Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekend Dinner - Hot Pot

One of my favorite things to do when I go home to see my parents is to have hot pot.  I like it because all 3 of us get to sit down and spend a good amount of time together; usually cracking stupid jokes.  I think my mom likes it because she doesn't have to cook; even though she still spends a lot of time doing prep work.  I can't figure out why my dad likes it though...hmm.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

De'Caf Or Not De'Caf

That is the question.

For those of you who know me, you know I love my coffee.  To say I am coffee dependent would be an understatement.

I recently read in The Man Who Ate Everything about a French diet which bans caffeine.  As much as I love my sugar'free vanilla Americano, I couldn't help but wonder - is caffeine contraindicated for weight management? Why?  How?  I did some research - nothing serious - and come up with the following:

Caffeine & Weight Management: The Good
          Diuretics increase people's rate of urination.  When you urinate more, you lose
          more water.  Therefore caffeine can lead to (temporary) reductions in weight.
    Appetite suppressant.
          Effects are minor & brief.  The exact mechanism is not clear.
     Increases metabolism.
          Caffeine increases thermogenesis - heat creation - increasing the number of
          of calories burnt.

Caffeine & Weight Management: The Bad
     Stimulates production of adrenaline.
          Adrenaline increases your blood glucose level; therefore increasing production
          of insulin.  The insulin will eventually absorb sugars & fatty acids in the blood
          into cells.  The more sugar & fat stored in your body, the more you weigh.

So this basically shows that caffeine does good things & it does bad things. Great.  But what does that mean for people who drink coffee but are trying to manage their weight? Should we keep drinking coffee like usual?  Should we cut back?  Should we go completely decaf?  At this time I don't think there is a definitive answer to these questions; I am not sure if there ever will be a single answer.

Other than weight management, caffeine has also been show to have an impact on other aspects of health.  Most recently, a study conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital & Harvard Medical School showed that women who consumed 3+ cups of coffee per day had 20% lower risk of developing basal cell carcinoma - the most common form of skin cancer.  Men who consumed 3+ cups of coffee per day benefited from a 9% reduction in risk.

Personally I believe in the cliche "everything in moderation".  Until there is strong evidence proving the beneficial/detrimental effects of caffeine on health, I am going to keep my morning cup.  But just to be cautious, I  think I will only have my afternoon cup only a couple times a week.

A final note, regardless of what type of coffee you like to drink, too much fat & sugar are definitely bad for you.  So whenever you can, try to stay away from the TripleGrandeCaramelMchaccinoWithWhip.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quick & Easy - Rice Cooker Chicken Wings

I love chicken wings!  When I was little I can eat a dozen of them in 1 sitting. I think that's because my dad would remove the skin and 1 of the bones before putting them in my bowl.  He formally stopped doing this when I was 12; but sometimes if I am lucky, he still does that for me.

When it comes to eating chicken wings, I don't have a favorite kind.  I love soy sauce wings, salt water wings, buffalo wings, fried wings, etc.  But when it comes to cooking chicken wings, I only know 1 trick: Barbecue-style.  Unfortunately I am not entirely sure the oven @ my place is safe to use.  Now what?

I brought up my dilemma with my mom & this is what she said: "marinate the wings over night in salt & white pepper.  Next day, steam them as you cook rice in the rice cooker."  Say what?!?

I was totally not convinced after our conversation; but what other choice do I have?  I need real food for dinner & I don't have any fancy schmancy condiments.  Salt & white pepper it is.

Here is what happened the nights before...
     Defrost as many chicken wings as you wish to cook.  I used the kind where the wing & the drum stick are separated.
     Rinse the defrosted chicken wings under cold water & pat them dry with paper towels.
     In a large bowl, generously sprinkle in salt & white pepper.  You might want to move the wings around to make sure that every wing is treated equal.
     Using your hands, give the chicken wings a massage so to spread the salt/pepper evenly around.
     Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap & store in the fridge over night

When I was ready to make dinner...
     Take the chicken wings out of the fridge & place them in a plate in 1 layer.
     Put the plate in the steamer attachment of the rice cooker & push cook.

That's all there is to it!  This took about 20 minutes which I spent drafting this blog post.  The finished product was absolutely delicious and the wings were uber juicy.  A bonus - if you like, mix the chicken juice/sauce in the plate with the rice to give it some flavor.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the iPad - The Man Who Ate Everything

The other night, I was watching Iron Chef America when I heard the familiar phrase: "...he's the man who ate everything...he is Jeffery Steingarten."  Without knowing what the book was about or if it was well received, I downloaded it.  I haven't gotten very far (~10%) into the book yet but right from the start, Steingarten's passion for food & also for learning is clear.  If you love food and/or you're looking for something different to read, check this out.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quick & Easy - Pasta with Sausage

I got home from work on Friday & realized that I hadn't prepared anything for dinner.  So I looked around my fridge for a few minutes & decided to throw together a quick spaghetti with sausage.

The prep work...
     Thinly sliced up some onions.  I used 1/4 because that's what I had wrapped up in my fridge.
     Slice up your sausages.  You can use whatever kind you want but I would suggest to stay away from something that has really strong flavors like a hot link.

Heating things up...
     Over a medium flame, heat up some oil.  Add in the sliced onions when the oil is hot & cook for a few minutes until they become soft and looks translucent.
     Once that has happened, add in the sausage slices and let those cook until they are a little bit brown on the outside.  Sausages are already cooked so you don't need to spend a lot of time on them.
     Add in your tomato sauce & stir everything around.  @ this point, season the sauce according to your taste.  I waited til now to season because store bought sauces are usually already flavored & I don't want to risk having super salty food.  Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes.
     Add in your pasta.  If you're using just cooked pasta, toss everything together gently & serve.  If you're using leftover pasta like me, toss everything together & let the pasta heat through.

Voila...everything including prep finished in 10 minutes!

Last night, I heated up leftover of the leftover pasta with dices of mozzarella cheese.  This added a new dimension to the sauce & minimized some of the punchy acidity of the tomato.  Yum yum yum.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Dinner - Spicy Zucchini Pasta with Chicken

It was Saturday night which means I get to spend a little bit of time in front of the stove & actually cook a real meal.  This usually also means making a bit of extra to bring as lunch the following week.

I have been meaning use up a packet of whole wheat linguine that has been sitting in my cupboard for a few months but I didn't know how I should cook it.  When I went to the grocery store today, I unknowingly started looking for summer squash only to realize that they weren't available's not summer anymore. Fortunately, I was able to find good-looking & cheap zucchinis so I decided to cook it up with some onion in a tomato sauce.  For protein, I used chicken tenders just cause I had them sitting in the freezer.

The whole thing was pretty easy to make & it took only about 20 minutes.

So here is what you'll need to do for preparation...
     Take an onion - red, white, yellow doesn't matter - & cut them into thin slices.  I used a quarter of an onion because I was cooking for only myself.
     With the zucchinis, scrub with water to get rid of the waxy coat on the outside.  After that, cut off both ends and slice thinly.  If you're not good with a knife, I found that it is easier if you keep the stem end on so you have more to hold on to.
     Chicken tenders are great because they are already in these thin strips & I can just season them with a little bit of salt/pepper.  Chicken breast & high can be substituted since they tend to be cheaper.  Cut them up into strips or leave them as they are.

Now on to the cooking...
     Depending on how much pasta you're cooking, bring the appropriate amount of water to a boil (when in doubt, you'd rather have more water than no enough).  Add in a good bit of salt & cook the pasta according to directions on the package.  I take 1 minute off the instructed time because I like to toss my pasta in the sauce for a little bit before serving.
     In a pan, heat up some oil - whatever kind you like - on high heat & sear the the chicken.  This doesn't take too long, just until the outside to look totally cooked & go a little bit beyond that.  Obviously if bigger pieces of chicken is being used, add an additional minute or 2.  Take the chicken out of the pan and set it aside.
     In the same pan, heat up some more oil on medium heat & add in the onion.  Once the onions have turned a little translucent, add in the zucchini.  Add some salt/pepper & 2 spoonful of the pasta water.  I added chipotle pepper powder too for heat.  Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook for 3 minutes. After the time is up, turn the heat to low; add in 1-1.5 cups of store-bought pasta sauce (I like the tomato basil from Trader Joe's) & stir everything around.  Add the chicken back in and let it cook for a few more minutes.
     At this point, I took the chicken back out because the pieces get in the way.  I took the pasta out of the water & transferred it immediately to the sauce.  Using tongs, mix everything together until it looks nice & delicious.  Serve the pasta on a plate & place the chicken pieces back on top.

That's it!

It might seem complicated to have to cook the pasta, make the sauce, & cook the meat.  But things can be done @ the same time so it's not too bad.  I made enough to feed me for dinner, another portion for lunch, & I still have un'sauced pasta that I can make in other ways.