Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And the winner is… Flexitarianism

There has been what could be the beginning of a 'development' in relation to my cookbook. I attended a writer's conference this past weekend, mostly intending to gain some insight in regards to the fiction writing I have been attempting. At the last minute, a friend convinced me to propose my cookbook at the conference. My first proposal was a discouraging meeting with an uninterested agent who informed me that I lack credibility since I am not a chef or fitness professional. My first reaction? What I am doing here and what business do I have writing a cookbook? Shortly thereafter, I had a second reaction: Who does he think he is, anyway? I summoned up the last of my courage, gathered up the remaining shards of my shattered ego and booked another meeting. This time, I met with an enthusiastic editor who liked my idea, gave me some great guidance and suggested that when I finish I submit my project to her publishing company. Redemption – what a relief! And while I don’t know what exactly I was expecting from all of this, I think this glimmer of hope was more than I had hoped for. And while there is not yet cause for too much excitement, maybe just a tinniest bit would be okay.
I have been grappling with the theme, feeling like I was close but not quite there, and hoping an epiphany was slowly brewing in the depths of my consciousness. But it actually wasn’t; so it’s a good thing this editor threw me a bone. What she suggested is that my cookbook fits nicely with “flexitarianism”, a new buzz word in the food world which essentially refers to a semi-vegetarian diet, or a diet that includes less meat. And so there is it – my new angle.
One last thought on this: While the notion of flexitarianism pertains specifically to a compromise between vegetarianism and meat consumption, it also parallels the compromises that are found within my own recipe collection: The recipes are not meatless, but they contain less meat; they are not breadless, but contain less bread, and sweet treats are not forbidden, but the amount of sugar is reduced. In short, you can have your cake and eat it, too.
I’d like to shake things up a little and enlist your help as readers. First of all, what do you think of this concept, "flexitarianism"? Is it appealing to you, or if not to you, might it answer to the present trends in health and nutrition? Also, I need to come up with 50 or so more recipes, in addition to those already listed in my proposed Table of Contents. If you have any ideas, anything that isn’t there that should be or could be, I would love some suggestions for recipes to add. They need to correspond with the new theme, but I’m also open to suggestions and variations on this theme. I look forward to your ideas… 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat your vegetables!

Fries or salad? More than once I have found myself in a restaurant, staring vacantly into the face of my server, stumped by this perplexing question. While my server and my dining partners wait patiently, I carefully consider this difficult decision. But the answer is obvious... 
Remember the four food groups? You know, those colored charts that have been around since the 1950s…  As retro as they are, they are anything but outdated. Strangely enough, even though we have been fed the information for decades, it isn’t always easy attainting the required 7-10 servings of vegetables a day.  
After my last entry (grilled salami sandwiches), it hit me that I had neglected to mention the ever so important addition of a side salad. The sandwich itself, tasty as it is, does not offer much in the way of vegetables. (A few slices of tomato and a handful of basil leaves are not, unfortunately, going to cut the mustard.)
The side salad is a staple with meals at my house. One might say it is one of the most predictable and boring aspects of my repertoire. (One might say that, but if one were foolish enough to utter these words, one would consequently end up cooking for oneself!) I always use spinach, (a more nutrient rich choice than lettuce), sliced cucumber and cherry tomatoes, all organic.

I don’t fuss much with the dressing, either, but homemade vinaigrette is a quick and easy way to make a light and very flavorful dressing without resorting to the store-bought varieties, which are often high in sugar and full of preservatives. I simply drizzle two ingredients, olive oil then balsamic vinegar, over the salad and mix. It’s  that easy!  
And for the record, after a long, audible “ummmm”, I choose the salad. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No ordinary sandwich

A sandwich might seem like a simple, straightforward, slap-together endeavor, barely worthy of recognition as a meal, and certainly not a meal that solicits the use of a recipe. That would be true, if all sandwiches were equal, but clearly, they aren’t… Warm and crispy, bursting with flavor and melted cheese, this is no ordinary sandwich.

A sandwich press is a good start to making an ordinary sandwich just a little bit more interesting. Grilling crisps up the bread, warms up the insides, melts the cheese, and fuses the flavors. Flatbreads, or other thin bread varieties, work fabulously for grilling. It’s a good idea to use a bit of olive oil to coat either the bread or the grill; otherwise the bread can become too dry.
As for what to put inside of the grilled sandwich, the possibilities are endless, but an important consideration is the compatibility of the ingredients. Certain meats mingle well with certain cheeses, and these ingredients should provide the influence for the selection of a condiment or sauce. My preference is a mild variety of salami, havarti cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil. (Sometimes I supplement the havarti with a sharper, Italian cheese like asagio for more of a bite.) As for condiments, it varies depending on my tastes at the time; a fancy deli mustard or even pizza sauce can add a whole other dimension to this Italian themed grilled sandwich.
As for how this one fits into your healthy diet? Flatbreads are lesser in volume than an ordinary loaf or bun, and thus boast a reduction in calories by comparison. They also are less filling and leave you less prone to bloating than regular bread. And there’s more: Comfort food, according to a scientific recent study, can help to alleviate chronic stress. And stress is bad for your health. So there. Who would’ve guessed that this is a health food recipe!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Welcome back, taste buds!

Loss of appetite is one of the few positive aspects of being stricken with a nasty cold, for me, anyway. Instead of exercising self-control, (translation: self-deprivation), I get a break from my otherwise insatiable sugar cravings. Thankfully, I am finally feeling better, my taste buds are reawakened, and so all bets are off; there are cookies baking in the oven.

What kind of cookies, you ask? Peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies, of course... my favorite! Without any attempt to be humble, I’ll just say that I have pretty much perfected these over the last few years. It all comes down to the chocolate: Regular chocolate chips make regular chocolate chip cookies, but gourmet chocolate makes, you guessed it, gourmet cookies! I like to use Callebaut milk chocolate, which is especially convenient, since many grocery stores carry it in bulk. The other key ingredient is peanuts; they add a unique, crunchy texture and accentuate the peanut flavor.  
The problem? No, not tummy-aches, although that is a side effect, especially after putting back five or six of these babies, but I believe I made it quite clear that moderation is not one of my strengths. (These are virtual suicide for a junk-food-junkie like me.) No, the challenge I am facing is establishing a common thread for my recipes, a theme, if you will. So far, this aligning theme is still what I would call “half-baked”. At one point, I was actually throwing around ideas like ‘healthy’ and ‘balanced’. But if I’m to be honest, there’s no sense in trying to pretend that these cookies can be classified as health food. I am currently contemplating something along the lines of ‘quality ingredients’, or ‘cooking from scratch'. I wonder, is there a market for this?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It’s Chicken soup season again…

I have a terrible cold, which I’m pretty sure can be traced back to a communal bowl of jellybeans in a local store… As if I didn’t know better. (Only free candy can come between me and my germ phobia.) The good news for me is that this is a timely opportunity for me to check another recipe off my list; I’m making chicken soup. 

The most important ingredient is, of course, the chicken. I use whichever parts, both light and dark meat, always free-range, and I boil the bones to make the broth.  For vegetables, I do carrots, onions, and celery, garlic and, to get something green in there (always a good idea), kale. Admittedly, kale can look pretty unfriendly sitting up on the produce shelf, but after simmering in chicken soup, it’s barely noticeable in there (I promise). For a little more substance, add noodles or rice. The quantities of ingredients are considerably variable, so it’s pretty easy to wing it.
Chicken soup: at least there’s one good thing about having a cold. But having to make chicken while having a cold – that is not so good. Nobody wants to cook when they’re sick. That’s why the happiest plan is to do up a big batch and freeze it.  And it’s so simple: throw everything into a big pot and simmer.  
While there’s no hard evidence that chicken soup is a cure for the common cold, I'm a believer, because I feel better already. Plus, I think I’m off jelly beans for good.