Category Archives: Cooking

Want to see what I’ve been eating lately?

I track my food at Daily Plate on Livestrong. Yeah I realize Livestrong is sort of a giant facepalm now, but I’ve been a member for quite some time and they have a huge bank of food items, so tracking food is super easy. Don’t worry, I don’t pay them, AND I use AdBlock (haha, take that!). Anyway, I’ve noticed that when you eat really clean, it’s actually pretty hard to eat ENOUGH calories, especially after you take exercise into account. We went out a couple of times in the past few days, which was a little refreshing, as we hadn’t gone out for food since all of this happened. Having intense food restrictions kind of puts a damper on going out to eat if you have to ask people what’s in everything. Fortunately for me, Asian food is mostly gluten and dairy-free, and also happens to be tasty and pretty much what I eat at home anyway. I try to plug in what I think I ate and figure that there are probably 100-200 more calories in oil/fats on top of that.

I’d prefer to embed my diary but I haven’t figured out how to do that or whether it’s possible, so click on this link if you are really that interested in what I’m putting in my face these days: food food food

My cooking crowning achievement this week has been making my own creamy, dairy-free salad dressing. If you think it sounds tasty, you may be required to go to an Asian grocery store, but I’m sure you can handle it.

Spicy Coconut Milk Salad Dressing

1 can of coconut milk (I use Chaokoh)
1 TBSP fish sauce (I use Tiparos. If you can’t find Tiparos, fish sauce should only have fish, salt, and sugar, so look at the ingredients list before you settle on a brand)
1.5 TBSP sesame oil (I use Kadoya, but as long as your sesame oil is pure any brand will do)
2 TBSP sriracha (The one, the only)
Juice of one lemon

Shake your can of coconut milk before you open it. I recommend you move the coconut milk to a different vessel to mix lest you waste precious, precious milk on your countertop. Mix with a fork or a whisk. It’s kind of watery, but does the trick. A serving would be probably around 1/8 cup. Pour the rest into a mason jar and put it in the fridge. If it’s too fishy or too spicy you could always reduce either the fish sauce or the sriracha. Conversely, if it’s not fishy or spicy enough, just get more liberal with the squeezy bottle! If anyone paying attention has any (dairy and gluten-free) ways to thicken this up, I’m all ears.

Coffee 101, Episode 2: Grinding and Brewing

Coffee: you can sleep when you're dead!Now that you’ve procured heavenly smelling coffee beans and are hopefully storing them properly, we can get to the good part: grinding and brewing. You are two steps closer to caffeine nirvana! There are a multitude of ways to both grind and brew your coffee, but since this is Coffee 101 and not Coffee 545: Pilgrimage to Colombia, we’ll discuss the consumer-friendly methods.

Although it seems backwards at this point, we’re going to get started with brewing methods. Why? Because the level of your grind depends on the brew method.

French Press and Manual Drip
The French press and manual drip pots are considered, by coffee purists, to be the most natural and best way to brew your coffee. There’s really no machinery involved. A french press is a double-walled glass vessel. The plunger has a fine mesh bottom to strain, and a larger metal (or plastic depending on the quality of your press) disc on top of the mesh. The plunger is pushed down to the lid after your coffee is done brewing. If your mesh is still in good repair, you will not have any grounds in your poured cup of coffee. To minimize stray grounds, you will want a more coarse grind of coffee.

Onto the brewing process! Fill your tea kettle with fresh cold water (if you have a filtering pitcher of some kind, get your water fromfrench press there). While you’re waiting for the kettle whistle, grind the proper amount of beans to the correct consistency, take the lid and plunger out of your press, and pour the grounds into the bottom. Depending on the amount and strength of the coffee you’re hoping to brew, you’ll want about 1 rounded tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup. Once the tea kettle whistles, remove it from the heat and wait until it stops boiling. Continue waiting about 10-15 seconds longer. Slowly pour the hot water into the press (in your desired serving amount, of course). You don’t HAVE to do this, but I like to stir the grounds up to ensure proper water coverage. And now, we wait. A good rule of thumb is “one minute per cup.” So, if you are brewing 2-3 cups, wait 2-3 minutes. 4 cups, 4 minutes, and so on. When the appropriate amount of time has passed, put your lid and plunger on the press. Slowly (and I can’t stress this enough) push down your plunger. If you go too fast, you will splash yourself with REALLY HOT LIQUID, and risk having a crunchy cup of coffee. Pour your coffee in a mug, sweeten and/or add cream as desired, and enjoy just about the most perfect cup of coffee ever. Note the tasty foam on top. Can’t get that with a drip machine, baby! Don’t forget that whatever coffee is still sitting in the press will continue to get stronger and/or more bitter while it’s still soaking the coffee grounds. You may want to pour the rest into a thermal carafe or extra coffee mug if you’re not a big fan of strong, bitter coffee.

The manual drip pot looks like the end result of a carafe and an Erlenmeyer flask having a Chemex coffee brewerone-night stand. One of the most common manual drip pots is the Chemex. You will want a more coarse grind for this brewing method as well. When you purchase a Chemex, make sure you also purchase the proper thick paper cone filters. These are specially made to filter your coffee at the correct rate, maximizing water-coffee contact time. The same ground coffee/brewed coffee ratio applies here: about 1 rounded tablespoon of coffee grounds per cup.The water temperature for the press is also the same for the Chemex. Pre-wet your Chemex filter and place it in the conical glass above the pot. Pour in your coffee grounds. Slowly (again, can’t stress slowly enough) pour your water onto the grounds. There’s no stirring with this coffee pot, so work your way around the coffee grounds with the stream of water. Intelligentsia suggests pouring in a spiral shape. Once all of the water has gone through the coffee and into the pot below, you can remove your coffee filter and pour out the coffee. Very easy cleanup and no worry about the coffee growing exponentially more strong and bitter. The only worry here is keeping your coffee hot.

Ol’ Faithful: The drip coffee machine
Even if you’re not a big coffee drinker, chances are you have some iteration of the Mr. Coffee line hanging out on your kitchen counter. The automatic drip coffee machine makes it all happen for you. All you have to do is add coffee and water — and if you’ve dropped the coin the coffee machine will even do the grinding for you. There are so many different variations on these things that it’s almost impossible to figure out what you want. I say, keep it simple. You want your water filtered? Use water from a filter pitcher, don’t bother with in-machine filtering. Want a timer? Unless your machine has a grinder, you should be grinding coffee right before you breautomatic drip coffee machinew anyway, so this is a no-no. Here are the two features you should be looking for: conical brew basket and auto-shut off. Conical brew baskets allow a more uniform water distribution, so more grounds get water and a stronger, more uniform cup of coffee is brewed. Auto-shut off is a no brainer; no one likes a scorched pot of coffee. The auto-shut off will turn off your machine’s hot plate usually within a range of 20 minutes to 2 hours. If you buy a machine with a thermal carafe, you really don’t need to leave that hot plate on after you brew your coffee anyway. Unplug it and save on your electricity bill! Conical drip machines need a bean grind that’s a little finer than the french press/Chemex grind. Don’t give it too fine of a grind, though, because it will be harder for the water to get through the grounds and your basket will overflow. An overflowing basket of wet, finely ground coffee is not an easy mess to clean up, I assure you. After you get your grind nailed, pour your grounds into the filter basket, pour in your fresh cold water, press the button, and you’re good to go. A nice “extra” is a brew basket that will detect when you remove the carafe and stop the brewing process. Yes, many coffee machines cater to the caffiends that can’t wait for the pot to be done.

Grinding
There are 2 main consumer level grinders, but one is far superior to the other. The first method is a spice grinder. Yes, it is a spice grinder. It may be marketed as a coffee grinder, but you’re no fool. You know the truth. This inferior kitchen appliance will leave you burr grinderwith an uneven grind. Half of your coffee is fine enough for espresso, the other half belongs in a french press. If you MUST use a spice grinder, pulse the grind button, do not hold it down. While you’re grinding, periodically shake it up to distribute the grounds. If you are serious about coffee, though, drop the extra coin on a burr grinder.

The burr grinder has a hopper on top that funnels the beans into a grinder. Often, these hoppers will be air-tight, so you can store a couple days’ worth of beans in there. When you press the magical grind button, the beans are funneled into a grinder where they are ground ONCE and distributed into a container below the grinding mechanism. Most burr grinders will allow you to set the coarseness AND amount of coffee so you have the perfect grind every time. Burr grinders will typically cost $50+, but the investment is worthwhile. The smell of freshly ground coffee in the morning is almost as gratifying as the first sip.

I hope you have enjoyed our time together today. There will be a third episode coming down the pipe sometime soon, but the first two episodes have you more than prepared to make a proper cup of coffee. Go forth, friends, and enjoy the caffeine high.

My tasty protein shake

protein shake

who garnishes a protein shake?

Vic and I run around like crazed lunatics in the morning (a side effect of slapping the snooze button too much), and on top of that, Vic isn’t much of a breakfast eater. Breakfast is a pretty important meal as far as nutrition and metabolism goes, so our morning nutrition comes in a convenient, drinkable format.

Tasty Protein Shake
Yield: 1 serving

4-5 frozen strawberries
8oz cool or cold coffee
1TB peanut butter
2TB plain, unsweetened yogurt
splash of milk
1 serving of your favorite protein powder (we use EAS Chocolate or Vanilla)
sweetener to taste (optional)

BLEND! Enjoy.

Tips: Use coffee that is at least lukewarm. Typically I save the coffee I don’t drink in the morning for my protein shakes. Hot coffee has peculiar effects on protein powder. You can substitute a frozen banana or any other frozen fruit for the strawberries, but the frozen fruit helps the shake have more of a milkshake-like consistency.

Nutrition information (with my ingredients, from livestrong):

Calories: 304
Fat: 10g
Sodium: 187mg
Carbs: 19g
Fiber: 3g
Protein: 33g

Coffee 101, Episode 1: Buying and storing your coffee

Coffee: Is the planet shaking or is it just me?Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t get going in the morning without the nectar of the gods, coffee. What many people don’t know is that there’s a bit of skill involved in brewing a good cup of coffee. Throw out your Folgers and pay attention, because I’m writing a 3 part series about it.

Mistake #1: Buying your coffee at the supermarket
Supermarket coffee, sometimes even Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s coffee, isn’t fresh. Those big plastic containers of whole coffee beans? They’re not air-tight. Circulating air, odors, dust, and other particles are the enemies of freshness and flavor. Freshly roasted coffee beans are covered in a thin layer of oil. You want that oil. Unlike the oil in the Gulf of Mexico, there’s just a small amount of it which will disappear over time. So, if you must purchase your coffee at the supermarket, don’t get it from the big plastic tubes, and check your bag of coffee for a “roasted on” date. You want coffee that’s as close to the roasting date as possible; lighter roasts start losing their flavor in mere days. Darker roasts tend to stay fresh longer. Fact: The absolute best time to grind, brew, and drink your coffee is one day after it’s been roasted. It’s all downhill from there. Moving on…

Mistake #2: Buying your coffee pre-ground
Switching from ground to whole bean, even if you’re still shopping for coffee in that damn supermarket, is a step in the right direction. If whole bean supermarket coffee is too old to be fresh, you don’t even want to think about the freshness of your pre-ground coffee. Think of the shell of your coffee bean as a shield against the elements. You want to keep it intact as long as possible by grinding your beans right before you brew them. Yes, that means you need to purchase a grinder. Grinder talk comes in the next episode though.

The best place to purchase coffee is at, well, a coffee shop. I prefer Intelligentsia myself, if you’re in the Chicagoland area. All coffee is sold or shipped on the roasting day, super fresh and still coated with a fine sheen of delicious coffee oil. If you’re not in the Chicagoland area, look for a local roaster. I would not recommend Starbucks, their beans are a tad overroasted. If you must purchase Starbucks, make sure you inquire about the roast date. But, in my opinion, support a smaller operation. They probably have better coffee anyway. :)

So, you’ve bought your bundle of whole bean coffee home. Now what? You think to yourself… Well, sometimes I freeze or refrigerate my food to keep it fresh, I know, I’ll put my coffee in the freezer!

canning jars

img courtesy of containerstore.com

NO! Never ever put your coffee in the freezer or the fridge! Remember that thin coating of oil we were talking about? This oil is damaged by cold temperatures. You want an airtight container. Head on over to your favorite store and pick up an airtight container. I use a glass container with rubber lid contacts. These hermetic storage/canning  jars on the right are perfect for the job (don’t put olives with your coffee though). Keep your coffee container away from sunlight in a cool, dry place, and thank me later.

So, what have we learned today? We have learned that supermarket coffee is bad. We have learned that pre-ground coffee is bad. Aaaand we have learned that cold is bad for your coffee. Stay tuned for the next episode, which will be about grinding and brewing.

A note on fish sauce…

The last recipe I posted included 2 tablespoons of fish sauce. Those of you who don’t cook Asian food very often are probably wondering just what the hell fish sauce is, exactly.

I’ll let Wikipedia give you the gritty details on fish sauce:

Fish sauce is a condiment that is derived from fish that have been allowed to ferment. It is an essential ingredient in many curries and sauces. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Filipino, Vietnamese, Thai, Lao, and Cambodian cuisine and is used in other Southeast Asian countries. In addition to being added to dishes during the cooking process, fish sauce can also be used in mixed form as a dipping condiment, and it is done in many different ways by each country mentioned for fish, shrimp, pork, and chicken. In parts of southern China, it is used as an ingredient for soups and casseroles.

Some fish sauces (extracts) are made from raw fish, others from dried fish; some from only a single species, others from whatever is dredged up in the net, including some shellfish; some from whole fish, others from only the blood or viscera. Some fish sauces contain only fish and salt, others add a variety of herbs and spices. Fish sauce that has been only briefly fermented has a pronounced fishy taste, while extended fermentation reduces this and gives the product a nuttier, cheesier flavor.

Pic courtsey of Amazon

Image courtesy of Amazon

Right now some of you are probably saying, “Fermented fish? What? That sounds disgusting and I would never eat that!” Or perhaps you’re a vegetarian and you’re saying, “But I don’t eat fish!” Sorry guys, but the Thai put it in a lot of their dishes, so chances are you’ve had fish sauce if you’ve gone out for Thai food before.

Fish sauce is basically the Thai cooking equivalent of soy sauce. Soy sauce doesn’t get used much, if at all, in Thai cooking. If you go out for Thai food and notice your meal has a tart, salty flavor, that’s the fish sauce. Your pineapple fried rice is salty, but it’s not brown like “regular” fried rice usually is, right? Again, fish sauce.

Just thought I’d share that with everyone. :)

How to: Cook with a bamboo steamer

Steam. Hot, painful, useful. We’ve been using a $15 rice cooker to do most of our steaming up til now. The rice cooker is nice, but the little steamer rack can get crowded at times, and it’s difficult to steam more than one item at a time. Enter: The Bamboo Steamer, or Mushiki in Japanese. You can pick these up at Asian grocery stores, and sometimes your local hippy store/co-op. If you’re at a Target or some other store and you see one, don’t pay more than $15 for it. Just order online if you’re having trouble finding one.

The bamboo steamer is basically a stacking bamboo rack that funnels steam up and out. Mine came with two racks, but because of the way they are shaped, you can buy more and stack more on top. You can also feel a bit greener, because you’ll use less electricity and less water, not to mention the fact that bamboo is one of the Earth’s most sustainable wood resources!

When you’re steaming multiple items, you will want to put things that need the most cooking near the bottom, and things that need the least amount of cooking on the top. So, meats on the bottom, tough veggies like asparagus in the middle, easily cooked veggies like broccoli closer to the top or on the top, and anything that might need a bit of warming on the very top (if you’re not doing veggies). Invest in some parchment paper and/or banana leaves to line the steamer racks and keep them clean. Banana leaves have the benefit of being aromatic themselves, imparting a bit of flavor into the food they are wrapped around.

I'm just a steamer, sitting in this pan

I'm just a steamer, sitting in this pan

Take the plastic off of your new steamer and wash with warm water and gentle dish soap. Place the steamer in a shallow pan or wok, or on the top of a pot, and fill with water until it’s just under the bottom steaming rack (you may need to replenish if you do a couple rounds of steaming).  

Prep your food and turn on the burner 5-10 minutes before you’ll be putting the food in the steamer. Load everything in the proper order and put the lid on. After your water comes to a boil, fish will take approximately 15 minutes to finish cooking, chicken about 20-25 minutes. If you’re steaming a vegetable like broccoli, you may want to check on it after 5 or 10 minutes just because some vegetables deteriorate in color/shape/taste rather quickly if they are overcooked.

Take your food out of the steamer and eat! Don’t forget our first steam lesson: it’s painful! Use a spatula or oven gloves to take food out of the steamer. If you’ve used parchment paper or banana leaves, your bamboo steamer should be clean. Give it a quick rinse and lay the pieces out to dry. You are done! I would recommend leaving the steamer out to dry for about 24 hours before storing it.

A recipe for steamed curried fish follows the jump…

Read more …