Sunday, August 30, 2009

DF20: I made it!

I made it through the 30-Day DomesticMuse Dairy-Free Challenge, and I'm 3 days into the Dairy-Free and Sugar-Free Challenge.

Today was a little rough, I think because I did a pretty tough weights workout and need to be eating a bit more complex carbs than what is included in Cooler Plan 1. This was the "lightest" day so far, as the 2 meals following breakfast consisted of chicken and sliced celery and tuna with lettuce and tomatoes. Following my workout, I went out to buy groceries for the week and really hit the wall for the first time since I started this plan.

When I got home, I was really dragging. So I made myself a protein shake with almond milk and a banana. I'm in the process of switching from my usual whey-based protein powder (since it's made from dairy) to hemp-based protein powder, which I've heard works well. Since I had not planned on making protein shakes this week, I'd bought one packet of hemp/split pea powder last week to try, not wanting to invest in a lifetime supply without trying it first.

I was pleasantly surprised by the taste, which was actually really good. I'd been thinking I would have to add some cocoa and agave syrup to make it palatable, but it didn't need it. The color was kind of an otherworldly green, but quite tasty. It reminded me of my favorite fresh-juice smoothie that I used to get at the juice stand in Watertower Place in Chicago called Shopper's Energy Drink, which is also green because it contains spirulina.

I'm a little worried because after I had finished the shake, I was checking the ingredients list and found it contains stevia, a plant-based sweetener. I've never tried it, but it made my sister break out in hives. So far, so good. No rash.

The shake, with its combination of serious carbs from the banana and protein from the protein powder, did the trick. I felt much better afterwards. For some reason, the fruit that is supposed to be included in the plan is not on the menu plan for today or the next few days. Serious workouts require complex carbs, so I'll just have to monitor and see how I'm feeling.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

DF29: Cooler Plan, Day 2

Today was a little tougher than yesterday, mainly because I picked up bbq ribs for the guys and had to smell them cooking. I haven't really had sugar cravings, maybe because I had already cut way back on it in the past couple of weeks.

I have to admit, since I've started eating small meals every 3 hours or so I really do feel better. My energy level is much, much better. My blood sugar stays pretty stable, no big crashes, shakiness, or that "starving" feeling.

But geez Louise, is it ever BORING. It will be nice when I am on a little less stringent plan and can eat more than just plain food by itself. Just to give you an example, here's what I ate today.

Pre-breakfast: 2 8 oz. glasses of water.

Breakfast: 3/4 c. Quinoa with flaxseed, wheatgerm, and almond milk. 1 whole egg scrambled with 3 egg whites, and a cup of green tea (no sweetener). 2 8 oz. glasses of water.

During workout: 4 8 oz. glasses water.

Midmorning: sliced cucumbers, radishes, and 2 baby sweet peppers sliced and tossed with 1 t. olive oil, salt and pepper, topped with water packed tuna and a dressing made of fresh lemon juice and tamari. I know I'm not supposed to eat high-sodium foods, but I did work out and perspired ALOT, so I figured a little salt couldn't hurt. 2 8 oz. glasses of water.

Strength training: 4 8 oz. glasses water

"Lunch" (at 4:45 p.m.!) Roast turkey breast cutlet (4 oz.) on a bed of leftover Lacinato kale and 1/2 sweet potato. 1 apple. 2 8 oz. glasses water.

While fixing dinner: 2 8 oz. glasses water.

Dinner: (8 p.m.): 4 oz. roasted chicken breast, 1/2 sweet potato, broccoli with a splash of umeboshi plum vinegar. 2 8 oz. glasses water.

While cleaning up after dinner: 2 8 oz. glasses water.

That water-packed tuna is so dry, I had to put something on it. Because of not eating breakfast until 10 a.m., I was only able to squeeze in 4 of my 5 planned meals again. Because of this I skipped one of the lighter meals (the midafternoon snack) and had the dinner meal instead.

Meal preparation was a snap since I had already cooked several pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast (it was on sale at WF for half-price, so I bought lots) and also roasted the turkey cutlets last night while the corn muffins were in the oven. I noticed I'm supposed to eat quinoa again later in the week so I cooked extra this morning and put the leftovers in the fridge.

I've noticed much less muscle soreness than usual when I'm coning back to exercise after a long break, and I think this is because of the extra protein I'm eating. It helps the muscles rebuild themselves more quickly after a tough workout.

Of course, with having to drink a gallon of water a day, I'm constantly running to the bathroom. But I know from experience this will get better when my body gets used to the extra fluid intake. I swear, I'm so well-hydrated I could practically sell my output as spring water. (Sorry if that was TMI.) I sweat ALOT during my workouts and get very thirsty, so I am drinking extra then. I'm supposed to be drinking distilled water, but I refuse to pay for drinking water, so I'm just drinking the filtered water from the door of the fridge.

One more thing I've noticed is that if something has sugar in it, I can tell instantly. For instance, just from tasting one bite of the salsa I brought home yesterday, I could tell there was sugar in it. Since I'm not eating refined sugars or any sweeteners at all right now, I can really taste and appreciate the sweetness of the fruit and sweet potatoes.

Tomorrow I've got to sit down and figure out what I'm going to feed the guys this week. Some of the dinner meals will be easy-- if I'm having ground turkey or ground bison, I can just make extra for them and throw in an extra side-dish or two for them. I'm supposed to have fish tomorrow night, which we all like. For some of the other nights, I'll use leftovers. We have leftover ribs and also some "red" chili I made and froze. The guys aren't suffering by any means. B&J ice cream was on sale 1/2 price at the Teeter,so I got each of them a pint of their favorite flavors: Cherry Garcia for DC, and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough for DS.

If I make it through the week without going off "the plan," I'm treating myself to some no-dairy, no-sugar coconut milk "ice cream" on Thursday.

I definitely notice a difference in how I feel-- everything is better, including my depression, and I finally have the energy to work out again, which also helps in so many ways. I'm also encouraged that I WILL lose weight and be back in my regular clothes in no time.

DF28: Eat Clean Cooler Plan 1

As I mentioned, Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Diet book is pretty hardcore, and even a bit grim. Given that she expects you to pack a cooler full of "clean" food to take to work with you (or even out to run errands), her "diet" plans are organized into Cooler Plans 1, 2, and 3.

Cooler Plan 1 is definitely spartan. It's designed for: breaking plateaus, that last 10-5 lbs., contest preparation (as if!), photo shoots (as if!), showing increased muscle definition, and quick weight loss.

On this plan, you are not allowed to have dairy, juice, bread, salad dressing, butter, margarine, mayo or other spreads, or high-sodium food.

You may have 1 apple or pear per day. That's if for fruit. The main source of "complex carbs" on this plan comes from high-water content, non-starchy, low-glycemic index veggies (cucumbers, radishes, greens, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, celery, bok choy, etc.) You're supposed to eat "2 cupped handfuls" of this stuff 5 times per day, or at each meal. This plan only allows 5 meals per day.

For grains, you get 1 serving per day of cooked whole grains (e.g, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, millet or Cream of Wheat), eaten as hot cereal in the morning (no sweeteners); also, 1 sweet potato per day, half in the morning and half in the evening. The grains are to be eaten with a tablespoon each of ground flaxseed, wheatgerm, and bee pollen. (Bee pollen? Seriously?)

For protein, 1 "palm-sized portion" (4-5 oz.) of chicken, tuna, egg whites, turkey, bison, elk, or non-oily white fish, 5 times per day, or at each meal. You can also substitute sugar, chemical-free protein powder for any of the protein servings.

To drink, 1 gallon of distilled water, no-sodium water, or clear, unsweetened herbal tea.

Sounds boring AND not fun!

Cooler Plan 2 is for steady weight loss or maintenance once your goal weight is reached. This plan is much more do-able.
You get 6 portions of fruits/veggies per day, a fruit portion being "1 cupped handful" or piece of fruit; recommended fruits are berries, grapefruit, melon, apples, and mangoes. A veggie portion is "2 cupped handfuls" 0f veggies, including broth-based/veggie puree soups. (I'll pass on using my hands to measure soup.)

You get 2-4 servings of grains, this time besides cooked whole grains you can also have high-protein sugar-free cereal, whole grain bread or wraps (7 in. size on the wrap). Also included in this group is sweet potato, yam, banana, corn, carrots, or winter squash.

5-6 portions of lean protein, including low-fat soy, almond, hemp, rice or lactose-free milk, cottage cheese, kefir, yogurt cheese, plain fat-free, sugar-free yogurt. Also included are raw unsalted nuts, 2 T of all-natural nut butters, the same meats and protein powders as in Cooler 1.

For beverages, 2-3 liters of no-sodium water, clear, unsweetened herbal tea, black coffee (in moderation) and green or black tea.

The following sweeteners can be used in moderation: honey, agave nectar, stevia, sucanat, rapidura sugar.

Healthy fats are allowed in moderation: olive, pumpkin, safflower, and flaxseed oil; olive-oil based spreads, fish and fish oils.

Not allowed: Juice, commercial salad dressings or sauces, or fried, refined or processed foods.

Cooler 3 is supposed to ease you into the Clean-Eating lifestyle, but she's not very specific about what you can eat, though she does allow low-fat cheese and fruit juice diluted with water.

There are guidelines for vegetarian substitutes for the protein portions, but I didn't find them very helpful, especially as I am aiming to get at least 20 g. of protein at each "meal."

After looking carefully at Cooler Plans 1 and 2, I decided to go for the all-out sugar detox of Cooler Plan 1. Thankfully, she doesn't allow you to use it for more than 2 weeks at a time. I figure I can probably make it through 1 week of dietary hell. I want to see if cutting out all this stuff does make a difference in how I feel.

Helpfully, she includes a menu plan for the cooler plans. I am pretty much following the menu plan as written, with a few modifications. One of the things this plan is severely lacking in, in my opinion, is healthy fat. My particular body needs at least SOME fat daily (in addition to what's in the food). I am therefore eating 1-3 t. of olive oil per day with my food. I am also putting unsweetened almond milk on my cooked cereal, as I am concerned about not getting enough calcium. At only 40 cals. per cup, I don't think the almond milk is adding significantly to my caloric intake. I am also eating 1 egg yolk per day. A LITTLE far helps me to feel satisfied longer and is beneficial to my own personal blood sugar levels.

I survived Day 1 on Cooler Plan 1 and actually only had time to squeeze in 4 meals of the 5 meals. It's not so bad, for just one week. The primary issue with it is that it is awfully boring. I'm determined to figure out how to make delicious, clean, dairy and sugar free food.

For dinner, I gave the guys leftover white chili, with cheddar cheese and sour cream if they wanted, and also made them some corn muffins to go with it. DS hadn't had the chili yet and really enjoyed his. DC was in heaven since I piled his bowl with sour cream and shredded cheese, and he ate 2 corn muffins. My own dinner consisted of scrambled egg whites with chopped tomatoes and some spinach leaves throw in.

I also squeezed in a workout, my first in months! I have noticed my energy level is better. Curses!! This plan may actually be working.

DF27: Eat-Clean White Chili

While flipping through the recipes in Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Diet book, I found a white chili recipe that looked pretty good. I did adapt it a little from the way it's written, as I was using canned white beans rather than dry ones. It was just DC and me for dinner and I was pretty sure he'd enjoy the chili.

The Eat-Clean Philosophy is to eat 5-6 small meals a day that include a serving of lean protein and complex carbs. Also, the emphasis is on whole, natural non-processed foods.

Here is the recipe:

Tosca Reno's Hearty White Bean Chili
Makes 6-8 servings

1 lb. dry great northern beans or white kidney beans, rinsed and picked over
(I used 2 cans of Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained)
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
2 c. yellow onions, chopped
2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
2 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 t. ground coriander
1/8 t. ground cloves
1 4 oz. can chopped green chiles
2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken or turkey breast, grilled and cubed
1 t. sea salt

Place beans in a soup kettle or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover beans by 2 in. Bring to a boil. Let boil for 5 min. Remove from heat and let stand covered for 1 hr. Drain and rinse. Discard liquid.

Place beans in a slow cooker. Add the chicken broth, onions, garlic, and seasonings. Cover and cook on low heat for 7 hrs. or until beans are not quite tender. Add the chiles, chicken and sea salt., Cook for another hr. until beans are tender.

I was able to prepare this soup on the stovetop in about 35 minutes by using canned beans.
Since I don't have a grill, the first thing I did was to season my skinless, boneless chicken breasts and pop them into the oven to roast at 350 for about 30 min.

Meanwhile, I sprayed my soup pot with non-stick spray and added a scant T of extra-virgin olive oil. Oil isn't called for in the original recipe, but since I wasn't going to be slow cooking this soup, I needed the oil to saute the onion and garlic. After the onion and garlic were tender, I added the spices and sauteed for a minute or two; then added the broth, beans, and chiles. I brought the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, and let simmer until the chicken was done.

I cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and added it and the liquid from the baking sheet to the soup pot.

DC's bowl:

I was feeling pretty good about my so-far sugar free day until I happened to glance at the ingredients in the chicken broth. As I was using the Whole Foods Store Brand Organic Chicken Broth, I had not thought to check its ingredient list first. I was really surprised to see "evaporated cane juice" as one of the ingredients towards the end of the list. Sugar!! Drat!!

I ate the soup anyway. DC and I both thought it was terrific. Two thumbs up! I just need to be sure to get sugar-free broth next time.

I served the chili with crushed blue corn chips on top, and DC had more chips and some of our favorite Jack's Special salsa with his. After having promised him some salsa, I found that ALL the salsa in the refrigerated section at WF contain sugar. Frustrating! So I did not eat any. The chips are sugar free, so I did have just a few of them. But it looks like I may need to make my own salsa if I want it to be sugar-free.

My only criticism of the white chili is that it doesn't include any veggies to speak of, except for the onions, garlic, and small amount of chiles. I'm not sure what would be good in here (that DC would eat), but next time I fix this, I will definitely experiment with adding veggies of some kind to the pot.

Friday, August 28, 2009

DF26: Decidedly not Sugar-Free

The problem with sugar is that it's just in everything. I did pretty well until we went out to dinner.

We tried first to go to Red Robin, which I figured would have at least a few sugar-free, dairy-free options. We unwittingly found ourselves in Hell on Earth-- the restaurant was hosting a Pee-Wee football team from North Raleigh, and was packed wall-to-wall with hyper, screaming, balloon-popping kids and their parents. We put our names on the waiting list and were told we'd be seated in 15 minutes or so. Honestly, the only reason I was willing to sit there amidst the nearly unbearable din is that there just were no other decent restaurants in that shopping area.

After 20 deafening minutes, DC finally got fed up and went to check on our status on the waiting list. They told him we'd need to wait an additional 30 minutes! So of course, we left. I really wish restaurants would just close and host a private party for these kinds of events.

So we were stuck going to the Wild Wings place, the only other restaurant nearby that would probably have some dairy-free options. The chicken wings are ok, but I must say, I cannot understand their appeal. They are greasy, and bony, and there's hardly any meat on them. I also really detest "sports bars"-- smoky, noisy, with 5 million TV screens everywhere. I feel bombarded by WAY too many stimuli at once. And a meal consisting solely of greasy chicken wings always leaves me feeling unsatisfied. DC loves both sports bars and chicken wings, which is simply a mystery to me.

At any rate, we ordered the wing sampler platter that includes 5 different flavors of wings-- including Old Yeller (a Carolina mustard-based sauce), Red Dragon, kind of like a Teriyaki flavor, Cajun (DC's choice), regular Medium sauce wings, and General Tso's. Most of these were loaded with sugar. So it was just a frustrating dining experience all the way around. I left craving the burger I didn't get at Red Robin. Ah well-- tomorrow is bound to be better!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

DF25: Bracing for the Sugar Ban

Yesterday I saw the acupuncture doc again for a treatment. She did a quick exam and said there is still too much "dampness" in my liver and lungs. And sinuses. She was surprised that I have been dairy-free for 24 days, and said I should be exhibiting fewer symptoms of dampness by now. She is blaming the continued dampness on my continued consumption of sugar. Which I have cut way down on, but have not eliminated from my diet completely. She also recommends eating more fruit. And barley.

If it will make me better, I'll give it a try. Dampness or not, I've noticed a big improvement in my sinuses since going dairy free. It has been easier than I thought it would be. Surprisingly, I haven't had cheese cravings. Instead, I crave stuff like creamy sauces, hot chocolate, custards, and yogurt more than cheese. Also tea with milk. Tea with either Almond Breeze or Silk in it is just yucky. However, a vegan I met recently highly recommends the Pacific Hazelnut milk to put in tea. I was surprised to find our WF carries it. But I didn't buy it because it has 14 grams of sugar per serving (from where, I do not know, since all that's in there is hazelnuts and water, I think).

To assist with making this transition to sugar-free living, I just ordered Tosca Reno's Eat Clean Diet. It has been recommended more than once on the forums at, my favorite fitness site. I previewed some of the content before ordering, and it's pretty hard-core. Also pretty grim. The reason I'm looking at this is that unless you're eating whole, unprocessed foods, it's hard to avoid sugar. And that's what her book is all about.

From the brief amount of surfing I've done, it appears there are several "levels" of sugar-freeness. Some people just cut out sugar, but use natural sweeteners (like agave) and artifical sweetners (like Splenda). Other people don't even use alternative sweetners, or foods containing "sugar alcohols" like sugar-free gum and sugar-free protein bars, as they find these can trigger "sugar cravings." And some people apparently even eliminate perfectly good foods like raisins and oranges, that are high in natural sugar, for the same reason. All I can say is, wow-- with a lifestyle that strict, you probably spend more time obsessing over sugar: what NOT to eat, than focusing on and enjoying the food you can eat. But who am I to judge? These people consider themselves "sugar addicts" and find that their health is so much improved by their dietary practices that for them, it's worth it.

As for me, I'll probably be in that first group. I've recently tried agave and found it to be fine, especially on the whole-grain, 0 grams of sugar cereal I purchased recently.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a cereal that has at least 6 grams of fiber per serving (for the blood sugar) AND 0 grams of sugar? At Whole Foods I only found 1 yesterday. The Ezekiel brand "sprouted grain" stuff, which I think also contains lentils (I'm supposed to be eating "Ezekiel" bread instead of real bread so I'm somewhat familiar with the basic idea). The cereal tastes kind of like Grape Nuts, only more boring. It doesn't taste BAD, but it doesn't taste especially good either.

Oh yeah, try that stuff with some sugar-free Almond Breeze on it and you might find yourself reaching for the Agave bottle too. Next time I have some, I'm going to see if I can avoid using the Agave (which may be sugar-free, but certainly is not calorie-free), by adding some fresh blueberries to the cereal.

Even though I'm gonna do the sugar-free thing, I do have to wonder if I'm overall doing better nutritionally. Remember, I'm also supposed to avoid refined soy products like soy milk. (Though miso is ok. Certainly not on cereal, though!)

For instance, I usually eat Kashi Go-Lean Crunch Cereal, which has 9 g of protein, 12 g of sugar and 8 g of fiber per serving, plus another 6 g of protein or so and calcium and some fiber if I top it with Silk. The Ezekiel stuff (I got the Almond kind) has 0 g sugar, 6 g fiber, and 8 g of protein per serving. Which is not bad. But the Almond Breeze has about 40 calories per CUP, but no protein at all. If not for the fact that the Almond Breeze is fortified with calcium, I might as well be topping the cereal with tap water for all the nutritional value I'm getting. Plus, the dr. wants me to eat an egg with my cereal, so I have to mess with cooking that too. Cold hard boiled eggs in the morning just don't sit well with me.

I agree with the basic ideas of the Tosca Reno Eat Clean Diet, which is not a diet at all, but a lifestyle change. One of the most important ideas is only whole foods, no processed foods-- so no bread, just cooked whole grains. Canned tomatoes are probably a no-no too. Although if my usual brand has no sugar, I don't plan to stop using them.

Tosca recommends you eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day, each with a serving of lean protein and a complex carb. When I'm weight-training, that's pretty much my routine, as I feel best that way. I'm gonna get back to weight-training this week. Really. But it's a lot easier to do this if you can eat dairy-- a Fage yogurt and a piece of fruit, and you're all set.

But holy crap, the portion sizes are miniscule, especially for the carbs. And the way she talks about them is (to me) exceedingly annoying: Two handsful of this. A scant palm-ful of that. Could you please for heaven's sake just give me an actual measurement, either by weight or volume, I don't care which, if the portion size is such a big deal?

Plus she wants you to pack a cooler full of "approved" food every day. I can see the wisdom of doing this if you work outside your home, and are going to be eating every 3 hrs. or so, but I think my fridge will work just fine, thank you. I will even do my best to prep the food ahead of time. And since I do need to lose all those pounds I've gained over the past year, portion control is probably not a bad idea.

You all know how much I love desserts. And baking. And eating out. So I honestly don't know how well this is going to go. But on the positive side, several people who've eliminated sugar from their diets have said that after the first 2 or 3 days, you no longer crave sugar. We'll see about that. The dr. also said that my palate has to get "adjusted."

Yeah... is that like when my Weight Watchers lecturer told me I would learn to enjoy liver if I kept trying it? Because that is certainly never worked for me. I cannot abide liver, despite numerous attempts. Don't even come near me with pate. The only liver I've ever eaten and enjoyed is whitefish livers, and you can only get those if you live near Lake Superior. Personally, I think my palate is in tip-top shape and works just fine.

The one big question mark in my mind is what to do about DC. Since I can barely get ONE dinner on the table most days, let alone TWO, I think he may just have to live with sugar-free, dairy-free dinners, at least for a while. DS probably won't care much, as long as I don't make him eat stuff he actively hates. Several reviews commented that the book does contain some really good recipes in it. There is also a separate cookbook available, which I may end up buying. As to how all this is going to work when I'm on the road, which I am 1-2 times a month, I have no clue.

All I know is that I have to come up with a system I can reasonably live with most of the time, that includes food that is not only nutritious, but also delicious and satisfying.

DF24: Lacinato Kale

Since I'm not eating dairy, it's important for me to choose other high-calcium foods. Leafy greens (except spinach) generally are high in calcium. Organic Lacinato Kale was on sale half-price at WF, and I've always wanted to try it. It's a lovely dark green color with sort of savoyed leaves, and looks a lot more like chard than the typical kale, which I think is usually called Russian kale. So into the cart it went.

Lacinato kale is an heirloom Italian variety and is popular in various regions of Italy. It's a relative newcomer here, at least to the stores where I shop, probably due to the difficulties of getting the heirloom seeds for commercial production.

I am one of those strange individuals that adores cooked greens in just about any form. I've been trying to convert DC into a greens-lover as well, and have had good success with chard. He was not big on the Lacinato, unfortunately. I served the Lacinato with Turkish Burgers (yeah, we just had those, but I needed something easy to fix). True to his meatatarian tendencies, DC ate his burger with gusto.

Fresh chard, kale, and other greens are really a bit of a pain to prepare, so don't choose them when you are rushed or preparing several other dishes. They are a pain because they require quite a bit of care and handling. If I am planning to use them in a soup rather than as a side dish by themselves, frozen chopped greens will answer very well to this purpose, and what could be easier than opening the bag and dumping them in the soup?

First, always wash fresh greens carefully, as many greens tend to trap sand. This bunch was pretty clean, but better safe than sorry. A mouthful of grit will surely turn anyone off greens. The easiest way I have found to wash them is to put them in a sinkful of tepid water for a few minutes, and then carefully lift them out and drain.

The dirt will sink to the bottom of the sink and stay there, as long as you don't churn up the water when removing the greens.

Second, kale, and lacinato is no exception, has a very tough center rib/stem that must be removed before cooking. Again, the easiest way I have found to do this is to turn the leaves over and cut alongside either side of the rib, up to the part where it's small enough to get tender at the same time as the leaves, and then chop it off at that point.

This leaves you with a kind of swallow-tailed remnant.

I have seen suggestions to cut the kale stems into pieces and cook with the leaves, but I have never found them to get tender or be particularly tasty. I toss 'em. Yeah, seems like a waste. They aren't even good for vegetable stock, as they are a cruciferous vegetable and you never want to put those in your stock, as they will dominate the flavor and make it bitter. They might be ok in a long-cooking soup where you might use cabbage. Lacinato leaves are supposed to stand up to long cooking times better than other types of greens, making them ideal for soups.

Finally, stack the leaves 5 or 6 at at time and slice cross-wise into 1 inch strips.

They cook down amazingly, so you will need a large pile of raw greens to serve 3-4 people.

I will share my free-form recipe for sauteed greens below. You can adapt it for many kinds of greens. If you are cooking a more tender green, like chard, it will need much less cooking time to become tender, probably 3-4 minutes of saute time and 5-6 minutes of braising time, depending on how tender you like the stems.

I find most greens to have an affinity for garlic, olive oil, and red pepper flakes, so that is my standard seasoning combo. Of course, traditionally you'd use some part of the pig (hog jowls, ham hocks, or bacon drippings) to season the greens, but extra-virgin olive oil works fine for me, since I'm doing a quick rather than a long cooking technique.

I really don't think you can have too much garlic in the greens, so I use quite a bit, at least 1 T minced.

I heat a couple of T of EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat and add the red pepper flakes, usually 1/4-1/2 t., depending on how adventuresome I'm feeling. After 2 or 3 minutes of letting the red pepper flakes infuse the hot oil, I add the garlic.

You have to watch it closely so it doesn't burn and ruin the whole dish. I toss in some salt at this point too.

Once the garlic has cooked for a couple of minutes, I add the fairly damp chopped greens and a little more salt to the skillet.

Be careful, since the water clinging to the leaves can cause the oil to sputter. Turn the heat up to medium-high and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup of water to the skillet, cover, and turn the heat down to medium low. Since this is kale, and it's pretty sturdy stuff, it will need another 10-15 minutes of cooking to become tender.

While the Lacinato was braising, I prepared the burger mixture and cooked the patties. I also sauteed 1 Hungarian wax pepper, seeded, stemmed and cut into strips, to top the burgers. Along with some chopped raw tomatoes tossed with mayo, garlic, salt, and pepper. This time I didn't make homemade pitas, but cut a sesame-seeded kaiser roll in half, toasted it, and spread each half with mayo (one for me, one for DC), as the platform for the burgers. Yeah, I'm not supposed to eat white bread, but I couldn't face the thought of a Turkish burger served on Ezekiel bread.

Once the burgers were almost done, I checked the Lacinato and it was nice and tender. I love to season greens with vinegar and use various kinds, depending on how the mood strikes me. Today I used some Umeboshi Plum vinegar, which added a nice acidic and salty bite to the greens. After tasting I felt they still needed more of an acidic note, so I sprinkled in a T or so of white wine vinegar, and some black pepper. It was perfect to my taste.

Of course, in the South, it's quite traditional to serve greens with a cruet of vinegar at the table, sometimes even the kind that has tiny little fiery peppers stuffed into the bottle. Interestingly, acids, such as in vinegar or tomatoes, helps your body to absorb the iron in the greens. Our ancestors were pretty smart to come up with the greens/vinegar flavor combo, weren't they?

Out of 2 bunches of Lacinato, I got about 3-4 servings, maybe a little more. I gave myself a good 2 servings worth and DC about half a serving. Which turned out to be a good idea, since he basically did not touch them. And I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

In addition to vinegar, some people like to serve greens, generally the long-cooking kinds like turnip, collards or mustard greens, with chopped hard-cooked egg and sometimes some bacon bits or pork "side meat" (you'd remove whatever kind of pork part you used during the cooking, such as ham hock, and cut the meat off the bones and into tiny pieces). Some people also like chopped scallions on their greens. The traditional accompaniment would be cornbread, of course, to sop up all that good ol' pot liquor (i.e., the cooking liquid).

Since we were having the kaiser roll, and there was no pot liquor with this cooking method, I didn't bother with the cornbread. Besides, it's best made with buttermilk, so is not dairy free.

I liked the Lacinato much more than traditional kale, which can sometimes get a little bitter. The Lacinato was also much more tender than other varieties of kale, so easier to use with my quick-cooking technique.

One of these days, I'll make some real Southern greens, the kind that cooks all day, so you can see that. Although for most people, that is really an acquired taste. Of course, DS and I love 'em, so I try to make them once a year or so for DS. (They are not the healthiest thing with those pig parts in there, which are also getting harder and harder to find.)

Something I find amazing is that DS is named in memory of my dad, who, although from the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota originally, was an enthusiastic convert to my mom's Southern-style cooking. Dad passed away some 13 years before DS was born, so they never knew each other. Dad's favorite foods were probably black-eyed peas and greens. They are also among DS's big favorites, and he will typically order them any time he gets a chance (e.g., at Cracker Barrel). DS has LOVED greens since he was about 9 months old and kept trying to reach for my bowl. I gave him a little pot liquor in a spoon, and he slurped it down and licked his chops! He's been a big fan ever since.

DF22 and 23: Eating Out and Leftovers

Well, I have fallen behind on my goal of posting every day, but I can give you a summary of DF 22 and 23. DF22 was not one of my better days... I spent most of the day in bed, sleeping. I think it was a combination of exhaustion from my road trip and a reaction to the alcohol I drank (ONE glass!) on date night.

It's becoming clear I should just avoid all alcohol. That means cutting out my twice annual margarita with friends at the American Library Association conferences, LOL! Although, this year I did have a cocktail on my birthday and on Valentine's Day as well, bringing my annual total, counting this weekend's hard cider, up to 4 drinks. I have a one-drink limit when I do imbibe. I have too many extended family members suffering from alcoholism to want to flirt much with that disaster. Also, I take several medications and do not want to end up like Karen Ann Quinlan. As I mentioned, wine tends to give me a headache, even white wine, even just one glass, so I never drink it.

After emerging from my semi-comatose state, I seriously wasn't feeling the urge to cook. DC graciously took us out to eat. We had Italian, where it's fairly easy for me to find one or two naturally dairy-free menu items that agree with me. Both of us had about half of our food boxed up, since we couldn't finish it all.

Which was a good thing, since on DF23, I still had not done much shopping, leaving us with not a lot of options for vittles. So, we ended up just eating our leftovers from the day before. BORING. But tasty, nonetheless.

I must confess, I did eat a large bowl (to finish off the carton) of soy-based Purely Decadent frozen dessert, in the Pecan Praline flavor. After having tried this flavor twice, I cannot recommend it. There is a fairly prominent soy taste as well as a somewhat unpleasant oily texture, which gets worse as the stuff melts. My recommendation: skip it.

Monday, August 24, 2009


DC has been working so many weekends lately, and for some reason it seems like we've had DS with us every date night for weeks. I was gloomily contemplating this fact on my trip, when I came up with the idea of having a SURPRISE cozy date night at home the day after my scheduled return. I called DC immediately and told him not to schedule anything for Saturday night, and to plan on being out of the house at least part of Saturday afternoon. If there's one thing I love, it's surprises!

Saturday "morning" I ran out to pick up some groceries, flowers, and a few other things. ;) Which I managed to smuggle into the house without DC seeing them. Around 4, he left to take a friend of ours who is trying to get her driver's license out for a practice drive. I told him not to come home before 7, and that I would leave him instructions as to what to do then. He looked at me funny, but agreed, and drove off.

I then spent the next hour madly dashing around the living room and kitchen, clearing the surfaces of all the clutter and putting all that stuff back where it belonged. Before I knew it, it was 5:30, and I realized I had not done thing 1 on getting dinner ready yet, and DC would probably be home around 6:45, if I know him. Yikes!

I kicked it into overdrive. Luckily, I had chosen a pretty simple menu, and had purchased a romantic dessert (mousse au chocolat for him, vegan chocolate mousse for me). I finished just in the nick of time. Sure enough, at 6:45 I heard the automatic garage door opening. I went into the downstairs bathroom to complete my toilette. Once that was done, it was a simple job to cook the meat, set a romantic table, light the candles, and set out the shrimp cocktail. (I had reduced the wine sauce for the meat ahead of time.

Here is our menu:

Roasted Shrimp Cocktail (Barefoot Contessa)

Bison Filet Mignons with mushrooms and Port Wine sauce (a combo of Tyler Florence and a recipe from Gourmet)
Twice-Baked Potato (half of a large baker for each of us, DC's half including a generous amount of goat cheese, which he adores)
Sauteed cherry tomatoes

Spinach Salad with mandarin oranges, caramelized walnuts, and bacon bits with raspberry vinaigrette

Chocolate/vegan chocolate Mousse

It was a total success! DC absolutely loved it. Although he was surprised to be served his salad after the main course. I couldn't FIND my camera (it turned up later) so sadly, I have no beautiful photos to share with you. To drink, I bought some hard cider, thinking a little alcohol would be romantic. Wine tends to give both of us headaches.

Here is my combo recipe for

Bison Filet Mignon with Mushrooms and Tawny Port Dijon Sauce

2 (8-ounce) filet mignon bison steaks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 bacon strips
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound assorted mushrooms, such as shiitake, crimini, and chanterelle, stemmed and halved
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
3 tablespoons minced shallot
1/3 cup Tawny Port
2/3 cup dry red wine
1-2 cups beef broth
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard
Beurre manie made by kneading together 1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon allpurpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Season both sides of the filet mignon generously with salt and pepper. Wrap a piece of bacon around the sides of each steak and secure with butcher's twine. In a large heavy, ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Place the steaks in the hot pan and cook until well seared on 1 side, about 3 minutes. Turn the steaks over, there should be a nice crust on top. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary; give everything a good stir. Transfer the pan to the oven. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until the steaks are cooked medium-rare. Remove the steaks, and mushrooms to a platter; cover loosely with foil to keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

In the fat remaining in the skillet cook the shallot over moderately low heat, stirring, until it is softened, add the Port and the red wine, and boil the mixture until it is reduced by two thirds. Add the broth, boil the mixture until it is reduced by half, and strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a small saucepan. Whisk in the mustard, bring the mixture to a boil, and add the beurre manie, a little at a time, whisking until the sauce is smooth. Simmer the sauce, whisking occasionally, for 2 minutes, whisk in any juices that have accumulated on the cutting board, and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Remove the butcher's twine from the steaks and serve with a generous portion of mushrooms and sauce.

After dinner we played Trivial Pursuit... with a few rules of my own tossed in. It was a very fun date night.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DF20: Home Again Home Again

Another really long day. Half a day on-site, then the drive home. Nothing particularly interesting foodwise. But my site visit was very successful. It was a really beautiful drive home for the most part, except for the icky part on 95, luckily only 50 min. or so.

I was late leaving the host site, so I didn't get on the road until after 2. I didn't have time for lunch, so I ate a protein bar in the car. By 4:30 I was starving and near Petersburg, so I stopped at the same Cracker Barrel I ate at on the way there. I am so boring.... I think I even ended up eating the exact same thing. The only other obvious dairy-free choice was the potroast, and I just didn't feel like messing with it.

On my way out, the sign said the cooler full of ice at the hostess station was supposed to have bottled water. I looked in there, but nothing except soda. I could see a shelf sort of behind the hostess station that had bottles of water on it. I kept waiting for the hostess to come back from wherever, but when she did, she seated the people who had been waiting. (Didn't she know I needed a bottle of water?) Finally I took matters into my own hands, stepped behind the hostess station and grabbed a bottle of water from the shelf. Luckly, no one noticed my lawless behavior. Though the cashier did look at me strangely when she picked up the warm bottle of water that obviously did NOT come from the cooler. But that may have been because I had just refused a free sample of coconut candy (it looked like it might have dairy in it).

Back on the road again. Only a few more miles on 95-- then 85 pretty much the rest of the way home. The whole state of Virginia is notoriously known as a speed trap, and I worried and fretted, trying to figure out how much above the speed limit I could drive and still not get a ticket. At one point, I nearly had a heart attack-- I was clearly going 70 in what I was pretty sure was a 60 mph zone, and looked in my rearview mirror to see a state trooper practically in my back seat. It took me a second or two to realize he had no interest in busting me, he just wanted me to move over so he could chase someone else. Which I did posthaste. He shot past me and busted the jerk that must have been going 90, weaving in and out of the lanes and cutting people off like a maniac. Sometimes there IS justice in the world!

A bit later I was going about 78 in a 70 mph zone, and passed right by a state trooper hiding by the side of the road behind some trees. I couldn't even TRY to pretend like I wasn't speeding. But he didn't come after me. He actually passed me later on.

All this reminds me of my friend Angie that got stopped for speeding in VA when she was driving a state car (embarassing...). But the funnier Angie story happened when she was late for work, had dropped the kids off at daycare and hadn't bothered to fasten her seatbelt (against NC law). Next thing she knows, there is a cop blaring his siren and indicating she needs to pull over. She does, with sinking heart. He comes up to the window of her minivan and says, "Ma'am, do you know why I stopped you?"

As Angie says, NEVER answer that question. As far as the police know, you are the dumbest person on the planet, you know nothing.

So Angie timidly ventures, "Because I'm not wearing my seatbelt?" The cop gets a surprised look on his face and says, "So you're not! Well, I'm gonna have to write you up for that. The reason I stopped you was to tell you one of your tail lights is burned out, and you need to get that fixed right away." So Angie got another ticket... Suffice it to say, when several of us had to travel in a state van to a conference in Atlanta, Angie was not allowed to drive.

I arrived home late and exhausted but without getting any tickets. DC met me at the car rental place. I was very glad to let him heft my giant suitcase out of the trunk and into our car. I was pretty well fed up with hefting at this point.

Even though DC had already had dinner, he took me to Mimi's so I could get something, the only thing at home being... chili!! Which I had been eating daily for what felt like forever. You know, I never noticed this before, but about 95% of the menu at Mimi's either contains cheese or is served in a cream sauce. I ended up getting a pork chop and some steamed potatoes and veggies.

I think my days of eating at Mimi's may be over. That porkchop was really not good-- dried out and tough. My beloved turkey dinner comes with a giant mound of from-scratch mashed potatoes, and it just wouldn't be the same without it.

But if this dairy free thing gets rid of my sinus problems, it will be worth it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

DF19: Brave New Fast Food

I totally forgot to bring my camera with me today. It's been a loooong day. I got up at 6 to do some urgent email business, left the motel at 8:30 to head to the host library site, spent the day interviewing staff and looking at workflows, and have been writing recommendations since I got back to my room at 7 p.m. It's now 10 p.m. I am ready for bed!

Not much interesting to report, foodwise. Breakfast at the motel was the same as yesterday. For lunch, I actually braved a fast food restaurant. I went to Wendy's with a couple of staff members from the host library. Since I can't eat fries or dairy, and white bread isn't terribly good for me either, I wasn't sure I'd find anything to eat. Then I remembered Wendy's has chili. So lunch was a large chili and a diet Coke. I don't know what I would have done if I'd had to eat at McDonald's.

For dinner, I headed to a Mimi's Cafe, (the staff members gave me the 411 on better-quality chains in Waldorf) but when I got there, I just wasn't feeling it. I really wanted Italian. So back to the Olive Garden.

Tonight I tried the Roasted Portobello Mushroom Marinara sauce, meatballs, and penne pasta. It was one of the "never-ending pasta bowl" selections. It was a pretty good deal for $8.95, plus $2 for unlimited meatballs. I was totally full after one fairly modest size bowl of pasta and didn't order any refills. The sauce was pretty good, but I think I still like the plain old meat sauce best! Did I let the fact that I'm not supposed to eat white bread stop me from eating bread sticks? I fear not. My poor pancreas.

Next week I'm going to get back into my fitness routine. Really!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

DF18: On The Road, Day 2

Well, here I am, getting ready for all my meetings today. My first hurdle foodwise will be breakfast here at the motel. Here are a couple of photos so you can feel the ambience.

Beautiful, no? (No?)

These places try, they really do try, to have a nice variety of things on hand. They do a pretty good job considering breakfast is "free." If you were a vegan, you'd starve plumb to death, though. EVERYTHING has dairy or egg, except the bacon. Which a vegan would not be eating anyway.

Here we have the yogurt selection for the "health conscious."

An assortment of cereral: oooh! Froot Loops!! My favorite! However, people would look at me weird if I just had a bowl of dry Froot Loops. That wouldn't keep me going for long, anyway.

And of course, pastries, for the continental breakfast fans. Sadly, it was evident all of these came out of a box. And undoubtedly contain dairy.

It's just as well. I always feel ill after eating nothing but pastry for breakfast. My body demands the perfect balance of carbs, protein, and fat.

And how about them eggs? Who could resist them?

The sight of these on an empty stomach was almost enough to send me running from the room.

As you can see from these photos, pretty much everything has dairy in it. I did the best I could. I ended up with eggs, an English muffin with peanut butter, and some juice.

These egg disks were definitely weird, both in texture and flavor. I hoped they didn't have MUCH dairy in them.

And my English muffin, with the peanut butter on it. Such an appetizing color... Oh, I learned a new skill. How to use the industrial size toaster that sucks the food in at the top and shoots it out the bottom. I had to ask someone how to use it... I really can't eat an untoasted English muffin.

Normally, I don't have juice at breakfast, but of course there was no decent tea and coffee gives me migraines. The juice choice were orange or grape. Grape juice is practically like mainlining pure sugar. The water cooler was empty, so orange juice it was. I never know on these site visits when I'll get a chance to have lunch and what my options may be, so I try to eat a good-size breakfast with plenty of protein so I don't get shaky, or worse, start acting strange because of low blood sugar.

For lunch, the Tech Services manager was kind enough to drive me to Burt's, a local 50's themed diner and one of the few non-fast food restaurants in the tiny little town where the host site is located. I ended up with chili and a salad, and forgot to bring my camera. I really liked the vibe at Burt's-- they had great, fun music! (Yackety Yack-- don't talk back!)

Dinner ended up being a trip to Outback Steakhouse. I couldn't get into much trouble there with a hunk of meat and a salad! I was even able to get a sweet potato (low glycemic value) rather than a regular potato (high glycemic value). As they didn't see fit to give me any bread, I didn't have to concern myself with whether or not it contained dairy.

I consulted my contact at the host site, Susan, the Tech Services manager, about restaurant options in Waldorf. She confirmed the awful truth-- nothing but chain restaurants. After cruising up and down the main drag and rejecting such choices as Denny's, Chuck E Cheese, Rally's and Chili's, I think it will be back to the Olive Garden tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DF17: On the Road Again

"Ain't it great to be on the road again (not)? The life I love is making music with my friends (does singing along with my CD's in the car count??). It's great to be on the road again..." Hey, Willie Nelson's got nothing on me.

Yes, DomesticMuse is on the road this week, traveling to Maryland to work with a member library there. As I say this I am reminded of the Grey's Anatomy episode where Izzy and Alex had a patient who continually referred to himself in the 3rd person.... But I digress. Even though Grey's Anatomy is one my favorite shows ever.

I was worried about whether I could successfully avoid dairy while being forced to eat road food. My old faithful friend, Sonic, can't help me, as my strategy is usually to pull in, get a milkshake, and call it lunch. But so far, so good!

I stopped once on the 5 hr. drive here to beautiful downtown Waldorf, MD, where I am putting up at Ye Olde Country Inn and Suites. It's not bad as motels go. It even fulfills my one iron-clad requirement: must have interior corridors. When I'm driving, usually I don't stop or only stop briefly, but coming up on the 3 hour mark I started feeling that surreal Bell's Palsy exhaustion, where it seems like I'm underwater or floating above my body. Fortunately, there was a Cracker Barrel 5 miles down the road. So for lunch I had the Tuesday special: Meatloaf (sans mashed potatoes, sniff! sniff!) with salad and green beans and a corn muffin. As far as I know it was all dairy-free.

For dinner, I tied to eat at a Peruvian restaurant near my motel. But after making my way across the deathtrap of 3 lanes to make a lefthand turn across Highway 301, I could not find a restaurant anywhere in the shopping plaza. Curses!!!! My quest for Peruvian food is foiled again... no Papas a la Huancaina for me.

I am surrounded by Generica of the worst kind. The hotel clerk named off: Applebee's, Friday's, Ruby Tuesday, and Chili's. (I'm sure there has to be a Hooters here too.) All of which I detest, and it was taking all my energy to maintain an appearance of pleasant interest rather than asking to borrow her trash can so I could hurl into it. Just as I was about to despair, she said the magic words: Olive Garden. After the fiasco with the Peruvian place, I set my GPS to "Olive Garden" and it led me right there.

I arrived just before the rush. A careful reading of the menu revealed only a few naturally dairy-free choices. Spaghetti with meat sauce was one, and Chicken Marsala was the other. I picked the chicken. As I was blissfully munching away on breadsticks and salad, the following happy thought occurred to me: Since I am alone, I do not have to share this salad. Therefore I am entitled to pick out all my favorite bits and put them on my plate!! I get the olives!! Every last one of them! And the tomatoes, and the pepperoncini! Yay!! This is the best day ever!

The chicken marsala arrived accompanied by roasted green and red peppers and potatoes. It wasn't bad, but it had a weirdly Chinese flavor to it. I guess maybe too much salt in the sauce? It tasted like it had been marinated in soy sauce. But it was still good. The potatoes were delicious (I only had a taste).

Alas, dear readers: despite the fact that I brought my camera with me on purpose so I could document my road food, I forgot to take any pics at lunch and it didn't occur to me to take them at dinner until my plate had been cleared away. So here are a few photos to share the ambience (yes, I was relegated to woman-eating-alone-gets-worst-table-in-the-house land).

And a photo of my ultra cute waiter. The photo doesn't do him justice: he's much cuter in person.

Don't you just love it when gorgeous young men HAVE to pay attention and be nice to you? See h0w nice he was? He even let the crazy no-dairy lady take his picture!

On a non-food note, I noticed something interesting today. However, it may bore you, and it's kind of personal, so I'm warning you now.

I never really talk about this, but. I suffer from chronic debilitating clinical depression and have taken medication for it for years. And been living a wonderful, happy life for years. Until last September when I dragged myself into my dr.'s office, feeling of low moral character because I had let the blues take over and had not been able to vanquish them with all the power of positive thinking I could muster. My dr. listened as I whined about what a loser I was to let my life be governed by bad feelings and she then said one profound thing: "Your anti-depressant isn't working."

I blinked. And said, "You mean... I FEEL sick because I AM sick?" Yes indeed. So it has been a struggle all year trying to find the right balance of medication... that my insurance will pay for. We think we finally have it. Although the bad days still strike without warning.

I had one recently that was so bad, it's almost funny. I was convinced it was impossible for me to ever feel happy again. I felt depressed on a cellular level-- down to my bones, and in my skull, which even hurt. It was exactly like what Meredith said once on Grey's Anatomy about feeling so depressed you actually feel toxic, like you will infect the happy people around you. I felt that the best thing to do would be to get on a bus and go far, far away where I couldn't infect anyone. Of course, as utterly ridiculous as that sounds, at the time it felt like The Truth. Instead, I went and hid in my walk-in closet for several hours, because it's the only place in the house where you can't hear a thing. Not the TV, not DS's guitar, not DC's hooting Tweet Deck. It was so peaceful in there I actually fell asleep for a while! And when I woke up, I felt better.

Anyway, today in the car I was listening to one of my favorite CD's, Steve Tyrell's A New Standard, where he sings all the great old jazz vocal standards. I was singing along and having the best time. Before Steve I had listened to my Motown Collection (I'm real partial to Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) and been singing along too. I realized it has been FOREVER since I listened to mY music. We always listen to DC's because that's what's in the car, but today I brought my stuff along for the rental car. Who could be sad singing On the Sunny Side of The Street? or Give Me the Simple Life? or I've Got the World On A String?

I realized that while I've listened to Whoosiwhatsit Talkin' Bout His Gen-eration and hoping he dies before he gets old at least 100 times, I haven't listened to my happy music for months and months! One afternoon of listening to happy lyrics that make me realize how much I love my family and my life was incredibly therapeutic. I'm going to make a point to listen to happy stuff every day, and fill my head with happy thoughts.

The other thing that hit me like a 2 by 4 is just how utterly fitting it is that I should be stricken with Bell's Palsy. After months of sadness so deep I felt like I'd never want to smile again, what happens? I get a disease that literally makes me unable to smile! My body is telling me as clearly as it can that I need more joy and laughter and happiness in my life. Or really, that there is already so much joy and laughter and happiness in my life that I just can't see through the haze of depression. Well, today I got a glimpse of it-- and it was wonderful.

The lyrics from The Sunny Side of the Street are so true, and I am so blessed to have wonderful, supportive family and friends: "If I never have a cent, I'll be rich as Rockefeller. I've got gold dust at my feet, on the sunny side of the street."

Thanks for sharing my rollercoaster ride with me, my dusty friends!

Monday, August 17, 2009

DF16: Gooey Grilled "Cheez" Sandwiches with Ham and Tomato

In addition to Tuna Melts, grilled sandwiches are another quick go-to meal for us. While I rarely make them only with cheese, the cheese is always a key ingredient in any combo, whether it's my fake muffalettas or I'm using up leftovers to create turkey with apple, brie, and walnuts. I can't bear to have to forego grilled sandwiches forever!

Luckily, there is a delicious solution in the Gooey Grilled Cheez sandwich recipe from The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook. Instead of making a slicing "cheez," this one doesn't have to be made ahead of time and is more of a sauce-- well, actually stiffer-- maybe pate is the best word! It's super quick and best of all, we found it to be very, very yummy! THIS is what I will probably use from now on to top my tuna melts, rather than the Colby block "uncheese." Lisa Fowler's review on Amazon says she even uses this to put on pizza.

Here is the recipe:

Gooey Grilled Cheese

2/3 c. water
1/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes
2 T flour (any kind, your choice)
2T fresh lemon juice
2 T sesame tahini
1 1/2 T. ketchup
2 t. kuzu, arrowroot, or cornstarch
1 T sesame tahini
1 t. onion powder
1/4 t. each garlic powder, turmeric, dry mustard and salt
8 slices whole grain or gluten-free rice bread

Combine all ingredients, except bread, in a medium saucepan, and whisk until mixture is smooth.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantlywith the wire whisk. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is very thick and smooth. Remove from heat

Place 4 of the bread slices on a flat surface. Cover one side of each slice evenly with the cooked mixture. Top with remaining bread slices.
Grill in a large heave skillet misted with non-stick spray or coated with a small amount of vegetable oil or nonhydrogenated margarine. Brown each side well, carefully turning over once. Slice sandwiches in half diagonally and serve at once.

I misread the recipe and used 2 T cashew butter instead of tahini. I also found, as did Lisa Fowler in her review, that more ketchup and salt were needed. This time I did use the amount of lemon juice called for (2 T), and it tasted delicious!

Was it cheesey? Again, yes and no. The overall impression was one of cheese, but this thing too is its own deelicious self. To jazz up the sammies, I used my favorite Prairie bread and spread one half of the slices with mustard. I topped those pieces of bread generously with sliced ham and a nice big slice of tomato. On the other pieces of bread, I spread the "cheez" goo. Then I put the 2 halves together. Instead of my usual calorie-saving egg dip, I brushed the bread with melted butter. (I sprayed my griddle with non-stick spray). I did not have any trouble with the sandwiches falling apart, and with their delightful coating of butter, they browned beautifully. The rich taste of the butter served to heighten the illusion that we were eating melted cheese. The main thing missing was the stretch-- you know how wonderfully stretchy melted cheese gets! These sandewichs really were absolutely scrumptious. Even DS ate his.

I served the sammies with mugs of Tomato and Roasted Pepper soup. This too tasted "creamy" although there was not a drop of dairy in the soup! It was almost like my beloved cream of tomato soup. Very tasty!!

Color: 3 stars. It was certainly very cheddary-colored from the ketchup. Appetizing.
Texture: 3 stars. It was rich and creamy.
Cheese Flavor: 3 stars: The overall impression was cheesy.
Taste: 3 stars: Fabulous!! It was very savory and just plain yummy. While it does remind you of cheese, it is its own thing, too-- and a delicious thing worth eating again!
Overall: 3 stars: Superb!
DC-O-Meter: He loved it! 2 thumbs up

Sunday, August 16, 2009

DF15: Turkish Hamburgers and Girlichef's Salad

Hamburgers are always great weekend fare, especially when DS is here. Recently we've tried and enjoyed bison burgers. While leafing through Sheila Lukins's All Around the World cookbook, I found a recipe for "Great Turkish Hamburgers." This proved to be a blend of beef, lamb, and Turkish seasonings, so I was excited to try it. DC and DS are big lamb fans, and DC is practically addicted to gyros.

Side dishes for burgers are always a challenge for me, since I am supposed to take it easy on potatoes. Sweet potatoes are great, but we do get tired of them! When I saw Girlichef's recipe for warm Gemstone Potato and Greenbean Salad, I knew I had to try it!

A last minute inspiration was to make homemade pita bread instead of using the French rolls Sheila's recipe called for. Homemade pitas are so easy and so good! If you can make pancakes, you can make homemade pitas. There is no yeast in the recipe I use. The pitas were a great platform for the burgers and condiments. To go along with, I made a tomato salad dressed with garlic mayonnaise and thin strips of sauteed Anaheim peppers (the closest thing I could find to Italian frying peppers).

Here is Sheila's recipe for

Great Turkish Hamburgers
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 lb, ground lamb
1/4 c. coarsely ground onion
1 t. minced garlic
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. chopped Italian parsley
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. ground cinnamon (*I only used 1/8th t.)
1/2 t. ground cumin
1 t. coarse salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
8 French bread rolls
Sauteed thinly sliced strips Italian frying peppers

Thinly sliced tomatoes
Thinly sliced shallots tossed with minced parsley

1. Place all the burger ingredients through the pepper in a large bowl and work with your hands to just combine. Do not overmix.
2. Form the mixture into 8 oval patties about 3" long, 2" across, and 1" thick. (I just formed them into large hamburger patties)
3. Grill, broil or panfry the patties, 8 minutes on the first side and 5 minutes on the second side.

Side 1

Side 2

4. Meanwhile, split the French rolls in half and remove some of the excess bread from the centers.
5. Place the patties in the rolls and serve immediately with a platter of the toppings.

These burgers were really yummy! I ended up using 1 lb. of ground sirloin and 1/2 lb. of ground lamb, since that's what I had on hand. Also, I am not a huge fan of cinnamon in meat dishes, so I added only a tiny bit to the burgers.

To make Girlichef's salad, I first created a dressing to toss with the hot vegetables. In the bottom of a serving bowl I combined 6 T. extra-virgin olive oil, 2 T. white wine vinegar, 1 t. salt, freshly ground pepper, 1 clove crushed garlic, and 1 t. dijon mustard. As Heather says, adjust the proportions of these ingredients to suit your taste.

Next, I cooked the potatoes and green beans. Of course, there were no gemstome potatoes at my market, but the baby Yukon golds looked delicious.

Finally, combine the hot vegetables with the dressing and toss well.

Easy, and delicious! Unfortunately, my green beans quickly turned a shade of army green, but they were still quite tasty!

We absolutely loved the salad! I am therefore bestowing the coveted Tasty Award upon Girlichef for her delectable recipe.
Thanks for sharing your tasty recipe, Heather!! :)

Here's a shot of my homemade pitas. The top one looks like a smiley face! See my earlier post for the recipe.

Tomato salad with garlic mayonnaise for topping the burgers:

Fried pepper strips:

To serve, I placed a pita on the plate, then added a burger and topped generously with the tomato salad. I added the sliced peppers. The green bean and potato salad went alongside. I really loved eating my pita-- all the yummy juices and seasonings had soaked into it, and it was so good. Alternatively, I could have wrapped the burgers in the pitas, gyro-style. But since we were eating on our laps, this arrangement was a little easier. With all the delicious flavors and toppings, we didn't even miss the cheese on our burgers!

DC's plate:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

DF14: Egg Curry and Fancy Brown Rice blend

I have a passion for Indian food, one that is not quite shared by the others in my household. Faced with some eggs that needed to be used up, a hankering for Indian flavors, and a pantry already containing most of what I needed, the egg curry seemed like a good choice. DS has had the dish before and liked it; it was new to DC, however.

I have already mentioned that DC suffers from "Missing Porkchop Syndrome:" when he thinks of a vegetarian meal, he pictures a big plate full of food, with a large empty spot where the porkchop should be. So I wasn't really sure if he would enjoy this meal... particularly since I was planning to serve a fancy brown rice blend along with the curry. I picked it up at WF recently. It's one of those fancy Lundberg rice blends, this one containing long grain brown rice, Weihani (a red rice, I believe) and black Japonica rice.

Since the rice needed about an hour to cook, I started it first. I thought about using the pressure cooker, but didn't feel like trying to figure out the timing. I followed the package directions, adding butter and salt to the rice and water. Within about 15 minutes after the rice started simmering, DS and DC both were asking what smelled so good!

The egg curry is a snap to make if you have already hard-cooked and peeled the eggs ahead of time. This recipe is from Cuisines of India: The Art and Tradition of Regional Indian Cooking by Smita Chandra and Sanjeev Chandra.

Ande Ki Kari
(Egg Curry from Punjab)

2 T vegetable oil
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1 1/2 c. c. finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
Salt to taste
1/2 t. turmeric
3/4 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. garam masala
1/4 to 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1 t. kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 c. water
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T chopped fresh cilantro leaves
(2 T heavy cream)

1. Warm the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin seeds and after a few seconds, the chopped onions and garlic. Saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium and add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes, mashing them into the sauce with the back of your spoon. When the oil appears around the edges, add salt and all the spices. \

Cook for 1 minute, then add the water and the whole eggs.

2. Cover and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and mix in the lemon juice and fresh cilantro.

Let the curry cool for a few minutes before mixing in the cream. Just before serving, lift the eggs out of the sauce and transfer to a serving bowl. Halve them and pour the sauce over.

Serves 3-4 with other dishes.

I served this unusual dish with the brown rice blend and some mushrooms and baby sweet peas.
Instead of adding heavy cream to the sauce, I added some butter, which gave a nice richness to the sauce.

Here is the cooked rice:

Unfortunately, it has a bit of a grayish tinge to it because of the black Japonica rice, but it was really delicious!

DC's plate:

Everyone really enjoyed the rice. I loved the curry... DC and DS, not so much. But they ate it! DC even pretended to enjoy it. I think he's a keeper.

Chi miigwetch SCL: thank you to my son for creating this logo
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