Monday, December 19, 2011

Recipe: Braised Red Cabbage

I can't boast about having done so much exotic cooking recently. We are definitely in a rut of making pasta, homemade pizza and a variety of meat-and-two-veg combinations. Since time is at a minimum, as usual, I am not looking for extra projects this winter. But I would like to try and find a couple of easy winter vegetable recipes. My potato and celeriac side dish has been a hit with DH and me (don't ask the Things what they think about it). And this week I was ready to tackle another item: red cabbage.

I often have red cabbage in the house. I wish I could say I was making home fermented red sauerkraut, but I haven't been so enterprising of late. Instead I keep it around to mix it with salad greens to bring in some additional nutrients. I also like to use it to make coleslaw sometimes, that can be especially delicious. This last weekend however I was feeling in the mood to make braised cabbage. Who cared what the kids thought. It isn't like Thing 1 eats anything other than raw carrots, cooked broccoli and the occasional salad. Thing 2 simply won't eat any unpureed unhidden vegetables at all. This cabbage was all for me. It was likely I would have to deal with screaming kids anyway, why not do it eating something I enjoyed?

I found this recipe for braised red cabbage through a quick google search. It was easy and came out a perfect mic of salty, sour and sweet.

Braised Red Cabbage

1 head of red (aka purple) cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1 small to medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt

First chop the cabbage into bite size bits. I found this easier too cook than long strings. Place the cabbage into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes (I wish I could explain why you had to do this other than it was in the original recipe, but I truly don't know). In a large skillet melt the butter on medium heat and cook the onions for about 5 minutes. Drain the cabbage and add it to the pan. Now add the remaining ingredients, honey, apple cider vinegar and salt. Stir and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 1/2 hours. You won't need any additional liquid.

The result is a slowly braised wonderous side dish. I served my cabbage alongside a meatloaf and buttery butternut squash. It was a stand out in the meal. But perhap the best part was the next day when we made meatloaf sandwiches topped with the cold slaw. Man oh man. My mouth is watering reliving the moment.

I hope you will try this. It will definitely be a regular addition to our winter table. Two winter veggies down, two dozen to go.


This post is shared with Real Food Wednesdays

Friday, December 16, 2011

Blatent Health-Washing By Back To Nature

Back To Nature, a division of Kraft Foods, is a company whose products sit in what I call the 'pseudo-organic' isle of my grocery store. You know the isle where the store keeps Kashi and Annie's Cheddar Bunnies. These brands aren't necessarily healthy, they aren't necessarily non-processed and they may or may not contain organic ingredients. These brands may or may not contain GMOs. They may or may not contain the same amount of added sugars as normal products. What these brands do have in common is the use of health-washing in their brand marketing.

When I choose to buy a processed product (i.e.-anything that comes in a box), I look for a couple of things (not necessisarily in order of importance): 1) Are the grains listed as 100% whole grains? 2) Does the product contain soy or corn products? 3) Does the product contain chemical preservatives, or added flavors or colorings? 4) Is the product labeled organic? 5) Do I feel that the manufacturer made the product in a similar way that I would make it in my own home? When I answer these questions I get a better sense of the product. I prefer to buy products that are Non-GMO, whole, contain nothing artificial, and aren't "formulated" in a way to manipulate me. These are GUIDING PRINCIPLES, not hard and fast rules. But I like being informed.

I make a really ridiculous party dip which I will share with you next week. This weekend I was looking for some crackers to serve with this dip. I wish Ak-Mak made dip sized crackers, but they don't. I took a look at these Back to Nature crackers. I loved what I saw on the front cover!! Three ingredients! Because of the impressively short list of ingredients I was willing to buy this product even though it was not labeled as organic AND I knew it would contain white flour.

Then I flipped over the box and saw this

I feel strongly that to list three ingredients on the front of the box is like bragging to the customer 'Look at my impressive ingredient list!!' But then to not actually have an impressive ingredient list, well, that feels like manipulative marketing in my opinion. Although also in my opinion, Back to Nature products are slightly better than most of the other stuff Kraft Foods puts out. They don't use hydrogenated oils or artifical ingredients and their ingredient lists are shorter. But the products aren't significantly better. The products still could not be made in my own kitchen, yet they cost almost as much as other less processed organic products. Why would I choose to buy this product except for the marketing?

I have mentioned it before, I am not anti-capitalist. I am not an anarchist. I am not going to boycott foods that come from Kraft or Nestle just because they come from Kraft or Nestle. My decision not to buy Back to Nature is solely because I think that it is a mediocre product wrapped in a health-washed package. The ingredient list tells me that the product is mediocre. Their packaging is trying to tell me otherwise.

You can put lipstick on a pig, but damnit, it is still a pig.

This post is shared with Fight Back Fridays and Real Food Wednesdays

Monday, December 12, 2011

5 Gifts Under $50 Any Foodie Could Love

My kitchen has always been relatively well equipped because I love cooking. But I don't have every kitchen gadget out there because some of them tend to be one-hit-wonders that take up space and don't do alot. My husband's beloved spaetzle maker comes to mind...but I'll stay quiet, he really loves making speatzle.

As far as the kitchen items I think are essential, I have some decent knives, several cutting boards for different jobs and a blender. But cooking more from scratch has highlighted my need for some additional equipment. In the past year I have added a few items that have made my life a whole lot easier. Surprisingly the ones that have made the biggest difference were inexpensive and rather small to store. And the added benefit, these 'B list' gadgets make perfect gifts because not everyone thinks to spend the money on them. They offer great function, but even a long time foodie might not have every single one.

1. Coffee Grinder

We received our coffee grinder several years ago from family as a Secret Santa present. Until then we had always purchased ground coffee, which doesn't taste quite as fresh. This inexpensive present was such a hit that my hubs swore never to buy ground coffee again. The best part? My kids sleep through the whirring sound when I get up before them in the morning.

Krupps 203 Electric Coffee Grinder at Amazon $19.55

2. Immersion Blender

I love the texture of creamy soups and apple butter. But how much do I hate handling ladlefuls of hot food into a standard blender? Yuk and Ouch. When I got my first immersion blender I was thrilled to do fewer dishes and puree things in the pot where I was cooking! That saved time and heavy hot weightlifting. I soon realized it was also super perfect for smoothies, emulsifying salad dressings, making vegetable purees and even pureeing eggs for amazing omelettes. I now consider this device a necessity.

Cuisinart CBS-77 Smart Stick at Amazon $49.95

3. 6-Inch Utility Knife

I have not added to my knife collection in a long time. I consider the essential knives to be a 9 or 10 inch chefs knife, a serrated knife and a 4 inch paring knife. But recently I purchased a 6-inch utility knife because I felt like I needed something in between my big guy and my paring knife. The utility knife is amazing for coring apples. It feels good in the hand when slicing greens off tough woody stems. Also I have found it easier to use than a chefs knife when slicing smaller things like cucumbers and even small potatoes and onions. Having this knife has filled a void in my kitchen for sure.

J. A. Henckels Classic 6-Inch Utility Knife $32.95

4. Knife Sharpener

I acquired this knife sharpener just this weekend and BOY has this changed my life. I am embarrassed to admit that I have not professionally sharpened my knives since I bought them almost 10 years ago. That is reprehensible. I knew I needed to do it, I just haven't gotten around to getting to the store that offers knife sharpening. Then think about it, it will be a few dollars for each knife and you will need to do it again in 6 months to a year! Chef's Choice makes several high quality knife sharpeners in the $100-$150 price range. But they also offer this mini for $39.95 (and it was actually even less at Zabar's in NYC). I have used it on all my knives and they are like new. This sharpener also works on serrated knives.

Chef's Choice Diamond Hone Hybrid Electric-Manual Knife Sharpener $39.95

5. Electric Beater

I used to consider an electric beater something that would take up space since I could easily stir or fold food together with a spoon. But then my mother in law bought one for me for a gift and I was hooked. I use the electric beater for cakes and muffins, an amazing cream cheese dip I make alot for parties and of course mashed potatoes. What sold me was not the EASE that the tool offered, but the superior result that I got. Mashed potatoes whipped with my electric beater are fluffier and less lumpy. An electric beater is also very economical and doesn't create alot of dishes the need to be cleaned!

Paier 5-Speed Electric Hand Mixer/ Beater (Includes Bread Kneeding Attachment) $23.19

Gift giving is one of the toughest things I do every year. I ALWAYS over think everything and I can rarely make a decision. And in trying to make every gift perfect I sometimes have some epic fails or fail to make a decision altogether. I hope that if you are the same as me, you can get some inspiration here!


Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Christmastime in the City

The air is chilly and crisp, coats but no hats or gloves.
The watery light of mid day becomes the twilight of mid afternoon.
Evening rushing looks black as night.
On the corner, we crunch over seperated needles of petite trees.
A gust of wind carries the evergreen scent of an altogether different place.
Sweet bells and laughter.
Brightly colored ear muffs and scarves.
Candied almonds and roasted chestnuts.
(Have you EVER bought them? There are only a dozen in the warmer)
Steam billows from down below.
The moist warm air rises through the grates, kisses exposed ankles and gets trapped in the opening of your slacks.
Shops and homes all decked in red velvet bows fresh from deep storage.
Excitement and hope and maybe a drink or two make the crowds bearable.
Stuffy office parties and last minute shopping at Herald Square, we make it through intact.
We'll need the babysitter again next week.
Quiet nights at home.
The radiator clanks then hisses.
Open a window and draw a little heart in the condensation.
The kids are sleeping soundly, dreaming of the presents stuffed tightly in the tippy tops of crammed closets.
Hopefully they won't find them tomorrow getting a towel.
Forget Silver Bells, this is Christmastime in the city.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac: This Doesn't Even Qualify As A Recipe

I am mentally prepared for winter this year. Last year I balked at winter vegetables. Rather I longed for tomatoes and strawberries and fresh baby spinach. I admit I ate fewer vegetables during the fall and winter than I should have. Not that that is such a big deal, but I feel better when I eat 5 fruits and veggies a day. Getting to that number between November and April can be a challenge for me.

This year I plan on working on that. I won't be perfect. Winter veggies take longer to prep and I can say with confidence that aside from carrots my children don't eat veggies that grow in the winter. But this isn't about my kids, this is about me accepting winter veggies for exactly what they are...fiborous and tough and maybe slightly delicious.

As a going away present, my CSA gave us 3 bulbs of celeriac in our last delivery. Celeriac is also known as celery root. Celery root is funky and rooty and severely ugly. I can't say I really know what to do with it, though I have thrown it into stock and vegetable soup. But vegetable soup is a shameful cop out for any proud veggie. How does one eat celeriac so that it shines in a leading role? Sheesh, I don't know.

Someone mentioned to me to mash it. But the flavor, like starchy celery, didn't appeal to me. So instead I boiled it alongside some purple potatoes. I added cream and butter and salt, mashed them and I was in heaven. The texture was lighter than my normal dense mashed potatoes. The celery flavor was delicate and nicely matched with the earthy potato. All in all I have to say...I think I like celeriac mashed potatoes even better than regular mashed potatoes. I think someone somewhere is turning over in their grave. Someone....somewhere....

Definitely try this. I think I will even buy celeriac in order to keep making this dish. One winter vegetable down and many, many left to go


This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are We All Too Busy To Eat Healthy?

Every couple of months I write some cry your eyes out post about how I am so busy. And I get some awesome responses from you guys in support, telling me to hang in there. I thank each and every one of you who has commented or even just read such a post. But as I continue to hit patches of busy-ness, writing more whining and complaining posts doesn't make for good compelling reading. Or even a cathartic writing experience.

I have yet again hit another such patch. While I have been quite busy at the office (which is a good thing), it is our current school situation that is the biggest culprit. My children and I now spend just shy of 12 hours of every week day outside of our home. And of my just over 12 hours spent in the home, 6-7 are spent sleeping, 2-3 are spent caring for the kids or preparing food and 1-2 are spent in other chore related ways, like emptying the dishwasher or making lunches. That leaves little time for the things that I love, like writing. No wonder I never talk on the phone.

So I have now carved out a love-hate relationship with food preparation. When I started this blog I was inspired by all that I read. I tried new things, even on a weeknight! But today making homemade food sometimes feels like a ball and chain. But what choice do I have? Muster up the energy to cook something simple like sausages and boiled veggies, or order food that will make us all feel sick. Last week I was exhausted fighting some cold and I couldn't even think of stepping foot into the kitchen. So we picked up some pizza. What a mistake. I spent the whole night queasy and I couldn't sleep. Some convenience. Yes, the kids ate with no drama-rama, but I have to imagine that their bellies were tender that night too.

I love the idea of a local, organic and non-processed diet. But I will not sit here and tell you that it is a sustainable lifestyle for most people. The vast majority of people lack the skills to make a non-processed lifestyle work with all the commitments they have in life. And my 'experiment' to prove that any family can eat all homemade foods has lead me to dozens of amazing and inspirational blogs kept by full time bloggers, stay at home mothers and home schoolers. That's awesome, but not all the tips really work for me. I am not home to try all these cool recipes out.

So after 18 months of blogging, I have come to one succinct conclusion. We are all just too damn BUSY! The modern American lifestyle is overstuffed with way too many activities and we have made room for them by cutting out things we really need to do like sleeping and preparing healthy food. And we continue to convince ourselves that we need junky convenience foods and faster smartphones in order to do more work and brain cell sucking activities like searching the Internet. But wait, are we convincing ourselves? Or is it the companies that are selling us the phones, computers and junk food?

Today, The average American workday is 7.5 hours. That makes sense, 8 hour day, 30 minutes for lunch give or take a few. That number has remained fairly constant over the years. In this link, you can see that weekly hours worked has remained the same since the mid sixties at about 40-41 hours total per week. That is actually slightly less than in the forties when the average weekly hours worked was slightly over 43 hours. But no huge difference over the years. Then tack on the average commute, which is today just shy of an hour per day, or over 100 hours each year. I guess I can keep on complaining because my work day is 9 hours each day and I can boast a whopping 2+ hours of commuting time each day.

The change in sleep over the last 100 years is much more dramatic. The average amount of daily sleep has gone from 9 hours in 1900 to 7 hours in the 1970's to just over 6 hours today. I myself admit to getting only 6 hours of sleep regularly. I shoot for 7 hours but don't really feel good unless I get a full 8 hours. The fact that kids are getting less sleep saddens me. Reports show that School aged kids today average only 9.5 hours of sleep each day when they should be getting more. That is less than kids were getting 30 years ago. Sleep is important for everything from physical repair to hormone regulation to supporting memory. I know all this, but so many nights I stay up writing this blog instead of turning off the electric lights and the ever portable iPad.

But naturally it is the time spent in front of TVs, computers and Internet capable phones that is so troubling. According to this study and the article published in Businessweek, kids are now using more than 8 hours of media per day. That includes cell phone and iPod usage, texting, Internet, gaming and TV watching. I don't even want to know how many hours I spend using media. It is virtually all day at work. And then between various personal Apple devices, I overdo it a little. The problem I find with this trend is not so much that we are watching so much TV or reading online, it is that we are not setting down the devices to prepare healthy foods. It is that we cannot turn off the computer to go to sleep. We seem so afraid that we will miss something. Surely this cannot be good for us. And our health is surely suffering from the lack of rest and the abundant 'convenient' food.

I don't mean to say that we should just utilize our time better. That's a cop-out like saying we need to eat less and exercise more to combat obesity. The biggest problem in being too busy today is that in order to stay socially connected in today's world we HAVE to be computer literate and text and stay up on Facebook. There aren't quills for letter writing, parlor visits or calling cards anymore. Companies are pushing you to not even get mail anymore by sending you your bill via email. We cannot live without technology. It is not going away. I don't think we will get any less busy than we are right now. I suppose it could get worse. It could turn into The Matrix.

I bounce between wondering if blogs like mine make a difference to anyone who eats the Standard American Diet and not having any effect whatsoever. Or does my writing into the ether just solidify a group of people who have all independently come to the same conclusion, that we are too busy and we need to make lifestyle changes in order to maintain our health? Are we visionaries? Are we cutting edge? Have we discovered the missing link that could save us from more health problems? Or are we the fringe? Are we the crazies? Are we the Miss Haveshams' still clutching our old failed dreams even as the world passes us by?

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if we could all learn to live in balance. Do you think anyone will ever get that to catch on?

This post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays