Pitt Foods

Each week I have been talking about healthy foods and the different effects vitamins and minerals have on our bodies and brains. I have also posted a couple of my own recipes along with the nutritional facts. This week, however, I’m taking a break from that. Instead of covering foods that are beneficial to our bodies, why not cover some of my favorite feel good foods.

I am originally from Pittsburgh and have a few restaurants and cafes that I frequently visit. While i can’t promise diet-friendly plates, I can promise a delicious spread.

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Lets start out with my favorite coffee shop, Commonplace. You can find this little gem on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill. I have had everything from the house blend to the lattes of the month and have never been disappointed. Not only is the coffee great but the environment is also really laid back. I compare it to a non-mainstream coffee tree (if that makes any sense). Each month they change up their menu, keeping things interesting. I highly recommend taking a trip out and trying the lemon vanilla latte, you won’t regret it.

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Another one of my favorite feel good foods is sushi. Not only is it delicious but it doesn’t weigh you down like a burger from five guys. I have been to a lot of sushi bars around the city and my favorite is Plum Pan Asian Kitchen. The place has great sushi rolls and a very modern atmosphere. Just a warning, it can be a little pricey but it makes for a great night out. They also have an extensive cocktail menu full of items you have never seen (or probably heard of). Its located on Penn Circle right across from Shadyside so check it out sometime.

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In case you are looking for more mainstream cuisine, try BRGR. They serve gourmet milkshakes and of course, burgers. The restaurant has a pretty unique old school American feel which most places don’t do well. Add in an awesome patio and upscale dining and you get what you pay for. Forget about Burgatory, who wants to drive to waterworks anyway?

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Finally, when you are craving something sweet check out Oh Yeah!. It’s located right in Shadyside on Highland Ave. This place serves traditional scoop ice cream and waffles. It is the perfect example of a dive. The menu is full of humor and with over 100 “mix ins” (think of Razzy Fresh on steroids), the possibilities are endless. Throw a couple scoops on top of their fresh waffles and you have yourself 1000 calories of heaven.

So there you have it, a few of my favorite places to splurge on when I don’t feel like eating in. I realize i didn’t in anyway cover all of Pittsburgh, but I like to keep it close to home and whether you are in South Oakland, North Oakland, Shadyside, or Squirrel Hill, all of these places are in reach.

But We Want More

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This past week a friend sent me a video on what 2000 calories look like in various foods. It’s pretty interesting to be able to compare certain foods and your caloric intake. This led to me thinking about servings and portions and how much we should actually be putting on our plates during a meal. After some investigation, I found a pretty convenient list on webmd and decided to share.

So lets start with the more generous serving sizes. Fruits and Veggies. Let me add a quick disclaimer that I do not follow portion control religiously and I often abuse the concept but it does put things into perspective. So here is a list of what a serving of various sides look like:

  • One serving of broccoli: size of a baseball. Thats about a head and a half of broccoli which is a pretty decent sized portion.
  • One serving of grapes: 1/2 cup or the size of a small lightbulb. This one is a little surprising because i eat at least a cup and half of grapes for breakfast. On top of that i go for yogurt and cereal, this one really makes me rethink what i actually need compared to what i think will get me through the day.
  • Baked potato: the size of a computer mouse. Not too bad when you think about the average size of a potato but when you cut up a few potatoes and throw the fries in the oven, you are doubling the recommended serving. Something to think about..

Next, we can move onto different proteins. Ill include both meats and dairy products to condense this section.

  • Steak and other red meats: 30z portion, the size of a deck of cards. I don’t make a habit of eating red meat but when i buy a steak i can promise you it’s at least three times the size of a deck of cards. Also think about the size of hamburgers you get at a restaurant.
  • Pistachios (one of my favorite bingeing foods): one serving is the size of a golf ball. Thats only about ten pistachios compared to half a bag of my roommates food that I can demolish in one sitting.
  • Block or cubed cheese: the size of three dice. Think about the last time someone put out a cheese tray. I can guarantee you had a few more then three slivers/cubes

Finally, I’ll move onto fats and sweets. Of course I saved this for last to make us all feel bad about ourselves.

  • Brownies and chocolate: The size of a dental floss container (and we’re not talking about the Sam’s club version). This past weekend i ate an entire chocolate bunny over the course of an hour or so. Talk about overkill, but in my defense it was filled with peanut butter…
  • Butter for cooking or spreading: The size and thickness of a poker chip. Obviously butter isn’t great for you but this one caught me off guard. That amount of butter won’t even coat a hot pan. Stick with olive oil.
  • Frozen yogurt: 1/2 cup the size of a small light bulb. Lets think about the last time we went to razzy fresh, not to mention the amount of cookie dough, hot fudge, and gummy bears we decorated it with.

In a nutshell, the portions that we think are adequate are often way larger then what our bodies actually need. Im not saying to starve yourself with two cheese cubes a day but next time you are putting a meal together keep in mind what a healthy portion consists of. I know I eyeball the amount of pasta or veggies I’m cooking in terms of how hungry I am. However, most of the time I end up with way more then I want, yet manage to finish the plate out of pride. Typical American.

Youtube: Buzz Feed Video

The Lazy Man’s Dinner

It’s Thursday night, I worked an eight-hour shift before class, and to top it all off its time for dinner. Since I haven’t posted a recipe in a while i figured it’s about time. Before we get into that, I’ll give you a little food for thought. Tonight’s menu consist of two different types of shellfish, crab and shrimp. I have already talked about the benefits of fish such as salmon and halibut but what about their other sea dwelling cousins? Shellfish are full of healthy vitamins and minerals, and to top it all off they are low in fat and high in protein. Just to name a few:

  1. Omega 3 fatty acids help support the heart and reduce the risk of blood clots, plaque, and brain deterioration
  2. Vitamins A, B (1,2, & 3), and D
  3. One of the best sources of zinc, a mineral that boosts your immune system

Hopefully these benefits are enough to persuade you if you aren’t a seafood lover. Seafood is personally one of my favorite proteins to cook with so if you aren’t fully on board, bear with me and maybe you can learn to love it.

One of my favorite recipes to cook is Shrimp Scampi, it’s a quick recipe that is perfect for weekday nights.

Shrimp Scampi (with a few additions)

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This dish is prepared in three different sections and then added together at the end. (Prep, pasta, and shrimp)

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The first part of the recipe is the prep section. You will need:

  • 4 cloves of minced garlic, use the method I showed you before with the chopping knife 
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley (chefs knife)
  • 3 thin slices each of orange and lemon (chefs knife)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (grated pieces from the skin of the lemon)

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The second part of the recipe is simple. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the water. The salt adds flavor to the noodles while the oil keeps them from sticking. Finally, add 1 pound of linguine to the pot and boil for 8-10 minutes. Cook the pasta until al dente (pasta should be firm but not crunchy) and strain.

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While the pasta is boiling, begin part 3, cooking the shrimp. In a large pot melt 3 tablespoons of butter and 2 table spoons of olive oil. You can use margarine but it tends to burn easily, because it’s only 3 tablespoons, the butter shouldn’t make your heart pop. Once the butter is melted add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Be careful because garlic burns easily. Next, add 1 pound of shrimp (pre peeled) and cook until pink, about five minutes.

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Once the shrimp are cooked, remove from heat. Add the lemon zest, slices of orange and lemon, and parsley that you prepped beforehand. Top it off with the juice of one lemon and one orange. Typically scampi is only served with lemon but the orange adds a sweetness that you can’t get from the lemon. Toss the pasta in the same pot with the other ingredients and serve.

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I like to add 1/2 pound of crab meat. It adds more flavor and makes it a meatier dish. It only took about twenty minutes to prepare which was perfect for a busy night. Enjoy! Unless you have a shellfish allergy that is.

More information on the benefits of shellfish.

I’m Eating What?

As i was grocery shopping the other day i noticed a man digging through the produce section in search of something elusive. As i made my way closer he began asking an employee where he could find “all natural” tomatoes. I tend to be a little obnoxious when it comes to my stance on food and where it is coming from but this was clearly not the place for me to voice my opinion. The good news (or maybe bad news) is that I have saved my arguments for you guys.

The debate rages on over the meaning of “natural” versus “organic”. Most people use them interchangeably but don’t be fooled. Lets start with the term natural. After the organic craze became popular, companies who weren’t producing foods that fit the criteria had to come up with another way to advertise. In response they threw a sticker on their products that read natural and convinced most shoppers that they were buying a higher quality product. The term is often seen as healthier and in some cases mistaken for organic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture weighed in on the issue. They explained that there are no guidelines or regulation for what is considered natural. The term has no real meaning.

So what about organic, is it just another gimmick? The answer is no. In order for a food to be considered organic, the entire manufacturing process has to be monitored. From planting to cultivating, there is no room for error. Instead of discussing the fine details, ill throw out some examples.

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The first thing we will look at is farm animals. Chickens and cows to be more specific. The meat you buy in a grocery store has to meet the following criteria to be labeled organic:

  • Fed naturally occurring grass and grains (this means no pesticides, steroids, or synthetic feed)
  • Hormone free
  • Antibiotic free

Why does it matter what an animal eats before it ends up on your dinner table? Things like pesticides and steroids accumulate in the fat cells of the animal, these are chemicals that our bodies cannot break down.  They also don’t cook off so there is no way for you to avoid consumption. On top of all that, once consumed these chemicals stay in your body your entire life.

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Next up we have organic vegetables. The process is similar to meats: no pesticides, hormones, or chemical fertilizers. Another topic is genetic engineering. All organic vegetables have to be free of any kind of synthetic growing mechanism, this is because the process often introduces viruses and mutations into the foods. Obviously farmers use cow manure in the soil but apparently thats not the only kind. According to healthy living, The Department of Agriculture requires organic products to be “free of sewage sludge” (used as a fertilizer). If that isn’t enough to push you into the organic aisle then ill end here.

Organic dairy products follow along the same lines. For example milk and eggs all have to come from an organic host. No growth hormones or steroids etc.

Not only is it safer for the animals but in the end its better for you. Organic foods contain 40-90 percent more antioxidants then their meat-head counterparts. They have higher levels of beneficial minerals including zinc and iron (extremely important for brain development). My main point is don’t be fooled by labels. Keep an eye out for terms like “all natural” and “naturally occurring”, they don’t mean anything. Remember that anything manufacturers use to beef up their animals and products will effect you in the end. What we eat matters, and where it comes from matters.

The Winter Blues

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It’s the middle of February (the most depressing month of the year) and you can’t seem to get yourself excited for the day or maybe even week. We have all heard of seasonal depressive disorder but why does it happen. As the days shorten and the sunlight is sparse, or non existent in Pittsburgh, we begin to feel down. The lack of vitamins we receive from the sun can cause moderate depression. You could head to the doctor for a prescription but why not choose a more natural remedy, food. There are several foods you can emphasize in order to get that extra “push” you need to get out of bed when its 15 degrees outside.

The first set of foods gives you an extra boost from vitamin B6. This vitamin increase seratonin (the feel good neurotransmitter). Think green!

  • Avocados
  • Green Beans
  • Bananas (unripe bananas are green…)

The next couple of foods are full of vitamin B12 which help form the neurotransmitter GABA (the calming neurotransmitter). As a college student, stress along with seasonal depression can be impossible to handle. Here is what we can do.

  • yogurt (go greek for the extra protein)
  • milk
  • salmon (i have said it before but salmon is a miracle food)

And finally the next couple of foods contain folate also known as folic acid. Folate helps make dopamine which is known as the pleasure neurotransmitter. Most medications for depression actually act to increase your dopamine production. If the doctors are doing it, you should to.

  • Asparagus 
  • Leafy Greens
  • Oatmeal

Another one that i want to briefly mention is Vitamin C. I figured everyone has already heard their parents or doctors recommend  it so i didn’t want to give this vitamin its own section. You can find vitamin c in fruits and vegetable, so not only are you eating healthy but you are getting a super dose of vitamin c. This vitamin boosts your immune system which is important during flu season and it also fights brain cell damage.

So there you have it, plenty of foods, vitamins, and neurotransmitters to get you through the next couple of months. Next time you are struggling to get out of bed, eat some oatmeal, grab an orange and fight the cold. Also check out Whole Living for some other foods that can help fight stress and depression.

The Easiest Guacamole You Will Ever Make

Hey guys, i figured since i spent the afternoon chopping up veggies i might as well use them for something. I decided to make some homemade Guacamole. This is incredibly easy to make and tastes delicious. What you’ll need:

  • 2 Avocados (overly ripe)
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (this onion made two appearances today)
  • 1/2 cup diced tomato
  • 1 clove garlic
  • lime juice
  • salt and pepper

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  1. So the first thing you want to do is cut the avocado lengthwise around the seed, don’t worry there is only one seed and there is no accidentally cutting into it. Next, scoop the pulp out with a spoon like the one on the right.
  2. Now that you have both avocados cut and skinless place them in a bowl, add a splash of lime juice, mash and stir them until you have the consistency of thick mashed potatoes. It should look something like this: DSCN0301
  3. Now its time to add the garlic. Because this isn’t a cooked dish, you need to make sure you finely mince the garlic because raw garlic is potent (still delicious). Grab your head of garlic and pull off one clove. Place the clove, skin still on, onto the cutting board. Smash the clove using the side of your knife and the heel of your hand. Something like this: DSCN0302
  4. By smashing the clove, this releases the flavor and the skin will pull right off. Give the garlic a fine chop using the technique i talked about earlier. You should end up with small chunks of garlic clove: DSCN0305
  5. Finally, add the garlic, onions, and tomatoes to the bowl of mashed avocado. Season with salt and pepper, give it a good stir and there you have it.
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I usually add cilantro to give it a fresh flavor but since my roommates aren’t the biggest fans of it I left it out. If you decided you wanted to add more flavor simply chop up a few leaves of cilantro and toss them in with the veggies. Also, don’t neglect the lime juice, it not only tastes great but the citrus keeps the avocado from turning brown. Serve with some tortilla chips and a margarita if appropriate. Enjoy!

The Right Knife For The Job

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This week is going to be a little different than most. Instead of talking about psych we are going to focus on an important topic for anyone who cooks. Most people don’t realize how important it is to use the proper tools to prepare every meal. In my opinion, knives are at the top of the list for food prep and also cooking. So here is what you need.

The first thing you need before even thinking about using a knife is a cutting board. Using a countertop or a plate is a terrible idea, not only will you dull your knives, but you will ruin the counter and probably shatter a plate. Also try and get yourself a wood or bamboo cutting board, plastic and other materials are tough on the blade and lets be honest, a wood cutting board looks much cooler.

Next up is knives. In this case its a knife block but i realize not everyone cooks enough to need 25 knives. So I am going to cover the three most important knives that can be used for just about anything. Also the main point here is not only selecting the knife, but how to actually use it. So get yourself a cutting board, a knife, and some food as seen above.

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This first knife is known as a chefs knife. It is hands down the most important knife in any kitchen. It is an all purpose knife used for cutting, slicing, chopping, and can even be used as a filet knife. In this case, we are cutting chicken. So here is how to use it:

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  1. First grab the knife around the handle. The exact hold doesn’t matter to much as long as it feels comfortable
  2. Use your other hand to hold the meat, with your fingers tucked below your knuckles. Always keep your finger in when cutting. You would much rather slice a knuckle then chop off a finger, trust me.
  3. Place the blade onto the meat and begin making level back and forth cuts, each slice will end up whatever size you choose. The sharper the knife the easier it cuts, in the case of chicken, one slice forward should do the trick.

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Next up is a chopping knife. While the chefs knife can be used for chopping this one makes life way easier. The blade is curved which allows you to rock the knife back and forth while the oval dimples on the side keep food from sticking to it. So lets see it in action:

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  1. First grab the knife by the handle just like the previous knife, with your other hand holding the produce (fingers tucked).
  2. Place the top of the blade on the board with the knife hovering over whatever you are cutting.
  3. In a rocking motion, lower the handle into the produce while the tip remains on the board.
  4. After the first cut is made simply raise the back up to position one and repeat.

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The last knife does something a chefs knife could never do. With its serrated blade, the bread knife is used to cut into delicate foods without smashing them. Use it for breads, lettuce, and anything else that falls apart easily. Using it is very similar to the chefs knife:

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  1. Begin by holding the handle of the knife while using your other hand to keep the lettuce in place.
  2. Choose what size cut you want to make
  3. In a back and forth, level motion, begin cutting down into the lettuce. Be sure to make clean cuts and try your best not to let the knife smash down the food.

So there you have it, three different knifes, three different cutting styles. Believe it or not choosing the right knife really does make a difference. Every meal you make will require a variety of each and with a good set, you will find yourself spending less time crying over onions and more time stuffing your face.