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Posts Tagged ‘healthy cooking’

There is a lot that I could write about right now in regards to my life, weight loss and how my Buddhist practice is getting me through some very stressful times but I can’t bring myself to write about that in much detail right now. Instead, I can assure you that I’m exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a vibrant practice that is making some very tough times bearable. Instead, I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts about some of the things I’ve been using lately to help me keep my life on track and my health improving.

As I’ve been actively trying to eat healthy and exercise more in order to lose weight, I’m constantly on the lookout for great vegetarian recipes. For some time, I’ve been aware of a site called Yummly however, I’ve not used it as much as I should. That’s changed recently. Yummly is like a google for recipes and they bill themselves as having the ability to search every recipe in the world. They have a great section of vegetarian recipes available here. I’ve been able to find a lot of different recipes here that have inspired me to create some really tasty meals. The ability to search by ingredient or taste profiles or by category make finding things quick and easy. Regardless of what you like to eat, you’ll be able to find something here to inspire you to make something delicious.

Another new favorite is a blog called The First Mess. Laura, the author of the blog, not only creates amazing recipes but the photographs that accompany the recipes are works of art in their own right. Her commitment to creating fresh and healthy food comes through in each of her posts and the recipes there are all wonderful to read through and look at.

As I’ve said many times here, I’m a person who relies on their smart phone for almost everything. If there’s an app for it, I’ve probably seen it or tried it. One of my new favorite apps is called OurGroceries. It is designed for quick and easy sharing of list data between multiple users and works on the computer, Android, iPhone and Blackberry phones. It makes keeping track of groceries easy and as soon as an item is added to a list, that item shows up across any device that is authorized to see it. Another great feature is the Recipe section. It allows you to specify the ingredients needed for a recipe and quickly add them to a list if you need to get something at the store for something you plan on making soon. When coupled with the recipes I’m finding from Yummly and The First Mess, this app keeps me from missing important items that I’ll need and saves me from making multiple trips to the store.

Speaking of apps, I also recently downloaded an app called allthecooks. It’s for Android and iPhone and also available as a web site. It’s got a lot of nice social features and, while it’s not as nice of an interface as Yummly, it’s a great way to find recipes on the go when all I have is my phone. I’ve found a few really great vegetarian recipes there and a few meals I’ve found on this app have made it to my meal plan for the upcoming week.

I have also been getting a lot of use out of an app called Insight Timer. It’s a meditation timer and on-line community for people who practice meditation of any type. The features and functionality of the app blend seamlessly with the act of meditation and the timers are easy to set and start/stop/pause. You can save multiple timers, quickly switch between them, integrate with Twitter and Facebook and connect with others all over the world. Creating a meditation timer that works for whatever practice you have is quick and easy with this tool and I have found it to be a great way to track my meditation practice and see how I have been progressing.

The last app that I’ve been getting a lot of use out of is called PocketCasts. It’s an Android app for podcasts. Since Google killed the products I used to follow podcasts (google reader and google listen), I had to find something new and I’m glad I did. Finding and listening to podcasts with this app is extremely easy and navigating the user interface is dead simple. It’s intuitive and powerful. I am always up to date getting episodes of Buddhist Geeks, Zencast, as well as my other favorite audio programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Science Friday, Snap Judgement and various tech news shows. If you have an Android device, I highly recommend this app for all of your podcasting needs.

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I just finished reading a very interesting and infuriating article that I highly recommend you read. It is by Michael Moss and is an adaptation of his new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. The article focuses on the way that food companies design and market foods to appeal to the consumer and to make sure they eat as much as possible as frequently as possible. It examines the way that the food companies intentionally manipulate their recipes to ensure that their customers can’t help but come back for more. In other words, how they design their products just like a drug. As someone for whom junk food has been a nearly constant companion for 35+ years, I can assure you that, yes, these foods are addictive and that breaking that addiction is incredibly hard. I’ll let the article speak for itself and encourage you to check it out. There are a few things that did strike me as interesting and I thought were worth commenting on from the perspective of a Buddhist and as someone who has suffered because of the way these foods are carefully crafted to encourage a consumer to eat more.

One of the food scientists that Mr. Moss interviewed is Howard Moskowitz. He was responsible for revolutionizing things like spaghetti sauce, Dr. Pepper and the MRE’s that are served to members of the Army. His approach is thoroughly grounded in research and experimentation. His models plot hundreds of data points in order to identify a range of configurations for these foods that people will enjoy and want more of. His work has influenced the entire processed food industry and it changed the way that the food companies formulate and package their products. When confronted with the negative impact that his research has had on the lives of millions of people, he had a very interesting defense.

“There’s no moral issue for me,” he said. “I did the best science I could. I was struggling to survive and didn’t have the luxury of being a moral creature. As a researcher, I was ahead of my time.”

When I read this line, I had to stop for a few moments and take a few deep breaths. I have to ask, when did being a moral creature become a luxury? I understand the pain of struggling to survive. I grew up in a home that, while not in poverty, was certainly not affluent. Free lunches and food stamps were a part of my life growing up and I have struggled as an adult to provide for my family. It is hard to do, but at no time did I ever consider maintaining my morals to be a luxury. Two parts of the Noble Eightfold Path are Right Action  and Right Livelihood. These two components encourage us to end suffering in ourselves and in others by acting in a way that will not harm others and by choosing a profession that does not bring harm to another being. Mr. Moskowitz did not approach his career or work with this kind of mindset and, in so doing, millions of people have suffered from obesity, cancer, hypertension, stroke and early death or been effected by a loved one who did. Here we see the way that the actions of one person have had long term negative ramifications for more people than one could hope to count. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more stark example of just how important living according to the principles of the Eightfold Path are in relieving or preventing of suffering.

Frito-Lay spent $30 million a year to develop snacks that would appeal to changes in consumer tastes. According to the article, Frito-Lay learned that

Eating real meals had become a thing of the past. Baby boomers, especially, seemed to have greatly cut down on regular meals. They were skipping breakfast when they had early-morning meetings. They skipped lunch when they then needed to catch up on work because of those meetings. They skipped dinner when their kids stayed out late or grew up and moved out of the house. And when they skipped these meals, they replaced them with snacks.

In response, they developed snacks that would be more appealing as meal replacements. They worked with scientists, marketers and psychologists to design new snacks to appeal to consumers who were in a hurry. New flavors added to current product lines were designed to maximize “bliss” so that eating these new snacks would become a regular thing rather than an occasional thing. They created products that encouraged people to forget about regular meals and, as has been examined in other places (herehere and here) encouraged the decline in cooking and food preparation skills.

In this case, I believe that a lack of right mindfulness, right effort and right concentration on the part of our society as a whole allowed the food companies to replace cooking with convenience. We have lost the aptitude to take time for making simple things in exchange for constant movement and stimulation. Having foods that are easy to heat and serve or to open up and dig into make the effort of cooking superfluous.  Why make spaghetti sauce when you can open a jar and heat it up? I’m at the top of the “guilty” list for this kind of behavior and I have the physique to prove it. I went to culinary school and I find great enjoyment in cooking and preparing food but I still reach for the box or the jar or the can in order to save time. Here’s a basic recipe that I have used before to make tomato sauce. It’s very low in sugar because of the natural sweetness of the carrots and considerably lower in sodium than any pre-made sauce you can buy. The tomato paste is the closest thing to a prepared food item in the list and it is not really necessary and (at 1 teaspoon) is really just a flavoring agent and not a significant source of salt or fat. I prefer to use fresh parsley, basil and garlic but, if you are working on a time crunch, those ingredients can be found in “convenience” versions (pre-chopped, dried, etc.). This sauce takes 45 minutes to make, assuming that chopping the onion, carrot and celery takes you a long time. It’s possible to make this in large batches and set it aside in the freezer for future use. It’s also a fairly simple sauce and is the base sauce for a lot of other really delicious and nutritious options. The foods we eat don’t have to be from cans or boxes or bags, but we have to be willing to put forth the right effort to make sure we are not falling prey to the food giants any longer.

INGREDIENTS
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot or 1/2 large carrot, finely chopped
1 small stalk of celery, including the green tops, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 teaspoon tomato paste (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

METHOD
1 Heat olive oil in a large wide skillet on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Stir to coat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the skillet and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through.

2 Remove cover and add the minced garlic. Increase the heat to medium high. Cook for garlic for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, including the juice and shred them with your fingers if you are using canned whole tomatoes. Add the tomato paste and the basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered until thickened, about 15 minutes. If you want you can push the sauce through a food mill, or blend it with an immersion blender, to give it a smooth consistency.

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I was sent this recipe this morning through facebook. I have not made this yet but I will be making it soon. It looked too good to not share. There are a lot more recipes over on the facebook page where I got this one. If militant vegans are not your thing, you should avoid visiting it. Otherwise, there are a lot of interesting recipes there and I think I’ll be trying more of them out.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad with Lemon Basil Dressing

1/2 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup cubed ripe mangos
1/2 cup diced cucumbers
2 tbsp dried cranberries
1 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp lemon zest
6 basil leaves, finely chopped

Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes or until the quinoa is cooked. Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork. Allow to cool to room temperature.

While the quinoa is cooking, combine the fruits in a bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and add the chopped basil just before serving. Add half the dressing to the quinoa and toss gently. Assemble the salad just before serving and toss the quinoa with the fruits and cucumber. Serve the other half of the dressing on the side.

Mango Blueberry Quinoa Salad

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The other day, I was trying to make something healthy for dinner and started to browse the contents of my pantry to see what I could come up with. The larder was running low but I did find a container of Israeli Couscous. For those who may not know what this is, it is a pasta shaped in small spheres. Israeli couscous is larger than a lot of other types and is, in my opinion, superior to it’s smaller cousins. Armed with the large container, I started to gather supplies and ended up pulling from my cupboard some hot curry powder, black and white sesame seeds, cayenne pepper and sesame oil. This seemed like a good start so I got cooking.

Curried Sesame Couscous

1 serving of Israeli couscous
Water for the couscous (however much the container says is appropriate for one serving)
Hot curry powder
Cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
White sesame seeds
Black sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

Toast the couscous in a sauce pan until it is golden brown. Add the water and stir.

Add curry powder and cayenne pepper to taste (the more the better right?) and salt. Stir to combine.

After a minute of cooking, add the white and black sesame seeds. This is a matter of personal taste. I added a tablespoon each because I like them.

Continue to cook the couscous according to package directions until done.

After the couscous has cooked, add 1/4 tsp of sesame oil and stir.

Add more curry, cayenne if needed and more white and black sesame seeds (the uncooked ones will add a crunchy texture).

Serve

I was quite pleased with the results and liked it so much that I got busy eating it and didn’t take a picture of the finished product. You’ll have to use your imagination but, take my word, it was really good.

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Dough, sauce, cheese, meats and veggies. There’s a lot happening on top of that pizza. I must admit I love them. Pizza is one of my favorite foods. I’m sure a significant portion of my extra weight can be measured in pizza consumption. Today, while enjoying stumbleupon to kill some time and find random things that might be interesting, I cam across this story about healthy pizza.There are vegetarian and vegan options that look really good. Check it out and see if any appeal to you.

Healthy Homemade Pizza Recipes

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I had a long day at work and when I got home, I was hungry and wanting to relax. Fortunately for me, there is one simple solution to both of those problems: COOK! I know a lot of people don’t enjoy cooking or it is something that they don’t think of as a relaxing activity. I guess it’s just one of the little quirks that makes me the person that I am. Since I was hungry, I wanted something quick but at the same time, I didn’t want to just eat a bunch of junk. I had to improvise. From my kitchen, I grabbed the following items.

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 block of extra firm tofu
1 package of Trader Joe’s lentils
1 bottle of Siracha sauce.

That’s it, 5 ingredients. Time to cook! I quickly slice the onions up into teeny tiny little bits and then I minced the garlic. While I was doing that, the tofu was being pressed between a couple of plates to make sure it was as dry as possible.

This is where the flavor lives

With the onion and garlic finished, I grabbed the tofu and cut it up into small squares. At that point, prep work was done and it was time to get rocking. I quickly sautéed the tofu in some olive oil while I dealt with a page from work because apparently, I don’t spend enough time in my day dealing with people’s computer problems. With the problem solved and the tofu getting a nice golden color, I set it aside on a baking sheet and added the onion to the pan. That’s the point when the whole room started to smell real good.

Once the onion was looking nice, I added the garlic and sautéed  it for about 30 seconds. Then, I dumped in the package of Trader Joe’s lentils. They are already cooked and ready to go so it was one less thing I had to deal with on my own. They taste really good and, when used in a dish like this, are acceptable over stuff you might cook on your own. While they heated up, the tofu went under the broiler to finish up. While the tofu broiled, I remembered that I had a bottle of Siracha that needed my attention. A very generous amount of sauce went into the pan.

After the tofu was complete, I added it into the lentil mixture and that was it. From the skillet it went onto the plate and I was enjoying a hot dinner that was healthy and very flavorful in a short period of time.

Spicy lentils and tofu

 

Tofu cooked to golden brown goodness

Before I started cooking, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I walked into the kitchen, surveyed what I had and, on the fly, came up with something that sounded good. That’s where having a solid understanding of basic techniques is really important. If you want to be a good cook, learning lots of recipes really isn’t the way to go. It’s all in the technique and learning how to have fun putting those techniques together to create something new.

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Where all good things come from

The other day, I was at Trader Joe’s to pick up some staple foods. These include things like tofu, three grain tempeh and basic veggies and dried goods. While I was there, something caught my eye. It’s a Trader Joe’s product called Harvest Grains Blend. It consists of Israeli style couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans and red quinoa. It looked good and it was really cheap so I bought a bag. Last night, I made some for dinner. To prepare it, I used some TJ’s hearty vegetable stock and, after bringing it to a boil, added the Harvest Grains. I then dumped in a generous helping of spices to add some flavor and let it simmer for 10 minutes. After that, I had a great dinner that was healthy and easy to deal with. I still have half a bag left so now that I know what to do with it, I’m thinking of other things I can do with it. I love finding new things to cook/eat that make it easier to eat healthy. This will be a fun one to work with.

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