“To-may-to, to-mah-to”

The Tomato


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Growing up, I ate good food. I was spoiled in that regard. My family has always had a garden and for sure tomatoes have been a staple. My Uncle Pete, sicilian, was an influence as well and to this day I have never been able to replicate his rigatoni. However, his tomato salad has been a constant in my kitchen for years now. We supplied the tomatoes, he made the salad. That’s how it worked. I spoke with him recently and got a refresher. He informed me after all these years, that it was his mothers favorite.


“Only two things money can’t buy, That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes” – Guy Clark


JUICY FACTS

The origins of the tomato can be traced back to Central South America and were cultivated by the Aztecs.

  • The french believed them to be a powerful aphrodisiac, and called them “pomme d’amour” or love apple.

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  • The Latin name is lycopersican escutentum, or edible wolf’s peach”.
  • Tomatoes are full of Lycopene, believed to be a powerful antioxident, and is why they turn red as the they ripen.

Tomato Salad 

All you’ll need 🍅

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3 – 4 fully ripe Big Beef, or Beef Steak tomatoes, cut in quarters

Half of a medium Red Onion, thinly sliced

Fresh basil, shredded

Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle

Salt & Pepper for seasoning

And 2 – 3 teaspoons of water.

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Voila, a bowl full of love apples!

Clean, fresh, healthy, what more could you want?

The weather is changing, windows are opening, and food for me, takes on an entirely different style. Part of the secret in this simple, yet spectacular salad is that all the ingredients are fresh and of high quality.


I fully document my love affair with food on Twitter: @jwilltrain

 

DRESS FOR SUCCESS

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SALAD DRESSING

Back in my days of working in restaurants I remember numerous tableside interactions that went something like this:

Me: Did you need more time, or have you decided?

Guest:  Yes, I’m having the house salad. And can you please have them leave off the croutons. I’m really watching what I’m eating.

Me: Of course, and what dressing would you like?

Guest: Buttermilk Ranch!

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So you’ve made up your mind to start eating better. More salads you’ve decided. So you arrange the perfectly washed bed of crisp greens. The plump, juicy tomatoes. You’ve put your chef hat on and found the right flavor profile with pears, red onions, and dried cherries.

Why smother all that deliciousness?

The origins of what we know as a salad can be traced back centuries. The word Sal, latin for salt, which led to salata, or “salted things”. The Greeks used vinegar on vegetables as well. Americans came to know salads around the turn of the century and over time ways to flavor them have swelled to that of entire aisles of shelves. I believe all the years of serving soaked, overly dressed salads encouraged me to change the way I eat, and even view the salad course itself.

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ON THE SIDE

Every once in awhile I do like a bottled dressing. Just to put it out there, my favorite is Catalina. Really. On the day-to-day though, I’ve come to only prefer to dress the ingredients in oil, a little salt & pepper and some  vinegar.

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That’s a base to add upon. Some days it’s a little mustard. Crushed garlic on others. Olive oil is considered the good fats, the monounsaturated fats, or MUFA’s. 

Below are some of my recommendations to keep on hand for some serious salad envy.

  • Olive Oil – A good quality. I don’t believe in breaking the bank, but neither going bargain basement either.
  • Balsamic Vinegar – Keeping with the same logic as above, once you’ve come up with the right ratio together you’ll get a dressing people will want to sell for you. 👉Look for the color, it will be a very specific shade of brown.
  • Red Wine Vinegar – No you won’t catch a buzz, it doesn’t contain alcohol.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar – While the benefits of this one are widely debated, my cabinet is never without it.
  • Dijon Mustard – When you have people over, this addition will take your dressing to restaurant level.

Lemon, lime, cilantro, you name it. Dress it up well and let the ingredients shine through.

For my All-Star recipe email: jwilliamstrains@gmail.com

TAKING STOCK

In the Kitchen


SAVEUR

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ADDING FLAVOR

Around this part of the midwest the winter season has been unusually mild. It’s had it’s bouts of fridged all right, but overall, flip-flops in Feburary was a bit odd. Cooking this time of year takes on a whole different feeling. It’s all about comfort & feeling homey. Comfort foods and eating clean might seem like a paradox, but in my kitchen the rule is the less store bought and cleaner the better. Over the years, particularly during the colder months, I’ve found making homemade chicken stock and freezing it for later is a gauranteed way to have extra flavor on hand, as well as something soothing to have when I’m just “not feeling it.” Besides being fresh you know exactly what’s gone into it, excluding any ingredients you cannot pronounce.

STOCK UP

What I use

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 2 medium onions

2 large carrots, peeled

2 celery stalks, with leaves (more flavor)

2 – 3 garlic cloves

1 fresh Bay Leave

1 – 1/2 pounds of chicken parts

Step 1 – Put on some really cool tunes. Next rinse the chicken parts, put in a stock pot, and cover with water. Bring to a boil and skim the top frequently with a large spoon, or fancy strainer.

Step 2 – Cut onions, celery, and carrots into rough chunks and toss those in along with the garlic. Lower the temperature and let simmer for 1.5 – 3 hours, frequently skimming the top throughout.

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A Watched Pot

I often say that eating clean means different things to different people. Growing up it was simply called, “homemade”. My mom made everything from scratch. Even our bread. Taking small steps to clean up your food goes a very long way.

Meanwhile, your neighbors down the hall will be wishing they had an invitation for lunch, assuming this is being done on one of those lazy saturday mornings, because the aromas are incredible. Just don’t forget to skim away periodically.

Once done, let it cool. The chicken will literally fall off the bone.

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It will settle into a gelatin like concistency where you can then spoon it into containers of your choice. This will freeze nicely for up to 3 months in the back of your freezer. Stored away, extra flavor, for when you need it.

Next, what to do with all that chicken that fell off the bone.

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Summer Staple

Nutrition


MEAL PREP IDEAS

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A cleaner version of a summer classic, this recipe substitutes plain, greek-style yogurt for mayonnaise, not only cutting fat tremendously, but adding more protein per serving. You can do half and half, or cut the mayo out all together. Strained to remove it’s whey, greek-style yogurt has a much higher protein content largely of casein.

👉 What you’ll need

  • 3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts. Poached or baked. Shredded.

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👌 For a “Waldorf” style (my favorite) add honey and apples.

  • 1/4 cup plain, unflavored greek-style yogurt
  • Salt & pepper

Mix & chill.

👉 Suggestions

Drain yogurt before folding in. The salad will keep longer.

Add different ingredients to each days meal. Variety is a good thing.

Wait until eating to add seasoning.


Bon appetit!

MEAL PREP MADE EASY

Eating Well


SIDES & SALADS

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This has to be one of the most versatile dishes to include in your make-ahead menu. With the dressing kept on the side, the ingredients keep in the refrigerator crisp & fresh the entire week.

An easy work lunch or a quick snack bite, it includes protein, healthy carbs, and raw veggie power.

What you’ll need

Salad

Using couscous as the base, add bell peppers, chickpeas, onion, and cucumber. For even more flavor cook the couscous in chicken or vegetable stock. Or, simply add water. When it comes time, toss in a basic country vinaigrette, or plain olive oil.

GET CREATIVE

Add what you like. Varying the ingredients keeps it interesting. Try cilantro, blanched asparagus or kidney beans. Bring along a hardboiled egg.

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No need to really measure here, it’s veggies we’re talking about. So load up!

OFFICE ENVY

“I’m staying at my desk for lunch today”

Leave this in the break room fridge and I’ll bet it will disappear.

HOME GROWN

 

Food


 INDOOR GARDENING

SUSTAINABILITY

Last year, in the first weeks of the winter months I decided to start propagating herbs, vegetables, and plants indoors. Part curiosity and part planning, I dubbed it, “The Winter Garden”.

Curiosity because there are some I have never tried before. Planning because I have large plans for an outdoor garden this spring/summer and wanted a small taste during the bitterly cold months.

And cold it was. Most have not only grown but thrived.

SCALLIONS/GREEN ONIONS


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I hesitate to use the word easy. Gardening takes dedication, cultivation, and time. That being said, these green onions proved to be relatively low maintenance as well as the most immediately gratifying.

Starting with onions I purchased at my local supermarket, I submerged them in water after cutting down to their bulbs.

Scallions

Within just a few days there was new growth. Gardening is extremely rewarding. To see something so rapid is nothing short of exciting.

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Just shy of two (2) weeks and significant growth with roots 3 1/2 inches in length appeared.

I eventually had so much growth I contemplated transplanting these batches, three (3) in all, into soil. However, the idea of hydroponics intrigues me so I continued in water.

When they grew to the point of 13 1/2 inches in length I harvested them for the first time to eat.

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My Saturday morning scrambled eggs never tasted better.

 

My Advice

  • Begin in a small, shallow container. After some growth transfer to a larger one. Recycled mason jars work great.
  • Pay close attention to the water. Add/change water every few days.
  • Start small, say with one batch. After some nice growth get more ambitious

As some of my winter garden’s shining stars, I hope to get several harvestings from them before I move the garden outside this spring.

I hope you follow.

WHAT’S FOR BREAKFAST

Nutrition


EAT WELL

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I come from a generation that was taught breakfast the most important meal of the day. In the last few years that theory has come under heavy debate. Multiple studies are arguing skipping breakfast for weight loss, or eating this meal and skipping other meals, is best. My personal theory is that “tis better to eat upon rising than to eat before I laying down”.

RISE AND SHINE

I like the shine part of that. I wasn’t always a morning person. It has taken some grooming to get that way. Now that I have, I enjoy it.

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 Shine, to me, means to function at my best. That requires energy and energy requires fuel.

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I do not approach this from a weight loss or weight management point of view. I look it from a nourishing aspect. I believe we need fuel, energy, and nutrients to power on.

There are many different ways to add that extra boost in the morning along with your java juice.

My Tips

  •  Prep something the night before to make things easy. Hardboiled eggs, mixed fruit, & cereal are some of my go-to’s.
  • Supply yourself with things you enjoy. In moderation.
  • Strive to prepare it yourself. The fresher the better.

Imagine sitting in traffic on your way to work with the fuel gauge on empty.

I’d rather not.

 

 

 

 

SUPERPOWER LUNCH

SUPERSTARS

The term “superfood” is not a a USDA coined term, however it is widely recognized in the Fitness & Nutrition industry as foods containing high levels of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and such that they are super good for you. Do a simple google search and you’ll soon learn which ones top the list.

A friend recently cashed in on a favor so I agreed to make lunch. How do you turn a simple salad into a superpower of health? All of the ingredients used are my standard go to sources and I put them altogether for a really healthy, simple lunch.

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THE BASE

SPINACH

It is no secret the power of spinach or it’s benefits. Popeye ate it and grew strong. Really strong.

  • High in Vitamins A & C
  • Believed to help fight against cardiovascular disease
  • Low Calorie

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THE SUPERSTARS

 ASPARAGUS

I eat so much of this and prepare it for people I can almost see in their expressions, “Asparagus again? Having said that, my research shows it is so good for you and so high on the superpower list I will continue serving it up the way I do. For this salad I blanch it one of two ways. In boiling water  or in the microwave before submerging it in an ice bath. Simple.

I read an excellent analogy for asparagus. The spear-like appearance makes it perfect for a disease fighting food.

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Tip

Quickly cooking it for a short time helps to release the nutrients. An ice bath stops the cooking process and locks in the good stuff. After the bath drain very well on paper towels.

  • High in Vitamins A & C as well
  • High in antioxidants that fight free radicals

STRAWBERRIES

strawberries

Need I say more? Typically at the top of any list of super-foods, these fierce fighters should be a staple in any diet.

RED ONIONS

At first I though I was the only person who ate these however with the right dressing and co-ingredients people love them. I particularly like mixing them with something sweet. Like strawberries.

  • High in Vitamin C
  • Excellent source of phytonutrients

phytonutrient A substance found in certain plants which is believed to be beneficial to human health and help prevent diseases.

EGGS

Eggs are known as the perfect protein source. 5-6 grams per egg. Yes, I believe in eating the yolk as most of the nutrients are there.

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Tip

Hard-boiling a dozen eggs takes 30 mins. 10 to bring to a boil, 10 at a boil, and 10 off the heat. Submerge in an ice bath to stop the cooking and you have breakfast, snacks, and lunch ingredients. For a heartier, more substantial serving of protein add grilled chicken.

Some olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of balsamic is how I dressed it.

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If I am having people over or can’t decide on lunch I pull this out of my recipe Rolodex.

Make it a standard in your repertoire and as always,  BON APPETIT!