Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Are Your Cookbooks Making You Fat?

As my high school social studies teacher used to say, You bet your sweet bip.

In the Pinch kitchen, food has a triple mandate: healthy, delicious, and family friendly. Everything cooked here has to be a ten in each category, or it doesn't get made. The average cookbook has a taste mandate. Food will taste great, but it may take you awhile to produce, and it's going to contain unhealthy fats, excessive calories, and probably too much sugar or salt.

It goes the other way, too. If health is your priority, your food will meet different criteria, umami not among them. Plus, vegetarian fare can be loaded with saturated fat.

Concerned your cookbooks are adding to the girth of your sweet bip? Here's what you should look out for:

What cut? - You don't have to limit animal protein in your diet to eat a heart healthy diet. You just have to choose your cuts carefully. Leg of lamb is very lean, compared to chops or shoulder. Flank steak trumps skirt steak, and ground beef comes in a variety of leanness. It's no surprise that for poultry, white meat trumps dark. Pork loin and tenderloin beat everything else porcine. One reason I love Trader Joe's is that I can check the nutrition data on meat.

Trim the fat/Drain the fat - This is a hugely important step in lowering the unhealthy and unnecessary fats in your diet. Leg of lamb, which starts lean, should still spend some time under the knife before it's cooked. Unwrap the whole thing, separating it in its natural places and cut out everything white and unsightly. You can then tie it back up with butcher's twine (but not before adding some rosemary, salt and feta, or maybe a smidge of Gorgonzola), or leave it butterflied since it grills up so quickly.

Bacon has tremendous flavor - go ahead and use it sparingly (like use a slice or two) and trim the heck out of it, discarding all the bits that are white or translucent. And drain it after cooking. Same goes for the ground beef used for tacos. Start with a 96/4 (superlean) ground beef. After you brown it, drain it. The purpose is twofold here - you don't want wet meat in a taco shell, and following this step removes even more of the fat. Especially in this case where there is so many flavors (cumin! chili! jalapeño! lime! avocado!) the extra fat is not going to bring anything to the table.

Too much of a good thing - Olive oil is a wonderful thing but don't be mislead: like all oils it is 100% fat. One tablespoon contains over 100 calories. Let 3 T be the maximum addition of oil into anything you make - sauces, dressings, etc.

Oils are shifty when exposed to heat, meaning they become harmful ingredients. Instead of following a recipe that directs you to saute some garlic in a cup of olive oil (that's sixteen tablespoons - you do the calorie math), do this: use a scant bit of oil - like 1-2 tablespoons, or saute in an oil with a higher smoke point, like canola or safflower oil, and add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauce at the end of cooking. It will give your sauce a velvety smooth finish, not unlike the beurre monté championed by the French.

Further, all oils are not created equally. Canola and walnut oils win bonus points for being exceptionally low in saturated fat. Any pan frying you can't talk yourself out of should be done in canola.

Removing skin from poultry before cooking. Chicken breasts are most lean when the skin is removed. That means cooking them without the skin. Don't worry about losing moisture. Sure, if you overcook it a turkey or chicken breast will dry out, but that will happen with the skin on too. A marinades will help with moisture, and allow you to control the fat content. I never cook a chicken breast that didn't get at least 20 minutes in a basic olive oil/tamari marinade). I take the skin off turkey too, whole and split breasts. If  you're especially anxious about not overdoing a turkey breast simply cover the breast with an broth- or olive oil-soaked cheesecloth. For weeknight turkey meals,  just rub the surface with a little olive oil and few shakes of salt and pepper or a blended seasoning like the Spice House's Milwaukee Iron.

Cheese - if you're using more than one ounce of cheese per person in a given dish, then that recipe gets low points on the health scale. One ounce is not a lot. Cheese should absolutely be enjoyed - just enjoy it sparingly. I prefer to forgo dairy where it's not needed (like on those tacos) and instead enjoy a selection of the world's finest as a cheese course now and then.

Butter - At best, you can make substitutions, or at least compromise with a blend of butter and olive oil.

Cream - Please. Only the truly disciplined have read this far, and the truly discipled aren't cooking with cream.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

I Brined a Pork Loin and I Liked It

Oh, this was good. I adapted it from a site I recently stumbled across, Leite's Culinaria. The LC staff included  cumin and other spices I wasn't in the mood for. Plus, even though I've marinated plenty, this was my first foray into brining. I wanted to really get a sense of how the brine would change a regular pork loin and determine if it was worth the extra step without being thrown off by all that cumin. I wasn't disappointed. Pork loin is lean, and easy to ruin. This recipe, which results in a beautiful, moist and flavorful roast, will definitely be repeated.

Brined, glazed and grilled boneless pork loin sounds like more trouble than it is. The biggest effort is making the brine and soaking the pork loin the day before you plan to eat it. In this case, I brined on Saturday and we dined on Sunday. It made for a classic Sunday dinner and didn't require much of my Sunday to put it on the table.

And how about that board dressing (see the end of the recipe)! Another first...

Brined, Glazed and Grilled Pork Loin
Print recipe only here


for the brine:
1 cups water
2 T kosher salt
2 T brown sugar
salt and pepper
1-2 T rosemary ( I used dried since i had it)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, smashed

For the glaze:
1/3 cup apricot or peach preserves
2 t country style dijon mustard
2 t soy or tamari
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 t cider vinegar
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bag or bowl. Score pork loin in a criss-cross pattern (about 1/4-inch deep and about 3/4-inch wide cuts). Cover and marinate 6-24 hours. 24 is better.

When ready to cook, preheat grill on low setting.

Remove pork loin from the brine and dry with paper towels. Coat with 1 T canola oil.

Grill 45 min, turning once.

Combine the glaze in a medium sized bowl or dish:

Remove pork from grill and toss to coat in the glaze. Return to grill for another 45 min or until it registers 160 on a thermometer. Remove from the grill and let it rest ten minutes.

Meanwhile prepare a board dressing on a serving plate:
2 T olive oil
2 T chopped parlsey
salt and pepper

Slice pork loin and coat with board dressing. Serve.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Yelp, Schmelp or Eater, Beware That Recommendation

Yelp is no longer a resource for me. If I'm in Uptown and I need a pizza, stat, I just spam qualified friends in Uptown until someone weighs in with a recommendation. "Qualified friends?" you ask? In this case, friends who only eat good pizza.

Yelp's lack of appeal is not about the obvious payola risks. On a side note, apparently the company has applied a new "strategy" to prevent the practice. The strategy seems to involve not selling merchants the ability bury negative feedback. This is remarkably similar to preventing the exclusion of certain people from serving in the military by not excluding certain people from serving in the military, and then calling it a strategy. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

My mistrust of Yelp has to do with taste: how can you be certain your reviewer is capable of steering you to the best frozen yogurt joint in Lincoln Park? Oh, that's not a good example; they're all the same. But mid-level Italian restaurants? Listen to the wrong person and you'll find yourself faced with a 10-page menu co-written by the Saturated Fat Farmers of America with nary a cream-free option. Side note: Volare, in downtown Chicago, is where I send anyone seeking basic Italian, as opposed to a never-ending pasta bowl or a "Celebration of Cheese."

Anyway, as with movie reviews, the person to take restaurant advice from does not have to be a professional reviewer, and should not be someone who loved something you wouldn't consider finishing, or starting for that matter. Like I recently told a friend who asked if I had a recipe for Creamed Chicken Chili, just because we're friends doesn't mean we share a love of Creamed Chicken Chili. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fit to be Tossed: Five what-could-have-beens for wasted salad greens

I threw away a bag of baby romaine today. That never happens. We eat a ton of salad, so I buy a lot each week. This particular bag got lost in the southwest corner of the fridge and the leaves had unified, Terminator-style, into a solid mass. Only they didn't come out fighting. They just slunk into the trash, muttering gloomily like Eeyore. Poor dears. They would have made a fine vehicle for any one of the following five dressings.

No one should have to rely on bottled dressings.  Fresher is way better, and way healthier (less sugar, salt and better quality of ingredients). Making a good dressing is a good way to develop your palate.  Get used to tasting your dressing as you go. You might find you like more or less acid, or more or less sugar. Play with any of these and experiment to find your own House recipe.

Riffs on Dressing for a Family of Four

Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl. Just prior to service, add washed, spun greens and toss.

1. The House Standard
3 T olive oil
2 T red wine or white wine vinegar
Pinch salt, pepper and sugar
1/2 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
1 t crumbled blue cheese, mashed into everything else
optional: thinly sliced ripe pear (omit the sugar if you use pear)

2. Good with Mexican fare
3 T olive oil or canola oil or a mixture
2 T lime juice
Pinch salt, pepper and sugar
1/2 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
1 T cilantro, finely chopped
1 T finely chopped onion or shallot

3. Good on a chopped salad
3 T olive oil
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 t dijon mustard
1 t honey
1 T finely grated Parmesan (or, omit parm and add one green onion, finely chopped)
Pinch salt and pepper

4. A light summertime dressing
3 T olive oil
2 T white wine or champagne vinegar
1/2 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped
Pinch salt, pepper and sugar

5. Good with Asian fare
1/4 cup canola oil or a mixture or peanut and canola oils
2 T rice wine vinegar
1 t sesame oil
1 T soy sauce

2 t sugar
Juice of half a lime
1 T fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 T shallot, finely chopped
1/2 garlic clove, pressed or finely chopped

optional: 1 t chili sauce
Pinch salt and pepper

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