Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Healthiest Starch/Pre-Race Meal

This spud's for you.

Pasta is the traditional answer to the question of what's the best carb-loading, pre-race meal. But that's really not the best you can do. Remember, pre-race you want to build up vitamins and minerals - especially electrolytes like potassium.

If you were just after simple carbs, you could just eat candy and wash it down with full-sugar soda. That would add carbs just as easily as pasta. But it wouldn't be very long lasting carbs, and wouldn't add anything nutritionally.

For quality, complex carbs you need grains or other starches. Pasta certainly fills the bill as far as that's concerned, but as I said it's not as good as you can do.

Among grains, quinoa has more protein, but it's not about that either.

Rice is certainly the most popular grain in the world, and marathoners from Asia swear by it. But rice doesn't give the most nutrition for the bang, either.

The winner is potatoes. Don't believe me? Check this out. I'll even compare ENRICHED rice and pasta, and BEFORE cooking. Here's 200 calories worth of... (sorry about the crummy formatting - blogspot doesn't hold tables well).

................White Potato .....White Rice ....White Pasta
Calories .......... 198 .................201 ...........200
Carbs ................ 44 .................44 ..............40
Fiber ................ 4.4 ................0.7 ............ 1.7
Calcium ............ 21 .................15 .............. 11
Potassium ....... 1,142 .................63 ............120
Copper ........... 0.27 ..............0.12 ........... 0.16
Vit. C ................. 27 .............. 0 ................0
Pantothenic Acid.. 0.80 ....... 0.56 ............ 0.23
Vit. B-6 ............ 0.44 ......... 0.09 ........... 0.08

Oh, you want to compare sweet potatoes, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta? Like before, this is rice and pasta BEFORE cooking.

------------------------ Sweet Potato --- Brown Rice -- Whole Wheat Pasta
Calories .........................198 ................. 200 ............... 198
Carbs ............................ 46 ................... 42 .................. 43
Fiber ............................. 7.3 .................. 1.9 ................. 5.0
Calcium ........................ 84 ...................12 .................... 23
Potassium .................. 1,045 .................120 ................. 123
Copper ........................ 0.35 ................. 0.15 ................ 0.26
Vit. C ............................ 43 ....................0 .....................0
Pantothenic Acid .......... 1.95 ..................0.81 ................ 0.56
Vit. B-6 ....................... 0.63 ................. 0.27 ............... 0.13

So the next time you're thinking night-before-race meal, don't think pasta. Think potatoes, especially sweet potatoes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Homemade Soup is Fast Food!

The other night I came home wanting to cook something quick and use up my carrots and potatoes I still had.

When speed is of the essence, I pull out my pressure cooker. Mine's not a fancy one, but it cooks veggies great and soup is done quick as a snap.

I peeled some carrots and potatoes and tossed them in covering them with water - maybe double or triple the amount of veggies.

While that was coming up to pressure I cut up an onion - not too finely because of my later trick - and a couple of garlic cloves with some fresh basil.

Seven minutes of pressure cooking later, I ran the pot under running water to release the pressure quickly. I opened the top, tossed in the onion, garlic and basil and cooked it down for about 10 minutes while adding some Creole Seasoning. I didn't measure anything. I just seasoned to taste.

I also had maybe an ounce of coconut milk left in a can in the fridge so I tossed that in for a touch of creaminess.

When it was all done I grabbed the immersion blender and let it rip at slow speed to just mix it a bit. I left some small pieces of carrot and potato just for fun. It was good with a salad and some pita bread I had.

Homemade Carrot Potato Soup done in less than 30 minutes.

The carrots were left over from another great recipe I tested for Julie Hasson's upcoming "Vegan Diner" cookbook. I've been cooking lots of new recipes from it.

This is really going to be an awesome cookbook. Here are some shots (from my lousy camera, sorry) I took of some test recipes (note: some of these recipes are still in development, but they're all great.)

Carrot Pineapple Loaf Cake - also great with a schmear of Tofutti Cream Cheese.

Grace's favorite - a rack of Banana Biscuits, which are almost like scones.

Smoky Potato Scramble, which stars an amazing ingredient I had never tried before.

My FAVORITE - Orange Cornbread Waffles. I can't tell you how many of these I've eaten. Incredible!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

And Now, a Word About Running in New Orleans from June through September


Except for my right calf injury at the time, running in April was nice.

Heat indexes (indices? let's just call it HI) are climbing up to 110 every day. To make it less miserable, I run at the coolest time of day - 5:30 in the morning.

At that time, the HI during my runs can still hit 95, peaking in early August. What does an HI of 95 mean?

Imagine walking outside, it's still a little dark, the temperature is already 80, there's no wind whatsoever, and the humidity is 95 percent. Feel like hitting the road for a few miles as the sun comes out and heats up the morning? Not likely.

Yet there I am, several days a week, putting on my running shoes and getting in my regular six-miler. Yes, I must be sick.

The earliest in the Fall I ever ran a Marathon was October 29th (in Washington, DC). To accomplish a Marathon that early in the season I had to train with some long runs in July, August, and September.

I know I came close to heat exhaustion during some of those runs and definitely suffered with some dehydration. And that was despite dousing my head with water from a hose on the side of my house every three miles and drinking tons of water, sport drinks, and energy gels during those breaks.

Allow me to describe what it was like. Do you know that feeling you get when you step in a big puddle of water and your socks are saturated, every step squeezes water between your toes, and your shoes make an audible "squish, squish" sound with every step thereafter?

You can get that at just 10 miles. Not from rain or puddles, but from your own sweat which has accumulated on your feet and has also run down your legs into your shoes. And I'm 5-8, just 130 pounds, and don't sweat any more than any average guy. By the end of some of those particularly long 2 1/2 or 3-hour runs the HI was 100, even starting that early in the morning.

Just walking out the door to hit that noticeably heavy, humid air dampens your spirits and drains your will to live. Sure it's sea level and oxygen rich, but it feels as though you're carrying extra weight from your first step that will only get heavier as the morning heats up.

Forget running for time. Those normally easy, lazy 8:30 miles become horrible 10+'s by the end. Despite the dragging pace, your heart rate monitor is showing a tempo run heart beat, not a slow, easy-paced one. You're afraid to look up off the pavement because the bright sun in the thick air reminds you of the heat. You're on automatic pilot.

Why would you do such a thing? Because you promised someone in Washington, DC that you would run that Marathon, and you don't want to let that person down.

That's also why the New Orleans Mardi Gras Marathon (now the Rock and Roll Mardi Gras Marathon) is run during the beautiful month of February.

So there's really no excuse for me not qualifying for my first Boston Marathon when I've got all winter to train in nice weather, and a rockin', fast-course, local Marathon race to run it. Well, maybe one excuse.

I'm still 20 minutes too slow to qualify for Boston. Sigh...

Well, it's nice to dream about anyway. Maybe I can get serious about my training this winter and improve by nearly a minute per mile. Right.

Maybe the New Orleans Saints will win the Super Bowl, peace will reign in the Middle East, and I'll win the Powerball lottery, too.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Breakfast Benedicts

Sorry for not posting lately. I have been cooking new recipes, but all I can share are pictures so far because I was fortunate enough to be chosen to be a recipe tester for an upcoming cookbook called "Vegan Diner" by Julie Hasson.

Julie is the incredible video chef and baker at Everyday Dish TV so I was thrilled at being chosen to help test her recipes for her next cookbook.

I can tell you beyond any doubt this will be her best ever. If you haven't seen her making her wonderful recipes on the videos at her website, check them out. She also has a subscription option for some of her more incredible recipes, but many are free.

I wrote about one of those a few posts ago when I mentioned her Spicy Italian Vegetarian Sausages recipe. This was the one that was so good and yet easy to make that it swept the internet when she posted it last year.

This is Julie's first all-vegan cookbook, and will use comfort/diner food as the theme. How fun is that!

So far I've made two different kinds of pancakes using variations as Julie has refined them with her testers' input, breakfast sausage patties, and these Breakfast Benedicts, which have no eggs (natch) and I made using three of her recipes.

First, I started by making her Fluffy Biscuits, an option she gives in the recipe.

This batch was pretty fluffy, but I've since learned to follow her guideline on dough thickness before I cut them with a glass turned upside down. Her recipes are FULL of tricks and hints like that.

With the biscuits finished, I moved on to the making the bennies and one of her simple and healthy Hollandaise sauces (this was a Lemon Garlic one before I thinned it out a bit) to top it off. Here's the final product:

This was so good I ate two of them.

Bird Update:

On my last post I wrote about our back patio dartboard cabinet that had been used by at least two bird families so far this Spring. Grace told me it was actually four by that time and a fifth was looking at moving in on the nest.

She described as though it was bird house hunting. One day, the empty nest was spotted and looked at by one bird. Shortly thereafter, we cleaned the empty nest off and the dartboard inside to make it usable again. For us, I mean.

The next day, she swears she saw the same bird come back with another bird and it was like, "I swear, Alice, the nest was right here!" "Sure, Ralph, you made me come all this way to see an empty lot with no improvements. Honest, you have the worst sense of direction! And you call yourself a bird?"

- The Honeymooners as played by doves.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

It Happens Every Spring

A momma and her babies on our dart board cabinet

A little different post this time...

We have a dart board on our covered, but open back patio. Every spring, birds, like this gray dove, see the flat top and build a nest.

For several weeks, Grace and I watch as eggs are laid and the momma perches on top to keep them warm until they're hatched.

When we go out the back door, the bird may first fly away while building the nest. When they realize we are no harm, they eventually just sit there and watch what's going on.

Talk about dedication, too - the momma never leaves her eggs. And amazingly, after a couple of weeks, the eggs hatch and we watch as the babies get strong enough to fly away.

The daddy bird (I assume) helps out by bringing food to the momma while she's sitting and helps feed the babies later as well.

After the birds fly away so do the parents, but within days - minutes, it seems sometimes - another momma has found the nest left behind and it starts all over again.

We've had at least two families there already this year, but I think we're all done as the season winds down.

It's good to know that during this struggling housing market our home is going to the birds.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yogurt: High Culture

It's creamy. It's healthy. I think it can even be raw!

It's Little Miss Muffet's favorite dish - yogurt. (Well, what did you think curds and whey was anyway?) Turn it into yochee (yogurt cheese) and it will even be healthier, tastier, and more versatile.

I know you're used to buying non-dairy yogurt for a dollar or more per 6-ounce carton, but you can make it yourself for less than half that cost.

Yogurt contains very healthy bacteria (probiotics) used in the digestive system, it's high in protein, and it concentrates the vitamins and minerals present in whatever milk you use.

I use this yogurt maker to make a quart at a time, but you can do the same thing by wrapping a heating pad set to low or medium around a one quart mason jar and holding it in place with rubber bands.

It's just a warmer that holds a container.

To begin with you need a starter yogurt. You can use the yogurt you make to start the next batch though it will lose its potency after two batches. Put three or four tablespoons into your very clean measuring cup (wash very well if you used anti-bacterial soap).

Make sure your starter yogurt has active, live cultures.

You can use any milk. I used a combination almond and soy milk for this batch. You need to warm one quart of milk up to 110 to 120F, then thicken it with powdered milk equivalent to another two cups (2/3 cup powder).

I use powdered soy milk to thicken.

When I was making this I realized raw foodists can use almond nut milk if they make it very thick. It will stay raw because the temperature will remain between 105F and 120F. You'll need a yogurt starter, but the "live" part of yogurt is in the active cultures so I'm guessing that allows it to technically remain a living food. (My apologies to raw foodists if I've got this wrong.)

Now that I'm thinking about it, I suppose an Excalibur dehydrator would be perfect for this!

The milk, once brought up to temperature, gets the powdered milk and yogurt mixed in.

The mixture is poured into the very clean container...

...and the container goes into the warming unit overnight.

In the morning, yogurt is born!

Well, technically, it's yogurt, but it's so warm that it's still kind of runny. It needs to refrigerate several hours so it can firm up.

Once chilled it's hard enough to eat as yogurt, but it's not quite the same as the store bought stuff because it has no additives like gelatin to firm it up. However, there's a trick to making it not only thicker, but also tastier.

Strain it using a yogurt strainer.

Here are two types of yogurt strainers.

The box type of strainer is a lot more convenient in having a cover and holding so much more, but they both accomplish the same task. They get covered and refrigerated to strain out the whey.

After just three hours, quite a lot of whey has drained out.

Whey is a component of yogurt that has very little nutritional value and has the bulk of the sour flavor. Drain it out and the yogurt is much smoother tasting.

Three hours is the max if you want to keep it the usual yogurt consistency, but I recommend waiting at least 12 - 24 hours and letting it thicken to yochee, or yogurt cheese.

Yochee is a yogurt equivalent of cream cheese and can be used in much the same way. You can flavor it up in any number of ways or use it straight.

I even have this book dedicated to yochee uses. For instance, top a potato, make a spinach dip, or cook up a pesto sauce. (The Yochee pesto sauce eliminated 50 percent of the fat, 40 percent of the calories, and tasted great.)

Remember, you already added extra protein, vitamins, and other nutrients by making it 50 percent stronger than plain milk. By straining the whey, you're throwing out almost all of the carbs and doubling the concentration once again. Even just one heaping tablespoon of homemade yochee probably adds as much as 4 grams of protein to a smoothie (my favorite use). It also makes it smoother!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Two Easy Pieces

I can follow a complicated recipe okay, but I really love simple cooking.

It's so much easier when I can put all the ingredients in a pot or an oven, and let the cooking do all the work. Here's are a couple of easy dishes from two of my favorite websites that I recently put together.

First, I used Abbie's Roasted Veggies recipe from Foods That Fit. This is just as simple and wonderful a dinner as you can make. Cut up veggies and toss it with a sauce (teriyaki, spaghetti, or enchilada sauces work great) in a large mixing bowl.

I often use Kikkoman's regular teriyaki, but sometimes use the spicy miso for a little extra kick.

I just use my hands to toss the veggies with the sauce.

Then roast it in a pan lined with parchment paper for 40 minutes at 450F. Abbie usually adds cubed tofu or tempeh for the protein, but I had a different idea this time.

In the top photo, you'll notice some cut up vegan sausage. This isn't just any store-bought sausage, however. It's the famous "Spicy Italian Vegetarian Sausages (aka 'Julie's Sausage')" from another one of my favorite websites, Everyday Dish TV.

Julie's Sausage hit the internet and spread through the vegan world like wildfire about a year ago for its authentic flavor, texture, and ease of making.

You simply mix the ingredients in a bowl, scoop it out into aluminum foil to roll them up into links (or patties), then steam them for 30 minutes. Easy and just amazing. I like them after they've been refrigerated. It makes the texture a little firmer like authentic Italian sausage.

I love them with pasta dinners, but this time I added it to some roasted sweet potatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, and zucchini.

Two easy dishes combined for a bunch of healthy meals all week.