Saturday, September 26, 2009

Embracing Fat

Like any other person in our society who watches TV, reads magazines, and associates with other human beings, I am constantly bombarded by two little words. Two words that make my skin crawl, two words that invite me to bash my head against my desk, two tiny little words that represent everything I think is wrong with the way we eat.

Those two little words? "Low" and "Fat".

I have rage, people! Low-Fat Rage! I hate how "low-fat" has become the gold standard qualifier against which we judge the nutritional value of food. Actually, in a lot of cases, "food." Here are some food items that you may hear are worth gorging on, due to the fact that they're low in fat (or, LOW-FAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! as certain magazines love to exclaim):

-angel food cake
-gummy bears
-jelly beans
-Crystal Light
-Frosted Flakes
-birch bark

That list sure represents the foundations of a healthy diet. I wonder why those clowns over at Canada's Food Guide haven't jumped all over this!

In all seriousness, it's a shame that fat has gotten such a bad rap over the years. Every single cell in your body is made up of fat. Your brain? Mostly fat! Fat fuels us. Why has it become the Boogey Man?

We have been misled, for years, about what is healthy for our bodies. It's no longer a secret that most food that is labelled as low-fat contains a terrifying amount of sugar (which, in abundance, is actually more like the Boogey Man, if you ask me, but I digress.) Forget our bodies for a second. What about our minds? We've been made to beat ourselves up and measure our self worth over what tasty things we put in our bellies! That's no way to live.

You know what tastes great? Butter. Eggs. Cheese. Cream. Real mayonnaise. Olive oil.

You know what tastes awful? Guilt.

Just let it go! I promise that you will be much happier. Isn't that what really matters? A few years ago, after reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover, I decided to forget all of my Fat Guilt. It felt so wrong for a while, but I soon got used to my 2% milk, regular cheese, full-fat mayonnaise, and butter, because my life was so rich (pun intended) with deliciousness.

I have news for those who read things like this and say, "My stars! That's so unhealthy! Surely you're sabotaging your health by eating such evil things as butter!" Actually, eating fat does not equal getting fatter. Since making the transition to eating real food (that is, anything that grows in the ground, or on trees, or comes from an animal) I have never been healthier. I'm in better shape and at a lower weight than I ever was when I eat what I had been brainwashed into thinking was good for me. Even though I include fat in my diet, my blood pressure is in the healthy lower range, and the results from my routine blood work are better than average. My doctor loves me!

Here's the thing about real, natural fat: it tastes so good, that you only need a little. A small piece of real applewood smoked cheddar is far more satisfying than an entire block of low-fat, rubbery cheese. I'd rather eat one tablespoon of real, thick, 6% fat yogurt lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup, than an entire 750mL container of thin, runny, non-fat yogurt sweetened with acid rain, or whatever it is they put in there.

So, in the spirit of embracing fat, I thought I would share part of what I had for brunch this morning. Since it's Saturday, I wanted it to be special.

I whisked three eggs with a splash of milk and some kosher salt, and poured it into a pan that was coated in a bit of sizzling butter.

I added some feta cheese, which was left over from Greek Finger Food Night (a popular Friday night meal at our place.)

Once I folded the omelette, I put some more cheese on top, just to make it look pretty.

I then finished it off with a dollop of tzatziki sauce. Mmmmm...

I'm convinced that if I had instead made an egg-white-from-a-carton omelette fried in margarine or cooking spray, with low-fat cheese and a dollop of non-fat yogurt, my foodie self would have been so unsatisfied, that I would have run to the store and bought an armload of (LOW-FAT!!!!!!) licorice for lunch to console myself. OK, maybe I'm exaggerating...but right now I feel satisfied, nourished, and, most of all, content. And nothing tastes better than that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Weeknight Macaroni and Tomatoes

Does everyone's grandmother make macaroni and tomatoes? You know, canned tomatoes mixed with ground beef, macaroni, and not much else? Both Jeff and I have memories of our grandmothers fixing us this comforting concoction; so, when we found ourselves on a Thursday night with a basket of local Roma tomatoes that needed to be used up, and an inventory of our fridge was less than inspiring, we thought of this simple childhood dish.

We figured that neither Gram nor Grand-Maman would be offended by a version modified to our current tastes, so Jeff set to quartering the beautiful, fresh tomatoes.

Meanwhile, I sauteed an onion and some garlic in a mixture of olive oil and butter until softened and fragrant. In went the tomatoes, which looked so pretty in the pot with the spices Jeff added in abundance (basil, oregano, and herbes de provence, with salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper.)

I browned a pound of ground beef from Stephen Taylor's Farm in a nearby skillet, while the whole-wheat pasta boiled away in yet another pot. After we added the meat to the tomato mixture, I remembered a pack of mushrooms that we had in our sorry fridge. I softened those babies up in some garlic butter, and threw them and the drained pasta into the pool with the others. Then, the entire thing was poured into a baking dish.

As you may have noticed, there aren't very many dishes that make it past my inspection without the incorporation of cheese. Although not in my grandmother's original, I sprinkled a blend of shredded Italian cheeses (mozzarella, asiago, provolone, and parmesan) on top before baking. We were very patient, and then...

Heaven! The macaroni and tomatoes was extremely comforting. It tasted so familiar to me, with just a little bit of a new twist. This was a great way to use our tomatoes! I liked the bright and fresh flavour that they brought to the table (no pun intended.) Also, I can't say enough about using garlic butter in this dish; it really stood out, but in the most delightful way.

I enjoyed this so much, that I want to experiment further. Something I'd really like to try, when I've bothered to plan ahead, is folding in cubes of fresh mozzarella before baking. However, that being said, Jeff and I both found ourselves craving Kraft "Parmesan Cheese," the stuff in the green can. Yikes...funny what childhood memories can do to a person!

Not Your Grandmother's Macaroni and Tomatoes: The Recipe

Amanda's Notes: Make sure you undercook your pasta just a little bit, so that it will finish cooking to a perfect al dente in the oven.

3.0 L fresh tomatoes, quartered
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
olive oil, garlic butter
1 lb hamburger, browned
1 box whole-wheat macaroni
1 tsp each basil, oregano, herbes de provence
salt and freshly cracked pepper
Italian cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sautee onions and garlic in a mixture of olive oil and garlic butter, until soft. Add mushrooms, sautee until soft.

Add tomatoes and spices. Add ground beef and pasta. Season to taste.

Sprinkle with cheese and bake pasta for 25-30 min. Broil to brown the cheese.

Let the pasta sit at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.