Monthly Archives: July 2011

SensitiveEconomist Gets Swanky

Hi, everyone! This blog brings good news – I am a guest blogger on Something Swanky, a blog about making your own delicious cupcakes and desserts. One of my newer recipes is featured – Lemon Cake with Fresh Raspberry Filling and Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. Please check it out by clicking on the link above and tell us both what you think! Have a great day.

Baked Cod with Olive Oil and Garlic

For a healthy and quick weeknight meal, baked cod is a great option. Its mild flavor allows you to add a variety of seasonings. My favorite is a simple recipe using olive oil and garlic.

Ingredients:
2 cod fillets, about one pound total
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon parsley

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly pour a thin coating of olive oil in a 13- x 9-inch baking dish and then arrange the fillets. Drizzle with the lemon juice and oil, and sprinkle with garlic, salt and pepper, and parsley. For extra flavor, sprinkle with thyme or paprika.

Bake until the flesh is flaky but still juicy, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with roasted potatoes, rice or couscous, and your favorite vegetable.

Thankful for Oatmeal Bread

As you can probably tell from previous posts, I am a fan of oatmeal. However, this food never rated high on my list until quite recently. I grew up eating toast with butter and jam so when I found out I had sensitivities to yeast and cane sugar I needed a new breakfast habit. My friend, MaryAnn, knew of my dilemma and scoured her recipe files for a yeast-free, sugar-free bread. The next day a fresh loaf was waiting for me along with the recipe. It is really tasty plain as well as toasted with butter and sugar-free jam, plus it has the health benefits of the oats. Since then I have made this bread a number of times and always think back in gratitude to that day I found the prepared loaf waiting for me. It is really comforting to have the support of others when trying something new and challenging like revamping one’s diet. I hope that you enjoy making this bread too, and if you feel thankful for something while baking it, all the better!

Oatmeal Bread* Ingredients:
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup oats
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs honey
1 1/2 tbs butter, softened
2 cups milk (any type)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Combine all dry ingredients, then mix in butter with a fork.
3. Add milk and honey until well combined.
4. Pour mixture into a greased loaf pan. Make a cross-cross with a knife on top. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

*Other options include: adding nuts, seeds, raisins, herbs or spices; using different flour types like spelt; substituting yogurt or seltzer water for the milk for a lighter consistency; and substituting canola oil for butter.

Industries Take Action to Offer Healthier Meals

The past few days have brought news from the fast food and packaged food industries, highlighting actions to increase healthy food options for children.

First, the National Restaurant Association announced The Kids Live Well initiative. More than 15,000 restaurants representing 19 chains have already signed on, with more expected to join in the coming months. For a list of participating restaurants, click here. Participants in the initiative are expected to:
–Offer at least one children’s meal (entrée, side, beverage) that is 600 calories or less; containing two or more servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and/or low-fat dairy; and limiting sodium, fat and sugar;
–Offer at least one other individual item that has 200 calories or less with limits on fat, sugar and sodium, and contains a serving of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy;
–Display or make available the nutrition profile of the healthful menu options; and
–Promote the healthful menu options.

In addition, to avoid federal regulation being imposed, some of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies including Kraft, Kellogg, Nestle, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have come together through self-regulation to restrict the kinds of products they advertise and market toward children. A number of food types including juices, dairy products, grains, soups and meals will have limits on the amount of calories, sugar, sodium and saturated fat allowed in foods promoted to children. As it stands, the recipes of about one-third of all food beverages would have to change or the companies will not be able to advertise those products after December 31, 2013.

These recent actions by the fast food and food products industries are positive steps to offer healthier options for customers.

Surf and Turf Salad

Last week sensitivehusband and I went out to dinner with some good friends. There was a filet mignon special on the menu and I just had to indulge. The steak was served with asparagus and lobster mashed potatoes. That’s right – there were actual pieces of lobster in my potatoes! As I enjoyed my meal, I thought about some words of wisdom that my mom used to say – when at a restaurant and you start to get full, focus on eating the most expensive thing on your plate so you get your money’s worth. What a great dilemma to have – should I finish the steak or lobster? Well, I decided to keep eating both and ended up taking home some of my meal.

The next day a great idea struck me – why not transform my leftovers into an enjoyable lunch? I started by making a big salad with green leaf lettuce, radishes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and the leftover asparagus. I then sliced the filet mignon into strips and separated the lobster from the mashed potatoes. I heated the filet and lobster on low heat in the microwave for one minute and placed them on top of the salad. For the dressing, I drizzled olive oil, spritzed on the juice from half a lemon, and added freshly ground pepper. Voila! I had a great lunch, finished every last bite, and didn’t let the expensive part of my meal go to waste.

I am also sharing my recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, This Chick Cooks and Food Trip Friday.

Julia Child, as Always an Inspiration

I decided to take a break from my usual novel to delve into a collection of letters written during the 1950s and 1960s by the wife of a popular journalist and a woman who had completed studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and was writing a cookbook.

In As Always, Julia, Bernard DeVoto penned an article about American knives for Harper’s, and Julia extended her support for his findings by mailing him a letter along with one of her favorite chopping utensils. His wife Avis first responded to the letter, which marked the beginning of their friendship that would last decades.

The two wrote back and forth fairly regularly even though the Childs moved quite often – to France, Germany and Norway. Once the DeVotos and Childs met while Julia and Paul were in the U.S., the friendship was solidified as evidenced in the increased depth of emotions described in the writings.

It is fascinating to read, in this collection of letters, the range of topics covered including food, no doubt, and also the struggles of obtaining a publishing contact, opinions on the political climate in the U.S. and abroad, details about parties and fashion, trying and retrying recipes, and the ups and downs of family events. I was inspired in my own cooking trials to know that even Julia Child tried recipes over and over again before getting them just right.

The economics of book publishing was discussed at length. Houghton Mifflin, the first company to discuss a possible contract, eventually turned Julia and her collaborators down because they could not make a business case for publishing a how-to guide for French cooking. However Knopf, the company that eventually gave Julia a contract, thought there was a market for such a book, and projected that 20,000 copies would be sold in the first year. In fact, between October 1961 and August 1962, 100,000 copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking were sold.

By reading letters one is also allowed to better understand people’s personalities. And wow, Julia Child was funny! In one letter from 1954, Julia described how her German studies were progressing. She wrote, “German. It ain’t easy…However I impressed the nice woman in the post office twice, after having carefully practiced two sentences each time…[and] I telephoned a German oculist and have made an appointment for tomorrow afternoon (I believe!).”

As Always, Julia is a unique collection of letters between good friends that provides a first-hand account of the beginning of the celebrity career of Julia Child while combining a historical picture of political and economic situations along with countless recipes and tips such as defrosting a turkey and stuffing a goose. In addition, I now have a risotto recipe that can be modified and tested in my kitchen. Where else can you find that combination of food, humor, world travel and book publishing in a good read?

Celebrate Summer with Strawberry Bread

This recipe caught my attention right away since I love breads and strawberries – so why not put the two together? Originally published about 20 years ago in a USA Weekend food section, the recipe was recently re-published. With a few modifications including adding whole wheat flour, switching the sugar to honey, and substituting vegetable oil with canola oil, I baked a delicious and “sensitive” quick bread. My sensitive-in-laws really enjoyed the sweet strawberry and tart lemon flavors. What a wonderful way to use the produce that is in season! My honey-sweetened version is noted below:

Ingredients:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cup honey
2 eggs
2/3 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
3/4 cup chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans (optional)

Steps:
Mix together the flours and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Mix in oil, lemon rind and honey. Stir in the flour mixture until just blended. Fold in the strawberries and nuts.

Butter and lightly flour an 8- by 4-inch loaf pan. Put the batter into the pan, and bake on the center rack for 1 hour at 350 degrees or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cut in squares or slices and savor a great taste of summer.

I am also sharing this recipe with Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, This Chick Cooks, Something Swanky , Food Trip Friday, Sweet as Sugar Cookies, Everyday Sisters and on my Facebook page.

Sweet Cost Comparisons

Hi! Now that I have made the switch to natural sweeteners, I have noticed that my grocery bills have increased. Since I have a sensitivity to cane sugar I have an incentive to purchase the natural alternatives, but I want to be informed about which ones to use as substitutes so I don’t break the bank. And for people who are trying to cook with healthier ingredients, it may be helpful to see which ones are more cost-effective. So the economist in me felt the need to do some investigating, particularly to determine which options are the least expensive per unit while accounting for the relative sweetness. Break out the spreadsheets – sensitiveeconomist is doing some calculations!


First I gathered all of my favorite natural sweeteners and entered in the costs and net weights into the spreadsheet. By dividing these two numbers, I obtained a per unit cost. Next, I compensated for their sweetness ratios by multiplying the per unit cost by how much one uses to substitute for one cup of cane sugar. For example, I use 2/3 cup honey for 1 cup of cane sugar, so I multiplied all of the honey options by 2/3.

The results are displayed graphically in the chart. No wonder people tend to use cane sugar – it’s quite inexpensive. The least expensive natural sweetener is a store brand non-organic clover honey. However, an interesting find is that local honey and organic agave, when bought in bulk, offer relatively inexpensive options, and can be cheaper than typical organic store and national brand honey. Maple sugar and syrups are the most expensive.

My verdict? I am going to buy store brand clover honey for baking since there is a cost savings and there should be no effect on the taste. In addition, I’ll look for local honey and organic agave nectar in bulk for baking and drizzling on top of foods, since they have long shelf lives and are quite tasty. I’ll save the maple for special occasions.

I look forward to hearing how you choose between different foods at the grocery store. Don’t be afraid to pull out a spreadsheet for some extra analyses. Ah, the power of spreadsheets!