Friday, November 17, 2006

Anti-Smoked Out Food

November 17 is the day targeted by the American Cancer Society to encourage people to quit smoking by staging the so-called Great American Smoke-Out. Originally called Don’t Smoke Day. The idea being that smokers would be encouraged to not smoke for one day, and contribute the money usually spent on cigarettes to some charitable cause. Initially a high school scholarship fund, and eventually things like the American Cancer Society.

When the idea started, more than 30 years ago, it seemed like everyone smoked. On planes, in restaurants, in hospitals, on TV, in movies, everywhere. Back before these anti-smoking campaigns, our high school was so clouded with smoke that they had to establish an outdoor smoking area for the students. Underage students. Who were doing 2 plus packs a day. When the bathroom doors opened at school between periods, smoke would just billow out like the place was on fire.

Somehow, smoking had become the sort of way to communicate the concept ‘I know it’s bad, but I still do it, so I must be bad too!’. Bad as in very cool. Which seems odd in those ‘down with the establishment’ days. Smoking being an established habit of everything establishment back then, from the military to movies to business. But the allure was too strong, the advertisements too good, and the nicotine grip too addictive.

As the Smoke-Out concept became a real movement in the late 70, kids in my first college would participate in a sort of intentionally misguided concept of their own. That being to smoke as many cigarettes as possible for the 48 hours preceding the Smoke-Out day, thereby making themselves so physically sick that they could not bring themselves to smoke on the actual Smoke-Out day itself. Thus meeting the letter of the concept, if missing the intent of the concept by as wide a margin as possible. Naturally, the long-term effect of this was an even deeper dependence on nicotine, with all its associated health effects.

Having survived college, barely, both in grades and health, things have now turned completely from trying to kill ourselves at every opportunity to looking at options to stay alive.

Anti-oxidants are now the new drug of choice. As food is metabolized and turned into energy for the body, the unwanted by-products of this process include oxygen molecules and other so-called ‘free radicals’ (subversive elements for sure! Illegal aliens of sorts?! Maybe even terrorists!?!). Smoking also apparently releases these free radicals in the body. As these free radicals rage through the body, they are thought to cause extensive damage to the body, having been identified as keys to heart disease, aging (shudder!!), cancer of various types, cardio-vascular diseases, and on and on. Anti-oxidants counteract these affects by neutralizing the free-radicals and excess oxygen. The body generates anti-oxidants naturally, but diet can play an important role in supplementing the body’s natural defenses with additional anti-oxidants. Can’t have too many, apparently!

Since oxidation is the process here, and anti-oxidants prevent oxidation, and oxidation is just another word for rust, I always wondered if we are really just talking about the body becoming, literally, rusty, and tossing in a can of primer in the form of beta carotene to try to prevent that rust from forming? Well, obviously too much time on my hands!!

In any event, in honor of the Smoke-Out day, and in memory of those odd, misguided college days and friends, an anti-oxidant meal.

Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selinium, and Beta Carotene. Those are the anti-oxidant elements that need to be added to the diet.

Of course, this time of year, the most orange of vegetables is a great source of a lot of these elements. Namely the pumpkin. Other key sources are whole grains, such as whole wheat pasta. So we constructed a meal around these ingredients. We tossed spinach into the mix as well, as it is also a big contributor to our cause.

The resultant meal is whole wheat pasta with a spicy roasted pumpkin, spinach and amaranth seed sauce, topped with a sprinkle of shredded chicken breast.

The pumpkin offers a ton of beta carotene, along with vitamin C. The whole grain pasta contributes selenium. The spinach contributes vitamin E, vitamin C and some additional beta carotene. A sprinkle of parsley on top pumps up the vitamin C some more. And a little chicken in the mix increases the selenium levels. The amaranth contributes lots of iron (which will be quickly absorbed by the body due to all the vitamin C) and protein, along with some vitamin C. So this is a seasonal meal pumped full of all four key anti-oxidants.

Now – just to be clear, these ingredients, irregardless of what quantities of them you eat will not reverse 30 years of a 2 pack a day of Camel no-filters habit. It certainly won’t hurt, but more to the point would be to quit first, then help the body clean up as best as possible.

Just to be sure my body was staving off rust at full throttle, I tossed down a few glasses of anti-oxidant rich red wine (Bordeaux 2000). And put some of that to work scraping off the internal rust as well. Better safe than sorry!

Print Recipe

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spicy Roasted Pumpkin, Spinach and Amaranth Sauce
Recipe by surfindaave
Serves 6 as a main dish

1 small pie pumpkin, 2 ½ to 3 pounds, cut into sections, seeds removed, peeled, and then cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
cayenne pepper
2-3 pounds chicken breasts
4 cups chicken broth
1 onion, quartered
1 stalk celery, cut into several pieces
1 carrot, cut into several pieces
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4-5 tbsp amaranth seeds
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed well, chopped roughly
salt, pepper
2 pounds whole wheat pasta (we used fettuccini)
parsley, chopped, as garnish

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Toss the pumpkin pieces with olive oil, and then sprinkle with cinnamon, cayenne pepper and cumin to taste. I like more cinnamon, and note that the cayenne will stay strong through the entire cooking. Roast the pumpkin pieces on a parchment paper lined baking tray for 25 to 30 minutes, until browned and tender. Remove from oven and reserve.

In a large pot, combine the chicken breasts, broth, onion quarters, celery, carrot, peppercorns and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Turn off heat, and let chicken cool in pot. When cooled, remove chicken to a plate and reserve. Strain broth into a bowl, discarding solids, and reserve.

Heat a small skillet with a tight fitting lid until very hot. Place 2 tbsp of amaranth seeds on the skillet, quickly cover with lid, and shake skillet over heat until most of the seeds have popped, 30 seconds or so. Transfer popped seeds to a bowl. Repeat procedure with more amaranth seeds until you have about 2 cups of popped amaranth seeds. Reserve popped seeds.

Place the roasted pumpkin in a food processor. Add about 1 cup of the reserved chicken broth. Process until smooth, adding additional chicken broth as necessary. When smooth, add about ¾ of the popped amaranth seeds, reserving the rest for garnish. Process the mixture, again adding chicken broth as necessary. The consistency should be that of a thick sauce, not runny.

Transfer the sauce to a large, heavy pan. Heat over medium heat, stirring. Add sage leaves, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Thin with additional chicken broth as necessary to achieve the desired pasta sauce consistency. Adjust the seasonings, especially the cinnamon. Simmer until heated through. Add chopped spinach, stirring. Cook over medium heat, covered, until spinach has wilted and is tender.

With two forks, shred chicken breasts and reserve shredded meat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions. When done, drain.

Place drained pasta in a large bowl (or in individual bowls). Top with pumpkin sauce. Sprinkle with shredded chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and popped amaranth seeds. Serve. Enjoy!

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