“We’ll Have the Octopus”

When many people think about going on a diet, their initial reaction can be to cringe. In fact, when you say the word “diet” slowly enough in your own head, it sounds almost exactly like “self-denial”, “is that really an adult-sized portion?”, or “is it ‘cheat-night’ yet?”. Still, the benefits of changing one’s unhealthful eating habits are so numerous that hundreds of thousands of individuals make a conscious decision to change their diet every year. This is my year, and I, like most of us that have tried at one time or another to start eating a more healthful diet, eventually had to face the dreaded crucible of…Going Out To Eat. (insert the Wilhelm scream here).


My wife and I decided last night, when we got home from work at 7:00pm and realized that neither of us had actually hit the “Start” button on the dishwasher, that it is perfectly acceptable to go out to dinner on a Tuesday night. Truth be told, the weather here was too perfect last night to not sit outside and enjoy smells of an Italian cafe.

I’ve been nervous about going out to eat since I’ve started to change my eating habits to be smaller portions of healthier foods. This is mostly due to the fact that as I cook, I am so focused on where the ingredients are, where my knife blade is in relation to my thumb, what temperature the pan is at, how long the garlic has been on the heat, how long ago the chicken went in the oven, etc… that the anticipation does not have a chance to build the way that it does when you are sitting and waiting to be served, surrounded by other tables already having their meals. That does nothing but get me excited to eat, well, all of it!  Also, when you are handling your food and focusing on your recipe, you are conscious of making healthy decisions like not using too much oil, or not leaving that extra bit of fat on there, or not using that three-finger-pinch of salt when one will do…

All of that said, we decided to go out. After looking at all of the 50+ items on the menu, we decided to try the octopus as our appetizer.

As a relatively educated guess, the ingredients were as follows:

  • 1/2 cup octopus, boiled and rough chopped to about 1/4″ thick
  • 1 medium carrot, semi-fine chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, fine chopped
  • 2+ tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 avocado, cut into two wedges
  • 3 tbsp black olive puree
  • salt / pepper to taste
  • 1 slice of nondescript bread soaked in another whole tbsp of EVOO and baked

First, let me say that there was waaaaay too much olive puree for me. The brine of the olives overpowered the relative subtlety of the rest of the ingredients. Nothing else really came through when you got more than 1/2 tsp of olive in a forkful. That said, if you were careful about what you got on your fork, this was delicious. But, was this something that was good for me? Let’s take a look:

Octopus, though many are unfamiliar with it, has an amazing flavor, and is also very nutritious. It contains Vitamins A and C, as well as some of the elusive B vitamins. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, watch out for the cholesterol if making this food a staple.

The avocado, though considered a “super-food”, should still be taken a what it is: a fat. Now, it’s a very healthy fat, and also provides a great amount of antioxidants. However, given the amount that was served, and paired with the amount of EVOO that was on this dish, it could be “too much of a good thing” if you are attempting to lose weight or keep those arteries clear.

The olive puree, though I do not know what chemicals (if any) were in it, I would not shy away from. Too many health benefits to avoid the olives.

There were not enough of the other ingredients to really take into consideration as being a health benefit or detriment, especially as my wife and I split the dish.

With the above, I wanted to give you a little insight into how I have been looking at my meals when we’ve gone out to eat. While I have never been one to count my calories, nor to measure my portions (This one time I did count out the 28 almonds that make up a service size and put them in a ziplock bag for snack… still haven’t regained my dignity), it is incredibly important to be conscious about what you are putting in your body. You can safely go out to dinner as long as you are not predisposed to think of “going out” as “cheating”. You can go to a restaurant and look for the best options for your health. This appetizer was not perfect, but was it a better choice than the fried calamari?

I may not live to be 100 years old, but that doesn’t mean my diet shouldn’t help me get as close to achieving that as possible. I love food too much to give up everything that is bad for me, but I look at it this way: the healthier I eat, the longer I could live, and the more time I’ll have to eat! It’s beautiful logic, isn’t it?


New Vegetarian Comfort Food

First, I need to give all of the credit for this recipe to Laura and her award-winning blog, “The First Mess”. You can check it out here: http://www.thefirstmess.com/ 

The recipe caught my eye because every ingredient in it is so damn good for you! Also, I’ve wanted to explore some new curry dishes for a while. Last, but certainly not least, her photography is amazing, you can’t help but want to try it! I will let you take the exact recipe from TFM (the post is dated 10/2/14), but I wanted to add some notes of my own regarding what I did and how it came out.

As you can see from the title of this post, this one-pot meal could very well become a new go-to Fall / Winter comfort food for me. It was incredibly deep and rich! The spices were perfectly balanced, and with just a little bit of bread to soak up the broth…. my god. My life had always revolved around meat-based comfort foods; beef or lamb stew, roasted chicken, beef/pork lasagna, etc… Nothing vegetarian I’d had to date really hit all the spots for me when I consider something a comfort food. This was the first vegetarian dish I’ve had that I can honestly say did not feel like it was lacking anything. Very hearty and satisfying with the perfect amount of heat. 

Okay, so here we go:

Total time, start to finish (less the shopping which I did the day before), this took me about 80 minutes. This is one of those meals where your mise en place needs to be on point. As you are really trying to bring out the aromas and oils (flavor) in your first several ingredients, rather than trying to break them down, you’ll need to move to the next step in a timely fashion or you will lose something from the flavor profile. Now, this is good practice for all of your cooking, but for this one in particular, get your ingredients prepped before anything hits the heat. Do not add the curry and bay leaves to the heat before you mince your garlic and dice your jalapenos. Too much inactive time in the pot (or pan) is generally bad for, well, just about everything in a saute scenario. Similarly, do not add your garlic before you dice your jalapenos. Unless you and another person are working in perfect harmony in your home kitchen (god bless you), you will be doing all this prep yourself. That means that if you add your garlic before the jalapeno is prepped, the garlic will be sitting inactive on the heat as you dice the jalapeno, which in turn means, a) the garlic will start to darken while you clean and dice the pepper and the flavor will get much more harsh than you want it to here, or, b) you’ll rush through the dicing of the jalapeno so as not to burn the garlic and your cutting board COULD end up looking like an operating table in a Civil War field hospital. NOTE: both options are undesired.



It says to use waxy potatoes for this dish. USE THEM. Keep in mind, you are essentially boiling the potatoes here. If you do not go with waxy, you will end up with a mess. Also, some of waxy potatoes you find can be downright beautiful, so why not use them!



The curry I used was just a typical sweet curry. My wife talked me out of picking up the hot curry, and, as usual, she was right. The sweet curry paired with the jalapenos gave this just the right amount of oomph, while still keeping it a comfort food and not a food challenge. If you want this a little hotter, I would still go with the sweet curry, and either turn up the heat with another pepper variety, or with a favorite hot sauce.

Don’t be nervous about leaving the bay leaves in there. I used dried leaves, and brought it all the way up the final stages of cooking before removing. They are easy to spot before the kale goes in.

Last step

Last step

If you hit the potatoes and cauliflower with salt and pepper before adding the tomatoes, make sure you check it again before you add the kale and chickpeas. Tomato will change the profile, especially if you go with canned, and what you thought was enough pepper may need a few more twists. Add the chickpeas first and get them incorporated into the pot so they can soak up that flavor while the kale wilts. Do this before the kale goes in, because once it does it will go EVERYWHERE when you stir, and your relaxing evening of cooking turns into three minutes of,

  • “When was the last time I cleaned the stove?”
  • “Will the dog eat kale?”
  • “The 5-second rule is totally legitimate, right?”.

Also, if you do go with a 28oz. can of crushed tomatoes, you may want to have some plum tomatoes on hand (if there are in season, which they always are in FL) to dice up and throw in there. This brightens up the sauce (or broth) a little bit.

For me, make sure you remove the stems (spine) from the kale. If you wish, you can simply rough-chop it and dump it in, but I found that since you are only wilting the kale, it retains a good bit of crunch on its own (and really adds a nice texture). The stems just will not tenderize in the same amount of time, and you could end up with something…different. But, that’s an individual preference; all you’ll end up with is a little more of a crunch and a slightly different flavor than you get from just the leaves.

You can make this dish a soup or a stew by varying the amount of vegetables and the amount of vegetable stock you use. I prefer my one-pot style meals to be on the hearty side, so went heavy on the cauliflower, potatoes and kale, while keeping the vegetable stock around the 1-cup amount that was called for.

Now for the nutrition: This dish is PACKED with good-for-you. Kale and cauliflower are both part of the cruciferous vegetable family (including broccoli, cabbage, etc…) which are some the healthiest vegetables you can consume. They are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and contain some of the best antioxidant bang-for-the-buck out there. Chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) are loaded with fiber, minerals and antioxidants, and are also supposed to be linked to heart health. While I am no nutritionist, and I believe that everyone’s health depends on their own unique set of needs, anyone would be hard pressed to find a major fault with this dish as it relates to health and nutrition.

Anyway, if you are looking for a relatively simple departure from your stand-by stews or soups this fall, I highly recommend digging the curry out of your cabinet, grabbing that bunch of organic kale that you walk by every time you go to the grocery store, and spending 80 minutes whipping up something that tastes amazing and is amazing for you.