Sunday, January 31, 2010

Local Flavor

Eating more organic, local, sustainable foods has been a steadily growing trend over recent years. This is a very good thing in my opinion, for a number of reasons. Those who are trying to eat more in this fashion do it for reasons of environmental concerns, health concerns, supporting local small farmers or to cut down excess energy consumption among many other reasons.

The one that I'd like to talk about now though is the flavor aspect that foods of this nature bring to the table, literally.

I personally believe that a contributing factor to our food having more fats, more sugars and more salt is that the base ingredients for a lot of the foods we eat have become less flavorful. Large-scale commercial farming quite simply gives us blander food. The same processes that make our vegetables less nutritious; practices such as replanting the same crop on the same land year after year, using chemical fertilizers that replace a fraction of the natural nutrients there should be in the soil, the speeding up of the growth cycle as well as picking fruits and vegetables before they are nearly ripened in order to make them transportable and storable not only deprives them of nutrients, it also deprives them of flavor.
If you doubt this it easily tested, simply go to a local farmers market and by an organic carrot and then go to your local supermarket and buy a commercially farmed one. Cut them both into sticks and taste them side-by-side. I think you'll be surprised by the difference in flavor and quality.

Commercial food producers are forced to add more salt, sweeteners and the like to their products in order to make up for the flavors their ingredients lack.

Simply put if you're eating local and organic you're eating better, you're eating healthier, you're supporting your community and you're supporting the planet. It's a win all around.
Plus, I really like the idea of shaking the hand that grows your food and your local farmers market is one of your best opportunities to do that.
Not everyone has access to year-round farmers markets but even if you don't, spring is coming and with it, for most of us, that means local produce. Here's a resolution you might want to try making for the coming year. As soon as your local farmers market is open resovle to make a shopping trip there at least once a week to stock up on whatever produce you can use. It's a habit you be glad you've gotten yourself into. Besides it's just so much cooler to get food from Rick the lettuce man, Jerry the vegetable guy, Bob the mushroom forager and Mary & Phil the apple growers rather than getting all that from Super-value Mart.

Okay, let's talk some cooking. I went to a local farmers market today, the Ballard market for those of you in Seattle, and picked up some lovely carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic among other things.
One of my purveyors gave me a sample of flap meat, a cut becomes just above where the short ribs. Being a food service professional free samples like that are one of the perks you get sometimes.
Now a lot of Asian and Mexican places will take us cut and do a hot fast cook on it but I want to try cooking it slowly like I would short ribs. Now normally I would do that at about 200° for about 12 hours and if I was cooking is at work I would do that on a braising pan in the oven. However, I'm making these at home and plan on having for dinner tomorrow night with my lady friend. So I'm going to cook some in my crockpot. I just feel safer doing that than leaving my oven on unattended all day.
I prepped them up tonight and tomorrow when I get up Ill start them on low and by the time I get home from work they will hopefully be tender and delicious.
Since this is the first time I'm testing out this particular cut I'm going to keep the seasoning simple and let the meat and vegetables do the talking. So I just coated the four pieces of meat with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and seared them on all sides in a hot pan. Then took them out of the pan and placed them in the crockpot insert.

Here they are:

It may be hard to tell from the picture but I have a large crock pot and there's enough meat in that pot to easily feed eight or nine people. When it comes to cooking dinner at home that's kind of how I like to roll. When I go to the effort of making a good hearty meal I like having leftovers around to enjoy later in the week. After all, with all the cooking I do at work it's nice being able to come home at night and not have to worry about cooking there as well, at least not every night.

Anyway, getting back to it, while the meat was searing I was dicing up one large onion half dozen of those beautiful carrots and four small but very nice parsnips. I also peeled one whole bulb of garlic.
When the meat was out of the pan I kept the heat on high and I poured off the excess fat. Now I know that that fat is flavor but that little bit is really not needed. This meat has plenty of intramuscular fat, or marbling as it's also called, that will slowly cook out tomorrow the crockpot. I'll be able to skim that off but the meat will still retain a lot of that flavor:
& delicious. *wink*
I then added e onions to the pan and let them start the cook and get a little color to them. I like starting the onions first because I like them to be a little bit more caramelized than the other vegetables. That's just my personal taste.
As soon as they started getting some color I added in the carrots and parsnips and allowed them to start to caramelize as well. I waited until the end before putting the garlic because I wanted to be careful not to let that darken.
Here are the veggies in the pan when they were almost but not quite done getting the color I wanted:

As soon as the veggies got to the color I wanted added about 3 cups of red wine. Now I could've added fresh herbs or more spices but as I said before a want let the meat and veggies do the talking on this one. So I turned off the heat and used my wooden spoon to scrape along the bottom of the pan to free up all this delicious little cooked bits of meat and veggie that were stuck there. Then I poured all this over top of the meat and I'm then letting it cool right now a bit before putting it in the fridge.

Tomorrow morning I'll put the insert into the crock pot and turn on low and I'll add probably about a quart of beef stock. When I put the lid on I'll put it slightly ajar. A fully closed lid even on low with my crockpot could have the mixture coming up to a medium simmer and that's hotter than I want it to get. With the lid slightly ajar the excess it to be for the long, slow braise.

Tune in tomorrow and I'll let you know how it came out.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pyramid scheme

We've all heard of the food pyramid. Well check out this activity pyramid courtesy of the University of Missouri. It even has a food bar graph of sorts included for good measure.

Take a look at the web page here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Talking turkey

This is just a quick cautionary note about ground turkey and turkey burgers.
I saw an article some time ago in Men's Health magazine, the same people who put out the Eat This, Not That books, about how ground turkey is often no leaner than ground beef. By example Ruby Tuesday's turkey burger, without cheese mind you it is, according to them 1171 calories with 58 g of fat. That folks is a very unhealthy burger. That's significantly worse in fact the many fast food burgers.

I'm assuming many of you know this already but just to be clear, if you're buying ground turkey for yourself at home make sure you buy ground turkey breast. Ground turkey breast is a great source of lean protein but the other varieties of ground turkey while sometimes quite tasty, don't really give you the health benefits that most people are seeking when they buy ground turkey over say ground beef or ground pork.

The real caution to want to give you here though is be careful of ordering turkey burgers or other ground turkey items and restaurants. I use ground turkey breast a lot for my clients; not just for burgers but also for chili, stuffed peppers, enchiladas and taco salads just to name a few examples off the top of my head. Of course, I always buy ground turkey breast because after all, my clients are paying me to give them lower calorie, a more healthful options.

Yesterday however, by purveyors sent me the wrong product and I got just a normal restaurant case of ground turkey. I hadn't seen a product like this in quite a while and one of the first things that jumped at me was reading the label is not only was it not ground turkey breast but they actually added in fat.
That's right, they took the non-lean fattier pieces (well, scraps to be more accurate) of turkey and then added an extra turkey fat, 24% added fat in fact according to the label. Presumably that was done to stretch it so the meat company to get more money per pound.

The point is that this is the kind of product that most restaurants that are serving turkey burgers are selling. Not only is this not as healthful for you as beef they actually go out of their way to make it less healthy & more calorie dense.
So if you're out and you get a hankering for a burger, quite often you would be better off with good old-fashioned ground beef rather than the "healthier" option of a turkey burger.

Sad but I thought you should know.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Staying resolved

So everyone, how are those New Year's resolutions coming?
We are after all, coming up on the end of that first month. I am of course talking about those of you who have made resolutions to lose weight, shape up, or just live healthier.

This is the time each year that I see people giving in, giving up or just conveniently forgetting about the whole thing. Soon those excess crowds in the gym will start to significantly dwindle and the volume on the workout floor calms down to more normal levels.

It's hard isn't it? Having to deny yourself, avoid the good stuff and and constantly keep putting in the work. Especially when your goals seem so far away sometimes. It seems so long before you can stop all this and just start enjoying yourself again.

Then again, maybe that's the problem. If you're looking at this as a means to an end, if you're thinking that once you lose X amount of weight or get yourself down to a size what ever, then you can give up this diet crap and stop going to the gym, then you're setting yourself up for failure.
Worse yet, you may be setting yourself up for yo-yo dieting. You know, the practice of losing weight on some sort of a diet then gaining it back again then doing the diet or some other diet and losing it again so that your weight is going up and down repeatedly. Many health professionals consider this to be even less healthy than just being consistently overweight. I'm no doctor but at the very least it seems like a waste of effort me.

If you want to get healthy, I mean really get healthy, lose the weight you want to lose and keep it off then you're going to have to get beyond the idea of temporary solutions. To be a healthy person you need to adopt and embrace unhealthy lifestyle. This doesn't mean giving up forever things like pizza and beer and pasta Alfredo and chocolate cake or ice cream or any of the other things you may love to to indulge yourself with.

What it does mean is you're going to have to start living at a calorie deficit, a reasonable calorie deficit, until you get down to the weight you want to maintain. You're going to have to incorporate healthy food into your diet on a regular basis and you're going to have to move your body in order to burn calories and maintain your muscles and support a healthy cardiovascular system. Did you know that as you get older, past the age of 30, your body you will slowly but steadily lose muscle mass year after year unless you stimulate the growth of new muscle tissue through exercise. When you lose muscle mass your body with burns less calories and you are then able to eat less without gaining unwanted weight.

I know, none of this sounds like good news. However if you approach it reasonably and with a positive attitude you'll find that there is a lot and I mean a lot of really delicious food is good for you out there.
Also, there are plenty of ways to burn calories and exercise your body that can be extremely fun. It's all a matter of thinking about what you enjoy doing that active and get your body moving your muscles working and your heart pumping. Do enjoy cycling, hiking, playing volleyball, yard work or swimming? Perhaps there's some game or activity you haven't tried yet or used to enjoy years ago but hadn't done a long time. Fortunately now with the Internet it's easy to find activities and groups around us that might actually be quite fun as well as healthy.
Enjoy volleyball? Then Google volleyball and your town and see if there any groups around you can join. Want to start running but don't want to do it alone? Go to and look for running groups in your area. Actually, is a great resource for finding groups to help you with all aspects of losing weight, being more active and just getting healthy.

As far as the food part goes, There are tons of books available and recipes on the Internet for lower calorie but quite delicious food. And yes, as I work more on this blog and begin to flesh things out I will be giving you some strategies and tips to help you put together easy and tasty food that also just happens to be good for you; even if you "don't cook". You'll just have to ask you to be patient with me for now and keep in mind that this blog is sort of an experiment for me and I'm just figuring out how I want to do this.

For now, as we near the end of the first month of the new year, I would ask you to reframe in your mind but that resolution you made four short weeks ago. Instead of focusing on all the foods you are not allowing yourself to eat, at least not nearly as much, anymore; think in terms of the wonderful vegetables and fruits that you rarely eat that you want to start incorporating more regularly into your diet.
Instead of dreading having to force yourself to work out, start thinking about active things you can do that might actually be fun for you. After all, people often talk about wishing children would spend more time outside playing; maybe it's time you incorporated some more play in your life as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year! Are you ready to take a bite out of 2010

“There's nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway.”
~Mark Burnett

I like this quote a lot. I just heard it the other day and it really struck a chord with me.
If you ever listen to the motivational speaker types you'll occasionally hear the term "limiting beliefs". I not a huge fan of self empowerment buzz terms but there really is something to this idea. We all have notions of what we are and are not capable of accomplishing.
Certainly some of these are just simple reality. For instance, I'm a 45 year old man. I think I can state with confidence that it is beyond my capacity to make the Olympic women's gymnastic team, no matter how much I apply myself. OK, that may be an extreme example but you get my point.

The thing is that far too often we sell ourselves short on just what we can accomplish. And the really insidious part is that sometimes we don't even realize that we are harboring these limiting beliefs. If someone were to ask you if you think you could ever run a marathon or fit into a size 5 again or run your own business you may honestly answer "Sure, if I were to apply myself and remain focused I could get myself there in X amount of time". However there might be that little inside voice, or maybe just a hidden assumption that puts day dreams like that in the same category as dreams of flying like superman or being the first person on Mars. A nice little fantasy but ... come on, let's be real.

A few years ago I took one of those be all you can be weekend seminars. Yeah, yeah, I know but I had just gone through a break up that left my heart in tatters, I hated the job I had and basically I felt directionless. A dear friend of mine who was, and still is, involved with this particular education group talked me into taking the three day seminar.
If I hadn't been at such a low point I never would have done it but in retrospect I'm glad I did.
Yeah the group uses a ton of those buzz terms I dislike so much and the people there can at times be a little on the overly upbeat side but behind all the lectures, exercises and warm fuzzies of a very long weekend there were some valuable core lessons.
Among them was that because you are a human being living in the world you have certain assumptions about yourself, others and life in general. Assumptions that sometimes you don't even realize you've made but still affect how you live and many of the major decisions in your life.
I hadn't realized how many of the options in life that lay before that I had written off as beyond my abilities before I ever knew I wanted them.

A couple months after taking the seminar I gotten past the emotional funk I was in, I quit that awful job and started my own business. This put me on a path that allowed me to get rid of the debt I had lived under for my entire adult life and buy my own home. None of that would have happened if I had not recognized and confronted the deep down, bedrock assumptions I had about myself. Among them were that I just wasn't a business man, that I would always be in debt, that I would always live hand to mouth & never be able to put together a down payment for a home.

I remember when I saw Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor movie; at the end when he had conquered the conflict of the movie, won the heart of the girl of his dreams and had made the decision that he was going to change his life and lose weight he told his girl "I'm going to lose weight but I'll always be big". I thought to myself, really? That's the triumphant moment? I'll take off some of the weight but I'm always going to be a fat guy?
If that's your choice, to be a heavyset person, so be it and Gods bless you. However if your desire is to lose weight and be, well, let's say for now "not fat", then you may want to take a close look inside and see if you've already decided you can't do it.

A lot of people have that mindset. Once you know what to listen for you can often hear it in the way people speak about themselves. Many have reasons they use to fortify their beliefs like genetics or environment or because they have children and still many more just have internally cast themselves in the role of the fat person. The simple self limiting belief that you will always be overweight can sabotage your efforts before you begin.

Right now it's the first week of the new year and just like every year at this time the gyms are full of newcomers. That's a wonderful thing. Alright, it does make parking a pain in the ass but aside from that, it's good.
And just like every year those crowds will have dwindled back down to normal levels by Valentines day. Many of those that give up do so because they have no faith in their own ability to succeed in significantly changing their health & their fitness level.

If getting in shape is one of your goals in 2010 then I challenge you to not be one of those who gives up on it. Losing excess body fat and/or building up some of that muscle you've always wanted is within your control. I want you to believe it, to know it deep down inside.

It's not going to happen overnight and there are no magic bullets for this. You need to alter your lifestyle to a point that you are mostly eating a reasonable, balanced diet that is a bit lower in calories and you are moving your body enough to burn some fat and at least maintain if not increase your muscle mass.
This doesn't have to be done all at once. In fact, the best way, in my opinion, is to keep making little changes in your diet & activity level.

Before you know it those little bites of change you keep chewing on have you accomplishing something that you may have thought you never could and the way that feels, the realization that you can become what you had thought was beyond your grasp, well as Mark Burnett said, there is nothing like it.