Saturday, May 30, 2009

Omega 3's For Brunch

The focus on Market to Mouth this past week has been how to get the best deals on superfoods for health and fitness.

Check last Thursday's post for my top 10 tips.

Today I'm posting a Sunday brunch idea featuring ingredients from a list of recommended foods by executive fitness coach, Bonni Doherty.

B stresses the importance of good oils and good fats, for example:
  • Omega 3 eggs
  • olive oil
  • avocados
  • deep-sea fish like sardines, fresh or fresh-frozen or tinned salmon, tinned tuna
  • nuts like walnuts (including walnut oil), almonds (and almond oil) and seeds, like flax (and flax seed oil)
Brunch is often a meal laden with saturated fat-laden pork bacon or sausage, and carbohydrate laden pancakes and waffles.

A lean, light and healthier (as in good oils and fats) Sunday brunch might look something like this:

Eggs with Kale, Avocado and Tomato
1) Wash kale leaves well. Chop into small chunks along with some onion and a garlic clove.
2) Braise kale with onion and garlic until tender -- about 10-15 minutes.
3) Poach, or lightly fry one or two eggs per person.
4) Spoon braised greens into a bowl, top with egg, and decorate with chunks of avocado and halved cherry tomatoes. Serve with ...

Green Salad with Walnut Oil

In a separate bowl toss your choice of salad greens, and chopped radishes for crunch, drizzle with either walnut oil or olive oil, and juice of half a lemon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

10 Tips For Saving on Superfoods

This week I've been featuring executive fitness coach, Bonni Doherty.

Though Bonni is not a nutritionist, she does recommend her clients eat many small meals throughout the day, meals high in essential fatty acids and phytonutrients.

Bonni calls her favorites --leafy green & red vegetables, some fruits, avocados, nuts, seeds, deep-sea fish, good fats and oils--Superfoods, and when we shopped together at Whole Foods, my task was to help her locate great deals on those items.

So far this week, I've offered a number of tips for getting great deals on superfoods and to recap, those tips are as follows:
  1. In the produce section look for the Good Stuff for Less, Weekly Specials, Weekly Buys signs since veggies and fruit under these signs are a great deal.
  2. Leafy greens like kale, chard, spinach, and celery, often go on sale: two-bunches-for-the-price-of-one, so watch the weekly prices and buy more when the price is lower. Whatever leafy greens you don't plan to eat that week wash, saute, and freeze portions for later consumption.
  3. Consider buying WFs loose braising mix. It contains all of the above leafy greens (plus other bitter leaves), but it's just the leaf -- no woody stalks. So you'll pay only for the portion of the plant you'll eat.
  4. Avocados are in season now and because of their tough outer skin, it's safe to consume non-organic avocados, and the price of conventionally grown is less than organically grown. If you buy several at a time, pick firm through soft. Store the firm avocados in the fridge and eat the softer fruit first. Take the firm avocados out of the fridge a day or two in advance of eating them so they have time to soften.
  5. Pick bunches of beets with healthy green tops. Cut the leaf from the stalk, wash it, and saute it with other leafy greens. In other words, bunches of beets are naturally a two-for-one vegetable.
  6. Buy nut butters and olive oil in bulk at WFs and save on packaging by bringing your own containers.
  7. Also shop the bulk aisle for seeds and whole nuts. Buying dry goods in bulk offers a great savings over brand-name packets of nuts and seeds.
  8. Consider purchasing tinned fish, i.e. sardines, tuna, salmon by the case and receiving WFs 10% case discount. Ask a WFs associate for help, and get the best deal on deep-sea tinned fish.
  9. Cut back on your consumption of expensive cuts of meat and consider tofu products, tinned deep-sea fish, or fresh and or fresh frozen salmon, and less expensive cuts of chicken and or turkey.
  10. Because you'll save when you cut back on meat protein, buy the DHA Omega 3 eggs, they cost a bit more, but if you follow the above tips, you're still saving overall.
It's one thing to buy all these healthy superfoods, but it's another to cook them up into satisfying meals. With that in mind, and in-keeping with Bonni's counsel that her clients eat regular small meals, I'm offering two mini-meal ideas using superfoods:

Beets with Pear or Apple and Cheese
1) Cut beet bulb from stalks. Wash and gently scour beets of dirt. Add to pot of water and simmer till tender, about 45 minutes.
2) Peel beets and slice. Store in an old yogurt container or Tupperware. You can add the strained beet water from the cooking pot to the container so beets don't dry out. To the beet water, you can also add rice wine vinegar if you wish -- the vinegar off-sets the sweetness of the beets.

To Serve: Slice a pear or an apple, lay alongside sliced beets. Drizzle with lime or lemon juice. Grate or thinly slice your favorite aged Italian cheese, i.e. a Romano or Parmesan or Asiago etc. Place cheese alongside beets and fruit to create an eye-appealing superfood mini-meal.

Red Chard with Apple, Chicken and Walnuts
1) I posted a variation of this dish a couple of months ago.
2) You can swap out spinach for chard, or chard for kale, or use the WFs braising greens I mention above.
3) Then either turkey or chicken or tinned tuna or Tofurky would work with this dish, since all compliment apple well.
4) And of course walnuts are the crowning glory!

To serve: drizzle with olive oil and juice of a half lemon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Fitness Coach Diet for Optimum Health

Yesterday I introduced readers to Bonni, an executive fitness coach.

B advocates a diet high in essential fatty acids and phytonutrients.

In other words, she eats, and recommends that her clients eat, lots of veggies (particularly leafy greens), fish, lean protein, and good-fat foods.

The advantage to a diet like this is that it's highly affordable.

If you need to spend less on groceries and you like the sound of Bonni's dietary program for health and fitness, one thing you can do is cut back your consumption of meat.

Think of it this way:
  1. A plateful of veggies and pulses with a little bit of meat is a lot cheaper than a plate of meat with a little veg and a lentil.
  2. Striking a balance is better for your pocket and for your overall health. Make fish, chicken and meat go further by adding beans, lentils, chickpeas.
  3. Turn your meal-planning around so that the most expensive ingredient is the ‘flavoring’ rather than the main event.
  4. Use eggs, nuts and seeds for protein, fiber, and crunch.
  5. And return something as beautiful as a great steak-and-red-wine meal to the special status it deserves…crave it, look forward to it, then really enjoy it -- just not every second day.
The above 5 tips are modified from Table Talk: 10 ways to save money in the Kitchen. A blog article worth keeping on hand!

Once Bonni had pointed out her favorite fresh produce, leafy greens, beets, celery, avocado, and apples, I had an opportunity to introduce her to the great value of picking and paying for only what you need in Whole Foods bulk section.

Keep in mind that if you use WFs containers to collect your oil and or nut / seed butters, you'll pay something minimal, but if you bring your own container you'll pay only for what you put in it.

In the pics above, B is enjoying the bulk almond butter $3.99 lb and the bulk olive oil $5.99 lb, great buys on two healthy fats.

Because B eats a diet rich in essential fatty acids, and recommends the same to her clients, her preference is the DHA Omega 3 eggs, which are are about $1 more than other brands.

But if you're not spending on expensive cuts of meat, you could spend what you save at the meat counter on eggs high in omega 3's, and essential fatty acids found in deep-sea oily fish, like salmon, which B buys fresh, fresh frozen or tinned.

I suggested that if she consumed several tins of sardines, tuna, and or salmon a week, she might consider buying a mixed case of tinned fish and receive WFs 10% case discount.

Because B eats as many as eight small meals throughout the day, she gravitates toward lean-protein snacks like Tofurky, a baked tofu product that's sliced like deli turkey. It's about a $1 more than the 365-brand tinned salmon, but still at $3.29, B's choice of protein items are significantly less than butchered meats.

And like everyone, B has one self-professed weakness: expensive cheese. She and her boyfriend love a well-aged, yellow cheese and she says they easily spend around $8 a week on their favorites.

But rather than consider it a weakness, I think anyone who diligently tends their health, working out and consuming healthy, unprocessed food needs a treat, and for Bonni that's cheese!

So an average grocery shop for executive fitness coach, Bonni Doherty consists of the following:
  • leafy greens, celery, carrots, some fruit
  • eggs, nuts, seeds, olive oil,
  • deep-sea fish, fresh and tinned
  • organic chicken, tofurky, tofu,
  • sprouted-grain bread like Ezekiel, and cheese
Note there are no packaged items like chips, chocolate, cereals, frozen foods etc. -- it's all whole, unprocessed food!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Grocery Shopping for Health & Fitness

Grocery shopping on a budget for health and fitness is this week's theme.

And the person I took grocery shopping with me at Whole Foods recently is all about health and fitness.

Bonni Doherty is an executive fitness coach and she wanted budget-wise tips for her clients whom she encourages to eat small, highly nourishing meals throughout the day -- in fact, as many as eight small meals per day!

Eight small meals a day adds up to a lot of food each week, so obviously tips for finding the best deals at WFs is of great use to Bonni and her clients.

We started in WFs fresh produce section, where I recommend everyone start their shopping. If you're on a budget, and if you have dietary concerns such as ...
  • you're on a weight-loss diet
  • you're gluten-sensitive or intolerant
  • you're doing a spring cleanse
  • you're on a fitness program
  • you want to eat healthily
then the bulk of your groceries should be fresh vegetables and some fruits.

I pointed out the fresh produce on sale to Bonni. What's on Sale is clearly marked in WFs and depending where you are in the U.S. your store will mark it with the following signs:
And because we're well into the growing season, fresh produce is plentiful now. Therefore, every week lots of vegetables and fruits are on sale making them a healthy buy at a great price.

Bonni made a beeline for the leafy greens: kale, chard, spinach, and mustard greens. Because dark leafy greens are a super-food full of antioxidants, B encourages all her clients to consume plenty of greens, and also beets for their nutrient content.

There are a number of different varieties of beets, the most obvious are red and golden beets. Because of their color, red beets have a high iron content, which B particularly likes, given the importance of feeding a highly active body iron.

I sometimes enjoy golden beets. A couple of weeks ago I was down to an empty fridge bar a golden beet and a few other items. I challenged myself to come up with several meal ideas with the golden beet and here's what I made.

Most people overlook the fact that beets are like two vegetables in one, the bulbous root and the leafy green tops. In that regard, they're not only a great vegetable for health and vitality; they're also a two-for-one vegetable for people shopping on a budget.

Tips on Purchasing and Cooking Leafy Greens:
  • Always buy organic leafy greens; they grow low to the ground and thus are more likely to contain a high level of pesticide residue if not organic.
  • Buy beet bunches with healthy looking green tops or leaves. Wash and remove the green leaves from the stalks and eat them as you would any leafy green.
  • WFs often has braising greens in their bins of loose greens. Their braising greens are mixed leaves of kale, chard, beet leaves, radicchio, mustard greens. And for around $6.99 lb it's a great deal since you're buying the edible leaf only, not the inedible woody stalks.
  • Braising greens are best when braised, either tossed gently in a pan with olive oil, or sauteed with a little butter and garlic.
Next, B headed for the celery. "A great snack food," she said. I agree, and often organic celery (and the leafy greens) come on sale at WFs for under $2.99 a bunch, so be on the look out.

Tips on Incorporating Celery into Your Meals:
  • Wash stalks and cut into chunks for dipping or for a raw snack as is.
  • Celery is a great, slightly bitter juice for those on a spring-cleanse diet. If you have a juicer, try it plain, or juiced with carrots and or apples to sweeten it slightly.
  • Because celery is most often eaten raw, we don't think to cook it, but it's delicious tossed in with say, braising greens, or sauteed with other vegetables in stir fry.
  • Add celery to casseroles with onions and carrots and other root vegetables.
  • Bake fish on top of a bed of chopped celery, carrots, onions, garlic and dill with a little white wine drizzled over the lot.
  • Celeriac is a kind of celery grown as a root vegetable. Best cooked like a root vegetable, it makes the most delicious creamed soup.
Bonni isn't a big proponent of sweet fruits because of the simple sugar content. Her clients are generally working toward optimum fitness and health and for that reason she steers them away from simple sugars and toward vegetables which offer phytonutrients plus fiber.

Tomorrow, I'll post more on my shopping trip around Whole Foods with Bonni, sharing what I learned from her, regarding the kind of diet she recommends to her clients, and the tips I shared with her for finding the food she recommends at the best price.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shrimp Tostado

Do you like food, and are you on a budget?

I am, and so are Zac & Alyssa the documentary film-maker couple I shopped with at Whole Foods this past week.

My goal was to help them reduce their expenditure on groceries. I was successful.

Z & A saved 1/3 on their grocery bill following my tips and my recommendation that they not buy packets of gluten-free pancake mix ($15) and a box of gluten-free granola ($7).

Instead of buying these high-priced products, I proposed that due to Zac's gluten-sensitivity, they make their own gluten-free pancakes and breakfast quinoa.

Gluten sensitivity, which is less extreme than Celiac Disease, is becoming increasingly recognized as a debilitating health condition that can easily be managed by being hyper aware of the foods one consumes.

Fortunately for individuals like Zac, many stores now stock gluten-free (gfree) products, though, if you need to be gfree, vigilant reading of labels is still important.

I took a gfree tour through Whole Foods recently, it was conducted by Boulder dietitian, Lisa Lanzano and it was highly informative.

Liza made an excellent point when we walked into the produce area of WFs, she said that individuals on a gfree diet should consume mostly fresh produce since it's completely free of gluten!

This is a tip I recommend to shoppers on a budget too, since fresh vegetables and fruits will save you dollars over a cart full of boxed, frozen and ready-made meals.

If your diet needs to be gfree, I'd highly recommend taking the tour through your local WFs, and if they don't have a tour available, ask customer service to create one.

With gluten-sensitivity in mind, the meal idea I'm proposing today is just that, free of gluten. And it makes use of the frozen, Whole Catch shrimp Z & A bought at WFs.

Shrimp Tostado
I used sprouted corn tortillas for the base of the tostado because it's gfree and it bakes well, holding it's shape and staying quite chewy rather than deteriorating into a crispy cinder.
1) Line a baking tray with several tortillas.
2) To the tortillas add a layer of black beans cooked in cumin.
3) Add a spoon of salsa (if you have some on hand) or several slices of fresh tomato.
4) Top with unfrozen shrimp. You can toss shrimp onto the tortilla as is, or saute them in a little butter and garlic and lime or lemon juice.
5) Bake tostados in a 350 degree oven for about 10-15 mins, or until the tortilla is slightly crisp around the edge.

To Serve: Decorate with sliced avocado, sliced tomato and a wedge of lemon or lime, and dot the top with freshly chopped cilantro.

Next week, I'll be posting blogs about my shopping trip to WFs with executive fitness coach, Bonni Doherty. Bonni is interested to learn first hand about my tips and tricks for shopping on a budget at WFs so she can pass that information along to the clients she counsels on health, fitness and nutrition.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quinoa for Breakfast, Quinoa for Lunch, Quinoa ...

Zac and Alyssa shopped successfully on a budget, taking home 4 bags of groceries.

They spent $120, reducing their weekly expenditure at Whole Foods by one third!

And they brought their own carry bags (pic above) -- the per-bag credit WFs grants came off their total bill.

I dissuaded Z & A from buying a number of items including a very expensive bag of gluten-free pancake mix, suggesting they make their own breakfast pancakes using rice flour.

Here's the recipe for gluten-free pancakes:

Rice Flour Pancakes
1 cup rice flour
2 tblsp sweetener i.e. honey or maple syrup or brown sugar)
1 egg - lightly beaten
1 cup regular milk or rice milk or soy milk
2 tsp oil or ghee
pinch of salt and cinnamon if you wish

Beat ingredients together to form a thick batter. Drop spoonfuls into a well oiled skillet over med heat. Cook both sides till golden brown.

Zac mentioned that he sometimes eats quinoa granola for breakfast -- given his probable gluten sensitivity.

While at WFs, he showed me the boxed quinoa granola he's bought in the past. At about $7 for a small box, I dissuaded him from buying it again.

Instead, I proposed the following quinoa breakfast, which can be consumed hot or cold:

Quinoa for Breakfast
1) Boil a cup of quinoa in two cups water, lower the heat and continue cooking for about 20 mins or until the grain is light and fluffy and all the water has been absorbed.
2) Optional: To the cooking quinoa, add a cup of dried fruit, i.e. black cherries, raisins, cranberries.
3) Once cooked, either let the cooked quinoa cool before storing it in the fridge for consumption as a cold breakfast, or spoon the hot quinoa into a bowl for immediate consumption.

To Serve: As you can see from the pic above, I added sliced bananas, which I'd tossed in a little butter in a hot skillet (sauteing bananas enhances the flavor and removes some of the sticky starch consistency). To the side I added a blob of 365-brand black cherry fruit spread, then I tossed chopped nuts over the lot. A blog of yogurt would be a great addition.

Quinoa is a grain recommended for people who are gluten sensitive. It's high in protein, easy-to-digest, nutty flavored, and very versatile.

In addition to making the above breakfast dish, I used the leftover quinoa I cooked with dried black cherries to create a quick, light lunch. Like Z & A, I have braising greens, spring onions, and broccoli in my fridge this week so those are the veggies I used.

Quinoa for Lunch
1) Saute chopped spring onion, braising greens and broccoli in olive oil for about 5 mins
2) Add cooked quinoa, stirring well.
3) Pour in 1/4 cup water and quickly place the lid on the pan, steaming the veggies and grain for about 10 mins.

To Serve: Season, add chopped walnuts. You could also serve this savory quinoa dish with a blob of the 365-brand black cherry fruit spread since black cherries are a sweet-sour flavor and they compliment well the slightly bitter greens and nutty quinoa.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Grocery Shopping Tips for Couples on a Budget

Yesterday, I introduced readers to documentary film-makers, Zac and Alyssa, the creatives behind Soul Fabric Films.

I met Z & A last year when I took a series of seminars they were teaching on documentary film making. We stayed in touch, and now the tables have turned and I'm teaching them about my area of expertise: how to grocery shop on a budget.

Last post, I left off with Z & A having loaded their cart with fresh produce. Given that the couple had told me they were trying a spring- cleanse diet, I proposed that the bulk of their groceries should be vegetables and fruits.

From produce we transitioned into seafood where they collected a pack of Whole Catch shrimp, and from there into dairy for WFs 365-generic brand eggs and cream.

Despite the cleanse Zac has in mind that he wants to make sticky rice with mango this week and his epicurious recipe calls for heavy cream.

But we noticed organic half and half was on sale so Alyssa chose half and half because I advised her it could be used in the sticky rice.

Checking his iPhone epicurious app, and the recipe for sticky rice, Z wondered if using half and half would compromise the dish.

If you've read my earlier posts, you know I advocate recipe-independence and so my response to Z was "improvise." Rather than cook the rice in water, adding the heavy whipping cream later, enrich the rice by cooking it with 3/4 half and half and one quarter water.

Transitioning into bulk, I pointed out dry chic peas, since I'd noted hummus on their list. Alyssa looked at me sheepishly, "make our own hummus?!" I gave her the quick power soak method for cooking chic peas, and listed the ingredients: tahini, lemon juice, olive oil.

They agreed to make hummus from scratch.

While in bulk, Alyssa spotted a large bag of gluten-free pancake mix. The price was around $15 for a pound. I nearly choked. Much finger-wagging ensued (by me), with A holding firm on her choice because Z is gluten sensitivity and apparently, this is the best gluten-free mix available.

However, pancakes are very easy to make: mix together flour, eggs, milk, and your choice of sweetener and spices. Having shared that combination of ingredients with A, I steered her away from the packet mix and toward a pound bag of gluten-free rice flour -- the price, approx $3.

"You're turning me into a Betty home-maker," trilled A, "first hummus, now pancakes!"

Zac came to the rescue, "I'll make the pancakes!" And so the decision was made, Z & A saved $12 by choosing to make their own pancakes.

Alyssa disappeared for a few minutes, returning from the middle aisles with a carton. I asked her what she'd found. It was a pint of coconut water for about $6 a carton. Needless to say, I nearly choked again.

However, at the risk of turning into a finger-wagging ogre, I proposed, which I do to everyone, that a treat a week, within your means, is perfectly reasonable. Alyssa smiled, putting the coconut water into their cart.

The couple finished up by using a coupon from Whole Deal to purchase tinned coconut milk. And weighing up the cost benefits of buying lime juice concentrate over bottled lime juice, Z & A chose the concentrate because they calculated that it would go further and so was ultimately cheaper.

As they were checking out, Z remembered he'd forgotten bottled water. I suggested they consider buying a Britta Water Filter, or something similar, for the long-term savings. After some discussion the pair decided they'd go across the road to Target and do just that.

So the grand total for a week's worth of groceries for the two was $120. Zac & Alyssa were thrilled because they've spent as much as $200 on their weekly groceries.

And reducing their expenditure didn't mean going without, in fact, it was simply a matter of following these simple tips:
  1. write a grocery list
  2. be mindful of price
  3. be mindful of your budget
  4. avoid impulse purchases
  5. make your own instead of paying a high price for ready-made

Monday, May 18, 2009

6 Tips for Buying and Storing Fresh Herbs

Last week I went grocery shopping at Whole Foods with the film-maker couple behind Soul Fabric Films.

Zac and Alyssa wanted to learn how to reduce their weekly expenditure on groceries.

I'm loving teaching people how to shop on the lean; it's fun and rewarding because everyone I've shopped with has learned how to shop smarter.

For Zac & Alyssa that simply meant sticking to their shopping list, being mindful of price, and making choices within their budget.

When we rendezvoused at WFs, Alyssa produced a computer printout of their shopping list and Zac his iPhone.

Grocery IQ which Zac had downloaded, is an iPhone application that has a database of over 130,000 grocery items plus features that allows the user to
  • create a list,
  • find what aisle the item is found in,
  • add a note,
  • add items to favorites,
  • and it creates a history of previous lists.
Additionally, Zac had Epicurious on his iPhone, which he checked against his Grocery IQ list to make sure he'd listed ingredients he needed to make Sticky Rice with Mango.

After noting how organized they were, I wondered why their self-professed challenge was reducing their grocery bill.

Then I watched Alyssa, list in hand, wander into the produce section of WFs and become immediately mesmerized and side-tracked by the choices. In other words, I could see she had a tendency, like many of us, to impulse purchase.

That was easy to rectify, I simply proposed she look at her list, and if the item she'd just selected wasn't on her list, then she should ask herself if she really needed it. If the answer was "no," then she should put the item back!

Because Zac had said they were on a spring-cleanse diet, I encouraged them to buy the bulk of their groceries in the produce area, selecting Good Stuff For Less produce.

Once on target, with impulse purchasing under control, they did really well buying:
  • strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, apples, pears, beets, celery, broccoli, spring onions, white onions, fingerling potatoes, mixed lettuce, braising greens, mini bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus.
Alyssa had concerns about storing all the fresh produce. She said they often ended up throwing it out brown, wilted and inedible. In particular, she wondered about fresh herbs, like basil, and greens like lettuce or spinach.

I responded with these tips:
  1. Fresh herbs on tough stalks, like thyme or oregano, can be frozen. They do go brown when frozen, but they maintain their flavor. Herbs that have been frozen are best used for cooking, rather than unfrozen and tossed into salads.
  2. Parsley, basil, and cilantro do well stored in the fridge in water. Stand bunch with stalks down in a cup or jar with enough water to come halfway up stalks.
  3. Basil can also be whizzed in a food processor with oil (as though you're making pesto) then stored in the freezer. You can use the frozen oily basil (the oil doesn't freeze it just turns solid) as a base for pesto, or you can toss spoonfuls into pasta or over cooked veggies, fish, chicken etc.
  4. Lettuce and spinach store well in salad spinners. I tend to wait till I'm going to use the salad before I wash it, and then of course I spin it well. Once leafy greens are wet, they will deteriorate faster, unless you're able to successfully drain them of all excess moisture.
  5. If you don't have a salad spinner, another way to store salad is to wash it by hand, drain it in a dish rack, then roll it loosely in a linen cloth (or paper towel) and store it rolled in the cloth in the fridge. The linen absorbs the moisture and keeps the lettuce fresh.
  6. I've mentioned a number of times in this blog that asparagus is best stored in the fridge with the bottom of the stalks in water, though you don't want to fill the cup / jar with quite as much water as you would herbs, just enough to keep the stalk-bottoms moist.
Check back tomorrow as I'll be sharing more on Z & A's purchases as we moved from produce to seafood to dairy to bulk and then into the middle aisles of WFs.

And you'll want to find out just how the pair reduced their grocery bill by 1/3 following my tips and tricks (and gentle finger-wagging), despite Alyssa disappearing and returning with one, then another, not-on-the-list items -- the price of which made my jaw to drop!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Friday-Night Enchiladas

As a self-professed healthy-food geek (who reads the labels on everything), Amy's boxed and frozen meals are one of the few I'll buy.

And I buy them only when they're on sale and because I like to have what I call "a starter meal" on hand for emergencies, like Friday nights!

Using Amy's cheese enchilada as a starter (there are two enchiladas in a box), I created one simple meal (bottom pic) and one slightly more complex meal (top pic).

The simpler meal is an Amy's Enchilada heated up accompanied by my steamed broccoli --drizzled with olive oil-- sliced, raw yellow bell pepper, sliced tomato and chopped boiled egg.

It took me all of 10 mins to put everything together and it was a complete and satisfying meal.

Note the combination of colors -- frozen meals are often monotone so the easiest way to jazz them up is to add color in the form of fresh vegetables, whatever you have on hand.

If I'm really hungry, frozen dinners are often not enough food, and the more complex of the two dishes I'm featuring today is a substantial meal due too the addition of 3 ounces of a firm-fleshed fish.

Mahi Mahi in White Wine with Vegetables & Cheese Enchilada
1) Chop several spring onions, a couple of mini bell peppers, some broccoli floret, and slice the corn kernels off one corn cob.
2) In a pan heat some oil and toss in the above veggies. Stir over gentle heat for a few minutes.
3) Create a space amongst the veggies and place a fillet of Mahi Mahi (or salmon or your choice of firm fish) into the pan.

4) Pour a half cup of white wine over the fish and veggies. No need to buy wine especially for this because you can use water and the juice of one lemon or a couple of limes instead.
5) Place lid on the pan and cook over med-to-low heat for about 10-15 mins or until the Mahi Mahi is done to your liking.
6) Meanwhile, heat the enchilada until the corn tortilla and cheese inside are soft.

To Serve: Take the heated corn tortilla, put it onto a plate and then open it out flat. Spoon the cooked veggies from your pan onto the corn tortilla, and then place the Mahi Mahi fillet -- I cut the fillet in half, so one fillet will feed two people -- on top of the veggies.

Spoon the cheesy-tomato sauce from the enchilada container into your pan and stir the pan juices into the sauce to create a richer flavored sauce. Pour the sauce over the Mahi Mahi and veggies.

If you did happen to open a bottle of white wine to use as cooking liquid for the veggies and Mahi Mahi, a chilled glass or two with this meal would be an excellent end to the working week!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Wonder of Edible Plants

I opened a forwarded email message yesterday and knew immediately that I'd feature it as a post because it's in keeping with this week's theme.

The email contained a list of vegetables and the corresponding body part that the plant supports and heals.

Without googling for accuracy, since the list read as believable, I'm posting it pretty much as it arrived:

  1. The radiating lines of a sliced carrot look like the pupil and iris of a human eye. It's well known that carrots are eye food and this is because carrots greatly enhance blood flow to the eye.
  2. A tomato has four chambers and is red, like the heart. Tomatoes are loaded with lycopine, a heart and blood food.
  3. Grapes in a cluster hang in the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell. Research suggests that grapes vitalize the blood and thus the heart.
  4. A walnut looks like a little brain: the left and right hemispheres, upper cerebrum and lower cerebellum, even the wrinkles or folds on the nuts appear like the neo-cortex. And walnuts help brain function by contributing to the development of more than three dozen neurotransmitters.
  5. Kidney beans, which actually look like human kidneys, help maintain kidney function.
  6. Avocado pears are womb-like in shape. Research suggests that an avocado a week can help balance a woman's hormones. And oddly, or not, it takes nine months for an avocado to grow from blossom to ripened fruit.
  7. Figs are full of seeds and hang from the fig tree in pairs. Figs aid in the mobility of male sperm and contribute to increasing a man's sperm count.
  8. Sweet potatoes are shaped like the pancreas and in fact, aid in balancing the glycemic index of diabetics.

Given the message within the title of this post, "the wonder of edible plants," I think it appropriate to revisit my post on buying organic versus conventional vegetables from a couple of months ago.

Print it out, keep it on your fridge and refer to often, particularly when your at the grocery store in the fresh produce section.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Eat Food, Not Too Much, and Mostly Plants

I love synchronicity. It's like a direct message from the Gods alerting you to something you need to take note of.

Yesterday I mentioned Michael Pollan in my post, and this morning I just happened to hear him interviewed (for the first time) on local KGNU.

It seems Michael Pollan is in my periphery and with that in mind here are three things he said that caused me to sit up and take note:

  1. "Most of what we're eating today is not food."
  2. "Eat food, not too much, and mostly plants."
  3. "If you invest $60 in growing your own veggie garden, in the first year you'll reap $200 worth of produce."
I'll mention again Michael's two bestselling books: The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. If you care about what you're putting in your mouth, both these books are well worth reading.

I wish I could follow the above with a paragraph about my beautiful veggie patch, but alas, I don't have a garden. However, if you have a garden, consider designating space to growing vegetables and herbs and save on your produce bill this growing season.

However, I do eat food, not too much, and I definitely err on the side of more plants and less animal protein in my cooking -- it's healthier and it's the most economical way to eat.

And with that in mind, the meal idea I'm sharing today is an example of this formula.

Noodles with Mahi Mahi, Ginger, Cilantro & Cucumber
1) Mix juice of 4 limes with 1/4 cup of Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce or Tamari. Add a couple teaspoons of honey to taste and a big chunk of chopped & peeled raw ginger and the same of garlic. Stir well, or until honey dissolves.
2) Wash and coarsely chop 1/2 a small bunch of fresh cilantro, one cucumber, 2-3 spring onions. Toss together.
3) Oven-bake with a little oil and lemon juice and S&P, your choice of deep-sea fish, i.e. Mahi Mahi, Tuna or Salmon. One 6 oz fillet will serve two for this dish.
4) Boil your choice of noodles, i.e Sobo, Chinese rice, or whole wheat.

To Serve: Toss noodles in a bowl with the cilantro, spring onions & cucumbers, spoon portions into serving bowls and top with coarsely chopped fish. Lastly, pour honey, lime, soy and ginger & garlic mix over fish and noodles.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where Does Your Food Come From?

While waving a large bag of Costco walnuts under my nose a friend challenged me recently with: "You can't beat their prices!"

The same friend then insisted I take half the bag of walnuts home to sample, saying, "You can't beat the flavor."

Another friend did something similar with a side of salmon (colored with dye) she'd bought at Safeway.

Another with fresh and cheap conventional produce she'd purchased at Sunflower Market.

Sometimes it feels as though I've set myself up writing this blog. People love to challenge my position that you can one-stop shop on a budget at Whole Foods for one, two, or a family.

However, my position as a recession-strategy blogger isn't just about saving dollars grocery shopping. If that were the case, I'd be writing about the cheapest-of-cheap tinned, bottled, pre-packaged and frozen foods available at dollar-store style groceries.

As a former chef and advocate of healthy, simple gourmet cooking, I'm very conscious and concerned about the food I buy and consume. I want to know where the food I'm putting in my mouth came from and I want to know how it was farmed.

I care enough about my body, my health, and our environment to ask these questions and I hope that one day everyone will care about their health, and the health of their family, and thus be compelled to ask questions along lines of:

"Where did that side of salmon come from? Can I get it without the color-enhancing dye? And was it farm raised or is it wild? If it was farm-raised was it farmed responsibly?"

I buy very little tinned, bottled, and pre-packaged food, instead I opt for whole, unprocessed foods such as fresh produce, bulk dry goods, some dairy, responsibly-farmed fish, and antibiotic and hormone-free meat.

And I choose to buy these items at Whole Foods because I trust their quality standards. I can peruse their website and read where the food I'm buying comes from and the practices used to produce that food.

I trust that Whole Foods cares about what I put in my mouth and cares about our environment.

I don't feel the same level of trust at stores where the goal is selling food at the lowest price -- where price, not the food, is what matters.

Since beginning this blog, I've been made aware of the documentaries: Fresh, Food Matters, Here We Grow all of which explore the underbelly of the food industry and its impact on our health, well being and our environment.

You Are What You Eat, a BBC America in-your-face reality TV show, delivers an equally strong message contained within its title.

Books such as Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food add to the list of urgent messages asking us to be more aware of what we put in our mouths!

This blog is not just about me writing tips and tricks to help you save dollars grocery shopping during these challenging economic times, I also take seriously my mission to educate anyone who loves to eat on the importance of feeding your body and soul with food that is good for you and that has been grown responsibly with yours, and our planet's health in mind.

Next time you're on the verge of purchasing that cheap piece of fish, or that big bag of heavily-discounted nuts, consider thoroughly what you're buying, and remember, you always have a choice to shop and consume differently, and responsibly.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Grilled Vegetables with Dipping Sides

Yesterday, I posted the comment that I had depleted my fridge and cupboards to the extent that there appeared to be little to eat.

Nevertheless, I challenged myself to make several meals with what I had on hand.

I often try this because I like to test my resourcefulness. Can I prepare an appetizing meal from next-to-nothing? The answer is invariably yes.

Challenging yourself in this way is a great reminder that we can manage with less food, which is an awareness worth taking with you when next you grocery shop.

And now that the weather is warming, it's easier to cut back on our food consumption because we need fewer calories to keep us warm.

I keep hearing people around me talking about doing a liquid spring cleanse in the effort to detox after a long winter of rich, calorie-laden foods.

I admire that kind of challenge, the discipline of sticking to a liquid diet for as many as 10 days. I'm afraid I can barely go a day without biting into something solid.

Yet at the end of yesterday, a hot spring day, I really didn't feel like a big meal so I opted for something light and fresh. Periodically, eating just vegetables or salad is all one needs; it gives the liver and the digestive system a break.

Grilled Vegetables with Sides for Dipping
(If you have a skillet, use it to stove-top grill your veggies.)
Wash and snap off woody end of a bunch of asparagus.
2) Wash and chop a handful of radishes, and several mini sweet peppers.
3) Heat skillet. Pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet.
4) Once olive oil is hot, toss in veggies, leave heat on high and move skillet about often to keep veggies from burning. Cook for about 10 mins.

To Serve: Plate the grilled vegetables, drizzle with olive oil, grind fresh pepper and salt over the lot. Thin some hummus with oil and lemon juice and mash an avocado with oil, season, add lemon juice. Use thinned hummus and avocado for dipping grilled veggies. Crusty bread on the side would be a delicious addition too.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Glorious Golden Beets

I've had a busy time recently and yesterday, I realized almost ten days have elapsed since I last went grocery shopping.

Needless to say there was very little in my cupboards, except a handful of the following staples: rice, pasta, lentils, chic peas, black beans, raisin granola.

And in the freezer: half a pack of frozen peas, less than that of corn, some kale which I'd sauteed and frozen, and two chicken sausages.

In the fridge: a little grated Parmesan, some aging goat cheese, 2 carrots, half a bunch of celery, 3 spring onions, a golden beet, nuts, flax seeds, and condiments.

With what I had on hand, I challenged myself to prepare several meals and make it through another day before I shopped.

The meals I made are featured in the pictures I've posted here today. It is amazing what you can do with little; it's also amazing to see how appetizing you can make a meal look when it involves color.

At the top is a simple side dish of warm, sliced and boiled golden beets dressed with a little olive oil, crumbled goat cheese, raisins-- which I had to pick out of the granola-- sprinkled with flax seed for crunch.

If I'd had a lemon, I would have squeezed half of one over the lot, instead I drizzled the dish with organic, rice-wine vinegar.

To the left is boiled pasta tossed in olive oil, which I topped with sauteed and seasoned kale, and sliced chicken meat that I'd removed from the sausage casing.

I topped this dish with the boiled, sliced golden beets. Though it's not apparent, I sprinkled some grated Parmesan over the lot.

Just below is a meal I made by boiling rice, to which I added a spring onion, a chopped celery stick, and all the remaining frozen corn kernels in my freezer, plus half a cup of frozen peas.

I seasoned the rice with Braags. Then I cooked and sliced the one remaining chicken sausage and tossed it into the rice.

As you can see, I cut into chunks the last of the golden beet and dressed the side of the rice dish with this deliciously sweet vegetable.

Golden beets are the inadvertent star of today's post.

Subtle-tasting, sweet and versatile, golden and red beets are enhanced by the addition of sour and acid like citrus & vinegar. And creamy such as soft cheeses, sour and or sweet creams, as well as other sweet root vegetables, and sweet spring vegetables like peas, corn and tomatoes.

Beets are in season now. That means they're plentiful and priced right. Look for them next time you grocery shop.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Clip of Market to Mouth Pilot

On Monday I worked with a team of wonderfully patient and talented people to create a pilot of Market to Mouth.

My intention is to bring this blog to life so that it will inform and entertain a wide audience of food lovers, people who want to learn how to grocery shop and eat on the lean.

The crew shot video footage in the kitchen of the show's guest, Julie, and at Whole Foods Market in Boulder, CO.

In between shoots, Julie took photos and some footage on her camera, which I then turned into this short video.

The real pilot is still in the editing room --
stay tuned for a teaser!

Meanwhile, I'll continue posting my written blogs with recession-strategy tips and tricks for shopping and cooking simple gourmet meals on a budget.

Later next week, I'll be featuring a young professional couple who asked me if I could help them out. Apparently they're "bad deal shoppers" and they want to learn how to become "good deal shoppers."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reuse Your Plastic Bags

I often refer to the cost-saving benefits of buying dry goods in bulk rather than pre-packaged.

You'll always pay extra for packaging, but when you buy in bulk you can control the weight and thus the price of what you're buying.

Choosing to buy bulk isn't only about saving money; it's also an opportunity to reuse your plastic bags. And when you reuse bags to buy bulk food, and fresh produce for that matter, you reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills.

Did you know that the average American creates four pounds of garbage every day? And most of this is food packaging!

So the next time you reach for a packet of cereal, think "bulk corn flakes!" Or the next time you reach for a plastic container of salad, think "lose lettuce!"

A couple of weeks ago, I went shopping with two single girls; they wanted to learn how to grocery shop on a budget. Lisa and Julie bought their own plastic bags and purchased a number of things in the bulk aisle.

Lisa had large plastic bags, though I suggested she reuse her Ziploc bags next time -- I'd noticed the girls had a stash in one of their kitchen draws.

Ziploc has come out with an eco-friendly version of their original bag. If you're a fan of Ziploc, you might consider trying Ziploc Evolve. For more information read this review.

I don't buy plastic bags, ever, but if I want a small plastic bag while shopping at Whole Foods, I help myself to WF's supply of Ziploc in the bulk herb and spice section. And I reuse those small bags again and again, in fact until they're falling apart.

FYI: It might be wise to get used to reusing your plastic bags, particularly if you are on a budget. The Plastic Bag Reduction Act will apply a 5 cent tax on single-use plastic bags as of January 1, 2010.

I'm not fan of keeping my food in plastic bags once home. I usually decant my bulk items into recycled glass jars. There's a small online article in Mother Earth News about the hazardous chemicals that leach from plastic into food -- the healthy alternative: store bulk and leftovers in glass!

Earth day was April 22nd, almost a couple of weeks ago now, but it's worth taking all that you were made aware of on that day into your Everyday.

And if you're struggling to figure out how you might do that, consider something as simple as creating less garbage by buying bulk, and reusing your plastic bags.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chic Peas with Bacon & Champagne

You may recall that I devoted a post to the humble chic pea - a legume with gourmet potential.

The basis of today's post is chic peas, bacon, and root vegetables cooked in stock and Champagne (or white wine).

I was inspired to elevate this simple casserole by enhancing its flavor with an old, opened bottle of Champagne after Julie, whom I blogged about last week, asked me what she could do with her leftover bubbly.

Garbanzo Beans with Bacon & Champagne
1) Power cook a cup of chic peas.
2) Chop an onion, smash a couple cloves of garlic, and saute both in olive oil till transparent.
3) Chop several rashers of bacon (turkey or pork) and add to onion and garlic and then saute.
4) Chop your choice of root veggies, i.e. carrot, potato, sweet potato. Add to the pot.
5) Add a green of your choice, i.e. brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, or zucchini.
6) Add chic peas, stir ingredients well, then pour in leftover Champagne or white wine and stock or water, enough so liquid almost covers ingredients.
7) At this point you could add a fresh or dry herb like thyme or oregano.
8) Gently simmer for about 45 mins.

To Serve: Spoon portions into bowls, drizzle with a little olive oil. On the side, serve pieces of crusty bread with cheese and perhaps a dark berry or fig jam. And if you've another bottle of Champagne about, pop it -- a dry, crisp, bubbly would be a great flavor pal to this flavorful casserole.