Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Visit to Lee Lee's Oriental Market

As the cultures inhabiting this planet migrate toward globalization, the identifying characteristics of a given region as they relate to regional dishes become increasingly intermingled with those from other regions. Globalization is a great big recipe exchange.

In the spirit of adventurous cuisine I journeyed to a supermarket in Peoria, Arizona called Lee Lee's Oriental Market.

It is a sort of United Nations of grocery shopping. My first visit I spent the first hour simply walking through the aisles staring at the products. Most of the labels were printed in languages other than my own native American tongue. I had no idea what most of the stuff was.

Lee Lee’s offers foods from Korea, Viet Nam, Africa, China, Japan, Thailand Brazil, Holland and more. There were jars and jars of sauces and spices and dried foods, boxes and boxes of cookies and candies and cakes, judging from the pictures on the labels. There were fish, both alive and not alive, pigs and ducks still in whole form, and meats of all kinds, including chicken feet. I wouldn’t even know how to cook a chicken foot.

I did get my bearings eventually and began to shop in earnest. I found fresh herbs and vegetables in the produce department. Portions of chicken and pork were negotiated from the smiling Asian fellow behind the meat counter. The labels on the jars and boxes and packages of dried noodles included American translations; I merely had to study the packages to find them.

It is a strange experience, an exhilarating one, for someone like me who has spent her life shopping at supermarkets where the fish don’t have heads and pork is not dangling from the ceiling, and all the labels are printed in English; where the few feet of space devoted to the Spanish foods includes tortillas and salsa and dried chili peppers.

My husband asked me, when I came home from my gathering of foods, if I was the only white lady there. Oh, no, I replied. There are white people and Asian people and Indians. There are Africans and African Americans and everyone is buying foods from all over the world.

And along side all these exotic (to me) foods were boxes of General Mills cereal, cans of Spam, and rock 'n' roll playing over the intercom.

And someday, when I’m a little braver, I may just buy some chicken feet, though I can’t imagine how I’ll convince my family to try them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Low Fat Lifestyle

Starting a low fat, low sodium diet wasn’t just a matter of changing the foods we ate. I discovered that it was also a change of lifestyle. I wasn’t just changing out red meat for white chicken breast, or adding extra vegetables to the dinner plate. Food was no longer just meals eaten at various times throughout the day; food was the stuff that could break us down and kill us, or keep us well, healthy and active for many years to come.

Once I started cooking without the fats and salts we had become so accustomed to I discovered that we had more energy, and we actually wanted to do things like go for a walk and exercise. We wanted to play basketball with the kids and putz around with the yard work.

Whoa. We were active adults. With this new-found source of energy, we found that our attitude toward food was changing. For the better.

The thought of eating a Grand Slam breakfast at Dennys or a sausage McMuffin now makes us queasy. A fast food burger would make me gag.

Where once dinner was a thick slab of meat with piles of mashed potatoes and gravy, it’s now a low fat, flavor packed pork and broccoli stir-fry. We eat smaller portions and taste the food. Really taste it. This new attitude toward food is a lifestyle change.

What makes some foods more heart friendly than others? Fat and salt content, and how the food is prepared. Red meat contains more saturated fat than chicken or pork. Shrimp contains more cholesterol than tilapia fish. Salmon has more omega-3 oils than cod.

Mashed potatoes made with 2 percent milk and salt free butter is better than mashed potatoes made with whole milk and salted butter. A baked potato topped with low fat sour cream and chives is a better side dish than fried potatoes.

Stir-fried vegetables seasoned with Chinese Five Spice are better than steamed vegetables smothered in butter. Sliced apples make a better side dish than bread rolls.

Eating low fat, low salt foods isn’t just a change of menu. It’s developing a sense of how food is meant to be eaten, how starting with fresh, raw ingredients means you control what kind of fat goes into your body, how much salt you take in and how the food is prepared.

How you eat makes a difference in how you live. Your diet shouldn’t just be about your weight or your cholesterol levels. It should be about how you connect to food and how it connects to you and your life.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chicken Stew and a New Attitude

After my husband had his heart surgery, and the doctor informed us that his diet would need a radical overhaul to avoid death by clogged artery, I visited my local bookstore and bought three cookbooks.

“American Medical Association Healthy Heart Cookbook”
“American Heart Association Low-fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook”
“Better Homes and Gardens New Diabetics Cookbook”

Though neither my husband nor I are diabetic, a friend lent us her copy of the New Diabetics Cookbook because it offered a host of recipes low in fat and directed at controlling cholesterol levels. I liked it so I bought a copy.

Armed with this arsenal of collected culinary know-how, I went to work.

One of the first recipes I tried was from the Healthy Heart Cookbook: Chicken and Vegetable Stew.

The recipe called for baby onions and baby carrots, celery, red peppers and tomatoes. It called for salt free broth, soybeans and pinto beans, Swiss chard, spinach and a sweet potato. It called for dill, basil and pepper. And of course, it called for lean chicken breasts.

There was blanching and draining and simmering and pureeing. There was slipping off skins and trimming away roots and slicing and dicing and cutting.

When I served up this culinary conquest, my husband took a few bites, murmured something about missing beef stew, ate a few more bites and resumed mumbling.

I kind of wanted to hit in the head with my big wooden spoon.

Instead, I offered up this bit of wisdom: “Eat it or die.”

The chicken stew, and subsequent recipes that have since been added to my provisional repertoire, has been modified a bit, but the principles behind making it a heart friendly meal remain the same. In my next post, I’ll talk about what makes a dish heart friendly, and how to flavor foods that are not “fat dependent”.

The chicken stew, by the way, was delicious. My husband’s taste buds, and attitude, just needed adjusting, and we’ll talk a bit about that as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Low Fat Diet Venture

No more Mac 'n Cheese
My husband is prone to high cholesterol and heart disease. His triple bypass at age 48 was the catalyst for my learning how to cook all over again, to cook “fat free”. No more beef stew with rich sauce, no more beef and Yorkshire pudding, or chicken kiev with gravy. No more Indian fry bread. No more biscuits slathered in gravy or mounds of mashed potatoes made with whole milk and butter. No more pound cake, cookies, ice cream sundaes or sweet, sugary cakes dressed in velvety frostings.

I worried about serving up boiled chicken and rabbit food. But I wanted my husband to live, so I learned how to cook all over again.

But “fat free” in an inaccurate label. Your body still needs certain fats. I don’t cook fat-free. I cook low-fat. My husband and I follow a low-fat, low-sodium diet.

The point of controlling the fat in our diet is to manage cholesterol, the culprit of heart disease. But, as my husband and I discovered, when you lower your bad cholesterol, you may also lower your good cholesterol. So I had to learn how to make the bad go down and the good go up.

Even if your cholesterol isn’t spiraling out of control, you should control the fats in your diet. In the next few posts, I’ll include some low-fat recipes that don’t taste like boiled chicken and rabbit food. I’ll show you how to adjust your diet so you don’t sacrifice taste for good health. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Betty Crocker's Gluten Free Mixes

Gluten free baking mixes have been available on the market for a few years now. Many of the manufacturers were small companies, and the products were marketed in specialty shops or online. And they were, and still are, quite expensive.

Enter Betty Crocker, a leader in the industry and a 900-pound gorilla in the gluten free product market.

Not only are the boxed mixes less expensive, under five dollars, the resulting baked goods taste every bit as good as their wheat-based counterparts.

The brownies I made up from the brownie mix, for example, are rich in flavor and have a moist, airy texture. No bitter aftertaste or dryness. No crumbly texture. No dense “wet spots”. I’ve tried quite a few of the gluten free mixes now, and Betty Crocker outperforms them all but Bob’s Red Mill and Cherrybrook Kitchens.

The 16-ounce box yields an 8x8 pan, which makes the cost a little higher than the mainstream mixes, but compared to other gluten-free mixes, the price is on the low end of the scale.

Betty Crocker produces not only the brownie mix, but also a chocolate chip cookie mix, and two cake mixes: devil’s food and yellow cake.

I find them in my local supermarket and usually pay $3.99 a box. That I can pick them up during my regular shopping trips, and don’t have to make a special trip, is a real boon.

That Betty Crocker is able to get these products onto the shelves of conventional supermarkets demonstrates not only that gluten-free has gone mainstream, but also that large food corporations, such as General Mills, are finally paying attention to the plight of those consumers who deal with food allergies every day of their lives.

Betty Crocker, just as in 1924 when General Mills aired “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air” on radio for information hungry cooks, is once again turning a niche market into a mass market. Those in the food industry should be watching, because that Betty, she’s one smart cookie.

Note: I have not received any compensation from Betty Crocker or General Mills, nor any other product mentioned in this review.