29 May 2009

Check it Out: Top Chef Masters

One of my work-BFFs, Maggie, recently shared with me the awesome news that her uncle-in-law is going to be on Top Chef Masters!

Ladies and gentlemen, Rick Moonen:

**this photo is from Rick Moonen's website, http://www.rickmoonen.com/ - the photo I had on here before was removed**

Moonen has been a star in the food world for over 15 years, and recently opened a new restaurant at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. As a well-known chef specializing in seafood, Moonen has taken on an advocacy role for sustainable fishing and seafood. Any regular readers of TPF know that this is a cause after my own heart. If you need a refresher, please see here and here.

Rick's book, Fish Without a Doubt was published in 2008, and is an excellent resource for all cooks who want to work with seafood. Full of recipes, photographs, and important information to educate the reader on sustainable seafood.

I'm stoked to catch Rick on Top Chef Masters, which premiers June 10 at 10PM on Bravo.

21 May 2009

+Raw Diet: Days 5-7+

So, the raw diet cleanse is over, thank goodness. It was a tough seven days, but I made it through with minimal cheating - even Kristi was highly impressed. On Day 4, I started having some pretty major back pain that I couldn't determine the source of. I was afraid that just a few days on the raw diet were already messing with me somehow, but as it turns out, I think it was a product of my less-than-ergonomic desk setup at work. After some tweaks on Kristi's massage table and a few more to my workspace, my back is feeling much better - but it took four days to accomplish that! I'm just glad that the raw diet isn't to blame.

I did lose several pounds in just a few days on this diet, but a word to the wise: like any other diet where you cut out food groups (Atkins, South Beach, the cabbage soup or grapefruit fasts), as soon as you reintroduce those foods back into your life, chances are you'll gain all the weight back. Since this was an experiment and not a weight loss program, I'm okay with that, but please just remember that this is a fact of "crash" diets.

Eating raw is a lifestyle, and in order to be sustainable, it's necessary to keep all the food groups incorporated in that lifestyle. As a seven-day cleanse, I had no problem sticking to it, but to live 100% raw forever wouldn't be possible for me, and I don't think it's sustainable for many Americans. Eating raw can be expensive, it requires extensive planning, and the sense of deprivation is huge.

What did I eat Days 5-7?

Day Five
Breakfast - cubed cantaloupe and decaf tea
Lunch - none
Snack - raw walnuts
Dinner - none

Day Six
Breakfast - apple
Lunch - none
Snack - raw almonds
Dinner - half portion each steamed edamame and seaweed salad at Sakura

Day Seven
Breakfast - none
Lunch - apple
Snack - raw almonds
Dinner - *non-raw* - cheeseburger at Friendly's

It looks like I ate really poorly on this diet, but please keep in mind that all three of these days I was in pretty major pain due to the muscle strain on my back and therefore had very little appetite. I promise that I'm back to my normal routine of eating fruits and veggies, supplementing with some cooked foods. In the next three weeks, I'll be trying to keep as much of my diet raw as possible while continuing to balance my meals.

17 May 2009

+Raw Diet: Day 3-4+

So this was a tough weekend. I attended three cookouts, which meant I had to be on my best behavior around the delicious smells of hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. I also avoided macaroni salad, chips, cheese, birthday cake, cake truffles (that I made!), and my favorite Italian cookies. Not only that, but I also went to the movies and for the first time EVER did not get popcorn, and I went to my favorite restaurant, Brio, as they have opened a location here in CT.

I was SO good all weekend long - my only cheat was a pretty small one, I had coleslaw with very light dressing at my grandma's house today because I was so hungry, and it seemed the least of all evils. For the most part, I have not been hungry. Though I gaze longingly at certain foods, it hasn't been torturous.

Breakfast - cubed cantaloupe
Lunch - Brio Restaurant - field greens salad with pine nuts and walnuts (from my purse) with a side of fresh fruit
Afternoon Snack 1 - apple
Afternoon Snack 2 - strawberry honey banana smoothie
Dinner - Kristi's house - quinoa with spinach, 1 raw macaroon

Breakfast - blackberries
Lunch - 1-1/2 c. watermelon, coleslaw
Dinner - quinoa with spinach (recipe below)
Evening Snack - tea with honey, apple

Quinoa with Spinach

8 oz. spinach, steamed
1 c. quinoa
2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a press
small piece of onion, grated
1/4 c. raw red pepper, chopped into very small pieces
sea salt

Cook quinoa according to directions on box. To water, add garlic and onion. When quinoa is completely cooked, stir in spinach, red pepper, and sea salt.

This recipe is simple to make and extremely satisfying. I would definitely make this as an entree or side dish. It's colorful and healthy - it would be a great dish to entertain with.

**I've got to apologize for the photos on the blog lately - I've been taking pictures with my phone and posting them, due to lack of camera lately. I'll try to get better pics ASAP!**

15 May 2009

+Raw Diet: Day 2+

Today was the second day on the raw diet, and I'll keep this entry short and simple by starting us off with three things I learned today. 1) No caffeine in the morning is rough. 2) No carbs at all is rougher. 3) Eating basically nothing but roughage definitely makes my digestive system run at warp speed.

I don't see how it can be healthy to cut out all cooked foods on a long-term basis. As a cleanse, I can sort of understand, but I've always been of the school that says "everything in moderation." I hated Atkins the moment it came out because it required total elimination of an entire food group, and eating raw is really taking that concept several steps further. I definitely don't think 100% raw would be sustainable for more than a week, at least not for me. I'm doing okay for now, but after seven days I think I'm going to be homicidal.

Attending a cookout tonight was a little rough - the smell of hot dogs on the grill combined with the bowl of Cheetos staring me in the face...yikes! I soldiered through - made the smart decision of eating my dinner before I got there, then just snacked on the veggie tray while I was at the party.

What I ate today:

Breakfast - Berry-Banana Smoothie* (recipe below)
Morning Snack - 1.25 oz. raw almonds
Lunch - spinach and green leaf lettuce salad with dried cranberries, orange segments, red grapes, bean sprouts, edamame, cucumbers, and raw walnuts
Afternoon Snack - carrot sticks
Dinner - half sweet potato with raw honey and sea salt, 1 cup steamed cabbage with olive oil
Evening Snack - crudite of orange peppers and carrots

Berry-Banana Smoothie

2/3 c. frozen strawberries and blackberries
1 banana, sliced
1/4 c. acai pomegranate juice
1 tbsp. flaxseed oil

Blend all ingredients until fully pureed and emulsified. Enjoy!

Notes: I washed fresh berries and froze them overnight to use the next day in my smoothie. I would recommend that you not attempt to freeze a banana in its skin, as this has disastrous results. Just trust me on that one.

You can add a handful of raw spinach to this smoothie - it will not affect the flavor at all, but it will add a huge boost of vitamins and minerals, plus give you some veggies in the morning.

14 May 2009

+Raw Diet: Day 1+

Okay, so I promised to chronicle my adventures in raw food, and today was my semi-Day 1. Here's what I ate, and I'm sure you'll see why I say "semi" in front of "Day 1."

Breakfast - cubed cantaloupe
Morning Snack - ~1/4 c. dried fruit: cranberries, 2 prunes, 2 pcs. pineapple
Iced Coffee from Dunkin Donuts
Lunch - spinach salad with broccoli, edamame, green peas, shredded carrots, cucumbers, and walnuts with 1 tsp. EVOO, 1 tsp. vinegar (I don't like dressing, what can I say?)
Afternoon Snack - red grapes
Dinner - steamed spinach & garlic with EVOO, large red apple

I drank ~68 oz. of water today, so that's a little more than the recommended eight 8 oz. servings. Unfortunately, I flubbed with the iced coffee, but it was a gift from a friend, and I really wanted it. I'll do better, I promise. The zero tolerance caffeine policy is going to be a killer.

After Day 1, I feel good. I sort of expected to start off with a bang - on the first day of any new venture, you're always gung-ho and wanting it to work out fantastically. I was a little hungry, but I just drank a nice glass of water before bed and finished up my burpees. I packed my lunch for tomorrow and put it in the fridge. This is something I do anyway, but especially on a diet like this, planning is key to making sure I'm not left short of food while away from the house.


Went to the grocery store tonight after a trip to Trader Joe's earlier in the week, and I have to say, the produce aisle is quiet at 8 pm. My mom and I stocked up - between tonight's trip and the TJ trip on Tuesday, we've got two huge bags of apples, a sack of oranges, 3 quarts of strawberries, 3 pints of blackberries, a pineapple, bananas, kiwis, Chinese cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red pepper, zucchini, bean sprouts, green leaf lettuce, carrots, edamame, dried chickpeas, kidney beans, packets of raw almonds and walnuts, flax oil, and a bottle of pomegranate acai juice. *whew* I've definitely got variety on my side!

Here's to tomorrow and another day of eating raw!

~+Experiment: The Raw Diet+~

In the 6th grade Biology class tradition, I am performing an experiment.

Kristi is my favorite hippie, veggie, all-around awesome friend, and she is forever trying to convince me to try one of her cleanses, fasts, or diet plans, which I typically refuse to do. While interesting, they're usually not something I want to invest my time or money in. However, we recently started talking about raw diets - both as a lifestyle choice and as a "cleanse" option. I find the idea of eating "raw" to be pretty intriguing, so I agreed to attempt it for one week. I even talked my sister Jenna and my friend Laura into trying it with me.

After my first seven days on the "raw cleanse", I'm planning to introduce some lean proteins (fish, egg whites) and some whole grains. I want to try out the raw lifestyle - 70% raw food - for a month.

The goals of this experiment are:

1. To eat 100% raw for the first 7 days, 70% raw the remainder for a total of 30 days
2. To chronicle what I eat and how it makes me feel for the duration of the experiment
3. To determine whether any weight loss is sustainable on a "real life" diet

So I've been doing some research into the raw diet. About.com has some decent info here. Basically, the diet is based on uncooked and unprocessed plant foods, i.e. fruit, veggies, seeds, beans, nuts, etc. Therefore, it's vegan, and has major potential to be boring if I don't get busy making it interesting. Although, the same could be said about most things in life, right? You've got to make your own entertainment kids - anyone who spent hours talking on a tin can telephone can tell you this is possible.

In the interest of attempting to sustain a "raw" lifestyle for 30 days, I am going to be doing research into great recipes that assist me in my quest to stay engaged. A website called The Best of Raw Food has some info, but please take it with a grain of seaweed salt (check out their conversion table) because you shouldn't believe everything you read on the Internet.

Some doctors think the raw lifestyle is damaging to our bodies, saying that despite the fact that humans subsisted for thousands of years on raw foods, we've evolved since and can more easily process the large amounts of fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates that make up so much of traditional American cuisine. Proponents of eating raw say it lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, reduces fat intake, and enables the digestive tract to process food more efficiently.

If you ask me - neither an expert nor a chef - I think that a raw diet is extremely difficult for the average American to sustain. Like it or not, we're surrounded by tempting foods, some even processed, that are tough to avoid. And the fact is, in many situations, it's going to be pretty impossible to eat raw. What to do at the movie theater, the ballpark, or happy hour? A child's birthday party, your in-laws for Sunday dinner, or an amusement park? I'll keep you posted on what I'm eating, what I'm buying, recipes I find, and how I really feel about going raw.

It's going to be an interesting month people.

13 May 2009

Restaurant Review: Venuto's Old World Pizza

When Andrew, my mom, and I were looking for a quick lunch on our way to the Philadelphia Airport, we found just what we were looking for in Venuto's. After a fantastic weekend in Atlantic City, Mom and I had to return Andrew to the Philadelphia Airport, and with an hour to spare, we hopped off the highway and stumbled upon Venuto's South Philly location.

We didn't realize that Venuto's was a chain of restaurants - in fact, I didn't put that together until I looked up their website later. The food was delicious and the prices were great - for about $40, we got two slices of pizza, a chicken Caesar salad, a gigantic calzone, half a dozen buffalo wings, three drinks, and a dozen zeppoli. We're big eaters, what can I tell you?

We enjoyed the Botticelli - as seen on Venuto's website:

Andrew's calzone took a while, but was surely worth the wait - I'm pretty sure that's a 16" pizza folded in half, then stuffed with sausage, pepperoni, peppers, and onions!

We ate piping hot zeppoli right out of their styrofoam to-go container. These definitely came in handy during the hour it took us to get across the George Washington Bridge!

Venuto's was definitely worth a stop while we were in Philly - the pizza and calzones were fresh and hot, the wings were perfectly sauced, and the zeppoli were good enough to take home to Nonnie.

04 May 2009

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Carmelized Onions in Brown Butter

When I set my four goals for April, I was feeling pretty ambitious. I've been doing pretty well, though I must say I have failed dismally at attending yoga once a week - I only went twice during the month of April. Despite the lack of yoga, I have joined the 100 Burpee Challenge with Kristi and my sisters. A burpee works pretty much every muscle in your body. Starting from a standing position, drop to a squat, shoot your legs behind you, do a push-up, pull your legs back into a squat, and jump in the air. While I'm jumping, I like to shout the number I've completed.

A synopsis of the challenge for you from a website called The Productologist: Essentially, it starts with doing 1 burpee on day one, and then adding 1 burpee for each subsequent day. One burpee, then two burpees, then three burpees, and so on, up to the 100. You can “buy-in” to the challenge after the start by doing ALL of the burpees up to that day. Not so hard in first few days, but they add up quickly. As Lauren learned, starting on Day 10 is tough. Dear readers, if you'd like to join our little group and catch up with our 100 Burpee Challenge, today is Day 21. So get going!

Now, to get to the official point of the post - Goal #4: Make homemade pasta.

I've been wanting to make homemade pasta on my own for a long time now. Funny enough, it was an odd combination of leftovers that inspired the sweet potato gnocchi I'm about to show you. I had a couple sweet potatoes and some leftover ricotta in the fridge, and Giada's simple recipe beckoned me from the pages of the Food Network's recipe archives.

I started out by washing my sweet potatoes, then piercing them with a fork. Next I microwaved them until they were soft. To me, the easiest way to remove potatoes from their skins is to slice the potato in half lengthwise and scoop it out with a spoon. In the process, I mashed the potatoes a bit in the bowl to make them easier to mix.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2-3 medium sweet potatoes, baked and mashed
4-5 oz. ricotta cheese
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1-1/4 c. AP flour, plus 1/3 c. for cutting board

Combine all ingredients and mix to combine.

Once my dough came together in a lovely soft blob, I split it into six pieces. I rolled each chunk into a rope, as you can see below. This step requires cool dough, dry hands, and lots of flour.

Once you've rolled the dough into a rope, slice it into gnocchi 1 to 1-1/2 inches long.

If you're feeling fancy or you have a lot of time on your hands, roll each gnocchi down the tines of a fork to groove lines onto them. I like doing this because it adds some textural interest to the pasta, so they don't just look like little lumps of dough.

Set them in a single layer on a cookie sheet. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the gnocchi into the water in batches, removing as they float to the top. When the gnocchi are floating, they're done. Drain them and keep warm in a covered dish.

Carmelized Onions in Brown Butter

Giada's recipe includes a recipe for a Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter, but that sounded too sweet to me. I decided to go simpler and dress the gnocchi in a simple brown butter sauce with carmelized onions.

Simply slice a medium onion into thin half moons and saute in cooking spray until the onions are brown and soft. Add several tablespoons of butter to the pan and allow the butter to melt and simmer until it is toasty brown and lightly foaming. Add the gnocchi to the pan and toss to coat.

I was so proud of myself for how beautiful and delicious these gnocchi turned out. The gnocchi were slightly sweet and wonderfully light. Paired with the brown butter, they shone as a side dish and were hearty enough to have been a main course. Now that I've successfully attempted homemade pasta, I'm looking forward to continuing to experiment with other shapes, filled pastas, and new sauces.