Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring = Fear of the Terrible Bikini!

     I’m not sure if it’s the change in weather for the warmer (and perhaps the terror sparked in me by even the word “bikini”) or my return to the gym after about a month of doing exclusively yoga and running, but lately I’ve been having some serious meat cravings. My dreams are haunted by burgers and yesterday I considered changing my Facebook status to merely “carnivore.”

     As I’ve mentioned before, I have serious problem with the meat and agriculture industries in this country. I usually try to avoid eating meat except on rare occasions when I can choose my own, know exactly where it came from and that, before my plate, the animal was happy and well nourished. I don’t want to eat meat from a cow standing in its own feces, pumped with hormones and steroids, or a chicken that has been plumped with cornstarch. Meat dyed to change the unappealing grey color it was, reshaped, ground and mixed with salts, or frozen. If I’m going to eat it, it better not be a health hazard. I also find comfort in the notion that whatever meat I’m enjoying be it cow, chicken or deer, it was happy and healthy before.

     If you feel grossed out by all the problems commercial meat can bring with it, then you understand why I usually abstain. My protein intake comes from nuts, seeds, beans, brown rice and whole grain starches, yogurt, milk and cheese, plus tofu a few times a week. Balancing the varieties of proteins to get all 9 essentials takes some work, but I do OK. Plus, if I need to, I can always balance my diet by adding meat (which is a complete protein). This is why I don’t call myself a vegetarian.

     Lately, however, I’ve been indulging in that fail-safe, adding meat pretty much constantly. I’ve been buying as much chicken, steak, burger and fish as I can get my hands on. The Union Market and Fresh Fish of Carroll Gardens are my dealers. They provide delicious animal and fish protein sources. The free-range, no-hormone chicken they sell at the Union Market is perfectly firm and flavorful. Irresistible!

     So long as I buy quality products, I feel free to give in to what I crave. I assume that my body will let me know what I need. If I’m craving meat, I probably need the nutrients in meat. There are some exceptions. Chocolate for instance I crave for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is simply mood enhancement. Trying to substitute exercise or some other mood enhancer for chocolate is a difficult proposition.

     Anyway, here is the first protein laden recipe from me this week, but probably not the last.

Fresh Fish and Vegetable Papillote
Difficulty:Ant Icon 32x32px
Makes: 3-4 servings
Time: 45 minutes, active time: 10 minutes


1 lb. fresh fish: salmon, halibut, tilapia, trout, sole but not steaky fish like ahi or swordfish or an oily fish like catfish. I used tilapia.
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ sweet yellow onion, chopped
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 lemon wheels, optional, add a little bit of flavor, but mostly just pretty
Salt and pepper to taste


     Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place fish in large tin foil wrapper. Top with other ingredients. Seal foil. Bake 30 minutes. Serve over brown rice (if you use rice, it's best to start that before the fish as good brown rice takes about 30 minutes) or salad.
Juicy tilapia coming out of the oven
     This is the simplest version of this recipe. I often add Old Bay. Sometimes I want a little spice and I add some paprika and a dash of cayenne. Sometimes I use fresh basil, in place of or in addition to cilantro. I like the way sweet peppers poach in this dish as well. 
Roasting brussel sprouts and cauliflower
     This time, I roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts in the oven, but not in the foil pouch.  These vegetables need to be crispy to be tasty, so I roasted them uncovered with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Flip once half way through baking.

     The papillote is sort of a catch-all. You can season and use whatever you want, throw it in the oven and forget about it for a while. When it comes out, it is tender and juicy, creating a nice broth to spoon over the rice.

     It is also very low in calories and fat, a really good way to eat protein without regret (think: bikini bikini bikini bikini).  And while I’m on the topic of healthy, weight-loss foods, I saw this article today: It is informative and right in line with my notions about nutrition. My additions: be careful about whole fat yogurt. 2% is good, but whole fat is just too much. Also, roasted and seasoned almonds and nuts not only come with increased salt and sugar content, but the roasting changes the oils they contain. It’s best to stick with raw almonds as a filling snack.

Monday, April 11, 2011

What's So Sinful About Pizza?

Homemade pizza!
     I am a pizza addict. And I’m fine with that. I can eat pizza every day for a week and not get tired of it. In high school, my friends and I used to have pizza eating contests, and often. The winner was crowned, of course, by eating the most pizza in one sitting. We didn’t set a time limit besides, “in one sitting.” Sometimes a contest could last for hours. Sometimes we all won, each finishing our own large pizza. There was literally one week during which we had pizza every night. And it wasn’t a torture. It was a joy. So when I say that I’m addicted to pizza, I’m serious. I even like it cold for breakfast.

     I also don’t find certain varieties of pizza to be as unhealthy as the general wisdom seems to. What is so bad about bread, cheese and tomato sauce? All are some of my favorite foods. And it’s not like they’re deep fried. I do tend to gravitate towards pies with lighter cheese, fresh vegetables and often a whole grain crust option. I prefer that my crust also be fresh, not frozen. Meat Lover’s from Pizza Hut may be really terrible for your health (and girth). The salt alone in food from most chain pizza places is enough to worry your doctor. But there are a plethora of other pizza options.

     So to satisfy my pizza craving, while working to do good, healthy things for me, I opted to make my own pizza instead of succumbing to the desire for greasy, salty pie. That way I limit the fattening ingredients and boost the nutritive content of one of my favorite junk foods. Pizza is perfect for this because the flavor doesn’t suffer when you make it healthier. It’s still cheese and bread and tomato sauce. And it’s still delicious.

     This recipe is one of my favorites. I make it about once a week. I used to buy crust, sold at most gourmet markets in the form of pizza dough. Roll it out and top it and you have pizza. But my dad gave me this really great homemade pizza crust recipe. I’ve been using it ever since. Making my own crust doesn’t significantly increase the amount of effort it takes to make pizza. I still make it as a weeknight staple, but it does take a little bit more time. The dough has to rise for about an hour before you can knead it, roll it out and create your pie. I just make it on a day when I get home a little bit early. Let the dough sit and rise, relax and decompress, and come back to finish making dinner.

     I usually use the time while the dough rises to make my own sauce, but this time I used premade Newman’s Own Basil Marinara instead. I highly recommend making your own sauce. There are all varieties of quick and easy tomato sauces. For one of mine please see the entry entitled, “Tuesday Night Vegetable Marinara.” Make just the sauce and top you pizza dough with it instead of Newman’s. It’s easy enough. I have no good excuse for not doing it myself. I was just feeling lazy.

Homemade Pizza
Difficulty:Ant Icon 32x32pxAnt Icon 32x32px
Time: 1 hour +
Makes: 8 servings/2 large pizzas


1 cup warm tap water
1 package active dry yeast
3-3 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ tablespoon salt
½ cup Olive oil, plus a little extra for drizzling on the finished product
2 Sausages (I used Italian herb tofu sausages), sliced
4 scallions, sliced
1 large head broccoli, sliced
3 cups mushrooms, sliced (I used shiitakes, but bellas or any mushroom is delicious)
2 large balls fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced
1 cup black olives, halved
2 cups Tomato sauce
2 tablespoons oregano
2 cloves garlic, minced
Balsamic vinegar


     Begin with pizza dough. In a large bowl, mix yeast gently into water with a fork until dissolved. Add 1 cup flour, salt and ½ cup olive oil. Stir using a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the flour, cup by cup, until dough begins to come away from the sides of the bowl and becomes a sticky mass.

     Sprinkle flour on clean dry, kneading surface and coat hands with it. Dump sticky mass of dough onto work-surface and knead for five to ten minutes, until your hand comes out clean after pressing the heel of it into the dough. Roll into a large ball.

     Place in oiled bowl and coat top with oil. Cover with a slightly damp towel.  Let rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes, until it doubles in size. If you need a warm place, use your stovetop. Preheat oven to “warm,” and then turn it off. The residual heat should be plenty for the rising dough.

     Punch the dough down and knead for 1 minute.  You can let it rise again, coating it with another batch of oil, or proceed to pizza making. A second rising simply improves the texture of your crust.  Cut dough ball in half and roll out each to fit your pans.

I'm not a fan of using premade ingredients, but sometimes I make exceptions.
     While your dough rises, you can prepare your other ingredients. Begin by chopping and sautéing your sausages in a little bit of olive oil until browned. Set aside. Sauté your scallions in a little oil until lightly softened and caramelized. Set aside. Sauté your broccoli and mushrooms in a little olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper. Don’t overcook the vegetables. You want them to be a little bit less done than if you were simply going to eat them. They will continue to cook in oven so sauté them until they’re al dente only. Slice the mozzarella and mince the garlic. Set aside.
Shallots sauteing
     Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

A wooden spoon is the perfect sauce applicator

     At this point, your kitchen counter should resemble an assembly line, beginning with the rolled out dough on the pans, then the sauce, followed by the cheese and other toppings. Spread the sauce out over the dough, top with cheese, toppings, then sprinkle the garlic and oregano over the top and finish with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

My pizza pre-bake, just about to go into the oven
     Bake 30-45 minutes or until crust is crisp and slightly browned.  Slice and serve!
     There are so many variations on this recipe and they are all delicious. I sometime top with fresh basil after I take the pizzas out of the oven, or add a sprinkle of grated parmesan just before baking. You can experiment with different toppings and you’ll be surprised at how much it changes the flavor and feel of the whole meal. Mmmm!