Friday, June 26, 2009

Braised Kidneys à la Gladys

I promised to post this recipe as soon as I could get my husband to collaborate with me on writing it down. For this nostalgia-inducing dish we used beef kidneys from Skagit River Ranch. Since my husband’s childhood memory of this dish included rice and buttered peas, that’s how we served it, except we used brown rice because we’re nutrition nerds. My favorite brown rice is Lundberg’s short grain brown rice.

1 beef kidney (about 1 pound)
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1-2 tablespoons butter
½ cup thinly sliced onions
½ cup beef stock
½ cup red wine

Prepare the kidneys by slicing them in half and removing the white membrane (small scissors are useful for this chore). Cut the kidneys into bite-size chunks.

This next step is not necessary (my husband’s mother never did this) but can be done to alleviate some of the strong odor and flavor of beef kidneys. Put the sliced kidneys in a colander in the sink. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat, add 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and stir. Pour the acidulated water over the kidneys, one cup at a time, shaking the colander well between each rinsing. Rinse under cold water and allow to drain.

Pat the kidney pieces dry or too much flour will stick to the meat. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge the kidney pieces in the flour.

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the kidney pieces in the butter quickly – just enough to brown the outside, about 2 minutes. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

In the drippings, sauté the onions over medium-low heat until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the meat back into the pan, along with the stock and wine and simmer for about 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary and serve.

Serves 4.

Check out the Joy of Cooking or The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating for more recipes using organ meats.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Other White Milk

Creamy, frothy, delicately sweet. Inexpensive and simple to make. A great alternative to cow’s milk if you have a lactose intolerance or dairy allergy.

Homemade almond milk is new in my life (thanks to my friend Theresa) and I’m pretty excited about it. In fact, I was prepared to talk about it extensively in this post, but found that MANY others have already posted recipes and information about making your own almond milk… instead, I’ll just give you my recipe and photos in case you haven’t seen all those other blogs!

A few notes first:

Add more water to make a thinner milk. I saw one recipe that called for twice the amount of water than the recipe below. Part of the art of cooking is in finding ways to adapt recipes to your particular tastes and cooking needs. I prefer a richer, creamier milk so I use the recipe below.

As you can see in the photo below, I used a strainer instead of cheesecloth to strain my almond milk. This particular strainer is called a chinois and has a particularly fine mesh. I believe you could also use a thin cotton kitchen towel placed in a coarse strainer if you don't have a chinois or cheesecloth.

Someone asked me what should be done with the ground almond that is left over and I wondered if it could be used to make a homemade face mask or exfoliating cream. Anyone have any ideas?

Rich Vanilla Almond Milk

1 cup almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Soak the almonds for 4-8 hours in 2 cups of water. Discard water.

Blend almonds and 3 cups water until smooth and milky white. Strain through a strainer lined with cheese cloth and discard solids. Add vanilla and almond extracts, and maple syrup and mix.

Adapted from The Natural Gourmet, by Annemarie Colbin

Friday, June 19, 2009

A New Good Book on Whole Foods

New Good Food, by Margaret M. Wittenberg (Ten Speed Press, 2007)

New Good Food is an encyclopedia of whole foods (not Whole Foods™, but the kinds of foods that are unprocessed and unrefined and in their natural form). There are a number of these books out there, and this is an especially good one. New Good Food would be a great resource for anyone interested in health and nutrition, even for those of us who are trained in this stuff.

The author has a great background in food, from owning and running a natural foods store in the late 70’s to working for Whole Foods in almost every capacity (cashier through store manager, and currently global vice president). Most tellingly, she was the Whole Foods rep (the only representative from the retail industry, might I add) who sat on the USDA National Organic Standards Board when the standards were being created, and was awarded the Rachel Carson Award for her work in organic agriculture, sustainability and the environment.

Some features of this book that I liked:

• Detailed descriptions of both common and exotic foods including nutrition information, methods of preparation and storage, information about common processing methods for the food, and some history of the food

• A chart of peak seasons for fruits and vegetables, arranged by color

• Flours at a Glance chart giving details about gluten content, flavor, and texture for each flour (click on the picture to get a gander at this chart)

• Whole chapters devoted to sweeteners, oils and seasonings

• A guide for selecting culinary oils based on smoke point and cooking method

• A really comprehensive bibliography including books, articles and reports for further study (for us nutrition nerds!)

Oh, and Marion Nestle says this book is "an extraordinarily comprehensive guide to foods, ingredients, and their handling." If you can't trust Marion, who can you trust?

You may be able to find the older version of this book at your local library. This would be a great way to check out the book before buying it.

Disclaimer: My husband is an employee of Whole Foods, but I was not coerced in any way to write about this book, nor am I being compensated for recommending it!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Serving Size Me

So about serving sizes (to follow up on my recent post)… Between figuring out what a “serving” of a particular food actually is, and then figuring out how many servings of each type of food you need a day (this depends on your daily calorie requirements, and there are lots of online sources that will help you figure this out – here’s one) a person just has too much to do before they can sit down to eat!

As a nutrition student in the process of formulating a philosophy of nutrition that I can comfortably convey to patients, I don’t consider serving size to be the most important thing in terms of healthy eating.*

Here are two things I think are far more important:

Eating mindfully will help you recognize when you’re full, develop a sense of how much food you need a day, and establish a stronger connection with your food. I recently wrote a short article that gives some tips for eating mindfully. Mindless Eating is a great book documenting some entertaining research (yes, I said entertaining and research in the same sentence) on what happens when people eat mindlessly.

Eating a variety of whole foods ensures maximum nutrients and minimal processing. Each fruit, vegetable and grain contains a unique combination of nutrients that fulfills a different aspect of our body's needs. We evolved as omnivores to take advantage of a wide variety of foods so satisfy your omnivorous nature by giving your body something new every week.

Eating whole foods also provides the opportunity to be more involved in food preparation, since preparing whole foods sometimes requires more work. Being more involved connects right back to the concept of eating mindfully. It’s a beautiful closed circle. The only problem with whole foods is that they often cost more than processed foods (more on this juicy topic later).

Of course, these things require commitment and work. I myself am committed to the concepts but have only completed about half the work. But we just keep plugging away, don’t we?

* Some people really do need to know about serving sizes and how to interpret them nutritionally, such as a person with diabetes who needs to know about the grams of carbs per serving. Looking at serving size when comparing two products is also useful.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More About How Paying More Pays Off

Look at this – a can of tuna that gives you 2800 mg of omega-3’s in one 3-ounce serving! I would have to take six capsules of my ultra concentrated omega-3 supplement to get that much. So here’s the catch: this 6-ounce can costs about $6.50.

It may seem ridiculous to pay that much for a can of tuna, especially if the words “can of tuna” evoke memories of Charlie the Tuna, Wonder Bread, and Best Foods mayo. But even Starkist is charging a premium (almost $5.00 for 6.4 ounces) for solid white albacore tuna. However, Starkist doesn’t even list the omega-3 content in its canned tuna in the nutrition info for its solid white albacore. No info provided = nothing good to say (usually).

What’s makes Henry & Lisa’s different? Henry & Lisa’s and other gourmet purveyors of canned fish cook their fish only once in the can so that all the good stuff stays with the fish. Commercial canneries cook the fish twice, once in bulk, then again in the can. Some of the natural juices and fats in the fish are lost in the first round of cooking, including fatty acids like omega-3s.

The fishing and storage practices these companies use (i.e., flash freezing) may also ensure better quality of the fish in the first place. Henry & Lisa’s has a lot of other great things going for it, including sustainable fishing practices, and third-party testing for mercury and PCBs. Though it wasn’t my intention with this post to market this particular product, it turned out that it’s a great product! Nice how that worked.

I love sussing out the details that justify my commitment to high quality food. This tuna was incredible on top of the nicoise salad we had last night, and half of the can was enough to feed both of us. That adds up to only $1.60 for each of us for our protein source for the meal. That’s a pretty great deal, especially considering I didn’t have to take my omega-3 supplement.

Read more about canned tuna and omega-3s: World’s Healthiest Foods.

Added 6/7/09: I noticed that Henry & Lisa's tuna is in New Hampshire even though the fish is caught in the Pacific Northwest, so I emailed the company to ask about this egregiously unecological practice... Are they really shipping the fish to New Hampshire and then shipping it back to Seattle? I'll post the answer when I get it.

Added 6/15/09: Here's how Henry & Lisa's responded: "Our office in New Hampshire is just a marketing and distribution office. The product is shipped out of Washington state to it’s final destination." I'm glad I was mistaken and we can continue to buy their product!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hypocrisy Now

Last week on my shift at the Bastyr teaching clinic I counseled a patient about mindful eating. I was explaining the effects on appetite and digestion of watching TV while eating, when I was stopped short by the realization that I do this very thing myself.

Though I have self-righteously convinced myself that my husband and I don’t watch TV because we don’t have cable, we do subscribe to Netflix and watch movies or television shows almost every night with our dinner plates in our laps. Oh, the hypocrisy!

Does this make me a bad counselor? I don’t know. I’ve been considering this question for some time, at least since I signed up for that first biology class with the distant hope of enrolling in a nutrition program. Do I always have to walk my talk? After all, I have the same book knowledge as a nutritionist who eats dinner at the table every night. I can explain the concepts to a client just as well as she can. I understand the potential consequences and can just as passionately hold forth on the subject, even if I go home that very night and park my own butt on the couch for dinner.

What if being subject to the same temptations as my client – craving some mindless entertainment, not wanting to think up conversation topics after a long day – gives me more insight into the challenges she faces and a greater ability to support her as she tries to make changes? This is probably just a lame justification for my own bad behavior, but honestly, I can’t imagine trying to clear that dining room table of books and papers and dog toys and keys every night for dinner.

Besides, I practice mindful eating in other ways. I express gratitude for my food before I eat it and thank my husband for preparing it for me when he cooks. I eat slowly and listen to my stomach when it tells me I’ve eaten enough (yes, even when I’m sitting in front of the television I can hear the messages my stomach is sending because I’ve trained myself to listen).

Ah well, I suppose these are the challenges of becoming an “expert” in something. I still have the year of my internship to shape my philosophy of nutrition and learn how to incorporate it into my own lifestyle.

In the meantime, what do you think? Please comment! Don't be afraid to call me a hypocrite to my face.