Changes

 

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My last four weeks have been some of the most eventful of my entire life. Two and a half weeks ago, I started this blog, and with the help of each of you that are reading this, I consider it a success. Three weeks ago, I completed my first major project after 15 months of blood, sweat and tears, and put my stamp on a piece of the construction industry that no one will ever be able to take from me. One month ago tomorrow, I quit my two-pack-per-day habit cold turkey after waking up in the middle of the night craving a cigarette. The same day I decided to quit smoking is the same day I made the commitment to change my eating habits and to begin, ‘Going Blue’.

Sitting here on the cusp of what I’ll consider a milestone (one month), I’m taking some time to reflect on where I am and what I’ve done. While I will spare you all of the daily miscellaneous victories and defeats, one thing I do need to say is this: without a shadow of a doubt, it has been harder for me to change my eating habits by eating healthier foods as well of less food in general, than it has been for me to quit smoking. 

Even today, I got angry (hangry) on the way home from work, because all I wanted to do was drive straight to the corner pizza joint and eat half of a Sicilian pizza with pepperoni (extra grease), and an order of two-dozen wings. I was more angry at the fact that I was not going to have that food as I ever was at not having a cigarette. Also, the smoking-related cravings have already stopped as of about a week ago.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a relatively tall guy. Growing up, I was always able to rationalize eating as much as I wanted of whatever food I wanted because my weight never caught up to my height. In addition, I was an athlete, so I burned calories at a high rate. Then once my athletic career ended, I worked in construction and spent six to eight hours a day on my feet. All of those things allowed me to eat what I wanted with no consequences. It wasnt until twelve months ago that the issues I outline in my “About” page showed up. Then, it wasn’t until four weeks ago that I really started to take my health seriously. Twenty-seven years of stuffing one’s face is hard thing to quit!

The benefits I’ve felt are really the only thing that stopped me from getting that pizza on the way home today. My energy level really is much higher with the increased servings of fruits and vegetable. On the day following a low fruit / veg day, I feel symptoms I can only equate to a food hangover. I feel tired, full, and mentally dull. Also, I’ve cut my coffee intake town to 0-2 cups per day, and have begun drinking 2-3 cups of green tea daily. This has eased my morning headaches and given me energy coffee never did. I laugh more, I sleep better, I enjoy small things that I never lent any weight to before… It really is amazing. Changing your diet opens you up to a new perspective of yourself. If you don’t believe me, try this. Go to your local market. Buy a handful of limes. Now, every morning for one week, sqeeze the juice of 1/2 of a lime into a glass of water each morning and have that as part of your morning routine before you reach for the coffee. Even the small addition of this shot of Vitamin C and a glass of water first thing in the morning made me feel more energetic and mentally sharper.

The challenges I have undertaken have all been well worth it, even with the stress, frustration and agrivation that have gone along with them. If I wasn’t before, I am now certain that my wife is a saint for putting up with my through the last month.

I understand that all of this is self imposed, and that any bitching about hunger that I may do can all be silenced with a trip down to Main Street.  However, I am certain that with the help of my friends and family, I’ll be able to continue discovering a part of life that I was never interested (enlightened) enough to explore before.

Thank you all for visiting my page and following my journey! It means more than you know.

ENJOY!

 

 

Sweet Potato Hash

Just as I suspected, a game of “what the hell can I make for dinner?” while looking into the fridge was exactly what I needed to break me out of yesterday’s day-long funk. And, if I may, the results were pretty fantastic! If you enjoy cooking and want to improve your ability to, and comfort level with, thinking outside of the box, I suggest playing this game as a once-a-week, clean out the fridge exercise. Not only will it keep you from wasting produce, but it will make you combine ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily see paired during your 10-minute surf of Pinterest.

done2

Here is what I dug out of the fridge:

(makes up to 4 servings, just increase number of eggs):

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut to 3/4″ cubes
  • 1/2 head of cauliflower, broken down into 1/2″ – 3/4″ heads
  • 1/2 head red cabbage, rough chopped to about 1/2″ – 3/4″
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and fine chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, peeled, fine chopped
  • 1 leek, green removed, stalk halved lengthwise and fine chopped
  • 5 green onion “greens”, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and fine chopped
  • 5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and minced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 1/2 cup beef stock (low sodium)
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 beers, consumed slowly, not at all used in the actual recipe
What Was Left

What Was Left

Bring 6-8 cups of salted water to a boil. While waiting, begin the prep of your vegetables, starting with the sweet potatoes. Once water boils, drop your sweet potatoes in (already cubed). Blanch for 3-5 minutes, then strain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking process. Set aside. Rinse out your pot, refill with fresh water and return to a boil.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan to medium heat and add 1 tbsp EVOO. Add your onions and leek to the pan with a pinch of salt and saute until just turning translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Once your onion and leek start to turn translucent and are aromatic, add your carrots and cauliflower to the pan and saute for another 5 minutes. Next, add your sweet potatoes and garlic. At this point, add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, a few pinches of salt and approx. 2 tsp of fresh-cracked black pepper, mixing throughout the ingredients. You may need to add a little more EVOO here to keep your potatoes from sticking as the first several ingredients will have absorbed much of the oil you originally added.

After your potatoes have been in the pan for approximately 10 minutes, add your red cabbage and combine. Simultaneously, add your thyme and beef stock. Let the stock simmer until almost completely absorbed / evaporated, then reduce the heat to simmer, put the lid on your pan, and let the flavors meld for up to 10 minutes.

hash

While your hash is busy getting delicious, it’s time to poach your eggs. There are several ways to poach an egg, and if you have a preferred method, please insert here.

If you have never tried to poach an egg, or have never done so successfully, this method is a pretty good one-  I used the water which I put on to boil after my potatoes were blanched, reducing the heat to low, letting the water settle to a simmer and adding a pinch of salt. Once that’s done, crack one of the eggs into a small dish or bowl (a tea-cup works well). Used a slotted spoon to swirl the water in the pot, creating a vortex. Then, use the bowl or cup and ‘lay’ the egg into the water. Using this method, you keep the egg whites tight. The vortex will cause the egg-whites to swirl and bind to themselves around the yolk, keeping them neat and compact. Repeat with the balance of the eggs. Leave the eggs alone while they are in the water! You don’t need to (or want to) do anything with them other than let the water cook them. Once the egg-whites begin to form a solid and the eggs begin float off the bottom of the pot, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water and let them dry on a paper towel for a minute. DO NOT cook them longer than 3 minutes. If you wait until they are floating on the surface around minute 4 or 5, they will be cooked through and you will not have any of that beautiful, soft, silky yolk come running out when you cut into your egg.

To serve, spoon they hash onto a plate. Sprinkle your chopped green onions on top of the hash, then add your egg to the center of the hash. Dust the egg with a tiny amount of salt and pepper, and you are ready to eat!

done

 

The beauty of this dish, as with hash in general, is that your recipe does not need to be strict! Hash has traditionally been a “what do we have available to chop up and cook?” type of meal. That is what makes it perfect for using your odds and ends, similar to a stock or a soup. This recipe will take you about 45 minutes.

In regards to nutrition, depending on your serving size, you are getting anywhere from 1 to 3 servings of vegetables. Sweet potato is a HUGE source of Vitamin A, and contains 0.1g of fat. Other than your EVOO, there is not a high fat content ingredient in this meal. As for the egg, many people think egg and associate it with bad cholesterol. If you do a little bit of research on the nutrition of eggs, you will find approximately 5g of fat (with about 2g being monounsaturated fat vs. 1.5g saturated fat), as well as a high DV% of Vitamins A, D, B-6 and B-12. The one egg used in this dish is good source of proteins which a diet high in fruits and vegetables can lack. If you have an issue with your cholesterol, obviously the egg can be eliminated. To add the creaminess, a small amount of Greek yogurt can be used as an egg substitute. Lastly, you can easily eliminate the beef stock if you wish. For me, it added a great depth of flavor and really enriched the dish. A good, homemade vegetable stock can be used here.

As always, if you give this a try, I hope you like it and make sure to give me your feedback!

ENJOY!

 

Vegetarian Pho (Pho Chay)

One of the main commonalities of the Blue Zones is that vegetables make up a significant percentage of their resident’s diet. While I am in NO WAY ready to make the leap into becoming a vegetarian, one of my goals is to limit my intake of meats (including fish) to a handful of meals per week. I’ll need to consume meat often enough to where it does not ‘interrupt’ my digestive process every time I eat it, but still keep it minimal enough to allow for healthier options.

I’m 99.78% certain that tonight (Friday) is going to involve the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol, accompanied by a case of the late-night munchies, and as Sarasota, FL, is not necessarily known for its late night vegetarian chow-houses, I decided to skip the meat last night.
Pho Chay (simply, pho with a vegetable-based stock and with no meat toppings) is something I have wanted to make for a while now. I looked at a couple of recipes, but could not settle on one that made me want to fire up the burner. So, I took a few basic concepts, headed to the market, and had fun with it (essential to cooking!).
Here is what I came away with:
First, the broth for the pho chay~
2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and rough chopped
1 yellow onion, cut into eighths with skins left on
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
2 carrots, washed and rough chopped
2 stalks of celery, washed and rough chopped (get rid of the leaves as they are too bitter for the broth)
1 dacon radish, peeled and rough chopped
2 knobs of ginger, washed and rough chopped
1 fuji apple, cut into eighths with core removed
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tbsp star anise seed (placed in a tea bag and tied shut with twine)
2 tsp ground cardamom
8-10 cloves
1 tbsp sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
14 cups cold water
pho stock
Pre-heat your oven to 450-500 degrees. Take the above ingredients and spread them around in an oven-safe pan or tray (at least a 2″ rim), drizzle with about 1 tbsp of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), toss to coat evenly, and place in the oven. What you are looking for here is to start the aroma, to start the release of the juices / oils, and to get a little bit of color. Keep them on the top rack and check them every 8-10 minutes to ensure that you are not getting any burning / charring. The reason I chose to roast the vegetables rather than dropping them directly into the pot is that, due to the fact that this pho has had the typical beef bones / ox tail eliminated from the broth making process, we want a little bit of color as well as a little more depth of flavor. Roasting helps to ‘deepen’ your vegetables.
While the magic is happening in the oven, get two cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp of ground cardamom, 8-10 cloves, and 1 tbsp of anise seed (place these in a tea bag or you’ll end up picking them out of your teeth later) and set aside.
stock roasted
Once you feel your work in the oven is done (there is no set time because all ovens are slightly different, so follow to what your eyes and your nose are telling you), take your tray out of the oven and dump the contents into a large stock pot. VERY IMPORTANT: take the now empty and still hot pan or tray over to the sink and run about a cup of water into it. Then, take a wooden spoon and gently scrape (deglaze) all of the brown bits (fond) and oils off of the bottom and the sides of your tray. You will see how dark and rich the water becomes as you do this. Once your pan / tray is deglazed, take the gold you’ve just created and drop it right into your pot. Follow that with the spices that you set aside, plus one large tbsp of sea salt and a few twists of fresh cracked black pepper. Then, fill the pot with 14 cups of cold water. Bring this to the cusp of boiling, then drop it down to simmer and keep the bubbles coming on the slow and gentle side for about 50-60 minutes, stirring every 15-20 minutes.
Second, the toppings for your pho chay~
12oz package of extra firm tofu (pressed or un-pressed)
6-8 shiitake mushrooms
6-8 baby portobello mushrooms
1 jalapeno, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bag of your favorite bean sprouts
1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 bunch of green onions, fine chopped
6 medium / large basil leaves, rough chopped
1 box of your preferred rice noodles
salt / pepper
Now, take your favorite tofu (or, if you are brand new to this whole tofu thing, a 12oz block of extra-firm tofu) and cut it into slabs about 1/4″ thick. Heat 1 tbsp EVOO in a large pan over medium heat, and pan-fry the tofu until golden brown on both sides. Browning time will depend on moisture content. Remove from heat, and cut into bite-size pieces, then hit them with a pinch of salt and pepper.
tofu
Clean your pan, then heat another 1 tbsp of EVOO over med-low to medium heat. To the pan, add you favorite mushrooms. I went with shiitake and baby portobellos. Saute these until lightly browned, hitting with salt and pepper about a minute after they hit the pan. You want to keep the heat relatively low, because you want the mushrooms to be cooked, but also to remain meaty. Don’t over cook! Once done, place mushrooms on a paper towel to get any extra EVOO off the finished product.
Set the mushrooms and tofu aside for now.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil (volume of water per the instructions for your selected rice noodles). While that process is under way, prepare the balance of your toppings. This phase is really up to personal preference. We went with a jalapeno, basil, bean sprouts, green onion, and a red bell pepper. The only real key here is, whatever toppings you choose, keep them bite-sized.
Once your water boils, drop the noodles and cook to preference; for us this means slightly al dente. Once ready, strain the noodles and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking. Set aside. Now, strain your broth into a large bowl. I prefer lining a colander with cheese cloth to remove the tiny bits. Remove the vegetables from your stock pot, return the broth to the pot, and return to the pot to the burner on low heat.
pho toppings
At last, we assemble. Grab a bowl (the deeper the better), place a serving of rice noodles in the bowl, assemble your desired amount of tofu and mushrooms on top of the noodles, then, sprinkle on whatever other toppings you’ve selected. To finish, ladle your broth onto the contents of your bowl. Keep in mind that the broth is what is going to heat (or reheat) your other ingredients, so use enough to make your toppings swim. Grab your chopsticks, a spoon, and enjoy!
pho 2
This was a lot of fun to make! There are so many options as far as what you can do with toppings that you can practically have a new product each time you make it, even when reusing the same broth recipe. That said, I recommend you make yourself a large pot of the broth, strain it, put it in containers and freeze it. You’ve now cut that hour off of your next pho chay craving; just heat up your broth!
Nutrition:
The only thing you need to watch here is how much EVOO you use to saute with. Oil is fat, and while fat is usually flavor, part of this for me is finding the flavor in your other ingredients and not relying on the fat to sum up your dish. EVOO loses much of its heart-health benefits once it’s heated, so be easy with how much you use here.
Vegetable stock or broth does not provide you with much in the way of vitamins, but it does usually contain much less fat that meat-based broths. Also, making your own vegetable broth, as we did here, allows you to control the amount of sodium in the finished product, which is typically the biggest concern with store-bought products. Also, if you are trying to limit your use of canned products, you may want to have broth / stock making become a regular activity. (Also, it makes your whole house smell amazing!)
If you have any questions or comments, don’t forget to contact me. I’d love to hear your feedback if you decide to try a bowl of this pho chay!
ENJOY!