Archive for January, 2012

Super Salad Time-Saver

It is Tuesday, and I have finished consuming all of the salad mixes from the CSA for, like, the first time in a year.  I’m so proud of myself for finding a way to ensure that I am meeting my resolution of not wasting any of this food.  The secret?  Prewashing all the veggies I will need for my salads on Saturday, right after coming back from the CSA, and placing them in a large tupperware in my fridge.  Then, eating a delicious salad for lunch every day, and sometimes for dinner, with a homemade dressing (store-bought has begun to make me feel sick to my stomach, probably because I’ve eaten the same dressing for years).

The bad part of this good news?  I’m now out of salad greens for the rest of the week 🙂


New on the menu: Wild-Caught Tuna Steaks

Part of the excitement of eating more selectively is being forced to choose new foods based on my new standards.  I was looking for decently-priced wild-caught seafood at Sprouts, and tuna steaks – which I had never tried before – were on sale.  I paid $10.04 for two steaks – not bad, considering that I usually pay about $11 for the farm-raised salmon we have for dinner once a week.

Eager to sample this fish, I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and pan-seared it.  Inspired by some recipes I saw online, I made a yogurt sauce with fresh cilantro, fresh mint, garlic, jalapeno, ginger, lime juice, salt, and pepper.  I also made some brown rice (the microwaveable kind – I was short on time) and sauteed bok choy with garlic and soy sauce.

The verdict: An edible recipe that I would not make again.  The tuna steaks turned out very dry.  Though the sauce helped moisten them, I learned that while I love yogurt sauces, I should probably avoid adding mint to them.  In the end, I’d love to give tuna steaks one more try – with a recipe that ensures a moist outcome!

Grass-fed beef

I was super-excited to find a place that sells grass-fed beef in the Valley!  Since I’m trying to buy local as much as possible, McAllen Ranch proved to be a delicious option for beef.  After placing my order on Monday, I could pick up my beef on Thursday.  I naively expected to go to the farm where the cattle were raised and meet the happy relatives of my future dinner, and as I followed my GPS to the beef pick-up location I got even more confused.  The meat is sold in a building in a different town than the town where the farm is located.  It has a pretty fancy exterior with a khaki facade, steps to the door with a buzzer, and pillars.  The building was unlabeled, I did not see the street number on it, and there were no cars (meaning, absolutely zero cars) in front of it, so at one point I was convinced that this beef location was a scam.  Thankfully I had brought the phone number with me, so I gave the saleswoman a ring and eventually found the place and got inside.    We bought 4 pounds (the minimum) of ground beef, at a comparable price to the supermarket beef I buy, and 2 24-ounce T-bones.  The price for the T-bones seemed high ($32), but one T-bone fed the two of us, so in the end it paid off.  Luis soon cooked the T-bones with salt, pepper, and some steak seasoning.  I feel great with this healthy option closeby, knowing that I am not only treating my body well but supporting a local and ethical industry.

The downside: our T-bone was cooked in a pan, leading to a scrumptious supper that we wish we could make even better with a different method of preparation.  Next up on our purchasing agenda: a grill, to get the best out of those pricey steaks!

Lesson #1 – Organic is Pricey

Mmm... crisp and juicy

Since my husband and I just got back from traveling, we had missed the Saturday pick-up date at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for our organic veggies.  Knowing that there wasn’t going to be a farmer’s market in the Valley until Thursday, we had a grocery trip in store.  We decided to go grocery shopping first at Sprouts, whose subtitle is “Farmers Market.”  Usually I just go there to pick up raw honey, dairy-free ice cream, or bulk foods, assuming that the fruit and vegetable prices are outrageous, so this would give me a chance to compare prices.

So what did I find?  Unfortunately, a much smaller organic selection than I imagined.  The great majority of fruits and veggies were not organic, and were not labeled as local – which made me question the store’s subtitle, “Farmers Market.”  Some of the organic veggies, like the one bell pepper that was available, were rotting.  On the bright side, I did find:

  • Organic Fuji and Granny Smith apples at $1.29 and $1.49 per pound (comparable to non-organic apple prices).  The Fuji apple was crisper and juicier than the HEB version and probably came the closest to farm-picked taste as I’m going to get in a sub-tropical climate.
  • Organic lettuce – $5.99 for one of those large clear containers.
  • Wild-caught Ahi Tuna Steaks – $9.99/lb.  These were on sale, so I bought them and froze them.  We paid a little over $10 for two steaks, which is less than we usually pay for our farm-raised salmon for one meal.    Although the seafood industry is less regulated than the meat industry (in terms of labels such as “organic” or “hormone-free”), it’s a safer bet to purchase wild-caught seafood than farm-raised, which is more likely to contain hormones and/or antibiotics.

At HEB, the organic food selection varied.  Some of it was pricey – $4.99 for two organic green bell peppers, as opposed to 62 cents for a non-organic bell pepper (I opted for nonorganic, even though bell peppers are one of the veggies that contain heavy pesticide residues).  I also opted for nonorganic radishes, since organic ones were not available, and was disappointed to find that non-organic herbs and fruit were also not available.   The organic milk here, as in Sprouts, was pricey – almost twice as much for the organic version.  I did, however, hit the jackpot on grape tomatoes: organic tomatoes cost $2.99 per package, comparable to non-organic tomatoes.   I’m convinced they were picked riper than the nonorganic versions, as they taste pretty sweet.

So all in all, on my first organic shopping trip, I did not “splurge” on any food.   I do wish I could 1.) afford more organic options without feeling guilty and 2.) have more organic options available.  But I suppose that learning is what this year of organic living is going to be about!

Cheers to 2012: Year of Eating Organic!

Happy 2012!  This year, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to eat more organic food and to learn lots of new recipes for this organic food so that it’s delicious and doesn’t go to waste!

I suppose this health goal has been two years in the making.  In late 2010, I bought a share at a local CSA and have been eating lots of organic veggies for over a year now.  In 2011, my husband and I made some positive changes to our diet, such as reducing our sugar intake, limiting our consumption of red meat (and, unfortunately for my taste buds, replacing it with salmon a bit too much), and sticking to whole grains.

As part of my quest to learn more about nutrition and healthy lifestyles, I recently read To Buy or Not to Buy Organic by Cindy Burke.  I learned lots of interesting facts that have persuaded me to 1.) value (and not waste) the organic options I have and 2.) search for more organic options when it comes to food.  Let me expand a little more on each of these points.

Each week, I purchase a half-share at my CSA.  Every Sunday, the hubby and I plan how we will eat all of the vegetables we are given – salad for lunch every day, kale on Monday for dinner, baby bok choy on Tuesday, etc.  However, due to busy schedules, we always end up either 1.) not preparing the vegetable side dishes due to time constraints/fatigue/lack of a handy recipe or 2.) ordering take-out instead of home cooking. Needless to say, this means that at the end of the week I end up tossing some vegetables in the trash.  The next Saturday, I return to the CSA and plan meals, inspired to cook all my veggies (and meals) the following week and in denial that I will end up not using all of my veggies.  So, in 2012, I pledge an end to this wasteful cycle.  For my goal-oriented personality, this means that during 2012 I hope to:

  • Learn the best vegetable preparation methods, by which I mean methods that preserve as many nutrients as possible and, more importantly, taste great!
  • Cook and post at least 100 new recipes made with organic food (they may contain some nonorganic ingredients when organic is not an option, too pricey for my budget, or not essential because the nonorganic version is not harmful)
  • Consume all of those organic veggies (and other organic foods) that I purchase, or preserve them for future use

Second of all, my organic food consumption has been limited solely to the veggies I get at the CSA.  This is where Burke’s book comes in.  This piece of investigative journalism explains which foods contain the most hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides, and thus should be eaten organic, and which foods are okay to buy nonorganic because they contain minimal amounts of these products.  Due to my limited teacher’s budget, this information comes in handy.  For example, although I would love to purchase only organic, local, and grass-fed meats from sustainable farms, I already know that I will not be able to afford eating these pricey options every day.  So my second pledge for 2012 is to eat more organic food when it matters, as much as possible.  More specifically, I would like to:

  • Learn more about locally grown organic food options (and how these foods are grown) in the Rio Grande Valley
  • Explore (i.e., cook and eat) new kinds of food, such as organic meats and grains, especially when the nonorganic options contain things those hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides
  • Find the most affordable options through local farmers markets, coupons, and sales

So there we go – my New Year’s food resolutions!  Since I know I tend to get caught up in everyday life and easily forget what I commit to, I hope that keeping a blog will keep my excitement up, keep me accountable to my goals, and provide a platform to share some of these ideas with others!

My husband and I were in San Antonio for New Year’s, so I couldn’t hold to my resolution on the first day of the year by cooking organic.  But to kick off these new eating habits, we stopped by The Cove in San Antonio, a restaurant built around the concept of SOL (sustainable, organic, local) food.  I had heard great things about this restaurant, and we both opted for the lamb burger because it was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  The lamb patty was flavored with Latin spices, topped with cotija cheese, lettuce, and tomato, and the bun was smeared with a delicious red sauce.  I opted for the side salad instead of fries, and the restaurant-made dressing was so flavorful it has inspired me to now make my own salad dressings!  I mean, it was so delicious that I ended up dipping scraps of bread in the leftover dressing.  A great organic meal to jump-start my organic eating habits; I’ll definitely be in search of organic, local lamb soon!