Tuesday, November 18, 2014

(Healthier) restaurant hacks

I try cooking (or at least prepping) most of the meals I eat. But at some point, usually during the weekend, I reward myself for all my hard work by going to a nice restaurant and having a nice, delicious dinner (or brunch if I’m being naughty). At that point I could not give a flying fuzz about calories, or fat, or carbs; I don’t care about any of it. I just eat my heart out and enjoy the food. Of course, it stops being fun when I overdo it and go into what it feels like a food-induced coma, but that’s beside the point. My point is that there’s a time and a place for everything; and food is no exception.

But let’s face it. Many of the foods that we drool over (and even have some seriously disturbing dreams about) are neither difficult to make, nor an imminent nutritional disaster. Oh yeah, some of those “once in a while treats” can easily be turned into everyday healthy items with just a few tweaks. And you can do it without sacrificing the flavor.

A few days ago, I went to one of my favorite diners with my best friend and I felt I died and went straight to heaven as I ate their pecan pancakes. I love them so much, but I never make them at home. NEVER. I’m not sure why, because I always have pecans around, and I make pancakes often… I reasoned that the major problem with these pancakes is the fact that they although they are huge (and therefore have an unknown amount of calories), their lack of fiber results in me feeling like I’m STARVING just a couple of hours after. 

I thought that an easy and simple way to make these pancakes healthier (so I can eat them more often) is to use whole wheat flour instead of regular flour. I just followed my pancake recipe, but I used 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour instead of 1 ½ cups of white flour. Sometimes the mix is a bit too thick so I gradually add more milk until the consistency is just right (It won’t be much – a tablespoon at the most). That’s it. Then while they are cooking I add chopped pecans, I flip them and cook for an additional minute. It’s that simple. Now these pancakes have the fiber that the regular pancakes lack. Also, the natural sweetness of the whole wheat flour plays very well with the pecan flavors. As a bonus, since you are making the pancakes yourselves, you know exactly how much a serving is (and how many servings you are eating, so you don’t over eat.

Breakfast, checked. But what about dinner? The diner that makes those amazing pancakes is just a few blocks away from my other weekend-indulgence: one of the best soul food/southern restaurants in town. I know they have pretty good food, but I ALWAYS end up eating the same dish: chicken and waffles with a side of grits. This is THE place that made me like grits to begin with (in the American sense; I’ve eaten the Puerto Rican equivalents since I was a baby). Turns out, I never make grits at home. Why? Beats me; but once again, the lack of fiber is a real deterrent to having grits often.  My solution? I bought a 10 grain hot cereal (Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain hot cereal - free publicity, ha), that is whole wheat along with other whole grains. I didn’t do anything special; I just followed the package’s instructions, but I substituted milk for water. It turned out to be really good, and it went really well with my Puerto Rican-fried chicken. Yumm!!! I loved it. 

These are just two examples (out of MANY) of easy swaps to transform a not-so-healthy restaurant dish (or side) into a healthier, every day side meal that will taste great, and will be good for you. I’m pretty sure you all have examples. Feel free to share them!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Apple pie

October is finally over. I certainly can't say time just flew by; I've been really busy, working late weekdays and weekends alike. I've given four presentations, while working on preliminary data for a grant, and working on the manuscript I'm getting ready to publish. As much as I enjoy working, the extra loads of work during this month in particular means that I've had to watch the beautiful autumn colors from a safe (read sad) distance, and I have not done any of the fall hikes I go for every year. But since I’ve continued commuting by bike, I get about 45 minutes a day (8 miles) to enjoy the season. 

I've squeeze in some fun too. I went to see Teatro Público de Cleveland’s A Recipe Para la Vida, a Spanglish play centered around Latino recipes, and the memories they evoked on a group of Latino immigrants. The theater company ranged from professionals to amateurs, making it an interesting production. It was a fun play. But what really made the experience AMAZING was the fact that the tickets included FREE delicious food and a live merengue band playing before the play, FREE desserts, and FREE beers afterwards, and a DJ turned the theater into a dance floor where people danced for a couple of hours. Super cool. 

I also managed to attend the Cleveland Orchestra concerts twice. Although it was great to see (hear) James Gaffigan conducting Brahms and Mendelssohn, it was even cooler to see the Todd Wilson playing the organ as a soundtrack to the 1925’s classic The Phantom of the Opera. It was so interesting to me how a movie that was considered horrifying back then, came across as just funny/campy to the audience almost 90 years later. Not to mention to hear an organ making all those sounds that reminded you of a full orchestra.

And I've cooked quite a bit. I made two recipes from my blog to take to different events. I made my beef chili to take to a friend's party, and I made blondies for the BF to take to his potluck at work. He forgot them and left them home instead, so I took the blondies to work. They did not go to waste. I also made the first apple pie of the season from apples from an orchard in Wisconsin. It was a pretty simple, yet delectable apple pie; a humble pie can have such a great flavor!

I used a store-bought pie crust. I love homemade crusts, but I made this pie on a whim, so I took advantage of being able to find good ready-made crusts that are made from natural (and few) ingredients in the supermarket. 

As I said, this is a simple pie. I simply made a mix of sugar, honey, nutmeg and cinnamon, and I used corn starch to give my cooked apples a good consistency. I coated the apples in the mixture, and transferred them to the pie crust.

I covered the apples with a second pie crust. I made holes on the second pie crust (the cover) for the steam to escape…

And I gave the pie an egg wash.

Twenty minutes into baking, I covered the pie to prevent it from burning. After a painfully long wait for it to cool, I (and a few of my favorite people) got to eat the pie. It was delicious! 

On the road shortcut

2 store-bought pie crusts
1 lb. and 7 oz. apples (about 7 apples), peeled, cored and sliced into ¾ inch wedges
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoon corn starch
1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 350F.
Stretch a pie crust into a pie dish.  Cut the overhanging dough.
Transfer the apples into a large mixing bowl.  Add the sugar, honey, nutmeg, cinnamon and corn starch. Mix very well to coat the apples. Transfer to the pie crust.
Covered the apples with a second pie crust and pinch the two crusts together. Make small holes on the second pie crust (the cover) for the steam to escape. Brush some of the egg mixture onto the pie (egg wash).
Transfer to the oven and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover with foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Serves 6-8