Don’t Cry over Milk Tea

About five years ago, boba tea became all the rage in my area. The drinks are super easy to make, and while I could buy the pearls at an Asian market, I usually go out for boba. (I still don’t know where to find those huge straws.)

Boba Latte, the closest boba joint to my house, has become a hang out spot for me and friends visiting from college. Most of my friends order their drinks with lychee jelly, a delicious alternative if tapioca pearls seem too weird. (I think that defeats the point.)

The pearls are traditionally put into milk teas, but I usually get a smoothie.  It got me thinking though: Milk tea sounds pretty good right now.

Ingredients:
1 tea bag
1 cup water
1/4 cup skim milk
2 tbs agave nectar (or honey)

Instructions:
1. Fill a mug with water and cook on high for 2 minutes
2. Steep a packet of tea in the water for 5 minutes. (Tea bags float in water. Sometimes putting a spoon on top of the tea bag will help it stay submerged.)

Also, depending on the tea you are using, the steep time may differ. 2B A Snob claims to know something about this.

3. Pour milk and either honey or agave nectar into your tea. (You will first have to pour your tea into a larger glass.)

Rating:6/7 — Milk tea is incredibly soothing. I used to drink cold milk tea mixed with cranberry juice. It was great.

Tip: Use a funnel to keep from getting tea or milk everywhere. (You can tell I didn’t for my picture up above. I was too concerned with getting a picture of the liquids mixing.)

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May 3, 2010 at 11:27 pm Leave a comment

Who needs taste buds? I’ve got spicy soup

My mother hates living in the South. To her, it’s the land of thorny weeds, ugly plants, and hot summers. Every year, she tries to battle against the heat by keeping the house at 65-70 degrees. (She mostly succeeds in upping our electric bill and forcing me into jackets during summer.) She longingly talks of moving back to northern California, where the weather rarely deviates from between 60 and 75 degrees. Sometimes she’ll tell me of earlier days when 80 degree weather was horrifying. (It happened so rarely, they didn’t have air conditioning.)

Sometimes it’s shocking to realize that we’re related. I love it here. Sure, there aren’t giant trees, mountains, green grass, or more than three weeks of nice weather a year, but my hometown has its perks. The northern U.S. may seem nicer, but they are lacking a crucial component to my happiness: spicy food.

It’s not just southern spicy food, I’ll eat it all. (Indian and Thai food are delicious.) My dad and I used to have wasabi eating contests (the first person to cry loses.) At restaurants, I usually end up with red eyes muttering, “it burns so good.” (And begging for bread, rice, or milk so I can salvage my taste buds.) My friends may laugh, but I can’t help it. I love spicy food.

In honor of my almost masochistic love affair, I made something pretty traditional to my area: tortilla soup.

Description:

This soup is not actually that spicy. It has a nice kick, but doesn’t get anywhere near painful. Tortilla soup has a strong tomato base, bold flavors, and high salt content. This version keeps in line with that, while implementing a delicious addition I picked up in L.A.: fresh avocados.

Some recipes for tortilla soup have a stronger citrus taste, and (I believe) hail from coastal Mexico, but this one doesn’t. This is what you’d find in any good Tex Mex place. Also, I really out did myself this time, because I gave it seven stars.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pinto beans

2 whole peeled canned tomatoes

1/3 cup tomato juice (from the can of whole tomatoes)

1/4 cup chunky pace picante sauce (Hot)

1 tbs olive oil

1 chicken breast, diced (approx. 1 cup)

tortilla chips

1/2 chopped avocado

salt + pepper

Instructions:

1. Dice whole tomatoes and chicken.

2. Mix picante sauce, tomato juice, and olive oil in a bowl to create soup broth. Stir well.

3. Add chicken, tomatoes, and beans into soup broth. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

4. Cook in the microwave on high for 1 minute.

5. Cut up avocado half and add it to the soup. Add tortilla chips if desired. (Break them into smaller pieces first.)

Rating: 7 stars out of 7 — This soup packs a punch!

Tip: Some people put cheddar cheese and sour cream on their tortilla soup.

May 1, 2010 at 8:34 pm 2 comments

What not to eat (prepackaged desserts)

Since I’m already on a dessert tear, I will go ahead and cover the problem that is prepackaged microwavable desserts.

My biggest beef is with Betty Crocker’s Warm Delight desserts, the most popular of these.

After averaging the nutrition information from the eight flavors of Warm Delights, I found each package contains an average of:

368 Calories

100 Calories from fat

11 g Fat (4.3 g of that is Saturated Fat)

43 g Sugar

399 mg Sodium (with some packages having as much as 500 mg)

To put this into perspective, each package has about 20% of your recommended daily value of Calories and Fat.

Warm Delights are so convenient to make (you only have to add water and nuke them) that it’s tempting to have one a day.  And while everyone should know that eating a giant brownie every night won’t help your figure, these products are marketed as a way to escape and wind down from a stressful day.

Betty doesn’t even deny it. A huge banner on their Warm Delights page reads,

“Work time.

Family time.

Me time.”

It’s accompanied by a beautiful and thin woman with a spoon of brownie in her mouth. Logically, everyone understands that the woman is being paid to eat their products and probably doesn’t. But the assumption we are supposed to draw is that this woman is a working mother (like “us”) who doesn’t have time for the gym, could use some “me time,” and that the most relaxing form of “me time” involves brownies. (If eating is what you’re into, the Food Network recommends these for stress relief.)

As I already mentioned, these desserts are equivalent in Calories and fat to a meal. But they are marketed as an after work snack.

Since stress is already known to cause unhealthy weight gain, the last thing a stressed out working mom needs is a high calorie dessert. But that is exactly what they want to eat.

People experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more fatty, salty and sugary foods. This includes sweets, processed food and other things that aren’t as good for you.” (Stress and Weight Gain, About.com)

I want to defend Betty Crocker’s right to remain in business, but if the company is going to exploit the female workforce’s overblown responsibilities, do they have to idealize it?

When my brother worked as a cashier for Kroger (apparently one of the most stressful jobs ever,) he would come home and drink.  It relieved his stress, made him feel better, and was about as unhealthy as eating a brownie a night. So why am I annoyed at Betty? Alcohol companies would be considered irresponsible for encouraging this.

Everyone knows that you can get addicted to alcohol, so encouraging people to use alcohol as an emotional crutch is wrong. But alcohol isn’t naturally addicting, either. The reason people get addicted to alcohol is you can get addicted to just about anything.

There are even retreats to treat people for internet addiction. (Seriously, just look.)

Which makes me wonder, why is it okay to idealize eating dessert as a coping mechanism for our screwed up society?

While I will concede that it is the responsibility of the individual to make good decisions, I feel like it is also the responsibility of our society to ostracize companies that engage in predatory marketing techniques.

April 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm 2 comments

Sunday Dessert Special: Chilled pears

One of the criticisms this blog has received is a lack of dessert items. I think the person’s exact phrasing was, “all your recipes are so healthy.  Why can’t you have some desserts?

To address that comment, I’ll point out the mission statement of this blog was to provide convenient ways to become healthier. I’m not about to put up a recipe about how to make microwave brownies.  (I’ll leave that for someone else.) That doesn’t have to mean dessert is forbidden though.  It just means getting creative.

One of the things I love is frozen fruit. I was introduced to the concept when my friend Jordan whipped out some frozen strawberries and grapes.

Usually frozen fruit make better snacks than desserts, but recently I’ve been freezing larger fruit like watermelon and pears. After they are frozen, I take a knife or spoon and eat them like shaved ice. It’s delicious. Pears in particular lend themselves to dessert because they are the right size and have a subtle sweet flavor.

Description:

I’ll keep this simple:

Pears. Frozen pears.

They are sweet. They are mild. They are the frozen fruit equivalent to green tea ice cream, and I love them.

Ingredients:

You’ll want to use old pears instead of newly ripe ones. Older pears will have a higher sugar content and a stronger flavor.

Instructions:

1. Take an old pear that is beginning to get soft. (It’s skin should be really easy to break.)

2. Freeze the pear over night.  (Or you could put it in the freezer in the morning, and it should be frozen by dinner time.)

Eating frozen pears is the tricky part. I let them thaw slightly, until it is easy to cut off strips with a kitchen knife. Then I cut off pieces and eat them as I go. The pear will thaw unevenly, and parts that you cut off of early will be mushy by the end, but since you don’t have to eat them, don’t worry about it. Just keep a paper towel handy.

Rating: 6 stars out of 7 — They can get a little gross as they start to thaw.

Tip: I haven’t tried this, but my gut is telling me that you could successfully soak your pears in sugar water, and have sweeter pears. (But wipe off the outside before you freeze them, otherwise you’ll have a layer of sugar ice.)

April 25, 2010 at 7:33 pm 1 comment

Curry in a hurry

Normally I like to experiment with my meals.

This morning, I cooked my scrambled eggs in a mixture of garlic, tomatoes, and green onions. (And holy smokes it was good!) I put raspberries in my banana nut muffins. I put avocado on my turkey sandwiches. I eat peanut butter with white cheese (mozzarella, swiss, whatever.) I’ll add almost anything to anything else, just to see if it’s tasty. I’ve even put fresh apricots on a sandwich (which didn’t turn out well, mind you.)

But despite my inclinations, today I decided to keep things simple. There are no tricks, no reinventions, no bells, no whistles, and no finery. It’s just plain old curry.

Description:

If you don’t know what curry tastes like:

Curry is one of those unique flavors I find hard to describe. It is spicy, but usually mild (unless hot peppers are added.) It over powers most flavors it combined with, but doesn’t taste like it should be overpowering. It goes great with beef, chicken, eggs, fish, potatoes, peas, and a plethora of other vegetables.

Curry is somewhat similar to tomatoes in that regard, though they taste nothing alike. (Yet another unhelpful description.)

If you do know what curry tastes like:

Good. This is a basic curry. It’s made with a touch of oil, salt, and noodles. Nothing fancy.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 – 2 cups glass rice noodles

1/2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp canola oil

1/3 tsp salt

Instructions:

1. Fill a bowl that can hold 6 cups halfway with water. Put noodles into the bowl and microwave on high for 3 minutes.

(Don’t worry if not all the noodles are submerged.)

2. Stir the noodles, making sure that they are all within the bowl. Again, they don’t have to all be submerged.  Microwave on high for another 3 minutes.

3. Drain the water and add all the ingredients together.

4. Stir until all ingredients are evenly blended. Bon appetit!

Rating: 5 stars out of 7 —  The batch I made needed more salt, but I didn’t measure, so the recipe could be fine.

Tip: Hard boiled eggs are an excellent compliment to curry.  Just put diced bits into your dish and heat for another 30 seconds.

April 22, 2010 at 1:12 am Leave a comment

Things that don’t mix with microwaves

While microwave cooking isn’t the most difficult thing in the world, there are still things that can go wrong. I thought I should at least take the time to warn everyone about the dangers of what I usually advocate.

Originally, this post was going to be a cautionary list of problems that could arise from microwave cooking.  But then I saw a delightful rendition of iron education (in the form of a limerick) and was inspired to get creative. Instead of that boring numbered list that you have probably come to expect, here’s a poem!

Microwave cooking is easy to do,

but I must tell you now to beware.

If you don’t read this warning I’m giving to you,

you could wind up with food in your hair.

Eggs in a microwave sounds really neat,

but the middle won’t cook very well.

There are special utensils to master this feat,

just make sure you first crack the shell.

Metal is dangerous as you should know.

When you cook it, it could catch on fire.

You might not believe me without a show,

so here’s all of the proof you require.

Styrofoam melts and releases a gas,

some plastics will do much the same.

it will ruin whatever you cooked, and alas,

you’ll have to toss out what remains.

Closed lid containers build pressure inside,

and can pop if it builds up too high.

Your food will be splattered and stick to the side

of the microwave. (This is no lie.)

Water is great, but can get scalding hot,

And if superheated, might just erupt.

But honestly this doesn’t happen a lot,

so your life this should never disrupt.

I hope this advice will be helpful to you,

when you’re cooking your food in a rush.

Now you know all the things never to do,

if you don’t want your meals served with fuss.

April 15, 2010 at 5:58 pm 1 comment

Chicken Paul Simon would be proud of

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

Remember me to one who lives there.

She once was a true love of mine.

Just like with the VeggieTales post, I was looking for inspiration for recipes, and stumbled upon childhood media.  My mother loves Simon & Garfunkel, and particularly the song Scarborough Fair. I heard the song frequently growing up, and we even have a music box that plays the song.

The lyrics for Scarborough Fair (transcribed above) list four aromatic herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. While they were probably chosen for the poetic combination of their sounds, I wanted to see if they tasted good together.

Scarborough Fair is a traditional English ballad, according to its Wikipedia article, and has existed since around 1670, perhaps earlier. The song has also inspired the creation of a renaissance festival of the same name, located in Waxahachie, Texas. As a child I used to go almost every year, but the last time I went was my Junior year of high school. I might go this year, though, since the festival will continue to run until May 31, and this school semester ends around the tenth.

Description:

This dish was remarkably easy to prepare. The hardest part was cooking the chicken, but I don’t expect most people to do that.

The portion size was equivalent to what you would find in an American restaurant, so I suggest halving the recipe or splitting the dish with a friend. (If you can actually wolf down what restaurants serve, this is perfect for you. Personally, I can’t.)

The herbs blended much better than I could have hoped, and rosemary is made for chicken. (Warning: do not overdue the rosemary. It can be very bitter in high concentrations.) The olives and feta cheese add a unique Mediterranean zing to this otherwise straightforward Italian dish. The herbs were not cooked, so the rosemary and thyme were crunchy. You can buy more finely grained rosemary and thyme if this bothers you.

Ingredients:

1 chicken breast (cooked)

1 1/2 cups twirl pasta

3 oz (half can) diced, pitted black olives

2 oz feta cheese

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

pepper and garlic salt

and of course, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme

Instructions:

1. Put pasta and 2 cups of water in a bowl that can hold 6 cups of water. Cook in the microwave on high for 8 minutes.

2. While pasta is cooking, cut chicken breast into strips. Measure out cheeses, and dice olives (if you purchased whole ones.)

3. Drain pasta.

4. Combine all ingredients, and cook on high for 1 minute.

5. Stir and serve. Bon appetit!

Rating: 6/7 — Mine was too salty because of the olives, which is the only thing keeping it from a full seven stars.

Tip: Buy a small can of olives so you don’t have any left overs.

April 14, 2010 at 2:03 pm 1 comment

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