Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Broth from Leftovers

I first came across this idea many years ago from MFK Fisher's How to Cook a Wolf, but it's something I implement sort of sporadically, even though it is so sensible and wise.  Last week I did it conscientiously and acquired several tasty juices that I turned into a noodle soup at the end of the week for lunch.  The idea is that you save the water from whatever vegetable dishes you cook.  And you can also get more vitamins out of your vegetable discards (ends of scallions, zucchini, etc.  whatever you normally throw away) by giving them a quick simmer in water.  So I saved the water from boiled potatoes and tossed in the odds and ends leftover from ratatouille making and cooked together for a little while and strained into a jar.  I saved the jelly at the bottom of the pan from roasted chicken (fat skimmed away after refrigeration), and the juices from sauteed kale.  And on Saturday these elements all came together with a piece of leftover roasted chicken, some fresh herbs and stray onions to make a noodle soup.  The broth was excellent and I applauded myself for taking just a little bit of time to save these things that would normally have gone down my drain.  

I'll try to be better about doing this since there are many reasonable uses for vegetable broth aside from noodle soup.  A very simple soup can be made if the broth becomes concentrated enough just by swirling in an egg and chopping some fresh scallions in.  Or the broth can be used to make rice or other grains.

[Out of all the things I attempted to plant on my balcony, the parsley is far and away the most successful.  My two bushy plants grow about as fast as I can use it and it's wonderful snipping off a few leaves to throw on top of things.  The sage on the other hand...]

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Savory Breakfast Oatmeal

One of the lovely things about living alone is getting to eat whatever I like.  And what I like recently is a savory oatmeal for breakfast, inspired by Chinese congee (rice porridge).  When I was growing up, my mom would make Chinese congee for breakfast or lunch, maybe with bits of sweet potatoes in it and we would eat it with various pickles and sardines and soft salty peanuts.  These days I much prefer the flavor and texture of whole grains so have approximated this version of congee, which is easy to throw together on a weekday morning, assuming you have a batch of steelcut oatmeal already made in the fridge.  I like to break my egg yolk midway through and mix it up with everything.  Yum.

Steelcut Oatmeal
My preferred method now is to cook up small batches in the slow cooker.  I have a tiny one that I got from amazon years ago for something like $15 and it's great for this task.  Usually I set it on the 'keep warm' setting and leave it for 10? hours.  If I can get to it in less than 7 hours, I set it to 'low'.  I really hate mushy oatmeal though which is why I prefer the gentler method, which gives me greater room for error.

1.5 cup water
1/2 cup steelcut oatmeal

This is enough for two breakfasts for me.  I microwave a serving to warm up and it is often a bit too thick for me so I also add some hot water.  Now I'm really curious about adding some sweet potatoes to this...

Egg Topping
Until two weeks ago, I was certain that one needed a nonstick pan to cook eggs properly.  Since my only nonstick pan finally died, I finally tried using my stainless steel one recently and was amazed.  Absolutely no sticking.  I think the trick is to get the pan hot enough before putting in your egg and to add some butter.  Since I always added butter to my eggs for flavor, even with the non-stick, this is not a problem.

Heat pan for a little while and add a small nubbin of butter.  Use spatula to spread it around the bottom and watch the color.  If making scrambled eggs, mix the egg with a little salt and pepper in a bowl first.  Otherwise, when the color of the butter starts to brown a little, add your egg.  I let the white part mostly set and then add two swirls of soy sauce around.  If too much evaporates you can add a bit of water.  It's important to have some sauce.  Then I flip one side of the white onto the yolk and slip the whole egg onto my bowl of already-warmed-up oatmeal.  Add a sprinkling of chopped scallions.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Being Part Time Vegetarian

Being a (part-time) vegetarian definitely requires a little more extra effort in planning but if you put in that time, you are rewarded with healthy, tasty, fresh foods and your experiment need not be an exercise in misery.  Here are some of dishes I've made since the new year.

When I started, I naturally gravitated toward salads as part of menu planning.  An important lesson here is that delicious salads are not made by tossing some greens with low-cal dressing and calling it a day.  In fact, I believe your body needs some fat in order to absorb nutrients from your veggies.  This is not to say your salad should be loaded with ranch dressing and tons of cheese, but I believe a lovely middle balance can be achieved.  Confronted with such a tasty salad, there will be no need for meat.  Delicious (and in my mind, mandatory) additions include: 
  • Fruit - You see here some clementines in one salad and apple in another.  At this time of year, pears would also be outrageously good.  The only fruit I might NOT add would be bananas.  I also enjoy sprinkling in some dried fruit (think dried cranberry, golden raisins, apricot).  
  • Nuts(+Seeds) - My hands down favorite are toasted cashews. But naturally any kind of nut will do. Toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, yum.  Sometimes I throw in sunflower seeds...
  • Cheese - Don't go crazy here, but some cheese adds a nice flavor punch. Nice options include parmiggiano reggiano shavings, goat cheese dollops or feta crumbles.
  • Beets - I'm not at all creative with how I use my beets, but I do love them.  So I like to roast some and keep them in a jar in the fridge as pictured and add them to salads when desired (always).  
  • Homemade dressing - Whenever I buy a salad dressing I am inevitably disappointed.  These days I don't bother, but always concoct my own.  I don't like a super tart vinaigrette, so depending on the tartness of my vinegar I'll add more olive oil.  I always add a sweetener; these days it's maple syrup but sometimes it's honey.  If you use rice vinegar you can add a small splash of soy sauce.  Finely minced garlic is nice, as are herbs (scallions, parsley, basil, etc).  Remember to add a nice pinch of salt and some pepper.  Taste as you are making and tweak as you go.  This is minimally more work than buying dressing and tastes a million times better.  Fresh lemon or lime juice is also tops.  I make up a bottle and use it within a few days.
To ensure you don't get bored of salad, try to change it up every week.  Use baby mesclun one week and then a sturdier leaf like romaine the next.  Try different dressings.  And for the love of god, if you are getting sick of salad just stop eating it.  Don't ruin a good thing.  Salads should be a pleasure not a deprivation.

Ratatouille with Polenta
I haven't made this in forever and only came across it while idly flipping through my recipe book.  And I've been kicking myself ever since because it is delicious.  Now, ratatouille is probably more of a late summer or fall dish but whatever.  Grab yourself eggplant, zucchini, bell pepper, onion and a can of tomato and you are good to go.  Add some dried basil, oregano and rosemary.  It is entirely satisfying, especially with the polenta to add a bit of bulk.  I forget exactly where my polenta recipe came from, but here's how to make a creamy cheesy version:

Boil 4 cups of water.  In a separate bowl, combine another cup of water with 1 cup of coarse cornmeal (whole foods has this in bulk bins, handy).  Add the cornmeal mix to the boiling water a spoonful at a time and whisk to avoid clumps.  Add 1/2 tsp of salt.  And then you just simmer it while stirring frequently for around 15 minutes.  You don't want it to stick on the bottom, and it will get quite thick and hard to stir.  At the end I like to stir in a couple of big handfuls of extra sharp cheddar.

Polenta is wonderful and I will be trying it out with other combinations once my ratatouille runs out.

Korean/Japanese Inspired Dishes
If you want to eat highly flavored, low fat vegetable dishes, you can't beat Korean food.  I'm throwing in Japanese because I like to combine such things as kimchi with a side of miso soup or green tea.  In the picture above, I'm eating sprouted brown and red rices with homemade kimchi.  Tofu obviously, plays a central part in these meals.  I like to keep it simple because I really enjoy the taste of tofu as it is.  So sometimes I simmer cubes in some soy sauce, water, chopped scallions, garlic.  The liquid only comes up to about half the height of the tofu cubes so I give things a stir now and then.  A few minutes to heat through and simmer is good for me.  Winter is an excellent time for greens, so I like them sauteed with some oil and a sprinkling of soy sauce at the end.  Simple and tasty!  Kimchi obviously, provides the biggest punch.  The other dishes are purposefully mild.  I'm going to start looking for other Asian pickle dishes and will report back.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Morning with Cafe Au Lait and Audrey Hepburn

Image from fanpop

I'm going to go out on a limb here and state for the record, I adore Audrey Hepburn.  I know, a revolutionary statement as there are so few women who do.  A lovely way to enjoy your weekend coffee on occasion is to do an image search for Audrey Hepburn on google.  Only if you are NOT the type of person who would be sent on a downward spiral of self-loathing and despair at not being able to measure up.  For the rest of us with sufficient amounts of self-esteem, here are the style notes I've gathered from these images to apply to my own life:

1. If you have dark hair and fair skin (yay!) then black is the color for you.  Keep the cuts simple, the fit impeccable and avoid embellishments/bedazzlement.  Black and white photography makes distinguishing between various pale colors more difficult, but I think everyone would agree that Audrey Hepburn was not someone who wore wild color.

2. Avoid statement jewelry unless you are on the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's.  This one made me extremely happy because I am not a fan of wearing huge necklaces or "fun" earrings or inviting a party of diverse bracelets to take up residence on my arm.  From what I can tell, she seldom wore necklaces at all, even with the simplest of shirts/dresses.  Instead, sometimes she wore small earrings and sometimes a scarf.  Thank god, because I'm sick of people telling me to accessorize constantly to "jazz" up an outfit.  

3. Less is more.  When you see a picture of Audrey, what stands out is a sense of elegance and the woman herself.  I'd be hard pressed to remember the specifics of anything she wore (aside from the iconic Bfast at Tiff's outfit).  To me, this is a good thing.  Personal style is different for everyone of course, but this is what I strive for above all else.

4. Always wear makeup.  In her day, the crazy 24 hour surveillance by paparazzi did not exist so we don't have pictures of Audrey at the local 7-11 in her pajamas and last night's makeup smeared across her face.  However, I like to think that such a picture would not have been possible anyway, because she was not that sort of woman.  Here, the lesson is to always look groomed, if you are able to.  As it applies to myself, this translates to doing something so my hair looks neat and a little makeup.  More than simply appearance though, the ritual of these activities also gets my mind put together and ready to face the day.  A day spent in pajamas is usually a day spent doing nothing.

5. Be consistent.  This is certainly very personal.  I think one should always be open to reinvention in theory, but honestly, I love the idea of an uniform and I happily look forward to wearing the same sorts of things for the next 30+ years.  There will always be people who dress creatively and participate in the latest trends and I enjoy looking at them on my bus and on the streets.  But basics and neutrals and natural materials are perfect on their own (as long as the fit is perfect!).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Resolutions Update

I'm taking my resolutions more seriously than usual this year because I think several of them entail fairly major shifts in lifestyle (as opposed to the "make homemade cards!" types of resolutions I've made in the past).  In my opinion, being successful at anything takes a bit of planning and dedication.  Lifestyle changes in particular require consistency at first before it becomes simple force of habit.  Like brushing your teeth every morning. So how am I doing so far?

Tidy kitchen before bed every night, put away dishes in the morning: I'm really proud of myself for sticking to this one since December.  Last night was the first day that I really thought long and hard about not doing this - the kitchen counters were a mess from bread making and other cooking, it was close to midnight and I had spent most of the day working to get an abstract together for a deadline so I was mentally tired.  But I did it and felt great immediately.  Went to bed with a peaceful brow.

Minimize my needs to give away more:  I took a serious look at my expenditures (helped along by mint.com, love this service!) and realized that I was paying way too much for internet at home and that I don't watch my netflix movies enough to warrant the subscription.  So I've made the switch from Comcast to Centurylink ($30/month less = $360/yr) and canceled netflix ($12/month less = $144/yr).  It doesn't sound like much, but it's an extra $500 a year and requires no alteration in my current behavior.  I have also been trying to be maximally sensible about my grocery budget and being careful about food waste.  Bar Method of course, is quite spendy, but I am really good about going and I know that cutting this would eliminate all exercise from my life.  So to me, $175/month is more than worth it as a long-term investment in my health.

Eat less meat:  When I made this resolution a bit over a week ago I had put into place specific non-meat days and days that I could eat meat IF I wanted to.  This actually went well overall - I definitely ate less meat than usual and even on meat days I often didn't have any.  At least, until Thursday when I was derailed by an unexpected meeting that involved free pizza for lunch.  I dashed in late and grabbed the pizza closest to me, which of course contained pepperoni.  The rest of the week was back on track.  So I'm adjusting the details of this resolution to include more flexibility.  I'll simply keep track of days I eat meat and days I don't and make sure the meat eating days don't take over.  This resolution has not been at all onerous.  I only have to watch that I don't eat too much starch to compensate for lack of meats, but it's been very painless since I really like tofu.  Note that this resolution is helpful to my grocery budget as well.

Get to work earlier: This has also been generally successful in principle if not in detail, but also the hardest.  Here in Portland it stays dark out until maybe 7:15am when it just STARTS to brighten.  The earliest I've managed to wake up is 6:45 and it's only because I have to go to Bar Method.  However, since I've managed to get to work earlier (9 to 9:30) despite not waking up at 6am, this resolution is also being adjusted.  Especially since I'm not at all hungry upon first waking up so sitting around at 6am would be a total waste of time.  I think instead, I will wake up at 6:30 so I have time to have coffee, get my lunch together and work outfit laid out.  Then I will go to class and come home and go.  I've been eating a banana for breakfast at work on my class days and this works out great.  On days I don't have class, I have more time for breakfast at home.  On a related note, keeping track of my hours all week turned out to be quite laborious and ultimately, not terribly informative.  The most valuable part was keeping track of when I wake up and when I go to bed, so these are the notes I will continue to make, along with meat vs non-meat days.

Hoo!  I think that's it!  My internet usage is still an area that needs attention probably, but I still have not been able to formulate any specific resolution around it.  This may be a task for 2013.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

'Where Does My Time Go?' Resolution

I was trying to figure out how to reduce my time online (or if I even should), when it occurred to me that I don't have a very good notion of how I spend my time in general.  I know I lose a lot of it by being online and even at work I probably am less efficient/productive than I could be.  So as part of the first step in reclaiming time, I will start keeping a log every day for the next two weeks and evaluate.  I'm hoping I'll remember to keep tabs and I'm a little curious if I'll be better at managing my time once I have to write it down.  The main impetus for this is work - I have a few major things I really need to get done and I've not been doing it.  I know I have enough hours, so I just have to find the discipline and schedule it.  If it's not obvious by now, I respond really well to schedules and deadlines...

In other resolution-related news, I have been working on the "wake up at 6am" thing.  Obviously I have to transition to that point gradually so I don't wind up a useless wreck at work.  On Thursday I got up at 7:45, Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 7:30 and today I relapsed at 7:45.  Tomorrow I'll try 7:15 (Bar Method at 8:15) and see how that goes.  Wednesday and Friday I will have to get up at 6:50 though for 7:15 BM class.  Slow and steady!  Once my body is trained it should be easy peasy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Years Resolutions Part II

So I wasn't going to make any more resolutions except I found myself secretly making a few more anyway.  So why not formalize it all?  My early resolution (cleaning the kitchen every evening and putting away clean dishes in the morning) has been going fantastically well since implementation.  Almost immediately I found myself not wanting to do this, but since it was a resolution, I've stuck to it no matter how tired I've been and the more I do it, the more I want to keep doing it.  Every morning I wake up to a clean kitchen and it's such a lovely feeling.  Other resolutions I'm contemplating:

1. Eat less meat.  The reasoning behind this is a little complicated.  Part of it is health - if I eat less meat, hopefully I end up eating more vegetables.  Part of it is cost - I'm trying to be more frugal and minimize my needs a little so I can give more to those who need it (see my main resolution).  And part of it is creativity - cooking meat is very easy but it's harder to cook delicious vegetables as a main dish, at least for me.  By forcing myself to do this, I expand my culinary horizons.  A reasonable start will be implementing 3 no meat days per week.  I'll make those my non-exercise days so I can keep track easily.  On exercise days, I can eat meat, but I don't have to!

2. Get to work earlier.  My hours at work have shifted later and later, partly because of my Bar Method classes in the mornings.  Fortunately they now offer 7:15am classes on my BM days so I will start taking those classes instead of the 8:15am ones.  Ideally, I'd wake up at 6am, have coffee and a little breakfast and get mostly ready, go to Bar Method, come home and change and go to work.  If I can stick to it, I can definitely get to work by 9:30 (or earlier) on exercise days and hopefully much earlier than that on non-exercise days.  Then I can leave work by 6pm, have a few hours to putter around at home and go to bed at 10pm.

3. Spend less time online.  This one I have mixed feelings about and I alsodon't know how I would implement.  I use gchat to keep in touch with my best friends and I would hate to lose that connection with them.  Must mull over more!