Friday, February 11, 2011

Culinary Conundrums

This months pictures are a little late, for which I apologize, but I haven't been feeling particularly bloggy lately. Still don't, frankly, so this post may be lacking in the entertainment department, but I'll give it a go.

So here they are:

She's not that tiny in comparison, we just got perspective wrong is all

There is good news, both my mother and I have lost weight. Not a huge amount but enough to give us both a little burst of encouragement.

That's not the interesting bit though. The interesting thing is how we did it. Neither of us have really increased the amount of exercise we're doing. Despite my newly discovered love of ankle weights and aerobics, I was quick to realize I still love video games and sleep more, and with the luxury of no university or work I've had plenty of time for them. My Mum also makes the completely legitimate argument that its far too cold here to get to the swimming pool. (Its indoors of course, but really getting all bundled up only to get unbundled completely, and then bundled again, its just such a hassle)

So, the sole reason we've lost weight is our eating habits. The smaller plates are a huge help. It completely tricks the mind so there is no need to force yourself to eat smaller portions. Of course smaller portions would not really do anything if the food itself was still unhealthy. As the main chef in the household (or cook depending on how uppity you're feeling), most of the meal planning falls to me. This is by design, I love to cook. I love spices and handling meat and combining different seemingly random things to make wonderful tasty dishes.

Lucky for me I have no dietary restrictions nor very many things on my "This is the grossest thing ever I will not eat it" list (baked beans are at the top, there's a story there but believe me, you don't want to hear it). This however is not true for the rest of the household. My brother is both lactose intolerant and allergic to gluten. For the lactose he can take a pill if he knows beforehand, but for the gluten allergy there's nothing he can do, and the tiniest trace of it can set his stomach off, which is bad for everyone in the house (don't ask). He's also somewhat of a picky eater, or rather has a particular palette, but after discovering that even if he thinks something is really gross he'll keep eating it if he's hungry enough, I've started to ignore that factor.

My Mum has also just found out she has high cholesterol so the need to keep the nasty kind of fats out of my food has become a major factor (though that seems to have mostly been taken care of by eliminating cheese, seriously that woman and her cheese). Also, she hates mushrooms, which is slightly annoying as me and my brother love them, but she did  do the whole raising me and loving me unconditionally "thing" so I try to give her a break on the mushrooms.

So the list of things that I can make for dinner has gotten much shorter since I moved back here, but I'm a girl who loves a challenge, and since I've yet to find gainful employment my days are free to do the research and the cooking. So here's a few things I've been doing that I think make all the difference.

Spices - This is the most important thing in my book. So often healthy food can seem boring and bland, but there's no need. Everything and anything can be given just a little twist with the right spices and something that seemed like a total yawn-fest, culinarily speaking, can be given all the pizazz necessary to satisfy. Variety is the spice of life, so a variety of spices can't be beat! A tip for buying spices is head to the Bulk Barn (or your local bulk food store for my non-canadian readers), this way you can buy a small amount at first to see if you like the flavours and can avoid over spending on something you're not actually going to use.

For example try this:

With mine being a no gluten household, pasta is out, so rice is our most common side dish, and it can get boring pretty fast. The above recipe was a huge success, and I'll be using it on a regular basis no doubt. Also, try boiling your rice in chicken or vegetable stock with some added spice like basil or thyme, it ups the nummy factor a great deal.

Let's Get Fishical - I cannot say enough good things about fish. Its quick and easy, delicious and healthy.  Rainbow Trout is my top pick and luckily its abundant here in Northern Ontario. Top it with the right spices (or just leave it alone and garnish with lemon juice afterwards), throw it in the oven for 20 minutes and your good to go. The battered stuff is great, but luckily (for those trying to lose weight) very difficult to do at home, so the healthy version is the way to go.

For example: try a healthy version of fish and chips with this recipe

Cooking with Fruits - this is one of my favourite things to do with recipes, though my dearest brother doesn't seem to like it that much (but like I said I'm learning not to care). A touch of sweetness with a savoury meal can be the difference between good and great, in my opinion, and when combined with the right spices can turn a boring meal into heaven. This works with salads as well as those leafy greens can get pretty boring pretty fast. But throw in some blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, top it with a nice raspberry vinagrette and serve with a good bit of fish *mwah* you've got a meal fit for a king (or queen).

For example this was my best recipe from the last month (at least I thought so, my bro might not agree), it'd be great for having friends over.

Get Your Booze On! - Alcohol, I don't drink the stuff but damn if it isn't amazing for cooking. There's sherry and brandy, red wine and my fave white wine, and some recipes even call for vodka. The alcohol cooks away so you don't have to worry about getting inadvertently drunk (though how fun would that be right!) and all the delicious flavours remain to make a meal just that much better. There's no need to get the mucho expensive stuff either as the flavours will still be there (though if you've got the cash splurge as the left over can always be served with dinner and compliment it nicely).

For example: pork chops+white wine is great combo and while I haven't tried this particular recipe its on my list for next week.

No Pain, No Gain (or loss in this case) - Don't be afraid to fail when cooking, the best way to find delicious foods is to experiment. Explore your grocery store, try picking up things you've never tried before. It might even be stuff you've never heard of, but thanks to the wonders of the internet someone somewhere will know how to cook it and you can give it a go. I'm a recent convert to eggplant for example, something I'd never really tried before, but its now going to be a regular on the weekly grocery list. Try variations on your favourite recipes, add a different spice or switch up your meat ingredients, making it a chicken dish instead of a beef one.  Anything that'll keep you interested and away from the unhealthy alternatives is a good thing. And once you get enough recipes under your belt you'll get a feel for what goes together and be able to make stuff up on the fly. If you make something disgusting every once in a while, c'est la vie. You toss it (or leave if it for the rest of the family to eat), have a tuna sandwich that night and move on.

Alright, having just spent the last hour or so talking about food, not surprisingly I'm hungry, so I'm gonna go snack on some carrots and hummus.

So, until next time Bon Appetit!