With the recent release of Fed Up in theaters, I was reminded of an article I read from the New York Times a while back. Published early last year, it discusses the science the food industry uses to make us addicted to junk foods.  If you’ve ever tried to quit processed foods and failed, or ever wondered how you could even try in the first place, this (long but) great read will hopefully shine some light on that!

With production costs trimmed and profits coming in, the next question was how to expand the franchise, which they did by turning to one of the cardinal rules in processed food: When in doubt, add sugar. 

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk FoodThe New York Times.

Tomato basil bisque

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Ever since I came back from a girls’ trip to New Orleans a couple weeks ago, I have been on a major veggie kick.  The first week I got back, I ate a salad every day.  I don’t even like salads. But the decadence we indulged in during our trip made me crave raw and fresh fruits and vegetables so much, that all I wanted was huge bowls of uncooked veggies. I went through one whole pack of spinach and one whole pack of romaine lettuce all by myself that week. Eventually, though, I did graduate to other veggie-based meals. My coconut carrot soup has been in the queue again, I made these fantastic zucchini boat enchiladas, and I’ve been putting ridiculous amounts of greens in my morning smoothies.

Then, one day, my mother-in-law gave us a whole sackful of on-the-vine tomatoes she’d bought for 50 cents at Sprout’s (that woman should be a professional deal-finder), and I was inspired: We had taken her to Le Madeleine for Mother’s Day that day, and having been reminded of my own mother’s love for Le Madeleine’s tomato basil soup, I decided to make it myself.

I never would have imagined that something as humble as a tomato basil soup would be the thing that would make Mr. Little Fish close his eyes in delight  and mumble little happy food noises to himself, but it was. He liked it so much he bragged about it to our guy friends and requested it again within a week!  And I have to admit, it’s pretty damn good. The best part is, it’s also pretty damn easy, particularly if you have an immersion blender. Although most bisque recipes I found called for quite large amounts of the heavy cream and butter, I lightened it up some without sacrificing the flavor (but don’t be afraid of the fat!). It’s neither paleo nor dairy free, but you could easily omit the cream completely for a gazpacho-like soup or you could substitute coconut milk, although that would change the flavor a bit.   And with tomato season either already here or about to start wherever you’re from, it’s perfectly timed!

Tomato Basil Bisque
Serves 5-6, depending on appetite

IMG_7171Ingredients:

5 tomatoes, diced large
4 cups tomato juice (look for ones with just tomatoes and water)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, diced small
4 tbsp butter (1/4 cup), 1/2 tbsp divided separately
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 cup basil, to taste
Kosher salt and ground pepper

Directions:

1. In a large pot, saute the garlic and shallot in a 1/2 tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Saute for about 4-5 minutes, until the onions start to soften.
2. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato juice to the pot.  Simmer on medium heat for 35-45 minutes, until the mixture is reduced. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop, but I was more than happy with the taste and texture at 35 minutes.

3. Lower the heat to low, remove the pot from the heat, and add in the basil leaves. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture well for about 5 minutes. If you do not have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool for 10-15 minutes, then add it in small batches to your blender. It is better to err on the side of cooler before transferring it your blender, because if it is too hot, it will explode, so be careful!
IMG_71824. Return the pot to the heat (which should be on low now). Add in the remaining butter and the heavy whipping cream. Stir well until the butter dissolves and the soup is heated through.
IMG_7183The color of your soup will change to a lovely bright orange color:
IMG_71875. Season with the garlic powder, salt, and pepper, to taste, and serve garnished with more basil leaves, or with a balsamic reduction sprinkled over!
IMG_7189

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Tomato basil bisque
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 5-6
Ingredients
  • 5 tomatoes, diced large
  • 4 cups tomato juice (look for ones with just tomatoes and water)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, diced small
  • 4 tbsp butter (1/4 cup), ½ tbsp divided separately
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 cup basil, to taste
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper
Directions
  1. In a large pot, saute the garlic and shallot in a ½ tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Saute for about 4-5 minutes, until the onions start to soften.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato juice to the pot. Simmer on medium heat for 35-45 minutes, until the mixture is reduced. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop, but I was more than happy with the taste and texture at 35 minutes.
  3. Lower the heat to low, remove the pot from the heat, and add in the basil leaves. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture well for about 5 minutes. If you do not have an immersion blender, allow the soup to cool for 10-15 minutes, then add it in small batches to your blender. It is better to err on the side of cooler before transferring it your blender, because if it is too hot, it will explode, so be careful!
  4. Return the pot to the heat (which should be on low now). Add in the remaining butter and the heavy whipping cream. Stir well until the butter dissolves and the soup is heated through.
  5. Season with the garlic powder, salt, and pepper, to taste. Mix through, and then serve garnished with more basil leaves, or with a balsamic reduction sprinkled over!

Homemade 3-ingredient Energy Bars

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When I first decided to start losing weight, I thought exercising was the way to go. I have not-so-fond memories of waking up before work in the middle of the DC summer to do Insanity workouts in the 1 bedroom apartment I shared with three people. Two of us shared what would normally have been a living room, but instead had two little twin beds on opposite sides of the room. I used my little corner to do workouts so intense that I would continue sweating through my shower and all the way until I got into my air-conditioned office.

The problem with all the intense workouts , though, was that they were making me hungrier, which, when you’re trying to lose weight and restrict calories, didn’t end up working out too well. So, when I decided to get serious with the losing weight almost a year later, I switched gears and mostly focused on food. I worked out here and there, but I figured exercising would come more into play when I got to the maintenance phase. And now, after 7 months of maintaining my weight loss, I figured right.  Here I am now in week 4 of P90X3, and not only is it helping me maintain the weight loss, but I feel no signs of slowing down. As expected though, that hunger is returning.

Enter: these energy bars. I’m sure more than a few of you buy  the energy bars found at your grocery store. Not all energy bars are created equal though, and most of them contain a lot of preservatives, sugar, or other unrecognizable ingredients. For awhile, on the recommendation of a friend, I was eating these Thunderbird Energetica bars, which unlike many other bars, used all whole-food ingredients, natural sugars, and no grains.  They weren’t cheap though.

So, I decided to simplify things and make my own, using the same concept. It’s a pretty foolproof recipe: 1 cup nuts, 1 cup dried fruit, and 3/4 cup dates. The dates act as both a binder and a sweetener. The berries and dates give you the complex carbs you need before an intense workout, and the nuts give you some lasting protein and fat. No grains, no added sugar, no unpronounceable ingredients. Win-win if you ask me.

Homemade Energy Bars
Serves 9

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Ingredients:

1 cup dried cherries (or any other dried fruit), unsweetened if you can find them
1 cup almonds
3/4 cup pitted Medjool dates, halved
Parchment paper, for lining
Plastic wrap, for molding
NOTE: you can use literally any combination of nuts and fruit that you would like. I have also made a blueberry and walnut version that I really liked. Other possible combinations: blueberry-almond, cherry-walnut, cranberry-pecan. Be creative!

Directions:

1.  If your dates are a bit harder or drier, soak them in water for 20 minutes to soften them a little bit. Add all three ingredients into your food processor.
IMG_71492. Pulse for a minute or so to break up the nuts and other bits. Your mixture will go from this:
IMG_7150To this:
IMG_7151And eventually get here:
IMG_7152Scrap down the sides of the food processor if things seem to start getting stuck. Stop when you get to the ball shape above, about 10 minutes.
3. Scoop the ball out onto a cutting board lined with cellophane wrap.
IMG_7153

4. Cut off another piece of cellophane and place it on top of the ball.  Use this to mold the ball into a roughly 8×8 square, or however thick you would like your bars to be.
IMG_71544. Wrap the square up with the cellophane, and freeze the whole thing for 2-3 hours.
IMG_71565. Once pretty solid, take it out and cut into 9 squares (or more if you would like smaller portions).
IMG_71576. Use parchment paper squares (I just cut my regular roll) to separate the bars as you stack them into a container.
IMG_71587. Store in the fridge or freezer! I prefer them frozen, which gives them a pleasantly chewy texture and not as paste-like.

 

 

Homemade 3-ingredient Energy Bars
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Snacks
Cuisine: American
Serves: 9
Ingredients
  • 1 cup dried cherries (or any other dried fruit), unsweetened if you can find them
  • 1 cup almonds
  • ¾ cup pitted Medjool dates, halved
  • Parchment paper, for lining
  • Plastic wrap, for molding
  • NOTE: you can use literally any combination of nuts and fruit that you would like. I have also made a blueberry and walnut version that I really liked. Other possible combinations: blueberry-almond, cherry-walnut, cranberry-pecan. Be creative!
Directions
  1. If your dates are a bit harder or drier, soak them in water for 20 minutes to soften them a little bit. Add all three ingredients into your food processor.
  2. Pulse for a minute or so to break up the nuts and other bits. Your mixture will start with small bits and pieces of nuts and fruit, to more paste-like and, finally, to a big ball. Scrap down the sides of the food processor if things seem to start getting stuck.
  3. Scoop the ball out onto a cutting board lined with cellophane wrap.
  4. Cut off another piece of cellophane and place it on top of the ball. Use this to mold the ball into a roughly 8x8 square, or however thick you would like your bars to be.
  5. Wrap the square up with the cellophane, and freeze the whole thing for 2-3 hours.
  6. Once pretty solid, take it out and cut into 9 squares (or more if you would like smaller portions).
  7. Use parchment paper squares (I just cut my regular roll) to separate the bars as you stack them into a container.
  8. Store in the fridge or freezer! I prefer them frozen, which gives them a pleasantly chewy texture and not as paste-like.

Mom’s Quick Chili

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I’ve been very lucky that the weather here has been cooperating with my recipe posts.  Because chili isn’t really a summer food, is it? But I’ve had this recipe in the queue for a while now, and now that it’s gloomy, rainy, AND cold outside, it really is just perfect timing.  Plus, it was Mother’s Day on Sunday, so what better way to honor my own mother than by posting one my favorite recipes from her.

Brownsville, where my parents still live and where my brother and I grew up, at only 6 hours South of Austin, doesn’t ever really get a “winter” to speak of.  Once, in high school, it snowed. Just once. Luckily for a lot of people in Brownsville who had never seen snow before, it happened to fall on Christmas Eve and lasted throughout Christmas day.  It was actually quite magical to hear the entire neighborhood running around the streets at midnight. And it’s easy to understand why: it was the first time it snowed in over 100 years. 100!

But aside from the 100-year snow, it really doesn’t get that cold down there. You could get by without ever owning a heavy coat (although I heard this year there were a few more cold fronts), and even when I visited them in December, I was wearing jeans and a short sleeve shirt out on the water (Brownsville has the very lovely side benefit of being a 20 minute drive from South Padre, which used to be my point of reference when telling people where I was from). I wore boots that day, and I was hot.

But no matter the temperature, the one thing that always made me feel like it was wintertime was when mom would break out this chili. This is a no-fuss chili.  It has beans. It cooks in 30 minutes. It’s warm, comforting, and straightfoward–all qualities that remind me of my mom. She is all those things and more, and although I’ve changed the recipe to lighten it up a little bit, there’s no changing the memories of coming home to a house filled with the smells of a simmering pot of chili on the stove. And even though it’s totally May and not at all winter (global cooling, amirite?), there’s no day like today to fill your belly with the cozy warmth of chili.

Mom’s Quick Chili
Serves 6

 

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey or other meat
2 cans Rotel original
2 cans pinto beans, undrained
3 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp garlic powder or more, to taste
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp each chili powder, cumin, and paprika
Optional toppings: cheddar cheese, saltines, sour cream, green onions

Directions:

1. In a large pot, cook the ground meat and diced onions over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes (if you are using turkey, you may want to add about a tsp of oil so that the turkey doesn’t stick. You don’t need to do this for beef). Make sure to mix it around frequently so that the meat doesn’t get stuck to the pan.

2. Once the meat is cooked, add all other ingredients and mix well. If you like a more watery chili, add about half a cup of water. Simmer on medium/medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently so that nothing gets stuck to the pan.

3. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on top!
IMG_7083

 

Mom's Quick Chili
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground turkey or other meat
  • 2 cans Rotel original
  • 2 cans pinto beans, undrained
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder or more, to taste
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp each chili powder, cumin, and paprika
  • Optional toppings: cheddar cheese, saltines, sour cream, green onions
Directions
  1. In a large pot, cook the ground meat and diced onions over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink, about 5-7 minutes (if you are using turkey, you may want to add about a tsp of oil so that the turkey doesn't stick. You don't need to do this for beef). Make sure to mix it around frequently so that the meat doesn't get stuck to the pan.
  2. Once the meat is cooked, add all other ingredients and mix well. If you like a more watery chili, add about half a cup of water. Simmer on medium/medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes. Stir frequently so that nothing gets stuck to the pan.
  3. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on top!

Spring Potato Salad

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I don’t remember ever paying much attention to the seasons when it comes to food. It’s both a privilege and a curse of living in America. In fact, it wasn’t really until I studied abroad in Argentina that I was really confronted with the we-don’t-have-it-if-it’s-not-in-season nature of finding and cooking food. But, even then, Argentina, and all travels before that, preceded the deep interest I now have in cooking and eating healthy, so it was more of a nuisance than anything else.  All I wanted was some fresh veggies to balance out the extreme amounts of delicious beef I was eating, but alas.

Now, however, with farmer’s markets, with the tons of food blogs I now follow, with my realization that “in season” actually means good, I’m  paying attention. I’m certainly not at the point where I will only cook vegetables that are in season–that seems like a waste of a supermarket to me– but I have definitely found that my tastes are much more in tune with the flavors and foods of fall, say, or now, of spring.

So when I saw this recipe for a new potato and arugula salad, I was sold. If I hadn’t seen this recipe, one visit to the farmer’s market alone could’ve told me that arugula is in season.  And doesn’t it remind you of spring?  Plus, not being a fan of traditional potato salad, I was pleased to find one that wasn’t so heavy on the mayo and had the tartness of Greek yogurt. I didn’t modify the recipe much, but I did change the steps to make it a one-bowl deal. I figured with the nice weather we’ve been having, you might want to make it for the BBQ I’m sure you’re having this weekend. 😉

Spring Potato Salad
Recipe courtesy of TheKitchn
Serves 6 as a side, 4 if you make it a meal

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs new potatoes (I got a variety of purple, red, and white), scrubbed well
1/2 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive-oil mayonnaise
2 large shallots, sliced thin
1 large bunch of arugula (I used baby)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tsp garlic powder
Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Optional: diced ham or diced hard-boiled eggs to give it a protein boost and make it a meal

Directions:

1. Add your potatoes to a large pot, and fill the pot until the potatoes are covered with about 2 inches of water. Add at least 1 tbsp of salt to the water, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and either return to the pot, or set the strainer over the pot so they continue to drain.

2. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the Greek yogurt and mayonnaise in a large bowl with a lid.  Add the garlic powder, and add black pepper to taste.
IMG_71133. Set up a station where you have the hot potatoes at the beginning, your cutting board in the middle, and the bowl with the yogurt/mayo mix at the end, like this:
IMG_71144. Take one potato at a time from the pot, and cut it into quarters.  Add the quarters to the yogurt bowl, and repeat this process until you’re out of potatoes.

5. Toss the potatoes with the yogurt mixture until well coated.
IMG_7120
6. Add in the arugula, dill, and shallots, and mix to coat. Season to taste with salt and more pepper. Serve warm (my preferred method) or refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.
IMG_7123
7. OPTIONAL: if you would like to eat this as a complete meal, I would recommend adding some diced deli ham or a diced hard-boiled egg. I did the ham method, and it was delicious!

Spring Potato Salad
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Sides
Cuisine: American
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1.5 lbs new potatoes (I got a variety of purple, red, and white), scrubbed well
  • ½ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup olive-oil mayonnaise
  • 2 large shallots, sliced thin
  • 1 large bunch of arugula (I used baby)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
  • Optional: diced ham or diced hard-boiled eggs to give it a protein boost and make it a meal
Directions
  1. Add your potatoes to a large pot, and fill the pot until the potatoes are covered with about 2 inches of water. Add at least 1 tbsp of salt to the water, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and either return to the pot, or set the strainer over the pot so they continue to drain.
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, whisk together the Greek yogurt and mayonnaise in a large bowl with a lid. Add the garlic powder, and add black pepper to taste.
  3. Set up a station where you have the hot potatoes at the beginning, your cutting board in the middle, and the bowl with the yogurt/mayo mix at the end, like this:
  4. Take one potato at a time from the pot, and cut it into quarters. Add the quarters to the yogurt bowl, and repeat this process until you're out of potatoes.
  5. Toss the potatoes with the yogurt mixture until well coated.
  6. Add in the arugula, dill, and shallots, and mix to coat. Season to taste with salt and more pepper. Serve warm (my preferred method) or refrigerate for at least an hour and serve cold.
  7. OPTIONAL: if you would like to eat this as a complete meal, I would recommend adding some diced deli ham or a diced hard-boiled egg. I did the ham method, and it was delicious!