Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pasticcio a la Aida

Since beginning the Great Unprocessed Foods Challenge, I've started watching a LOT more Food Network.  Semi-homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee isn't much help to me -- the "semi-" part of things typically being an uberprocessed bag of some mysterious food-like substance -- but Ina Garten ranks in my top ten role models.  Someday I'd very much like to live in a gorgeous house in the Hamptons with an incredible garden, all sorts of fabulous gay florists and butchers who know me by name, and a supportive husband who claims to love everything I cook and doesn't mind if I put two sticks of butter in it, thereby gaining forty pounds.

So, in short, I've been DVRing a number of these shows, with seriously delicious results.  Before Matt left for the weekend, we feasted on a delicious pasticcio I picked up from "Ask Aida".

The sauce is simple: saute garlic and onion in a little olive oil.  Add one pound of turkey, pork, or beef and brown.  Stir in a large can of tomatoes and one teaspoon of cinnamon.  The cinnamon is the most important ingredient.  Totally makes the dish.

Simmer for ten to twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, cook one pound of short-length pasta (we used up the Racconio shells) and grate somewhere around two cups of parmesan reggiano.  Layer in a baking dish: half the pasta, one cup parm, all the sauce, the other half the pasta, the other cup of parm.  Aida recommended mixing an egg with a cup of milk and pouring this over the top of everything, but we didn't have an egg on hand and just nixed this part.  It came out delicious nonetheless.

Bake covered for about thirty minutes, then uncovered for another ten.

Yum.  Yum.  Yumyum.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tea Party!

My close group of girlfriends at the law school started a tea party tradition at some point last year, and it has gradually formalized to include dresses, crustless sandwiches, and enormous flowered hats. 

This time around, I hosted and served up some unprocessed takes on old favorites...

Egg salad made from free range eggs, Spectrum brand mayo, a fancy whole mustard, diced green olives and cucumber with salt and pepper to taste, served up on a de-crustified hearty whole wheat bread. 

Shauna also brought some sandwiches: Roquefort and pear on rye.

I'm allergic to blue cheese, which was seriously regrettable, because these looked and smelled amazing.  

Amy brought muffins and fruit, Allison and Katie some cookies which I couldn't eat but photographed nonetheless...

Thankfully, I'd also baked some cookies, so I didn't need to work the willpower too hard:

These are a simple butter and sugar recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  After mixing them up, I chilled the dough for about a half an hour, then rolled it out with my rolling pin and punched circles with the rim of a champagne glass.  I then cut out shapes from half of them using this adorable mini-canape-cutter set Santa stole from my grandmother's apartment and put in my stocking this Christmas.

They baked at 375 for about ten minutes, after which I spread the bottoms with a little of Katie's home-made strawberry rhubarb jam.  Cover with the cut-out tops, and voila!  I AM MY OWN BAREFOOT CONTESSA. 

Fire at C&D

A brief public service announcement:

C&D family farms, from whom I buy my naturally-raised meat, had a fire this week which burned down their barn.  They need all the support they can get right now, so if you're a reader in Hyde Park, please come out to Harper Court, 52nd and Blackstone, on Sunday from 11:00 to 2:00 to get some meat from Crystal.

Their homepage is here and their list of stock (though it does vary a little, from week to week) is here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Busy Weeknights

Those of you follow me on Twitter, gchat, facebook, or actually (it still happens sometimes) just know me in real life may be aware that this week has been BEYOND ABSURD in terms of stress level, and that the weeks ahead only promise to get worse.  Given the amount of actual work there is to be done, sometimes it seems a little silly to be putting in any time at all on cooking a meal -- much less photographing it and then, most ridiculous of all, writing about it.  The wonderful narcissism of blogging is sort of the ULTIMATE PURPOSELESS TIME DRAIN.  

That being said, it's a time drain I look forward to.  If I have to come home at the end of the day drained, I guess I'd rather spend my free time thinking about (and eating!) delicious food than, say, compulsively watching The Bachelor: On the Wings of Love.  Which I totally don't do. 

And for no better reason than that, the cooking and blogging continues.

So, I set a goal this week of doing more legit, photographable cooking for my lone self.  Truth be told, I still drank a lot of smoothies...

... My go-to breakfast of choice.  I usually toss in a half cup of frozen organic wild blueberries, a half cup of frozen organic raspberries, a half cup of plain low-fat yogurt (this Wallaby brand is Australian-style, very soupy and preservative free), and a cup of O.J.

They're pretty tart, which I find refreshing first thing in the morning, and I like the sugar kick of energy all those carbs provide.  

And lunch on more than one occasion was, confessedly, apples, bread, and cheese.  I did it right at dinner time, though, taking a half hour out of every day to comfort-cook.  A couple days ago it was a grilled burger with a side of steamed artichoke with curry dip:

The curry dip is a simple mix of the plain yogurt, Spectrum brand mayo (expeller pressed canola oil, whole eggs, filtered water, honey, distilled white vinegar, sea salt, mustard, lemon juice concentrate), a squirt of lemon juice, salt, and plenty of curry powder to taste.  Zing.

Yesterday it was a lemony Greek-style pasta:

Racconio brand shells (just durum wheat semolina and water) tossed with a "sauce" of the C&D farms ground beef, chopped onion and garlic sauteed in olive oil with thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and crumbled feta cheese. 

And when weeknights do their worst, my favorite way to fight back is with an unprocessed version of an old standard: cookies and milk.

Crunchy, almondy biscotti from Treasure Island's "Rustic Bakery", flaked with cocoa nibs and dipped in a cool glass of decadently creamy whole milk

Sometimes people ask about this eating regime as if it's a difficult diet I've set myself to lose thirty pounds.  But frankly, looking at that photo, I think the opposite may be true.  Food doesn't get richer, or sweeter, or more emotionally satisfying than that. 

And I think there may be no going back.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Garver Moore's Tips for Understanding What You're Eating

Since beginning this blog, I've had a great deal of help from a number of people, but I thought it was worth giving a shout-out to Garver, my foodie ex-boyfriend, who first recommended "Omnivore's Dilemma" to me way back when (though I'll admit, I declined to read it for years).  His recommendations have been especially helpful for me in better understanding the science and chemistry behind food and the American food industry, including...

For those who prefer their information hard-bound: Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen".  I can't tell you how many times since purchasing this I've used it to reference something I'm cooking with or intending to eat.  It's like the ultimate chefslashchemist encyclopedia.

For those who prefer their information easily clickable: FoodUCate.  The linked post is approximately the GROSSEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN, and a great reminder of why I took on this challenge in the first place.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lentil Lentil

Last night it was Matt's turn to cook, and upon request he served up one of his signature dishes -- and one of my personal favorites -- lentil dhaal.  Matt learned somewhere that "dhaal" translates as "lentil,": hence, the dish's name, "lentil lentil."

He's never taught me the recipe, though I know it involves lentils, a red onion, garlic, chopped kale, and significant turmeric, cumin, and cayenne pepper.  In the past, he's married everything together with a generous helping of coconut milk out of a can, but we've been unable to find any canned coconut milk without additives like guar gum.  We considered purchasing a whole coconut and doing our best with that, but settled on the following box, discovered at Whole Foods:

The only ingredient listed is organic coconut, which swayed us to "do... organic" here, but as I post this photo I'm having a little trouble persuading myself that this is totally on the up and up.  It is a box of dehydrated, powdered coconut ... does it really count as a whole food?

I guess it depends on what I'm trying to do this year.  If I'm trying to avoid manufactured foods entirely, I may well starve, as suggested here.  And I have to assume that a box containing only coconut grown organically, devoid of guar gum or anything else, is at least a step in the right direction.

And since we're following Pollan's Food Rule #63 here (namely, "COOK"), I think it's probably going to be okay...

The dish came out a little drier with the dehydrated coconut (just mixed with a little warm water) than the creamy coconut milk, but was, in my opinion, infinitely the tastier; the powder imparted a stronger coconut flavor, adding a tinge of sweetness to the spice.  (Calorie counters beware, though: we only realized after the fact that using a whole box of the stuff had imparted about 1,500 calories worth of delicious coconut flavor...)

As a final note, you may have noticed the bottle in the background.  Matt and I have especially taken to heart Food Rule #43: Have a glass of wine with dinner.

That is a very, very good rule.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cooking from an Empty Fridge

The last few days have been a little busy; it's been the kind of week where you don't get around to showering, much less wasting an hour at the grocery store.  So last night, with approximately an hour between musical rehearsal and Matt's arrival, I opened my fridge to discover seven different cheeses, six pounds of frozen ground beef, a jug of milk, one lemon, three tiny roasted chicken thighs, four brussels sprouts (from weeks ago, going bad), some jars of salsa and jam, yogurt, and a bag of freezer-burned sweet corn.


What's that cooking show where the judges give the chefs four or five totally random ingredients and make them cook something involving all of them?  This is how I felt last night.

That being said, I also had an onion, some canned beans, assorted baking goods, and all my spices in the pantry...

Taco night!

I heated some black beans on the stove and tossed in the frozen corn and a chopped onion.  Lime and fresh cilantro are sort of the hallmark of black bean and corn salsa; unfortunately I had neither, but the lemon and some salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper sufficed for seasoning.  Once Matt arrived, he set to work shredding the chicken thighs and heating the meat, also seasoned with lemon, salt, and cumin.

I found a quick and easy recipe for home-made tortillas on Sparkpeople (just flour, salt, baking powder, oil and water).  They came out sort of oddly; until I started rolling them with my rolling pin, they were too thick and puffy, but once I used the rolling pin, they became very thin and crispy.  This resulted in Matt getting chalupas and me getting tostadas, but whatever -- last night I went from zero to HOMEMADE TORTILLAS.

We topped them with salsa, two kinds of shredded cheese, and a little of the plain yogurt to mirror sour cream.

For initially being so stymied by my empty fridge, I have to say I'm pretty proud of the result.  And perhaps the greatest takeaway -- aside from the fact that there IS IN FACT A USE for that freezer burned corn that you've kept for two years buried behind your ice cream -- is that making the homemade tortillas took literally an extra fifteen minutes.  In the past, I would have just popped some Ortega ones in the oven to reheat; easier, sure, but these were so much cheaper and healthier.

(Of course, that extra time doesn't include clean-up, which Matt graciously took care of...)

Finally, I'd whipped up some chocolate cupcakes earlier in the day to bring to my clinic team meeting; while baking those, I had some extra batter, which, for lack of anything better to do with it (I considered eating it, but womanfully refrained) I tossed in a bread pan and cooked into a small loaf.

Topped with a leftover cupcake (dusted with powdered sugar), some thawed frozen fruit, an ounce of melted/artfully shaped/re-hardened Theo chocolate, and OH MAN...

Empty fridge: 0.  Juliet: 28083792038409.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's the Opposite of Proselytizing?

A bag of M&Ms leftover from Christmas have been tempting me since our return from Louisville, so I tossed them into a pretty standard chocolate chip cookie batter and intend to bring them to musical rehearsal tonight, there to pawn them off on unsuspecting law students.

Encouraging others to eat the unprocessed foods in my kitchen is probably breaking a Food Rule (or at least, the Golden Rule) but hey -- I'm looking out for Number One here.

And frankly, Numbers Two - Thirty Seven aren't getting that bad of a deal.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to Real Life

After our sorry airport- restaurant experience this morning, we munched our way through a simple afternoon snack of apples and butterkase cheese, finishing the Whole Foods ciabatta with some Irish butter and washing it all down with a couple beers.

I love that real life tastes so good.

Chocolate, Chili, and the Difficulties of Travel

Matt and I flew out of town for the weekend -- an impromptu romantic getaway to Louisville, courtesy of Southwest's 72-hour $25 ticket sale, more on this below -- so I apologize, I have a few days to catch up on.   

After my week of wholesome but uninteresting eating alone in the apartment, I was ready when Matt arrived Thursday evening, setting out a decanter of Layer Cake shiraz (one of our favorites), some artisanal cheeses I picked up at Whole Foods, and a bar of Theo chocolate, as recommended by more than one reader.  The chocolate was beautiful; laced with orange, it was fragrant, dark, aromatic.  The crackers in the center of the plate were a Chicago local, "Nikki's Divine Crackers," flavor: "Oh, for the Love of Herb!".  The ingredients list reads like how I'd cook crackers in my home (wheat flour, salt, dried onion and garlic, etc.)  Nikki's picture is on the back, along with her website, email, phone number, and home address.  This strikes me as a bad idea on her part, but perhaps the best testimony to the quality of her crackers; if anything ever goes wrong with them I KNOW WHERE TO FIND HER.  

On the other hand, I'm currently considering sending a bouquet because they are just that delicious, which is maybe what she's banking on.  

As a midnight snack, the food was so simple, clean, and delicious.  Matt had eaten on the road, but by the time we'd finished the wine, I was nonetheless cutting us more cheese and chocolate.  

The following day, our last in town before setting off, Becky was over again.  Margaret had commented on my last blog post suggesting we cook a big pot of chili, so as Becky and I worked at casting the law school musical, my loving sous chef tossed back a couple beers in the kitchen and diced onions, green peppers, and zucchini for a garden vegetable chili.  

The recipe is one of our favorites: 

Dice an onion and mince a couple garlic cloves; cook in a large stock pot in a couple teaspoons of olive oil until almost tender.  Season with a little salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes (if you like it spicy!).  Add one pound ground beef, a diced green pepper and diced zucchini.  

Once the beef is browned, stir in a large can of peeled tomatoes, a can of black beans, a can of red kidney beans, and two cups of beef broth. (We substituted vegetable broth for Becky's vegetarian version.)  Season the pot with three tablespoons chili powder, two teaspoons cumin, a pinch of cayenne, and more salt to taste.  

Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and leave it to simmer for an hour.  

We served ours up with finely diced yellow onion and shredded New Zealand grass-raised cheddar, alongside a beautiful ciabatta loaf from Whole Foods (ingredients: organic white flour, water, salt, yeast). 

In sum: ohhh, YEAH.  Thanks, Margaret ... BEST. IDEA. EVER. 

So, after a week of light eating and these delicious meals of beautiful whole foods, we went on vacation, where I discovered myself somewhat at sea.  Travel always presents a serious challenge to any notions of healthful eating that I may have -- why does the McDonald's at the airport smell so much better than anywhere else?? -- but part of the draw of Louisville was its reputation for a strong local foodie culture.  I imagined finding fresh, local, whole foods at reasonable prices in boutique restaurants run by young, tattooed chefs; the sort of chefs and restaurants I imagine losing contestants on Top Chef going on to be and run. 

Okay, yeah.  Well.  When we arrived in Louisville on Saturday at midday, we walked several long blocks in a direction we thought was towards the Mayan Cafe, before discovering that A) it was much farther away than we thought and B) it wasn't open for lunch on Saturdays.  So we walked back the other direction, discovering cafe after cafe closed until dinner.  Eventually, stomachs growling and somewhat gloomy about our prospects of finding the afore-mentioned Top Chefs, we came upon a local Mexican restaurant cum sports-bar kind of place and, out of sheer gratitude that it was open, went in.  Matt's fajitas were fine.  My burrito was doused in some mysterious cheese-like substance that formed a crust as it cooled.  

One block later, we discovered Proof, open for business and serving salads of local mixed lettuces, pork brisket sandwiches with house-made krout, and house-made sausage "cotechino". Kill/self.

We'd researched and made a reservation in advance for dinner Saturday night, at the fancy-shmancy Brown Hotel restaurant, The English Grille.  The food was beautifully crafted and presented, the service (over?-)attentive, and the wine lush, but we agreed afterward (midwesterners that we are) that the steaks had too much sauce on them.  Let the meat speak for itself! 

We breakfasted yesterday at Proof -- where the food was everything the menu suggested -- and spent a leisurely day exploring the art at the 21C museum/hotel and wandering through the historic Old Louisville district, hoping to see a ghost.  Struggled again to find a restaurant open for dinner on a Sunday night, but this time our search ended well, at Volare.  Fantastic, satisfying house-made pastas, topped off with approximately the greatest thing I've ever eaten: a flourless chocolate cake created by their in-house pastry chef, surrounded by gorgeous mixed berries and topped with a fresh, vanilla-bean ice cream. 

I've had this dessert at almost every restaurant I've ever been to, but sweet heaven, this one was just in a category of its own.  Matt declared he was done eating anything else.  I considered remaining in Louisville for good.

Of course, we had to leave, in the end.  And of course, we woke up late and failed to get breakfast this morning, leaving us hungry again as we arrived at the airport.  Before I really thought about it, I was facing down a sad airport restaurant version of a roast beef sandwich with "au jus" and a pile of greasy Ruffles-like potato chips.  

So I'll admit; I had more than one "exception" meal this weekend.  Worth noting, however, is that those two meals were the ones I least enjoyed.  Eating unprocessed while on the road takes research, preparation, and sometimes a willingness to go hungry an extra block or two, but in the end the food is just SO MUCH BETTER than the alternative.  Pollan writes in "In Defense of Food" about the difference between dining as a human and feeding like an animal, and we could tell that difference in those two meals.  I hate that my "exception" meals weren't foods I was truly craving and savoring, but rather were sorry substitutes that I chewed and swallowed on appeal from my stomach.  

As a final note, apologies for the lack of pictures!  We ran late on our way to the airport, decided there was no time to go back and grab the camera, and then SERIOUSLY REGRETTED THAT DECISION throughout the weekend in beautiful Louisville...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Alone in the Apartment

Another discovery about my yearlong regime: with no one else around to cook for and with, my diet degenerates to the eating of unrelated food items instead of thoughtfully prepared meals.  (It is worth noting that this breaks another one of Pollan's rules: meals should be experiences rather than just feeding... Clearly the man was never a law student.)  I've felt some stress the past couple days about not posting, but quite frankly, nothing I've eaten has been worth posting.  My meals the past couple days have looked mostly like this:

*a piece of cheese
*leftover home-baked bread and butter
*apple slices

No matter how gorgeously arranged, this meal doesn't photograph well.  It is just not sexy.  Sorry, Internet, I'll try to do better soon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Week Two Begins...

One week down, fifty-two more to go.  Some things I've already discovered:

*Eating unprocessed requires a great deal of time, most of it spent picking up bar after bar of chocolate, desperately searching for one -- JUST ONE -- that doesn't contain soy lecithin.  I spent a half an hour at Whole Foods yesterday, checking EVERY SINGLE BAR OF CHOCOLATE THEY HAD FROM EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD looking for one that didn't contain soy.  I now know how to say soy lecithin in German, Dutch, Spanish, French, and Portugese.  And I ended up simply buying a bag of whole cocoa beans.  (More on this below).  

*Eating unprocessed requires a great deal of money.  Okay, maybe not a GREAT deal, and it's likely counterbalanced by the amount I'm eating in rather than out, but my grocery bill skyrocketed from about $60 to about $100.  May need to start clipping some more coupons...

*Eating unprocessed can taste really, really good, or can taste really, really weird.  The weirdness generally happens when I attempt to recreate favorite processed recipes (i.e. my grandmother's cheesy hashbrown potatoes) with ingredients that follow the guidelines.  Sometimes funkiness results.

*Eating unprocessed is a great way to convince people to come over.  "I'm cooking entirely whole, natural, beautiful, fresh foods tonight!  Want dinner?"  The number of friends I have in the world just went up.

This final observation provides a natural segue into this weekend's photographs ...

Matt left Friday, and with the apartment to myself, I immediately sat down in front of a "Say Yes to the Dress" marathon with a huge bowl of black beans and melted cheese.  The aged cheddar I found without rennet (purchased before learning from David that rennet is naturally occurring in ALL CHEESES) made the mix a little sharper than I like, but this is still a go-to comfort food, and El Ranchero brand tortilla chips (a Chicago local!) contain only corn, water, corn oil, lime, and salt:

After enjoying my embarrassing singles behavior, my next step without Matt in the apartment was to almost immediately invite over a couple friends I ran into, Becky and Marisa, for a girl's night.  The plan: eat a big, home-cooked meal and watch musicals, ideally singing along under the influence of a few glasses of wine.

I presented them with a couple menu options, and we eventually settled on spinach-orzo salad with lemon vinaigrette, cheesy scalloped potatoes, and home-baked whole wheat bread.  As a surprise, I also worked up the chocolate pot de cremes.

Needless to say, I shopped and cooked all day.

The bread was the easiest; when I taught  on the Reservation in South Dakota, we often baked our own bread.  (We didn't get to the grocery store much;  it was a half hour away.)  I use the recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.  The bread is hearty, a little sweet from a couple tablespoons brown sugar, and bakes up beautifully:

We topped it with Kerrygold Irish butter and more of Katie's strawberry jam.

The spinach-orzo salad is a family favorite.  Chop spinach and mix even parts with cooked orzo (cooled with a cold water rinse).  Toss with a dressing of even parts olive oil and lemon juice, infused with a garlic clove and spiced with some salt and pepper to taste.  Toast pine nuts briefly on the stove and add them into the mix, along with crumbled feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, if desired.

My first experiment of the night came with the presentation of the salad: parmesan "baskets" that I'd seen done on Bravo's "Chef Academy".  I followed the instructions here and the result was -- if I do say so myself -- sort of awesome:

The cheesy scalloped potatoes were also from the Better Homes recipe book (a total recommended buy).  A simple sauce is made of one chopped onion and minced garlic cooked in four tablespoons of butter.  Mix in 1/4 cup of flour, then add two cups of milk all at once, stirring over medium heat until bubbly and thickened.  (At this point, I added in a couple cups of grated cheddar and gruyere.)  Pour over a couple pounds of thinly-sliced potatoes in a casserole dish, bake covered for 40 minutes and then uncovered for another 45-50, and you get:

The coup de grace was my surprise dessert for the girls: the experimental chocolate pot de cremes, made from fresh whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, and the Whole Foods cocoa beans, finely ground in my coffee grinder.  The came out absolutely beautiful, and were deliciously thick and richly chocolatey to taste, but remained pretty grainy, even after some monster whisking.  Kind of like when you get to the bottom of your mocha frappuchino, and there are those slightly crunchy coffee grounds down there ... they feel kind of weird in your mouth, but you eat them anyway because you're sad the drink is over and don't want to be that guy who orders a second sugary coffee beverage...

... We finished these, strange chocolatey grinds notwithstanding.

As if last night's festivities weren't enough, I topped off the weekend by heading up north to meet my scientist sorority sisters for our weekly DG brunch.  In honor of this blog, instead of eating out in Lincoln Park, Alima cooked us up an unprocessed breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, and gorgeous french toast.

While eating, we enjoyed some lively discussion of the diet, Pollan himself, and the politics and science of sustainable eating, but this will have to wait for a future post, because, frankly, all this food blogging has made me more than ready for dinner ...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Courtesy of Margaret

The man himself blogs about his eating habits, putting my efforts to shame:

Fresh-picked chanterelle mushroom raviolis?  Yes, thank you.

I appreciate what he says (toward the bottom of the page) about doing the best you can:

"It would be incredibly trying to do that and I do think the perfect is the enemy of the good. You get three votes a day when you're eating, and several votes within each meal, and you get as many right as you can, and that makes a real difference. I think if you set the bar too high for yourself or for other people you discourage people from doing anything. So I'm all in favor of either companies or individuals taking baby steps."

I'd like to be perfect this year in the challenge I've set myself, but it's already clear how difficult it is to even KNOW what is processed or unprocessed.  Bearing in mind these words of wisdom, I know that there will be occasions where I'll have to shrug and simply do the best I can.  

Old Photos

I'm organizing my photos from the holiday break, and came across a few from pizza night with Matt's family that were worth sharing. The crust recipe came from a little book published by a member of his church, "Pizza Night with Perry Washburn," which his mom gifted to each of us.

Matt had a little trouble getting his crust to his desired level of crunchy-thinness, resulting in something of a pizza wreath.  He's very special.

Washburn recommends dicing and frying the pepperoni, allowing the grease to drain to one side of the pan, before adding to the pizzas.  This minimizes pepperoni grease (which may or may not be a plus) and maximizes your ability to spread pepperoni entirely across your pizza (obviously preferable).

Even the Bean got one:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Concerning Calcium Chloride

I've had a couple notes from my science-major sorority sisters regarding calcium chloride and citric acid.  Alima's background in chemistry and Mugs's in biomedical engineering probably mean that they know more than I do about this, so I'm going to replay their suggestions and gauge the internet's thoughts.  Feel free to weigh in:

*There are many salts in the world, and calcium chloride is one of them.  Mugs contends that salt (obvs) is natural, and if I'm eating NaCl, there's no reason why I shouldn't also be comfortable with CaCl2.  Without understanding the differences between the combinations, I wiki-ed calcium chloride and came back with the following:

Calcium Chloride is a common salt. It behaves as a typical ionic halide, and is solid at room temperature. It has several common applications such as brine for refrigeration plants, ice and dust control on roads, and in concrete. The anhydrous salt is also widely used as a desiccant, where it will adsorb so much water that it will eventually dissolve in its own crystal lattice water. It can be produced directly from limestone, but large amounts are also produced as a by-product of the Solvay process. Because of its hygroscopic nature, the anhydrous form must be kept in tightly-sealed containers. It is used to turn kelp into a solid.

If any of you can make heads or tails of this, please let me know.

*Meanwhile, Alima told me that citric acid is a naturally occurring acid, appearing in nearly all living things.  This sounds pretty persuasive to me -- I mean, if it's in my body whether I intake it or not, that's pretty dang natural -- but I'm still concerned about the process of extraction.  Much like my discussion of pectin the other day, does the powder form of citric acid, extracted from something and then added to another, count as "whole"?

Of course, both women pointed out that these (natural) additives are only likely used as stabilizers -- if I'm going to be eating canned anything, it's going to have some kind of salt, etc, in it.  So maybe the right answer is to, as Pollan himself suggests, eat fresh and local as much as possible and avoid eating out of season.  When I can't do that, the cans and their attendant salts and citruses will have to do.


Days Five, Six, Seven

So.  First things first.  Last night for Matt's birthday, we ventured north to Wicker Park for beers and basketball: Duke played Iowa State at the United Center, and our friend Pat had ordered cheap tickets through the Duke Alumni page, which turned out to be ACTUALLY court-side. (Happy birthday, old man!)

So that was awesome.  But since it was a special occasion, I took an exception meal for the week (meaning now I have to be golden until Monday) and loaded up on Small Bar's pub grub, splitting fried cheese curds, fish 'n chips, and a big bowl of chili with Matt.  All of this might be perfectly unprocessed, but since I didn't ask, I have no way of knowing.  And I have to tell you, in an effort to be perfectly honest on this journey, that I woke up feeling pretty disgusting; a little hungover from the beers, a little scratchy from the yelling, and more than a little sick to my stomach from all the grease.

I've only been eating whole for a few days -- and relatively unsuccessfully, at that -- but I can feel a major difference in my body today after last night's meal.  I'm draggy, bloated, and generally ill-ish.

Before last night's blowout, the past couple days have been relatively tame on the dining front:

We finished off the open C&D farms ground beef in lunchtime nachos and burgers Matt doctored up on Tuesday night (onions, garlic, cumin, cayenne), served with oven-roasted brussels sprouts.

(Please note the elegant plating, Matt's resolution for the new year...)

Yesterday morning presented my first real challenge: foregoing U.Chicago Law's weekly free "coffee mess" of Dunkin' Donuts in favor of some whole wheat toast.  I took some coffee, but brought my own cup pre-filled with Organic Valley whole milk (no additives) and granulated sugar, rather lacing it with the 18% cream and uncountable Splendas which used to be my go-to.

Even writing that is a little disgusting.

Anyways, after remaining STRONG LIKE A ROCK at coffee mess, lunch was hearty whole PB&J:

Smuckers all-natural peanut butter (just peanuts and salt) and Matt's sister Katie's incredible home-canned strawberry preserves, spread thick on sunflower rye from Treasure Island.  The organic, multicolored carrots made their final appearance, and we agreed that purple DEFINITELY tastes better.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Day Four

A (very) quick post: I've promised Matt that this will be finished in fifteen minutes so as not to infringe upon our Wire (Season Two) marathon...

Last night was my first "exception" meal, and we did it right at Tiffin in Little India.  Didn't bring the camera and regretted it when my seekh kebab was wheeled out sizzling from the tandoor beside Kim's creamy palak paneer, Matt's rich malai kofta, and David's fragrant biryani, all served in shining copper pots.

Today has been something of a success: the first day without question or compromise.
Whole wheat toast and butter, leftover lamb kebabs and white rice ... Matt and I trekked to the grocery store where we scoured the aisles for truly whole foods.  Ever checked the ingredients on a can of tomatoes?  Nearly every brand contains citric acid and calcium chloride.  (We finally found an Italian import, "Bella Terra", which contains only "selected organic Italian tomatoes in tomato puree, organic basil").  A similar problem with purchasing cheeses: all the orange ones have annatto (coloring), and nearly all contain "animal rennett" or "vegetarian rennett", which I haven't yet found the time to research.  (Eventually picked up a Tillamook extra sharp cheddar containing only milk, enzymes, and salt.)

Dinner was home-made linguine bolognese:  Racconio linguine (durum wheat semolina and water).  We made the sauce by sauteing chopped onion and garlic in some extra virgin olive oil with basil, thyme, and oregano, throwing in some of the C&D farms ground beef, then adding the Bella Terra tomatoes and some Contadina tomato paste (containing only tomatoes) and simmering.  Salt and sugar to balance the acidity, though I'll admit I didn't do a very good job and we were left with an unfortunate tomato paste tinny aftertaste.  (Though Matt loyally claimed not to mind it.)  Ten minutes before serving, we added a couple cups chopped kale and a healthy splash of red wine for depth of flavor.

Fresh grated asiago cheese, and the rest of the bottle of wine to drink, and voila!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Day Two-Three: The First Weekend

First, thanks for all the support that has been posted here and elsewhere ... this year presents a major challenge for me (as evidenced in the rough start on Day One) and having a community of loved ones supporting the venture helps a great deal.

So: the first weekend.

Our friends from South Dakota, Kim and David, are in town, and visiting guests inevitably means more dining out than otherwise.  More dining out means less control over the way foods are prepared, and I'm discovering that my year of whole foods is of necessity going to also be a year of being THAT OBNOXIOUS PERSON at the table.  Like, I just became my Southern grandmother, who insists on four pieces of bacon when she is presented with three and asks the waiter not to "be so chintzy" with the wine.

Except I'm asking what everything is made of and precisely how the cattle were raised, which, frankly, is information most waitresses are not prepared to handle.

Thankfully, Kim and David (and Matt, who has already bewailed his status as Mark Ruffalo in that movieeee) have been understanding and helpful and prepared to research with me the answers to my food-processing questions, including:

*The 2% milk in my daily latte ... what's in it?  Should coffee count as processed?  Splenda is obviously out, but what about refined sugar?  Does this mean I need to only use sugar in the raw? Honey? Agave nectar? (Not prepared to answer this just yet, and sticking with refined sugar for the moment.  Great Grandma Genevieve had white sugar.)

*Jam.  Matt's sister and her husband worked on sustainable farms all summer and gave us some jam and preserves which they canned this fall, using just the fresh fruit, sugar, and water.  Obviously unprocessed (and delicious!) but what about the Bonne Maman brand already open in the fridge which contains fruit pectin? (We wiki-ed "fruit pectin" and, in the end, came down against.  Though it was first identified in 1825, well before Grandma Gen's time, it is produced commercially as a "white or brown powder" which doesn't precisely smack of "whole".)

*Fruit juice from concentrate.  What is concentrate?  Does it add anything new and creepy to the fruit, or is the process simply the dining equivalent of making a zip file?  (We think the latter.)

Even with all the questions, the weekend has been relatively successful, in large part because of the amazing dinner we cooked last night: roasted whole chicken with fingerling potatoes and some multicolored carrots Matt and David found on an epic trip to Treasure Island (the bus driver wouldn't let them on with their grocery bags, so they trudged the mile home in 6 degree Chicago winter).

We followed my mother's incredibly easy, incredibly delicious recipe: chop and toss the potatoes and carrots in some olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme.  Halve an onion and throw it into the mix, along with a few whole garlic cloves (we don't eat these, but they infuse everything else as they roast).

Put the chicken in a roasting pan and surround with the veggies; cook on 400 for a little over an hour, until the chicken is 190 degrees (fully cooked).  It comes out amazingly tender, and the vegetables pick up some of its juice as they roast, making everything deliciously chickeny and crisp.

Today we've mostly had fruit smoothies and whole-grain toast, not particularly photo-worthy, but we also made a quick trip to meet Crystal from C&D Family Farm, a local Illinois farm that raises 100% grass fed cattle, free range chickens, and the like.  I first met her at the Hyde Park farmer's market, and she comes up every week in her van.  We stocked up on ground beef and chicken thighs.

(Mark Ruffalo photographed the transaction.)