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Monday, May 24, 2010

Short Cut to Paella

Now that I'm a mom, I've been inundated with Parents, Parenting and other baby magazines.  I barely have time to look online these days.  We gave up our daily newspaper subscription and as for the New Yorker, I haven't read a complete issue in years.  I make myself through out all the NYer issues that are older than 2 months, knowing full well I won't even glance through them.  However, the baby magazines do seem to be designed with the harried mom in mind.   Easy to peruse, fun and lively so you want to come back to give the photos and articles a further looky loo.  That's how I came across a great idea for short-cut paella that's family friendly.   The original recipe (found here) is standard Sandra Lee style cooking semi-homemade using a lot of ready made and packaged foods. Not my style but inspired finished dish are the pure healthy & gourmet-made-easy kind of cooking at which I excel.  The rice is made separately from the meats/seafood/veggies.  The way the rice is made, it's sort of a version of pilaf and Spanish Rice - sautéed aromatics (garlic/onions) and I used saffron and tomato paste to add flavor and color.  A few swap outs for whole grains, less sodium and more veggies and I present to you a very good version of a short-cut paella, good enough to serve to guests and good enough for you to feel good about eating it for a healthier life-style. Short-cut Paella, it's a good thing.

Short-Cut Paella Ingredients
For Rice:

  • 1 Cup Uncooked Brown Rice - rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Small Onion - finely diced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Saffron Threads (or 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder)
  • 1/4 Cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 & 3/4 Cups Cold Water

For Paella

  • 2 Tablespoon Olive Oil - divided
  • 1 Red and Green Bell Peppers - julienne 
  • 1 Medium/Large Onion - Large dice
  • 4 or 5 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Pound Large Shrimp - shells intact but deveined
  • 1 Package (about 12 ounces to 1 pound) Pre-cooked Chicken Sausage (like the kind you can buy at Trader Joe's) - cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 Cup Frozen Okra
  • 1 Cup Frozen Peas
  • 1 - 14.5 to 16 Ounce Can Diced Tomatoes (No Salt Added/No Seasonings)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to Taste
  • 1/2 Cup Cilantro or Parsley - roughly chopped for garnish


  1. Start by making the rice first.  Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear; drain completely.  Use a 3 quart sauce pot with a tight fitting lid; heat the olive oil over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer.  
  2. Add in the onions and saute the onions until they begin to turn translucent - about 2 minutes.  Add in the minced garlic and if using, the saffron or turmeric powder and the tomato paste; saute 1 minute, while whisking the tomato paste to incorporate. 
  3. Add in the brown rice and saute for 3 minutes before adding in the 2 & 3/4 cups of cold water and the salt.  Whisk again to incorporate the tomato paste, making sure there are no lumps.  Turn heat up to high, cover pot and bring the mixture to a boil.  Once the rice starts to boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, covered & undisturbed until the rice has absorbed all of the cooking water, about 45 minutes.  
  4. While the rice is cooking, start prepping and cooking the paella ingredients.  Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.  Saute the julienned bell peppers until they soften and begin to take on some color, about 5-8 minutes.  
  5. Next, add in the diced onions and minced garlic; saute for 2 minutes or until the onions turn translucent.  
  6. Add in the second tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika; then add in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp turn bright orange/pink - about 3 minutes.  Next add in the sliced chicken sausage.  Cook the sausage until it is warmed through.  
  7. Add in the frozen okra, peas and the can of diced tomatoes with the tomato juices.  If the mixture is too dry, add in 1 cup of cold water.  Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the okra and peas are cooked through.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  8. When the rice is completely cooked, fluff it with a fork and then put some on a plate or in a bowl.  Top with scoop of the paella mixture and garnish with a sprinkle of cilantro or parsley.  If serving family style or for a large gathering, put the rice onto a platter and top with the entire paella mixture.  Serves 8.
Notes: True paella uses a special paella pan, which is shallow, very wide and usually made of hammered blue steel.  The rice you use in paella is traditionally a medium grain rice; usually it's a Spanish - Valencia-style rice called bomba.  The aromatics in the dish are called a sofritto, a mixture of onions, garlic, bell peppers and tomato paste.  Seafood, chicken and/or rabbit would be the main proteins.  Saffron, an extremely expensive, highly prized and aromatic and colorful ingredient, adds depth of flavor and that unmistakable "Spanish rice" color.  The entire dish is cooked together in the paella pan, with all the flavors melding together and into the rice.  When cooked correctly in the paella pan, the bottom layer of rice sticks to the pan, creating a crisp crunchy layer.  This is the "prize" of the paella, usually reserved for the honored guest or cook.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Soap Box Moments: Wear a Bike Helmet!

One of my biggest pet peeves (yeah, I know, the list is huge) is bicyclists NOT wearing a helmet.  The older I get the more concerned I am about this stupidity.  On almost every ride I do, my morning rides, longer excursions, Centuries, The New York 5 Boro Ride, Bike Philly and the Ride of Silence - YES THE RIDE OF SILENCE, I see cyclists without helmets.  Granted in all but the Ride of Silence, helmets are required and most of the time, a rider without a helmet will be stopped and made to put on his helmet.  Not so in the RofS, where for the past three years, I've noticed many riders going bareheaded.  The above photo is from 2009 and it perfectly illustrates my point.  I didn't take the photo of these women because they weren't wearing helmets, I was taking photos of her tattoos.  When I went to look for an example of a helmet-less rider, lo and behold I had several.  I try not to lecture cyclists about wearing helmets, but I do talk with people one on one when given the opportunity.   Usually I comment on their bikes and then say, your bike is cool/nice/gorgeous but now you need to get a helmet.  And then I tell them not to spend a lot and where they can find a good buy.  Usually I get sheepish looks and the aw shucks shuffle but no one ever really protests or gets upset.  I did have one woman recently tell me, after I complimented her on her cool full-sized Dahon Folding Bike and suggested that the next thing she needed was a good helmet to go with it, her response was, "I have thick hair."  Well, that thick hair isn't going to protect your head, even though metaphorically speaking she was thick headed. 

I spent my youth and early adult hood riding without a helmet.  It was stupid and I didn't know any better; I was poor and could barely afford a bike.  It's a miracle that I'm alive because I got hit by cars twice and wiped out and was hurt both times very badly.  I like to think a Minyan of Angels were holding me aloft from the near death experiences of my late teens and '20's.  Since those stupid, naive "heady" years, I always wear a helmet and enjoy shopping for a new one every few years.  

So I'm sharing with you this article from the New York Times on why all adults (and kids) should wear a bike helmet.  The article sites some very factual stats and gives great tips on buying a helmet and that all helmets are basically the same; it's only design and vents that cost more.  Pass it on and wear your helmet.

Grown-Up Cyclists Need Helmets, Too


Share your thoughts on this column at the Well blog.
CATHERINE TALESE rides her bicycle everywhere — to work, to the theater, out to dinner — and always has a helmet on her head.
“There was a time when I didn’t wear a helmet; I thought I looked like a dork,” Ms. Talese, a freelance photography director who lives in Manhattan, told me recently. “But I’ve realized it’s not negotiable. Helmets are really your only safety gear in a city where pedestrians and drivers are still learning to share the road with bikers.”
Whether you ride on hectic city streets or bucolic back roads, helmets are essential armor. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries by up to 88 percent and facial injuries by 65 percent, according to a Cochrane Database Systemic Reviewpublished in 2000. Bike riders who play against those odds do not fare well in accidents. More than 90 percent of the 714 bicyclists killed in 2008 were not wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Even a light blow to the head can be serious.
“You don’t have to be going fast to hurt your brain,” said Dr. Angela F. Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. A simple concussion can be debilitating, keeping you off the job or operating at half speed for weeks. “And every concussion increases the likelihood that you will have an injury to the brain if another concussion occurs,” Dr. Gardner said.
People over 30 should be particularly careful because their gray matter is not packed as tightly as it used to be. And I don’t mean that only figuratively.
“As you age, your brain shrinks, but your skull does not,” Dr. Gardner said. “That extra space means that the brain can bounce around inside the skull and may be more easily damaged from a blow.”
Nearly half of all states have laws on the books that require children and teenagers, typically those under 16 or 18, to wear helmets. In New York, riders under 14 must wear a helmet. A handful of localities — including Dallas, El Cerrito, Calif., and Rockland County, N.Y. — have laws that require people of all ages to wear helmets when they are on a bicycle. But no states do. So in most places it is up to adults to police themselves.
If you are not a helmet wearer — yet — here is some good news: low-price helmets, as long as they meet federal standards, work just as well as high-price ones. So cost should not be an impediment.
Nor should style. There are now plenty of hip helmets on the market in a variety of shapes and shades. Ms. Talese, for instance, owns helmets in blue and silver. “My helmet is the finishing touch to my outfit. It’s like a hat.”
In this column I am focusing on bicycle helmets, which are designed specifically to cushion the blow of the falls most likely to happen from a bicycle. But remember, skateboarders, skiers and rollerbladers should wear helmets too, and those helmets should be specific to those sports.
Here is how to make a smart buying decision.
LOOK FOR A C.P.S.C. STICKER The sticker ensures that the product has met the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission’s standards. The commission requires that helmets be tested for impact resistance on special rigs, that they offer adequate peripheral vision and that their straps be sturdy, among other measures. Helmets are tested in a variety of conditions: when they are hot, wet, cold and at room temperature.
CHEAP CAN BE SAFE According to a study by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., $10 helmets from Wal-Mart Stores and Target held up just as well as more expensive models from high-end outlets.
Last spring, the institute had an independent lab test six helmets in different price ranges. The report summarized its findings: “When you pay more for a helmet you may get an easier fit, more vents and snazzier graphics. But the basic impact protection of the cheap helmets we tested equaled the expensive ones.”
GET A GOOD FIT If the dork factor has been holding you (or your children) back, spring for a helmet in a color and shape you love — or at least do not hate. Check out the models from Nutcase, which feature bold graphics (stripes, flags, flames and such) in streamlined skater shapes. For more sophisticated styles, look at the options from Giro.
Whether you are buying for yourself or a child, be sure the fit is snug and comfortable. The helmet should sit two finger widths above your eyebrows, the straps should come under your ears and you should be able to open and close your mouth comfortably.
If your head tends to sweat, look for a helmet with vents.
LIGHT OR BRIGHT A helmet in a light, glittery shade makes you more visible and less likely to be hit on the road. If you ride in the evening, it is helpful to have a reflective helmet: The largest number of bicycle deaths in 2008 occurred between 6 and 9 p.m., according to the highway safety institute.
ONE FALL PER HELMET Most bike helmets are lined with expanded polystyrene foam, typically abbreviated as E.P.S. When you fall, the foam compacts (even though your helmet may look perfectly fine) and so will not cushion a subsequent blow adequately.
Because materials degrade over time, it is wise to replace your helmet every five to seven years. If your helmet dates from 2003 or earlier, buy yourself a new one.
BE A ROLE MODEL Wearing a helmet sets a good example for other riders and for children.
“We see plenty of kids in our trauma center who say they have helmets at home,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle. “The biggest problem with kids is getting them to wear their helmets consistently.”
Adam Bluestein, who has two children and lives in Burlington, Vt., never rides without a helmet. “I want my kids to know that always riding with a helmet is important. Now when we see people riding without a helmet, it’s like seeing someone smoking a cigarette — the kids practically gasp in horror. ‘How could someone do something so unsafe?’ ”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Spinning my Wheels

My wheels are spinning in place, sometimes literally and often times figuratively.  I've been biking as much as my life allows these days, which means waking around 5:30/5:45 and heading out by 6:15 am to ride up and around the Art Museum and River Loops, two or three days a week.  At the beginning of the month, I went to New York for the 5 Borough Bike Tour - a ride I will NEVER DO AGAIN!  This time, never definitely means never again.  32,000 people riding on the Streets of New York, most of whom do not ride on a regular, annual or life-time basis is a recipe for disaster.  I so disliked the event this year, that I didn't even blog about it.  My displeasure was mostly with the idiots we encountered and the inability to get to basic services along with all the other riders; it  put me off and I didn't want to repeat the story to anyone.  I had a great time riding with my friends Ellen and Jim but the day was marred by a gang of cape wearing, wheelie popping youths, a fat slob who fancied himself Lance Armstrong who cut us off the road and knocked Jim over, and the lack of swag, grub and goodies because we couldn't reach it at the rest stops.  The day was topped off with not being able to get out of the Festival unless all 32,000 of us went out the same exit.  Everyone was shuttled like cattle towards the same destination of the Staten Island Ferry - the opposite direction to where I was headed.  The 5 Boro Ride left me regretting doing this slow walk/ride to hell.  
As for other rides - biking as exercise and training, it's not going as well as last year.  I feel as though I am struggling to keep up with my biking buddies.  I was sick for a week and have been plagued with allergies most of April and May.  The weather's been contrary lately, mostly cold and misty, making rides harder.  My friends are faster riders, on better bikes, so I'm more keenly aware of my short-comings.  I thought maybe the harsher weather conditions would be good for the nicer weather days; giving me an edge once it's warmer and not so windy.  I haven't really tested this theory out - because I couldn't ride the two nice days we had in the past two weeks.  I used to fancy myself a good cyclist. Now, I'm not so sure.  My pace is a solid 13 miles an hour.  I was hoping for a 15 mile an hour pace ride.  Not sure how I'll improve it.  It's hard to get in workouts with our new "normal" life with baby.  I wouldn't trade this new life, I love Nate so much but trying to fit everything in and keep up with home, work, shopping, cooking, and blogging, well, it's a lot.

On a more positive, less pms-influenced note - I've am having good experiences with my SheRox Tri mentoring.   I've been running at Valley Green Trail in the Wissahickon.  I've met several of my mentees for coffee, riding and running.  One of my mentees lives within a block of me, and we've run and biked a few times.  I had a successful bike ride meet-up on Wednesday night, with 5 mentees joining me for a Bike 101 lesson.  And I bought a new, beautiful collegiate style Schwinn bike, called "Coffee".  The women's version is called, "Cream".  I'm very happy with it, and naturally have decorated it and added a wicker basket. I'm already thinking about the Tweed Dandy Ride this fall and how I'll dress and decorate the bike.  Last night was the annual Ride of Silence.  It's weird to say I enjoy this gathering, the reason for its being is to honor those cyclists who were killed over the past year while biking.  The event is national and from what I saw this year, growing bigger and more necessary.  I still am in awe of the power of cyclists and our ability to come together en mass to show the need for sharing the road, fighting for road rights all while riding silently through 12 miles of City Streets. Vive Le Bicycle!  

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto

Pesto does not need to be your enemy for a healthy or low-fat lifestyle.  I won't say diet, as that would be antithetical to a Weight Watchers' Life Style and for my general take on eating and cooking.  I make food that tastes good and it isn't diet food.  Pesto isn't normally in a dieter's repertoire but if you know how to make it healthier, it can become a once in a while ingredient in your cooking.  The trick is knowing how to stretch the ingredients with healthy substitutes.  It's a trick I learned from working at the Reading Terminal Market - making a lot of pesto and not using a lot of oil and basil.  We wanted to keep the bright green and keep the "green" costs low.  The secret ingredient was spinach.  Other tricks, blanching the basil to retain its color and blanching the garlic to tame it; not using nuts or cheese in the pesto, but adding them to the finished dish as accent or accompaniment ingredients.  To make a pasta dish or salad healthier, switch out the white pasta for whole wheat or multi-grain.  Add in more vegetables. Loosen up the the pesto with a quality white balsamic or white wine vinegar and prepared Dijon mustard. Yes, you can have your pesto salad and enjoy it guilt free!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound Whole Wheat Penne or Rotini Pasta - cooked according to package directions
  • 1 Large Bunch Basil - About 2 Cups Loosely Packed
  • 2 Cups Chopped Frozen Spinach - Thawed, OR 2 Cups Fresh Spinach Loosely Packed - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 3 or 4 Garlic Cloves
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons White Wine, Champagne or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Pound Broccoli Spears - Blanched
  • 1 lb Package of Broccoli & Carrot Slaw Mix
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Locatelli Cheese - for sprinkling  
  1. Bring a stock pot of water to boil.  When the water comes to a rolling boil, season the water with several tablespoons of kosher salt.  Blanch the garlic cloves until they are tender - about 3 minutes.  Remove from boiling water, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.  Set garlic cloves side.
  2. Quickly blanch the basil in the boiling water, no more than 30 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in cold water to stop the cooking and retain its bright green color.  Drain, and using a paper towel, wring as much water out of the basil as possible.  
  3. Put the basil, blanched garlic and thawed or fresh spinach into a food processor or blender and pulse to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to get the mixture moving.  Continue pulsing or blending and add in the Dijon mustard, vinegar and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Once pesto is completely smooth, stop blending/pulsing, taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, mustard and/or vinegar.  Set pesto aside. 
  4. Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente.  About 1 minute before the pasta is done cooking, add in the broccoli spears to blanch.  Drain both the pasta and the broccoli, but do not rinse.  Put the pasta and broccoli into a large mixing bowl; add in the broccoli carrot slaw and stir in the pesto.  Mix thoroughly to incorporate all the pesto.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over top of the pasta salad.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  Makes 6 servings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

All-Bran Flakes Banana Bread

Yet another variation on a low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber quick bread.  This time I was inspired to make this banana bread by several different sources and reasons; my favorite cookbook, Deceptively Delicious, the many varieties of All-Bran Cereal I've had on hand and because I had too many overly ripe bananas.  I've said many times I'm not a fantastic baker but I do have a few tricks and treats that I can bake and vary with great results; this banana bread is definitely one of my better baking experiments.  It adapts easily and turns out consistently moist and tasty.  I've tweaked it enough that I know it will stay moist without the need for butter or oil, it's sweet enough that it doesn't need much added sugar and you can amp up the fiber content by using whole wheat flour, oats and All-Bran cereal.

All-Bran Cereal Banana Bread Ingredients:

  • Cooking Spray or Light Butter & All-Purpose Flour - for greasing loaf pan
  • 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 Cup of  Crushed All-Bran Cereal Flakes or Twigs- crushed or pulsed in a food processor into a coarse grain or powder 
  • 1/4 Cup All-Bran Cereal Buds - crushed or 1/4 Cup Quick Cook Oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 Cup Light or Dark Brown Sugar - firmly packed
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 2 Cups Banana Puree - about 3-4 Medium/Large Bananas
  • 1 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use and 9-inch loaf pan and grease or spray it with cooking spray and dust it thoroughly with flour; set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - 1 cup of whole wheat flour, 1 full measured cup of the crushed/pulsed All-Bran Cereal Flakes, 1/4 cup of crushed All-Bran Cereal Buds or oatmeal, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; whisk well to thoroughly combine.  Set aside.
  3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the 1/2 cup brown sugar and the 2 large eggs until the sugar dissolves and the eggs are foamy.  Mash the bananas until they are smooth and most lumps are gone then whisk them into them into the brown sugar/egg mixture.  Stir in the vanilla extract.
  4. Gently fold in the flour mixture, in thirds, into the wet ingredients.  Incorporate the flour mixture by folding it into the sugar/egg/bananas before adding more.  Stir to combine but do not over mix, otherwise the batter will become tough.  The batter should be loose and runny, this is normal.  The flour, cereal and oatmeal will absorb the wet ingredients and will set up as it bakes keeping the bread remaining moist and tender.
  5. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean with only crumbs sticking to it.  Let the loaf pan cool on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before turning the banana bread out of the pan.  Cool completely before cutting and serving.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to keep the  banana bread moist.    
  6. This banana bread slices and freezes beautifully!  It is also terrific with low-fat cream cheese or peanut butter!