Prosciutto-wrapped Roasted Asparagus with Sous Vide Poached Egg, Balsamic Glaze, and Shaved Parmesan.
This is one of my favorite “spring is here” meals to make as the asparagus starts to arrive at the market. Cut the tough ends off the asparagus, wrap them in prosciutto in bunches of around 4 each, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, then roast at 425F until browned. If you don’t have a sous vide setup, a poached or fried egg works just fine here, but I like the custardy consistency of the yolk you can only get with a water bath. These eggs were done at 145F for a little over 2 hours. I tried simmering the eggs in boiling water for a minute afterward to firm up the white, and that worked okay, but resulted in eggs that were impossible to peel, though they were delicious. I have to keep experimenting. For this, domestic prosciutto works fine - save the expensive imported stuff for eating raw.
Serve with shaved fresh parmesan and balsamic glaze (bottled is nice, or reduce balsamic vinegar with a bit of sugar until it gets syrupy).
Avocado, broiled romaine hearts, “breaded” chicken Caesar salad with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers.
Still on a bit of a dinner salad kick. Some notes:
This was downright delicious.
Tuna steak, salt+pepper, seared in olive oil over high heat for 60-90 seconds per side. The trick is to have it sliced thick enough - a 1” thick slab will overcook in the middle by the time the outside browns.
The local vegetables at the market haven’t really come in yet (except for the ramps, which I can’t get excited about), but I’ve been craving some spring food. There are a lot of variations on this salad, but this is the stuff I like - crunchy string beans, sliced grape tomatoes, boiled potato slices (start in cold water, keep the skin on, bring to a boil, simmer for about 20-25 minutes until tender), hardboiled egg, a few olives, anchovies. I topped this with chopped romaine lettuce, seared tuna slices, and a brisk sherry vinaigrette.
Sous vide scallops with dried tarragon, rose water, and fresh market scallions.
Bread & Butter Pickles. Pretty simple recipe from the Ball Blue Book. I had a bit left over that didn’t fit, and they’re delicious already, though you’re supposed to give them 4-6 weeks to develop in the jar.
Fried rice is a tasty way to use leftover rice from a previous night.
Sweat a diced onion in a neutral oil. Rice bran oil is particularly good for this. Add some chopped string beans or peas (fresh is nice, frozen works well too) and cook for a few minutes. Then crumble in leftover rice and fry over high heat until it starts to crisp. Sprinkle in a dash of soy sauce and/or mirin and stir to incorporate. Fold in a beaten egg, stir until just cooked through, and serve.
Notes: I tend to prefer the flavor of wheat-free tamari. High quality mirin can be hard to find. Avoid Kikkoman Aji-Mirin; it’s largely corn syrup.
I’m a huge fan of Brianna’s poppy seed dressing, and I thought I’d take a stab at replicating it. I’ve made plenty of vinaigrettes, but I often want a thicker dressing, and recipes for those are typically much more involved. This one is tasty and simple to make. It isn’t exactly the same as Brianna’s, but it came out pretty nicely. The texture is about right, though it’s a bit tangier than the bottled stuff (the flavor mellows a bit in the fridge). If it’s not tangy enough, add a bit more vinegar. If it’s too thick for your taste, add more milk, or use less xanthan gum (which is completely optional, but I have it on hand and it gives it a nice texture. It’s available from King Arthur if you can’t find it near you.).
This recipe makes about 2 cups, but is pretty easy to scale if you want less. 2 cups is a lot - I usually use a tablespoon or two at a time. (The jar pictured is what’s left of half a batch after lunch.)
1.25 cups mayonnaise (I used Kewpie)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 tsp toasted onion powder
Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. Store in the fridge until ready to use. I assume it’s reasonably perishable.
(It sounds like a lot of mayonnaise, but this has fewer calories than the real thing. Salad dressing is probably not that great for you.)
Okay, I’m a sucker for a cheap joke, but Jewish holidays often center around bread, and Passover especially. From a historical perspective, bread _is_ life. This has been a truism for my entire life. I love bread. I sometimes bake bread. Really kickass bread. Which is why it comes as a bit of a surprise to find that I’m suddenly, on largely a whim, almost six weeks into an experimental removal of all voluntary wheat products from my diet.
The results have been equally surprising.
I have explicitly not been doing a low-carb diet. I’ve been eating rice (both brown and white), potatoes, corn, and other grains. Just no voluntary wheat - no pasta, bread, breadcrumbs, pastry, cookies, cakes, or crackers. Occasionally, I’ve been having some gluten-free versions of those foods, but mostly I’ve just been avoiding them entirely. I’ve been watching during this time as articles have appeared simultaneously marveling at the size of the gluten-free food market and warning people that they’re wasting their money or warning people that gluten-free products can be unhealthy. These kinds of articles bother me - there’s obviously some truth to them, but they don’t make a particularly good case that they’re largely directed at the extremely processed segment of “gluten-free imitations of foods that should have gluten in them”. These foods on their face seem fairly obviously unhealthy to me but also largely directed on the one hand at the desires of people who actually need to eat gluten free for medical reasons to be able to enjoy the foods they love and have a sense of fitting in and not being excluded, and on the other hand marketed towards people who want to make a change but make it as easy as possible - the appearance of change without actually changing how they eat. I fall into neither of these categories (and there are many people going gluten-free who don’t), so these products are largely unappealing to me (though I did find one brand of fresh gluten-free pasta that is passable - RP, which is available at Whole Foods). Gluten-free (like any other processed food) is big business, and the question of whether processed supermarket foods are healthy is orthogonal to whether any of the individual ingredients are healthy. There’s a lot of quackery, speculation, insufficient research, and drawn conclusions that make no sense (Yes, “Paleo”, I’m looking at you. You can’t dismiss what studies have been done as not conclusive, and then point to other even less conclusive studies to rationalize your assertions.). It doesn’t make sense to me to cut out bread and replace it with a poor substitute for bread made from some other chemicals you had lying around the lab, yet food is cultural as well as nourishing. All that said, there’s real value in “eating better”, except no real consensus on what that entails. My biggest takeaway from all of this is that we’re remarkably ignorant of what foods are healthy to eat, most recommendations are broad generalizations, and it seems to be a given that there isn’t any one diet that will work for everybody. (I’m more sympathetic towards this kind of complaint, that the bandwagon has made life harder for people with a driving medical need to avoid all gluten.)
Mostly I’ve been eating, in this order: 1) a lot of fruits and vegetables, many raw. As before, I eat a salad for lunch most days anyway, and I started substituting toasted pecans for croutons a while ago anyway, 2) some meat, some lean and some not, 3) cheese and other dairy, and 4) non-wheat grains and starches - potatoes, corn, quinoa, rice, others.
The first week and a half was somewhat uncomfortable, but not very difficult. I felt bloated and irritable a good part of the time, and went through a few days where I was extremely tired and a little woozy. (There are a number of articles on the web about “withdrawal symptoms”. I don’t know that I accept the explanations, but the adjustment period seems real enough.) After the second week, this completely disappeared, and I’ve felt great since. My appetite for snacking has almost completely leveled off - I used to get very hungry for snacks at around 4pm and then again at 11pm, and those cravings have nearly vanished. When I get hungry, it’s much more “flat” instead of “sharp”, whispering that I need to eat instead of yelling.
In the first two weeks, I lost about 8 pounds, largely efforlessly. Since then, I’ve lost a little more weight, but not as much, and I’ve started to feel a little slimmer. Of course I’ve lost weight - I’m eating a lot less, and wheat products are huge carriers for sugar - but the interesting thing here is how easy it’s been to eat less. It’s always been a struggle for me, and I’ve felt less deprived in the past few weeks than I can ever remember before. For the past few years, I’ve been trying to avoid processed foods and eat more healthily, but it’s left my weight largely unchanged. No previous dietary change I’ve made has been this easy, and that shocks me. I don’t think I’ve had trouble getting enough fiber - I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and I eat 1-2 tbsp of ground flax seeds a day anyway. I take vitamin supplements, even though the jury’s out on those as well. I have not yet had my cholesterol recently checked, but it typically fluctuates with my weight, so I expect it to be improved.
So far, really the only down side has been logistical - it is difficult to avoid wheat in most prepared food, and nearly impossible in some cuisines. Some kinds of Italian restaurants are problematic, and especially with small children, a LOT of people just serve pizza for events. I tried a gluten-free pizza crust at a restaurant to try once (we stumbled into a place that only served pizza despite not actually having the word pizza in the name anywhere and it was too late to go anywhere else), and it was just downright awful. I couldn’t eat more than about three bites before I started to retch. Most Asian food is pretty easy, especially Thai and Malaysian which have a heavy focus on rice. Pretty much all to-go breakfast foods are out, except the various kinds of bars - Clif bars and Larabars are almost all wheat free.
I don’t know if wheatless is the right path forward for me in the long term, but this has been a fascinating and somewhat unexpected experiment, and the results thus far have been good enough that I’m not ready to stop yet (exceptions made for my mother’s matzah ball soup).
Broccoli and garlic: Coincidentally, broccoli and garlic take almost exactly the same amount of time to cook as a roast chicken (about an hour). Add a generous helping of oil plus a sprinkling of salt and pepper.