How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink

I'd be remiss, after all of my diet and athletic training essays, if I didn't share this easy and inexpensive sports drink recipe from my Eat to Win guru, Robert Haas.

This recipe has served us very well over the years, even after the most grueling hot-weather workouts.

Modified slightly from Robert Haas' Eat To Win.

8 ounces orange juice
8 ounces cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir well and drink.

Compared to Gatorade or Powerade at $2.00 to $2.50 for a 32-ounce bottle, this recipe is just as healthy at a fraction of the cost. Enjoy!

When High-Carb Diets Don't Work: Diet and Athletic Training Part 3

This is Part 3 of a three part series on diet and athletic training.
Part 1
Part 2

Laura: "Remember when you ran your first marathon? You looked emaciated back then."

Following our last post on the advantages of a high-carb/low-fat diet, we're going to talk today about a primary disadvantage of this diet: it tends to fail when used along with a heavy-duty training regimen.

Like I said last week, I took the Eat to Win lifestyle to heart while I was training for my first marathon. And during the first few months of training, when I was ramping from very light mileage to perhaps 20 miles a week, this diet worked fantastically. I had never felt better.

Moreover, this was back in my broke grad student days too, so the cost of the diet (or lack thereof) resonated with me as well. I was eating my quasi-vegetarian diet and having modest portions of meat perhaps once or twice a week. Normally this wouldn’t be a big problem if I had been overweight or was undertaking light to moderate exercise.

But I was not overweight to begin with, and I was training for a marathon. I was getting a little bit carried away with the pasta, quite frankly, and I wan't eating enough protein or fat. But why should I? I had never felt this fit before.

Unfortunately, things began to break down as I went above the 25 miles per week mileage level (this is the realm of medium-to-heavy distance training for a first-time novice marathoner). I simply didn’t respect the fact that I wasn’t taking in enough protein and fat for my body to maintain muscle mass and rebuild itself from training.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still fit. My body fat levels were lower than ever before, my resting pulse was 48 beats a minute, and my blood pressure numbers would typically be something like 107/57.

But I started to find myself struggling through runs. I had some training injuries, including a badly pulled calf muscle, and I was much more susceptible to getting sick. I caught a cold in September, and I came down with a bad case of bronchitis a week or two after finishing the marathon itself.

And therein is the primary “con” argument against high-carb/low-fat diets, especially when taken to an extreme, like I did: You just can’t cut your fat and protein intake down to a bare minimum while you’re under an aggressive endurance training regimen.

Because I too rigidly embraced a complex carbohydrate-based diet, my body wasn’t able to restore itself, and it wasn’t able to protect itself from injuries. You’ve got to replace what your body breaks down. When you are doing heavy, strenuous, and long term physical training, your body will be breaking down its fat cells and muscle cells. You have to ingest more protein--and yes, fat too--in order to replenish what your body is burning off.

This doesn’t mean you should head back to the junk food aisle and pick up a dozen bags of Doritos, but it does mean that you can and should take in more lean meats, perfectly boiled eggs, and even consider an occasional Polish kielbasa breakfast like the one we discussed the other day. During my heaviest training weeks for my second and third marathons, I actually drank soy- and whey-based protein shakes every day. This made an enormous difference in my overall strength, endurance and health--although I was kind of disappointed that I somehow never developed a body quite like the musclebound guy on the cover of the protein mix box.

The real lesson here is that everything (diet-wise or otherwise) must be done in moderation. For me, that meant listening to my body and thinking about my diet in the context of of the intensity of my exercise routine.

And that's the great thing about exercise, whether you do moderate workouts three times a week or if you’re doing heavy endurance training 5-6 days a week. It teaches you to pay attention to your body and give it what it needs, rather than shoveling food in first and asking questions later.

Thanksgiving Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating

Seeing as how Thanksgiving is tomorrow and we're in the middle of a series of posts on different types of diets, I thought I'd share my Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating post with readers once again.

On turkey day, strategies #6, #7 and #8 will be most useful.

So this Thanksgiving, why not try:

  • 1) Using a smaller plate (try it, it really does work),
  • 2) Taking a little extra time to eat slowly and notice (and enjoy) your food, and
  • 3) Stop eating before you feel full (but not too soon before you feel full).

You'll feel a lot better after dinner, I can guarantee you that.

Finally, I know lots of us can get so caught up in the logistics and preparation of Thanksgiving that we sometimes forget to enjoy the meal itself and the company we're with. I don't mean to be too preachy and prescriptive, but be sure to take a little extra time tomorrow to be grateful and enjoy the moment.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!

The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet: Diet and Athletic Training Part 2

This is Part 2 of a three part series on diet and athletic training.
Part 1
Part 3


We continue our series on diet and athletic training with today's post, which focuses on high-carb/low fat diets. I’ll talk about why this kind of diet is absolutely optimal for people undertaking moderate levels of physical exercise.

Like most people, when I was in my teens and twenties, I paid absolutely no attention to my diet (one of the luxuries of youth!). But at around age 22-23 I began running seriously, and I decided I’d like to try to train for and run a marathon. Of course, being the type-A corporate tool that I am, I started studying books on distance training as well as books on optimal diets for runners.

And I happily fell under the influence of Dr. Robert Haas’ book, Eat To Win. Haas made his name in the early 80s as one of the key people behind Martina Navratilova’s dominance of professional tennis at that time. His highly useful and readable book advocates coupling exercise with a diet low in fat and rich in complex carbohydrates. His slogan "fat burns in the flame of carbohydrate” pretty much says it all. I started dramatically cutting back on my junk food intake (yes, even dark chocolate), and I paid very close attention to, and ruthlessly limited, how much fat I ingested. And I ate a lot more pasta.

Furthermore, I started paying much closer attention to how well I ran under various dietary circumstances. I started to put more effort into noticing* how my body handled itself during my runs after a few days of excessive high-fat eating, compared to days when I ate more healthily.

I had never really paid that much attention to my body's physical performance in the context of my diet. But once I started noticing, the conclusions were obvious: runs after “bad diet days” were universally awful compared to runs after “good diet days.”

Elsewhere in this blog, I’ve talked about how if you exercise regularly and eat energy-dense foods sparingly, you will experience profound changes in your body. You'll begin to feel better, you'll begin to sleep better, you'll have more energy, and you'll feel lighter on your feet. You will begin to metabolize your excess body fat.

Granted, when you exercise, your appetite increases also. But the ironic secret of this diet is this: you don't really need to eat that much less food! As long as you exercise regularly and reduce the fat content and overall energy-density of your diet, you will see results.

Moreover, many people who embark on this diet and exercise combination even find that their body simply stops craving high-fat foods. That bag of Doritos just doesn't look as appetizing when you think about how it will clog up your cardiovascular system during your run tomorrow morning.

And this is where an amazing virtuous cycle begins. Your improved diet leads you to feel better, which leads you to have better and better workouts, which leads you to crave fewer high-fat foods, which leads you to feel even better, which leads you to have even better workouts, which accelerates the metabolization of even more body fat. Rinse and repeat.

That, in a nutshell, is the primary “pro” argument for a high-carb/low-fat diet and exercise combination. You will be astounded at the improvements in your physical fitness after just a few weeks of maintaining an Eat to Win-type diet combined with light to moderate exercise.

What I did, however, was take this diet to an extreme. We'll discuss the "cons" of this diet in the next post in this series.

Related Posts:
Mock Wild Rice: An Insanely Easy To Make Side Dish
How to Make Fried Rice
The Granola Blogroll: The Ultimate Authority on Great Granola Recipes

How to Make a Perfectly Boiled Egg Every Time


* NB: I've talked very briefly about the concept of “noticing” (some psychologists use the term "attention") in Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating. This is a powerful concept that has applications in life far beyond the scope of this blog, but I hope to return to it in a cooking context. You can find a powerful, although non-food related, introduction to this concept in Timothy Miller's mind-opening book How To Want What You Have.

When High-Fat Food Can Actually Be Healthy For You: Diet and Athletic Training Part 1

Dan: Should we cook the whole thing? Let's cook the whole thing. Life is short.

Laura: Yep. Let's make it even shorter.

Thus began our breakfast from the other day, consisting of three-quarters of a pound (split between us) of delicious polski kiełbasa from one of our town's local Polish delicatessens. Cost? $3.49. Calories? I don't want to know. Grams of fat? No comment.

Preparing this breakfast was a snap. Slice up the sausage both crosswise and lengthwise into manageable chunks, and fry in a nonstick pan for three or four minutes per side on medium-high heat.

The purpose of today's post is to begin a discussion about energy-dense food, and to explain why it’s actually okay, on occasion, to eat food like today’s Polish sausage, especially for breakfast. This delicious sausage might be pretty high in fat and protein, but that does not mean it is by definition unhealthy. It’s only unhealthy if you're sedentary and you eat this kind of food to excess.

I know this will sound heretical to those readers conditioned by the food industry to believe "fat is bad." But on a typical Sunday, where our afternoon plans might include a five-mile run, a long hike, or two hours on the local tennis courts, we've found that modest portions of a protein-rich (and yes, a relatively fat-rich) food like this actually makes for a nearly perfect energy-dense breakfast.

What does the term "energy-dense" mean? It simply means you get a lot of calories, and thus fuel for your body, in a relatively small volume of food. Note that you'll need to watch your portion size carefully with these kinds of foods. Just a few bites can fuel your body for a surprisingly long time.

And certainly, no energy-dense meal can be good for you if you don't exercise and ultimately burn all of the calories you take in. And if you run out there immediately after a meal like this, you won’t play your best (although you will barf your best). But a modest-sized breakfast of Polish sausage (or perhaps two perfectly boiled eggs), eaten an hour or two before heavy physical activity, will provide you with a far superior fuel than any typical sugar-laden breakfast cereal.

Once again, the key issue is: you need to burn the fuel. If you flatly refuse to exercise and cling to a sedentary lifestyle, then quite frankly you should avoid energy-dense foods as much as possible. It's simply too easy for your body to convert fuel-rich food like this into body fat.

I'll be returning to the subject of food energy-density shortly, where I'll cover other issues related to diet and athletic training, including the pros and cons of a high-carb/low-fat diet, and what kind of diet will help you do heavy athletic training without compromising your muscle mass and immune system.

This is Part 1 of a three part series on diet and athletic training. Please see:
Part 2:
The Pros and Cons of a High-Carb/Low-Fat Diet, and
Part 3:
When High-Carb Diets Don't Work.

Related Posts:
How to Make Your Own Inexpensive Sports Drink
Ten Strategies to Stop Mindless Eating
Three Easy, Delicious and Inexpensive Homemade Salad Dressing Recipes

Groundnut Stew: A Classic and Exotic Vegetarian Recipe

Today I bring you a classic vegetarian recipe that's been a staple in our kitchen for years. It comes from one of the all-time best vegetarian cookbooks out there: Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant.

This stew is truly exotic, despite the fact that it's made from a list of totally plain-jane ingredients from the store. It's also healthy, simple to make, and contains a full complement of vitamins, minerals and fiber (and even a healthy dose of protein, as you'll see below). With only 30 minutes of prep time, plus another 35-40 total minutes of cook time, you can feed 6-8 people (or more) easily.

As with most of the vegetarian soups I've featured in this blog, this recipe is laughably cheap. Correction: make that hysterically cheap. The entire pot of stew, which usually feeds the two of us for an entire week, costs about $10.00 to make. That means that on a per-serving basis, this dish is even cheaper than our Fried Rice.

Once again we have further proof that cooking at home simply crushes eating out in a restaurant, both from a health and an economic standpoint.

Groundnut Stew
Somewhat modified from the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook

2 medium-to-large onions, sliced or coarsely chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 garlic cloves, either minced or
3-4 cups coarsely chopped cabbage
2-3 medium to large sweet potatoes, cubed coarsely
3 cups tomato juice
1 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons fresh peeled and grated ginger root
1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro (optional, but don't forget
to invigorate!)
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup peanut butter

Sauté the onions and the cayenne pepper in oil for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the cabbage and sweet potatoes and sauté, covered, for a few minutes.

Add the juices, ginger, cilantro and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Be sure to stir the stew occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the peanut butter, stir thoroughly, simmer a few more minutes, and serve. If the stew gets too thick, feel free to add more tomato juice and/or apple juice.

Can be served over rice.
Finally, let's look at some photos of the making of this recipe. Hopefully this will help give you helpful visuals on how the dish is made.

Here's the entire complement of ingredients. Note once again the seemingly extraneous bottle of beer. Readers of this blog will know that this is a critical mood-elevating agent for the chef.

When I say the sweet potatoes should be coarsely cubed, I mean it. Don't create extra prep work for yourself.

The ginger must be fresh. Don't substitute dried/powdered ginger. We usually grate some....

...and then also mince some extra and throw it into the pot too. There's nothing like biting into a little suprise chunk of ginger while you're eating this stew!

The colors of this stew are stunning, and they change throughout the cooking of the dish. When you first add in the juices, you'll have a bright red-colored stew...

...but after it cooks for a bit and the sweet potatoes soften, and after you add the peanut butter in the final step....

...the stew will be a visually arresting bright orange color.

For those readers interested in seeing more of the making of this recipe, I've posted the full set of photos at flickr.

How to Make Your Own Tabasco Sauce

Sometimes you can stumble onto something on the internet that truly satisfies one of your fantasies in life.

How 'bout a recipe to make your own Tabasco Sauce?

This post comes courtesy of The Simple Dollar, which is a personal finance blog with some other subjects--including food and cooking--mixed in. Be sure to take a look at his exceptional series on Building a Better Blog.

And of course when my favorite non-alcoholic beverage comes up, it draws my attention. Here are the instructions:

Tabasco sauce
Grow two hot pepper plants in a pot on your windowsill (I use dirt from the yard, a coffee can, and my own seeds). I like to use red tabasco chiles, but most small, hot, red chile peppers can be used. Harvest all of the peppers from them, chop them up, and weigh them. For each pound you have, add two cups of distilled white vinegar (had for pennies at the store) and two teaspoons of salt. Put it over heat until it’s about to boil, then let it simmer for five minutes. Dump the mix in a blender, puree, then put in a glass jar and sit it in the fridge to season for about two weeks. For about $0.25, you have enough Tabasco sauce to fill four or five of those little Tabasco bottles. Once it’s steeped, I usually put it in a number of small baggies and freeze it, then refill small bottles when needed.

Note that this post also contains a recipe for homemade BBQ sauce and a "recipe" for a Crisco-based chapstick and handcream.

I think I might take a pass on trying those last two.

Related Posts:
How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make
Braised Pork in Guajillo Chile Sauce
Cajun Meatloaf
The History of Tabasco

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
If you enjoy reading Casual Kitchen, tell a friend and spread the word! You can also support me by subscribing to my RSS feed, or submitting this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to bookmarking sites like, digg or stumbleupon.

Final Update on the Chocolate Mousse Cake

"Did you eat a piece of my chocolate mousse cake?"


"Did you serve a piece to your parents or something?"

"Um, no."

"Well, I can tell you opened the freezer bag the cake is in because of this nice knot you tied after you were done."

"That's because the other day I cut a piece of cake for YOU."



I'm just a couple days from (finally) finishing this glorious chocolate mousse cake once and for all, and this is what's become of me. I've turned paranoid, possessive and passive-aggressive (some might disagree with the "turned" part).

It's not quite as bad as Homer Simpson and his rotten submarine sandwich, but it's close.

Carousel Cakes Factory Outlet
5 Seeger Drive
Nanuet, NY 10954
Tel: 866-659-CAKE

Related Posts:
Carousel Cakes: Chocolate Mousse Supreme
Chocolate Mousse Supreme Cake Update

Fresh Herbs, Part 2: Solutions to the Waste Problem

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how using fresh herbs can invigorate your cooking. Today I'm going to share three solutions for one of the most frustrating problems with fresh herbs: the fundamental mismatch between the small amount of herbs you might need for a typical recipe and the huge amount of herbs you usually have to buy in the grocery store.

Years ago, whenever I'd break free from dried parsley mode and actually include fresh parsley in a recipe, I’d end up using at most 25% of what I bought. Keep in mind, this was back in my broke grad student days when things like Fried Rice for Under $1 were necessary staples in my kitchen.

I felt wasteful in two ways: I was wasting extra money on what seemed (to my salt-habituated palate anyway) like an unnecessary ingredient--and then I’d feel even more wasteful ultimately throwing most of away. Why blow an extra buck on something just to watch most of it decompose in my fridge?

Today we'll solve the waste problem once and for all, so you can guiltlessly include these fresh greens in your invigorated cooking.

1) Apply the Concept of Scale
My first suggestion for solving the waste issue is an application of my concept of “scale” in cooking (see #4 in my Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking post). There are two ways to apply this concept here.

First, if it's a scalable recipe, you can make a double or triple batch and right there use up all the fresh herbs you had to buy. Best of all, you'll have the added bonus of not needing to cook again for the next few days. The tradeoff, unless you have a big family or can freeze some for future dinners, is that you might be eating this same food for a week until you're totally sick of it. At Casual Kitchen, we solve this by making double or triple batches of two dishes and alternating them all week.

Second, you can apply scale to your recipe file box. Develop a diversified enough recipe collection such that you’ll always have multiple meal ideas that include fresh herbs. It's not that hard to find recipes that will fit the bill. For example, if you’ll look through the recipes of this blog, you'll find several recipes that use...

Red Lentils and Rice
Spanish Chickpea and Garlic Soup
Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup
White Bean and Black Olive Soup

Thai Pasta Salad

…or, in one of my favorite fresh greens dishes, parsley, mint AND cilantro:

...and these are all recipes from my little blog alone. There's a whole world out there of recipes to choose from. Make some extra time to look for ideas to expand your palate and your recipe collection. Elsewhere in this blog you can find some advice on easy ways to tell if a recipe you're considering is worth cooking.

2) Grow ‘Em Yourself
You’ll also find that lots of fresh herbs, like basil, rosemary, mint, chives and parsley, can be surprisingly easy to grow, either in your backyard, or (in our case) in pots on the windowsill or front porch. You can pluck out exactly what you need, rather than buying an entire bunch at the store. No waste here!

3) Use the Damp Plastic Bag Method
Also, I credit Laura with teaching me a surprisingly simple way to extend the “fridge-life” of fresh herbs by using the plastic bags the store gives you to carry your groceries. Place the herbs in the plastic bag, add a couple of tablespoons of water into the bag, and then tie the bag with a loose knot. Sturdy herbs like parsley, cilantro and mint will keep well for up to two weeks this way. Really sturdy greens like kale or swiss chard can keep for even longer.

Who knew there was so much to say about fresh herbs? I can't stress enough: try some new recipes that include them, stretch your cuisine, and de-habituate your palate to sodium. Your cooking will take a quantum leap forward in both artfulness and subtlety.