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Archive for June, 2010

I’ve always been fond of Thai basil chicken.  The mixture of ground chicken, garlic, fish sauce, basil, chilis, vegetables and lime is outstanding. I’ve also always adored tod mun, little fried cakes (usually fish) served with dipping sauce in Thai restaurants. And finally, I’m developing a bit of a thing for breakfast sausage patties, but I don’t eat pork, so I usually make my own.

It was time for these three tastes to converge.

I thawed a pound of ground chicken from Stokesberry Sustainable Farms.  They sell at a lot of our local markets and have inspired me with their own really tasty chicken breakfast sausage patties to make my own.  The flavors of Thai basil chicken come out in this recipe.  Serve them for breakfast with fried eggs, or as an appetizer or dinner with dipping sauce or rice or vegetables or cauliflower.

Thai Basil Chicken Breakfast Sausage Patties (Tod Mun Kraprao Kai)

(yields 12-16 small patties)

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 tablespoons coconut flour or rice flour (optional)
  • 2-3 thai chili peppers (Tip: if you can only find fresh Thai chilis in a larger quantity than you’ll use in the time they’d stay fresh, freeze the rest and take them out as you need them.  Works great with lime leaves too.  Speaking of which…)
  • 2-3 Thai lime leaves/kaffir lime leaves
  • a pinch of white pepper
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 small onion to 1/4 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • large handful or three of basil leaves
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • optional: a little Thai panang or green curry paste for extra flavor

1. Chop onion, garlic and carrots very small.

2. In a large bowl, mix chicken, egg, flour, white pepper, and vegetables.  Add a little Thai panang or green curry paste if you’re using it.

3. Cut up lime leaves and peppers directly into the mixture.  I always cut both of these with a pair of scissors because it makes it ridiculously easy and you don’t get chili oils on your fingers.  Waiting until you’re ready to let the pieces fall right into whatever your cooking also helps you avoid touching the cut bits.

4. Zest in the lime, and squeeze in half its juice.  Stir again.

5. Wrap up the bowl and stick it in the fridge for 12-24 hours to marinate (you can skip this is you really want to eat this NOW).

6. Notice I haven’t mentioned the basil yet?  Chop the basil finely and stir it in, so it’s nice and fresh.

7. Make it into small patties and freeze them on a baking sheet.  Once frozen, store them all in a freezer bag.

8. When ready to cook, heat up some coconut oil, schmaltz or high oleic sunflower oil.  Fry on each side directly from the freezer until brown.

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I’m generally a fan of lightly cooked vegetables instead of soft ones, particularly in spring, but there are exceptions.  This dish is one of those exceptions.  The flavors meld together beautifully, especially as they absorb butter and cream.

The most common gratin is a potato one: layers of potatoes absorbing cream and onion and flavor, mixing with melted cheese, and getting nicely golden on top.  There’s a lot of appeal in this, but the potato isn’t doing much to add flavor.  Improvising gratins from other vegetables makes for a more flavorful and nutritious dish.

For this gratin, I used some of my favorite summer vegetables: asparagus, peas, small spring onions, and a few morel mushrooms.  With a lot of butter, some cream, some sheep’s milk cheese or gruyere (or whatever you have on hand) and parmesan on top, it’s extraordinary.  Serve it plain, with a poached egg, with a salad or chilled soup, or as a side to grilled or roasted meat.

Spring Vegetable Gratin with Poached Egg

Proportions are per person — make this in individual pans or as a larger gratin

  • butter for cooking (plenty!)
  • 1/4-1/3 lb fresh asparagus
  • 1/4 cup fresh peas (frozen are ok)
  • 4-5 morels
  • 2 small spring onions or 1 medium/small one
  • about 1/4 cup cream
  • a few ounces of cheese, like sheep’s milk or gruyere
  • parmesan, salt
  • small amount of chopped Italian parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F

1. Chop all vegetables finely, and thinly slice cheese.

2. In a small oven-safe pan, sauté onions in butter, with a bit of salt, until soft and clear.  Add morels, optional parsley, and more butter until morels cook through.

3. Add asparagus and stir.  Wait one minute and add peas.  Stir and turn off the heat.

4. Pour in just enough cream to almost, but not quite, cover.  The top layer of vegetables should be sticking out.  Gently fold in sliced or crumbled cheese.  Grate parmesan on top.

5. Cook 30 minutes at 400F

6. When almost done (top is golden/brown when done), poach an egg to serve on top.  Bring water to simmer in a small pot.  Add a dash of vinegar.  Add in cracked egg (some people pre-crack it in a bowl) and do not touch while it cooks.  After a minute or so, gently scoop it out with a slotted spatula or spoon.  Place on top of the gratin and serve.

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So, I’m slowly coming up for air after a month of travel and finishing up my MFA.  I have a few things left to do this week, and then the MFA is complete and I can focus on the MPH for the next year.  And, of course, get back to blogging!

Today I displayed a poster at the UW’s Maternal & Child Health/School of Public Health research festival, based on a few projects I did last year.  You can download a higher resolution pdf of my poster here: CapstoneDGcopy. (NOTE: due to some error in the file, some people get something scrambled/random boxes instead of the correct image.  Working on fixing this.)

The poster is based on my critique of an intervention trial called Pathways published in 2003 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (Full text)  In this intervention, over 1,000 predominantly American Indian school kids in schools spent grades 3-5 receiving what the researchers thought would reduce or prevent obesity: reduction of saturated fat in the diet, exercise in school, and education of kids and their families about these principles.  At the end of the intervention, saturated fat had indeed been reduced in the intervention schools, as compared to the control schools.  But not one of the measures of obesity was any different from the control schools.

What did the researchers do?  Well, a great deal of money probably went into the study; a whole supplement issue of AJCN was devoted to the preparation for it in 1999.  Whether to save face or their attitude was genuine, they concluded the study was a partial success, in that they had reduced dietary fat, even if it hadn’t actually affected obesity.

It makes sense that their intervention didn’t reduce obesity; saturated fat doesn’t cause obesity.  Looking at a population level from USDA data (which is, admittedly, imperfect, but makes sense in this case), saturated fat isn’t what’s increased significantly in our diets during the obesity epidemic.  Corn sweeteners and vegetable oils have, as have grains to some extent.  Further, traditional American indigenous diets have focused on animal foods high in fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

Meanwhile, fat-soluble vitamin deficiency continues to be a concern; we move animals off pasture and lose naturally-occurring forms of vitamins A, D, K2 and omega-3 fatty acids that are found in the fats of animals eating what they’re meant to eat (not grain).  We reduce saturated fat, switch kids’ lunch beverages to skim milk and juice instead of whole milk, and we contribute to the deficiency problem.  Additionally, vitamin deficiencies have a bi-directional relationship with obesity.

So what do we do instead?  Interventions that make sense: reduce sugars, carbohydrates and vegetable oil in diet.  Focus on vitamin deficiency as related to obesity prevention and intervention.  Focus on traditional diets and family involvement that isn’t condescending: learn from people what foods have been traditionally protective in their communities, instead of telling them information about how to eat that is not having an effect.  Increase exercise, but increase it outdoors with vitamin D exposure from sunlight (in non-winter months especially) and where kids can move about in and interact with a natural environment.

But to continue repeating the same mistakes and covering our footsteps when they don’t work?  It’s not only ineffective; it’s harmful.  Kids, and adults, deserve better.

(Since I’ve had a request, if you’d like to read it, my original critique of the Pathways intervention is here: health promotion critique DG )

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