January Resolutions

How many of you made New Year’s resolutions? How are they working out for you?

If you are like me, the resolutions that call for losing weight or going to the gym have probably fallen by the wayside, much like the melting winter snow. It’s hard to “be good” all the time, especially when that good behavior isn’t always pleasant.

This year, I’m trying a different approach. Instead of putting the burden of weight loss on myself, which has failed every year so far, I resolved to try a new recipe every week. However, not just any recipe–I’m looking for a recipe that does not include animal protein.

We are not vegetarians, mind you. In fact, sometimes the only food that satisfies includes red meat. But if I cook one recipe with no animal protein every week, my husband and I are gaining in many ways.

First, we are trying new foods that I wouldn’t otherwise add to our diet, things like millet and spelt and bulgar and farro and kamut and amaranth, things I never knew existed, or if I did, I thought they were too exotic for our table.

Second, we are talking about our food and its sources. When I make a chicken or pork or beef dish, apart from “What’s this?” there was no discussion. Now I do a little research, and we talk about the history of an ingredient, we talk about where it comes from, we talk about other dishes that might benefit from using this ingredient.

Third, we feel healthier after eating a meal without animal protein. These foods fill us up, but they don’t make us feel sluggish. In fact, my husband jokes that he feels better just looking at what I’ve prepared. And because there are fewer calories per cup, we are actually losing a little weight without feeling deprived.

Fourth, I’m getting out of my menu rut so I don’t want to dine out as often. When my choices were limited to the recipes I’ve been making for the past 35 years, I was too bored to cook, but we still had to eat, so we would go out for dinner two or three times a week. The food was no better (and no different) from what I might make at home, but there was a change in scenery.

Fifth, we are helping the planet. Animal protein comes at environmental cost–if a chunk of meat is only $1.99 a pound, it is easy to conclude that it’s a bargain. Far from it! Animals have to be fed, and to produce one pound of meat takes a lot of food. The food the animals eat has to be, ummm, processed, and the waste has to be disposed of. To move the animals from mother to table faster, growers add antibiotics to the feed. While it may (or may not) be out of the animal’s system when it is slaughtered, there is antibiotic residue in the waste that gets transferred to our water. (How do I know all this? I worked for an animal health company, a company that actively marketed its antibiotics as a way to speed animals to market. Yep.)

Finally, we are saving money. Grains are less expensive and go further. Last week, my new recipe included millet. Two cups of millet, less than a pound, turned into six servings for two healthy adults. And because I’m looking forward to trying something new, I don’t mind cooking, so we don’t go out as often, saving us money there as well.

Will this new resolve last through the year? I don’t know. but I do know that for now, I’m excited about cooking. My husband has given me two thumbs up on the recipes I’ve tried so far. I actually look forward to planning meals and going to the grocery store.

Do you have any suggestions for grain recipes I should try? Do you have any questions? Let me know!




Tofu or not tofu

The most recent issue of Eating Well features a slew of recipes for those of us who want to start the year with better eating habits. One recipe in particular caught my eye–blackened tofu with succotash. Remember the blackened fish dishes from the late 1980’s? Spicy, crispy, but probably not all that good for us, between the frying fat and the char. The ingredients weren’t all that exotic–paprika, dried thyme, powdered garlic, and a little cayenne pepper for heat. Mind you, I usually use fresh herbs, and I chop more garlic than most professional kitchens, but for a Wednesday supper, I’m willing to take shortcuts. The science was intriguing–add cornstarch to the rub to crisp the exterior of the tofu. So, I went for it.

I quickly remembered why I stopped blackening fish–the high temperature oil immediately set off the fire alarm. But, after all, the alarm goes off pretty regularly in my kitchen. Pork chops, eggplant parmesan, bacon, even toasted nuts all add to the cacophony of cooking. So, after climbing up to reset the alarm to silent, I persevered.

I followed the instructions–cook the tofu over medium heat in a tablespoon of oil for three minutes per side. It looked gorgeous, brown and crisp. It plated beautifully. Extra-firm tofu, as the recipe required, holds its shape well after patting it dry. I served it with some trepidation, though. It was, after all, tofu, and it has been a long time since I tried to serve this vegetarian protein to my husband.

He looked at it and asked if we were having scrapple. We had been to Pennsylvania Dutch country on Tuesday, so while it was possible that I could have picked up a slab of this local delicacy, it wasn’t really likely. I told him to guess again. He was stumped, and he started in on the vegetables, fresh green beans from Root’s Market and frozen super sweet corn, not the succotash recipe from the magazine. After watching me dig in, he eventually broke off a corner and nibbled.

“It’s, ah, different. It wiggles,” he stated. He looked at his plate forlornly.

“Do you like the taste, though?” I asked.

“Not really. It’s ok. I can eat some toast with peanut butter.”

I did have some sesame chicken and snow peas left over from Tuesday night’s stir fry that I heated in the microwave, and that made my husband happy. I finished my tofu, knowing that it was probably good for me.

The bottom line? I probably won’t make this particular tofu entrée again. The flavor wasn’t marvelous, and while the exterior was crisp, the inside was, as my husband so elegantly described, wiggly. Not an attribute for any food I want to eat on a regular basis.

I do like to substitute tofu for ground meat in chili, sloppy joes, even in lasagna. I freeze it first so the texture does resemble lean ground beef, and when it’s crumbled, it takes on the flavors of the sauce. But I will have to remember to avoid tofu slabs in the future, no matter how intriguing and easy the recipe might be.