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Great Eat-spectations is my outlet for sharing recent news that sparks my interest (and hopefully yours), tasty recipes that I have tried, fun food facts, and fascinating articles for you to enjoy!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Going on Vacation Doesn't Mean You Can't Eat Well.

Eating away from home can be stressful for anyone trying to eat healthy and maintain their weight. Traveling can present many food-related obstacles such as “How much time do I have to eat”, “Where will I eat”, and “What should I eat?” Not only are our normal eating habits disrupted but we often are presented with unfamiliar foods making the decision that much harder. So let us begin with the question of “Where will I eat?” There are many places that you can purchase food: gas stations, grocery stores, chain restaurants, airports, fast food, deli’s, pizza, Chinese take-out, upscale restaurants, café’s, hotel room service, etc. So how do we decide?

It may sound silly or overly simple but researching the area where you will be staying will not only save you time but it will save you from packing on some extra pounds. Make a quick note of the types of restaurants in the area and choose a few within each category that you know or believe will have the healthiest options. Keep in mind how much time you have. Will you have time to sit down? Should you grab something to go? Can you pack snacks or meals to bring with you? Once you have chosen the “where” and planned your time accordingly you can start to contemplate the next question “What will I eat?”

The “what to eat” tends to be the hardest question when traveling and it often depends on where you have chosen to dine. Here are some basic guidelines for finding healthy choices within different types of food establishments:

Whether it is a diner, chain, or upscale restaurant the menu and server are your most valuable resources for choosing what is best. Most menus will describe how the item is made and/or the ingredients used to make the dish. When in doubt ask the server for specifics and even suggestions on what to choose. Here are some tips:
  • Choose soups made with vegetables and broths rather than creams. 
  • Look for oil and vinegar dressings and ask for salad dressing on the side 
  • Limit unnecessary toppings on salads such as cheese, croutons, bacon, fried chicken strips. 
  • Try to select entrees that are broiled, baked, steamed, or grilled. 
  • Go easy on items with heavy sauces, cheeses, or creams. 
  • Choose poultry, seafood, or vegetarian entrees 
  • If you decide to order dessert look for a low calorie sorbet, a fruit, or a half portion of higher
    calorie items.

  • Top your slice with extra vegetables instead of high fat meats. 
  • Choose thin crust over deep dish. 
  • Try to avoid the breaded chicken sandwiches, chef salads, or meatball subs. 
Sandwich Shops and Cafes:
  • Choose lean turkey or chicken breast instead of high fat deli meats such as salami and bologna. 
  • Ask for extra lettuce and tomato and go light on the cheese and dressings. 
  • Order a whole grain roll, wrap, or bread. 
  • Choose baked chips if offered or a piece of fruit. 
  • Choose wonton or miso soup as an appetizer instead of fried dumplings or rangoons. 
  • Try to select chicken and seafood stir-fry 
  • Ask for “light sauce”. 
  • Look for brown rice instead of white or fried rice.
Fast Food
What do I mean by fast food? Chain restaurants or even gas stations that have “value” menus, most often a drive thru window, and can hand you your meal within 5 minutes. The good news about fast food chains is that they are everywhere and often offer low-calorie items.
  • Choose a grilled chicken sandwich instead of fried chicken or fish. 
  • Order the smallest size, bigger means more calories. 
  • Try to ask for no sauces or cheese. 
  • Have a salad, soup, or baked potato instead of fries. 
  • Choose low-fat milk, diet soda, or water for your beverage. 
  • Try an entrée salad with a light dressing on the side. 
You can also check out the local grocery store if you have access to a refrigerator where you are staying. Pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on or even nuts and dried fruits to carry with you. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

National Celiac Disease Awareness Month

When I learned that May was National Celiac Disease Awareness Month I thought that I would help spread my expertise on the subject. My best friend is part of the 1 in 133 people throughout the United States who have Celiac disease. She has a poster, that I found at the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Expo, hanging on her bedroom door that portrays a sad woman with the quote "I love bread but my body doesn't." If you asked her though, I bet she would say that living a gluten free life isn't really as hard as you would think. Yes, there are a lot of restrictions and rules but these days the market is full of tasty gluten free alternatives.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance are all names for the same digestive disorder. Celiac is an inherited autoimmune disease involving the small intestines, although many people mistake it for a wheat allergy. The exact cause is unknown, but research has revealed a strong genetic link. Those with family members who have any type of autoimmune disease are at a 25% increased risk of having Celiac disease.

For those with Celiac ingestion of the protein gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barely, causes an immune response within the digestive tract. The reaction causes damage to the villi on the surface of the small intestine. The villi are responsible for absorption of nutrients therefore damage to this vital part of the intestines can lead to weight loss, bloating, diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps, or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. When gluten is totally eliminated from the diet, the lining of the intestine has a chance to heal. The disorder is best diagnosed with a biopsy (tissue sample) of the small intestine. Blood tests are also being refined to identify celiac markers.

The only effective treatment for Celiac Disease is a gluten free diet. The idea of eliminating gluten may be ominous at first but those who follow it soon discover that gluten free guidelines are similar and often the same as the basic healthy eating guidelines. This includes; plain meats, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, corn, rice, dairy products; milk, butter, margarine, real cheese, yogurt, plain fruits, vegetables, vinegar (excluding malt vinegar), and vegetable oils. Reading labels is crucial when shopping for gluten free foods. Specialty foods are not always necessary because some popular food brands may already be gluten free!

Be cautious of and avoid the following ingredients:
Wheat, rye, barely, spelt, kamut, einkorn, emmer, titicale, durum, farina, enriched flour, wheat starch, self rising flour, graham flour, bulgar, semolina, cake flour, pastry flour, matzo, bran, bread crumbs, gelatinized starch, gluten, miller’s bran, modified food starch, pastry flour, vegetable gum, wheat germ, soy sauce, malt.

Wheat Free Does NOT Mean Gluten Free!
Safe grains and flours include corn, oatmeal labeled gluten free, potatoes, arrowroot, tapioca, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, Montina, flax, Job’s tears, millet, sago, soy, sorghum, teff, cornstarch, maioc, nut flour, bean flour.

Cross contamination
Cross contamination occurs if a gluten free food comes into contact with a gluten-containing product. This can occur when cooking in a pot or pan that has been unwashed after cooking a food with gluten, toasting gluten containing products in the same toaster, double dipping with a knife in jars after spreading on bread, placing a food on the same plate or surface that is touching a gluten-containing food, and even using the same knife used to cut non-gluten free products to cut gluten free products.

When following a gluten free diet be cautious of breads; breading on meats or vegetables; cereals, crackers, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies, gravies, sauces, snack foods, medications, cosmetics, stamps and stickers.

For more information visit The Celiac Disease Foundation website or the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tufts University Slow Foods- Sharpening Up on Knife Skills.

About a month ago Tufts University Slow Foods Student Organization approached me to host a skillshare at my apartment to discuss knives, I gladly obliged. The evening began with some basics that included an overview of knives and knife skills and ended by using all of those meticulously cut vegetables in a tasty vegetable and herb soup. Here are some of the topics that we discussed:

Overview of Knives
You don't have to be a trained chef to produce a great meal. Knife skills are one of the fundamental components to becoming an exceptional cook. Knives come in many shapes and sizes, each having its own specific purpose. Many people become discouraged by all of the different options that are available, but it really is not necessary to have more than the four basic types of knives.
  • Chef's Knife
- The most versatile of all knives, with a wide blade that is 8" to 10" long. It is best to choose a knife that feels good and balanced in your hand. The knife should have a full tang (this means that the blade should go all the way through the handle for the best wear and stability). 
  • Paring Knife
- Paring knives are generally 2-1/2-4" in length. It is ideal for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, cutting small objects, slicing, and other hand tasks. 
  • Boning Knife- 
This type of knife has a more flexible blade to curve around meat and bone. Generally 4-5" long. 
  • Bread Knife
- Bread knives are usually serrated (having teeth like a saw). Most experts recommend a serrated knife that has pointed serrations instead of wavy serrations for better control and longer knife life. You must use a sawing motion when using a serrated knife. 
Knife Cuts
The main point I stressed when discussing knife cuts was uniformity. If all of the pieces are about the same size the vegetables will cook evenly. One of the best ways to learn, besides doing, is by seeing. Check out this video by Bobby Flay to see how to cut red peppers and garlic (his favorite).

Knife Safety Tips
  1. Chop slowly and carefully. 
  2. Always cut away from your body. 
  3. Make sure your hands are dry. 
  4. Make sure that you curl your fingers under on the hand holding the food. This takes a while to get used to, but will become second nature with practice. If your fingers are curled under, the chances are good you will never cut yourself. 
  5. Watch what you're doing at all times. 
  6. Using your dominant hand, hold the knife firmly and using a rocking motion, cut through the food. The knife should not leave the surface you're working on. Move your hand (with the curled under fingers) along as the knife cuts the food. 
  7. Always make sure that your cutting board is secured and will not move while you are cutting. Try placing a wet paper towel or dishrag underneath your board.
Sharpening and Truing
 A chef once told me "a sharp knife is a happy knife." It's a little sentimental for my taste. I prefer the saying "a sharp knife is a safe and efficient knife." Having a sharp knife ensures that you have even cuts. Dull knives can become dangerous when you apply extra pressure while pressing down on the knife, the extra pressure leads to less control. There are several ways to sharpen your knife such as using a wet stone, a handheld sharpener and an electric sharpener. Personally, I prefer the handheld sharpener because it is cheap, effective, light and safe to use.
Handheld knife sharpener
Another tool used to keep your knife sharp, but it does not actually sharpen your knife, is called a truing steel. This long, round object keeps knives sharper by straightening out the edge. To use a steel hold the knife in your dominant hand and the steel in the other, with the steel point pressed into a solid waist-high surface. Hold the knife base at the top of the steel at a 20 degree angle. Slowly draw the knife down the length of the steel, pulling the knife back so the entire blade, from base to tip, moves against the steel, as if you were slicing off pieces of the steel. Repeat on the other side. Do this five or six times. Here is a video to show you how to properly use a steel.

Simple Vegetable Soup Recipe

5 medium red potatoes- cut into medium cubes
2 red onions- cut into a large dice
4 carrots- peeled and cut into a large dice
1 cup mushrooms- cleaned and roughly chopped
Slow Foods members cutting up vegetables.
1 large yellow squash- cut into a large dice
1 head of garlic- peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups vegetable stock
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh sage leaves
4 sprigs fresh rosemary

  1. In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms and yellow squash.
  2. Cook the vegetables on medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
  3. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large sauce pan. Add the potatoes and cover with the vegetable stock.
  4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Add the thyme, rosemary and sage and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  6. Season with salt and pepper if necessary and serve hot.