Friday, August 20, 2010

easy ways to cook like a chef in your own kitchen

 As a future dietitian, I belong to the American Dietetic Association. This "Tip of the Day" popped up on my Facebook news feed, and I had to share it with you! Very simple ways to turn your ho-hum dinner into something you might savor at a nice restaurant. And into a healthier meal as well, of course. :-)

Culinary Ideas that Work at Home from the American Dietetic Association 
1. Poach fish, poultry or meat in flavorful broth, rather than cooking them in oil. Poach fruit in juice, rather than cooking in sugary syrup.
2. Intensify flavors with high-heat cooking, such as pan-searing, grilling or broiling to brown meat and seal in juices.
3. Add fuller flavors with more whole grains, including brown rice, amaranth and quinoa as well as wild rice.
4. Serve bean purees or olive tapenade instead of butter or margarine as table condiments.
5. Add nuts like hazelnuts, almonds and pecans to recipes. Just a few nuts pack big flavor and nutrition.
6. Use big, bold flavor ingredients in small amounts, such as feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, chipotle pepper or cilantro.

Photo Credit: Mike McCune (get the recipe for these grilled peaches here too!)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

easy veggie stir-fry

After my sister's grad party we had lots of fresh veggies left over (as in pounds of broccoli and baby carrots), so one night we decided to whip up a quick stir-fry for dinner. Super fast, super healthy, and SUPER yummy. Here's all it takes:
1. Get some organic brown rice cooking (1/2 cup dry per serving) on the stove. It takes about 30-40 minutes, but as long as you plan ahead the time isn't a problem. A lot of people actually cook up big batches of brown rice at a time and refrigerate for use throughout the week. Major time saver.
2. Microwave as many vegetables as you'd like in about half an inch of water. Make sure the container you're using is covered; it should take about 5 minutes, or until the veggies are soft.
3. Heat up about a half a tablespoon of olive oil and your favorite teriyaki sauce (to taste; we used about 1/4 cup for two or three cups of veggies) in a wok or large skillet.
4. Add cooked veggies, stirring as all the flavors simmer together.
5. Slice up some almonds and throw those in there too.
6. Eat and enjoy!

Photo Credit: avlxyz
(Somehow we lost the pictures we took of the stirfry, so I had to use one from Flickr's Creative Commons. Will take a photo next time I make this, though!)

Monday, August 16, 2010

green goal monday: say no to junk

While the age of technology has certainly caused more damage to our environment than good, it has also provided us with some opportunities to decrease our impact on the earth in a positive way. One advantage of technology (namely, the Internet) is the elimination of the need for paper in many situations where your computer can complete the task.

Green Goal No.3: Say "No" to Junk
Ideas from The Green Book, by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
1. Call to stop phone book delivery to your house: If you're one of the many people turning to rather than sifting through your giant Dex phone book for the pizza place's number, then please opt-out to have them no longer come to your house. Phone books take a huge toll on trees and landfills. According to The Green Book (see left), "phone books make up almost ten percent of waste at dump sites." Ouch. Check to see which books you currently receive, then find their number below and call to opt-out. You can also fill out this online form to stop receiving the Yellow Pages and White Pages.
Yellow Book:
1.800.373.3280 or 1.800.373.2324
And once you've done that, make sure you recycle any existing phone books you aren't using.

2. Switch to paperless  bills and statements: It's usually as easy as one click of your mouse. Choose to check your credit card and bank statements as well as your bills online instead of through the mail. That paper really adds up. 

3. Get off junk-mailing lists: This one makes you, your mailman/woman, and Mother Earth all much happier. Here are two websites that can put your name on the "Do Not Mail" lists for many companies and will significantly reduce the junk mail you receive. 

Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Monday, August 9, 2010

green goal monday: conscious cooking

One of my favorite things about this quest towards sustainable eating is getting to experiment with new recipes, from grilled zucchini to black bean brownies. Making your own food is less taxing on the earth, there's no question there. Staying at home for breakfast, lunch, or dinner eliminates the gas you'd need to drive to a restaurant, ensures that you can save your leftovers for later and compost any scraps, allows you to choose sustainably-grown ingredients, and means you can use reusable dishes, cutlery, and napkins rather than the disposable kinds that end up in landfills. And the list goes on.

But cooking and baking at home isn't a free pass for not being conscious of the waste that you do create in the process. Ovens, stoves, dishwashers, and microwaves all use energy and supplies like paper towels and napkins still get thrown in the trash, just like at a restaurant. Being aware of these impacts can be just as important to a meal as the actual ingredients. So my Green Goal for this week is to become a more conscious cook. Here are the two simple actions I am going to begin making into habits today. I encourage you to try them out as well!

Green Goal No.2: Conscious Cooking
Ideas from The Green Book, by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M. Kostigen
1. Reduce oven and stove time: Don't worry about preheating items that will be cooking for more than an hour in the oven. And if you're making baked goods, limit preheating time to ten minutes. Then, towards the end of your cooking time (this applies to both ovens and stovetops), turn off the heat several minutes before the food is finished cooking; there should be plenty of heat left to finish things off (I've baked a whole pan of cookies after turning off the oven!). This is not only gentler on the environment but on your energy bill as well.

2. Choose reusable towels and napkins: Use cloth napkins instead of paper, and you'll save landfill space as well as money over the long run. Find some handmade napkins on Etsy and support starving artists while you're at it. As far as towels go, use paper only when absolutely necessary. Get in the habit of asking yourself, before you grab a paper towel, if a cloth towel couldn't do the job just as well. 
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

Sunday, August 8, 2010

maximum value.

So my boyfriend, Erik, and I have this inside joke about getting "maximum value" out of everything (Ok, fine, it's not really a joke. We're really that big of nerds). One common example of this is buying the largest coffee drink size and saving half of it for later (sometimes there's only a 75 cent difference between the small and large sizes!). This poor-college-student mentality has spilled over from just financial concerns into other areas of our lives as well, such as (no surprise) nutrition and health. This is no new idea, of course; our bodies are programmed to crave calorie-dense foods so we stock up on as many calories as possible in preparation for famine. Nowadays, however, many of us never face such a time and those genes end up up hurting us much more than helping.

Another term being thrown around lately is "nutrient density," which refers to the amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber you get for your calories. This is a much more relevant concept in a world where obesity rates are sharply increasing. But nutrient density is still not what I'm getting at. When I'm thinking about getting "maximum value" out of my meals, I'm talking about helping my body absorb as many of the nutrients in the food as possible. Many people don't realize that just because a box of Total cereal says it provides you with 100 percent of your daily needs of 12 vitamins and minerals, that doesn't mean your body is able to take up all of those nutrients. Many of them pass right on through. For example, Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, which means they need to be eaten with fat in order to be absorbed and used by your body. Makes you think twice about pouring fat-free milk into your cereal, doesn't it?

You don't need to be a dietitian to have a basic  understanding of how to eat to maximize the value of your meals (aka absorb as many vitamins and minerals as possible). Make these few simple tricks a part of your daily routine, and your body will thank you:

1. Eat at least a little fat with every meal and snack. Go ahead and use full-fat ranch or guacamole for your veggies, enjoy your baked potatoes with some real butter, cook with olive oil, and feel good about eating your strawberries with cream. Same goes if you take a multi-vitamin; take it with a meal or a fatty snack like cheese or nuts.

2. Add liberal amounts of fresh garlic and onions to your rice and bean dishes. It is believed that the sulfur compounds that make garlic and onions so pungent also aid in the absorption of dietary zinc (here's a recent study abstract if you're interested). This is especially nifty information for vegetarians, who can have trouble getting enough of this important mineral. While some plant-based foods are rich in zinc (especially whole grains and legumes), the body has a harder time extracting zinc from plants than from animal food sources. Enlist the help of these cousins from the Allium genus to help prevent zinc deficiency (as if you really needed an excuse to add a couple extra cloves of garlic or one more onion than that recipe called for...)

3. Combine calcium and Vitamin D. This is a tricky one, since Vitamin D is not easily found in foods. But it's also very important, as your body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. One quick way to solve this is to buy dairy or soy products fortified with Vitamin D.  The few foods that are naturally rich in Vitamin D include sardines, tuna, and salmon (aka fatty fish). Pure cod liver oil is also a great source.

4. Eat something citrus-y with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C goes a long way in aiding iron absorption. So get adventurous and make orange sauce for your next beef and rice dish and add chopped strawberries to your spinach salad. Use the Vitamin Wheel widget below to find other high-C foods.

Photo Credit: WordRidden

Saturday, August 7, 2010

black bean brownies.

You read that right: black bean brownies. I didn't believe it either, but when my sister Rachel's boyfriend Jake told me about them, I had to try them for myself. Jake told us his recipe was on, so Rachel looked it up and whipped up a batch without hesitation. And the verdict? SO GOOD! They definitely had a different taste then normal brownies, but it definitely wasn't a taste of black beans. It was just a richer chocolate, I think. And they were so moist! The black beans replace the butter and the eggs, so I thought they'd be dry, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I will definitely be adding these to my short list of favorite things to bake.

Not only is this a healthier recipe but its less expensive as well. Especially if you're buying organic butter and eggs. A can of generic black beans runs between 75 and 90 cents and a can of generic organic beans should be less than $1.50. Definitely a steal. Get the recipe here: Mocha Hazelnut Black Bean Brownies.

Photo Credit: Michelle Shefveland,

Monday, August 2, 2010

green goal monday: glass over plastic

If I've learned anything since I've started striving to live sustainably, it's that you have to appreciate the baby steps in order to stay sane. While big picture stuff is important, worrying about the magnitude of our wastefulness and disregard for the earth makes it hard to feel that your everyday actions can make a difference. But they can. Why? Because the fact is you that are not the only person trying to make a difference; millions are, and those millions are inspiring millions more to make baby steps that together add up to leaps and bounds.

I've decided that, in my effort to live as sustainably as possible, I'm going to make one baby step each week. That might seem slow, but by the end of a year I'll hopefully be doing 52 things in a more earth-conscious way than I was at the start of the year. And hopefully, through this blog, I'll inspire others to make these changes as well. My plan is to post my "green goal" for the week every Monday. Feel free to comment if you have any tips or insights!

Green Goal No.1: Glass Over Plastic
Idea from 1001 Ways to Save the Earth, by Joanna Yarrow

Buy food, beverages, and household products in glass containers over plastic whenever the opportunity. Why? Glass can be recycled into glass again, whereas plastic loses its integrity each time it's recycled, becoming weaker and weaker until it inevitably has to be thrown into a landfill. Glass is also free of harmful toxins found in plastics, such as BPA, which are harmful to your health. So this baby step's a double whammy; buy glass for your the earth's health as well as your own!

You can also up-cycle your glass bottles, jars, etc for useful things around the house. Some things I've done recently (with the help of my creative sister, of course): Decorated a glass tea bottle into a change jar, a cream soda bottle into a flower vase, and a few bottle caps into magnets. This is also a great money-saving tip as well: why buy it when you can make it yourself? Get some more ideas from these sites:

Photo Credit: (UB) Sean R
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Vitamin Wheel