Brazen Recipe Modification: How to Turn a Bad Recipe Into a Good One: Lime and Chipotle Shrimp

In today’s post I’d like to share how I took an unexpected recipe disappointment and turned it into a success.

A few weeks ago, I found and cooked up a recipe that I thought sounded absolutely amazing. As we'll see, I was totally wrong--the dish pretty much sucked. But with the use of recipe modification, I took what could have been a deeply upsetting cooking experience and turned it into a great addition to our collection of recipes.

The original recipe, Chipotle Lime Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp, is from Simply Recipes, and it sounded so good I literally started drooling at my computer. Let’s take a quick look at what turned out to be a fatally flawed recipe.

Here’s the original recipe (also see the original post with its teasingly delicious photos):
Chipotle Lime Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp

12 large, raw, peeled and deveined shrimp
2 Tbsp olive oil
Zest from 1 lime *
Juice from one lime (about 2 Tbsp)
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
6 strips thin bacon, cut in half (12 pieces)
Skewers (for grilling) or toothpicks (for oven)

1) Mix together in a small bowl the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, and chipotle powder. Put the shrimp in the lime chipotle mixture; make sure each piece is well coated.

2) Prepare grill on high, direct heat (if grilling) or preheat the oven to 450°F.

3) Working one at a time, wrap a half piece of bacon around each piece of shrimp. If you are grilling, thread the shrimp onto long, flat skewers (flat skewers make turning the shrimp on the grill easier). If you don't have flat skewers, I've used two thin bamboo skewers (soaked in water for 30 minutes beforehand) to the same effect. If you are using the oven, secure the bacon onto the shrimp with toothpicks. Place the bacon-wrapped shrimp on a slotted baking pan (lined with foil inside for easy cleaning). Brush remaining lime chipotle mixture on the outside of the bacon-wrapped shrimp.

4) Grill uncovered for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, or bake in the oven for 10-14 minutes, until shrimp is pink and the bacon is crisp.

[* A quick CK note on “lime zest”: "zest" is just the outermost part of the lime peel, not the white part. The same goes for lemon zest too. There is an actual tool that you can use (it’s allegedly called a "zester"), but I would just use a common vegetable grater and be careful to only capture the green part of the lime's peel. Take a look at the pictures below to see how to “zest” a lime.]

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it passes the five easy questions test no problem. And I must admit: for an infrequent meat-eater, I have a profound weakness for bacon. [Let me share an until-now secret anecdote that serves to express how bacon-crazy our household can be: Laura and I once had such a powerful bacon craving one Sunday morning that we split a pound of bacon between ourselves. Let’s just say the initial eating experience was great--but we felt awful and woozy for the next 48 hours. And I’m still trying to scrape the plaque out of my arteries from that fateful day.]

I also have a profound weakness for shrimp. You’ll notice there’s a tag on this blog called “shrimpfetish”--so a recipe that combines both bacon and shrimp should draw me in for sure. Quite frankly, the idea of combining these two foods in one dish never occurred to me, and it sounded tantalizing. I was sucked in.

I know now never to try that combination again.

Here was the problem: After making the dish and sampling the goods, our conclusion was that this recipe was just overwhelmingly salty. Sadly, the bacon added nothing to the dish whatsoever--it just buried the shrimp as well as everything else. You couldn’t taste the lime, you couldn’t taste the chipotle. All you could taste was the bacon-y salt flavor (and we all know that using salt = cheating!).

In short, it was a dish with zero subtlety.

Of course I don’t mean to disparage Simply Recipes as a site. In fact, I recommend looking it over for its wide collection of diverse recipes. My point here is to show how, even with good due diligence and a critical eye, a tasty sounding new recipe can break your heart.

At Casual Kitchen, we’ve come to some degree of acceptance that we will experience recipe flops every so often. We didn’t let this particular disappointment crush our spirit. Instead, this flop, combined with recipe modifications, yielded a brand new dish that turned out to be an amazing addition to our recipe collection.

My hope is that by showing this example it will help you think of ways to rebound from the occasional but inevitable disappointments that come with trying new recipes. The next time this happens to you, you can bounce back too.

So what did we do? First we made some key modifications. We removed the offending bacon and tripled the amount of chipotle powder. As Laura said when she first read the original recipe, “just 1/4 teaspoon of chipotle? Why bother?” Then we shortened the cooking time (without the shielding from the bacon, the shrimp will obviously take much less time to cook—but please keep in mind that the cooking time is a variable that depends on the size of the shrimp!).

What these modifications yielded was an amazing shrimp marinade that contained a subtlety and spiciness that perfectly complemented a mild meat like shrimp. And the recipe in its modified form is far less messy and takes one-third the time to make. No more do you have to goo up your fingers wrapping bacon around individual shrimps. Instead you can mix up the marinade in a flash, drop the shrimp in, then bake, broil or grill them, and in minutes you have a delicious meal ready. Now that’s a recipe that passes the five easy questions!

Here’s the final result: a simple, quick and stunningly delicious shrimp marinade:

Lime and Chipotle Shrimp
(brazenly modified from Simply Recipes’ Chipotle Lime Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp)

Marinade: Combine in a large bowl:
2 Tbsp olive oil
Zest from 1 lime
Juice from one lime (about 2 Tbsp)
3/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

12 large, raw, peeled and deveined shrimp

1) Rinse shrimp in cold water, then soak shrimp well in marinade for 5 minutes, making sure shrimp is well coated.
2) Place on skewers if grilling, or place shrimp on aluminum foil on a cookie sheet if baking or broiling. Spoon some of the excess marinade on top of the shrimp.
3) Grill 3-5 minutes on high heat, or until pink (don’t overcook!) or bake or broil in a preheated oven at 450F for 7-11 minutes until done.

You never know what new and amazing experiences can come your way, even in the face of deep disappointments.

Here's a quick pictoral on the final recipe:

Here's what it looks like to "zest" a lime (indulge me as I create a new verb):

Don't go too deep into the rind of the lime. You only want the green, outermost part of the peel:

Here's what the marinade looks like. What a deep rich red!

Coat the shrimp well in the marinade:

Spoon a little of the extra marinade onto the shrimp before you cook 'em:

And since we're such a pro-chipotle household, I thought I'd shake just a little extra on each shrimp:

Broil or grill:

And enjoy!

Antioxidant Alert! How to Cook Swiss Chard

I grew up with swiss chard as a staple of my summer diet, as my father grew it in our backyard garden every year. I thought it was a totally commonplace vegetable as a kid—it wasn’t until years later (when Laura asked me “what the heck is ‘swiss chard’?") that I really figured out that nobody’s ever heard of it.

If you're unfamiliar with this humble green, you’re missing out! Swiss chard is amazingly healthy, packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals and important antioxidants like lutein. It is delicious, mild in taste and really inexpensive--usually only 99c to $1.49 for an entire pound at the grocery store.

And of course, because of the “no net calories” rule (meaning you burn almost as much energy eating and digesting it as you take in by eating it in the first place), you can eat swiss chard until you’re green in the face and never gain weight.

So today my goal is to give you a few quick instructions on how to cook swiss chard and encourage you to cook it for your family. And in the next few days, I’ll also post a great vegetarian soup recipe that uses either swiss chard or kale, which is another high lutein green.

How to Cook Swiss Chard:
First rinse the leaves well in water. Then cut the last half-inch or so off from the ends of each stem. This is for aesthetic reasons only (you know, the way it looks), as the stems are usually a bit discolored at the very end.

Then, put 2-3 inches of water into the bottom of a 4 or 5 quart sauce pan, and put on the stove on high heat. You can chop up the rinsed leaves and stems while the water comes to a boil. This is a textbook example of using parallel processing to save cooking time.

To chop everything most efficiently, I usually lay the full stack of leaves (with stems still attached) into one big pile on my cutting board and hack them crosswise into strips about one to two inches wide. You should be sure to slice up the stems. They're good too, with the consistency of a celery stalk but a milder taste.

Then I’ll turn the knife 90 degrees and cut the greens once or twice lengthwise. In just a quick minute or two you've reduced an enormous pile of swiss chard into reasonable, bite-size pieces.

Another hint: always prep more swiss chard than you think you need. The greens will cook down quite a bit in the pan.

Then, once the water is boiling well, pack the chopped greens into the pan and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium and let the greens steam for 10-11 minutes. Swiss chard is one of the sturdier greens out there, so you’ll want to give it a few more minutes of cooking time than more tender greens like spinach which cook fully in just 4-5 minutes.

Then drain and serve! I encourage you to avoid adding butter or salt, but you can certainly add pressed garlic for an extra kick.

Related Posts:
Attention Vegetarians and Vegans! Fresh Corn and Tomato Soup
Eat Right to See Right: Foods for Better Eye Health
Bad Vision: The Four Worst Diet Habits for Eye Health
Antioxidant Alert! Collard Greens with Rice and Kielbasa

Blueberry Coffee Cake: Nostalgia Foods

I was just home visiting my parents last weekend, so the cooking theme on my mind this week is nostalgia foods.

For me, these are usually recipes that my Mom made for me when I was a kid. There's an extra joy in eating childhood foods as an adult. Somehow it unlocks just a little bit of that childlike happiness that we tend to lose as we get older. For me, it's the combination of taste, smell and memory that brings these feelings rushing back.

Now that we're all serious, baggage-laden grownups, it's an all too rare occasion to reach that childlike state of happiness--that flowing mental state where you don't worry about the future or dwell upon the past, but instead you experience the simple joy of the present moment. And it feels all the sweeter when you also happen to be eating something really good.

Adult life--so often full of worries, obligations, tight schedules and vague sources of stress--doesn't let you get there too often, does it?

But of course nostalgia foods can be from any period of your life, not just childhood. I have plenty of nostalgia foods from my teens, my 20s and even my 30s.

I think maybe the best and simplest definition of nostalgia food is any food that reminds you of your past in a happy, simple and heartfelt way.

And the more I think about it, maybe the entire reason why I'm on a cooking journey to try new recipes and new cuisines is in order to create salient and memorable food experiences that might someday become tomorrow's nostalgia foods!

Today I'm going to share with you a favorite from my childhood: my Mom's blueberry coffee cake. It's perfect for this time of year because blueberries are in season right now in the Northeastern US.

We'd have it on occasional Sundays when I was a kid, either before or after going to church. It was always a special treat that I looked forward to. Funny how I never asked my mother for the recipe until now. But now that I have it, I'd like to share it with you too.

Blueberry Coffee Cake

1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour (note: be sure to sift flour first, then measure. Also don't use plain white flour--be sure to use cake flour--you can find it in the baking aisle of any grocery store)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter (half a stick, or 4 Tablespoons)
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup blueberries (note: you can use frozen or fresh blueberries; if frozen, be sure to thaw them out first--don't add frozen blueberries directly into the batter or you'll have "cold zones" in the coffee cake that will come out undercooked and gooey)

Topping mixes:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 1/2 Tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon butter

Measure sifted flour. Add baking powder, salt and sift again.

Cream butter and sugar well, add egg and beat thoroughly.

Add flour, alternately with milk, beating well after each addition (note: my mother suggests adding about 1/4 of the flour, then alternate with 1/3 of the milk, then 1/4 of the flour, then 1/3 of the milk, etc, until you finish with the final 1/4 of the flour last).

Hand stir in the blueberries.

Pour batter into generously greased 9" layer pans (note: these are round pans usually used for layer cakes--at Casual Kitchen we actually don't own pans like this! You can use a 9" square baking pan instead with no problems).

Sprinkle the top of the batter with the "dry topping" mix of sugar and cinnamon.

Bake for 20 minutes at 375F. While the coffee cake is baking, warm the butter and milk (the "wet topping" mix) on low heat on the stove until the butter is melted. Stir well and spoon over the top of the coffee cake.

Then, bake for another 15 minutes at 375F. Serve warm.


Cajun Meatloaf: A Meatloaf Recipe that would Burn June Cleaver's Tongue Off

Coming from a nice suburban WASP family, I've of course eaten my fair share of meatloaf.

Ah, meatloaf. One of the most derided foods of midwestern American cuisine.

But I'm here to tell you that today's recipe is no ordinary meatloaf. This is Paul Prudhomme meatloaf, baby. This is the kind of meatloaf that would burn June Cleaver's tongue off and wilt her bouffant!

Cajun Meatloaf:
(slightly modified from Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen)

Spice Mix:
2 whole bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne (hot) pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Other Ingredients:
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, either minced or pressed

1 Tablespoon Tabasco sauce (yep, you read that right)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup catsup

1 1/4 lbs ground beef
3/4 lbs ground pork (note: you can use 2 lbs ground beef and no ground pork if you prefer)

2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup dry bread crumbs

1) Combine the seasoning mix in a small bowl and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, green pepper, scallions, garlic, seasoning mix, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Saute on medium-high heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 6-7 minutes. Stir well and be careful not to let the mixture stick to the bottom of the pan.

3) Stir in the evaporated milk and the catsup, and cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool (I usually put it in the freezer for 15 minutes to speed up this process).

4) Mix the ground beef and ground pork well in a 9x13 inch baking pan (I use a lasagna pan). Add the eggs, the bread crumbs and the cooked vegetable mixture (don't forget to remove the bay leaves). Mix thoroughly by hand, and then shape the mixture into a loaf that is about 2-3 inches high, 7-8 inches wide and 11-12 inches long. Leave an inch or two of space around the edges of the pan as shown in the picture below:

5) Bake uncovered at 350F for 25 minutes, then turn oven temperature up to 400F and cook for another 35 minutes longer (the extra cooking time at high heat will crisp up the outside of the meatloaf. Delicious!). Easily serves 6.

Finally, I'll make two very minor modification suggestions for readers out there with tender palates:

1) If you can tolerate some heat, just add 1/2 a Tablespoon of Tabasco, rather than the full Tablespoon.

2) If you really can't stand hot food, leave out all the Tabasco.

Note that in both cases, I'd leave the spice mix alone with its triumvirate of cayenne, black and white ground pepper. Don't be a total wimp.

Mmmmmmmmmmm, Tabasco!

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 10

Welcome (finally!) to Step 10 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:

10) Indulge a Little.
This final rule is really about experiencing some joy and some guilty pleasures every so often.

Go ahead and overeat every once in a while. Heck, overdrink every once in a while too. Sometimes you have to let your hair down and misbehave. It’s part of being human, and sometimes a little gluttony is what makes life worth living. There are diets, for example, that allow for “cheat days.” That idea really resonates with me. It seems to me that healthy eating habits can be more effectively built if you can break them once in a while without having to feel like a quitter or a total loser. It reminds me of the classic quote from Saint Augustine: “God, grant me chastity, but not now.”

So break the rules once in a while. But then return to your normal, healthful habits and have those habits drive the preponderance of your behavior. Don’t make overindulgence be your standard practice, lest it kill you before your time.

Readers, what additional steps you would add to this list?

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 9

Welcome to Step 9 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


9) Cut Back on Your Alcohol Intake.
Note that I didn't say cut your alcohol intake down to zero. Life just wouldn't be worth living under those terms.

We stick to drinking alcohol about three times a week, usually in the form of red wine, but also in the form of various mixed drinks. A little drinking is a healthy thing, especially when it involves red wine and all of its cardiovascular benefits. In fact my brother in law conducted his own highly successful personal experiment with the so-called French Paradox, and after more than a year of nearly constant cheese eating balanced out with not-quite-constant red wine drinking, he came back across the Atlantic with dramatically lower cholesterol numbers.

But while alcohol, in any of its forms, is one of the great analgesics in life, it is also one of the worst sources of empty and fattening calories. And certainly any consistent and heavy alcohol overindulgence carries even more serious long term risks.

Finally: Step 10: Indulge a Little

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 8

Welcome to Step 8 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


8) Get More Sleep
The reason I want to raise this issue here is that your sleep patterns will dictate so many things in the rest of your life.

Your sleep patterns drive:
a) Your ability and desire to exercise,
b) How well, or how poorly, you metabolize your food,
c) The performance of your immune system and how your body can fight off disease, and
d) How you feel overall.

I’ll share with you one technique that has worked wonders for me over the past several years: I made myself into a consistent early riser. Although I go to bed at varying times, I get up at roughly the same time every morning. It doesn’t matter whether it’s during the week and I’m rushing off to catch an insufficiently air-conditioned bus into New York City, or whether it’s the weekend and I’m stumbling over to our French press to make some early morning coffee. Either way, I’ll be getting out of bed within an hour, give or take, of my normal 5:30AM wakeup time.

The effect for me is at the end of the day, no matter what day it is, I am usually sleepy and ready for bed at about 10:00-10:30PM. On any given day I can push this bedtime back a few hours if there’s something fun to do late at night, but I still force myself to get up at the same early time the next day. This has effectively grooved my sleep patterns into an easy, consistent habit and it has helped me get the 7 to 7 ½ hours of high quality sleep my body needs each night.

There are plenty of sources out there that address sleep issues with more depth and competence than I’ll be able to, since sleep issues are beyond the scope of this blog. But I’ll recommend one high quality post on how to become an early riser to get you started if you want to pursue the subject further.

Next: Step 9: Cut Back on Your Alcohol Intake

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 7

Welcome to Step 7 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


7) Exercise. Break a Sweat Three Times a Week.
This rule has multiple benefits. First, the more exercise you do, the more you can occasionally bend or break the rest of these rules. Exercise is like penance. It cancels out your eating and drinking sins by burning them off.

But the second benefit of exercise is this: the more you exercise and the fitter you get, the less you want to bend or break these other rules.

A fit body simply does not crave high fat foods. The fitter you get, the more your appetite will tilt towards antioxidant- and fiber-rich foods. This further magnifies the already positive effects of fitness.

Forgive the ironic expression, but this like a free lunch: if you exercise and get more fit, it will make you want to eat less unhealthy food, which makes you even fitter, which makes you even more successful at exercise, which makes you fitter still!

Note, at least for me, this strategy fails with regard to chocolate. But I digress…

Next: Step 8: Get More Sleep

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 6

Welcome to Step 6 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


6) Don’t smoke.
So obvious that it hardly needs to be said. I’m not talking about the occasional cigar—that borders on the acceptable (see rule #10 below). What will kill you, of course, is making a regular habit of smoking.

If you do smoke regularly, quit. You’ll smell better, live longer and you’ll get rid of that nagging tubercular cough. Plus, you’ll stop killing those around you who might inhale your second-hand smoke.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an individual’s right to choose to smoke. Just don't exhale near me.

Next: Step 7: Break a Sweat Three Times a Week

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 5

Welcome to Step 5 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


5) Eat less than you want.
There has been a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal over the past few years about studies on “calorie restriction” diets where people would subsist (I can’t think of a better word for it than that) on a diet of some 1200 calories or so a day:

“The link between calorie restriction and increased longevity has intrigued scientists for decades. In the 1930s, animal tests showed that cutting normal calorie intake by about a third boosted life spans by 30% to 40%. Lately, there's been evidence to suggest that calorie restriction might slow human aging, too."

Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you go down this particular road. But what I am suggesting is that you keep a modified version of this concept front and center in your mind. Most of the time, you should simply eat less food than you want.

I’ve covered this concept to some extent in my mindless eating post (see strategy #8). In the modern world, highly-refined and energy-dense food is practically everywhere around us. Yet our paleolithic bodies are still in the mode of wolvishly satisfying our hunger pangs at all costs because back in the caveman days, there was no telling how long it might be until our next meal.

So in the modern world, we need to learn to NOT listen to our bodies in this one respect. Recognize that hunger (or better said, "fullness") is a misleading sensation. Satisfying it fully will cause you to consume more food than your body needs.

Next: Step 6: Don't Smoke

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 4

Welcome to Step 4 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


4) Learn to Cook Your Own Food.
Nothing will teach you appreciation for a healthy diet like learning how to cook. You’ll start to pay closer attention to the ingredients you’re using because they are right there in front of you. It will teach you to appreciate foods that don’t require additives, preservatives, excess salt or high fat content to make them taste good.

Sure, cooking your own food involves some basic skills and some modest setup costs, but nobody’s forcing you to create a culinary masterpiece seven nights a week. You don’t have to invest a lot of time or money. That’s a big part of what this blog is all about—to teach and share with others the fundamental enjoyment of preparing simple and casual food.

Next: Step 5: Eat Less Than You Want

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 3

Welcome to Step 3 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


Avoid Processed Foods.
The worst kinds of foods out there for your health are highly refined and energy-dense foods. I’m talking about candy bars, Twinkies, Doritos, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Oreos, most kid’s breakfast cereals, corn syrup-laden sodas, etc. Most of these foods contain both sugar AND salt in frightening amounts.

I’ll depress you even further. Your body can transmute these processed "foods" into body fat unbelievably efficiently. This is especially true if you are sedentary. And even if you are a regular exerciser, you can actually feel these foods literally clogging up your bloodstream and slowing you down during workouts.

The richest irony here is these kinds of foods are often the most expensive foods in the grocery store! Collard greens are only 99c a pound, but Doritos are $4 for a one-pound bag. Which of the two will leave globby residue on the inside of your arteries? Try to focus your diet away from these kinds of foods and instead focus on the types of foods in rule #1.

Next: Step 4: Learn to Cook Your Own Food

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 2

Welcome to Step 2 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


2) Go Only Partially Vegetarian:
If you’re a close reader of my blog, you’ll be familiar with my philosophy on vegetarianism: I embrace the cuisine from a style and health standpoint, but my wife and I only masquerade as vegetarians. We are both fundamentally omnivores and not apologetic about it.

It's a simple fact that vegetarian cuisine is typically higher in fiber, lower in fat and sodium, and all around healthier than a typical meat-centered cuisine. The added advantage of vegetarian food is its diversity and originality. You’ll be surprised, even after just a cursory look, at the ethnic diversity and wide variety of ingredients in most vegetarian cookbooks. I think it’s because vegetarians tend to be more cuisine-curious than the average omnivore (this is an unscientific opinion based on my completely anecdotal experience with lots of vegetarian friends).

But at the risk of annoying both vegetarians and meat-eaters, I strongly urge you to eat some meat (or dairy) on occasion too, just not every day.

Why? Mainly, I just think it’s best to be absolutely sure you get the full complement of amino acids, fats and other nutrients that can be pretty hard to replicate on a strict vegetarian diet.

Please keep in mind--I’m not trying to make any argument for or against vegetarianism, as I’m obviously a fan of it as a cuisine. For our part, we eat meat usually two to three times a week at most, although we tend to stick to leaner meats like chicken (although we’ll indulge in a burger or even some extraordinarily high-fat corned beef and cabbage on occasion too).

And if you are stepping up your exercise meaningfully (see #7 below), it will be even more important to follow the “eat meat every few days” maxim. I have personal experience trying to run a marathon in my mid-20’s on a very low-protein diet, where I was unable to maintain muscle mass during my peak training months. I suffered many more training injuries as well as compromises to my immune system back then compared to marathons I ran later in life when I was on a more balanced diet. I’ll cover this subject in more depth in a future post about how to think about issues regarding diet and food energy density during athletic training.

For the normal people out there not running marathons, just keep in mind that most meats are highly energy-dense. Therefore, for most people, reducing your meat intake and replacing it with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables will give you a really easy way to keep your weight down and improve your overall health.

For a list of recommendations of my favorite vegetarian cookbooks, take a look at the bottom of my Try Veggie post.

Next: Step 3: Avoid Processed Foods

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps: Step 1

Welcome to Step 1 of How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps:


1) Eat More Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Most fruits and vegetables contain healthy concentrations of antioxidants, but of course leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, collards and swiss chard are the best examples.

I’ll even go a step further and suggest that you should consider eating more fruits and vegetables than meat in most of your meals. Let these antioxidant-rich foods be the foundation of your diet.

After you spend a few weeks, or even a few days, with foods like this being the bulk (no pun intended) of what you eat, you will find some profound changes occur in your body. You'll feel better, you'll have more energy and you’ll be lighter on your feet.

Better still, in the long run you’ll dramatically reduce your risk of colon cancer (and other cancers as well), and you’ll lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and overall risk of cardiovascular ailments. You'll even see better, as diets rich in antioxidants reduce the risk and severity of age-related vision problems like macular degeneration and cataracts.

Moreover, the beauty of foods like fruits and vegetables is that it takes almost as much energy to eat and digest them as you actually get by eating them. Result: very few net ingested calories. You can basically eat lettuce or green beans until you’re green in the face and you'll never gain weight.

Next: Step 2: Go Only Partially Vegetarian

How to Live Forever in Ten Easy Steps

Admittedly, immortality is a pretty broad and far-reaching subject for a mere cooking blog. But I think it can be safely said that one of the biggest determinants to your life expectancy is how you eat, what you eat, and how much you eat.

Today's post contains ten suggestions for how to dramatically increase your lifespan, mainly by focusing on food. Click on each link for an expanded discussion.

Here goes:

1) Eat More Antioxidant-Rich Foods:
In the long run you’ll dramatically reduce your risk of colon cancer (and other cancers as well), and you’ll lower your cholesterol, blood pressure and overall risk of cardiovascular ailments.

2) Go Only Partially Vegetarian:
Vegetarian cuisine is typically higher in fiber, lower in fat and sodium, and all around healthier than a typical meat-centered cuisine. But at the risk of annoying both vegetarians and meat-eaters, I strongly urge you to eat some meat (or dairy) on occasion too. Just not every day.

3) Avoid Processed Foods:
The worst kinds of foods for your health are highly refined and energy-dense foods like candy bars, Doritos, Oreos, and most breakfast cereals. Your body can transmute these refined foods into body fat unbelievably efficiently.

4) Learn to Cook Your Own Food:
Nothing will teach you appreciation for a healthy diet like learning how to cook.

5) Eat Less Than You Want:
Recognize that hunger (or better said, "fullness") is a misleading sensation. Satisfying it fully will cause you to consume more food than your body needs.

6) Don’t Smoke:
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for an individual’s right to choose to smoke. Just don't exhale near me.

7) Exercise. Break a Sweat Three Times a Week:
Exercise is like penance. It cancels out your eating and drinking sins by burning them off. Moreover, the more you exercise and the fitter you get, the less you want to bend or break these other rules.

8) Get More Sleep:
Your sleep patterns will drive
a) Your ability and desire to exercise,
b) How well, or how poorly, you metabolize your food,
c) The performance of your immune system and how your body can fight off disease, and
d) How you feel overall.

9) Cut Back on Your Alcohol Intake:
Alcohol may be one of the great analgesics in life, but it is also one of the worst sources of empty and fattening calories.

10) Indulge a Little:
Experience some guilty pleasures every so often. It’s part of being human, and sometimes a little gluttony is what makes life worth living.

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