Monthly Archives: March 2009

Parmesan Cheese is Not Vegetarian!


This is one of the harder lessons I learned at last weekend’s “Fast and Delicious” cooking course at Rachel Demuth’s vegetarian cookery school in Bath, England. The class was fabulous. Most lessons were delicious, some surprising, others a bit disappointing, like this fact about Parmesan cheese:

Italian Parmesan has to use animal rennet under statute, making it not suitable for vegetarians.

Bummer, because Parmesan is one of my favorite cheeses!

Vegetarian "Parmesan"HOWEVER, there are vegetarian “Italian-style” hard cheeses that make a pretty good substitute for Parmesan. Lots of people, including Ms. Demuth, recommend Twineham George’s “Italian Style Hard Cheese”. According to

Twineham Grange, who are based in Sussex, have been making this cheese for the past 15 years. They use the same traditional methods as the Italian cheese makers, the only difference is that they use English milk which is higher in protein and butterfat. It is also a good source of zinc and calcium. In blind tests even the judges were unable to tell the difference.

Today at Whole Paycheck I found some some made-in-Italy vegetarian hard cheese by a company called Soster who has a really charming low-fi website. The cheese wasn’t as hard as Parmesan but it had that nice salty flavor and grated well over my grilled tofu and pasta sauce meal.

More to come from my cooking extravaganza. There were way better lessons than this!

How to Get Fit and Save Money


I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s living on a shoestring these days. But getting in shape can be expensive. Weight Watchers, gym memberships, Jenny Craig, personal trainers… this stuff costs gobs of money. I say ditch em’. And I’m not the only one.

Over at Healthhabits, DR and a bunch of fellow fit-crazed bloggers (including yours truly) weighed in with their tips for getting fit on a budget. DR’s done a great job with this post, and I feel honored to be sharing the stage with these other fine folks from the fitosphere:

There’s loads of great advice here and it’s fun reading everyone’s different perspectives on this very hot topic. Now read on (and keep your piggy bank handy)…

How to Get Fit and Save Money

Mexican Rice Pilaf (Arroz Rojo)

Arroz Rojo

Mark Bittman keeps rollin’ out the hits with his cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. What I love about this book is that it focuses on how to master basic techniques, then follows with simple instructions on augmenting these simple recipes into more complex dishes.

Take rice pilaf, for example. His pilaf recipe is ultra-basic, consisting of olive oil (or butter), onion, rice, salt and pepper, stock and parsley. Though it’s a simple recipe, the instructions are are somewhat detailed, describing how the rice should look, what to do if you have an electric stove, what rice is best for pilaf, and so on. But after this recipe, he provides 7 simple pilaf variations that can be built on the basic recipe.

Last night, I tried the “Arroz Rojo” (Mexican Red Rice) to accompany some leftover spinach and mushroom enchiladas and refried black beans. It’s amazing what a little tomato, onion and garlic will do for a pot of long-grain rice. Tim and I loved this. And it was perfect with the black beans.

I used long-grain white rice for this, but Mr. Bittman reckons that basmati is the best. You can also do this with long grain brown rice, as long as you adjust the stock accordingly.

To see more variations on rice pilaf, visit Rice Pilaf, Seven Ways on Mark Bittman’s blog, How to Cook Everything.

Mexican Rice Pilaf (Arroz Rojo)

For a complete meal, serve this with refried beans and a vegetable, such as steamed greens or a mixed salad.

2 to 4 tablespoons olive or neutral oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups rice, preferably basmati
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped tomato
2 1/2 cups stock
chopped fresh cilantro leaves
squeeze of lemon or lime juice

  1. Put 2 tablespoons of the butter or oil in a large, deep skillet with a lid over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted or the oil is hot, add the onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the rice all at once, followed by the garlic. Turn the heat down to medium, and stir until the rice is glossy, completely coated with butter or oil, and starting to color lightly, about 5 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper, then turn the heat down to low and add the tomato followed by the stock all at once. Stir once or twice, then cover the pan.
  3. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn the heat to the absolute minimum (if you have an electric stove, turn the heat off and let the pan sit on the burner) and let rest for another 15 to 30 minutes. Add the remaining butter or oil if you like and fluff with a fork. Taste and adjust the seasoning, fluff again, garnish, and serve.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 338 Calories; 6g Protein; 7g Total Fat;62g Total Carbohydrates; 0mg Cholesterol; 484mg Sodium; 1.9g Fiber.

Food Diary for Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Bircher Muesli

Bircher at Dawn

I’ve been adding chopped figs to my muesli. It’s quite delicious!


Lunch at The Real Greek

I met up with some former workmates for lunch. I wasn’t the first to notice that I forgot to take my food photo. One of my friends suddenly stopped what she was doing half-way through the meal: “Monica! Your photo!” Oh well. I guess I was too hungry to snap.

Lunch was mixed mezze. Fairly tasty for a chain restaurant. Pita, hummus, dolmades, Greek salad, some kind of yummy eggplant mush, butter beans in a nice tomato sauce, olives, tatziki. And yet, I was still hungry by the time I got home so had a grapefruit. Insane.


Spinach and Mushrooms Enchiladas Verde

with Refried Black Beans, Mexican Rice and Salad

Ugly Tastes Delicious

I am fully aware how nasty those black beans and enchilada look. But I tell you this: ugly tastes good. I had these enchiladas and beans stashed in the freezer from a previous cook-fest. Incidentally, the verde sauce is ANOTHER winner from Bittman’s book (and the reason I told Tim I wanted the book in the first place). But I’ll save that recipe for another time.

Two New Cookbooks

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It’s been a while since I posted a food diary, but there’s no time like the present to start again. It’s a shame I picked the day when I took the world’s nastiest photo of Bircher Muesli. But so be it. Today was an excellent day all the same: I managed to fit in a swim, a walk, a resistance workout, and a bit of stretching; I discovered not only how tasty black-eye peas are in tacos, but also how good those tacos are as a mid-morning snack; best of all, Tim surprised me with two new Cookbooks:

These two cookbooks couldn’t be more different, but in that way they compliment eachother well. Ottolenghi is gorgeous, full of mouth-watering photos and deliciously intricate recipes. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is in-your-face practicality, a massive volume of simple recipes and illustrated how-tos (e.g. how to braise/bake/stir-fry/broil tofu).

Simple Tofu Stir-Fry with Brown Rice and Spinach GomaeBoth of these cookbooks are sure to see a lot of action. Tonight I started with Bittman’s Stir-Fried Tofu with Scallions, “the most basic stir-fry you can make and one you can build on indefinitely. Master this and you master the world, at least the world of stir-frying tofu, which is not insignificant.”

As a self-respecting, wanna-be vegetarian chef, this seemed like a lesson worth learning. I’m still perfecting the technique, but I will tell you that veggie stock gets added to the stir-fry pan while the tofu is cooking. This step caught me off guard, but when the stock reduces, it turns out to be an excellent way to flavor the tofu. Hurray for learning!

If you’re interested, excerpts of Bittman’s book are available in Google Books and Yotam Ottolenghi has a few recipes up on his blog, including some of his legendary salads such as Couscous adn Mograbiah with Oven-Dried Tomatoes and Wild Rice Salad.

Diary for March 24, 2009


Bircher Muesli with Bananas

Ugliest Photo of Bircher Muesli EVER


Black-Eye Pea Taco with Avocado, Kale and Trader Joe’s Corn Salsa

Taco as Mid-Morning Snack


Black-Eye Pea Taco and a Raw Kale Salad

I liked my taco snack so much I had it again for lunch.

Black-Eyed Pea Taco

Raw Kale Salad with Carrots and Mushrooms


Simple Tofu Stir-Fry with Brown Rice and Spinach Gomae

Totally Random Sundays


I hope your Sunday is filled with better things than aimless web surfing. But just in case you are looking for a little joy to go with you morning coffee, here are a few links to perk you up…

Evita has a great post on the New Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides published by the Environmental Working Group. For my UK readers, check out UK Pesticide Info for, you guessed it, information about pesticide usage in UK food.

The Foodtopia Society makes me wish I lived Ashville, NC. Talk about food passion: “In the Foodtopian Society, we believe food can be much more than just what we eat to survive. It can be an invigorating centerpiece of daily life, a constant source of inspiration and fulfillment. It can change your life, or at least lift your spirits.”

On the boob tube, MizFit shows us how to
reduce stress through finding exercise in unexpected places

At the Sydney Morning Herald, Paula Goodyear debunks the No carbs after 6pm myth [via Limes & Lycopene]

It’s what’s inside that counds. Check out these stunning Microscopic Images from Inside the Human Body [via Limes & Lycopene]

Scanwiches. Need I say more?


I’m always on the lookout for tasty dal, and this Vegetable Dal Recipe over at Tasty Palettes looks especially good.

Speaking of good things that involve beans, DR recently posted a Butternut Squash and Black-Eye Pea Soup that looks divine.

And if that isn’t enough to make your stomach growl, check out this Vegan Tempeh and Spinach Pie at Have Cake Will Travel

20 Tools That Have Changed the Way We Cook – a photoset from Gourmet Magazine


RSS Feeds Working Again

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And here I was thinking my posts were too boring for comments. Well, that still might be the case, but I only just realized the other day that my RSS feeds stopped working after I upgraded to WordPress 2.7.1 on March 7. I finally fixed the problem (with the help of Tim – thank you!) and now we’re back in action.

So if you read SmarterFitter through a feed reader or subscribe by email, I apologize for my apparent silence over the last few weeks. Hopefully the sudden deluge of new posts makes up for it!

The “Smarter” Side of SmarterFitter

Things have been a little quiet around here. I just started a part-time gig teaching at the Open University, the UK’s distance learning government-supported university. My students just submitted their first assignment and, for the first time since grad school, I’m inundated with papers to grade. I don’t mind, though. The class has been going well, I like my students, and I actually enjoy the “feedback” part of the grading process. This is a far cry from the differential equations (aka “Diffy Q” aka “Diffy Screw”) class I TA’d at University of Texas. It makes a huge difference teaching a.) to a smaller class (20 vs 200) and 2.) to “grown-ups” rather than undergrads.

But I didn’t start this post to wax nostalgic, so let me get to the point.

One of the BIG HUGE benefits of teaching at Open University is that every year I’m eligible for a fee waiver of up to £1,190 for any course of my course. This is a pretty major benefit and I don’t want to pass it up. The thing is, I’m totally stumped as to what to take. My goals are kind of … varied.

This is the question I posted to Directgov’s career advice forum:

I’m a freelance writer in the health and fitness space, with a bent towards nutrition and vegetarian cooking. I write for several publications, including my own blog. I’m really looking to become an authority in this space and I’m wondering what kind of coursework or degree would get me there. I already possess and MSc in Applied Maths and Computer Science. What can I add to increase my credibility and an expert in health, fitness and nutrition?

Yep, I’m just a few months away from 30 and I still don’t know what to do with my life.

Current course candidates are (and the list keeps growing):