Everything's Better with (Turkey) Bacon and Other Sizzling Hot Links

SFGate - One Turkey Bacon Stands Out in the Flock
We have a stock of Oscar Mayer's Louis Rich turkey bacon from Costco, and it is surprisingly bacon-like. It won't render enough fat to cook other things in, and it doesn't ever get as crispy as the real deal, but the taste is close enough to make it a good "everyday" bacon.

Health - Solving My Own Energy Crisis: Better Diet and Sleep Strategies
I can handle the healthy eating; it's the sleeping that gets me.

Kraft Live Healthy and Happy - Superfoods
General good advice on eating plenty of vegetables. If you don't mind commercial overtones, Kraft's newsletters are the best of the food manufacturer e-mails I've sampled.

Health - Heart-Healthy, Cost-Conscious Recipes and Food Tips
Interesting info on the latest in nutrition research, with recipes. More evidence that healthy eating and cheap eating can intersect!

Now I'm going to go bury myself under a blanket for the duration of the weekend. Where did the sun go?!

But first -- BOO!!!

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What Is . . . Basal Metabolic Rate?

calculator.pngThe key to weight loss is burning more calories than you consume. You can achieve this through consuming fewer calories and through burning more calories by exercising.

You can aid your efforts by counting calories in a food diary, to increase your awareness of what you eat and to make certain that you stay under the number of calories your body needs each day to maintain its weight.

But wait.

How do you know how many calories that is?!

That is where today's concept, basal (or resting) metabolic rate, enters the picture. Here's a quick definition from the Mayo Clinic web site:

Even when your body is at rest, it requires energy for the basics, such as fuel for organs, breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, plus growing and repairing cells. Calories expended to cover these basic functions are your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Typically, a person's BMR is the largest portion of energy use, representing two-thirds to three-quarters of the calories used each day. Energy needs for these basic functions stay fairly consistent and aren't easily changed.


Basically, your BMR is the number of calories you would burn sitting on your butt doing nothing (and eating nothing) all day. Just being alive takes a lot of work, which is why it's possible for people to lose weight without exercise, why you turn all emaciated when you become ill and stop eating, and why you feel hungry even after hours of rest.

A big myth about BMR is that some people have high rates and thus are "naturally thin" while the rest of us with weight to lose have low metabolisms. While it would be comforting to believe your body size is in no way your own fault, unfortunately it's not true.

A couple factors affect your BMR:

1. Your height and weight. The bigger you are, the more calories your body needs to keep on breathing. It might seem unfair that tall people can eat more food without gaining weight than short people, but they are just as likely to overshoot the "full" mark and gain weight. It just takes them a few more bites to get that bloated feeling.

Concurrently, it's important to keep this factor in mind if you're losing weight as part of a group or partnership. A 1400-calorie diet might work well for an average woman who wants to drop pounds slowly, but it would be a dangerous crash diet for a tall, heavy man.

2. Your muscle tone. Muscle does burn more calories at rest than fat. Thus, regular strength-building exercise makes it a lot easier to maintain the weight loss you achieve through cutting calories.

Muscle tone also explains why other factors, such as gender and age, seem to affect our ability to achieve a healthy weight. Women generally have a higher body-fat percentage than similarly active men because the reproductive system requires it. Also, we lose muscle tone as we age -- though this may largely be because we move less the older we get, and so we aren't maintaining what we have.

All the more reason to exercise!

To determine how many daily calories you should shoot for in your weight-loss plan, you need to add your basal metabolic rate (as determined by your height, weight, and muscle tone/body-fat percentage) to the number of calories it takes your body to process the food you eat (a small percentage that isn't affected much by, say, all the celery you eat) and an estimate of the number of calories you burn through regular exercise.

Whew, that was a lot. Luckily, online calculators can do it all for you.

One tip: Don't overestimate the number of calories you burn through exercise. The total is usually lower than the display on your gym equipment indicates due to all those same factors that affect your BMR. Plus, you have to keep in mind that you'd be burning some of those calories anyway just by being alive during that 30 minutes. Exercise is for long-haul health, not short-term snacking permission.

Now, go forth and calculate!

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Hungarian Meatball Stew

Welcome to Pennies & Pounds! I post meal-planning tips here regularly, along with other daily content about healthy, budget-minded eating. Subscribe to our RSS feed or our daily e-mail updates to be notified about new posts that might interest you!


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When I returned from my year in Europe, I had a huge stack of magazines waiting for my perusal in California. Most were issues of Everyday Food, which I seemed to have received the entire time I was away, but I had a handful of Every Day with Rachael Ray in the big crate as well.

In the September 2007 issue, I found an article that eerily anticipated our current financial downturn (though we certainly were feeling last year, as we bemoaned our rapidly diminishing buying power in a euro-centered economy). "Beef Up" featured recipes made with ground beef, a staple that's easy to buy in bulk for less to stock the freezer.

I followed the recipe pretty closely. I substituted chicken broth for the beef broth because it's what I keep on hand, a reasoning I'm certain Rachael herself would never frown on. I also used fresh, whole-wheat bread crumbs I had in the freezer from a bread-baking debacle, but the recipe doesn't specify the kind of crumbs to use.

Finally, I elected to serve the stew over rice rather than the suggested buttered noodles. Having lived for nine months in Slovakia (formerly united with Hungary) and having visited Budapest for a couple of days, I believe rice to be the more authentic choice over American-style curly egg noodles.

I browned the meatballs all at once in my huge everyday pan, using two spoons to turn them as they browned. The spoons are great for levering up meatballs stuck to the pan and gently flipping them without breakage.

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The gravy thickened quickly. The burnished color of the paprika made the silky sauce look absolutely . . . camera-ready.

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The aroma of rye bread filled the air as the stew simmered for the last few minutes. Caraway is strong stuff.

Alas, though I used two whole tablespoons of paprika straight from Hungary, I wasn't sold on this recipe. The meatballs were beefy, but they felt dry and could have used seasoning beyond salt and pepper. If I made them again, I would add paprika as well as my usual meatball mix-in, a grated onion.

Neither addition would make the recipe much more expensive, either. The biggest expense here is the ground beef, which cost me maybe $4. Everything else, including the salad I served on the side, cost only a few bucks more total. If you don't have caraway seeds and can't find that on the cheap, I don't think leaving it out would be such a tragedy.

Here's the recipe, with my notes in [brackets].

hungarian-meatball-stew03.jpgHungarian Meatball Stew
Source: Every Day with Rachael Ray, September 2007
Makes: 4 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds ground beef [I used 88-percent lean beef - a decent compromise among texture, calories, and price.]
1/2 cup bread crumbs [I used fresh whole-wheat crumbs.]
1 large egg
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped [I used half of a large one.]
1 rib celery, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 cups beef broth [I used chicken broth because I'm inauthentic like that sometimes.]
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1. In a large bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well and form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs.

2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add the meatballs and cook, shaking the skillet often, until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

3. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat in the skillet and add the carrots, onion and celery. Cook, stirring constantly, until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and paprika and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the beef broth and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan; season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the reserved meatballs and caraway seeds, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes.

CHILL: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
REHEAT: Warm the stew over medium heat.

FREEZE: Pour into a large freezer bag, press the meatballs into a single layer and lay the bag flat on a baking sheet. Freeze for up to 4 months.
REHEAT: Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the bag in cold water for 2 hours, changing the water every 1/2 hour. Pour the stew into a pot and warm over medium heat.

Yoplait Light Cake-Flavored Yogurts

Not so long ago, Yoplait released three new cake-themed flavors in their popular Yoplait Light line. The new yogurts were the toast of the eating-right web when they arrived - Hungry Girl devoted their first-ever video short to a promo for it, for example, and Fit Fare posted a review soon after.

"These yogurts are great!" they shout. Maybe. But the question for me is, do they actually taste like cake?

Yogurt is delicious on its own, but Yoplait, as is typical for the maker of as-far-from-yogurt-as-you-can-get creations like Yoplait Whips and Go-Gurt, is determined to make us believe its product can satisfy our cravings for rich, decadent desserts. And all for only 100-odd calories!

I've heard the hype about Yoplait Light yogurts ever since I started subscribing to the Hungry Girl newsletter, but I still haven't drunk the Kool-Aid (or is Crystal Light more apropos here?). I had to discover for myself whether these new yogurts were truly dessert-like confections or if they were no better or worse than everyday yogurt.

I bought the three new flavors and, along with my husband, held an informal taste test.

We started with a face-off.

Strawberry Shortcake vs. Strawberry

I already had a case of Yoplait Light in the fridge from a recent Costco run, so I grabbed a plain old Strawberry yogurt for comparison to the new Strawberry Shortcake flavor. Alas, real strawberry shortcake could not make it to the testing.

Our thoughts on Strawberry Shortcake:

Colleen: Seems to have more vanilla flavor than normal, but it becomes less noticeable over time. Similar flavor to eating sweetened strawberries with a scoop of Cool Whip. No distinct "cake" flavor.

Scott: Sweeter. No advantage over normal strawberry yogurt. Needs more fruit pieces!

And on regular Strawberry:

Colleen: Creamy. Hit of tart/sour yogurt flavor. Flavor of strawberry pie filling or strawberry jam. Floral.

Scott: Still wishing for more fruit pieces.

(OK, I admit that I snagged most of the fruit pieces for myself.)

Overall, we thought that both yogurts tasted pleasant. I wouldn't lunge for a Strawberry Shortcake Yoplait Light were I fantasizing about a caky dessert, but I wouldn't refuse a cup were I in the mood for sweet yogurt. Scott, too, felt like it wouldn't be worth paying the slightly higher price for individual yogurt cups just to secure this flavor.

For the other two, we did not have comparison flavors (of yogurt or cake) on hand, so we tasted them on their own merits.

Raspberry Cheesecake

Colleen: I really want to like this flavor, as I love cheesecake. It has a decent raspberry flavor, but I don't discern any cheesecake notes. The color is very pink, whereas the real deal is mostly a creamy white with the red only an accent. When the yogurt warms up, it does have a little more cheesecake-like tang.

Scott: OK. It tastes more like puréed raspberry cheesecake. The yogurt has no distinct flavors. Muddy. No fruit pieces. Not as tart as fresh raspberries.

On the whole, it's no substitute for the real deal. But if you like raspberry yogurt, you'll likely enjoy this flavor as well.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Colleen: How odd to encounter stringy pineapple bits in yogurt. Otherwise, the yogurt is pure white. Tastes sweet, but there's no vanilla or caky flavor to the yogurt - I want to say it tastes like coconut, but I'm guessing the pineapple is just making me think of piña coladas. There's a bit of a brown sugar flavor as the yogurt warms. The scent is reminiscent of Bath & Body Works' pineapple shower gel. Despite that, it's a nice change of pace overall, though not particularly cake-like.

Scott: Liked this one better. I think it recreates pineapple upside-down cake well, but I can't remember the last time I actually had the real deal. Plenty of fruit pieces! What I wish the Raspberry Cheesecake had been like. The yogurt has the flavor of cake without the pineapple dominating it. The chunks provide pineapple flavor and a good mouthfeel. Liked that there were two distinct flavors.

The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake was our favorite of the three new flavors. Scott found it cake-like enough to merit its name, but I thought it ought to be relabeled Piña Colada.

How about it, Yoplait? Why not create a line of girly cocktail-inspired yogurt? The texture is more akin to that of yogurt than cake is, and they pack just as many calories.

What's the upshot? If you buy yogurt anyway, feel free to grab these when they are on sale. The Pineapple Upside-Down Cake especially is a winner.

At the same time, if you have a warehouse-club membership and can get the cheaper cases, you don't have to feel like you're missing much.

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Monday Meal Planning: At Budget's End

It's the last week of the month, so naturally there's next to nothing left in the grocery budget. We're cooking almost entirely out of the pantry this week, with just a quick stop at the store today for a handful of items. With luck, I'll make it out paying only a third of my usual bill for Monday shopping.

We do have plenty stocked up from sales earlier in the month, so it shouldn't be so hard to meet that goal.

Sometimes, I do a themed meal to celebrate Halloween; Rachael Ray likes to come out with funky, ghoulish recipes each October. This time, though, I elected to go the "make your own takeout" route. After all, it's also traditional to order in for a quick meal before trick or treating!

Monday
Hot dogs
Frozen fries
Cole slaw (with no mayo)

Tuesday
Hungarian meatball stew
Rice
Salad

Wednesday
Pasta salad

Thursday
Loaded baked potatoes
Salad

Friday
Ground beef and veggie stir fry
Yakisoba noodles

Saturday
Sandwiches
Black bean soup

Sunday
Smoked sausage and cilantro pesto over whole-wheat spaghetti
Salad

The Miracles of Chicken Soup and Other Steaming Hot Links

Poked and Prodded - Chicken Soup: Can It Really Lower Blood Pressure?
Maybe the relaxation induced by comfort food might help, but salty broth isn't going to do much for your arteries. Still, you can always eat chicken soup for its cold-soothing properties.

Healthy Eating - New Vitamin Guidelines: Easy Ways to Double Your D
I remember all those 19th-century novels with kids having to force down spoonfuls of cod-liver oil each night. Guess those parents had the right idea.

The Simple Dollar - How to Plan Ahead for Next Week’s Meals (And Save Significant Money): A Step-By-Step Guide
Another guide to meal planning.

The Simple Dollar - The Power of the Chaperone
Odd. I thought most people recommended avoiding shopping with kids in tow because they plead and whine extra junk into the cart. Maybe it's an age thing.

ABC News - The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating
I'm not eating beets, guava, Swiss chard, purslane, pomegranate juice, dried plums, or pumpkin seeds. For some, it's not that I am opposed - it's just that they are expensive or a pain to prepare. We sure eat a lot of cabbage, though.

Healthy Eating - Nibbling Know-How: Snack Healthier
Healthy snacks are all well and good, but don't use exercise as an excuse to eat more! People always overestimate the number of calories burned by exercise. Stick with your body's hunger cues in deciding how much to eat. Also, even playing a partial short-order chef with kids' meals is a fool's game. Why create the expectation that kid food is at all different from adult food, or that you must alter everything to their taste? Keep presenting the healthy dinner night after night because eventually, kids will overcome their food fears. It usually is fear (specifically, neophobia), not outright dislike, that holds them back.

Have a great, relaxing weekend!

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Creating Comfort Without Food

A new post from Fit Fare, featuring advice from a show I caught only by happenstance:

teacup.jpgA couple weeks ago, I was watching the Food Network as I fussed with some web site maintenance when Ellie Krieger started rattling off a list that caught my attention. I snatched my pocket notebook off the coffee table and started scrawling quickly, a throwback to my journalism days.

Then I remembered I have a TiVo, and I backed up the program to catch all I had missed in a more civilized manner.

Regardless.

That day's episode of Healthy Appetite was devoted to comfort foods. While Ellie Krieger apparently developed the recipes to provide mood-lifting nutrition and homestyle pampering, she took a few minutes to remind the audience that to live a healthy lifestyle, don't turn immediately to food when in need of a pick-me-up.


I debated whether this post really belonged on Fit Fare or Edible TV, but in the end I decided that theme trumped form.

While I do watch a lot of Food Network's daytime instructional shows, Healthy Appetite is one I haven't caught much. It's not on every day, and I felt skeptical of her recipes when it premiered: No matter how many TV cooks try to pass off baked chicken fingers with an oil-laced breading as health food, I'm not buying it.

Still, considering how much my focus has shifted to healthy eating in recent years, it might be time to take a second look at this series. Ellie Krieger tells you the health benefits of each significant ingredient she uses, so you at least know why the white-meat chicken in those fingers is nutritious.

Here are direct links to the recipes featured in the episode "Feel Good Factor":

Wheat Berry Salad
Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream
Cracked Pepper Potato Chips with Onion Dip
Lettuce Cups with Tofu and Beef

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Meal Planning Basics: Pantry Planning Guidelines

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I've gone on about pantries for three weeks now, and they've been my obsession for much longer as I've had to set up three in the past year or so. Here are a few basic guidelines to get you started on your own pantry-planning quest:

1. Reflect on what you cook, bake, and eat.

Hopefully, you have a meal planner squirreled away from your previous abode that you can page through to see what kinds of dishes you regularly cook. If not, simply make a list of what's in your regular rotation, to the best of your memory.

I know that I cook pasta dishes with tomato-based, oil-based, and milk-based sauces frequently. I also make variations on chicken and rice often, as it's my husband's favorite. In addition, I like to cook meatballs, meatloaves, and hamburgers. I enjoy baking of all sorts as well. Finally, I know that cereal and oats are popular breakfasts and that eggs and sandwiches make frequent lunch appearances.

2. Make a list of the basic components of your "usuals."

This step is not so hard. If you know from the first step that you eat spaghetti with meatballs once a week, put spaghetti, ground beef, and either sauce or the basic sauce components (tomatoes, garlic, and onions) on your list.

If you bake, don't forget to list those staples, too: yeast if you make a lot of bread, baking powder, baking soda, and so forth.

3. Add the essentials used across all sorts of cooking.

Think oil (I like a neutral one for baking and frying and cold-pressed olive oil for everyday cooking), a basic vinegar, salt, pepper, butter, nonstick spray, and so on. Also, even if you're not a baker, pick up at least a little all-purpose flour and white sugar for thickening and seasoning, respectively.

Don't go overboard and buy every sauce known to Asia and twenty kinds of olives. You can buy capers or canned green chiles later, when you actually have a recipe planned that calls for them. Here, we're just looking for the items that you can't cook most meals without.

Spices can be the real money sink at this point. It's hard to anticipate every spice you will need. When I lived in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, I bought small packets for about a 25 to 75 cents a pop whenever I needed them and gradually built up a stock that way. Here, I'm lucky to find jars of the basics for $1 each.

I say, if you know you don't use spices much, then buy the handful you reach for frequently (perhaps salt, pepper, a seasoning blend, dried oregano or thyme, garlic powder, and cinnamon) and wait on the rest until the need arises. If you don't want to feel limited when the spark of creativity strikes over a pot of chili, then consider buying a pre-stocked spice rack from the housewares store to save money.

4. Buy just the essentials to get started.

You have a full pantry list, but don't go crazy shopping yet! Stick to your all-meals essentials list from step three. Add on food items you'll need to follow your meal plan for the week (including breakfast and lunch staples), and then proceed to step five.

5. Check the store circulars.

You have your lists, so now start checking for deals. When your store has chicken breasts on sale, buy as many as you can keep frozen. If Costco offers a fabulous deal on pasta, scoop up a bunch of bags for the cupboard.

The idea here is to build your pantry stock over time as the best prices arrive. After your first disorganized move-in week, you can start planning meals based on the circulars and the supply of staples (step 2's list) you stocked up on when you found them at a rock-bottom price.

For example, perhaps your store is selling sausage for $2 a pound. Your family loves sausage and eats it every week, so you buy six pounds for your pantry. You also pick up a 5-pound bag of rice on sale, and back home, you have a freezer stocked with last week's $2.50 a pound lean ground beef.

Now you can use your stock to your budgetary advantage. When you shop, you'll only need to purchase specific, one-off items (say, pimentos), fresh produce (lettuce, for example), and whatever of your staples are on sale. You won't have to buy new chicken every week to meet your recipe needs, and thus you won't have to suffer through paying $4 a pound for it one week when it was only $2 the week before.

6. Find a warehouse or outlet store to use as a backup.

Even the best-laid plans can fall through. Coupons and supermarket loss leaders can net you the best deals, but sometimes you run out of spaghetti at an inopportune time. Check your local area for discounters.

You might already have a Sam's Club or Costco membership. While they don't always beat an advertised sale at your local market, they often have the best everyday price for an item. If you have Smart & Final in your area, you won't even have to pay a membership fee to take advantage.

If you're not a bulk warehouse sort, try looking for grocery outlets or private-label stores like Aldi. In my experience, the prices are also lower than usual at Wal-Mart's grocery stores and Fred Meyer, both of which don't require you to have a special "shopper's club" card to take advantage of discounts.

7. Put your pantry to use!

Lucky number seven is just a reminder that there's no point in stocking something in your pantry if you don't plan your cooking around it. Don't let your food sit idle!

If you find after a while that you are getting backlogged with certain items -- say, you buy a ton of cream soup on sale but don't end up making a lot of casseroles -- re-evaluate your staples list for your current style of cooking.

This list is my new pantry plan. I'm working the system successfully so far. While I know there's another move sometime in our relatively near future, I now feel prepared to face another new kitchen with confidence.

Other Pennies & Pounds articles about meal-planning basics:


Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Comparison Shopping for Calories

volumetrics.jpgLast week, I explained the concept of energy density.

If you'll recall:

A food's energy density, then, is the ratio of its calories to its weight (as measured in grams). To calculate it, divide the number of calories on the nutrition label by the number of grams given for that serving.


Let's now put our energy-density knowledge into practice by slimming down some favorite foods.

Would you rather eat . . .

1 large egg (74 calories) OR 4 large egg whites (69 calories)?

1 small (2.6 oz) McDonald's French fries (248 calories) OR 1 big (8 oz/half a pound!) baked potato (220 calories)?

12 corn tortilla chips (139 calories) OR 4.5 cups of air-popped popcorn (138 calories)?

The Savings: Here, we're just cutting extra fat from the original food. Fat, with 9 calories per gram, is the most energy dense of the five food components. Alcohol, incidentally, is the next most energy dense at 8 calories per gram, if you need further encouraging to be the designated driver!

Would you rather eat . . .

1 small box (1.5 oz) of raisins (129 calories) OR 35 seedless grapes (118 calories)?

1 cup of cooked spaghetti (224 calories) OR 2 cups of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti with broccoli (231 calories)?

1 slice (1 oz) of cheddar cheese (113 calories) OR 1/2 cup (4 oz) of creamed cottage cheese (116 calories)?

The Savings: This is a classic Volumetrics density-lowering technique: Add more water. Water alone doesn't fill you up the way food does, but water that's incorporated into food (like in a broth-based soup) gives you the bulk you need to feel satisfied without extra calories. Fiber also adds bulk without calories (as it's indigestible), so whole-wheat pasta saves you calories both ways (in addition to being generally more nutritious).

In short, to make your dishes lighter without sacrificing the satisfaction of big portions, try cutting down on the alcohol and fat content while packing in high-water and high-fiber extras. As a bonus, you'll end up increasing your intake of vital nutrients (through eating more whole grains, veggies, and fruits) while decreasing your intake of harmful saturated and trans fats!

Healthy and slim. What a concept.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Monday Meal Planning: Thanksgiving Planning Begins Edition

It's about a month to go until Thanksgiving, so I'm starting to think seriously about what I'll put on the menu this year. Some dishes -- the herbed mashed potatoes and creamed corn, for example -- will likely remain unchanged because we love them as they are, but I like to vary things at least a little each year. I'm starting to test out new sides this week.

One big change: This year, we'll be deep-frying our turkey. We have a huge electric fryer in the shed, just waiting for its day in the clouded sun. I know it sounds terribly unhealthy, but considering how much butter or oil gets slathered on a roasted turkey, they're nutritionally similar.

We never eat the skin, anyway -- now maybe that truly horrifies you.

Monday
Chicken-fried steak with sawmill gravy
Whiskey-glazed carrots
Oil and vinegar slaw

Tuesday
Huevos rancheros with black beans
Salad

Wednesday
Chicken tikka masala
Steamed broccoli
Rice
Oil and vinegar slaw

Thursday
Patty melts
Roasted potatoes
Salad

Friday
Onion and banana pepper pizza
Salad

Saturday
Baked chicken
Corn
Apple, bacon, and caramelized onion dressing
Salad

Sunday
Spaghetti and meatballs
Garlic bread
Salad

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The Sky Is Falling! And Other News Bites

Not really, Chicken Little. But sometimes it feels that way when I see the grocery bill!

Poked and Prodded - Will the Bad Economy Force Unhealthy Changes to Our Diets?
I definitely feel the pull of ramen noodles these days, but we're sticking mostly to the plan of eating less meat and not buying junky snacks that waste our money.

Hungry Girl - Lunchbox Finds
I'm considering those Flatout wraps right now. I always find that tortillas split or spill when I try to make a wrap, plus one with reasonable calorie stats often doesn't hold much filling.

Health - Tea Is Trendy Again: Health Benefits Caught on Camera
Who knew tea was so good for your heart? Or even your teeth? I so need to drink more tea. It might prevent Alzheimer's, prevent cancer, and improve immune function, too. Apparently, tea is the miracle drug my family has been lacking. Make sure you stick with brewed tea to get the benefits, not wannabe bottled "tea."

Health - For Healthy Eyes, Think Broccoli and Kale, Not Carrots
More reasons to be eating your veggies, people! A dose of healthy fat alongside makes absorbing nutrients easier for your body, so don't think you have to stick with the steamer, either.

Health - How to Satisfy Late-Night Cravings
Soup is another way to go for a low-cal but filling nosh. I've also heard that something like easily digestible like saltines can help you sleep. I like a small bowl of cereal with skim milk sometimes myself.

Well Blog - Women’s Heart Symptoms Often Blamed on Stress
Stress does cause unpleasant symptoms, but apparently it's unwise simply to chalk up (or allow your doctor to chalk up) worrying symptoms to bad coping skills.

Have a great weekend!

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What is . . . Energy Density?

You have two options for lunch today. Both offer a reasonable amount of calories for someone looking to slowly lose weight when served with a small side dish. Both offer a great punch of flavor. What will you choose?

A huge, two-cup bowl of minestrone? (220 calories)

or

One third of a Whopper with cheese? (253 calories)

Hmm.

volumetrics.jpgWelcome to the world of energy density. It's the concept at the heart of the Volumetrics weight-control plan, but many diet plans employ the same basic idea. It's a concept that can help you learn to make healthy food choices that won't leave your tummy unsatisfied.

I write often about the advantages of replacing the salty or sugary snack foods with fruit. I've also discussed how important it is to eat plenty of beans. In my meal plans, I often include pasta with vegetables (whether they be broccoli florets stirred in or chunky tomatoes in a hearty sauce). But why? All of these strategies are based in part on evaluating the energy density of foods.

So what exactly is energy density, and what does it mean for those of us looking to reach a healthy weight? Barbara Rolls, nutrition professor at Penn State, writes in The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan:

If you are trying to consume fewer calories, what is critical is the amount of calories in a given portion of food. A food that is of high energy density provides a large amount of calories in a small weight, while a food of low energy density has fewer calories for the same weight. With food of lower energy density, you can eat a larger portion for the same calories. (p. 15)


A food's energy density, then, is the ratio of its calories to its weight (as measured in grams). To calculate it, divide the number of calories on the nutrition label by the number of grams given for that serving.

Energy Density = Food Calories/Grams


That minestrone soup I mentioned above has 110 calories for a 241-gram serving. Its energy density, then, is a low 0.5 calories per gram. You can eat a lot of it without taking in too many calories.

The Whopper with cheese has 760 calories in one 315-gram sandwich. That gives it a high energy density of 2.4 calories per gram, which means you'll consume a ton of calories before you've eaten a satisfying serving.

It turns out that people don't decide how much food to eat based on calorie counts (surprise, surprise) but rather on food weight. Rolls found in her research that people tend to eat the same weight of food every day, no matter what kind of food it was.

That means your body would feel equally satisfied with either a pound of soup or a pound of cheeseburger. If you choose foods with low energy densities, then, you can continue eating your normal daily weight of food (so you won't feel hungry) and still drop pounds.

Calculating energy density does require a little math (albeit not as much as calculating Weight Watchers points!), but the good news is that a little knowledge about food components makes it easy to estimate which foods will have low energy density.

Many people know that a gram of fat has more calories (nine) than a gram of protein or carbs (four). Additionally, a gram of alcohol has eight calories, and a gram of water has none. None!

Water-based foods, such as most fruits, vegetables, and soups, have the lowest energy density. Foods high in fat, such as meats and full-fat dairy, tend to have high energy density. You can judge what foods are the best low-cal choices, then, by which are likeliest to be mostly water.

Another quick trick is to check the nutrition label:

  • If there are fewer calories than grams in a serving, the food has low energy density and can be eaten in abundance. Examples: squash, strawberries, oatmeal
  • If the number of calories is close to the number of grams, it has middling energy density and should be eaten with some restraint. Examples: pasta, potatoes, shrimp
  • If the number of calories exceeds the number of grams, you're looking at a food with high energy density, and you should eat it only in moderation. Examples: chips, hot dogs, cheddar cheese


Energy density is only one factor that should go into choosing what you eat; people cannot live by watermelon alone. However, you can use this stat to help you make healthy snack choices and to make your favorite dishes more waistline friendly. Give it a try today!

Next week, we'll look in a little more detail at using energy density to eat more of the foods we love for fewer calories.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Healthy Highlights from October’s “Good Housekeeping”

New on Fit Fare this week, a look at a healthy dose of Good Housekeeping:

98ADA8F7-117C-4B62-9EAD-E31BDF2E9067.jpgFruits and vegetables can be fun for kids, and changing the menu at school and in the community can make significant difference in children’s health.

This month’s issue of Good Housekeeping featured an article about the successful Somerville, Mass., program to reduce childhood obesity. “Shape Up Somerville” is a far-reaching initiative that not only replaced junk food in local schools with healthy fare but also encouraged the whole community to pitch in to make the town a healthier place to live.


And just for you who've followed the article to my very own web site, here's a look at the healthy recipes featured in this month's issue:

Healthy Makeover French Toast: Whole-wheat bread, egg whites, no sugar, and low-fat milk make this breakfast treat less indulgent.

Cranberry-Almond Granola: Granola might be a bit high in sugar and fat for cereal, but it's packed full of whole grains. A half-cup serving provides plenty of nutrition for only 190 calories. I find a bowl with milk to make a terrific dessert, actually.

Cheese and Salad Pizza: Bless the heart of whoever created this rendition of salad pizza and elected not to put lettuce on it. That's so wrong. This pizza, though, looks like it might make it into one of my upcoming meal plans -- but I'll replace the cherry tomatoes with cheaper romas and likely resort to subbing cheese from a can for pecorino, much as I love the real deal.

On an aside: Store-brand grated parmesan costs more than $6 a pound, and pecorino romano from Costco costs maybe $7.30 a pound. Normally, that would be close enough to convince me to upgrade to the real deal (like the butter I stock up on when it's on sale vs. margarine), but to switch here I'd need to buy like a two-pound block at once. That's an upfront cost of nearly $15! I know I can store it so it won't go bad, but still . . . is it worth it?

Rotini with Marinara, Broccoli, Carrots and Peppers: The picture looks so appetizing that it could get me over thinking that pasta with carrots sounds weird. I tend to think of carrots as a starchy vegetable, so the idea strikes me as odd, just like potato pizza. Maybe I'm overreacting.

Corkscrews with Cheese, Tomatoes, and Peas: Yeah, cheese sauce is kind of rich . . . but I love it. I'd sub in skim milk.

Turkey Picadillo Tacos: I've never had picadillo. I'd never even heard of it until a couple of years ago. Anyone else tried it? Do olives, cinnamon, cumin, and raisins really all meld?

BBQ Chicken Tacos: Life on a super-tight grocery budget at a time when food prices have shot through the roof has made me realize just how much the recipes in the upper middle class-skewing publications I've long read over-rely on gourmet and convenience products. You know, it's not actually any easier to get your chicken off a rotisserie bird from the deli, and at $7.99 for a three-pound whole bird, it sure isn't cheaper.

Quick tip: Invest in a probe thermometer. It's a metal probe attached to a long, insulated wire that plugs into a digital display with an alarm that sounds when the temperature of your food hits a certain number. Not only will it save you uncertainty in telling when your roasts (like that Thanksgiving turkey) are done, it's a great for cooking chicken unattended (poached or baked) for recipes.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Building My Pantry

pantry.jpgI unleashed a rant against pantries last week, but despite my negative view, I know that a pantry of some sort is a kitchen necessity. If you feel grumpy about my extremist pantry perspective after last week, I'm here now to soothe your tender feelings with my own cupboards' tale.

It took me a couple of weeks to get my pantry system nailed down, to be honest. I'm out of practice. My pantry in Europe was practically nonexistent, especially during my time in Prague, as the space for it was limited by the number of cans I could stack on the kitchen floor without tripping. Having a whole two cupboards, plus a full-sized fridge and freezer, seems like the height of luxury now.

I started out shopping with the idea that I would only buy items I knew I would cook with in the coming week, plus anything I use regularly that I noticed was on sale for a great price. It worked out OK; I ended up with just enough to get by with for a week, plus a bunch of whole-wheat pasta for $1.50 a box.

It became a little trickier when I started visiting Costco. Except for a few fresh items, such as bananas and lettuce, nothing you buy at Costco will conceivably need to be replaced within a week. It's a place where it's easy to go overboard with pantry stocking.

On my first trip, I grabbed only fresh items and perishable lunch fixings, both categories I knew would not lead me astray. I knew I would want to start buying other items there regularly, but I felt unsure of whether the space cost would be worth the price savings.

I came back armed with a pocket notebook to make a price list. It took a couple of hours, sure, but now when I go to my regular grocery store, I know what to pass on and buy at Costco instead.

I proceeded to stock up on food that I knew for sure I would use every week and thus go through well before it expired, such as whole-wheat pasta (the price at Costco is terrific), light yogurt, and meats.

In the end, I did pretty well on stocking up. I've been "shopping" my freezer and cupboards for very basic meats and dry goods that I bought in bulk or on sale now for about a month. I don't have a wide variety of food on hand because I plan each week on going to the store.

Right now, if you checked my kitchen, you'd find a good stock of items we eat every week here: ground beef, poultry sausage, chicken breasts, whole-wheat flour, and brown rice in the freezer; pasta, canned tomatoes, beans, white flour, and sugars in the pantry.

One area I neglected to plan well for is condiments and spices. I wouldn't realize until I started planning to make a recipe that I didn't have, say, Worcestershire sauce or almond extract on hand. Since we end up using condiments and seasonings like soy sauce in non-"recipe" applications regularly, I should have taken the time to really think through how I hit up my spice pantry day to day.

Next week, I'll dissect what I learned from this pantry-building experience and provide a few general suggestions to help you plan your own pantry.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Monday Meal Planning

tomatopizza.jpgIt's Monday again, which for me is shopping day. It's also a work day, which brings both benefits and drawbacks. For me, the reduced crowds at Fred Meyer and Costco outweigh having to shoehorn in another task on the first writing day of my week.

Have you ever visited Costco on a Saturday? I don't recommend it.

I'm attempting this week to reign in grocery costs even more than usual as the Costco bill felt a little extra painful last week (thanks to having to refill our stocks of yogurt, sandwich cheese, and dishwasher detergent). Thus, I'm sticking to meats I have stocked in the freezer and planning on a lot of pasta.

I'm also looking this week for meals that will pull together quickly, like sandwiches. Much as I try, I'm unlikely to get out of the kitchen in under an hour no matter what I make. Rachael Ray doesn't have to dig all her pans out of crowded cupboards, clean her produce, or wait for an electric stove to heat up. I do, and it cuts out a big chunk of the day if I'm set on making something ambitious, like chicken and dumplings.

Monday

Chicken and rice casserole with mixed veggies
Oil and vinegar slaw

Tuesday

Penne with broccoli in cheese sauce
Salad

Wednesday

Grilled Reubens
Oven fries
Salad

Thursday

Spaghetti with mixed-nut pesto and chicken sausage
Salad

Friday

Beef tacos in corn tortillas
Mashed black beans
Oil and vinegar slaw

Saturday

Pepperoni pizza
Salad

Sunday

Spaghetti with meat sauce
Salad

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Picky Kids, Baby Eats, and More Hot Links

salad.jpgIt's good to get back on track with posting again. It's like normality has returned to my life. If only "normal" didn't get interrupted so frequently, I'd be totally back on schedule!

I may have disappeared for a couple weeks, but you can't keep me away from the Internet forever. Here's some stories that caught my eye recently.

New York Times - 6 Food Mistakes Parents Make
I'm not a parent, but I have been a teacher, so I know it's difficult to stick to your principles about the right way to do things with kids under pressure. I hope I'll be able to take a step back from the situation and keep calmly offering foods that elicit a "Yuck!" when I am a parent someday, but I'm not making any guarantees.

And on a related note:
New York Times - Momma, I'll Have Some of Whatever You're Having
You may or may not avoid growing a picky eater following this strategy, but you definitely will save some money steering clear of prepackaged baby foods.

Well Blog - Dieters Gain More Weight During Pregnancy
Parenting-related articles abound in the Times of late. The takeaway here is that pregnancy does not equal an unlimited pass for chips and ice cream. Eat a bit more, yes, definitely, but think of the baby and make nutritious choices.

Fit Fare - Wii Fit Diary
Check out Sarah Caron's ongoing story of getting fit with a Wii bit of help. (Surely I'm not the first to make that pun!)

Health - Eating to Control Cholesterol Levels
A succinct guide to the lifestyle changes you can make to lower your bad cholesterol without having to resort to a statin (and its accompanying side effects).

Eureka Alert - New study reveals higher protein breakfast may help dieters stay on track
You might call this the Egg McMuffin study, based on the multiple mentions of eggs and Canadian bacon, but it's the egg and pork industries behind this release, not McDonald's. Take it with a grain of salt (or hot sauce, if you prefer). (Via Hungry Girl.)

Poked & Prodded - Getting My Diabetic Day Off on the Wrong Foot
Continuing the breakfast theme . . . don't neglect to eat your breakfast! This post offers more evidence of the importance of packing said meal with protein as well as good carbs, if you found the last link less than convincing.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Keeping a Food Diary

idea.jpgGuess what!?

I have the secret to weight loss!!!!!

AND . . . I'm going to share it with you!!!!!!!!! Woohoo!!!!!!

HERE IT COMES . . .

KEEP SCROLLING . . .

JUST A LITTLE LONGER . . .

The secret is . . .

IFF (calories out) > (calories in), THEN future weight < current weight

(In other words: When you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight!)

Anticlimactic, no? But it would appear that most dieters don't realize this simple fact. Otherwise, why would there be such a booming trade in diet aids?

Books claiming to trick your body into dropping pounds are a dime a dozen. Plenty of companies will take your money in exchange for their pills, potions, and plans to whittle down your waist.

But in the end, what works? Any system that involves you eating less (possibly alongside moving more, in the most effective ones) leads to weight loss. Counting Points? Counting carbs? In a roundabout way, you're doing nothing more than counting calories.

You don't need a fancy plan or special food to achieve the same results. However, one simple tool can help you on your path to taking in fewer calories: a food diary.

A food diary (or journal, if you prefer) can be as simple as a notebook in which you write down everything you eat throughout the day, or it could be as complex as a web site or software program with a database for matching up your eats with their calorie content.

Whichever way you go, whether you make lists and estimates on paper or stringently count every calorie in a program, you'll immediately notice a benefit to keeping a record of what you eat. Being confronted with the evidence of what's crossed your lips will lead you to think twice before stuffing them with unsavory goods.

A food diary helps you realize just how much you are eating. With a long record to look back on, you can pick out the poor eating patterns and see where your food pitfalls are. Once you know what's holding you back -- once you have information -- you will find it easier to walk the path toward healthier eating.

But you don't have to take my word for it. A study run by Kaiser Permanente showing that using a food diary can double your weight loss made a big splash in the news not so long ago. Even better, the study found that even the most casual tracking has a strong effect on your ability to change your eating habits because writing down what you eat naturally makes you more reflective about it.

Give food journaling a try. Stick with something simple at first to get the ball rolling, and then you can scale upward if you feel like it. In the coming weeks, I'll provide some tools and examples to help you move beyond simple lists if you need more structure.

And it won't even cost you $19.95 a month.

Graphic: Colleen Fischer

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Pantry Mania

In every kitchen example I've seen, on every food show I've watched, and in every cooking text I've read, the importance of a fully stocked pantry is never questioned.

"Stock up!" they say. "Fill the fridge and freezer with food! You'll have meals within reach at a moment's notice without extra shopping!"

For example, I picked up my copy of Sara Moulton's book Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals a couple weeks ago after I finally unpacked it, and I found a suggested pantry list that went on for six pages. Highlights included:

  • Six different vinegars - whoops, make that seven vinegars
  • Tahini
  • Coconut milk
  • Bulgur
  • Powdered egg whites
  • Crystallized ginger
  • Three paprikas
  • And so on.

While I love Sara Moulton and appreciate many of the recipes in her book, I just can't justify stocking my shelves with so much food that has no readily apparent use in my cooking repertoire. Not to mention that I doubt I could afford to buy half of a list like that!

The pantry as we know it is a seriously disturbed notion. As in many aspects of American culture, we're encouraged to buy, buy, buy without really thinking it through.

So let's think.

1. Even with a "fully stocked pantry," you're probably still shopping several times a week to "fill in." The kitchens I'm most intimately familiar with (including my old one in Las Vegas) were filled to bursting with food, but that never stopped the owners (including me) from frequently buying more to suit last-minute recipe whims.

Or, frankly, last-minute "I-don't-know-what-to-cook, so-let's-just-grab-something-pre-made" whims. Oh, the skeletons in my closet!

Fill-in shopping happens most when you aren't planning meals in the first place, but even if you have set out a schedule, neglecting to check what you have in the house while plotting can lead to last-minute stops for what you thought you had but found depleted -- or expired.

2. On that note . . . It's too easy to forget what you have stocked when you have a big pantry. When you have overflowing cupboards, it's no wonder that you forget that you have 10 cans of kidney beans in the back and thus go out and buy more for your recipe.

3. Pity those 10 cans of beans, because food doesn't last forever. That bottle of Thousand Island I bought because I'd thought maybe someday I might want it on a burger? Well, a year or more of burgers slathered with mustard or barbecue sauce passed while that Thousand Island sat growing as fresh as a stepped-on daisy.

People stocking a pantry often try too hard to anticipate every need -- or notion -- and end up with food that never gets touched. Possibly for years! When I moved away from Vegas, I tossed plenty of unopened and untouched jars and boxes I'd bought so long ago I couldn't remember their origins. It was a waste of both food and money.

Think I'm overreacting on this one? Let's go to the extreme. I once volunteered alongside my aunt to help clean out her neighbor's house, which had been declared a health hazard by the police. Let's forget for a moment about the 20-odd cats in the backyard or the fridge that, I heard, was a solid sheet of mold inside. I was stuck with basement duty -- that is, with pantry duty.

See, the cleanup crew's intention was not to actually render the basement habitable. The lady who had lived there was a compulsive hoarder, so the task was too great. The plan was to seal the basement off completely, leaving the remnants for future archaeologists to puzzle over I suppose. However, before that could be done, we had to dig a path to the basement pantry and eliminate all the old food down there that was sure to raise a stink long before Indiana Jones would arrive.

Have you ever seen a can of soup so old that the contents had leached through the bottom and spilled out over the shelves? All I can say is, be happy you've never smelled dozens of them.

4. The relentless push to stock the pantry in our culture leads us to lose sight of reality. We buy more even when we don't need more because, though hopefully to a lesser extent than that lady, we are convinced that we never have enough.

Do you need two bottles of ketchup in reserve? Think about it. Are there food shortages where you live? Do you have no access to a supermarket? Will you experience intense suffering if you are without ketchup for a day?

If you answered "no," then the wiser, less cluttered, and more frugal approach is to hold off on buying a new bottle until the current one is nearly or actually empty. You won't end up wondering someday how risky it is to use ketchup that expired six months ago (or more).

5. When you cave to the pantry-building urge, you lose space, making your kitchen a cluttered, unpleasant place to be. How many times did I open my refrigerator or freezer, food in hand, and sigh at the prospect of yet another round of storage Tetris?

Clutter causes stress, and naturally you want to avoid places that stress you out. You then develop a negative relationship with the kitchen. That led to me avoiding cooking whenever possible, even though I love to cook!

What's the Solution?

It might sound like I am completely anti-pantry and that I'm advocating barren shelves. That's not the case; rather, I find our current concept of the pantry outmoded, a leftover from the days when food was more scarce and stores more troublesome to visit, and when winter limited us to the food we had "put up" in the summer.

In other words, the 19th century, with a dash of the Great Depression.

Pantry practices have been passed down from parent to child for decades now without adjustment for the realities of living in a mobile, bountiful society. Sure, the economy might be in the toilet right now, but I haven't noticed any lightening of the crowds at Costco and the grocery store. People might be eating at Applebee's less, but they aren't just getting by on stone soup.

Your pantry has to adjust to your lifestyle and cooking habits. It shouldn't hold more food than your family could conceivably consume in about a month. Why stock more when you can go to the store every week?

Eliminate the fear of being out from your psyche. The world doesn't end if balsamic vinegar runs dry! Just sub in some olive oil for the melted butter in that recipe! Who eats the 10 frozen pizzas kicking around "just in case" before their next supermarket visit?

In case of what, by the way? A fire taking out your kitchen? A natural disaster knocking out your utilities? Guess what, my dears: Extra pickle relish and Hot Pockets won't do you much good in those situations. And I doubt you'll be offering company dropping by unexpectedly your supply of Spaghetti-Os.

I'm not saying it will never come in handy that you had something or other stowed away. But is "Good thing I had this squirreled away in the back!" once a month worth the daily hassles of searching fruitlessly for ingredients you're sure you have somewhere? Sure, you "might need it someday," but you really need the space and the sanity today!

As part of our continuing series on creating an effective meal planning system, we'll talk about stocking a pantry in a way that can save money without drowning yourself in extra food. Next week, we'll examine the pitfalls and successes I've encountered in testing my new approach to pantry maintenance in my new kitchen!
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Food Network Unveils Snazzy New Site Design

I produced a slightly tongue-in-cheek review of the new Food Network web site for Edible TV last week:

EA9B42FA-2250-47D9-AC09-B3327DEC811D.jpgIf you’ve been surfing the net lately, surely you’ve noted that Food Network’s web site is sporting a fresh look. Gone are the days of lime green and tiny type; say hello to splashy crimson.

Literally . . . the header seems to be depicting something wet and red. Blood? Perhaps the head rolling of the old site designer?

I kid, I kid. I did detest the old Food Network site, though; I’d swear a blood oath to . . . never mind.

Hey, it’s almost Halloween, isn’t it?


I don't think the review quite captures my joy at the Food Network finally redesigning the old beast. I didn't want to dig too deeply into my pet peeves on Edible TV, but honestly, the sort of design inconsistency that marked the previous site incarnation makes me want to tear my hair out. And we all know that food and hair just don't mix.

Remind me to tell you the brownie story sometime when you're in the mood for seeing me embarrassed.

But now an example! A while back, Food Network did a small revamp of their site, jazzing it up but keeping the same general shape and color scheme. They added a new search box at the top of the page that had some fancy coding -- it might have been Flash or something.

Looked great, for sure.

But I couldn't type in the thing.

Some browsers worked with it, others didn't. As I used one that did not, I had to click through to a different page every time I wanted to search for a recipe.

Someone at Food Network must have had the same problem because not long afterward, the legacy search box in the left-hand column made a reappearance on the home page.

Great! Now I could type a search request right off the bat. Except . . .

They left the other search box there! Now, every single page had two search boxes right at the top. It was ugly.

And it was eventually fixed, by the way, before the current redesign, but it was emblematic of the problems that have plagued this site. Lately, I had been bugged more by the way that different shows had different home page designs (with the more "advanced" designs being sometimes buggy, on top of that).

Now, though, all is well in Food Network.com-land. At least as long as I am quick to hit the pause button.

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Monday Meal Plan

I'm all moved into a new apartment, and once the kitchen was unpacked, it was time to start meal planning again!

I'm always talking the talk about meal planning here on Pennies & Pounds, but can I walk the walk?

You'll have to take my word for it that I've been planning meals since at least October of last year, but from now on, I'm going to be posting my meal plan every week right here on the site.

Why? Maybe just to prove it can be done, maybe to offer some inspiration, or maybe to stimulate some conversation -- what are you planning this week, for example?

In my plan, I've tried to take into account expected leftovers (we had a roasted chicken on Sunday, so Tuesday we'll use the extra meat in a casserole), my pantry (stocked-up sausage and ground beef bought at a discount), and price (hello, pasta, eggs, and beans!).

I also strive to make at least one or two meals a week meatless, as meat is expensive and not great for our health or the environment in typical American super-sized portions.

Take a look at what we're eating this week:

Monday

Sautéed sliced turkey kielbasa
Green beans with tomatoes
Polenta
Tossed salad

Tuesday

Chicken and black-bean Mexican lasagna
Tossed salad

Wednesday

Eggs, colby-jack, and turkey bacon sandwiches on cream biscuits
Oven waffle fries
Sliced apples

Thursday

Pasta, white bean, and chicken sausage soup
Bread
Tossed salad

Friday

Pizza with mozzarella cheese, balsamic-marinated tomatoes, and artichoke hearts on whole-wheat crust
Tossed salad

Saturday

Baked sweet-and-sour tofu
Stir-fried broccoli
Brown rice
Tossed salad

Sunday

Cincinnati chili
Toppers: kidney beans and onions (also cheese)
Spaghetti
Tossed salad

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Getting Out From Under the Weather

As fall falls, people's minds turn to chicken soup:

6736E222-99BF-49BF-8879-944C817D384D.jpgWhether it’s the now drizzly, chilly weather or a common malaise, chicken soup can cure what ails you.

I often whip up a batch whenever my husband catches the rare cold. It’s one of his favorite meals in general, one he made himself probably once a week when he was a bachelor living in Seattle.

My husband, incidentally, lived on about four dishes during his first couple years of grad school before we were married: chicken soup, tofu stir-fry, salad, and pizza from the Domino’s across the street. If not for all those sausage pizzas and a weakness for Red Vines, he would have had the healthiest diet of anyone I knew.


True story about my sweetie. He's a chicken soup fiend.

Rachael Ray inspired me to try my hand at chicken soup years ago, and I taught Scott my version of her recipe. We've both tweaked from there over the years; Scott likes to throw in his grandma's homemade egg noodles whereas I prefer whole-wheat pasta. I use more veggies and less chicken, and I save money by seasoning out of my spice cabinet instead of buying fresh herbs.

I use chicken breast in part because it's convenient and in part because it's the leanest part of the chicken. Dark meat tastes unpleasantly greasy to me, though if you prefer its fuller chicken flavor and don't mind a few extra grams of fat, it does take a smaller chunk of your change.

Rachael Ray, incidentally, makes her chicken soup with tenders. If you cut the tenderloins of the back of your boneless, skinless breasts to ensure more even cooking, throw them in the freezer so you can make a pretty economical batch of soup down the line.

Fit Fare has lots of soup recipes should you be looking for more bowls to warm you up as the weather cools down.

Photo: Colleen Fischer

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Paula Parties with Michelle Obama

We're just about a month away from the presidential election, and even the food television world was getting into the spirit. Paula Deen welcomed Barack's wife, Michelle Obama, onto her show Paula's Party.

From my article on Edible TV:

6814AB8D-0BF0-4318-B57C-C8AAA3392638.jpgPolitics was the word Saturday night as Paula Deen welcomed Michelle Obama to her grease-themed episode of Paula’s Party.

Actually, it seemed almost the other way around, as Paula took to the road to catch up with Obama on the campaign trail. Michelle Obama is as tall as she is lithe; she admitted upfront that she made sure to wear flats so as not to tower over Paula, who’s only 5′5″ (average-height girls unite!).

Despite all that, she showed no lack of enthusiasm for the piles of deep-fried food she and Paula produced, snacking on spicy fried shrimp throughout the segment. “Let me tell you, that lady is a good eater!” Paula told Edible TV.


Admittedly, a show full of fried foods doesn't fit too well with the theme of this site. On the other hand, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of deep-frying. In fact, we'll be deep-frying a turkey this Thanksgiving in the giant electric fryer my husband's parents bought us. It will be juicy and delicious and no more unhealthy than my usual roasted turkey.

"Really?" you query innocently, before going for the jugular: "But what about all that oil?!"

What about it? Oil is the cooking medium, yes. But where does most of that oil end up at the end of your fry session? Still in the fryer! When I make my roasted turkey, there's often with butter rubbed under the breast skin for moistness and oil drizzled over the top for some lovely browning, meaning that as much or more fat ends up in the final product.

My point is, just because you bake or pan-fry your chicken fingers, they're not necessarily any less fattening if you've laced the crumbs with four tablespoons of oil or if you've thoroughly coated the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking. Food deep-fried in a heart-healthy oil is just as reasonable in moderation as any other food involving oil.

As for the political content of the show . . . I'd suggest going elsewhere for political debate!

Photo: Courtesy of Food Network

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Alton Brown Sails the Caribbean Sea

While I get back up to speed on posting now-fascinating information on eating healthy yet inexpensive cuisine (even I'm starting to wonder if we're headed for Great Depression 2.0), I'm going to post a few links to my Well Fed articles from September over the next few days. As always, I'll provide additional info and commentary on them right here, exclusively for my beloved Pennies & Pounds readers.

First up, posted in mid-September on Edible TV: Alton Brown Sails the Caribbean Sea:

Alton Brown and his crew left their motorcycles behind for the latest incarnation of the Feasting series, Feasting on Waves. Instead, the guys (plus girl this time!) departed America’s fair shores to explore Caribbean fare, island-hopping on a couple of well-outfited boats.

(Or are they ships? Is there a difference? Oh, the questions a nautical show raises in we landlubbers!)

Feasting on Waves explores the original melting pot, the islands that Columbus set foot on before the American continents were even a glimmer in Europe’s eye. Hoards of European settlers and African slaves, who displaced the original inhabitants, left their culinary imprint on the islands’ people, leading to their now-featured Creole cooking — as Brown says, “the first true world cuisine.”


Oops, I realize now, looking back at this review, that I neglected to get a picture to go along with it. I plead distraction: At the time I wrote it, I was on deadline . . . for packing. My move date got moved up, and instead of a leisurely schedule for meeting my target article date, I had to get the words out the door ASAP so I could box up the TiVo.

Anyway, Feasting on Waves was eagerly anticipated in our household, as we had watched all of the previous two series. We're devoted Alton Brown fans in general; Good Eats is pretty much the only cooking show my husband will volunteer to watch. Still, Scott especially enjoys seeing Alton sample all the top-notch local specialties along the road on Feasting, and an episode viewed usually leads to his salivating for fried chicken or pie.

Though not pig brains. Ugh.

Unfortunately, with the big move smack in the middle of the series, I did not get to fulfill my dream of reviewing each episode for Edible TV. I haven't even seen the remaining episodes (though I did catch half of one). We didn't get our cable hooked up until this past Sunday, more than two weeks after the move (thanks, Comcast!).

But now my TiVo is up, running, and programmed to capture any series repeats. In the meantime, I can dream about cruising the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean in search of exotic fruits and vegetables while cleverly evading all those pesky hurricanes.

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