An Admission of Mindless Eating Guilt

Today's post is more of an admission of guilt than anything else. I'd like to publicly admit that Laura and I pretty much broke every one of the rules in my own Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating.

Well, we actually only broke nine of the ten rules. Technically speaking, we followed rule #10.

But just to show that we can break nine out of ten rules as well as the next person, I'd like to share what Laura and I bought from the grocery store last Friday night:

1 lb of dark chocolate M&Ms (not dark enough if you ask me)
1 4.5 ounce Cadbury Royal Dark chocolate bar
1 box of Dark Chocolate Haagen Dazs bars
1 pint of Haagen Dazs Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream
1 pint of Ben & Jerry's S'mores ice cream
1 pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream
1 pint of Ben & Jerry's Mint Chocolate Cookie ice cream

You'll note that there are no vegetables on this list, no inexpensive yet healthy dried beans, no generic foods, or anything else that's laughably cheap.

And we didn’t just BUY all this stuff either. We proceeded to plop ourselves down in front of the TV and start in on eating it. That’s of course a direct breach of rule #2.

Guess who felt loagy and had crazy dreams last weekend?

The French Press

The first time I ever laid eyes on a glorious French press coffeemaker was in England--of all places. We were having breakfast in a hotel in London, and I was eating a profoundly overcooked fried egg while staring bleakly at the dried-looking banger sitting next to it.

Worse, I was trying to figure out how I would survive an entire day of bad food and brown teeth on just a lousy cup of tea.

I was in that very state of unbridled optimism when someone put a glass carafe next to me with a kind of a plunger thing sticking out of it. I looked up from my shriveled banger and saw that it appeared to be filled with coffee!

I stared at it for a moment in a state of mild fear and suspicion. Somehow in my pre-caffeinated haze, I figured out that I needed to push the plunger down.

I then poured myself a cup of coffee that was so good that for a very brief moment I forgot I was in England.

On my next birthday, my wonderful in-laws bought me one of my own that I now use all the time.

French press fans know that the paper filters used in automatic drip coffeemakers will strip out many of the oils and other flavor enhancers in coffee. Coffee made in a French press leaves 'em in. The result is a richer, stronger and slightly foamy coffee that is absolutely delicious.

Instead of spending a lot of time explaining how to use a French press, let me instead refer you to one of the best tutorials out there. Scroll to the bottom third of the page to see particularly clear photo instructions.

But let me emphasize three quick points:
1) It is critical that you use a very coarsely ground coffee with a French press. Fine grounds will slip through the wire or mesh filter. The result will be a coffee that I can only describe as “furry” tasting. And even with a coarse grind, you’ll always see some coffee sediment in the bottom of your cup. That's Laura’s favorite part by the way.

2) This is the type of French press we use* (see below for a graphical link to Amazon). It's more expensive (the best kind to receive as a gift...), and it has the distinct advantage of not being made of glass. Here is the more traditional style of French press* (again, see below for a graphical link).

3) I do not measure out the coffee. Ever. It doesn't matter whether I'm using a French press or whether I'm using our regular drip coffeemaker. I feel that coffee measured carefully indicates a life lived unspontaneously. So I just dump some in. And then dump some more in. And then dump a tiny bit more in just in case. We like our coffee strong around here.


* Please note: if you buy one of the items from Amazon using the links provided, I will receive a small affiliate fee.

Our Favorite Coffee Store

We had a rather unusual experience at our favorite coffee store a couple weeks ago.

Don't get me wrong, the employees in Porto Rico Coffee Importers are this little shop’s best assets. They’re friendly, polite, and just a bit over-caffeinated.

But tonight, one of them was running all over the store, and at one point while he was rushing by us he stopped and put a raspberry candy in Laura's hand.

“Wanna candy?” he said. Before Laura could say anything back, he had rushed off.

In the meantime, however, she got an eyeful of the dirt under his fingernails. Okay, maybe it was coffee grounds, but what’s the difference when it’s under your fingernails? So she looked at the candy still sitting in her hand for a second and then oh-so-furtively slipped it under the espresso machine right next to us.

Maybe he’ll find it again and give it to another lucky customer.

But back to the store itself: Porto Rico has every kind of coffee you could imagine and at really reasonable prices, especially for New York. A pound of coffee in the bean (which they are happy to grind for you on the spot) is only $6.99 for most varieties, with some even cheaper at $4.99 and $5.99.

But make sure you know what KIND of grind you want, and tell the grinder person with confidence. Otherwise you’ll get interrogated on what kind of coffee maker you have and then you’ll get a lecture on the ideal ground size for that type of coffee maker. We got a guilt trip once asking for finely ground coffee for our (heaven forbid!) automatic drip coffee pot.

Regarding our little candy man though, we were wondering if this is what a crystal meth addict acts like, but his teeth were too good. It’s more likely that he just drinks too much of the inventory.

Or maybe you get that way from inhaling coffee dust? If that’s the case, maybe I should apply for a job there.


NEW YORK, N.Y. 10012

Pasta With Ken's

This is something I make on the weekends for lunch if neither of us is really up for cooking. It tastes great, it's laughably cheap, it's relatively healthy, and it's a great source of carbs for energy. Best of all, it takes almost no time to cook.

Basically this recipe is so simple that it can't really even be described in traditional "recipe format." Just cook up some pasta, drain off the water, and then add some Ken's Steak House Caeser salad dressing to the pasta. Make sure to go easy on the dressing at first and don't add too much--this tastes best with a light-to-moderating coating of Ken's.

Then add a few generous shakes of one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages, Tabasco. Give it a couple of good stirs and you're done! You can eat it right out of the sauce pan for maximum expedience.

Any kind of pasta will do. We tend to favor linguine or thin spaghetti in our household.

Granted this isn't exactly a balanced dish or anything, so you can't eat this every meal for weeks on end. But once or twice a week this is a great way to cut corners for an easy and quick meal.

Also, you can use this as a base for a a more complex "pasta salad" by adding pieces of hard cheese and fresh vegetables. Chopped green peppers, tomatoes, celery, red onions, fresh spinach leaves, sun-dried tomatoes... any of these could work well in the dish.

Today, however, I'm just looking for some fuel to last me until dinner, so making a whole pasta salad sure sounds like a lot of work. But the option's there if you want it.

How to Make Risotto

Here’s a risotto recipe that will even satisfy real live Italians with its authenticity. The sun-dried tomatoes add an amazing flavor that permeates the entire dish.
Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

5 cups of vegetable, meat or seafood stock
One medium onion, chopped
4-5 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup rice (see note 1, below)
3/4 cup white wine (please do not use "cooking wine")
Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped coarsely (see note 2)
Parmesan cheese, grated (see note 3)
Frozen peas (optional-see note 4)

1) Bring stock to a boil, then remove from heat.

2) In a separate non-stick pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 3-4 minutes until translucent (do not brown the onion).
3) Add the rice and stir until all of the rice is coated with oil. Heat the rice for 3 minutes or so, continuing to stir until the rice starts to become an opaque white color.
4) Add the white wine and stir constantly until it is absorbed, about 1-2 minutes.

5) Then gradually add the stock into the rice, starting with one to two ladles-full, then adding another ladle of stock every couple of minutes. Stir regularly. NOTE: Do not add all the stock at once!! Instead, gradually add the stock, one ladle-full at a time. If you dump it all in at once the rice will turn out soggy.
6) When the rice absorbs the liquid, add another ladle of stock. The whole rice-cooking process will take anywhere from 18 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the rice grains you are using.
7) At the 15 to 17 minute mark, you can add the sun-dried tomatoes. At about the 20 minute mark, start taste testing the rice for done-ness. It should be chewy and firm to the bite (al dente for you foodies out there),
but definitely not crunchy. When you think the rice is done, add in the grated parmesan along with a final half ladle-full of stock and stir until the cheese is melted and well mixed into the rice. Serve immediately.

Easily serves four as a main dish, serves 6-7 as a side dish.
A few final recipe notes:
1) Regarding the rice: If you really want to go authentic, be sure to use Arborio rice. Arborio rice is an extra thick, short-grain rice that has more starch content than regular rice. It gives the risotto a thicker, almost creamy texture. But I’ve found that regular rice works quite well too, and of course it's cheaper and easier to find in the grocery store.

2) Regarding the sun-dried tomatoes: If you are using dried sun-dried tomatoes, add them to the risotto with the first ladle-full of stock. If you are using sun-dried tomatoes in oil, add them just about five minutes before the rice is done. The softer, oil-based sun-dried tomatoes will disintegrate if you add them at the beginning, and the DRIED sun-dried tomatoes will be too tough if you add them at the end. This is an important distinction.

3) I’m not sure what it is about grating your own Parmesan cheese—maybe it’s the cooking with love, maybe it’s a little extra elbow grease that adds to the flavor, who knows? I encourage you to take the extra time and buy a block of Parmesan cheese and grate it by hand. It's just better than the pre-grated stuff.

4) You can use other ingredients in addition to (or in place of) the peas. Some suggestions: mushrooms, pieces of ham or pancetta, seafood (such as shrimp, scallops, etc), garlic, or any of a number of different kinds of veggies (best to use mild-tasting and firm vegetables like snap peas, green beans, etc). Most of these ingredients should be added when you're about halfway through cooking the rice, say at the 12 minute mark. If you want some extra help on ways to experiment here, take a look at my series on How to Modify a Recipe.


Related Posts:
Mock Wild Rice: An Insanely Easy To Make Side Dish
What's the Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen? Our Rice Cooker.
How to Make Fried Rice
How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make

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Wheat and Lime Muffins: In Search of the Perfect Commuter Food

If I have to, I can bring myself to pay $1.75 for a muffin, but it still annoys me.

Bagels are pretty cheap, but for some reason in our section of NYC's financial district there are no fresh bagel places--I can only find tough, day-old bagels (hmmmm--business idea?). In any case, a bagel, fresh OR stale, isn’t really energy-dense enough to last an entire morning.

Also there’s what they call a New Yorker's breakfast: coffee and a cigarette. Unfortunately, I need a few more calories than that to get me through to lunchtime.

So I’m always on the lookout for the perfect commuter food that I can make at home and eat at the office.

The perfect commuter food is something you can make in volume over the weekend and eat during the week. You should be able to take it with you on a train or bus or other mass transit without it getting smushed beyond recognition. It should be easy and convenient to eat while you're getting started on your workday. And it's best if you DON’T need a utensil to eat it.

One solution that works for me is perfectly boiled eggs, but I’m not a fan of eating eggs every day for weeks on end. Maybe once or twice a week.

But the commuter food I'm going to share with you today passes all of these tests. I've modified a muffin recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book into what I call Wheat and Lime Muffins. I know, the lime part seems a bit unusual at first, but trust me, it works.

I'll cook up a batch of these guys on Sunday afternoon (of course I'll also eat a couple right out of the oven), and then bring them to work on Monday morning. They'll keep for four days (at least) in an airtight container in my desk drawer here at the office.

If you are interested in seeing another example of recipe modification in action you can email me for the original recipe, which is “Honey Wheat Muffins” on page 61 (at least in my edition, from 1989) of Better Homes and Gardens.

Wheat and Lime Muffins
Heavily modified without permission from Better Homes and Gardens

Dry ingredients:
1 cup white flour (unsifted)
1/2 cup wheat flour (also unsifted)
2 teaspoons baking powder
a dash of salt

Liquid ingredients:
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I usually use corn oil here)
1 teaspoon (roughly) of finely grated lime peel

In one medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients (white and wheat flour, baking powder and salt)
In another medium bowl, use an electric mixer to combine egg, milk, honey, oil and lime peel. Add liquid ingredients all at once to dry ingredients and stir with a large spoon or rubber scraper until just moistened (make sure the batter is still somewhat lumpy, don't overstir).

Grease a 12 cup muffin pan, or use paper bake cups. Fill each muffin hole (jeez that sounds sort of off color, doesn't it?) about 2/3 full.

Bake at 400F for 18-20 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown. Best if served warm.

What do you eat for your commuter’s breakfast? I'd love to hear any additional ideas you have out there.