Muffuletta Pasta Salad

I know I’ve been an absentee blogger for a long time. Our podcast just recorded episode 31 in our living room. We are very proud of our progress in both sound quality and content. I would love if you’d check out The Nerdbliss Podcast and subscribe in your favorite podcast listening app.

I didn’t reemerge on the blog to plug a podcast. I wanted to share a food discovery that’s been a big hit in our house. So much so, I made the original test batch last Sunday and have made another batch today. It’s what I consider an un-recipe where ingredients, proportions and methods are all up for change. It’s more an idea on how to put foods together to make a meal.

Today’s culinary adventure is Muffalata Pasta Salad. For those who don’t know, Muffuletta is a sandwich made with olive salad and cured meats. The name Muffuletta comes from the bread it’s made on but “Olive Salad Pasta Salad” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Those who have followed Chris and I in our food journey over the last year know we limit added salt and oil (sugar, too) and this dish bucks the trend a bit. I’m indulging only a bit and Chris can tolerate more salt and a few extra fat calories than I can.

I used Banza Chickpea pasta, but any pasta would do. Perhaps even a hearty grain like quinoa or barley, but I haven’t tried it yet. Both my olive salad from That Pickle Guy and my Kalamata olives came from Costco.

I cooled my pasta, cut up some cucumber. I learned watching Good Eats that refrigerating tomatoes kills the flavor, so I added them on a per-serving basis. Onions would be good or shredded carrots or whatever you like. This week, I’m thawing some frozen kale to toss in for nutrition.

The final sexy shot. This was a bowl I made up for myself on Wednesday night after a long day. I’d added extra cucumber and some delicious little tomatoes, sliced in half for maximum ease of eating.

Happy eating!

Stuff Poblanos with What’s on Hand and Top with Chili Sauce

I made stuffed poblanos last weekend with filling comprised of several items from our regular cooking rotation and a basic chili sauce for topping. I’ve managed to misplace the recipe I used for the method, but since I modified to omit items I didn’t have on hand, I’m safe enough to share one or two similar recipes. It is the method, time and temperature that matter.

The guts can be anything. In this case, I wanted refried pintos, black beans and brown rice, plus some veggies.

I’ve been using a slow cooker recipe for black beans since nearly the beginning of our diet when it became clear the salt in canned beans was going to be a problem. I’ve changed a few details, but the formula hasn’t steered me wrong even with other types of beans with or without seasonings. I do 1.5 pounds of beans and 8 cups of water. Works great!

This particular batch, I did in my pressure cooker. I got a six quart and and eight quart for Christmas (Amazon wish list FTW!) The user manual makes the thing seem if they are likely to explode and should be handled behind those plexiglass panels with glove-holes to avoid exposure when doing science experiments. Cutting 4 – 5 hours on high in the crockpot down to about less than an hour seems worth the risk.

Refried beans were my first try, but it was literally mashing up pintos that were chilling in the fridge for a couple days. We make big batches of most things to enjoy the left overs. Beans especially since they take a long time to cook from dried.

I attempted mashing in the pan with serving fork but soon got tired of it. I got out the mashing attachment for my sweet Breville All In One Processing Station.

Any veggies could be anything. The original recipe I’d used but can’t seem to locate featured zucchini and summer squash, but to me this is the kind of thing you pick favorites or – better still – use whatever is about to go bad. In this outing, I used mushrooms, orange bell pepper and red onion. I’d found on my first batch of stuffed poblanos that I didn’t use enough filling. These, I planned to over stuff.

The worst part of the whole operation is cutting and gutting the peppers. I slit them further this time and it wasn’t so bad. Forget a spoon and use your fingers for getting the seeds. I used rubber gloves, not strictly necessary for the poblanos but a must for the chili peppers I was going to cut later.

Side note: Silicon baking pads have been vital in avoiding oil. Granted, cooking spray wouldn’t been the end of the world, but why use it when these babies keep everything non-stick? We got a set at Costco around the holidays for $15.

I put my veggies in first, refried beans and a spoonful of rice next before stuffing them to the gills with black beans. Pop the little beauties in the oven at 450 degrees for 45 – 55 minutes.

The red sauce was a big hit the first time I made it. It’s from that missing recipe and called for chili peppers in adobo sauce, but there we go with salty canned goods again. So improv to the rescue!

I found a recipe to make your own chili peppers in adobo after my first batch, but I haven’t done it yet. With these type of flavors, it’s hard to end up with something that tastes bad, ya know?

I stock up on no-salt added tomato products whenever I find them on sale. Publix seems to rotate the brand they offer buy one get one free and I’m more than willing to take advantage.

My version of chili sauce:

  • 28 ounce can no-salt added crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • 4 – 5 chili peppers seeded and chopped
  • 1  tablespoon of dried chopped onion.
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon garlic (minced or powder)
Gloves recommended or wash hands with a tablespoon of baking soda afterward.

Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan, simmer for a while (15 – 30 minutes) to blend the flavors, remove from heat, hit it with a stick blender until smooth. Easy-peasy.

The leftover sauce goes perfectly on the leftover fillings. Why even cook if it’s only going to feed you once?

Veggies and Brown Rice

I love recipes, I do.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time surfing vegan and Paleo food blogs as well as browsing cookbooks. Saving whole plant food ideas on Pinterest is a hobby level occupation. Even before making a drastic change to my diet, I loved watching Good Eats or reading recipes. Food is essential. Cooking is a basic life skill worth mastering and, if you can, enjoying.

Yet a large percentage of our meals aren’t elaborate. A large part of our diet success is how the limitations (especially the no salt, no oil, no sugar directive which is so important) make restaurants and prepared foods off limits. It’s also made for culinary streamlining. I seldom cook one meal’s worth of food. More dishes are 2 – 4 ingredients than anything. Easy to prepare, inexpensive and good as leftovers is the trifecta for getting in the rotation.

Yesterday’s midday “breakfast” is pictures above. At this point while still working to lose weight, we don’t typically eat in the morning. I’ve joked calling it “fasting” makes it sound better than talking about not eating until later in the day or allowing yourself to become hungry because that’s when the body burns stored calories.

At first, I was avoiding too many whole grains and potatoes, but I have not observed any adverse impact on the scale when I partake. Brown rice has quickly become a staple. At just over 200 calories a cup and with tons of filling fiber, if anything, it keeps me satisfied. We’ve also found that Chris is able to avoid gout flair ups with eating grains and potatoes.

This particular brown rice was seasoned with garlic powder at the ratio of one teaspoon per cup of uncooked rice and cook to the directions on the package. Brown rice takes a bit longer – 45 minutes instead of 30 – to cook than white but otherwise it’s the same method. It’s flavorful enough to be interesting but plain enough to pair with any other dish or add another flavoring on the table. Sometimes I do plain or add ginger as well as garlic. My serving got a hit of Tabasco before I got down to eating.

The veggie mix is Costco’s frozen stir fry blend, plus a pound bag of Costco frozen broccoli. I never think there is enough broccoli. I think we pay around $7 for the four pound bags and it’s great quality stuff. Yes, there is a difference. Buy yourself a cheap bag of store brand frozen broccoli and enjoy all those weird end pieces that are more white than green and I’ll be over here with my bright green tiny trees.

One thing I always get questions about our diet is how can you cook things without oil? I admit, it seems weird when nearly every recipe starts with oil or butter in a pan. Granted, it adds flavor and sometimes adds to the texture of a finished dish, but it’s not required. I start with a little water in the bottom of my pan for things like cooking aromatics or this vegetable blend. I’ve also used vinegar to add some moisture to the pan for things like onions and mushrooms.

In this case, I added the coconut vinegar to the pan once everything was thawed and well on it’s way to done. It’s a mild one and brings a little flavor the the party. We got the vinegar as well as several other flavors (the spicy one is wildly popular in our house) at Saigon Market of Greenville. Watch the labels because some will have salt or excess sugar, but otherwise vinegar is your friend.

A giant pile of veggies, including green peas and string beans which are legumes, and whole grain rice is a nutritionally sound meal. Ready in under an hour. Eating healthy is *so* hard.

Happy eating!

Diet Advice From a Juggler:
What I’m Eating to Lose Weight

As a side effect of dropping 60 pounds in 4 1/2 months, I’m forever asked about what I’m eating, not eating, doing, not doing. My husband has lost more than twice the number of pounds and gets at least as many questions as well as peanut gallery commentary.

Totally understandable. Who wouldn’t be curious?

And I often say I love the opportunity to talk about what we’re doing without being one of those insufferable people who won’t shut up about their special diet.

Short answer: Whole plants, omitting fruit, nuts and seeds, not because they are bad but because they are more densely caloric than other plant foods and will be added back in once our target weights are achieved. We eat vegetables, legumes, whole grains and mushrooms. For seasoning: spices, herbs, vinegar, nutritional yeast, cocoa powder. Coffee, teas of any kind. (Hello fruity herbal teas! Love you!)

No animal products. No added salt, oil or sugar. No processed grains. Nothing artificial.

The hardest thing to get out of one’s diet is salt. If you think you don’t eat much because you don’t use a salt shaker at the table, you are wrong. It’s in everything packaged or prepared. Eating out is impossible. I gave away so much canned food and seasoning blends full of sodium. We buy no salt added canned tomatoes but otherwise nothing in a can works. Had to learn to cook from dried beans. Frozen veggies are a blessing and of course the produce section is safe even if Costco puts it right by the bakery. We do make a concession for Tabasco as the salt content is modest and you earn it with the heat.

What I do run into is the need to provide reference material  for those who ask with the underlying hope of finding a plan they’ll be able to use.

When my answer starts with “Do you know who Penn Jillette is?” it can go a couple different ways, but usually ends with “I’ll send you links to some information.” Penn was the emotional heart of the change we’d first flirted with in 2013 after seeing a bunch of documentaries about plant based eating. I am going to provide a bunch of links at the bottom of this post for anyone who might be curious.

Back then, we didn’t take it extreme enough, mostly by still using salt and oil. The weight simply didn’t come off for me. While I can personally attest to what we’ve undertaken as not being easy – starting with a two week mono-diet of nothing but potatoes – it has allowed me to overcome the impossible catch-22 of insulin resistance where being overweight exacerbates trouble regulating blood sugar but the condition makes it nearly impossible to shed the weight.

I’ve done the research, heard what doctors and scientists have to say, but it took a man who went to clown college and taught himself fire eating from a pamphlet to convince me I was crazy enough to do it. The only major difference between our plan and Penn’s is he gave up caffeine years ago and I partake for everyone’s benefit.

Resources covering the why & how of whole plant based eating:

Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales  by Penn Jillette – I recommend the audio book. Penn is a performer and hearing him in his own words about his journey is going to have an impact. Word of warning: NSFW or the easily offended. It’s not a diet book, but a first person chronicle of a guy who almost died due to uncontrollable blood pressure doing a crazy thing to live. 

CalorieLab breakdown of Penn’s diet – I love Presto! but it isn’t meant to be a diet book for others to follow, so there’s not a list of do’s and don’t’s like we’ve come to expect. For those who don’t want to read the book, this will give you what you need to know. For those that do read the book, it’s a perfect crib sheet for implementing the plan.

Safe for work and still packs the emotional punch, this Big Think video is an ideal Cliffnotes version of what Presto! provides in a family friendly way

Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss by Dr. Joel Fuhrman (alternatively, although I haven’t read it myself: Dr. Fuhrman’s book The End of Diabetes: The Eat to Live Plan to Prevent and Reverse Diabetes) – The science as well the diet we’ll eventually spend the rest of our lives on for both maintaining weight and good health. 

Ray Cronise’s blog and Penn’s Sunday School episode: More an honorable mention than anything, “Cray Ray” is the former NASA scientist who once took Penn up in the vomit comet (and let him get naked in Zero G) and was the brains behind Penn’s weight loss. Cronise was, last I knew, still working on a deeply scientific book Our Broken Plate.

Forks Over Knives: I’ve linked to the documentary (it’s on Netflix, too), but check out the website. Lots of recipes and information.

Hungry for Change: Another great documentary (Netflix and Hulu) about the science behind a whole plant based diet. 

My personal Pinterest board for recipes which either fit or can be modified to fit (currently pushing 700 items):



Happy New Year’s from My Kitchen

 


Since I first moved to South Carolina in 2010, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying traditional Southern New Year’s Day meals prepared by my mother-in-law. Black-eyed peas, collared greens, cornbread and the most wonderful pork chops you can imagine.

This year, since Chris and I are back on our restrictive weight loss plan after several holiday indulgences, I decided it was up to me to prepare some kin of the good-luck meal to fit our limits. Neither of us believe in superstitious luck bringing, but do believe in the benefits of traditions. We believe in making your own luck and healthy eating is a big part of the luck we’ve made in the last few months. I’d like to write more about our dietary choices here on my blog rather than simply being insufferable on social media, but I will not go into extreme detail in this particular post.

Behold, black-eyed peas prepared with no salt, oil or animal products. Greens, well, didn’t get to the grocery store for collards to cook. Fresh kale and spinach seem just as lucky, right? It’s doubly lucky to go through the Costco sized bags before they get funky and slimy. Greens and beans are the foundation of our plan, so it’s as fitting as it is likely sacrilegious to my hardcore Southern friends. Your meals today are certainly better tasting, but I only just got the scale to read the same as Christmas Eve morning, so I’ll have to pass on the butter and bacon for today. No disrespect to your ancestors intended.

Not pictured is the pot of brown rice. I didn’t plan for corn to go with the meal to symbolically stand in for cornbread. Since it’s a whole grain with so many uses, corn is a staple in our kitchen. Corn on the cob, air popped popcorn, homemade corn tortillas (we bought a press) are all permissible and only scratch the surface of corn’s potential. Popcorn later in the evening is likely, if not corn on the cob, while we watch the new Sherlock special on PBS.

Happy (and Healthy) New Year!