Saturday, March 28, 2015
One of the great dilemmas of healthy cooking is how to cut out saturated fat but keep meat flavorful and tender at the same time. Lean cuts of steak like round, flank, hanger, and flat iron can also be tough. Tenderizing lean cuts of steak manually or chemically with marinades can help, but I still often find myself really working my jaw muscles to break down tough meat further.
One way to tenderize tough meat is to cook it on low heat for a long period of time. A slow cooker is a great tool to cook low and slow. However, one problem with slow cookers is they can cook food unevenly, tending to overcook foods closest to the heating element. Another problem with slow cookers is they are not good devices for cooking your steak medium rare, which is the way I like it.
To achieve a medium rare center, the optimal cooking temperature is 130-140 degrees fahrenheit. While slow cookers can cook at a low temperature, typical low settings heat to temperatures in the range of 175-200 degrees fahrenheit.
Enter sous-vide cooking. Perhaps you have heard of sous vide cooking while watching popular cooking shows like Top Chef. You may have even eaten sous vide cooked food in restaurants without even knowing it.
Sous vide means "under vacuum". Food is sealed in a plastic bag, then cooked in a water bath low and slow. For instance, a typical controlled water bath temperature for cooking meats sous vide is between 131-140 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes sous vide cooking ideal for cooking medium rare, tender steaks.
Sous vide cooking is no longer just for professional chefs. For instance, I recently purchased an Anova immersion circulator. The Anova immersion circulator instantly transforms an ordinary pot into a precision water bath at a relatively affordable price point. I used my Anova immersion circulator to make a velvety soft medium rare hanger steak with chimchurri sauce.
Sunday, March 22, 2015
I like fish. Consequently, it always surprises me when people tell me they don't like fish. I wonder if my positive association with fish dates back to my childhood. My parents have always liked fish and they would often buy a prepared whole fish for dinner. My brother and I both distinctly recall them telling us that eating fish would make us smarter. Of course, now my parents innocently deny that they ever made such an assertion.
Can a simple statement such as, "Fish makes you smarter," rub off on a child's eating habits? Brian Wansink studied how to help children develop positive associations with food. In the Popeye project, children whose parents told them that spinach gave them strength, carrots made them see far, and fish made them smart, developed positive associations with these foods.
Most kids I know idolize superheroes like Spiderman and Ironman. I know Colin certainly does. Just like Popeye gave kids the idea that spinach makes them stronger, you can tell your kids about the physical benefits of eating real food. Living organisms like plants have developed natural protective mechanisms called antioxidants. Although we still don't know what kinds of powers we can get from eating foods high in antioxidants, the very same foods are often full of essential vitamins and minerals.
In the following video, Iron Chef Man uses his cooking powers to make squid ink pasta, a good source of antioxidants and a very tasty dish:
You could do a lot worse than telling your kids that eating natural whole foods gives them special powers. In the end, this kind of tactic can help them develop a healthful eating habit that will do them a lot of good for many years to come.
Wansink, Brian. 2006. Mindless eating: why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam Books.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Lately, I've been on a quest to add new whole grains into the Ko family diet. Like many contemporary Americans, whole grains have not historically been part of my diet. Growing up in an Asian household, the primary grain in my diet was white rice. And while brown rice is a whole grain, switching from white rice to brown rice isn't particularly helpful because the glycemic index of brown rice is nearly just as high as that of white rice.
That is why I am always on the lookout for possible substitutions for rice. Cauliflower rice is one example of a healthy substitution for rice. Another healthy rice substitution is quinoa. Quinoa is an edible seed that is considered a pseudograin, as it is not a member of the true grass family.
I have previously featured quinoa as a substitute for other grains in sweet breakfast dishes like coconut cranberry quinoa and peanut butter and fruit quinoa. One of my most popular posts features quinoa in a savory vegan chili, courtesy of chef Kristen Leidelmeijer.
In my search for recipes that use quinoa as a substitute for rice, I came across this tasty recipe for mushroom quinoa risotto. Traditionally, risotto is made from rice. Hot stock added in small increments softens the rice and adds flavor. Cooking quinoa in a similar fashion to traditional risotto, enhanced with the umami of mushrooms, results in a fluffy quinoa very similar to fluffy rice. I feature this dish in the first of a three part series entitled, "Monty Python and the Wholly Grain."
Sunday, March 8, 2015
We recently took the kids to Chipotle, and let me tell you, they ate it up! They enjoyed the whole Chipotle experience, from tender braised beef, to whole corn, to starchy black beans. They also liked the visual journey of building their own burritos. It was a rare instance where they actually stood patiently in line.
Other restaurants are copying the Chipotle model of having patrons build their customized meals in a line. One of my favorite restaurants is Cava Mezze. Cava is a greek inspired restaurant where you build a delicious salad based on a selection of leafy green vegetables, dips, and braised meats.
You can apply the Chipotle model to your home. Just line up the ingredients and put the kids to work! They'll enjoy seeing what goes into their food and being part of the decision-making process of building their own meal. Get creative with your ingredients and choose foods with different colors and textures. Try making your own green sauce by pureeing kale with sesame dressing and olive oil. You an make your own homemade barbacoa and use lean stewing beef. Have your kids accessorize their burrito with sour cream, mexican cheese mix, salsa, cuban black beans, or cilantro lime rice. And instead of a corn or wheat based tortilla, try wrapping things up with a grain free tortilla made out of coconut flour.