Sunday, January 30, 2011

Breakfast calories

Like most health magazines, the NYT health column, Well, is really good at taking iffy studies and generalizing them even more. This article, which was featured this weekend, claims that breakfast doesn't decrease a person's caloric intake later in the day and is positively correlated with daily caloric intake.

The main message of the article addresses the notion that some people treat breakfast as a free-for-all, thinking that they can compensate for whatever calories they eat at breakfast with calories not consumed later in the day, when this really isn't the case. And yeah, if you're eating 500 calories at breakfast, it's probably an unhealthy and fat-laden breakfast anyway so of course you're going to keep snacking during the day. The article, especially the last paragraph, almost encourages people to skip breakfast entirely when it really should be preaching a balanced and filling breakfast. By emphasizing the caloric value and not the quality of a breakfast undermines its importance.

My other gripe with the article is that it throws in the fact that people who eat breakfast tend to have a higher level of physical activity at the very end with no discussion. If an article going to talk about caloric intake, it's irresponsible to not talk about expenditure.

The bottom line is that the article addresses an important issue of how breakfast calories play a role in a diet, but no props to NYT for spinning it in such an unhealthy way.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Black bean soup

For many years, my go-to black bean soup has always been super simple: saute onions, garlic, and cumin in oil, dump a can of black beans in pot, simmer and consume.

Not any more. Now that I've upgraded my bean cooking technique, I'm upgrading my bean soup recipe as well.

This black bean soup is awesome. It's loaded with vegetables, which brighten the flavor and appearance by a whole lot (not that you can tell from my terrible picture). The reconstituted beans  give it a less homogeneous texture than if it were made from canned beans. And it's so filling. Holy moly, I had a medium-sized bowl full and I was stuffed. Gotta love legumes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Paying for food (or not)

I have an excel spreadsheet on my computer desktop named "money" where I record all my expenses. I've always kept something like this but it has been sort of meaningless without a real income. Now, things are different and it's actually possible to learn about my spending habits and change them for the better. Since a huge majority of my expenses are food-related I'll share some of my thoughts on food money here.

Cooking mostly for one means also buying food for one, and that was harder than I thought it would be. It took me longer than I care to admit to figure out how to minimize food waste. But the thing that made the biggest difference (and I know this has been said many times) is to shop with intention. Instead of buying all the food (I think) I need once a week, I buy what I need to cook that night, and that's it. If I have an ingredient leftover, I incorporate it into the next thing I cook.

Some other unrelated thoughts:

- Eating a diet of legumes and grains is awesomely cheap. A pound of dried beans ($1.69) lasts several meals.

- Splurging on good quality, in-season produce is almost always worth it.

- I am extremely lucky to have not one, but two, grocery stores within walking distance. I buy most things at Giant and occasionally wander over to Whole Foods to get grains/legumes/soy milk in bulk. Also, whatever produce they have on sale tends to be a good deal.

- The two basil plants I bought for $2.50 at the Dupont farmers market were some of the best investments I've made. When summer comes around, I think I'll start an indoor herb window box.

- Knowing how to cook makes saving money on food significantly easier.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beer-glazed beans

Aside from my immersion blender, I also received Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Not only is it an excellent cookbook, it also makes for nice bedtime reading.

I've spent the most time on the legume section, which offers a convincing argument for buying dried beans and reconstituting them yourself instead of relying on canned beans. I recently did that with a pound of pinto beans and cooked some in a dish of roasted cipollini onions, tomatoes and beans. Having cooked with canned beans for as long as I can remember, the difference is phenomenal. Instead of a homogeneously mushy glob of starch, these beans have a firm but creamy interior that's enveloped by a nice and intact skin that offers just enough chew and texture. What's more is that they don't taste like the bland and slightly metallic liquid that they've been sitting in for goodness knows how long. They taste like, dare I say it, real beans.

Aside from the taste factor, this process is also dead easy: start by soaking your beans in cold water in the morning. After 8-12 hours, if they're softened, salt and then simmer your beans until they're tender and cooked. If not, simmer until they're soft, add salt, and continue to simmer until tender. I got about 6 cups, or four 14-oz cans worth, from a pound of dried beans. You can freeze whatever beans you don't use in their cooking liquid with no loss of texture, making this process just as convenient as buying canned beans.

Yesterday I made some beer-glazed beans from the cookbook. Between all my adventures adding booze to desserts and a few recent recipes that calls for beer in soups, I'm convinced that alcohol, when used appropriately, always makes food tastier. This dish is like a two-ingredient chili, with a nice earthy flavor from the chili powder and a slight sweetness from the beer and honey.