From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Healthy Delights

Hmm... "It came down to time and money. No excuses to not cook a great meal, or have a dinner party."  Sage advice given, when inquiring about her reason for writing.

"What are we doing for dinner tonight?"

"um... I have no idea..."  Typical issue faced by my family, and those around us.  The end result is usually the nearest drive-thru quick-service food establishment, with nowhere near the necessary nutritional value that families these days need.

After having a long conversation with Christina, fellow Foodie and accomplished writer whom I have known for nearly 30 years, I realized that, despite all appearances, we, like most others, already have dinner at the house.  It is simply going to be a matter of browsing the shelves and puting the good stuff together again.  (Hence the whole ability to "wing it" that drives my wife nuts.

"You're demystifying Asian cooking. Why order out/in when you can put it together just as easily?  Basic ingredients at home, that you keep stocked, allow you to make it healthier AND just as fast as delivery.

Without having to tip."

I love it.  So Stir Fry it is tonight, quick, healthy and easy to do, with what we have. (I think.  I don't remember what we have in the pantry, since I inadvertantly made 2 planned meals into one last night.)

If you are wondering, the Crispy Crysanthemum Fish with Sweet and Sour Sauce was a success, and it paired well with the Black Pepper Shrimp.  Both the girls loved it.  That speaks volumes as far as I am concerned.

Now, it's just a matter of doing something that everyone will enjoy tonight.  Ideas?

"Make sure people know how awful the calories are in delivery. Making it at home makes it edible and not something you'll have to walk to California to burn off.

Losing weight never goes out of style.

 So, tell that tidbit to Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers- who are showing vast gains in revenues this year- even in a recession."  Yeah, I am sure they know, even though the Weight Watcher's store at the mall closed recently.

Most Americans eat some form of Chinese foods ordered from restaurants. This ethnic cuisine is generally regarded as healthy, however, it has always been difficult to determine actual values in a meal, because so many portions differ by restaurant, based on serving size, ingredients and even packaging. 

For example,  my General Tsao's Chicken is typically made with dark meat, but the Kung Pao Chicken is made with white, thereby increasing the fat content in the General Tsao's Chicken.  Amazingly enough, the fat content in the General's Chicken is higher than that of my Broccoli Beef, which is made with Flank Steak.  Compared to hamburgers and pizza, the Chinese entrees are low in fat and in saturated fat and high in protein and in carbohydrate amounts. So, do not forget to eat your Chinese entrees with a good-sized portion of steamed white rice. That enhances their nutritional quality.  Vegetable oil contributes most of the calories in Chinese restaurant food where approximately one-quarter of the calories are derived from fat. Just about half (49%) of calories in frozen Chinese entrees, hamburgers and pizza are derived from fat.  When Chinese Restaurant entrees are consumed with equal or double portions of steamed rice as Chinese people would eat them, the nutritional quality becomes more favorable. Chinese restaurant food has about four to seven percent of its calories coming from saturated fat compared to around one-quarter of the saturated fat (17 to 28%) in pizza and hamburgers, respectively. In addition, frozen Chinese entrees are low in cholesterol. Also, sodium and cholesterol amounts are lower in Chinese restaurant food than they are in almost all hamburgers. Not only that, but hamburgers are customarily consumed with French fries and perhaps a milk shake. Pizza, on the other hand, is low in cholesterol but relatively high in sodium.  And the favorite drink to wash pizza down with? Beer.  The second worst empty calorie diet buster.

The highly touted sporting event of the year is coming up in about two weeks, and that special day results the highest volume of pizzas made, delivered and consumed for the entire year.  The only food service industry that fares as well is that of the Chicken Wing business. 

Here’s the problem: I like to eat and I like to cook — but I have not got room in my closet for two sets of clothing ('short' and 'portly short'), anyway. Dieting is a problem. Most diets are utterly unrewarding. Weight loss is difficult to achieve and more difficult to recover, after the inevitable relapse. Frankly, it includes meals that range from boring to downright unappetizing.

The answer appears to be a low-carbohydrate diet.  However, it is extremely impractical as an attempted application in Asian Cuisine (or any other cuisine that I may love at any given moment.)  However, I am generally not convinced about dieting programs even though people around me have been nagging me about my near-rotundness for years. (Relax, ladies, as my daughter said,  I am a 3-liter bottle away from those 6-pack abs I have been striving for.)  I have tried various programs and they simply have not achieved the requisite result.

I looked the Atkins diet up on the web. The Atkins establishment maintains a substantial web presence at The late Dr. Atkins and his colleagues have decided not to be greedy; the basics of the program are all there, along with supporting documentation for the ‘how-it-works’ part. The best for me: All the things I like to cook (stuff my wife tells me has to be unhealthy, it tastes so good) fits right into the program.

There are sacrifices, to be sure: I am more than mildly fond of crusty sourdough breads, crépes filled with currant jelly, pasta with various sauces (my wife makes a garlic caesar sauce that surpasses most stuff I ever had in Europe). This diet even allows an occasional sin--and tells how to fit it in.

But: A nice hamburger de luxe (cut in a little kosher salt, some freshly ground pepper and some minced shallot and grill) with a dollop of homemade sauce béarnaise is compensation. 

OK, so there is a program that works. But is it for me, as Chinese food is my favorite? I live in Texas, about a 2 hour drive from Chinatown-in Houston  (or a good 1900 miles from San Francisco.)  This distance makes it impractical to visit and eat someone else's cooking, leaving me to create my own concoctions and creations.  Can one eat a good range of Chinese dishes if following this low carbohydrate dietary regimen?

After careful consideration--including substantial risk to my now-somewhat-increased waistline (about two inches thus far…) in the experimental phase, it seems that many of my favorites fall right in line. Those that do not--well, one cannot appreciate virtue without sinning occasionally.

Cooking Chinese-style at home is a challenge and impractical at best for the unseasoned cook. First, my stove’s burners simply do not generate the kind of heat a Chinese cook commonly uses. My stove at Chino's Cafe produced a much larger fire, to the tune of 90,000 btu's of roaring fire. Newer stoves seem worse than old ones, with their darned  built in regulators, but I do like my new stove’s enamel top, it is easy to clean but takes forever to heat a pan.

Second, most Chinese cooking involves techniques that create an aerosol of oil-laden steam. There can be oil on everything, impossible to clean, absent a really good range hood with a serious exhaust fan (my mom's old house had an exhaust fan that would do credit to some smaller restaurant kitchens in Chinatown-but was commonplace in Taipei). Then too, there are the ingredients. We live in Texas, and have only one Chinese-oriented supermarket, and it is too far away to make getting authentic ingredients more readily than some. But some of those things simply aren’t in the cards for low-carb cooking.

The practical solution?  The right assortment of vegetables, with the best accompaniment of seasonings and flavors.  As to vegetable flavorings: Onions, while wildly unpopular in my house are nice and shallots give more flavor-bang for the buck, I think. Small amounts of chives and the like work well, they add authenticity as well as intensity to foods. What else works well? Consider that quintessential Chinese food: Tofu. I am unsure what the Atkins folks think about it, but the labeling suggests it is about as low-carb as one might want, so tofu in reasonable portions, tofu is acceptable. I prefer mine firm and pressed over the usual softer types; I like the texture better and it holds up to the vigorous action that stir frying inflicts on it.  Some (but not all) Chinese grocers have this ready pressed; one can press it oneself, but the process is both tedious and not very successful. Commonly put up in shrink-wrap packages, I think one cake is enough per person, and I get two nice dishes from that amount.  Tofu is an acquired taste that has yet to establish itself as a popular flavor in our house. 

I could go on. The principles are clear, though: A low-carb Chinese diet is entirely possible. The range of possibilities is wide and varied. Where ingredient compromises must be made, they need not affect the resulting flavor. Simplifying tricks for a 'mixed kitchen' are eminently possible.  It is simply a matter of determining which flavor profiles will go over well in your house, then adhering to the regimen to achieve the desired result. 

Onwards towards a healthy meal.  Until Then, Good Eating, Friends...

Colin's Vegetarian Stir Fry
The beauty of this recipe is that the list of vegetables is not fixed.  It can be modified to your taste and personal preference. 


•3 tbsp hoisin sauce
•1 tbsp sesame oil+ 2 tbsp
•2 tbsp soy sauce + 2 tbsp
•1 tbsp rice vinegar
•2 tbsp sugar or liquid sweetener
•3/4 cup vegetable broth
•2 cloves garlic, minced
•1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
•1 tbsp corn starch
•3-4 green onions, chopped
•1 red or yellow bell pepper
•approx 2 cups broccoli, chopped
•1 cup sugar snap peas
•1 cup sliced carrots
•1 cup sliced mushrooms (shiitake are best)


In a small saucepan, whisk together hoisin sauce, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 2 tbsp soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, vegetable broth, garlic, ginger and corn starch over medium heat. Allow to simmer until mixture thickens, about 5-7 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

In a large wok or skillet, heat 2 tbsp sesame oil and toss in onions with 2 tbsp soy sauce until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add pepper and broccoli, carrots, mushrooms and sugar snap peas and stir-fry another 2-3 minutes.

Add sauce mixture to the stir-fry and combine well, allowing to cook another 2-3 minutes, until broccoli is done cooking.

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1 comment:

  1. This is definitely on my to-make list.
    Thanks again Colin for a wonderful recipe!