Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sublime, meet Ridiculous

First, the sublime: Zapp's Voodoo Gumbo kettle-cooked potato chips. I bought these strictly because the name and label were irresistible. In fact, they are loaded with all sorts of awful ingredients (including my personal favorite, MSG) and tasted pretty much like any other "flavored" potato chips, which is to say vaguely sugary with paprika and salt. Thank god the Boy was home or I would have eaten the entire bag of crack I mean chips by myself, in one sitting.

Next, the ridiculous. I was at Safeway to acquire cheap club soda, so I decided to pick up sharp cheddar for quiche while I was there (more on the quiche later).

I discovered that most of Safeway's cheese is inedible. It is rubbery, and, when prodded with a finger, bounces happily back like a squeezed nerf ball. GROSS. So I headed to the "gourmet" cheese display. There I found a selection of exactly the same cheeses, dressed in their Sunday best. These cheeses are in fact Lucerne (Safeway's everyday brand) repackaged as Primo Taglia (Safeway's upscale brand, designed to look Italian - and marked up 200% or so). Unsurprisingly, these fakers still fail the nerf-poke test.

So, why not try a non-Safeway brand? Because at Safeway, eight ounces of Canadian cheddar will set you back $14. That's right kids, $28 a pound. USD. And it's either that or Safeway brands. So I left.

(PS - I went to the local and got organic cheddar from Marin County for $5 a pound, and it was awesome.)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Eating well ≠ expensive

Eating well is not cheap - but it doesn't have to be expensive, either. If you avoid ridiculously overpriced places like Whole Paycheck - excuse me, Whole Foods - and trendy bullshit gourmet/organic boutiques, you can load up on great foods at about half the price. That's right - HALF the price.

The catch is, this takes a little homework. You need to explore your neighborhood and find a good, reliable place to get your produce that's convenient (or you won't go). While you're searching, bear in mind that large grocers like Safeway (or Whole Foods) screw you on prices because they can - they know you only want to make one stop, so ... why not charge $2.50 for a head of iceberg lettuce? That kind of rip-off pricing is exactly what makes people think they can't afford to eat right.

So. When I lived in San Francisco (and Daly City) I hit my local bodega for frutas y verduras. Now that I'm in Pleasant Hill, I'm lucky enough to have family-owned Pleasant Hill Market right down the street. The photo above shows a recent haul - for $29:
  • Half a watermelon (organic)
  • Bunch of celery
  • Heirloom tomatoes (local)
  • Blackberries (organic)
  • Bell peppers (red and green)
  • Persian cucumbers
  • Carrots (admittedly, these are for the horse)
  • White nectarines
  • Corn tortillas (pack of 50)
  • Fennel
  • Bosc pears
  • Fuji apples
  • Vidalia onions
  • Apricots (FYI - these were 79 cents a pound, vs. $3.99 a pound at Safeway. Srsly.)
  • Cilantro
  • Lemons and limes
  • Navel oranges
  • Garlic
Twenty-nine bucks. If I'd bought this at a major grocer, it would have been at least $50, and probably more. It's obscene.

So find that local joint, eat better, and save money. Please.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Plague of frogs? Try soup!

It's June 28, 2011, and raining here in California. We are swamped with a diluvian 0.37" in San Francisco, which breaks the record set in 1952. This calls for tomato soup, my go-to comfort food for rainy days. Grate on some parm and cracked pepper and call it done. Frogs optional.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Harping on breakfast, again

After an Italy-worthy dinner at Incontro last night, I was ready for more Italian this morning. So I foraged the fridge and put together a pan of onions, peppers, and leftover turkey Sicilian sausage. When it was all nicely starting to brown up, I broke three eggs into the pan, covered it, and turned off the heat. Meanwhile I warmed up some mini-baguettes and set out from fresh fruit.

Cue the decaf and sparkling water and serve on a sunny deck overlooking the golf course.

Life does not suck.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Broccoli raab, sudden availability of

For years, I have complained vociferously about the dearth of broccoli raab here in the Bay area. Yesterday I ate it twice. Yay!

Since our move to the East bay, it's been easy to get raab. The Pleasant Hill Market stocks it almost every day, and if they don't have it I can score at Lucky. (Or, if I have won the lottery, at Lunardi's.)

Yesterday I had a side of raab at Waterbar, a fancy-schmancy place on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. It was pretty good, but despite its $8 price tag, I like my home-cooked version better. So when I got home (after the Giants game, 12 strike-outs by Lincecum, thanks Timmy!) I did up my own version and served it alongside penne Arrabiata with turkey pepperoni.

If you can find raab (also called rapini), here's how to cook it:

Sauteed Broccoli Raab

Shopping tip: Choose raab that's a nice dark green - no flowers or yellowing leaves. Sniff it. If it smells bitter, it will be. If you can't smell it at all, that's a great sign. It will be tender and spicy, but not bitter.

You'll need:
  • One bunch raab, chopped (throw out the stems)
  • 3-4 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter (optional - useful if you get a bitter bunch)
Preheat a large saute pan (or wok) to medium-high. Pour in the oil and let it come to heat. Add the sliced garlic and swish it around in the hot oil. Let it juuuuuust start to get golden, then throw in the raab and toss it together. Pour in 1/4 cup of broth, cover the pan, and let it steam down for 2 minutes. Add more broth if needed; continue to steam until bright green and tender, about another 3 minutes. Take a bite. If it's bitter, throw in the butter and toss. (Vegans - you can get the same mellowing effect with a handful of pignolis, AKA pine nuts.)

Raab is great on its own, but it also rocks as a pizza topping, in an omelette, or tossed with pasta. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Stupid-easy fennel salad from Italy

One thing I loved about a recent trip to Italy was the simplicity of many dishes, where the combination of flavors trumped complex preparation. I've been re-creating some of them at home, including tonight's salad: fennel, orange and walnut.

Here's the top-secret recipe:

Thinly slice a fresh fennel bulb. Peel an orange and slice it thin, too. Toss them together, drizzle with olive oil, and throw in handful of walnuts. Sprinkle a few of the fennel fronds over it for garnish (and a slightly sharper flavor). Grind some salt and pepper on top to taste. Done.

I served this with grilled Sicilian turkey sausage and a side of sauteed garlic, arugula, and cannellini beans (and a glass of cheap Spanish rosé). Happy Wednesday!

Two years later...

I logged into my little blog today, thinking it had been awhile since I'd posted. If one defines "awhile" as almost two years, I was correct. Since I last checked in, much has changed: we moved to the East Bay; the Boy went off to college; I seem to have acquired a horse; etc.

However, two things have not changed: my weight and my eating habits (more or less).

This is pretty amazing, given all the other variables. The fact that I have managed to stick at 133, give or take a pound, since 2007 is practically miraculous after a lifetime of yo-yo-ing away like Kirstie Alley's even-more-predisposed-to-addictive-behaviors sister. Apparently the healthy habits I have drilled into myself have taken firm root.

That said, a few differences:
  • I still eat breakfast every day, but it is now a much more protein-forward affair. I keep a carton of egg whites in the fridge and generally mow into those with some kind of salsa and occasionally a sprinkle of goat cheese. Which leads me to...
  • I eat less cheese. A LOT less cheese. In fact my dairy consumption is pretty much half-and-half in my coffee. I no longer crave it, so I just don't eat (or drink) it. Which is not to say that I don't occasionally go on a red-wine-and-cheese bender; it's just rare.
  • I eat a lot more fruit. I don't know when this came on - maybe when I discovered an incredible produce market a mile from the new digs - but I now eat fruit at least five times a day. And the berries at this time of year... mmmmm.

I didn't really plan any of these changes, they just sort of happened organically (pun intended). So the point is: if you get into the habit of eating well, you really can change your life.

I just spent two years proving it.