Archive for September, 2010

Pasta Barillla PLUS: Do It.

I guess I should start this post by saying that I don’t receive any kickbacks from any company or product I endorse herein (LAME). I’ll often recommend various things—Sriracha hot sauce; low sodium Kikkoman soy sauce (mainly because other, cheaper brands suck)—but only with the most altruistic and tastiest intentions in mind. (Sidebar: I often find that altruism and taste go hand-in-hand.) Also, this post is really lame and a total nutrition geek-out; I promise to have my baller-ass chili recipe for you in just a few days. Oh, and maybe some healthy chile rellenos!

Since first reading about it years ago, I have not used any pasta except for Pasta Barilla PLUS for any cooking, omnivorous or vegetarian. Before that I used whole wheat pasta because, in all other starchy areas of my life, I use whole wheat or whole grain products—well, except for potatoes and post-workout meals, but that’s a whole other post. Anyway, the benefits of whole grains for regulating blood sugar and metabolism are endless and advertised in many other places. Consequently, I’ll only briefly outline them here.

Because whole grains—a kind of complex carb, as opposed to simple carbs: white bread; potatoes; processed grains—burn slower and require more energy to metabolize, you actually burn calories while digesting them. Also unlike simple carbs, complex carbs do not spike your blood sugar as sharply. Due to evolutionary things that I don’t really understand (I got C’s in biology class), spikes in blood sugar cause the body to store fat. However, your blood sugar doesn’t stay that high but quickly drops back to a base level with simple carbs. Looking long-term, these constant peaks and drops can lead to things like hypertension and diabetes. Whole grains and complex carbs, conversely, handle your blood sugar more gently, thereby keeping your metabolism more regulated.

Ok, enough with the scare tactics and protracted reflection on complex carbs. (I guess that was an obnoxious insight into how my brain works.) It’s time I get to the point: Pasta Barilla PLUS not only has the benefits outlined since it is made with whole grains but it also has protein. You hear that, veg-heads? PROTEIN. Now I am probably a little more concerned with protein-intake than other vegetarians—I must sound like every non-vegetarian with this obsession—but it is, after all, an incredibly necessary nutrient. PLUS gets its protein from two sources. The first is legumes: lentils; chickpeas; flaxseed. Hell, it gets bonus points for giving me some vegetable intake along with my pasta. Second is egg whites, which I know are anathema to some, if not most, vegetarians. Personally, I’m still not sure how I feel about consuming eggs while on a vegetarian diet and, admittedly, I didn’t know PLUS uses egg whites until my research about ten minutes ago. For now, though, I eat eggs, even if only on a limited basis.

Why the concern? Protein is not just for body-builders (although anyone involved in an active lifestyle should know about its benefits). For one, protein, because it metabolizes even slower than complex carbs, has all the aforementioned benefits of complex carbs. Secondly, proteins are necessary for an innumerable amount of the body’s functions. The problem for vegetarians isn’t just that they need to work harder to consume protein, but that even the quality of protein they’re consuming isn’t as good. The top three types of protein are animal, egg, and whey, with casein and soy coming in a more distant second (and possibly third, respectively). Somewhere after that comes protein from legumes. In short, not all protein is created equal. Because vegetarians typically have to fight for protein from lesser sources, it’s important to work them for all they’re worth. That being said, PLUS does have egg whites, which is something that veg people will have to work out for themselves.

Non-Veg Friendly Factor: 5. Like I said, I’ve been eating this for years. Also, I have served it to many dedicated non-vegetarians and non-health food eaters and no one has complained. Unlike typical whole wheat pastas, it doesn’t have the gummy consistency that turns off so many people. Oh, and IT HAS PROTEIN, something which can be lost in more spartan pasta dishes. Hell, simply PLUS with olive oil and salt carried me through some pretty tough times. In short, unless you’re against eating eggs, you should use PLUS whenever you make a pasta dish.


Silken Sun-dried Tomato Alfredo

Whoa, what a bad-ass title for my first post.

So I am discovering that I a firm (no pun intended) proponent of silken tofu because of its versatility. I’ll doubtlessly experiment with it in things like liquid-meal replacements and pies (yes, pies), but for now I’ll stick with the alfredo sauce. Here’s what you’ll need:

1 box Pasta Barilla Plus, like farfalle or penne (I can’t find linguine in this brand.)

1 spaghetti squash

1 lb Silken Tofu

1/2-cup  skim milk

2-3 oz fat free mozzarella cheese

2-3 tbs gouda

6 sun-dried tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil

1-2 tsp. hot sauce

4 dashes hot pepper flakes

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp oregano

1-2 tsp basil

salt & pepper to taste (probably a fair amount of the latter)

Makes 4-5 servings

First, prepare the spaghetti squash. My preferred (and only) method is to cut it in half long ways and place it in a microwave-safe dish deep enough to hold the halved squash in one-inch of water. Cover and steam it in the microwave for 20-25mins, or until tender. I recommend stabbing it with a fork to check its doneness, like you do with steamed broccoli. While the squash is going, boil the pasta. I think you have this taken care of; if not, just follow the directions in the box or, better yet, get out of the kitchen before you hurt someone.

Now it’s time for the sauce. Add the milk, tofu, cheeses, seasonings, hot sauce, and sun-dried tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Next, toast the garlic in the oil over medium-high heat, about 3-4mins. Remove as soon as it browns and pour the mix, oil and garlic, into the blender or food processor along with the other ingredients. Mix then liquefy until everything combines and thickens. It should be very viscous but still able to flow (you know, like alfredo).

By this time the squash should be more-or-less done steaming. Take it out and CAREFULLY—it’s hotter than hell—remove it from the dish. Scoop out all of the seeds and, with a fork, scrape the insides out; you should see it begin to detach from the shell in strings. You can go all the way down to the shell. (I recommend checking out Google Images for pictures of this since, while simple, it makes a lot more sense visually. I promise to have more pictures in the future.)

After straining the pasta (duh), add the spaghetti squash scrapings and pour the sauce over the whole mix. Don’t worry about whether or not the sauce is cold—the spaghetti and squash will heat it up perfectly. Now stir the mother and serve.

The magic of the silken tofu is that it eliminates the need for overly fatty cream while still lending protein and nutrients. Indeed, with the cheeses involved this meal provides a pretty good nutritional profile in terms of carbs, fats, and proteins. Anyway, nutritional nerd stuff aside, I would (and will) definitely make this again. I love the mix of spice and earthy flavors in a creamy sauce. I wish I had more–I’d love to use it as a spread over a tomato sandwich.

Non-Veg Friendly Factor: 4.5. This is basically an everyday alfredo sauce; it loses 1/2-point because of the squash, which was added to get in more veg. Also, the reason there are so many spices is to mask the, albeit subtle, taste of the tofu, which they do wonderfully.

This recipe originally called for parmeean cheese, which apparently is made with rennet, gotten from extracted animal stomachs. Shit. So I changed the recipe a bit from the original version, substituting gouda for parmesan and changing out the part-skin mozzarella for fat free mozzarella to compensate for the jump in fat with the gouda. If you check out the link, you’ll find out why I’m REALLY heartbroken; I’ll miss you, Guinness.

UPDATE: Check out the above retraction’s retraction at Mushroom’s Cream Soup. Consider ‘Parmesan’ back on the menu!