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New York’s Healthiest, Tastiest Restaurants (Including Chipotle? Dirty Bird To-Go?)Featured today in New York Magazine’s food blog, Grub Street,  is an interesting interview with the authors of Clean Plates, NYC, A Guide to the Healthiest, Tastiest Restaurants in Manhattan.  Many top restaurants, they say, aren’t all any healthy. I’m sure this doesn’t surprise most food savvy New Yorkers. Anywhere that features foie gras – purposefully fattened liver – probably isn’t paying all that much attention to your waist line. You can be sure that there are unnecessary tablespoons of butter and oil being flung into your meal from all corners. 

So what to do if you want to dine well and stay svelte? Check out these tips from top nutritionist Jonny Bowden on how to navigate eating out without pigging out!

Order from these four food groups: foods that you can hunt, fish,gather or pluck. Get yourself some protein and make sure the rest of your meal consists of vegetables. If you do this, then you don’t need to know much about nutrition.

Don’t order an entrée. Just order an appetizer and soup or share an entrée and get one appetizer. Don’t let what the restaurant considers to be the portions size dictate how much you eat.

 Send the bread basket back – out of sight, out of your mouth!

Order a bowl of soup or salad before the meal – this works wonders for diminishing your appetite,  making it less likely that you’ll overeat. Go for lentil, mushroom, vegetable, broth-based soups. Salad dressing should be thin enough so that you can pour it. You don’t  want something that just sits in a spoon. Olive oils and vinaigrettes are always a good choice.

For dessert you can always order fresh berries, it’s a really great dessert, very healthy – low calorie, low sugar, high fiber.

When the world looks one way, why not look the other? On the brink of a swine flu pandemic, this is the perfect time to buy recession-friendly pork.

ribs

The World Health Organization (WHO) finally paid heed to angry meat producers and anxious governments and on Thursday re-named Swine Flu Influenza A (H1N1).  But the question is, will it really make any difference? After the words “Swine Flu” have been plastered across virtually every media forum for days, after China, Russia and a string of other countries have banned US pork imports, probably not. 

But with every down, there’s always an upside. And on this occasion it’s cheap pork cuts in advance of summer BBQs. Think of a freezer full of cut-price ribs, pork butt, thick cut bacon and loin steaks, all ideal for recession grilling. 

Despite the fact that the United States Department of Agriculture and the Centers of Disease Control have reassured the public that swine flu, ahem, influenza A, I mean, cannot be contracted from eating pork and that no evidence has yet been found to indicate that the virus can be transmitted via contact with pigs, the price of US hogs continues to drop at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where cattle and hog prices are set daily.  

According to The New York Times Pork sales at Wal-Mart are down by high single digits. So even if your local supermarket or specialist meat retailer hasn’t dropped their prices yet, be prepared and clear out some space in your freezer, because they will.  Just remember what happened to poultry prices when the avian flu hit – they plummeted.  And then just a couple of months ago Skippy and Jif slashed their prices to tempt customers back to snacking on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches after the contaminated peanut butter scare.

No doubt there’s an element of playground politics involved in why more than a dozen countries have banned pork products from the US. Let’s not forget how quick the world- with the us leading the way- was to ban Chinese milk products after the melamine tainted milk fiasco of 2008. Still, with the number of confirmed swine flu cases in the US at over 100 on Thursday, the panic is steadily rising.

The New York Times reports how drugstores across the country are selling out of surgical masks, doctors’ phone lines are jammed and sports games and public events are being cancelled. Just remember though, that as you stand in front of the meat counter during your weekly shop, and think  “I know this pork belly is fine to eat and it does look mighty fine, but, just in case, maybe I should go for the sirloin…”, that no amount of piggie abstinence is going to save you from a bout of influenza A. And that’s a fact.

And just in case I still haven’t convinced to fill your shopping cart with pig, I defer to the master of all good eats, Homer Simpson…

Homer: Are you saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, MAAAGical animal
.

And if you find yourself with a glut of pork ribs, here’s a great recipe for those babies!

Chop, Sizzle, & Stir: Easy Recipes for Fabulous Stir-fries

Now I don’t mean to plug my new book, well maybe I do… 

But stir-frying is a speedy, no-fuss solution for healthy fare. And the great thing about it is that you only need a saute pan and a wooden spoon. But if you want to stir-fry regularly why not invest in a wok. After all they are made for the job. Their gently sloping sides means increased surface area for direct contact with heat. This results in  perfectly cooked through but still crisp vegetables, and they maintain all their color and freshness. As for meat, stir frying keeps it nice and moist inside and golden brown and caramelized on the outside.

 

Stir Frying Know How…

For a really healthy stir-fry, get a non-stick wok. This way you use only the tiniest amount of oil when cooking. While olive oil is usually the one you want to cook with, avoid it when stir-frying. Its low burning point and strong Mediterranean flavor make it unsuitable. Instead, go for a dash of vegetable, corn or peanut oil.   

When choosing meat for stir frying it’s important to use the most tender, leanest cuts that benefit from quick cooking. Chicken breasts and thighs, pork fillet, lamb leg steaks or tenderloin and beef fillet, sirloin or rump steaks are all ideal. Stay away from sinewy cuts which require long slow cooking to break down the chewy fibres.   

Remove all the excess fat from the meat then slice or cut into equal sized pieces for even cooking. It is always best to go for thin slices or small cubes as this ensures that the interior of the meat will cook quickly. If you have very thick cuts , then sandwich the meat in between two sheets of cling film and flatten with a mallet or rolling pin until about 1/2 inch thick. Remove the cling film then slice the meat as desired.  

The best way to infuse flavour into meat is by marinating it. Let the meat sit in the marinade (try soy, minced garlic, grated ginger and a touch of sesame oil) for at least 20-30 minutes. Ideally, however, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for a few hours (unless there is a lot of acid such as lemon juice, in which case, simply leave for 20 minutes or the acid will cook the meat).

When stir frying with lots of vegetables it’s always best to seal the meat first in a lightly oiled hot wok or frying pan. Make sure you do this in batches as overcrowding the pan will simply result in the meat stewing in its own juices. Cook the meat until browned and nicely coloured on all sides then remove from the pan or if you have a large pan or wok push to one side while you cook the vegetables. Just before adding the sauce ingredients to the stir-fry return all the meat to the pan or push into the centre and stir through the vegetables to finish cooking.

Fish can make a refreshing choice of protein for a stir fry but not all fish is suitable. Use only firm, robust fish that can withstand tossing and stirring without collapsing into an unattractive mush. Salmon, monkfish, cod, haddock, tuna and swordfish are all great choices. Do however, remember to choose sustainably caught fish. When preparing keep the chunks of fish big as this will keep them from breaking up. Like meat, fish loves a good soak in a marinade. When it comes to cooking, cook the fish on its own and in batches. Use tongs to carefully turn the chunks of fish so that they colour evenly all over. When it comes to stirring them through the rest of the ingredients, a very gently hand is required.

Prawns, scallops and squid are an  indulgent addition to a stir fry and their firm flesh holds up well to the intense heat and vigour of stir frying. However, it is vital not to overcook them as perfectly cooked, tender moist seafood can turn rubbery and dry in a matter of seconds. When preparing, simply peel and devein prawns; slice scallops in half horizontally if large and slit open the cleaned squid tubes, scoring the inside with a sharp knife to create a criss cross design then cutting into squares. The most important rule to remember is to cook them only until the flesh turns opaque; once this happens, remove from the pan. Next cook the vegetables or aromatics then return to the pan just before adding the sauce ingredients.   

Ingredients such as ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chili which benefit from cooking to release their aromas and flavors, form the base of a stir fry. Chop finely or grate and add to a hot work but be careful not to have the oil too hot or they will burn. Also remember to keep them moving around the wok or the pan as this will colour them nicely all over without over browning. Aromatics can be ground or blended into a paste which is a great way to get all the individual flavours to meld. Pastes must be fried first until fragrant before the meats and vegetables are added.  

Soft herbs such as coriander leaves and Thai sweet basil are usually stirred into the stir fry at the end of cooking or simply sprinkled over the top before serving. Avoid over heating them as this may cause them to lose their flavour or turn bitter.

Most vegetables lend themselves to stir frying, but its best to avoid really dense, root vegetables such as potatoes which require longer cooking. Use vegetables to add contrasting colour, textures and flavours to the stir fry. Broccoli, carrots, green beans, courgettes, peppers, leafy greens are all great candidates. If you want to be a bit more adventurous then try adding authentic Asian vegetables such as beansprouts, pak choy and Chinese cabbage. Simply venture down to your nearest Asian grocery store and pick up a selection. When preparing your vegetables it is important to bear in mind that different varieties will cook at different rates.  Vegetables such as pak choy with a high water content will cook quicker than denser vegetables such carrots. This means that you should cut firmer vegetables into smaller pieces if you want to add all the vegetables to the pan at the same time for evenly cooked, crunchy vegetables. Alternatively, cut all the vegetables into similar sized bite sized pieces and add the denser vegetables to the pan followed by the leafier vegetables (or parts of vegetables) a minute of so later. Combine all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and add to the pan when the vegetables are still crunchy and slightly underdone. Stir and cook for a couple more minutes. 

 

With Easter and the inevitable chocolate fest only a few days away, there is no better time to talk cacao…

When Vanessa Barg, 24, graduated from New York City’s Institute of Integrative Nutrition two years ago, she had every intention of practicing as a holistic health counselor. But while helping her first clients make healthful decisions about the way they ate, she came upon a new vocation as a raw chocolatier.

 

In March 2008, Barg stepped out of her practice for the last time and launched Gnosis Chocolate. She sells her  “uncooked” dairy, gluten, cholesterol, sugar and soy free chocolates online through her website and in over one hundred stores across the U.S. and internationally, from Curacao to New Zealand. Barg’s range of 13 different bars start from: $8.95 and are available to buy from Gnosis Chocolate.

How did you make the transition from holistic health counselor to raw food chocolatier?

I realized that some of my clients had sugar addictions. One would eat really well during the day but binge on Kit Kats in the evening. The point is to indulge healthily, not to ignore the sweet cravings. Cacao, which is raw unprocessed chocolate, is one of the top ten most nutritious foods in world. So I started making raw chocolate for her which has a really fresh, fruity and intensely chocolatey flavor to replace the highly processed stuff packed with bad refined sugars and cholesterol. I didn’t plan on starting the company but people just started to ask for more and more chocolate and it just grew from there!

We don’t usually think of chocolate in terms of being “cooked” or “raw”.  Your chocolate is organic and made using fair trade cacao. But how is it different from conventional organic chocolate made from similarly responsibly sourced ingredients?

The processes of making the two types of chocolates are completely different. The cacao I use is not roasted or subjected to high temperatures. Cacao butter melts at 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so you don’t need to melt it past that. This means that all the many vitamins, minerals, particularly magnesium, antioxidants, neurotransmitters- which are mood enhancing compounds and enzymes are maintained in the chocolate. When making “normal” chocolate a lot of the goodness is lost in the long roasting and cooking processes

So how do you make your chocolate?

It’s so simple, we should all be making it in our homes! I don’t use any machines, apart from a food processor to grind nuts. I simply melt down cacao butter and add pure ground cacao beans. Then I stir in herbs and other ingredients such as nuts and dried fruits. Love is the most important part though, which is why we even include it in the ingredient list.

When did you first discover raw chocolate?

It was about 3 years during a talk by David Wolfe who is a world authority on raw food nutrition and raw chocolate. I’ve been a chocolate lover my entire life but I had no idea of its origins, so when he said that it comes form a bean and he started expressing the bio-chemistry of it I was hooked. That day I bought a bag of cacao beans from a health food store in Manhattan. I went home and I threw the beans in a food processor with figs, dates, cashews, cayenne pepper and a little bit of agave nectar, which is a natural sweetener from a Mexican cactus plant, and made the most amazing chocolate fudge bar.

How did you go about developping your recipes?

I’m an herbalist so I just took what was on my kitchen shelf and put it in the chocolate! But then I started to customize the chocolate for my individual clients adding the specific herbs I would recommend for them. If it was a lady and she was having cramps during her menstrual cycle I would add vitex or chaseberry root to ease the pain. Also cacao itself helps with cramps because it has a lot of magnesium which helps to relax muscles.

Why does your chocolate have this amazing sparkle when you bite into it?

That’s the crystal manna, it’s like pixie dust.  Its blue green algae from a lake in Oregon which is full of antioxidants, great for the brain, boosts your immunity and has the highest vegetable source of vitamin B12. I say if it’s green then put it in the chocolate! Seeing as most Americans have sub par diets I wanted to enrich my bars with as much nutrition as I could.

Tell me about you best seller Superchoc. It has an incredible 22 ingredients from Siberian Ginseng and Royal Jelly to ginko biloba powder and reishi mushroom extract!

Superchoc was the very first bar I developed. I wanted to pack in as many superfoods and herbs for the most possible nutrition and healing into something that still tasted like chocolate! The cacao works synergistically with all the other ingredients, acting as a vehicle to allow all the nutrients to be absorbed by the body. People have very powerful reactions to it. I even had a woman cry in front of me when she tried it!

Seeing as your chocolate is so full of nutrients and vitamins, could someone just snack on them instead of eating vegetables? 

They could definitely get some of what they need but they should see a health counselor like me to help them find a way of getting some real vegetables!

A new study to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research in June 2009 found that people are much more likely to eat expired food if it’s in their fridge than to buy it from a store. 

According to Senkar Sen, a co-author of the study, the notion of “ownership” is integral to why people will eat food that is out of date rather than simply throwing it in the bin. The 165-person study used yogurt smoothies that were past their “best if enjoyed by” date but still considered safe to eat. Nearly 40 per cent of the participants who were told the treats were theirs to keep were willing to consume the smoothies, compared to just 13 per cent of the participants who didn’t own the yogurt.

The individuals in the former group were also less likely to think they’d get sick by consuming the smoothie than those who didn’t have a sense of ownership. Ms. Sen explains that people who feel like food or drink belongs to them are more likely to rationalize consumption, as with the “five second rule” commonly applied to eating something dropped on the floor.

But a word of warning from Lona Sandon, spokesperson of the American Dietetic Association who strongly advises against flouting expiration dates. They are there for a reason, she says…

Thinking makes us fat. Not just an absurd excuse to surf Facebook and avoid the spreadsheet, but fact according to a recently published study in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Researchers from Laval University in Canada discovered that when volunteers undertook brain consuming computer tasks for 45 minutes and then were offered a laden buffet, they ate about 250 calories more than volunteers who were asked to relax for the same amount of time. But while thinking might feel like hard work, those volunteers only expended 3 more calories than their more mellow counterparts. So why does brainwork make us over indulge?

Dr Angelo Tremblay, who led the research and whose own sweet-toothed cravings while completing arduous grant applications initiated the study, attributes the results to an interaction of biological and psychological factors. The brain uses glucose as fuel. So when we use our brains, the glucose level in our bodies becomes unstable and requires topping up. This leads to an increase in appetite, he explained. As to the psychological factor, he alluded to comfort eating to overcome the emotional stress of mental exertion, but as scientist and not psychologist, he deferred to those in the know.  

Dr Marcy Rubin, a clinical psychologist who specializes in stress management in the work place, also sees biology as partly responsible for the study’s findings, sourcing her reasoning in our primal instincts. When we are engaged in a mental task, our bodies react just as they did when we encountered stimulus in our cave man days. This induces stress (a good kind, she adds) that puts us in fight – flight mode which produces adrenalin, creates muscle tension, slows down the metabolism and prepares us to fight or flee. ‘If we lived in the jungle a couple of hundred years ago this would be great, but our bodies have not evolved to sitting in front of a computer. So when the mental activity is over, the body goes into a relaxation state, thinking that we have either run or fought and burnt calories, even if we haven’t. We then crave high carb and high fat foods in order to replenish what we lost,” Dr Rubin explained. 

Not all experts agree that we reach for the Twinkies from an instinct to wrestle our computers. Brian Wansink, Ph.D, author of Mindless Eating disregards biology, asserting that it’s all in the mind. “People are rewarding themselves for hard work. It (the task) wasn’t fun, it wasn’t what they wanted to do and so they make up for it by thinking that they deserve to be compensated,” he argued. As creatures of habit, we have been trained to operate within a system of punishment and reward. Dr Wylie Goodman, psychologist and expert guest on The Montel Williams Show, believes that we actively seek out food as reward rather than alternative indulgences such as watching a movie, or listening to music because of the simple gratification it offers. As she put it, “from the time we’re babies, our brains were habituated to think of food as one of the most immediate sources of reward. The difficulty with other activities is that they involve more complex parts of the brain.” Dr Goodman’s final words; “Food is always going to have a power over us. Instead of trying to fight that reality, we must accept it and work with it.” If it’s good enough for Montel, it’s good enough for us.  

When skipping work to shift those extra pounds isn’t an option, here are 4 tips to stop you pigging out after a bout of hard thinking.

“If you get the urge to treat yourself, pick something like going for a walk or closing your eyes for a few moments; something that is enjoyable and non-cerebral.” Dr Susan Albers, author of Eat, Drink and be Mindful

“Just don’t have food around your desk. If you have to walk a few feet to get it, you’ll think twice if you really want it and half the time you’ll say no.” Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating

“Have the best version of the thing you want. The problem with junk or diet foods is that they leave your body unsatisfied because they are full of air and chemicals. You are going to feel fuller on a smaller amount of the real deal than on a fake version.” Dr Wylie Goodman, psychologist, New York City

“Stand up and walk around when you eat. Sitting down puts us into the mental state that we are ready to eat a proper meal. Stand up and your body won’t feel like eating too much.” Dr Marcy Rubin, psychologist, Chicago

bluebery-cobbler 

8 Servings
 
INGREDIENTS 
    * 2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
    * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    * 1/2 lemon, juiced
    * 1 cup white sugar, or to taste
    * 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
    * 1 tablespoon butter, melted
    * 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    * 4 teaspoons baking powder
    * 6 tablespoons white sugar
    * 5 tablespoons butter
    * 1 cup milk
    * 2 teaspoons sugar
    * 1 pinch ground cinnamon
DIRECTIONS
   1. Lightly grease an 8 inch square baking dish. Place the blueberries into the baking dish, and mix with vanilla and lemon juice. Sprinkle with 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of flour, then stir in the tablespoon of melted butter. Set aside.
   2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder, and 6 tablespoons sugar. Rub in the 5 tablespoons butter using your fingers, or cut in with a pastry blender until it is in small pieces. Make a well in the center, and quickly stir in the milk. Mix just until moistened. You should have a very thick batter, or very wet dough. You may need to add a splash more milk. Cover, and let batter rest for 10 minutes.
   3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Spoon the batter over the blueberries, leaving only a few small holes for the berries to peek through. Mix together the cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar; sprinkle over the top.
   4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top is golden brown. A knife inserted into the topping should come out clean – of course there will be blueberry syrup on the knife. Let cool until just warm before serving. 
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