Thursday, April 29, 2010

Thai Elephant

Thai Elephant
20 W. Adams Street
Phoenix, AZ 85003
(602) 252-3873

(4 smiles out of 5)

3.5 stars out of 5 from

When a small place is jam-packed, you know it's good. Thai Elephant in Downtown Phoenix was jam-packed, and it was good.

We were lucky to snag the last available table, and it was early by lunch time standards - 11:45! If you are looking for a nice, quiet place to have a leisurely lunch and hang out for a while, this is not the place. It was crowded and loud and just buzzing constantly. The tables are so close you may end up bumping elbows, apologizing and then becoming friends with the people at the next table. But, I think that's part of the charm of this restaurant! Be friendly and open, and you never know what you may find, or who you might meet.

Of course, the food was excellent, so you may find you'll put up with the noise and close quarters to enjoy a tasty dish. Thai Elephant serves lunch and dinner every day except Sunday, and prides itself on serving freshly prepared food made from scratch with quality ingredients. The dishes are customizable, too, allowing patrons their choices of meat and spice level, and they don't mind substitutions. I had one of my favorite Thai dishes, Pad Se Ew, and I loved the large noodles they used. Their Thai iced tea was delicious, too. All in all, good food and an interesting atmosphere. We'll go there again!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Meat-Free Monday suggestion: Cream of Broccoli soup

Sometimes soup is what I crave.

When it is coupled with toasted bread I am happy.

When we make it all from scratch with no preservatives I am especially happy!

On this particular day, I wanted a creamy soup. All we had in our pantry was one package of Ramen noodles. (It's the last one and once it's gone I doubt I'll ever buy it again.) My husband had made tortilla soup before, and I've made corn soup before, but those didn't really seem to satisfy my craving for a creamy soup.

So, we pulled out the trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, and flipped to the Soups & Stews tab. In my 1989 version, there is a Cream of Vegetable Soup, followed by a chart. You choose which vegetable you want and the chart shows the seasonings to use with that particular veggie. The veggie choices range from broccoli to celery to acorn squash and pumpkin, carrots and mushroom, and even spinach. We had frozen broccoli on hand, so that's what we went with.

One 10-ounce package frozen cut broccoli
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon margarine or butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon snipped thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
1/8 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
1 cup milk or light cream

Thaw the frozen broccoli. In a blender container or food processor combine the cooked vegetable and 3/4 cup of the chicken broth. Cover and blend or process about 1 minute or till smooth. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt margarine (or butter). Stir in flour, thyme, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once. Cook and stir till slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook 1 minute more. Stir in broccoli mixture and remaining broth. Cook and stir till heated through. If necessary, stir in additional milk to make of desired consistency. Season to taste. Makes 3 or 4 side-dish servings (or 2 main dish servings).

It really was very easy to put together, and once it was done, it was delicious. My creamy soup craving was satisfied. I had made sourdough bread over the weekend, and we toasted a few slices to accompany the soup. That was extra yummy! (I probably should post another entry about baking sourdough bread. I have gotten much better at it, and it is my favorite bread to make. I think I just need to remember to take pictures of it before it is devoured! Hmmm. . . some time soon.)

Anyway, I was truly thrilled with this broccoli soup and sourdough bread because it was all home made. No preservatives, no chemical additives. And, it was meat-free! I know we used chicken broth and milk, so it wasn't vegan, but, it was still meat-free. What's not to feel good about?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Pound cake with strawberries

It must be strawberry season because they are on sale at the grocery store, and they actually look good! When I see strawberries, I immediately think of strawberry shortcake. I had everything on hand, including a recipe, for pound cake, not short cake, so pound cake is what I made. And, boy was it delicious!

The pound cake is thick and dense, yet subtle in the flavor. It gets a little extra something with the addition of a little nutmeg. And the strawberries are perfect - sweet and a little tart and very juicy. YUM!

The plate on the left is for my hubby, who chose to top his with a drizzle of agave nectar. The plate on the right is for me, and I chose to drizzle chocolate hazelnut spread on mine. Fabulous!!

I used the pound cake recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cook book, which follows. I looked on their website, and the recipe for Pound Cake and for Classic Pound Cake, is not the recipe for Pound Cake in the book I have, which is from 1989 of course.

1 cup butter
4 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring butter and eggs to room temperature. In one mixing bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and, if desired, nutmeg. In another bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.

Gradually add sugar to butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating on medium to high speed about 6 minutes total or till very light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition, scraping bowl often. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on low to medium speed just till combined.

Pour batter into a greased and floured 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake in a 325 degree oven for 55 to 65 minutes or till a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan. Cool thoroughly on a wire rack. Makes 12 servings.

This recipe was easy to throw together, took no time at all and turned out wonderful. The longest part was waiting for the butter and eggs to get to room temp! Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shrimp tacos, avocado cilantro salsa, avocado tomato salad

Simplicity can be truly awesome. Case in point: shrimp tacos. For the shrimp lover (like me), shrimp tacos are heaven! This taco is all about the shrimp. There is nothing in the taco but shrimp and a yummy avocado cilantro salsa. Absolutely one of my favorite summertime meals! (It may only be April, but it's getting warm in Phoenix!)

The side salad is also very simple: a roma tomato and half an avocado drizzled with lemon juice. It is refreshing and light, and the lemon juice actually made the tomato flavor more apparent, and the avocado brighter.

The shrimp sauce ingredients include olive oil, chili powder and paprika. The shrimp were just coated in this sauce, allowed to sit for about 5 minutes, and then fried in a pan. (My husband just really warms the shrimp since we buy the already cooked and peeled shrimp.) The avocado cilantro salsa ingredients include one half avocado, half a bunch of cilantro, garlic, onion salt, garlic salt, lemon juice and about 2 tablespoons water, all combined in a food processor. Add more lemon juice or water to get your desired consistency.

Easy, simple and extremely flavorful! Enjoy!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Whole Soy Story, by Kaayla T. Daniel

I wanted to bake my own bread at first because I thought it would be fun and yummy, and a bit of a challenge. (I had never done it before!) When I discovered I could bake a pretty good loaf, I decided to bake bread more regularly to avoid the preservatives that are in the bread at the grocery store. That, in turn, got me thinking about eating healthier in general, and avoiding, as best I could, all those preservatives and multi-syllabic, science-lab-created additives in all the food products I buy. I wanted to go fresher and more natural.

This desire to eat healthier, as well as beginning this blog, led me to other blogs written by vegetarians, vegans and raw foodists. I became curious about their choices of foods, and noticed that soy was not a regular part of their meals. Isn’t soy supposed to be good for you? So I asked one of the bloggers, and she answered that she personally avoided soy because it did not agree with her system, and suggested I research the topic further on my own. I immediately looked up information, and came across several books. I borrowed The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food, by Kaayla T. Daniel from the library. It seemed the least “scientific” and easiest to read.

It was easy to read, although it is still chock full of scientific terminology. It is full of interesting information that makes me wary of buying any soy product, including any products that have soy additives, such as bread, crackers, turkey lunchmeat, and tuna! Yes, those products all have soy added as a filler or protein additive.

I believe there is good and bad in everything: people are both nice and naughty, life situations can be bad but there is always a silver lining, and food can be good tasting but not be good for us or taste yucky but be full of nutrients. There’s good and bad in everything. And, soy fits the bill. There is good and bad in soy. The soy industry focuses on the good, while not letting us average Americans in on the bad. Kaayla T. Daniel’s book does that. She informs the reader about the original use of soy in Chinese history, the fermentation processes that allow the good nutrients to shine while eliminating the bad anti-nutrients, and how the soy industry processes skip the fermentation of soy, which does not eliminate the bad stuff so it’s still in there, wreaking havoc on our bodies.

According to Daniel, ancient peoples regarded the soybean plant as an agricultural help – plowing it under to help with the soil. Ancient peoples also did not eat soy as a staple, and added it only after a lengthy fermentation process, which removed all the bad stuff (anti-nutrients). The lengthy fermentation process is not done by modern manufacturing standards and therefore, does not get rid of the bad stuff in soy. Yet soy protein isolate, soy lecithin and textured vegetable protein, and soybean oil are common ingredients in almost everything that comes pre-made in your local grocery store.

Take a look at the ingredients of products you regularly buy, and I bet you’ll see soy. My husband thought his intake of soy was really low, having edamame every once in a while at a Japanese restaurant, or tofu in the miso soup. Once I started looking at the labels, he did too. He discovered his intake of soy was much higher than he realized. Soy is in bread, tuna, mayo, crackers, and lunchmeat. It’s in almost everything! And he didn’t think he was eating it at all. The fact that soy was in products that don’t come from soy just made him angry and vigilant about avoiding soy. Why would soy be in canned tuna of all things? Isn’t canned tuna just tuna? It should be, but it’s not.

The soy industry and food manufacturers have jumped on the “soy is a miracle food” bandwagon, touting the Asian cultures’ low incidences of breast cancer and heart disease, and implying that these low incidences have to do with the soy intake in their traditional diets. What the soy industry and food manufacturers don’t mention that I read in Daniel's book is that soy was not part of the traditional Chinese or Japanese diet; these same Asian cultures intake a miniscule percentage of soy relative to what we Americans are consuming; AND there is a higher incidence in these cultures of prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and other digestive health issues.

Have you ever noticed after eating a fast food burger feeling extremely bloated and gassy? I did, and I attribute that to the soy additives that were likely in the burger patty. Maybe there was some soy in the bun, too, and maybe the fries I shared with my husband were fried in soy oil, aka “vegetable oil”. If something makes me that uncomfortable, then I don’t think it’s very good for my system.

Here’s another interesting thing: my daughter and I are not biologically related, and yet, we both have had breakouts of eczema on our chins. This just occurred in the last 5-7 years for both of us. There is no family history of eczema for either of us. I found it very curious that we could have the same reaction, and figured the only commonality for us was the food we intake. In reading The Whole Soy Story, Daniel mentions that eczema is an allergic reaction, and can be caused by soy. I thought about when I began drinking soymilk and eating edamame regularly. I also thought about when my eczema outbreaks started. I never had eczema as a child, or a young adult. My daughter either. It was only after I started buying soymilk to add to my morning coffee and smoothies, and buying edamame to eat as a “healthy” afternoon snack, that my eczema occurred. My daughter also drank the soymilk, mostly in smoothies, and also ate the edamame for a snack. My husband never touched the soymilk because he didn’t like the taste, and rarely chose edamame as his afternoon snack. He does not have eczema outbreaks. Soy is the only food item I can think of that my daughter and I ate, therefore, it was common to both of us, and that my husband did not. Everything else we all ate regularly, and I used the same laundry detergent for all our clothes, and the same cleansers throughout the house. It has to be the soy!
So for digestive health reasons, and because of a little backlash at the manufacturers, we are no longer purchasing products with soy in them – except Kikkoman soy sauce. Well, we actually purchased a huge container of it when we started stir-frying meals regularly, so we’re kind of stuck with it. I checked out the Kikkoman Company’s website and they actually talk about their old-fashioned fermentation methods for making their soy sauce. I figure it’s highly likely their soy sauce does not contain as many of the anti-nutrients because they do ferment it for months.

I would highly recommend any one to pick up this book and become more educated about what is in the food purchased at the grocery store and the fast food restaurants. You may not think you are eating soy, but you probably are unknowingly! The link posted above goes to Kaayla T. Daniel's website where you can find more information for yourself.


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