Mar 15, 2012

Stuck in a Eating Rut?

"Panzanella" - Italian Bread Salad
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Are you tired of eating the same old things, then you are probably stuck in a eating rut and need some variety in your diet. It turns out that people have different eating thresholds. Some people do the same thing every day after work and the same thing every weekend, and they're quite content. Others have to do something different every day or they're very unhappy. I have known too many people who will not try new food, either because they are satisfied with what they are eating now, they have had a bad experience trying new things, or they didn't even know there were other recipes out there to try. As for me, I am always in a eating rut. I can't go down a grocery isle or visit a farmers' market without looking for something new to try, or when eating out, I search the menu for something different to order. Perhaps this is normal for me because food is my passion. I remember when I was running the Mango Mart deli here on Moloka'i, and we had left over French bread, I decided to make "Panzanella", a popular salad in parts of central Italy using chunks of stale bread, basil and tomatoes soaked in olive oil and vinegar. It was a big hit, I had people lined up for it because they tried something new and liked it. (I have posted that recipe below if you want to give it a try). If you are tired of the same-old, same-old, do yourself a favor and try these ideas for getting out of your eating rut:

• Next time you go to the grocery store, look around for new products. Buy brown or wild rice instead of white, pita pockets instead of white bread, and pears instead of bananas.
• Try one new food each week.
• Go out for dinner and try something different on the menu.
• Change your old standbys: dress up your sandwich with spinach leaves instead of lettuce, stir sliced veggies into your scrambled eggs, choose a new type of cheese for your casserole. Try cooking the same food in a different way, like instead of drowning everything in soy sauce, try a new seasoning.
• Visit a farmers' market, and if you are not familiar with something, ask the vendor how to prepare it. That's where I found out about sweet potatoes leaves.
• Have a potluck at home with a theme: German, Tex-Mex, Italian, Chinese, etc.
• Take a cooking class, or watch the food channel on TV to get ideas.
• Buy one of my cookbooks or get a subscription to a cooking magazine.
And don't forget... "Variety is the Spice of Life!".

Panzanella - Italian Bread Salad
There are many variations for this rustic Tuscan Italian bread salad, but basically the bread, tomatoes, and basil are the stars here. You'll need a good, dense loaf of bread that is at least a day old! Other options are to add capers, olives, roasted red bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, anchovies, etc.

5 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small Japanese cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces with your hands
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 thick slices of stale country style Italian bread, or French baguette, torn into bite-size pieces.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and basil. Drizzle with the 1/2 cup olive oil and the 2 tablespoons vinegar and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Place half of the bread in a wide, shallow bowl. Spoon half of the tomato mixture over the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top and then the remaining tomato mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or until serving time. Just before serving, toss the salad and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. At this point the bread should have assorbed the juice from the tomatoes and be all moist. Serve immediately. Makes 4-6 servings.

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