The Flu Diet

As I sit sipping a tasty concoction of mango, banana and apple juice, I’m reminded of the limited amount of food I can eat until I’m fully recovered from the flu. That’s not to say smoothies aren’t tasty, but how much bland blah can I stomach before I go crazy??

And let’s get something straight. This smoothie is technically a cheat in itself. My low blood sugar necessitated ordering this drink instead of continuing to eat bread, rice and noodles. Bleh.

It beats the lightheadedness every time I get up though.

When all I really want is sushi, and all that I really can have is carbs, I realize that this flu-induced slow torture could be a blessing in disguise. Well, maybe it will be in a few days since clearly it is not right now.

The thing is, I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to food, and I consistently eat whatever it is I crave. And it tastes good, but after a while, it doesn’t taste great anymore. Maybe this annoyingly depraving flu diet will not only make me feel better but also taste food better.

Until then, I will just have to get more creative with the limited number of bland foods I consume.

What’s Cookin’?

. . . Everything.

You could say I’ve rediscovered my love of cooking this past week, so I haven’t had much in the way of new restaurant experiences. As much as I love dining out, it is so rewarding to sit down to a satisfying and delicious meal I made myself.

I wanted to post specifically about my awesome eggplant experience because I’ve never actually cooked eggplant before – no, not even eggplant parmesan. If you couldn’t tell by that blurry camera phone image, I successfully tackled the eggplant parm.

Although I’m not a fan of recipes, I do browse them to see that I’m doing everything right, and I was surprised to find that most eggplant parm recipes are fried. Frying eggplant just seems so . . . harsh. Why wouldn’t you bake this deliciously delicate vegetable?!

Of course I baked it.

If you wanna try baking it, here’s a few tips from my own personal experience:

A lot of fried eggplant recipes seem to call for thin slices of eggplant, but if you’re baking it, you can be a bit more generous with thickness. It’s going to be slow-cooking in there, so the whole piece will get nice and tender.

Use enough egg! I tried to make two eggplant “patties” with one egg yolk alone, and it didn’t quite cover the eggplant; as a result, it was really tough getting the crumbs to stick. Make sure you’ve got enough stick for your stuff. And add a bit of white while you’re add it – it definitely didn’t hurt mine!

Flip it often. Why? You want to get both sides toasted, of course, but it also gives you a chance to reapply some bread crumbs (and maybe even some extra egg if necessary!) to thicken up your coating. Or, if you like it thin, flip it anyway so it cooks evenly.

 

I personally baked this particular eggplant similar to how I prepare baked ziti. I cooked the breadcrumb-coated eggplant for several minutes on each side all by itself to get the coating stuck on their good. Then I topped it with some sauce, basil leaves (optional of course, but I love basil) and big slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Fresh mozzarella is definitely the way to go. You get a wonderful indicator of when the meal is ready as the cheese melts down and around your food. It also pairs so well with the basil – combined with the tomato sauce, it’s like a Caprese salad in your mouth. If you buy the mozzarella balls in water, they’ll last for a while, too!

 

I’m sure you can find the cooking temp and time somewhere on the internet, but if you’re curious, I cooked this (with the sauce and cheese) for about 45 minutes at 325. It was perfectly tender and all the flavors had smushed into something delicious. The green bean salad (cold, blanched green beans in an orange juice/balsamic/mint dressing) was so starkly different from the warm, gooey eggplant parmesan, adding crunchy texture and citrusy flavors – I highly recommend throwing a cold salad of sorts to get that delicious combination.

 

Enough about my eggplant. Time to cook.

 

Honey Boo Boo went to Tupelo Honey Cafe South (Asheville)

Honey Tupelo was one of the first places I ate when I moved to Asheville, but I hadn’t been back since. That’s about five months. Despite all the acclaim the restaurant gets, I was not impressed with their veggie burger the first time around. At all.

We went back tonight because I was craving good, home-cooked, southern-style food, and I didn’t want to walk around downtown in the wind. Honey Tupelo fit the bill after I checked the menu and found a tasty-sounding veggie sandwich.

Here’s what got me back. In addition to their south location being absolutely beautiful and fantastic just to be in, they have some really delicious biscuits and appetizers. Tonight the bread was served with some blueberry compote as well as the namesake honey that’s left on the table. I ordered some peach butter for 75¢ which blended perfectly with the bread and honey. I am, however a little disappointed that they charge for butter.

I also had to try the fried green tomatoes served atop goat cheese grits. That dish is omgMOUTHwateringlydelicious. The fried tomatoes have just the right amount of batter, and the batter is nice and crisp with full flavor. What really sets it apart is that the tomatoes are set in these grits that just exude goat-cheesiness. It gives such a different and delectable taste to the tomatoes – something you wouldn’t find elsewhere.

I ordered the veggie sandwich, but I was once again a little bit let down. The ingredients sound so good together, but there’s always that risk with veggie dishes that the chef just doesn’t know which veggies to put together. Maybe because the restaurant is so Southern-focused (my boyfriend seems to think the real-meat burgers are fabulous) they forget about the veggies.

My sandwich had real potential, too. I think what threw me off the most was the cheap mushrooms they used – for such a nice restaurant to not spring for portobellos and charge a dollar or two extra is mind-boggling. Roasted red peppers, onions, spinach, fried green tomatoes and Havarti cheese – the sandwich is just begging for some big, juicy portobello mushrooms! They also overcooked the mushrooms (and the rest of the veggies) a bit, leaving them soggy under the layer of Havarti.

I will say that my side of mac & cheese was very tasty, though!

My last two options – because I have such high hopes for this place! – are the shrimp and grits or the catfish. Those are sort of meat dishes, so I’m hoping they’ll be better.

Or I could always just order breakfast.

I love the sides and apps way too much to abandon this restaurant, so cross your fingers that it gets better.

Clean Eater, Messy Eater

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I don’t know what it is about me, but no matter where I go or what I eat, I always seem to leave a mess. I know dozens of people who go out to lunch with me who leave behind a perfectly clean table, while it looks as though I was trying to make a sixth-grade science experiment out of my food. No matter how many people are at the table, you can always tell where I was sitting by the trail of . . . soy sauce/bbq sauce/salsa/fill in the blank leading off the edge of the table.

I like to think that as a messy eater, I simply enjoy food more than the rest. It’s not that clean eaters don’t enjoy eating, I just think they must have their senses tied up in more than eating to keep so clean. And eating is a full-sensory activity: from sight to smell to taste, you need to take it all in to really enjoy it.

OK, I guess it’s not necessary to hear your food.

(Can you even hear food?)

But touching it! That’s important! The texture of food can make all the difference in the experience. Just think of anyone you know who enjoys the taste of a food but has an aversion to the texture. Whether it’s touching it in your hands or the feel of it on your tongue, touch is just as important as any other sense when eating. And how can you possibly experience 4 out 5 of your senses as you eat when you’re paying even a sliver of attention to staying clean?

Look, I’m not out to make a mess for waiters and waitresses. And I’m not trying to hate on clean eaters. I used to even wish I could be like them. But now, I don’t think I would trade being a messy eater for a clean eater any day. When I get up from a table, you can see that I enjoyed my meal to the fullest.

You can touch my mess, you can smell the lingering scent of delicious dishes that didn’t quite reach my mouth once were there. You can experience it with all the same fervor that I try to experience when eating my food.

OK, I wouldn’t recommend you taste my spills. But!

I do recommend you experience messy eating for yourself, at least once.

Are Health Food Store Shoppers Just Plain Rude?

I love my local healthy grocery store. I really do. I love that I can buy fruits, salad and even marinated tofu salad by the pound. I love the huge supply of local fruits and veggies displayed right by a vast array of international food products.

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What I don’t love is the attitude.

Unfortunately, there’s something about health-conscious people, the type who know the difference between quinoa and millet, that just rubs me the wrong way. I guess all of the qualities that I love so much about my healthy grocery store are the same qualities that attract health nuts who have superiority complexes over everyone, even their fellow health food shoppers.

And I’m not talking about the people who work there. In fact, part of the allure of shopping at these places is that the employees are generally friendlier and happier than pretty much any other grocery store. Yesterday, the cashier at the checkout reminded me to check my eggs for cracks. This is the kind of neighborly attitude I want out of everyone at these places.

But what I’m continually confronted with is a group of people who, despite being taught manners somehow feel as though they’ve risen above the need to have any. Clearly, their profound knowledge of bee pollen and spirulina supplements makes them better than everyone else – including all the people shopping there with the exact same knowledge.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still frequent my favorite health food stores to get my favorite supplement-enriched smoothie and boxed spaetzle. But.

Is it really that hard to say excuse me?!

I guess when your brain is clouded from all that unfermented soy protein, it is.