In defense of spuds

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No, it ain’t Michael Pollan on blogging loan.

Just me, myself and I urging a little compassion for our friend Solanum tuberosum, better known as the common potato.

While ‘taters today remain the world’s fourth-largest food crop, the tuberous plant has been much maligned in recent years, largely due to its high ranking on the Glycemic Index. Trailed by an abundance of bad press, potatoes have suffered somewhat in popularity in the U.S., but wrongly so.

While sweet potatoes (which are actually only distantly related to their white counterparts) are higher in beta-carotene and dietary fiber, spuds remain nutritional powerhouses.

A medium-sized white potato, for example, provides 45% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C, 18% of potassium and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc. White potatoes are also equivalent in their fiber content to whole grain breads, pastas and cereals.

While potatoes are indeed “starchy” foods, some of their starch (or glycogen, the stored form of carbohydrates in plants), is considered “resistant” in that it is resistant to digestion by stomach and small intestine enzymes, thereby reaching the large intestine more or less intact.

Resistant starch is theorized to have similar physiological effects and health benefits as dietary fiber. That is to say, resistant starch seems to add bulk to stools, improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, lower cholesterol, protect against colon cancer, increase satiety and potentially reduce fat storage in the body. The amount of resistant starch in a potato dish depends to some degree on its preparation.

Below is the nutrient break-down of a white potato, with and without the skin. Information courtesy of nutritiondata.com.

Nutrient Without skin (156 g) (% RDA) With skin (173 g) (% RDA)
Vitamin C 33 28
Thiamin 11 7
Niacin 11 12
Vitamin B6 23 27
Folate 4 12
Pantothenic Acid 9 7
Iron 3 10
Magnesium 10 12
Potassium 17 26
Copper 17 10
Dietary Fiber 9 15

As you can see, the nutritional benefits of white potatoes are nothing to sneeze at. And while it is true that potatoes have a relatively high Glycemic Index, the GI value of a potato does vary considerably depending on the type (red, Russet, etc.), where it was grown, its preparation methods (e.g. mashed v. whole) and whether it is served with high-fat or high-protein toppings, both of which would lower the potato’s GI.

So give the ol’ patata a second chance, and know that your are doing your body, as well as your taste buds, a world of good.

Patatas bravas, a classic Spanish tapas dish.

Recipe for the dish pictured available here.

UPDATE: Just saw this in the New York Times’ Health section online… I swear I didn’t steal the title (!)

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It’s National Salad Week, y’all!

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My Examiner article on the subject here.

Ode to a breakfast classic

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Somewhere between Mr. Quaker and the advent of Cheerios, oatmeal lost its luster.

Not to worry, though, ‘cuz the grain is and has been making a comeback in recent years.

After reports surfaced that the soluble fiber in oats could help lower cholesterol, the U.S. experienced an oat bran “craze” that peaked in 1989, right around the birth of yours truly.

Then, eclipsed by breakfast cereals with cutesy names and even cutesier shapes (Lucky Charms, for example), oatmeal suffered a temporary decline in popularity.

The cereal experienced a second wave of fanaticism, however, after a 1997 FDA ruling that foods containing oat bran or oats be allowed to display a “may reduce risk of heart disease!” claim.

Now on its way back into the hearts and breakfasts of families across the country, oats can be found in many forms, from convenient packets of flavored instant oats to one of my favorites– Irish Oats.

You could take your oats like the Swiss and enjoy a hearty bowl of Muesli, a popular dish made of uncooked rolled oats, fruit and nuts.

Muesli! Care of http://kathrynelliott.com.au/blog.

Or you could try your hand at one of the many Scottish oat-based dishes, from a traditional “porage” to something more daring like Highland black pudding (yuck!)

As for myself, I’m particularly fond of quick-cooking oats, which share the same nutrient profile as the slow-cooking sort. I’ve taken to mashing half a banana into my oats, which saves me from using added sugar or syrup as a sweetener.

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, with half a banana mixed in. Cinnamon and fresh cherries on top!

I’m also a fan of adding a small handful of shredded unsweetened coconut to my oats a minute or so before they are done cooking.

Boundless possibilities aside, oats are the perfect food to make your own. Add berries if you’ve got them, or stir a tablespoon or two of peanut butter into the mix. Go as wild as you’d like, or stick to the Gold Standard– rolled oats and a generous serving of Vermont maple syrup 🙂

In praise of mayonnaise

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Although I grew up in the land of crunch and granola and now live in a town chock full of New York Times-reading, Subaru-driving, NPR-listening liberals, I still reserve some air of disdain for the growing legions of folks who ask for their lattes with soy, their bread with whole wheat and their chocolate cake vegan.

To be sure, I prefer my own bread seeded and hearty, and have tasted vegan chocolate goodies that rival even my beloved chocolate zucchini cake, but I similarly retain warm and fuzzy feelings toward McDonald’s french fries and greasy cheese pizza fresh from the neighborhood franchise.

That said, there are some things that I refuse to eat out of a plastic bottle. Mayonnaise is one of them.

I first discovered the joys of homemade mayo several years ago, on one of my many “pure foods only!” kicks. I located some simple instructions in the family’s “Joy of Cooking,” and got to making. Egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, pepper and oil were all that were required of the recipe.

I’ve made homemade mayo several times, but the batch I made yesterday was particularly sublime. Once you experience the rich complexity of homemade, I can guarantee you that you’ll never look at Hellman’s the same way again.

My camera was doing some psychedelic funny business, so I don’t have any quality photos to share with you. Instead, I’ll take you through the recipe with a couple of shots I found online. Photo credits below.

NOTE: Because this creamy goodness is fresh, fresh, fresh, you have to discard any leftovers after two to three days. Let’s not get salmonella, y’all.

1. Put two large egg yolks in a food processor or electric mixer.

2. Add three tablespoons of lemon juice to yolks.

3. Add a quarter teaspoon salt and a pinch of white or black pepper.

4. Blend together ingredients until smooth and light before adding in increments one cup of oil. I used Whole Foods’ 365 Organic Canola Oil this time, and it made for an amazing mayo. You can also try light olive oil, which won’t overwhelm the taste of the mayo.

5. Several minutes later, et voila! Abundant quantities of delicious, nutritious homemade mayonnaise! Enjoy with tuna, chicken or in a Waldorf-esque salad.

Photo credits:

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl

http://www.google.com/imgres?

http://www.pinchmysalt.com

All the traditions

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Many families have a signature dessert, a dish they readily bring to gatherings with friends and relatives. The dessert in question might be linked to family heritage (a German chocolate cake, for example), or may have made its way into the kitchen repertoire by other means.

I grew up in a house that was perpetually stocked with homemade baked goods. Yes, poor me. My mother, who seems most at peace with at least two baking projects underway, famously botched her first baking assignment when she was just a teenager. Asked by my grandmother to assemble a blueberry cake for dinner guests that night, Mom threw together the ingredients and popped the cake pan in the oven, marveling at her own speed and efficiency.

Halfway through the baking process, however, Mom realized she had forgotten one crucial ingredient– the blueberries.

After a brief period of panic, Mama Brin did what any resourceful young cook would, stuffing several handfuls of blueberries into the baking cake. The end result was far from pretty, but, according to family lore, tasted just fine.

Mom’s signature dessert today is not blueberry cake, nor any derivation on the theme, but rather a humble and delicious chocolate cake.

Annie Brin’s famous chocolate cake has taken on a variety of incarnations, but today takes the form of a chocolate zucchini cake.

For those of you who have never tasted a chocolate zucchini loaf or dessert, there is nary a hint of vegetable taste to be found. Rather, the zucchini lends moisture and complexity to the treat, as well as helpful folate, potassium, vitamin A and manganese. Even the most veggie-phobic of individuals would have a hard time refusing a slice.

I’ve made this Brin family classic more than a few times, and can assure you that the prep. work isn’t much more complex than that of any other cake. So hit up your local farmer for some delicious zucchini, and adopt this signature dish as your own!

Mama Brin and I won’t breathe a word.

Recipe, chocolate zucchini cake:

1 and 1/2 cups canola oil

3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

4 eggs

3 cups sugar

1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

3 cups grated zucchini (make sure to peel the zucchini before grating them)

1 and 1/4 cups chopped walnuts

3 cups unbleached white flour

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate bits

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

3. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler.

4. Beat eggs until thick. Add the sugar and beat again, then add the oil and cooled chocolate.

5. Combine dry ingredients. Add the grated zucchini and 1 cup chopped nuts. Pour into tube pan.

6. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup nuts and the 8 oz. of chocolate bits on top of the cake batter.

7. Bake the cake between 1 and 1/4 hours and 1 and 1/2 hours, checking at 1 and 1/4 to see if the cake is done.

8. To make a quick (optional) frosting, beat the following in a mixer: unsweetened cocoa powder, confectionary sugar, a bit of milk, pinch of salt, one stick butter and a splash of vanilla. Frost the cake when it has cooled to room temperature, and ratchet up the cake’s sweetness by serving it with some delicious coffee-flavored ice cream.

This cake can also be made several days or more in advance, and freezes quite well.

Enjoy!

Cake, after a mid-sized hungry family has its way with it.

And on a lighter note…

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… some food porn!

As a professional nutritionist nutrition geek, I often dig into the stacks of “Eating Well,” “Nutrition Action” and “Vegetarian Times” magazines that have accumulated in our house over the years. While I must admit an occasional taste for trashier publications (“Us Weekly,” “People,” etc.), reading up on the merits of beta carotene or omega-3 fatty acids takes the proverbial cake for me any day.

On break today from a carpentry project I had been working on with my father, I was flipping through an old issue of ‘Eating Well’ when I came across a feature titled ‘4 Simple Desserts.’ One dessert in particular caught my eye– a parfait of ricotta, cherries, slivered almonds and cinnamon. There happened to be a dish of cherries in the fridge, so I went ahead and constructed the parfait, with a few small substitutions.

We Brin-Billians don’t have a microwave, so rather than zapping the fruit as instructed, I used a vegetable steamer and steamed the cherries over the stove top. I waited until the cherries had been steamed to de-pit them, and then layered the fruit with some Greek yoghurt, topping the mixture with some cinnamon and a bit of granulated sugar. Turbinado sugar would have also been a fine addition.

Cherry and cinnamon yoghurt parfait. My first attempt at food photography!

Take two. As you can see, I used quite a bit of cinnamon. All the more anti-inflammatory power!

The result? Utter and complete deliciousness, with a hefty dose of protein and calcium (the yoghurt), as well as a wide swathe of nutrients courtesy of the fruit and cinnamon.*

I encourage you to make this yoghurt parfait for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Feel free to make the dish your own– add almonds or walnuts for additional protein and healthy monounsaturated fats, or bits of dark chocolate for an extra kick.

Bon app!

* Note that Greek yoghurt, which is essentially “regular” yoghurt that has been strained, is lower in calcium than its pre-strained counterpart; some calcium is lost in the whey that is discarded. Despite being lower in calcium, however, Greek yoghurt is much creamier and (in my opinion) more flavorful than “regular” yoghurt.