Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating on the Cheap

I met a woman yesterday who complained about the high price of healthy food here in the capitol. She had just found out she was pregnant and was told to stop eating all the junk and fried food she regularly consumed. She is young, newly married, carrying a mortgage back home and a rent here. She said she just couldn't afford the healthy food. She has a valid point - if you don't know how to cook or aren't willing to spend some time in the kitchen, buying and preparing healthy food can hit your budget harder.

Of course, Pollan and other food researchers have discussed the total cost of all that prepared, processed food and fast food--think government subsidies and poor health costs.

But, if we spend a little bit of time in the kitchen, we can make some wonderful, mostly healthy, fresh food out of basic product. Yes, the fresh veggies and fruits are expensive, but they go a long way usually. A $8 box of mandarins this time of year gives our family five or six days of lunchtime and snack treats. Think Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, Indian and you will see how well you can eat on about the same as you spend on the cheap, boxed foods and much less than going out, even to McDonalds.

This weekend we bought bok choy at a Chinese food market--tender, green, sandy-as-could-be bok choy. Price: a ridiculous $2. At a local supermarket the same bok choy would have cost me three times as much. I don't know why--supply/demand volume?

Boy choy is usually quite sandy and needs to be washed. Trim off just the very bottom, seperate the leaves and put them all in a colander for some really good individual washing or float them in a sink of cool water.

Greens Frittata
*You can make this with spinach, kale, bok choy or whatever greens you have. You could make it into a Spanish torta if you wanted to flip it. I find flipping a large fat omelette a bit intimidating so I go the frittata route.

1 Tbsp butter
As much greens as you like, cleaned well, drained and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 onion (mild), diced fine or quickly pureed in mini-blender
Dash of white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar depending on your mood
6 eggs
1/3 c. milk
1/2 to 1 c. shredded cheese - I used a mild goat cheese we had in fridge. Gruyere, cheddar or any other nice melting cheese would work

In a medium stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the greens and onion. If too dry, add a Tbsp water. Cook over medium heat until greens are wilted and to your desired degree of softness. Towards the end of the cooking time, sprinkle in a dash of vinegar and some salt.

Place 2 paper towels layered in a colander. Drain the greens in the colander.

Mix eggs and milk together, hand-beating until smooth. Stir in cheese and greens. Add salt and pepper. You can also add spices at this time. Nutmeg is a nice addition. Or, try oregano or basil.

Heat broiler and position a rack under broiler.

Heat a large (10" or greater) pan over medium-high heat. Spray with cooking spray or rub with oil. Pour in egg mixture. Tilt back and forth a bit as it sets up. Run a spatula round sides to loosen. Let it cook slowly. Once bottom is set and top is soft-set, place pan in over under broiler. Watch it carefully! You want it to puff a bit, set all the way and brown, but not become dried out.

Slice the frittata and serve warm or at room temperature. It packs well for lunch.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cakey Comfort

Rainy days drive me to the kitchen for comfort foods. Comfort comes in the form of carbohydrates for me, apparently. A few days ago, I had some fresh cranberries (adore them) that needed to be used so I slipped them into a modified KAF coffee cake recipe. The original recipe called for dried cranberries and almond slivers. I like almonds, but seldom by them slivered. I do however keep a quantity of almond flour in the freezer at all times. I find it is a good way to slip in a depth of flavor AND protein to just about any quick bread, muffin, scone or pastry. The coffee cake was good, so good that Maiya managed to eat around said-offending, but brightly staining cranberries so she could enjoy the cake.
Today, the bananas demanded attention. Mike likes bananas, but only before any brown appears, so I am often making banana dishes with the overripe ones. I once again decided to go with KAF's recipe with some variations. I've used many other recipes, but I think this might be one of the best. This cookbook may be one of the ones making the trip next year with us.

KAF's Banana Bread with Modifications

*First, I doubled the recipe because I had 6 overripe bananas. Banana bread freezes well and keeps in the fridge so consider a straight doubling of below.

2 large eggs
3/4 c sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 c mashed banana
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 to 1 tsp nutmeg (take the time to fresh grate/pound--so much better!)
1 2/3 c unbleached, all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 c yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream (I used Stonyfield Low Fat vanilla tonight)
optional: 1/2 c chocolate chips and/or 1 c chopped walnuts (I have kids, so in went the chocolate chips)

Preheat oven to 350 F.
In medium sized bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and oil. Blend in the mashed bananas and vanilla.
Whisk together the all the dry ingredients from baking soda to wheat flour, then sift to incorporate well. I don't sift much, but I do here as you don't want to mix the batter too much (it gets stiff and then creates a drier texture) so you want those leaveners well incorporated. My shortcut is to put everything in my big sifter and sifter through and then mix a little.
Add the flour mixture all at once to the banana mixture. Stir in quickly but thoroughly. Now, stir in the yogurt until just combined. Finally, stir in quickly the chips and/or walnuts.
Pour batter into a greased (spray it well) 9 x 5 loaf pan. Bake for about 1 hour, until knife/cake tester comes out clean from center. You can tent it with foil after 40-45 mins if it begins to brown to much. I like my bread a bit brown.
Place on rack and cool for a bit, then turn out of pans and cool more. It is a very moist bread and slicing warm can be challenging, but warm banana bread is worth the effort.

*Photos by our oldest. The first is from the Smithsonian exhibit on First Ladies. Mrs. Coolridge had a pet raccoon which the young photographer thought was worthy of a picture.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back home

Yesterday, our CSA provided us with two green tomatoes. I couldn't help myself, even if I seldom fry anything now in an attempt at healthy eating. I sliced them about 3/8 inch thick. I felt they needed a little more liquid before breading so I sprinkled some white wine vinegar over the slices and then dredged them in a mixture of white flour, white cornmeal, salt and pepper. I then pan fried them in my cast iron skillet a few minutes on each side.

The taste: crunchy light fry outside with warm tomatoey inside. I sprinkled the slices with a bit more sea salt before eating. One daughter declared it so-so after one bite. The other daughter (the "may no veggies except edamane willingly pass these lips" one) managed one bite without too much gagging and a quick grab of the juice cup. But, Mike and I didn't care--we ate the rest.

Now, various recipes suggest buttermilk or even egg as a wash before coating. I suspect you would get a thicker coating with these approaches, but I think the thin coating works out just fine and you don't have to use as much oil. I've seen some recipes that dress up the fried green tomatoes with remoulade sauce, marinara or a parmesan/cheese approach. I do think a sauce could be nice, although tomato on tomato might be too much. Next time I might try a thin basil pesto sauce. Sorry, no pictures of the tomatoes today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I know: an update! The last 6 weeks have found us a bit lost at sea, but we found floats, re-built our raft and are journeying again.

Halloween is an interesting holiday, isn't it? For those with a Christian faith, particularly the Protestant flavor, we find it a bit uncomfortable. Day of the Dead? All Saints' Day? Yet, shouldn't we think about the spiritual side of life and teach our children, albeit through a sugar-laden venue, something about this richness that goes beyond the physical?
Suffice to say, we've jumped into Halloween with the kids. MeiLin is in her girl mystery / spy stage and dressed as Nancy Drew. Quite clever and original. Maiya, ever the fairy/princess/all that is romantic, dressed as a gypsy. Mike and I decided to go retro (as we were co-hosting a 70s/80s party) and the consensus was we were Mike and Carol Brady. I don't have a really good picture of the my pants: velour orange bell bottoms, but I found them quite comfortable and swishy. I wonder if I can work those into my everyday wardrobe.