch and water in a small bowl or measuring cup, and begin adding cornstarch mixture to stir fry, a tablespoon at a time
  • Let stir fry cook for another minute or two for the sauce to thicken up
  • Serve with a side of rice or bulgur wheat

Nutrition:

Based on the ingredients I added above (not including rice), one serving equals the following, according to the SparkPeople recipe calculator:

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The Verdict: 2Chili ate this without complaining, but after he was done with dinner, he went straight for the breadbox and made some cinnamon toast. This usually means that the dinner wasn’t filling enough for him, but he didn’t like it enough to have seconds. So, when I asked for an honest review, he gave it three stars, and asked if we could try it in December with chicken. He liked the sauce and veggies, but wasn’t crazy about the tofu, which I didn’t drain well enough, so it was sort of moist and crumbly.  If I make this again, I’ll use extra firm tofu – so it can be easily cut into cubes instead of crumbles. Live and learn!