Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Losing My Gut Post - Greek Salad

I have now started to get into shape.... again. I am usually involved in some kind of heart-rate escalating activity at least 3-4 times a week. Now that it's starting to be nice outside (and hopefully it stays that way) I will be running outside more, hiking more and generally getting my ass out of the house more. The exercise thing is all good, but as we all know if the menu doesn't follow up with healthy choices, it won't work out in the end. Or the middle. Or even the start for that matter. I eat well 90% of the time, I just eat to much, meaning my portions can get a little to large. I have this voice in the back of my head which says "There's a person out on the street right now who could eat what you don't eat on your plate, so finish it because they would." I just have to start ordering smaller things on the menu or just order things of which I know what the portion size is. Keep it simple stupid (KISS).

Everybody says they make a great Greek salad or they know where to get one. Not true. Ingredients matter, especially the small things, which actually turn out to be the big things. I've eaten these kind of salads for years and have had some real dogs and some outstanding ones. "Greek Salad" is a pretty general term as everyone is Greece has their own family recipe, different local ingredients and , well you get the idea. Here's a tip: If you're making something this simple, use the best ingredients you can get your hands on. If you don't, you won't be putting your best effort in and the salad will not reach expectations. Maybe your expectations, but if you've never had a salad with the best ingredients, how are you to know what the Greeks are really eating and why is theirs so good? Now, not everybody can go to a nice, higher-end grocery store or a specialty market which exist in most bigger cities. In my home town, none of the big chain stores made any kind of effort in bringing in the best of the things which really matter, like a high-end extra virgin olive oil or any kind of quality balsamic vinegar. I have been gone for a few years now, so maybe this has changed, but when I left they bought and sold on price alone. How can you get the taste you want if you're stuck with something which is a bargain in a huge grocery chain? Can't see it happening. When I moved to Calgary, it was like someone breathed new life into me when I walked into some of the specialty shops. What a difference. It was nice to see I had the choice to spend a little more money if I wanted on better ingredients. But enough about that. Let's move forward with the eating part of this post.

Ingredients

- 4 tomatoes, quartered and halved
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1/2 of a red onion, diced
- 1 English cucumber, halved both ways lengthwise and chopped
- 25 black olives
- 125g feta cheese
- a handful of parsley, finely chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 2 large basil leaves, torn by hand into smaller pieces
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- EVOO, the good stuff
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Directions

1) After preparing everything, put it all in a bowl. Mix it up and serve. Tralaaa! Greek salad.
Yield: Serves 4 meal-sized salads, or 2 with leftovers.


If you notice, there is no lettuce. A fellow who owned a Greek restaurant which we frequent told me "Any good Greek wouldn't use lettuce in his salad if he's worth his weight in salt." When somebody who knows what he's talking about says something relevant, I listen.

Here are the differences of how using better ingredients makes a better salad:
- I used a good quality goat cheese feta from Noble Meadows Farm, a local producer. It has a nice, creamy taste and texture.
- I was in Lina's Italian Market the other day and found some organic Italian olives. Usually organic means not as much flavor, but I was pretty impressed with these ones.Always look at the olives you are buying, especially the ones from the deli counter. If they are dry and wrinkled, don't buy them. They should be smooth and plump looking, just like me. :)
- I went with organic Roma tomatoes this time as they are firm and have more flesh than seeds. This made the salad stay chunky as they don't break down. Using smaller on-the-vine tomatoes is also good as they are very juicy and add a nice flavor to the salad. It's all about what you want that day.
- Ground cumin is not normally used I believe, but I like it as a slight background flavor. It adds a slight musty addition to the mix and has added health benefits.
- In the summer months, I use fresh oregano. If it's not available, I use dry. Fresh oregano is a great source of nutrients such as iron, manganese, calcium and many vitamins along with a healthy dose of fiber. It tastes good too.
- A good quality olive oil is one of the small things which make a big difference in this salad. The oil I use for dishes where I don't cook with it has to be of a far better quality than the oil I use I cook with. Usually the good stuff you don't want to heat as to not ruin the flavor which is present. It should be a little murky looking and try to find cold pressed. Make sure you store it in a cool, dark and dry place. Heat and light are bad for oil as it breaks it down and changes the flavor and quality.


Good quality ingredients can't be found unless you look for them, and never stop looking. Frequent the specialty shops in your area, if you have any. These are the people who will bring something in for you if you request it. Go to the farmers markets and source out your local producers. You will not only meet some interesting people, but you will learn something new every time you talk to them, you will be supporting the local economy and you will cut down your carbon footprint as it takes less effort to bring in the local stuff rather than bringing in truckloads of other vendors produce from thousands of miles away to a store which usually isn't even locally owned. Not all of us are lucky enough to be able to walk through a quality farmers market whenever we like, but do take the time if you get a chance.

Little O's Menu

A couple of weeks back, I made a Cauliflower Gratin. We had her try a little of it with success, but she didn't go overboard. Why am I telling you this?? Because at that age I would've absolutely lost my mind if my parents tried to get me to eat that infernal white, afro-looking beast. I didn't eat it and like it until I was about 15 when my mother introduced cheese sauce with it. "Great" I said. "Will this go with broccoli too?" Ever since I had always enjoyed eating and experimenting with them both. At our dinner party on the weekend, I made a Chicken and Mushroom Risotto. There was at least one serving left over, so O was the benefactor of this. I was as well, but we enjoyed a nice lunch together eating the same thing. I like doing that with her, hopefully she did as well.


Quote Of The Day:

"Health is like money, we never have a true idea of it's value until we lose it."
~ Josh Billings, Pen name of American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (April 21, 1818-October 14, 1885)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pasta con Tonno e Peperoncini (Pasta with Tuna and Chili Peppers)

You might think I eat a lot of pasta, but it's not as bad as some people say it is. I only eat it once or twice a week, maybe three times, but in my mind, all the Italians should be absolutely huge if what people say about pasta is true. Think about it for a minute, Italians eat it all of the time, pretty much everyday. Why aren't they big, fat people on average? Because they cook it properly and they're active. They walk a lot and they play sports, mainly soccer. If you're an active person, the carbohydrates from the pasta are burnt off as fuel. You can't eat a lot of food, any food in general and sit on the couch waiting for them to just "go away." Eating the good carbs or complex carbs is very important as well, and if you eat a lot of bad carbs like white bread, processed foods such as hot dogs and luncheon meats, expect problems to arise with your health eventually. Pasta is on the bad or simple carbs list, but again, if you cook it al dente, you will be fine and your glycemic index will not spike. One way to help the carbs you ingest break down easier and slower is to add balsamic vinegar to your dish. I add a tablespoon to tomato sauce at the end of the cooking process and it also adds a touch of sweetness to the sauce. I'm not sure if it works if it is cooked like this, but another idea is to eat a small salad with a balsamic vinaigrette before you eat your smaller portion of pasta.

When I eat pasta, I try to add something to it which adds not only flavor, but other health benefits as well. Pasta is great for soaking up other flavors around it, so it is always a good vehicle when trying to get the most out of a certain ingredient you're cooking with. Pasta cooked in red wine is a good example of this.

This particular dish is one I have eaten at a small place here in town called La Viena. I love eating this as it's more about textures than flavors. Don't get me wrong, the aromas and tastes coming from this recipe are superb, but the different textures coming from the tuna, peperoncini and the pasta are worth the very little effort it takes to make it. Although I like it better with dried chili flakes, you can still use sliced peperoncini.

Ingredients

- 110g linguini
- 1 80g can of tuna packed in olive oil, drained, or just regular tuna packed in water
- 1 clove of garlic, chopped
- 1 tsp dried chili flakes or to taste
- EVOO
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- Parmesan, grated
- a small handful a parsley, finely chopped

Directions

1) Start to cook pasta according to directions on the package.
2) Heat a frying pan over medium-low heat with a little EVOO. When ready, add garlic to flavor the oil.


Next, add the tuna and break it up slightly with a fork to spread it around the pan.
3) After two minutes, add the garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper and stir to incorporate everything together.


4) Let cook until pasta is ready and add it to the pan. Keep a little of the pasta water and add it to the pan also.


Add the parsley, mix everything together,


grate a little Parmesan over the pasta and serve.
Yield: Serves 1

I may have forgot to add the parsley... oh well, too bad.

This is a quick and easy dish to serve when you're in a hurry. I only eat it once a month or so due to the tuna being in the dish and I try to limit my intake of it as it could cause issues if eaten too often because of the mercury content. It's too bad as I love to eat it. In the past few years I have backed off of it not only due to the mercury issues but it's also overfished and not considered sustainable.

Little O's Menu

Her horizons are broadening somewhat lately as she is starting to eat what we eat more consistently. We had some friends over this weekend and I made hummus and kopanisti to start with. We smoothed a little of the hummus over top of a few pieces of pita bread and she ate them. It's nice to see she is not shying away from it now as she used to eat it, but I think her tiny, supercharged tastebuds went AWOL on her when she was a little ill and stopped eating it. It's a little fatty but she's a little skinny so it evens out. The chickpeas give her the protein she needs if she isn't eating any meat, plus they give her a shot of fiber and some antioxidants. It seems like whatever I make nowadays she likes to at least taste it. She may not like it and will just let it fall off of her tongue onto the floor, but she gave it her best shot, and that's what counts.

Quote Of The Day:

"Is this chicken what I have, or is this fish? I know it's tuna, but it says 'Chicken of the Sea."
~ Jessica Simpson (1980-still alive... believe it or not) American sing..... ummm, American actr...... uuuhhh, just read the quote and you figure it out.

"I know it's tuna...." Yeah right. No you don't!


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark