A friend had a heart-to-heart with his doctor and realized it's time to get his diet in order. I'm not a fan of "diets," as they are generally doomed to fail. I’ve altered my diet over the years by watching what I eat and thinking differently about food. Knowledge and awareness lead to action without feeling restricted by a bunch of "no no" rules.
Here are some ideas as I gave them to my friend.
Make your changes a little at a time. Your habits took decades to build; don’t expect to change them tomorrow.
Don’t think “no.” That is, don’t think about what you can’t or shouldn’t have. Telling yourself no doesn’t work.
Instead, think “yes.” What -can- you have?
Eat consciously. Go buy yourself a really good apple and eat it without reading, watching TV, or doing anything else. Pay attention to the apple. A fine apple on a pretty fall day actually better than a fried whatever once you start paying attention.
One of my rules is “only eat good food.” I will still have a hamburger but dammit, it will be a good hamburger. No way I will waste my hamburger treat on a McD or BK: I am having my burger at a place that makes them medium rare and fresh. When I started to focus on quality, I lost most of my interest in cheap chains. I am conscious of what I will get at the cheap chain, so it's really easy to drive on by. I don't feel like I am denying myself because I know I won't really enjoy what's there. When I do have a burger or fried whatever, it’s really good, and I savor every bite!
Eat slowly to give your appetite gadgetry time to sense that you have eaten.
Variety is your friend. Look up the “French paradox.” The essence is that the French and most Asians have good nutrition because they have varied diets. Americans have among the least varied diets in the world.
Vegetables and fruits are your savior. Instead of taking things OUT of your diet, you can ADD things. Adding veggies and more variety mean you get to eat MORE! Eat things like apples and carrots all day, as much as you want! Buy expensive, great quality produce. Shop Farmer’s Markets. Treat yourself. It’s all so good once you get past the must-have-fried-crap programming.
Sugar water is your biggest enemy. Cut out the soft drinks a little at a time. That includes diet drinks. And it includes fruit juices! Fruit juices are mostly sugar minus the fiber. Apple juice, orange juice, not good. Whole apple, orange good. Water, good.
Do all this a little at a time. You can still eat whatever you like, just start to moderate.
One mantra is Dr. Dean Edell’s “Eat whatever you like. Just not so much.” Another is Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
One more idea I will toss your way is a book recommendation: Sweet Fire by Mary Toscano.
The book focuses on carbohydrates. While weight loss is mostly a matter of calories in minus calories out, carbs affect how you metabolize and how your insulin works. Watching my carbs has made a big difference for me. Mainly, I avoid big loads of sugar and flour, white rice, etc. unless they are a part of a diverse meal with proteins and fat and fiber. Toast: Not good. Toast with bacon: Good. Well, not exactly but kind of. Juice: bad; whole fruit: Good.
It’s not a diet book! Just read it and let it change how you think, see how it alters what you eat.
Not to me, it isn't! I sometimes make popcorn the whole meal and I am pretty particular about how it's prepared. Done well, it's both light and hearty, crisp without being dry, and full of the flavor of corn and butter. I serve it with a variety of toppings — herbs, garlic, parmesan cheese, sriracha, so each bowl can be different.
I wrote about popcorn in 2006, detailing my method for perfect popcorn, and explaining why hot air and microwave popcorn are evil. It's still all true, so go read that. Then come back and I'll tell you how to make it even better. Go ahead, I'll wait...
Everything about the 2006 popcorn was perfect except for one thing — the butter. I was struggling to find a way to get more and better butter flavor and to distribute it well. When you add enough butter to taste, there are kernels that are lightly touched and others that were wet with drippy butter. I tried adding the butter a little at a time, drizzling with various tools, and briefly considered a sprayer. I tried adding it to the bowl first, but it solidified there. And throughout, there was inconsistent coverage and greasy fingers.
So why not add the butter to the cooking oil, I thought? Good idea but butter smokes at a temerpature well below the popping temperature and was quite browned by the time the popcorn was done. (Not a bad taste — like a brown butter sauce and popcorn flecked with brown bits — but not the proper popcorn I wanted.)
I knew mixing oil and butter would not work because, contrary to popular belief, oil does not increase the smoking point, it just dilutes the smoking components (and the butter flavor).
A Better Butter
Then I thought of clarified butter.
Butter contains butterfat, milk solids, and 15-20% water. Clarified butter is butterfat alone. You can buy it or make it yourself. I knew that without the milk solids, clarified butter has a much higher smoking point and doesn't brown. What would happen at popcorn temperatures — especially with the very hot Stir Crazy popper I favor?
I put some clarified butter in the popper and fired it up with a few kernels. I watched...and watched. What I was looking for was popping without smoke.
Uh-oh. It's smoking. I was thinking this might not work, when — pop! Interesting. The pop temperature is very close to the smoking temp. I tossed in the rest of the kernels and that immediately dropped the temperature to below smoking.
An Even Better Butter
Clarifing butter isn't too difficult but I wondered, how about ghee? An Indian traditional ingredient, ghee is clarified butter which is "brought to a higher temperatures of around 120 °C (250 °F) once the water had evaporated, allowing the milk solids to brown. This process flavors the ghee, and also produces antioxidants which help protect it longer from rancidity. Because of this, ghee can keep for six to eight months under normal conditions" (Wikipedia).
Advantage: Inexpensive, shelf stable, and very convenient!
Many grocery stores stock ghee, generally in the gourmet or ethnic foods section.
So here it is: Our popcorn upgrade!
Recipe: Proper Popcorn 2.0
Makes 6 quarts: Adjust amounts if your popper makes less.
1 cup of popcorn (I use Bob's Red Mill)
Fine salt to taste
2.5 ounces (by weight)=1/3 cup ghee
Popcorn popper, preferably a Stir Crazy
Measure the ghee. If you refrigerate your ghee, it's hard to spoon in a cup so meter it into a bowl on a kitchen scale. You can also soften it in the microwave, but that is tricky because ghee has no water and is transparent to microwave energy.
Put butter in the popper with two kernels of unpopped corn and plug it in.
The instant the test kernels pop, add the rest of the kernels.
Alton Brown says to add the salt to the oil and corn before popping -- hmm, good idea. I need to try that.
When popping slows to about once every two seconds, turn off popper and pour popcorn into the giant bowl, and add salt, a little at a time, stirring between additions.
Serve while still warm, you can clean up later.
Serve with napkins — and get this, it's important — give everyone a soup spoon. It's geeky, I know, but once you eat popcorn with a spoon, you'll be hooked.
If you are in the Bay Area, here is a do-not-miss event! As a foodie, I love this. And it's for a cause I care about (I am on the board of directors for the organization).
“Star Chefs and the Wines and Spirits They Love” is a benefit event for food and wine lovers. 16 top Bay Area Chefs* serve their creations and paired wines and spirits at stations around the room. Over 400 guests mingle and visit whatever stations they like. We’re talking world-class cuisine. It’s huge fun and the food is fabulous.
Then we adjourn to another room for a live auction and dessert.
The event benefits Child Advocates of Silicon Valley, which matches foster children with volunteer court-appointed advocates who provide critical educational and emotional support, ensure the child's needs are met, and their voice is heard while navigating the court dependency system. Kids with advocates have a much, much better outcome. For instance, 91% of our foster children complete high school, compared to 50% of foster children nationwide! I am on the Child Advocates of Silicon Valley board.
Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, spoke out against sous vide. Outrageous!
Sous vide is the (rather poorly named) modernist cuisine technique in which food is sealed in a pouch and cooked in a water bath at a precise temperature. Until a few years ago, it was strictly a restaurant procedure since the equipment cost thousands of dollars, but now home cooks, like me, have available gadgets for $200-500 which work wonderfully.
I love what it does for meats, especially. Medium-rare from edge-to-edge is not just possible, but easy. Meat that slow cooks well, such as short ribs, can cook literally for days at the perfectly controlled temperature. And for delicate custards, eggs, and confections which need to reach finely chosen temperatures, it's like magic.
So what's Michael Bauer's beef? Mushy beef. Flabby fish.
He's right. Every sous vide chef learns, pretty quickly (the hard way — ask me how I know), that cooking fine meats, especially finely textured, lean muscle such as loin cuts, become spongy when cooked too long. But it's easy to avoid: don't cook lean, already tender meats longer than an hour or two and chill it when done.
Apparently not all the fine restaurants have figured this out.
Serious Eats Serious Eats is another blog which plants its stake, and its steak, in the fertile land where food meets science. There is lots of great material here, much of it by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, or Kenji. If you like FeedMe, you will like Serious Eats.
Cooking for Engineers What do you get when you apply the engineer's mind to the kitchen? Straightforward, practical recipes and tips and a passion for simplifying without sacrificing quality.