Monday, September 29, 2014

6 Things You Didn't Know About Fat


There are various ways to look at the word "fat." Most of us think of the word with pejorative overtones, something we don't want applied to us. The adjectives aren't pretty and evoke feelings of playground humiliation: chubby, flabby, plump, chunky, pudgy. Then of course you could think of "fat" like that fat check you got when you finally sold your Van Halen live-in-concert VHS collection on Craigslist. And don't even get me started on "phat" (mostly because, even as a child of the '90s, I still don't think I get it.) But there's another set of terms I want to talk about today. Terms like lipid, adipose, triglyceride, sterol, fatty acid. These describe the other kind of fat, the macronutrient every human being requires to sustain life. There are so many fascinating aspects to dietary fat and the way our bodies use it, and quite possibly a lot you didn't know.

As I've progressed in my coursework toward becoming a Dietetic Technician, I've come to understand so much of what always seemed confusing about fat nomenclature. Since I've learned how to navigate the different kinds of fat (like that mental image?) I thought I'd share some of the information I've found interesting and helpful.

1. Let's start with an cool trivia point: what's the fattest organ in your body? Your brain! About 60% of your brain's matter is fat. So if someone calls you a "fathead," you can be proud to know you're perfectly normal. (And they're a fathead, too. Obviously.)

2. Fat provides 9 calories per gram (whereas carbs and protein provide 4). This is true across the board for any fat. That's why, even though nutrition labels list number of calories from fat in a food, you can always calculate it yourself by multiplying the grams of fat by 9.

3. What's the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats? You probably know they must be related because they have that word "saturated" in common. To understand the difference between these types of fat, you have to understand what "saturated" means. Fat is made up of carbon chains. In saturated fat, all of the available carbons in the chain are bonded with hydrogen...kind of like how I always felt at junior high dances when all the cute boys immediately paired up with the popular girls. All the carbons are taken, paired off, saturated. In unsaturated fats, however, there's a break in the music, a chance for a different kind of bond. Instead of all the carbons being taken up by hydrogen, something called a double bond occurs, which, instead of bonding a carbon to hydrogen, bonds carbon to another carbon, leaving it not entirely saturated...in other words, unsaturated. And the only difference between a monounsaturated fat and a polyunsaturated fat is that a mono has only one of these breaks, whereas a poly has two or more.

4. Now that you know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat, it probably makes sense why saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature. Everything is paired off and packed in, making it denser. On the other hand, unsaturated fats (like oils) are generally liquid at room temperature for the opposite reason.    

5. What about trans fats? What are they and why are they so scary? Somewhere along the line, scientists realized that they could mess with the chemical structure of unsaturated fats (i.e. oils) by plopping in some extra hydrogen where it didn't really belong to create what are called trans fats. The process of unnaturally adding hydrogen is known as hydrogenation. So when you see the word "hydrogenated" on an ingredient list, you know the food contains some amount of trans fat, even if the label says 0 grams trans fat. (The FDA allows foods with .5 grams or less per serving to round down to zero.) Research has yet to show exactly why trans fats have a negative effect on health, but they have definitively been linked to coronary heart disease and several other conditions you don't want to get.

6. One last kind of fat you hear a lot about is Omega 3s. The reason these unsaturated fats have this name is simply due to the spot where they have their carbon-to-carbon bond: on the third carbon from the end. Bet you can guess where Omega-6 and Omega-9 have theirs now, too. 

Okay, that was kind of a lot of chemistry. I should probably stop now. But I have so many more things I want to tell you about fat! I'll be hoarding up my fat facts for another post soon, focusing on fat's effects in your body. And if you're still hungry for macronutrient info, you can head over to my carbohydrate facts page!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tofu Parmesan


Allow me to introduce you to my good friend tofu parmesan--or, as I like to think of it, the ultimate tofu dish for people who think they don't like tofu. I want to tell you all about its cheesiness, its crispiness, its sauciness, and its nearly magical ability to turn a tofu hater's head. But first, a word about tofu itself. Tofu (and soy in general) seems to be one of the latest in a line of polarizing foods--you have your soy cheerleaders and your soy disparagers, your soy zealots and your soy-phobics. One group's research says soy reduces the recurrence of cancer; another group's says it increases incidence. The science is vague but the fears are real. As for me, I try to keep a clear head and practice moderation in all things food-related. I eat soy as a small part of my regular diet (though I probably get more of it than I realize from whatever processed foods I might eat...isn't soy in everything these days?) and haven't seen any real convincing evidence that it's either extremely beneficial or terrifyingly dangerous. So my two cents is that it's a perfectly reasonable food to include sometimes, especially in an effort to reduce meat consumption. With that in mind, this tofu parmesan has been part of my ongoing effort to shimmy our family's meat intake down to 50% of our meals. Someday I'll write a separate post on all the reasons that propel that effort, but for now, let's talk about I'm such a fan of this particular vegetarian meal. 

In the reviews of the original recipe this version stems from, one made me laugh out loud. The reviewer said when she made it for her tofu-suspicious husband, he said he "knew there was tofu in the recipe, but was unable to find it between the 'chicken' pieces." Which is pretty much a perfect summation of tofu's greatest asset, one that stands out in this recipe: its ability to slip into whatever flavor we dress it with. It is the consummate food chameleon. To the reviewer's husband, it tasted like chicken. To me, tofu breaded and surrounded by cheese and tomato sauce just tastes comforting and Italian-y, like lasagna...which is the main reason it succeeds so well with tofu skeptics. 

The process of taking this:

  
to this:


does take some effort, but the payoff is worth it! You're gonna feel like a tofu pro by the end. 

Here's how it works. First, you slice extra-firm tofu into 1/4 inch thick slices, starting at the long end of the tofu rectangle:


Next (and this is crucial to the level of crispiness you'll get in the end), squeeze as much moisture as possible out of the slices by pressing them into paper towels:


Then, if you have time, it helps to freeze the tofu pieces for about 30 minutes. More time probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Wax paper on baking sheet = no-mess cleanup

Last, once the tofu emerges from the freezer nicely firmed, bread with a mix of herbed Panko bread crumbs and Parmesan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per side. 


From here, you're ready to assemble and bake it into a gooey, savory meatless casserole nobody has to know isn't chicken!

Tofu Parmesan
(Inspired by Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

For the tofu:
12 oz. extra-firm tofu
3/4 c. Panko bread crumbs
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg

For the sauce:
16 oz. tomato sauce
1 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt

6 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

1. Cut tofu into 16 1/4 inch thick slices, starting on the long end of the rectangle of tofu. Squeeze as much moisture as possible from slices by pressing the slices into paper towels. If time allows, freeze tofu slices for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. In another shallow bowl, beat egg slightly. Remove tofu slices from freezer. Dip individual pieces first into the beaten egg, then into bread crumb mixture. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake 15 minutes on each side.

3. Meanwhile, prepare sauce. In a small bowl, mix tomato sauce, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and salt.

4. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Spread a layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Place 8 tofu slices in a single layer on top of sauce. Cover tofu with sauce, then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat once more: 8 tofu slices, sauce, and mozzarella. You may end up with extra sauce.

5. Bake about 20 minutes or until heated through with melty cheese on top.

Serves 4. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Boston Cream Pie



In 2003, the state of Massachusetts made a bold decision. They designated the Boston Cream Donut as the OFFICIAL DONUT of the state. Good call, Massachusetts. Both on your choice of donut and the choice to have an official state donut. (Massachusetts is, in fact, the only state to have an official donut. The other 49 states need to rectify this immediately.) So it's all well and good that the people of the Bay State get to enjoy this monument to deliciousness in an official capacity.

But guess what, Massachusetts? Somebody beat you to it.

ME!!!!

The Boston Cream donut has been MY official donut since at least 1991. 

For as long as I can remember, I have ALWAYS ordered a Boston Cream donut whenever possible at a donut shop. It started when my grandparents from Iowa would come to town and take my brother and me out for lunch at Sizzler and then to Dunkin Donuts for dessert. (The year 1991 is somewhat arbitrary--I was 9 then, which is about when I first recall this ritual with my grandparents starting.) Even at that young age, I can remember the sureness of my decision. No strawberry frosted, no long johns, no chocolate glazed. I want the grand daddy, that pie-within-a-cake, dream-within-a-dream ALL-STAR Boston Cream Donut. Dark chocolate frosting, buttery cake, and glorious cream filling--can you see why I (and, oh yeah, Massachusetts) have appointed it my official donut?


Since it was recently my birthday and I always enjoy making my own birthday cake, I decided this was the year to try actually making a Boston cream pie (which, if you didn't know, is actually a cake. So in donut form it's a donut that's a pie that's a cake. Still with me?) For as many times as I've eaten Boston cream donuts, it's rare that I have Boston cream pie--and still rarer (as in, never) that I've had a homemade Boston cream pie. So giving it a try sounded fabulous. I actually happen to have a cookbook all about the food of Boston, so I pulled it out to find....


Nothing! This cookbook about the distinctive recipes of Boston does not contain a Boston cream pie recipe. Inexcusable.

Disgusted.

(Though, actually, otherwise it's a pretty good cookbook.) Anyway, thank goodness for the Internet, which of course yielded countless Boston cream pie recipes. Sifting through them revealed that most of the top hits had only four-star or less ratings, and I knew this birthday called for a five-star cake. I ended up deciding on one from Saveur.com that had all five-star reviews, and was not disappointed! Neither, I'd say, were the other ten or so people who shared it with me. My neighbor, who recently traveled to Boston, said she thought it was better than the version she'd had at a famous bakery there. The chocolate on top is nice and dark--not too sweet--the cake is fluffy, and the vanilla cream set up perfectly, with just the right amount of spreadability.

Trying not to get my hair in the chocolate. Or the fire.
All in all, it made for a happy birthday cake realization of my Official Donut--a cake inspired by a donut inspired by a cake (with the name of a pie). 


Boston Cream Pie
(Slightly adapted from Saveur.com)

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
12 Tbsp. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
2/3 c. buttermilk (see my baking substitutions page for other options)

For the filling:

1 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn starch
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
6 egg yolks
1 1/2 c. milk
4 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cubed
2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the glaze:

4 oz. 60% bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 c. heavy cream

Directions:

1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round cake pan well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add dry ingredients and buttermilk and beat until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake about 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely.

2. Make the filling: In a 4-quart saucepan, whisk together sugar, corn starch, and salt. Add egg yolks and whisk until smooth, then stir in milk. Heat pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. (Be especially watchful in the last 3 minutes or so, as the mixture goes from liquid-y to pudding-y quite quickly.) Remove from heat and add butter one cube at a time, whisking until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the pudding to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill until firmed, at least 2 hours.

3. Make the chocolate glaze: Place chopped chocolate in a bowl. In a 1-quart saucepan over high heat, bring heavy cream just to a boil. Pour cream over chocolate and let sit 1-2 minutes. Slowly stir the chocolate and cream until smooth and shiny, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes. 

4. Assemble the cake: Using a serrated knife, carefully slice cake horizontally into two layers, with the top layer being slightly smaller than the bottom. Spread the chilled pudding over the top side of the bottom layer, then cover with the top layer. Pour chocolate glaze evenly over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Refrigerate until glaze is set, at least 30 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Generously serves 10. (But could be stretched for 12!)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Broccoli Cheese Soup


For the last few weeks, my husband has more or less forbidden me from making soup. Not that we have that kind of relationship, where he goes around forbidding me from doing things ("NO MO' SOUP, WOMAN!!") but not too long ago we had quite the culinary misadventure with soup. On a hot July day, I had gotten it into my head that roasted cauliflower soup sounded great for dinner. I love that particular soup--creamy, spicy, nutty, and a great source of vegetables. Unfortunately, with the temperature outside being approximately that of a thousand burning suns, a steaming hot bowl of soup really did not hit the spot that night. Any time your napkin functions as a sweat towel instead of a crumb catcher, you know you have a problem--we both sat using our napkins to wipe our glistening foreheads throughout the meal. Hence the whole "forbidding" thing. Actually, it was more of a polite-but-firm request. Regardless, the point was clear (and mostly mutual): no more piping hot foods until the weather settles down to something below sweat lodge conditions.

Well, being the soup lover I am, I held out as long as I could, but dang it, the weather in Phoenix just takes soooooo loooooong to cool off--if, indeed, you can call our 70 degree winters "cooled off." I can't tell you how much time I spend fantasizing about living somewhere where in the next month or so leaves will begin changing, sweaters will begin replacing tank tops, and soup will become a reasonable dinner option. And that's basically what making this soup was for me: fantasy. Pretending that the day's forecast didn't contain triple digits. La-la-la I can't feel you, oppressive heat! I can't see you, relentless sun! I will eat my delicious steaming bowl of broccoli cheese soup and not need a cold shower afterwards!

And you know what? It kind of worked. I enjoyed this soup, as I always do, and managed to not feel feverishly hot while doing so. Maybe the weather really is changing, ever so slightly? Or maybe my husband turned down the A/C in anticipation of dinner?

A final note: this recipe comes (adapted) from the book The Cleaner Plate Club, which I highly recommend. It's part cookbook, part manifesto about improving children's diets in America today. If you want to get educated on how to cook healthily for your child(ren), check this one out!

Broccoli Cheese Soup
(Adapted from The Cleaner Plate Club)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. chopped celery
1 c. chopped carrot
3/4 c. chopped onion
4 c. chicken broth (homemade if possible; vegetable broth may be substituted)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. dried thyme
4.5 c. broccoli florets
1 Parmesan cheese rind
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole milk (2% could work in a pinch)
8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the celery, carrot, and onion and cook about 10 minutes.

2. Add the chicken broth, bay leaf, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the broccoli and cheese rind and simmer until the broccoli is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate small saucepan, prepare the roux: melt the butter over medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour. Cook, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes. Add the milk. Bring to a simmer, then add the Parmesan and whisk to melt evenly.

4. Remove the bay leaf and cheese rind from the soup. Carefully puree about half the vegetables with an immersion blender (or blend half the soup in a regular blender, covering the lid with a kitchen towel to prevent a hot mess), bringing it to a texture you like.

5. Stir in the cheese sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4 as a main dish.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Almond Butter Oatmeal Muffins


Whoa, it's been a busy couple of weeks! The fall semester has started, which means I am knee deep in Medical Nutrition Therapy (loving it so far), last week was my birthday (cake recipe forthcoming), and this weekend we hosted a big surprise birthday bash for my sister-in-law's 30th! (I was going to write a post about all the party food and games, but again, things got so busy that I didn't even take many pictures, and what's a food blog post without pictures?) One thing I DO have pictures of, though, are these tasty nut butter oatmeal muffins.


Up until recently, I had never purchased almond butter, mostly because it's hard to justify spending as much on one jar as I would on a pizza to feed my whole family AND because I already love peanut butter so much that experimenting with other nut butters hardly seemed necessary. Why mess with a good thing? And wouldn't it make the peanut butter feel bad? Then a few weeks ago, Maranatha almond butter was on sale for a mere 5 bucks, which is bargain basement for almond butter, so I splurged. 

Assuming one uses almond butter in all the same ways as peanut butter (you know, as shaving cream, leather cleaner, hair moisturizer...seriously, these are actual ways people claim to use peanut butter), I figured I'd go a traditional route by giving it a whirl in these oatmeal muffins. Aaaaand success! These were simple to whip up, reasonably healthy, and as an established fan of oatmeal muffins, I really enjoyed the uniqueness of the almond taste paired with the quasi-nuttiness of oats. It was like being in a Peanut Butter Parallel Universe.

(Sorry, peanut butter. We can still be friends. I promise I'll still slather you on ice cream eat you in heart-healthy portions.)

You could, of course, use peanut butter instead of almond in this recipe. Either would be delicious.

P.S.: Days after making and eating these muffins, I received a call from the grocery store saying this particular brand of almond butter had been recalled for salmonella. Awesome. Is that why it was so cheap? Still gonna buy it again.

P.P.S.: None of us got salmonella. And neither will you from looking at the pictures. Just be sure to buy non-bacterially infected almond butter. Or peanut butter. Either will work. :)


Almond Butter Oatmeal Muffins
(Adapted from The Cooking Actress)

Ingredients:

1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour (white whole wheat is especially good because of its lighter texture)
1 c. quick or rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. honey
1/2 c. almond or peanut butter
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 c. milk

Directions:

1 Preheat oven to 375. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar.

3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together honey, almond or peanut butter, yogurt, egg, vanilla, and milk.

4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. Divide evenly into prepared muffin tin, filling about 2/3 full.

5. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes about 12 muffins.