Dieter’s Tomato-Tofu Sauce

Everything But the Kitchen Sink!

Everything But the Kitchen Sink!

Ubiquitous (being found everywhere) is not a word I get to use very often, although I really like the way it sounds: the tart, hard consonants b, q, t and the soft vowels.  The word reminds me of a crunchy, well-textured salad…but I digress. Ubiquitous is the perfect descriptor for tomato sauce, which is used in almost every North American kitchen.

In fact, prior to being a food refashionista, I always had jars of tomato sauce on hand. I used to make my own sauce back in the olden days when stores only stocked lousy-tasting canned sauces, but I had stopped because there was now such a good choice on the grocery shelves. Unfortunately, as we know, these choices are full of sugar, oils, and additives; healthy eating meant getting off the fast-food track and going back to basics.

So what makes this a dieter’s sauce? No meat, no oil, no sugar, no tomato paste—just tofu and loads of vegetables. And this is one of those recipes that invites variations, so have fun! 

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Check It Out! (2)

I love sharing information that I find helpful, funny, ironic, thought-provoking, etc. so I’m really pleased that many of you enjoyed my first “Check It Out!” post.

I don’t have any schedule for these posts, but I’ve accumulated some more interesting articles for you to “chew on,” if you wish. (Gotta keep those food metaphors going!)

Do you trust cookbook authors? You won’t after reading this Slate exposé about the misinformation and downright lies food writers make when giving instructions on caramelizing onions. Shocking indeed!

Are you a food blogger? Then you’ll find the Food Blog Alliance a very useful site for information on writing about and photographing food with contributions from a number of hands-on bloggers.

Say adios to good cholesterol. Honestly, the longer you live, the more you realize that health information is only as valid as the last scientific experiment. (Take, for example, the poor, yoyo-ing egg: once upon a time, it was good for you, then it was bad for you, now it is once again a beneficial food.) Today, the scientists have put HDL in the spotlight, and...oops…there goes one path to heart health!

Keep up with the grains-es! Just when I think I’ve got the alternative flour/seed world under control, it takes off again. “17 Healthy Grains You’ve Never Heard Of” includes some that I do know about, but also quite a few that I didn’t. This helpful article also summarizes health information about each grain.

Happy reading!

Cauliflower-Carrot Bean Bake with Ginger and Garlic

Okay, y’all. Here’s another one. The possibilities are so endless, I just keep on going. But I do promise you no more on this blog as I’m in the process of creating a blog just for bean bakes. I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, this bean bake is amazing, and not only because it’s a bright yellow-orange. (At last, a pretty bean bake!) The taste is also terrific!

It’s neither cauliflower nor carrot, but a delicious, rich mix with a tang of ginger and a hint of garlic. For meat-eaters, it would be a great complement to a roast beef or steak.

I wish I had better words to describe the flavour. But this, I find is the cook’s bean-bake dilemma: the beans absorb and/or enhance flavours in unexpected and indescribable ways. In fact, I was afraid that this bean bake might be bland; hence the sprinkle of grated cheese. But it didn’t need the additional seasoning. It was very, very good just on its own.

By the way, I’m on my 5th attempt with kiwi, trying to get the right mix of taste and texture. Upwards and onwards!

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Turkey Meatloaf Muffins: It’s All About Portion Control

Do you want burgers that you don’t have to fry or broil?  Or meatloaf that can be done in 30 minutes?  Or find a strategy for helping with portion control?

Then you might find this recipe helpful. Basically, I altered Turkey Burgers with Dried Cranberries into a meatloaf “format,” used sage instead of rosemary, and used a muffin, instead of a loaf, pan.

I had three terrific results: the muffins were as delicious as the burgers (although nothing can beat those burgers when they’re grilled on the barbecue); they cooked in less than half the time for a meatloaf; and (best of all) they provided instant portion control.

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Apricot-Orange Breakfast Bread

This breakfast bread is not too sweet, slightly tart, and substantial.  (I don’t want to be hungry two hours after breakfast.)  It mixes happily with eggs done once-over-lightly and does not complain if it gets soaked with egg yolk.  It took four tries to get here but, hey, who’s complaining?

The inspiration for this bread came from a recipe for a cake made with orange marmalade.  In Canada, we have a line of good-tasting, no-sugar jams and jellies made by Smuckers, and I had already successfully used their marmalade in Orange Rosemary Chicken Breasts.  Hence…great for a breakfast bread, right?  I wish. 😦  The bread had a bitter flavour.

I tried different flour blends; I added chopped oranges for more sweetness.  Nothing worked.  The marmalade may be delicious in a mix with oil and spices, but it was not going to work in a baked product.  Something in the ingredients and/or cooking process was turning the rinds in the marmalade bitter.   After three attempts, I was ready to throw in my dish towel, apron, whisk, and bowl.

“What about using apricot jam?” my husband suggested.  He has a vested interest in my success.  He is my primary taste-tester.  He does a lot of bowl-drying and putting kitchen things away so he doesn’t want to work in vain.  And, finally…well, need I tell you that a happy partner is a much, much more pleasant person to live with?

I used the jam and kept the notion of adding chopped orange.  “Very good,” the spouse announced so I bring you…ta-da!

Printer-friendly recipe

Makes a loaf with 8 slices (could also be made as squares or muffins)

Ingredients

  • ½ cup white rice flour
  • ½ cup quinoa flour
  • ¼ cup tapioca starch
  • ¼ cup potato starch
  • ½ cup sweetener (Note: Weight Watcher points for this recipe are based on the use of artificial sugar.)
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 clementines (or 1 orange), peeled, pitted, and segmented
  • ½ cup liquid egg replacement (2 eggs)
  • ¼ cup no-sugar apricot jam
  • ¼-½ cup unsweetened soy milk (I only needed ¼ cup, but I find that not all alternative flours are created equal)
  • 6 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients: flours, starches, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.
  2. Chop clementine segments in a blender until lumpy.
  3. In a large bowl, put the chopped orange and whisk in the other liquid ingredients: egg, jam, milk, applesauce, and oil.
  4. Add dry ingredients in thirds to liquid ingredients, mixing well after each addition.
  5. Spray an 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with cooking spray.
  6. Pour batter into pan.  If top needs to be smoothed out, spread with wet fingers.
  7. Bake at 350o F oven for 50-60 minutes or until sides are pulling away from the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

For Weight Watchers: Each slice is worth 3 points on the Points plan and 4 points on the PointsPlus plan.

(Adapted from “Marmalade Cake” in Lucy’s Kitchen by Lucy Waverman.)

The Salty Truth

The other day I found myself standing in front of an array of gourmet sea salts, each packaged in a small plastic tub.  The labels were in different pastel colours and the font style was kinda hip looking, if you know what I mean.  Those packages were telling me that if I used sea salt, I’d be hip too, or cutting-edge, or a more “natural” cook.

Being as susceptible as the next person to advertising flattery, I picked up one, admired the pale pink crystals, and then looked at the price.  It was $5.25 for about ¼ cup of salt!  I could have used treatment for sticker shock. 

I kept checking out salt prices.  At our local bulk grocery store, I can buy table salt for $.49/lb. while sea salt is $.79/lb—1.6 times more expensive.  Online, I found a Himalayan sea salt that, on sale, was $9.85 for ¼ lb. or $39.40/lb.  Whew!  Fan me, please!

Is this stuff worth it?  Clearly, some research was in order, and I’ve spent several days online, trying to figure out what is going on.  The situation is sufficiently dire that I now need treatment for investigative shock.  I found manufacturers, advertisers, health advisors, and even some doctors making questionable claims and providing junk information.  Ouch!

So…what’s the situation?  Basically, in the nutrition battlefield, sea salt has become the white knight while table salt is the enemy.  Sea salt is “organic,” “natural,” “pure” and “healthy”; table salt is “highly refined” and “heavily processed.”  Everything beneficial that salt does for us, such as regulating fluid balance in the body and enhancing the taste of food, sea salt can do better.  Everything bad about the overuse of salt, such as contributing to hypertension, heart disease, and strokes, has been placed at table salt’s doorstep.

Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, says that “It seems to be a rule of nutritionism that for every good nutrient, there must be a bad nutrient to serve as its foil, the latter a focus for our food fears and the former for our enthusiasms.” Yep, he sure got that right. 

Certainly, it benefits advertisers to put table salt in a bad light in order to make us spend more money not only to buy sea salt but also to purchase “must-haves,” such as sea salt grinders and, if you buy the salt in blocks, specialized sea salt shavers. (I kid you not!)  I suppose I should not be surprised that promoters want to mislead us. 

And I’m afraid we can be easily mislead, not because we’re ignorant or stupid, but because salt has fallen under what Pollan calls the “great Conspiracy of Scientific Complexity.”  In this conspiracy—contributed to by the food industry, government, nutritionists, and journalists—food has gone from something humans used to eat just for pleasure and sociability to something we can’t eat “without professional guidance because of widespread confusion about nutrients.”

I hope in this post to eliminate some of the confusion around salt so that both you and I can make reasonable decisions in the grocery store.  I’ve put the information I’ve gathered in a Q&A format, following the questions I asked as I researched.

Is the source of table salt and sea salt different?

All salt, whether labelled table salt or sea salt, comes from a salted body of water—namely, an ocean or salt-water lake.  Some salt makers use water or deposits from today’s oceans; others use deposits evaporated from oceans in previous geological eras.

In other words, all salt is “sea” salt.

How “natural” is sea salt vs. table salt?

Every type of salt comes from a deposit that is created when salt water evaporates.  There are two ways in which this evaporation takes place. 

The first type of evaporation is part of a geological process in which an ocean or salt-water lake dried up many millions of years ago and sediments were laid down. Sometimes this salt can be found on the surface of the earth, such as the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  Mostly, however, these salt beds are underground, and the salt that comes from them must be mined.  This type of deposit yields both table and sea salts.

The second type of evaporation is a man-made process in which manufacturers mimic nature by evaporating salt water until crystals form and then processing the salt to reach a standard of desired quality.  Table salt is made this way in salt refineries; sea salt is made this way by hand and/or with some mechanization.

In other words, table salt and sea salt are created by the same methods—both of which arise from the “natural” process of evaporation. 

 Do table and sea salts differ in composition?

All salt deposits contain the same mixture of elements.  According to Marine Science, no matter how much salt happens to be dissolved in a given drop of ocean, it is “always made up of the same types of salts and they are always in the same proportion to each other”: 85.62% sodium chloride and 14.38% other trace minerals: sulphate, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bicarbonate, bromide, borate, strontium, and fluoride (in descending order of quantity). 

Sea salts retain the trace elements while table salt has been processed to remove trace elements and include additives (more on this below).  Deposits of salt can also include pollutants from the air, chemicals from rain that fell on the deposits, and elements from soil surrounding the water or deposits.  Both table and sea salts may require special processing to remove impurities.

In other words, sea salt and table salt share the same amount of sodium chloride, but only sea salt retains the trace elements found in saline water.

Isn’t sea salt “purer” because it doesn’t have the additives that table salt does?

This seemingly simple question turned out to be more than I bargained for.  Here goes.   

Under U.S. law, up to 2% of table salt can be additives.  These are usually an anti-clumping agent and iodine.

Anti-clumping agent: A characteristic of all salts is that they absorb water from the surrounding environment and thus clump.  Table salt manufacturers ended the clumping problem by adding an anti-caking compound, approved as non-toxic, that enables the free flow of salt.  Other foods in powder form such as tea, coffee, sugar, and milk have the same problem and also use anti-clumping compounds.

Iodine:  No salt, table or sea, in its natural state contains iodine.  This mineral was added to salt in the early 1900s when scientists discovered that an iodine deficiency in American diets was causing thyroid goiter, a mass in the neck that could press on the trachea and esophagus. This discovery led to “iodized” table salt and a significant reduction of goiters. Subsequently, lack of iodine in pregnant women was found to cause a form of mental retardation in infants called Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD).  This disorder remains a problem.  According to UNICEF (2007), “over 1 billion people in the world suffer from iodine deficiency, and 38 million babies born every year are not protected from brain damage due to IDD.”

One promoter of sea salt argues that “most Americans generally get enough iodine from their diet without iodized salt; seafood and sea-vegetables, brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale for example, all contain some iodine.”  This claim, I suggest, is up for debate as research on American diets shows that most people don’t eat enough fish or vegetables.

Now I get just as much buzz as the next nutritionally interested person when I think I’m getting a “pure” food.  But I found myself wondering if table salt is really less “pure” than sea salt because of these additives.  That led me to questions such as “What does “pure” really mean?” and “What do we want when we seek “pure” foods?”  Yep, definitely more than I bargained for.

After much musing, I’ve come to the conclusion that “pure” implies a food whose essence has not been changed by processing or additives. 

Another way to put this is that a food is “pure” when it has not been tampered with to the point that it has virtually become a “pseudo-food”—a conglomeration of chemicals added during processing, designed to make the product appeal to taste buds, to lower the cost of production, to preserve shelf life, and to increase nutrient value for the purposes of advertising. 

For example, let’s look at the ingredient list for Christie Vegetable Thin crackers. To my way of thinking, a “pure” baked product includes basic ingredients such as flour, yeast, eggs, sugar, salt, oil, baking soda, baking powder, and other ingredients for taste and texture such as herbs, seeds, spices, extracts, coconut, chocolate, etc.

On this basis, Vegetable Thins can’t be considered “pure.” It contains 26 ingredients, many of them chemicals which don’t occur in home baking such as hydrolyzed soya and monosodium glutamate.  Moreover, Christic claims that these crackers are baked with real vegetables.  But is “dehydrated vegetable and seasoning blend” the same as real vegetables with their rich nutrients and fibers?  Not likely.

 In other words, should we consider all additives equal?  In my opinion, table salt additives do not create a pseudo-food.  Their purposes are to enable flow and improve health outcomes while the food value remains intact.

 Is sea salt “healthier” than table salt?

Our bodies require salt. Today’s problem is that our diet usually includes far more than our daily requirement: 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day or less than 1 teaspoon, whether it is table or sea salt. Sea salt, contrary to some claims, does not contain less sodium than table salt.  According to the Mayo Clinic, “By weight, sea salt and table salt contain about the same amount of sodium chloride.” 

As noted above, table salt is processed to remove trace elements while sea salts, in general, leave these in.  These minerals are indeed important in our diets, but in sea salt they exist in what the Mayo Clinic describes as “insignificant amounts.” Chances are you are getting the same minerals in greater quantities in the fruits and vegetables that you eat.

In other words, both sea salt and table salt are equally “healthy” when used in appropriate amounts. 

 So…is there a good reason to buy sea salt? 

Yes, if you’re seeking the flavours, colours, and textures provided by the different sources and processing techniques of sea salt manufacturers.  These qualities can make a difference.  A 2005 article in Salon.com, “Worth One’s Salt,” although a little dated and not inclusive of newer sea salt brands, discusses salts and includes a taste test of different salts on a variety of foods.   

Personally, I can’t see the purpose of paying a significantly higher price for sea salt for everyday use.  However, I can see doing so for a very special occasion.   

What about you?

Cinnamon Spice Cake

This cook can learn new tricks! 

Back in the early depths of this blog—February, to be precise, and during my non-photo era—I posted a recipe for a spice cake which I described as “dense and delicious” and having the “heavenly aroma of cinnamon and other spices.”  At that time I was just thrilled to create a really good-tasting, gluten-free, baked dessert.

Yesterday, I revisited this recipe to improve it.  Having gained much more understanding of alternative flours/starches, I put together a blend of white rice, quinoa flour, tapioca startch, xanthan gum, and salt.  (Good-bye trying to rely on rice flour alone.)  And, having learned to cut back on fats by using unsweetened applesauce combined with much less oil, I managed to halve the caloric content.  The recreated cake is now light, moist, delicious, and low-cal, while definitely retaining that mouth-watering aroma.  Much better all around!

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Makes 16 squares

Ingredients

  • ½ cup white rice flour
  • ¼ cup quinoa flour
  • ¼ cup tapioca starch
  • ½ cup artificial sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. xanthan gum
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground cloves
  • Pinch of ground allspice
  • ½ cup liquid egg replacement (2 eggs)
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 6 tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • Cooking spray

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients: flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, xanthan gum, and spices.
  2. In a larger bowl, whisk together all liquid ingredients: egg, milk, applesauce, and oil.
  3. Add dry ingredients in thirds to liquid ingredients, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Spray an 8″ x 8″ pan with cooking spray.
  5. Pour batter into pan.  If top needs to be smoothed out, spread with wet fingers.
  6. Bake at 350o F oven for 30-35 minutes or until sides are pulling away from the pan and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

For Weight Watchers: Each piece is worth 1.5 points on the Points plan and 2 points on the PointsPlus plan.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Non-dieters can drink whatever cold drinks they enjoy during the hot summer months.  Those of us on the other side of the divide must avoid mint juleps, beer, fruit juices, soft drinks (other than diet), and any other delicious drink I forgot to mention.

But what about vegetable purées, which are great winter soups, acting as cold beverages when it’s sweltering?  This question would never have occurred to me if I hadn’t been having a very lazy afternoon on board our boat, the Outrageous, reading on the back deck.

I began to get nagging messages from my stomach (that demanding organ) that it wanted something more filling than diet iced tea.  My brain (another equally demanding body part) reminded me that whatever I ate had to be very low in calories.  I had brought up a container of cauliflower soup, but felt way too lazy to crank up the inboard generator and reorganize the galley so I could use the stove in order to heat up it up.  (Readers may recall that the galley is the size of a shower stall; hence the top of the stove, when not in use, provides storage for a fruit bowl among other things.)  Besides, who wants hot soup on a hot afternoon?

The voilà moment occurred when I asked myself, “Why not drink the soup cold?” I poured some into a glass and added a dollop of yogurt.  I took it out on the back deck, sat back in chair, and drank it down to the last drop.  It was as delicious cold as when hot, delightfully refreshing, and very satisfying—all for the diet-cost of a teaspoon of yogurt.  For me, a new food category was born!

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Cooking tip for making a thick and creamy soup: The correct amount of broth is tricky because vegetables often shrink and also contain their own liquids.  To ensure that the soup will not be too thin, remove 1-2 cups of broth after the cooking is finished and before you start blending.  After a first blend, you’ll know if it needs more broth.  Add in ¼ cup increments until you reach the desired creaminess.

Ingredients

  • 1 very large cauliflower or 2 small ones, washed, trimmed, and chopped into big chunks
  • 8 cups of chicken broth (vegetables can be above the water line; they will reduce while cooking)
  • 1 large sweet onion (the onion’s sweetness is key to this soup’s great taste), chopped into big chunks
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  •  Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large pot.
  2. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Before blending, remove 1 cup of liquid and hold in reserve.
  4. Purée soup with a hand blender or in a processor until smooth.  If the purée is too thick for your taste, add the 1-2 cups of liquid held in reserve.  (If not, you can throw away the liquid or save it as a vegetable broth.)
  5. Put container of soup in the refrigerator until cold.
  6. Pour out a glass and, if you prefer, mix in a tablespoon of goat yogurt or soy milk.

For Weight Watchers: Unless you’ve added a “countable” amount of yogurt or milk, any size serving is 0 points on the Points and PointsPlus plans.

Variation on Mark Bittman’s Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Those of you who are familiar with Mark Bittman’s recipes in The New York Times know that he likes to take the mystery out of good food.  His recipes are rarely complicated and always delicious.  Hence, given my adoration of watermelon, I had to make his Watermelon and Tomato Salad which, indeed, delivered a wonderful taste-and-texture mixture: watermelon sweetness plus the tart tomatoes and savoury cheese, all tied together by a vinaigrette dressing.  (I’ve added Mark Bittman’s video on making this salad at the end of the post.)

Of course, I had to start adapting the recipe immediately because his cheese suggestions—Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort or Maytag blue cheese—don’t work for for anyone who is lactose-intolerant.  I used goat feta instead.  My second adaption was to cut back on the oil to reduce calories.  Finally, on my third making of this salad, I decided to cut back on the cheese and add cooked quinoa. I wanted to give the salad more “heft” so that it could be a meal unto itself as opposed to an accompanying salad.  It was still delicious although, if you can afford the extra calories (or the 3 extra WW points), I’d keep the cheese at the 2.6 oz. level.  There’s nothing like cheese to take a dish from delicious to sublime.

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Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups watermelon in 1″ cubes or balls (cut over a bowl so that you can catch the juice and reserve it)
  • 1½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1.3 oz. goat feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ cup green onions, finely minced
  • ½ cup cooked, cold quinoa
  • 1 tbsp. of watermelon juice
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar (Mark Bittman suggests sherry; I had balsamic)
  • ½ cup cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine watermelon, tomato, cheese, green onions, and quinoa in a bowl.
  2. Whisk together watermelon juice, oil, and vinegar.
  3. Pour vinagrette over salad mixture.
  4. Garnish with coriander or parsley.
  5. Salt to taste.

For Weight Watchers: 5.5 points per serving on the Points plan and 4.5 points on the PointsPlus plan.  (This is cheaper on PointsPlus because the watermelon has no point value.)

Spiced Frozen Bananas

My favourite breakfast is fruit and yogurt so my idea of heaven is a berry season that goes on year-round which, alas and sigh, is not the case here in Ottawa.  So bananas are my staple for fall, winter, and spring—that is, until reader and friend, Becky, sent me this recipe.

So what turned me back onto bananas in the summer?  The small explosions of what tasted like vanilla ice cream in my fruit-yogurt mix, courtesy of frozen bananas that have been brushed with a light coating of spice. 

Of course, you can eat these bananas by themselves for an “ice cream” treat, but I found that mixing them with other fruit minimized the banana flavour (which I can get in other seasons) and emphasized the vanilla ice cream taste.

Makes 8 servings of ¼ banana each

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (pure is better than artificial)
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon (the original called for allspice which I don’t like but you may)
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger

Directions

  1. Prepare bananas by quartering them.
  2. Mix vanilla extract and spices.
  3. Using a brush, apply spice mixture on all sides of bananas.
  4. Place bananas cut-side down on wax paper.
  5. Freeze for at least 30 minutes before using.
  6. Cut into small slices and add to a fruit mixture.

For Weight Watchers:  .5 point per serving for the Points plan and 0 points for the PointsPlus plan.