How To Eat Healthy Anywhere

You have worked so hard on sticking to a strict eating plan such as the paleo diet. However, it can prove challenging when you need to leave your house, especially when it is time to go to work. At the office, it can be even more tempting when your co-workers bring in special food to share that may not be on your meal plan. Here are some helpful tips for managing these temptations while staying on track with your progress.

Pack Your Meals The Night Before

It is more than likely that you will not have enough time to pack your approved meal when getting ready for work. Therefore, make sure you have all of your meals, snacks, and drinks packed the night before so that you can grab it as you run out the door. You are more likely to stick with your eating plan if you have your food on hand to eat at lunchtime.

 

Have The Right Essentials

Back in April, we posted about some ways to eat better specifically when on the road and I mentioned that the right food containers make all the difference. My love of the Lock and Lock line always makes for some great handy food options. But other essentials make sense. A new favorite is the Yeti brand Rambler. This 18-ounce container is a perfect fit for most briefcases and bags, keep temperatures perfect and with the extra accessories, like the Rambler Chug Cap you can both the option of an open mouth container and the removable smaller cover. Great for beverages, soups, stews etc.

 

Politely Refuse

If someone passes you a slice of cake at an office birthday celebration, you can help pass it along onto another willing candidate. Make sure to practice an answer such as, “Thank you, but I’m all set,” ahead of time so that you are not caught off guard. There is no need to mention your eating plan at this time. You can also give an extra congratulations to the special person that is being celebrated. Sometimes it also means the “fake out”, grab a small plate fork, a napkin and put some food on it.. then as you work your way around the party, you can dispose of it. But in peoples eyes, you will have “had something” and allows you to maneuver out of those more pushy folks.

Stack Emergency Snacks

Portion out some small amounts of your favorite meal plan food that are shelf stable that you can keep at your desk or car. These can be eaten when you are stuck late at the office and get hungry. The last thing that you do not want to do is raid the vending machine out of convenience. Wherever you store these treats, whether in a drawer or in your car, make sure that they are in a sealed container. The last thing that you want to do is to attract ants, bugs, or mice to your workspace. I do this a lot, it may mean spending a few dollars more on some prepackaged snacks – but they keep longer that way.

Keep Motivating Pictures At Your Workspace

Have a tangible reward in mind when you reach your goal weight. If you plan on going somewhere special, you can print out a picture and stick it in a spot on your desk where you can see it frequently. You have worked this hard to stay committed, and this is one assignment that you can see through to the end.

Sources:

  • Bon Appetit | 100 Lunch Ideas on What to Pack for Work
  • Kyani | Eating Healthy While Working
  • Zen Habits | 17 Strategies to Stick to Your Diet and Get Fit

Office Picnic Saturday

Office Picnic Challange – because I love coming home to an “oh by the way”

Dino has it rough

Picnic panic defense! With us, both being on vacation for two weeks and then Paul had to work in Baltimore right after it’s been a busy catch up with on my end. Paul then reminded me that it as his annual office picnic on Saturday too. So I managed to get into the kitchen and make some of my favorites to being with.  Of course, Dino was hoping I would spend more time with him after his two weeks at Hightail Hotel, than my being in the kitchen while Paul was away – but he got plenty of snuggle time later.

First – the cookie!

Perfect for a picnic as it is for dinner is one of the favorites of his office is the variation to the Black Pepper Biscotti Ifrom Valerie Bertinelli. I have made this a bunch of times and its become a perfect goto not to mention is a great based to change it up from. In today’s version, I made one with chopped walnuts and almonds (because that’s what I have handy). I also used a bit of lemon extract in place of the peel that is mentioned in the previous post since I didn’t have any handy. But go easy on lemon extract, a little goes a long way. The second version is essentially the same but without nuts or almond extract. For this one, I amped up the vanilla, added some powdered ginger and a bit of homemade ginger syrup (see the recipe below). The third version was a Spicey Chocolate Biscotti with dried cherries. This was a made up recipe, so is in draft form but I liked the version enough to bring. I think next time it needs more cayenne (most likely 3/4 tablespoon in total).  Once it gets done I will repost the final version recipe.

Second – the fruit salad

This was an easy one Summer + Picnic+ Fruit Salad. I have been making this cool watermelon chili, but on a recent episode of Sara Moulton I saw this new version that uses Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Feta Cheese, and Procuitto. I have made it now for several potlucks and news this one would be perfect. She adds paprika which gives it this sweet smokey flavor for a different twist. Sara’s version of Two-Melon, Proscuitto and Feta Salad is really good as is. Try it first then change it up for your needs. At times I have swapped in smoked ham slices and or pepperoni in place of the prosciutto. I change up the nuts from time to time.

For this weekend version, I kept it pretty much the same but swapped out 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 2 tablespoons of a local Habanero infused olive oil. You will notice that this shot has a lot of extra marinades. That is on purpose. I like to much that I save it and use it as a salad dressing base or as we did on vacation when I made it. Just add more melons.

As an extra – cold marinated cucumbers and carrots

This is one from my childhood I revamped. its quick and easy to make – tastes better the longer you let it chill. But equally as good with a 30-minute marinade. Unlike the Pickled Carrots and Jalapeños I did before, these require no heating. Just chop, pour, season and chill. This one I eyeball for measurements – eventually, I will try to measure it out. Slice up some 2-3 English cucumbers on an angle, toss in come carrot slices (or buy them already fancy sliced), add 1/2 cup of white vinegar, juice of 1/2 lemon, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, add chopped parsley or cilantro, 1/2 cup of sugar and 7 or 8 ice cubes (1/2 of chilled iced water works too if you are short on time). Mix well and leave in the refrigerator 30 min to overnight. Taste to flavors. You want a tart, sweet, herbed crunch. Most fresh herbs work. As does add sliced raw peppers (hot or sweet), radishes, even celery.

 


Ginger Syrup 

Ingredients
  • Several large pieces of ginger, peeled and rinsed and sliced, approximately 4-6 inched or about a cup sliced.
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
Directions

In a saucepan – cook the ginger, water, and sugar first to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove from the heat to cool 5-10 min. Once cool, strain out the cooked ginger into a clear glass jar. add a few uncooked peeled pieces of ginger and refrigerate.

Note: If you want some extra zing, add cinnamon sticks or rosemary to the simmer and strain out.

From Writing to Reading to Cooking to Hiking…

And the weekend begins…

While it wasn’t intended to be this weekend ended up a full one. With several creative writing activities in the process, including new edits to the TedXProvincetown script due next week, a big meeting on Tuesday to prep for. I also have our monthly book club and trying to get some time to get Paul out and about while the weather was nice.

What to do on a day off?

Part of the reason I like book club is the research behind the books. So for me, a “Food Lab” is an essential part of the reading.  This month’s read was the prompt for a few vintage themed recipes to go with the book “As Meat Loves Salt”.

As a “just in case,” I also figured I would do my take on a parfait with Honey Citrus Ricotta & Marscapone cheeses layered with simmered honey citrus blueberry and strawberries. These would be perfect or as toppings for either of the other two dishes in case the dishes failed or were too dry (and I happened to have the fruit handy), so they were the first to get made so they could set up overnight.

 

In keeping with the Great Britian/16th-century theme,  I found a great cookbook well while at the bookstore over at Fort Mason that had 16th and 17th-century English recipes reinterpreted.

One of several that caught my eye included a Sour Cream Spice cake.  Originally intended for raisins,  I did switch them out for dried cherries but it was the only “change” I made. I found a typo in the recipe that confused cardamon and cinnamon, so I opted with cinnamon.

The Review:

Folks liked it. Super dense and moist, with a subtle spice taste. The batter is thick and must be over the size bundt pan I have so as with some older recipes I already do with. Next time I would only use 2/3 of the batter. It was too full and would have meant a much longer bake and be super dry. As it was this still was a little moister towards the inner ring. On Sunday, I toasted it for breakfast and really liked how that tasted with some salted butter on it.

 

The other dish was an Apple Noodle Pudding aa s backup if the cake was dry or didn’t come out. This version of a “pudding” uses egg noodles, apples, and dried cherries as its base with butter and sugar and flour. Once cooled, all it needed was a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

The Review:

Well, let’s just say – the bowl came back not only empty but CLEAN! I definitely will make this again and experiment with different flavors combinations. I am thinking rosemary and pear next time.

As luck would have it all of them came out quite good but ya gotta love those “Plan B’s” .

Sunday was a casual day with me in my head drafting, so Paul and I took Dino up to walk around Buena Vista Park.

Once we hadn’t done in way too many years before heading home for some downtime and before I grilled up some dinner and was back at it.

 

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Book Club Goes South Of The Border; So Did My Cooking This Week

After a rough week – I needed to “stress cook” with Mexican themed dishes

To balance the very healthy dinner the other might, and inspired by the book that we’ve been reading for Book Club this weekend; The Uncomfortable Dead, with its Mexican theme,  I decided to look into some older recipes and given I needed the distractions – went out to try these Mexican themed recipes.

Mexican Wedding cake/cookies

First I tried my hand at a batch of Mexican Wedding cake/cookies (aka Russian Teacakes or Snowballs); it would seem that most cultures have a version of this butter, sugar, flour & nut recipe and everyone has an opinion on what makes them authentic and the “best”. So while mine didn’t come out the way I planned with a cute little crescent or ball shape, and they looked more like “pillows” than I intended they still ended up tasty.  I think I went short on the amount of flour I was supposed to add so they spread during the bake – but from the feedback, I got – lots of folks said to keep it that way. This cookie has always been a favorite one of mine, that one of my Aunts would often make, but I tended not to eat them when out in public, because some versions (especially the Italian one) have hazelnuts. Which is one of the few foods I am strongly allergic too. But in the spirit of Book Club, I thought, “let’s go ahead and I’ll make them” and to make them my own, I did a rough toast and grind of not one nut, but three;  toasted pistachios, almonds, and pecans! Now the recipe is super old school, including the mixing, is all by hand, and I mean “hand” no mixers or spoons. So you can imagine the mess at one point.

Pickled Carrots and Jalapeños

Back in the day, when I first moved to San Francisco, I came across a tucked away Taqueria in the Mission that the owner used to make buckets of pickled carrots and jalapeños. They weren’t something I had tried before moving here. So while she is now long past, I always try to look for that perfect heat and crunch. So “hot off the presses” from the fermentation class I took in April, I decided to also whip up some of my own pickled carrots & jalapeños for Book Club.

 

Cherry tomato and Red Wine Jam

The primary dish I had planned to bring to Book Club I started the prep on Friday night so that a certain someone could sleep in and not hear me banging around the kitchen. This dish is actually one from Pati Jinich’s Cherry tomato and Red Wine jam on goat cheese covered toast. She is the lively and creative host of Pati’s Mexican Table which I have been tuning into more and more

When I first read this recipe, I had an “hmm so it’s like a warm Mexican style bruschetta” moment, but like the cookie, most cultures have some kind of combination of tomatoes, cheese, and bread as a starter. Still, the recipe looked good, and I thought I’d give it a try. I have to say I’m glad I did. It was a super easy recipe to make, the outcome was very very tasty.

Note to self: It holds up well so would be perfect for entertaining (think the annual holiday open house) by doing parts of the prep the day before, the do the simmer in the morning and spoon it out just before serving.

The only thing I felt I needed to do differently from the recipe, was adding a little squirt of lime into the tomatoes before spooning out. I think next time I could use a little extra zing with some diced jalapeño too. But overall a definite win.

Also managed a few treats for the guys!

If you follow this blog you know that over the holiday I did some fun bookmarks and “Keepers” from old jewleryWell I figured it would be fun to create some old school bookmarks to surprise the Book Club with as a companion theme to the book “The Uncomfortable Dead“.

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Eating on the Go: How to Find Healthy Options on the Road

Eating well can be challenging on its own but eating well while on the go presents its own unique set of challenges. Luckily there are easy ways to reduce the likelihood of living on convenience store burritos and slurpees while on the road. Check out these tips to keep your eating habits healthy and your journey enjoyable.

Plan Ahead

The most effective way to maintain a healthy diet or even just access to foods while traveling is to plan ahead. Sturdy fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges travel well without any prep work or refrigeration. Vegetables like snap peas and baby carrots also hold up well when packaged in zip-top bags. Other fruits, like grapes, cantaloupe, or pineapple, and vegetables like carrots, celery, or jicama can be prepared at home and carried in small containers within a soft-sided cooler or ice chest (just make sure to refreeze the ice packs in your hotel room each night). Include items like beef jerky, tuna pouches, string cheese, Greek yogurt, fruit leather, and a refillable water bottle to ensure you have a healthy snack or mini meal close by whenever hunger hits. For years I have been a huge fan of the Lock & Lock brand of food storage products. I think I have mentioned them several times including when they come back full, rare but always a nice treat or during my party prep posts.

In fact – I think its the primary food storage product I have used for the last 15 years. With a silicone seal, locking clips and shapes that fit nicely into my bags and got me back and forther to Atlanta and Washington DC during my recent commute effort. They are my go-to “travel buddy”.  While many of them came from QVC back in the day, they are now available on Amazon. These are a few of my favorite sizes; the Lock & Lock Plastic Food Storage Airtight Container Set (2300ml/78oz+1000ml/34oz+(180ml/6oz×2) is a good starter. I use whatever I don’t need for craft supplies. But at less than $20 they are a good all around set. Another good by is the  Lock & Lock Water Tight Food Containers, 14-Piece Set it is a few dollars more at $29 but fills in the packable sizes. You can still find them on QVC (no affliliate links – just a good resource) and they often offer larger custom sets, such as the Lock & Lock 18-piece Storage Set. Oh and Lock & Lock often has a wide assortment of colors and sales  – so they are the ones I will but for doggie-bags, this way I dont have to worry about getting them back.

By the way, they just aren’t for people food – Even Dino got some of the Storage Bins Food Storage Container with Flip-top that fits the medium bag of his food.

Dont forget that great recipe for the protein oakcake recipe I posted – those are perfect for travel plain or with jam and peanut butter on them. Freeze them the night before and by the time you are ready to eat them they will be thawed.

Vending Machines

Look past the candy bars and toaster pastries and you will find an assortment of healthy (or at least healthier) food options waiting in the nearest vending machine. Most vending machines offer such nutritious snacks as nuts, raisins, trail mix, beef jerky, and sugar free gum. You can also find healthy versions of normally unhealthy treats, like dark chocolate or whole grain chips and crackers. While the packaged cookies found in vending machine are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives, Fig Newton cookies can tame a sweet tooth while providing a dose of real fruit, whole grains, and fiber. Some vending machines even offer bags of microwave popcorn that can be prepared in your hotel microwave. Many places are reaching out and trying to offer a wider range of vending machine options. While in Las Vegas recently, I even saw one machine that was chilled and had fresh fruit.

Grocery Stores

Instead of relying on restaurants and convenience stores for meals, seek out the nearest grocery store to find healthy food that is much cheaper than most restaurant fare. Many large grocers have a well-stocked salad bar where you can fill up on fresh fruits and veggies. Some even offer hot soup made fresh every day. Individual servings of meats, cheeses, yogurt, boiled eggs, or fruit cups are also available. Food from the grocery store is much cheaper than restaurant food, so do not overlook this option. When I was traveling  I always checked to see where the closest Trader Joes was. While Whole Foods was a great option (but expensive) as well as the traditional grocery stores, I like Trader Joes sizes, and they often have ready to go sized meals perfect for the plane.

Eating healthy on the go requires a little forethought and preparation but can also save you both time and money. A little advance planning and finding healthy options at the vending machine and local grocery store can make your next trip a success.

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Turmeric & Ginger Rice Porridge in the Slow-cooker

In the past, I had posted about making a slow-cooker version of rice porridge or a rough version of congee. So when a pal who also happens to be vegetarian mentioned he was sick I played around with a version that he might like. After making a few times, and with my housemate writing things down as I “added this and that”  I came up with this version of the recipe below. But this is mostly a recipe to taste. So start with conservative amounts and then you can add more halfway through to meet your pallet needs. the soup is done pretty much when it is thick and rich.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of Arborio Rice (you can use other kinds of rice, this is one I like as I often have it on hand for other dishes)
  • 6 cups of hot water (from the tap is fine) or you can use vegetable or chicken stock for more flavor.
  • 3-inch piece of ginger peeled,  or (ground ginger about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1-2 Bay leaves (fresh or dried)
  • 1 2-inch strip of lemon peel ( or a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or up to as much as 2 teaspoons to taste)of Zaatar ( you can also use any other dried herbs such as Herbs De Province or even Oregano)
  • 1 teaspoon of onion flakes (you can use 1/2 cup of diced onions if you want more texture as well)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Stat with a 1/2 teaspoon and then add to your taste to a total of 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper (you can also use white pepper) but I like the flecks of black in the finished product
  • 1 4-5 inch sprig of Rosemary
  • 1/8 (or up to as much as 1/2 to  taste) of Ground Aleppo pepper
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of Tumeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon ok kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon of dried parsley (fresh is fine as well but add towards the end)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Cayenne pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of Agave syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 – 1/2 juice of one lemon

Optional – slow cooker liner bags. I started to sue these for some of the dishes I make that could get sticky. This is one of them that it works great with but totally optional.

Instructions

  • To your slow-cooker add rice and water. Turn on high.
    • Add the following now:
      • Bay leaves, garlic powder, onion flakes, lemon peel, 1/8 portion of the black pepper and the rosemary.
    • Cover and leave it alone for 4 hours. You can stir occasionally after the first hour.
  • After 2 hours
    • add the Aleppo pepper, Tumeric, Zatar, salt, dried parsley, Cayenne pepper, Agave, Apple Cider vinegar and lemon juice
    • Stir well and taste remembering you will taste it again in a few hours once the base flavors have melded some.
  • After another hour, stir and taste.
    • Make adjustments to any of the flavors. You may also want to add additional water (up to 2 cups) if you feel it is too thick for your taste)
  • After a total of 4 hours
    • Remove the bay leaves, rosemary, ginger root and lemon peel.
  • Serve warm.

Total cook time is 4 -4.5 hours

A few additions – you can through in some butter or stir in some coconut oil (about a heaping teaspoon) at the end to add some smoothness.

 

 

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Oatcakes with a Protein Punch

Who would have thought adding protein to my snakes would be so good.

So life has had me in full out overload mode for a few weeks so I have been a little behind in my posting. Today I am hoping to catch up with a few over the week.

One of the fun finds I came across was a great recipe for a protein-based, oatmeal version of “pancakes” I wrote about them on my blog post on my Engage blog which had a theme that day about “How A Middle-Aged Workforce Can Keep Up With Millennial Coworkers“. I found this recipe in the  March Issue of  Men’s Health Magazine for Blueberry Oat Pancakes, the primary ingredient is plain oatmeal with added protein. While dense, when whipped up on a Sunday night, cooled and wrapped – they freeze well and I can grab them on my way out the door.

Cold or toasted, maybe with a bit of peanut butter on them, they are a lot better than skipping a meal or grabbing something on the road. I found a similar version here, but the March version as follows is updated more and better tasting.

Since then I have made it a few times and made some additional revisions:

I am sharing my adapted version of the March version below:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (any will do I just happen to use this one)
  • 3 scoops of Vanilla whey protein powder (I use a few versions and mine tend to be lactose-free. I also found that those with “pea” base didn’t lend this a very good aftertaste. A little too “green for me”
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 bananas
  • 3 large eggs, plus 6 egg whites (I used the pre-made version from the store for this)
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (I would use more at least a full teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Nutmeg (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of All Spice (optional)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil or butter for brushing the cooking surface

To Make: 

  • Using the blender or a Ninja machine; blend together everything but the blueberries and the oil/butter. It will be “batter” like texture.
  • Using a non-stip skillet, brush with coconut oil or butter and ladle about a 1/3 of a cup of batter (this will make about 12 cakes).
  • Cook 2-3 minutes per side.
  • Cool (or eat), package in zip bags and freeze or put them in refrigerator

Note: this is a simple example of how to snack or eat on the go – it’s a flexible batter – so change it up! So while recipe says a serving is 3, I found 1 -2 to be perfect.

 

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The Power of Home Crafted Vanilla2.0

For You More Creative Types, Make Your Own Vanilla2.0

Yup – that’s right. Well, I goofed this week – I had intended to let had my guest post from Anna go live first, but some of you might have gotten a sneak preview of this one when the “now” feature got clicked. In either case, you can read Anna’s post  “Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking” once it goes live late this week, then perhaps you will be inspired to go on to the next step and try making your own version of Vanilla2.0

Vanilla is one of those elements in baking that you either love or don’t. Somewhat like using good quality Tumeric is in cooking. I got started on this road myself after watching some of the baking shows on TV that were using Vanilla Bean Paste which I hadn’t seen before. After visiting the blog Superfoodly.com which had posted a December piece “The Scandal Between Vanilla Bean Paste vs. Vanilla Extract” .and served as a good place to start (I didn’t necessarily agree with everything – they shared some great content on the post).  I started following links, speaking with other folks who do more baking and came across the whole movement of making your own Vanilla Extract.

Several great recipes are available online for making your own home inspired version of vanilla extract. But to make a good quality one, you need time and the right beans. It isn’t something you want to rush. In fact, if you get them started now. They will make great Holiday gifts this season.

Choosing which beans you want to use also takes some research. Areas to take note of include the grade of bean, the type of bean, the age of them and the source ( they can be expensive) and what liquid you intend to use to extract the flavor (a variety of options exist based on flavor or non-alcohol needs).

My next plan

I will be starting a batch in April in fact with ” Tahitian Grade B beans but I also like the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans (Vanilla Planifolia so may make some comparison batches. A few of the online sites that offer recipes for making your own, including purchasing recommendations include: 

Once you get ready to start making your own here are a few things you will need to have on hand.

If you are like me and tend to be more creative, plan early:

  • You will need the beans; that means deciding on the grade of the bean and the ration of beans to the liquid mix; I saw lots of variations on this from 1 whole vanilla bean for every 2 liquid ounces of alcohol. I think to keep it simple I may start with a 1:1 ratio as in 1 bean to each ounce of liquid (then depending on the jar size might top off)
  • Extracting liquid; lots of options for this the most common include Bourbon, Rum, Brandy, and Vodka. The key factor is the liquid has to be greater than 70% proof
  • Bottles/Jars; You will need to decide if you are making a large batch then decant into smaller ones or just go right to the smaller ones. I think I will be hitting the swap and flea markets for vintage and unusual decanters to use as gifts. One common theme I heard was to avoid clear jars (or keep stored in a dark place) and my preference to stay away from plastics. As a back up I found 4 ounce Amber jars on Amazon that I may order to have on hand for “extra” last minute needs.
  • Labels: start thinking what size you will need and how you plan to label them if you are gifting them

Note: this post has some affiliate links to Amazon

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Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

Vanilla extract; the first thing I check on my baking supply list.

So we have another great guest post this week on the power of vanilla from my pal Anna who also wrote the “5 Ways to Taste the Mediterranean Without Actually Going” post. I love sharing BiteTheRoad with folks who want to write and talk about the various passions they have so was grateful she was willing to do this one. Ok, and truth be told it’s one of my favorite flavoring tools! Thanks again Anna!

 

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

It’s a question that seems as old as baking itself — chocolate or vanilla?

These two are the most popular cake flavors out there, and making a good chocolate or vanilla cake is critical to any baker’s repertoire. But we’re not here to argue. Whether as a flavor enhancer or the star of the show, vanilla tastes good, smells good, and has been used in all kinds of sweets for hundreds of years.

But did you know that not all vanilla is created equal? While it’s likely not shocking to learn that there are different forms of vanilla you can buy, it might be more surprising to know that some are better than others for certain contexts. This, as well as the overall quality of what you use, can have dramatic effects on what comes out of your oven.

High Quality Vanilla vs Low Quality

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

In general, “high quality” and “low quality” designations for vanilla are related to the origin and purity of the flavor, as well as alcohol content.

Imitation vanilla, on the other hand, is often made using lab-created vanillin (the flavoring compound found in vanilla). Generally, this vanillin is made as a byproduct of other forms of manufacturing, such as while processing wood pulp. While that might sound concerning, it is still perfectly safe to consume, though typically has a slightly less pronounced vanilla flavor and less alcohol content.

Pure vanilla extract is exactly what it says on the label; pure vanilla extracted from vanilla pods and processed into a liquid by boiling it with ethanol and water. Additionally, it is required by law to contain at least 35% alcohol content and 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter.

Natural vanilla is taken directly from vanilla beans and has the least amount of alcohol at roughly 3% per bottle. It generally has the most pronounced and “pure” vanilla flavor of the three liquids.

Vanilla paste is a compromise between liquid vanilla and straight vanilla beans. It is made from vanilla extract, adding sugar and thickening agents for texture. Most brands also add small quantities of ground vanilla beans to achieve the desired speckling.

Vanilla beans are considered the ultimate for vanilla in flavoring and baked goods. These are the real deal, no alcohol or additives in sight. Just a long dark pod filled with tiny caviar-like “beans” ready to add to any recipe.

When to Use Each Kind of Vanilla

Know Your Extracts: Sniffing out the Best Vanilla for Your Baking

While instinct may say to use vanilla beans for everything, this would not actually be the best use of resources. Imitation is, of course, the cheapest and most affordable, but the more pure and better quality the vanilla, the more it costs:

(Prices based on Cook’s Bulk and Wholesale Vanilla)

  • Non-alcoholic vanilla — $12
  • Pure vanilla extract — $13
  • Vanilla bean paste — $25
  • Vanilla bean pods (3) — $15

Aside from price restrictions and personal preference (for example, imitation vanilla may have a less robust flavor/aroma than vanilla bean pods), any form of vanilla can be used for any type of baking.

That being said, most bakers (and especially social media food personalities) prefer vanilla bean paste and pods for the telltale speckling that they leave in the finished product. This only works for light-colored, vanilla-centric baked goods, however. If you wish to use a high-quality vanilla in a darker product, save some money and use a good vanilla extract.

For bakers who object to using alcoholic vanilla in recipes that don’t involve heat (frostings, creams, sodas, etc.), non-alcoholic vanilla or vanilla bean pods are optimal.

Love vanilla? Try these vanil-licious recipes from Bite The Road:

 

Be sure to read the next BiteTheRoad.com post on other creative Vanilla ideas later this week

 

 

 

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5 Ways to Taste the Mediterranean Without Actually Going

5 Ways to Taste the Mediterranean Without Actually Going

Mediterranean cuisine covers many different countries in the Mediterranean basin. Every region has different influencing flavors in its food, however, there are core flavors that can be tasted throughout the Mediterranean region as a whole. Southern Europe features deep flavors such as the tomato-based flavors of southern Italy or the tangy and savory flavors of Greece with the use of bold cheeses and softening yogurt. In a country such as Morocco, the food is heavily seasoned in perfect blends for full rich flavor.

While some countries may use more or less than others, here are five great ingredients that will bring the Mediterranean into any dish:

Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar comes from Italy, traditionally made from aged grape must. It has a rich flavor, much more complex than the typical wine vinegar, with hints of sweetness. Balsamic vinegar is not meant to be cooked and is often used as a topper for fresh fruit and grilled meat or fish. Many different types of Balsamic vinegar now exist locally and internationally which is a point of debate in many circles as to what is “real” Balsamic Vinegar. Bon Appetite Magazine does a good job of helping you sort through the various kinds in a 2017 article here.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is used frequently in Mediterranean food because of its abundance in the region. Olive oil is used in cooking but because of its bold flavor, it is often used as a condiment base for dipping bread. Luckily living in the Bay Area I have access to many types of artisanal olive oils including one of my favorites from the DaVero farm and vineyards

Lemon

Lemon is a flavor that can be found throughout Mediterranean cooking and is often found alongside garlic, cumin, coriander, oregano, and parsley. Lemon is a much-appreciated ingredient because of the compatibility of its citrus tones with common Mediterranean dishes like fish.When you can get freshly picked lemons use them! Two of my recent favorite recipes include ways to preserve them and a “rocken” lemon cake recipe from King Arthur Flour that I think is hands down one of the best Lemon Bundt cakes I have ever had. Best part it translates into two loaf pans nicely as well.

Mediterranean Oregano

Oregano is best known for its uses in Italian cooking, but what not many people know is that there is a difference between Mediterranean oregano and Mexican oregano. Mediterranean oregano features a softer, sweeter, and more minty flavor than its Mexican counterpart, and is used in a variety of Mediterranean spice mixes, from Italian seasoning to Zataar seasoning

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are powerful in almost every Mediterranean region’s cooking. It is a flavorful crop that can be kept and presented in many way, tomato paste, tomato purée, etc. It holds a very sultry flavor that can be sweetened or more rustic. A flavor that goes well with pasta, rice, meat, seafood, vegetables and so forth — making it very versatile.

Try It: Savory Yellow Rice with Chicken

Rice:

  • 11/2 cups Basmati rice
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 21/2 cups chicken broth

Chicken:

  • 4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs cubed (1.3 lbs)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 11/3 tsp cumin
  • 1/3 tsp coriander
  • 1/3 tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 1/3 tsp curry powder
  • 4 garlic cloves minced
  • 11/3 tbsp lemon
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • 21/2 tbsp olive oil
  • Medium onion sliced

Rice directions:

Melt the butter and add the turmeric and cumin. Stir just until fragrant, about a minute. Add the rice, make sure it is well coated and toast in the seasoning for about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil and then let it simmer for 15 minutes.

Chicken directions:

Mix all the spices along with generous amounts of salt and pepper and 1 tbsp olive oil. Doing this in a bag will make working in the yogurt easier. After it is mixed thoroughly, add the chicken and onions and let sit overnight. Heat the remaining 1.5 tbsp of olive oil, add the chicken until cooked and serve with the yellow rice and tzatziki sauce.

 

Craving more Mediterranean flavor? Try these from the BitetheRoad archives:

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