Miss Me?

Just wanted to post a quick update on why it's been so long since I've posted. It's not a sign of the end! Rather, I've been without an Internet connection for days and days now. I spent a couple days on the road driving to my new home of Seattle, and though the new pad is great, it lacks Internet access. It could be a while before we can set up an appointment with Comcast to activate our connection as they won't let us schedule until we provide a copy of our lease, and we can't get a copy of the lease until my brother signs it. He won't be around during business hours until Saturday, and then there's the inevitable delay between scheduling and happening . . .

So for now, a little vacation. A working vacation, as I'm unpacking nonstop, but still. Check the links to the right for articles that are posting to Fit Fare and Edible TV in my absence. Thanks for your understanding!

Tomato, Tomate

New today on Fit Fare:

plum-tomatoes.jpgSummer may be drawing to a close, but it’s not too late to grab a little bit of sun-ripened deliciousness off the vine.

My grandma’s garden overflowed with plum tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness when I left for the west coast near the end of August. My mom had so many globes and cherries that I ended up carrying some back to my grandma (no doubt as welcome to her as zucchini is at this time of the year!). And what did I find upon arriving in California? A bag of knobbly heirloom tomatoes shoved into our hands as we left a party and walkways lined with green tomatoes soaking in the sun.

What do you do when life gives you tomatoes?

Gazpacho is not only a healthy dish, but it's also a great fit in your weekly meal plan. You could serve it as main course, but it's also a flexible soup/salad course option. Make it one night and keep it chilling in the fridge, ready to accompany your next few meals. It'll just get better as the flavors marry over a couple of days.

It's a real time-saver since you don't need even need to heat it up -- just grab your Tupperware and start ladling. It keeps better than salads as it has no lettuce to wilt or veggie chunks to weep.

Avocado need not be your only garnish choice, either. Gazpacho tastes great with a little feta sprinkled on top as well, and chopped fresh tomatoes or cucumbers are more logical choices.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Quaker Soy Crisps

9B47807A-4E7F-4A2D-A326-E7E0FFF1FE59.jpgNo, don’t run!

Yes, soy crisps may be a relic of the low-carb era, but why make a tasty, low-cal snack into a pariah? Give soy a chance.

Quaker’s soy crisps are crunchy and satisfying. They aren’t overly dry and light-feeling like rice cakes or baked potato chips. A little extra fat and plenty of protein make these tasty yet surprisingly nutritious.

Eighteen round, thick crisps have only 110 calories yet boast 5.5 grams of protein. A typical bag only has three servings, so even if you go overboard with the snacking, it won’t kill you.

Actually, I discovered these trying to find something a bit healthier to snack on than corn chips. They honestly are the only thing that tastes as good to me in the snack chip arena, probably because they're heartier than the insubstantial carbs of rice cakes and have stronger seasonings than most potato chips.

I wouldn't recommend eating them every day -- they are made with processed soy flour and are packed with salt, after all -- but they make a decent treat.

The barbecue flavor is definitely my favorite. The downside is that they are kind of pricey in comparison to other snack chips. Still, if you want to feel somewhat virtuous while indulging in a salty treat, soy chips are a great option.

Photo: QuakerOats.com

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Recipe Sources for Meal Planning

When I packed my bags for a year in Europe, I contemplated bringing a few of my favorite cookbooks. After all, I would be living in Slovakia and the Czech Republic; I was unlikely to find many alternatives there that both used English directions and American measurements. In the end, though, weight considerations ruled the day and I left the books behind.

Instead, I relied entirely on the Internet for cooking help. I always have sought at least some recipes online, but while I was abroad, it was my sole source of inspiration. Here are a few sites I relied on to fill in my weekly meal plans:

Food Network: Much as I wish this wasn't my number-one source (it's so popular and obvious), I admit that I hit up this database most frequently. I did so partly because I had access to American television via the Internet and saw tasty recipes I wanted to try, but I also ended up there in large part because of the sheer size of the database. You can find instructions for just about any dish at Food Network's site, including many ethnic foods that are hard to source reliably online. Almost all of the recipes have been professionally tested, too, which is a big plus for me, having been burned in the past by random ones that didn't turn out at all like I expected.

Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen: Speaking of extensively tested recipes! These folks go through dozens of iterations before settling on a recipe that, at best, balances taste, time and effort, and health considerations. Sometimes I think ease of preparation takes a backseat to taste in their recipes, as they avoid convenience products and sometimes require seemingly silly extra steps to get the food just right. I don't always strive for perfection myself, but when I do, I know where to go. The Cook's Country web site requires an annual membership fee, but the America's Test Kitchen page offers two TV seasons' worth of free recipes.

Allrecipes.com: I'm kind of new to Allrecipes. I was leery of the site because so many recipes come from the community rather than professionals, so I wasn't sure how reliable they could be. However, I've learned that the key to successful use of Allrecipes is to read the comments. People post all sorts of helpful information gleaned from their experiences making the dishes, and they'll let you know not only if a recipe is off but also how to fix it! It's a good source for easier, home cooking-style recipes, and as a bonus, most come with complete nutritional data.

Taste of Home: If I'm looking for a recipe for something like an overnight slaw or chicken casserole, I'm likely to check here first. The writing can be corny (everything is "zippy" for some reason), but the huge database is a treasure trove of the kind of recipes our mothers or grandmothers specialized in. The magazine's test kitchen checks the recipes before publication to ensure reliability.

Food Blog Search: I haven't used the search engine much yet, but I thought it might be the best representative for all the food blogs I have used as recipe sources in the past year. With food blogs, you usually get a photo of the finished product as cooked by someone much like yourself, with commentary akin to Allrecipes. A couple of my favorite are The Pioneer Woman Cooks! (great if you are a visual learner) and Kalyn's Kitchen (lots of South Beach Diet info).

That's a decent top five right there. Now that I'm back Stateside, I'm looking forward to digging into cookbooks again for recipe ideas, but I know now that with the Internet, a recipe is never far away.

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Simple Shortcuts Fall 2008

My laptop is back after a stint in the repair shop, and it's cleaner than it's been in months. Now back to thinking about the food that will soon take residence under these brand-new keys . . .

My new issue of Kraft's free promotional magazine Simple Shortcuts arrived today. I found a bunch of these in my laundry basket of mail when I returned from my year abroad, and at first I thought the company had redesigned the old Food & Family quarterly publication.

But no; in fact, something more sinister (if you think like that) was afoot. Kraft still publishes Food & Family, but for some reason elected to start sending me this truncated monthly magazine instead. However, unless you're someone who does not like to cook, this rag isn't worth the glossy, half-sized paper it's printed on.

Almost every recipe calls for only four ingredients, listed with accompanying pictures so novices can't go wrong. It's like those Men's Health A Man, a Can, a Plan books that way. Also like that series, most of the ingredients are processed foods to make it possible to require so few.

Of course, Food & Family recipes asked for a lot of processed ingredients as well -- the whole point is to get you to buy Kraft products -- but the recipes aren't as bare bones. There's only so many variations on chicken breast in sauce and cheesy macaroni you can read before losing interest. And why would I need a "recipe" for a tray of cheese, deli meats, and crackers?

The most ridiculous part is that they actually devote a few pages in the middle to games. Imagine the Ralphie Parker-esque disappointment on the faces of readers everywhere who take on the scramble challenge only to find . . . "a crummy commercial?!"

Rather than feeling a sense of satisfaction after decoding, "It's not delivery, it's DiGiorno" only two seconds after looking at this page, I feel somewhat disturbed at the number of commercials I've absorbed in my lifetime.

"Stop ranting, stop ranting!" OK, I hear you.

Highlights from the Fall 2008 issue of Simple Shortcuts:

409855E6-26E0-414D-9E5F-05760A4FC232.jpgChili-Topped Baked Potatoes: Stick with low-fat versions of canned chili, shredded cheese, and sour cream, and this baked potato recipe hits the sweet spot between healthy and cheap. A great addition to your meal-planning arsenal. The linked recipe on Kraft's site isn't quite the same, but you'll notice the pictured potato is identical to the magazine's, with shredded cheddar rather than Cheez Whiz on top.

5266626C-E7B4-46BD-84CB-2789F296A200.jpgCapellini Caprese: Looks tasty, doesn't it? I would substitute in whole-wheat pasta and use Zesty Italian rather than Tuscan House Italian (bottled "house Italian" dressings always have a tired, dried-herb flavor I don't care for). Fresh mozzarella cheese could work, too; it's what I usually use in this style of pasta. It does clump, though, unless you deep-chill it in the freezer before tossing it with the hot pasta. Also, if you're looking to emulate the Tomato-Basil Caprese sauce on offer right now at Olive Garden, shredded mozzarella is the way to go.

Meatloaf Minis: I made meatloaf in a muffin tin just a few nights ago. I used ground turkey to please the no-beef crowd, so it's a possible substitution here. You could also add grated vegetables (I use carrots and onions) to make the dish more nutritious; just reduce the water a little to compensate for the extra moisture.

Now, the recipe in the magazine unfortunately doesn't appear online, so here's the lowdown: Set the oven temp to 375 degrees. Mix a pound of extra-lean ground beef, a box of stuffing mix, a cup of water, and a teaspoon of garlic powder. Divide evenly among 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Make an indentation in the top of each mini-loaf. Divide 3/4 cup barbecue sauce among the 12 indentations. Bake for about 30 minutes (you're looking for an internal temperature of 160 degrees). Top with cheese and pop back in the oven long enough to melt the topping.

Kraft Salad Dressing Packets: I've seen these light dressing packets, as well as similar ones from other brands, at every grocer I've visited since my return. Is it the growing popularity of grab-and-go salads? The influence of Hungry Girl? On the plus side, these packets are practically leak-proof and having one in your purse or lunch bag will save you from taking in tens or hundreds of fatty-dressing calories. On the other hand, more packaging means more waste. Also, the flavors (Zesty Italian and Balsamic Vinaigrette) are the same ones usually offered as light options at restaurants anyway. Why not a light ranch or Thousand Island packet? Mmm, that one could double as low-cal "special sauce" for burgers.

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