Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clean BBQ? It's True...

When Joe and I decided to have folks over for Memorial Day this year, I decided that I wasn’t going to prepare a bunch of food that I couldn’t eat. For one thing, I knew that there would be leftovers and I wasn’t tossing away my grocery money on food that wasn’t in my plan. Furthermore, I thought my guests deserved food and not “food-like products.”

Here I am hanging out with Mr. Stripey ready to grill, so what was on the (mostly) clean menu?

Clean Eating Magazine’s Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Artichoke Dip served with Trader Joe’s natural corn tortilla chips, chopped carrots, toasted whole grain bread, and sugar snap peas (from Westmoreland Berry Farm---so delicious!).

Dry rubbed chicken legs grilled to perfection and then glazed with a natural BBQ sauce.

Grilled portabella mushrooms, green peppers, and tomatoes tossed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, kosher salt, lemon-thyme, pepper, and garlic.

Not pictured: Dry rubbed smoked spare ribs that I had hanging out in our freezer for awhile. I was saving them for a special occasion. I warmed them over low heat in the crock pot for a few hours with a bit of cider vinegar and sucanat in the bottom. It made its own sauce and tasted absolutely fantastic!

Chocolate sour cream cupcakes, modified from Clean Eating’s recipe. I replaced the skim milk with unsweetened chocolate almond milk the second time I made these and never looked back. Best chocolate dessert ever.

I also made classic and in no way clean vanilla ice cream using the base for Cliff’s ice cream recipe from the Top Chef cookbook. It was some really great stuff. I used heavy cream and milk that was practically fresh from the dairy and the rest of the eggs that I gathered from the farm. Joe is still savoring the final container of it.

Sunday evening I realized that my berries from Westmoreland were on the verge of over ripening. Not wanting to let them go to waste and having cold/sweet stuff on the brain, I made some frozen yogurt. That vanilla ice cream might be decadent, but this stuff is sweet, tangy, cool, and 94 calories a serving.

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

2 cups good quality low-fat plain yogurt (I buy mine from Blue Ridge Dairy Co.)

1 cup pureed fresh strawberries

1/3 cup raw, natural honey

Pinch salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender and then chill in a lidded container in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. This really improves the texture and flavor quality of the final product, so don’t skip the rest period!

Churn for approximately 25 minutes in a countertop electric ice cream maker and then transfer to a lidded container and freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. On his show Good Eats, Alton Brown often says, “Your patience will be rewarded.” Listen to these wise words.

(Makes 6 servings)

I really would have taken a picture of it's awesome pink color, but it didn't last long enough! I guess I'll just have to make it again soon...

Stay local!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Breaking up...

Here it is now, almost a month since we've been together. And I have to tell you the truth...

I'm not coming back. I thought about it and I'm happier this way.

I spent too much time and money, invested so much of myself, and for what? Salt solutions? Phosphoric acid? BOGOs? No, it isn't worth it. All the coupons in the world can't change that. You'll just keep offering the same things that kept me a prisoner of our relationship and I won't tolerate it.

You said I'd never be able to do it, that I'd come crawling back because of your ease and convenience. You said that my wallet would surely wither and my bank account balk at the very thought of looking elsewhere.

Oh how wrong you were. I know that the words "natural" and "organic" have no real standards, and so I bought food as local as possible and Googled the producers listed on the few prepared foods I did want to have. You didn't count on me learning to can, dehydrate, and process my own foods (oh the magic of the Internet).

And at the end of the day, I am told by others who wish they could do the same that they simply can't afford it. And that is what YOU have convinced them. With your "BIG BUY" packs of chicken breasts made up of salt solutions and hormones and your "GREAT VALUE" loaves of white bread that are mostly air. You've convinced people that I care about that you are offering the best value, that you want to help them stretch their dollar.

You are a big, fat liar.

A 1 lb. package of 4 buffalo burgers from Cibola Farms, (a local buffalo and pig farm that focuses on sustainable practices) cost me six dollars last week. Joe found the first sweet corn of the season at the Trader Joe's near his office for 50 cents an ear. That's two filling dinners for $4 a person. Yes, it's true that some products produced on a local, small scale have a higher price tag. But these whole foods are often more filling because they haven't been processed to death, leaving their nutritional content significantly higher.

I'm not saying I've got all of the answers. I'm just saying that I've found a healthier way to live my life. Maybe I'll stop by now and again for something Joe wants, or to grab some of that delicious sparkling water (which I haven't been able to replicate...yet), but for more? No, I'll be sticking to the farmer's market and MOMs for our groceries from now on.

Goodbye Big Box Grocery Store, goodbye.

My only regret is that I no longer have a surplus of plastic grocery bags to use when cleaning up after the dog...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Inspiration at the Farmer's Market

I think that I must have been a farmer in another life.

There's nothing that gets me more motivated to eat well and eat clean than to buy groceries fresh from their sources. I have accepted that this means putting a few extra dollars aside every week, but it is a.) incredibly important to support local farms that focus on sustainable agriculture and b.) much better for all who eat my cooking to not be unwillingly inundated with extra hormones/salt solutions...etc.

It was with that motivation that I set out for a Saturday morning trip to the Arlington Farmer's Market. For many folks, the image of these street markets conjures up thoughts of craft stands with the occasional person selling homemade preserves or fresh herbs. Arlington's market, however, is a clean eater's paradise. There's a vendor for nearly any grocery item you might need including (but not limited to) a baker that sells whole-grain products (some gluten-free items), several dairy farmers featuring fresh eggs, milk, and cheese, veggie/fruit farmers with produce of all kinds, tomato and herb plants, livestock farmers selling meat and poultry, a mushroom vendor with a wide variety of types, and even someone selling raw honey. The Master Gardener's club also has a tent on-site to answer any gardening questions people purchasing plants might have.

This week's trip yielded a whole chicken, some buffalo burgers and jerky, pork chops, vine tomatoes, homemade ricotta (which is so good that eating it out of the container with a spoon is perfectly acceptable) and mozzarella cheeses, a dozen eggs, two giant portobello mushrooms, baby arugula, romaine lettuce and a sweet onion.

Many of the farms are located in Loudon County, which is having their spring farm tour this coming weekend. I've already decided that I want to visit one of the places where you can gather your own eggs, but it's also getting close to the time of year when strawberries are candy-like, so...decisions, decisions!

Anyway, my motivating trip to the market segued nicely into cooking. Looking to use up some of the grains I had around, I decided that pizza dough was in order...


2 1/4 cups whole grain spelt flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup whole grain durum flour (Usually labeled as semolina, has the consistency of fine cornmeal)
1/2 tbsp. light olive oil or grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
1 cup warm water (105-110 degrees F)
1 tsp. sucanat or evaporated palm sugar

The method is the same as you'd do for any normal yeast based pizza dough...

*Dissolve the sucanat in the warm water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow this to sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast foams.

*In a separate bowl, combine the flours and salt. Make a well in the center and gently pour in the yeast/sucanat/water mixture.

*Add the olive oil.

*Mix until a soft dough forms and then turn out onto a board lightly dusted whole wheat pastry flour. Knead 10-15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.

*Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a bowl that has been greased lightly with olive oil. Toss to coat the dough with the oil and then cover with a towel and allow it to rise for one hour.

*Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

*Punch the dough down and allow it to rise for another half-hour.

*Now, you're ready to bake! Stretch the dough out on a cookie sheet or pizza stone, top with your favorites, and bake for 15 minutes. (I made some homemade sauce out of those vine tomatoes and topped with the fresh mozzarella and a few dollops of ricotta)

NOTE: I did a slow-rise with this the first time I made it (24 hours in the fridge as opposed to 1 hour in a warm place), but it came out a touch tough. I prefer a crust that is crisp on the outside, but has a little softness to the bite.

A common complaint from people who try this and other whole-grain based breads/crusts is that it's heavy. Yes, it's true. I ate one piece of this pizza and was full for the rest of the afternoon. (Joe had two pieces and was full to give you an idea of how the average stomach reacts.)

You're absolutely going to feel full. Eating whole grains means that you've got to digest every part of the grain including the germ, bran, and kernel. It takes a lot of time and effort for the body to do that. When you eat refined flour, a lot of those elements get taken away, thus it takes more to fill you up. This is, I think, the main issue in the American diet that causes weight trouble. Most of what's hanging out on the grocery store shelves contains huge amounts of highly-refined ingredients, which in turn allow us to eat large quantities without feeling full. Add sugar, fat, and salt and you've created the drug that so many of us get hooked on.

Fortunately, many farmer's markets (including Arlington for those of you in my area) stay open year-round, and more and more natural food stores are opening up and forcing competition with some of the chains. While it's still more expensive than a trip to Safeway, I find that I am able to stretch the ingredients I buy further because I'm eating less. (We did have more than half of a pizza left yesterday!)

If you want to try some different flavors, replace the whole wheat pastry flour with garbanzo bean or white bean flour. It's a neat texture difference and really nice if you have a bit of a gluten-sensitivity(it is not, however, gluten-free).

That's all for now! Hopefully, the next few weeks will mean more time to experiment while I'm on break from school. If you have a recipe that you'd like to see reformed for a clean diet, please shoot me an e-mail at I'd be glad to give it a go!

Ciao friends!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Food Rehab

David Kessler, M.D., former FDA commissioner under presidents Bush the first and Clinton has been popping up here and there lately to promote his new book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. I saw him first on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and then last Friday on Real Time with Bill Maher.

Kessler theorizes that “hyper-eating” is not a personal character flaw, but rather a biological challenge that individuals must overcome through education and persistence. Lifestyle changes, along the increase of power in the advertising and food industries since the 1980s have left many Americans at the mercy of reward-driven eating. Kessler’s main argument is that the brain has a significant reward response to the diabolical combination of salt, fat, and sugar. This sets people up for a lifetime of food obsession due to the permeating presence of these attributes in most mass-marketed/widely available foods. Kessler makes an urgent plea for “food reform” and suggests a simple kind of rehabilitation for overeaters, promoting new sources of reward and pleasure.

Anyone who has ever tried to make a significant lifestyle change knows that it’s a struggle. Some days are easy, while others you find yourself frustrated, angry, and willing to make any excuse as to why it’s okay to stick with a bad habit rather than change it. One of the main things that surgeons performing the RNY and other weight-loss procedures emphasize is the lifestyle change. It’s repeated over and over again how truly permanent the changes have to be in order to make the surgery a success.

When I made the decision to cut refined flour and sugar out of my life, I was miserable for about 2 weeks. I chewed through multiple packs of Trident in a day to keep myself from biting the inside of my mouth or grinding my teeth. I had unbelievable cravings for bread, crackers, and salty snacks. My own miniature detox.

It took time, but I stopped craving those things with that kind of fervor. I still think about them and even still want them, but I don’t feel compelled to find them.

When I want sweets, I crave oatmeal with evaporate cane juice (sucanat), roasted nuts, Vietnamese cinnamon and diced apples. When I want salty food, I crave roasted chicken, spinach and artichoke dip, or hot multi-grain cereal with parmigiano reggiano and a dash of olive oil. As I have changed my lifestyle and altered the way I grocery shop, the cravings have changed too. I don’t stress about my “diet” as much because the only real thing I need to watch is the quantity of what I eat (oh freeze-dried fruit, I could eat you forever and a day).

What does it all boil down to? The cover of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food (another great book) reads “Eat Food. Not too Much. Mostly Plants.” I think he’s got it covered pretty well. I’d add eat fresh and as local as possible too. Cleaning up your eating as opposed to simply going on a diet will have greater long-term benefits.

Some people who try a new diet often consider the idea of having a “cheat day.” As much as this idea seems alright on the surface, it’s considerably risky to healthy lifestyle success. If cheating means the occasional binge on a food containing large quantities of addictive, dangerous substances, then you can never really be the one making the decision. (Do you want food to make your decisions for you?) Food addiction is no joke and the obesity epidemic is evidence enough to convince me. You wouldn't encourage an alcoholic to indulge in one drink a week, so why do the same thing regarding your own diet?

That said, I'm not suggesting depriving oneself of the pleasure derived from food entirely. I'm simply saying that it's possible to feel healthy, sustained, and happy without needing dangerous foods to feel that pleasure.

If you're a foodie who takes pleasure in providing delicious things to others, I suggest starting a small garden and canning at the end of the season. There's a special kind of pleasure reserved for opening a jar of homemade tomato sauce in the middle of a freezing, gray winter.

Have a great week!