What's for lunch? Alton Brown's gazpacho

The big news about this meal is that I (Cullen) made it by myself while Oliver was not home! I'm three for three on cooking for myself this weekend. I've started easy (spinach salad with an egg) and have been working my way into meals with more ingredients and more steps. Last night I roasted eggplant and then mashed it with tahini, ground cumin & lemon. While today's gazpacho didn't require any cooking it did require much more knife work then I usually take on. And I learned how to peel a tomato! I recommend this recipe for any beginner cooks who love tomatoes (and/or salsa). Thanks to Alton Brown for another easy and great recipe!


  • 1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • Tomato juice
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade


Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe copied from here. Click for original posting.

Healthy lunches take work

A combination of recent experiences have led me to the topic for today's post: healthy lunches take work. I'll start with this little gem that Oliver stumbled across this evening on Digg.

Oh yeah, that Lunchable comes with both a burger-like-substance (which I assume has a Twinkies-inspired shelf life) AND a generic cola! MMmmm! (Ok, but seriously, how did any of us survive all the crap food directed at kids in '80s and '90s? I for one was clinically cuckoo for Coco Puffs.) 

While the American population is trending towards healthier eating I still notice A LOT of bad choices being made at lunch time. And while this may make me the bad guy (not sure how many, if any, co-workers read this) I think this needs to be said:

• Lean Cuisines are not a healthy alternative. Foremost they have way too much salt. Additional offenses include: overly processed and preserved ingredients, never filling anyone up and substantially altering one's taste buds for the flavors of real foods. 
• Muffins are cake. Banana bread is also cake. Bagels, in my opinion, pretty much cake.... Do you see where I'm going with this? Let's not kid ourselves. None of the above foods should be counted as a daily healthy lunch; they are sugar laden, extremely refined carbohydrates. 
• Restaurant lunch portions are ridiculous! It's lunch not THANKSGIVING! If you're going out to eat for lunch remember that your portion size should be the size of your fist. 

On days when I have not planned ahead and packed a lunch I am faced with the everyman dilemma: where should I go for lunch? My first choice is Alon's for a salad - but the over $7 price tag often steers me into Moe's for a questionably healthy, $3 black bean taco (no cheese, no sour cream, yes to gauc, salsa and fresh veggies). It only takes an hour for me to regret that decision - and that's always because of the after effects of too much hidden sodium (those tacos leave me PARCHED). The next day I am sure to bring something from home. 

Having a healthy, homemade lunch every work day takes planning and work. It's not something either Oliver or myself LIKE to do. But doing it makes a big difference in our overall health, budget and waistline. Most days we eat beans. On days when the beans have run out we eat left overs from dinner. Today was one of those days and my lunch consisted of a grilled chicken leg and rice mixed with leftover vegetables. It was jumble of three different dinners - but it still tasted good and I never questioned how good it was for me. 

New bike and chicken salad on a biscuit

I bought a new bike! After test riding both a Trek and a Specialized I went with the Trek because it's what Oliver already rides and I hoped having the same brand would make tunes up easier on him. To break it in we took the same ride to Piedmont Park on which my last bike blew it's tire. Back home I checked our ride into the website www.VeloRoutes.com to see how far we rode (about 9 miles round trip). It's cool website that I recommend for anyone interested in knowing the elevation, hill grade and distance of their bike trips. 

Lunch was chicken salad on a homemade biscuit (from yesterday's breakfast). After lunch we added a few more plants to the garden: two types of peppers, three types of tomatoes, eggplant and parsley. Now we're resting up before the much anticipated Mad Men premiere! Since we don't have cable we're heading up to the neighborhood pub to watch it on their big screen. Can't wait!

What's for lunch? Arugula with lemon and parmesan

It's that time of year again: arugula is in season! Tuesday I picked up a pretty big bag of organic arugula from YDFM for only $2.50. There's enough to make three lunches the size shown here. As usual, I dressed mine with the juice of one lemon, a slosh of olive oil and topped it with shredded Parmesan. It's a great lunch to bring to the office because it can be packed the night before.

This is how I do it: before bed fill a resealable container full of arugula, shred the desired amount of Parmesan over it, close and put in the fridge. In the morning take one lemon, a slice of bread, the aforementioned container and put them all in a lunch bag. (NOTE! I keep a small bottle of olive oil in my drawer at the office. If you don't, then be sure to bring that with you too.) At lunch time slice the lemon and squeeze the juice into the resealable container over the arugula. Add a dash of olive oil. Reseal the container and SHAKE! SHAKE! SHAKE! Then dump all contents into your bowl and eat. Easy! Filling too!

What's for lunch? Split pea soup!

Today we polished off the last of our week's supply of homemade split pea soup. It was a nice change from beans but now I'm looking forward to a week of chopped mixed greens.

We're also pretty much out of food so it looks like dinner tonight will be omelets with goat cheese, shallots and pickled tomatoes and peppers. Tomorrow night is a trip to YDFM.

Those of you who have been reading And Topher Too for several months already know we are not a weight loss blog (rather, we are a healthy living lifestyle blog) but weight loss has recently become a topic as I make a bigger effort to lower my blood pressure. The resolution started back in November when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure during a physical exam. My doctor's first response was to prescribe a blood pressure pill. When I returned a month later the medicine had not made a noticeable enough difference so my doctor changed my birth control pill to a low estrogen option. Even that did not bring my diastolic reading (bottom number) to the needed "below 80" number; I was stuck around 85. That is when I decided to lose weight. 11lbs in two months would put me at 134lbs by my 34th birthday.  Well, I'm 34 days in and I've got great news and news I'd hoped would be better.

The great news is: holy cow it worked!!! I've lost 5lbs pounds in five weeks and my diastolic reading has dropped 20 points. It's now averaging 66! I hadn't even dreamed 5lbs could change my blood pressure so dramatically. Hooray!

The news I'd hoped would be better: I'm holding steady at 140lbs. I just can't crack into the 130s. I've even added a 4th day of exercise by signing up for 8 weeks of kickboxing. I'd been warned the last 5lbs would be the hardest... so I'm not giving up just yet. My fingers are crossed that more exercise, less booze and another 4 weeks of determination gets me where I want to be. If it doesn't - then fine - I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. 

Weight Loss Check-In
Day 34, start of week six: 140.2lbs (4.8lbs lost)

Valentine's Day - let's eat!

For dinner: strip steak, medium rare, with a mushroom wine pan sauce. Sides of asparagus, quartered roasted Yukon gold potatoes and a wilted spinach salad with goat cheese.
For lunch: deli sliced turkey, cucumber, mixed greens, red onion and cream cheese on YDFM whole wheat sourdough. (Along with a surprise delivery of two dozen, long stem, red roses and my favorite chocolate bar!)
Pregym: slice of bread with avocado, lemon juice and red pepper flakes.

Weight Loss Update
Day 22
(weigh in is Thursday)
It can be difficult to lose weight in an environment that often offers free sweets... but I am relieved to say I made it through Valentine's Day without giving into temptation. It was not easy (especially when I found myself hungry at 3pm) but it was doable. One co-worker brought in a dozen heart shaped Dunkin' Donuts. Another brought in homemade mini "Pop Tarts". And because said "Pop Tarts" were both mini and made with homemade cherry filling (from real cherries) I had just enough of an excuse to eat one... but I did not. Instead I enjoyed the small Valentine's snack I'd brought from home: three mejool dates and ten raw almonds. Even so, I'm doubtful that I'll have lost weight this week so my current goal is to not have gained any back.

Good Eats: Monday & Tuesday

Breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, coconut & walnuts
Lunch: red beans with a tablespoon of goat cheese
Snack: clementine
Dinner: spinach salad with poached eggs
no gym, no alcohol
Breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, coconut & walnuts
Lunch: broccoli salad (mostly made up by me - so it was a fairly experimental salad)
Snack: half a cup Friendship brand California style cottage cheese
Dinner: Bo ssam lettuce wraps (inspired by this New York Times magazine article*)
500 calories burned on the elliptical, no alcohol

*Oliver is not usually one to follow recipes (especially not recipes from celebrity chefs) but something about this bo ssam from David Chang prompted him to make an exception. Everything was made from scratch except the kimchi. The other two sauces are scallion ginger and spicy bean. The spicy bean was improvised from pureed beans (from lunch), Worchestire and siracha; the recipe called for spicy bean paste - something we did not have on hand. We'll definitely be enjoying this meal for several more nights of dinner! BO SSAM = DELICIOUS!


What's for lunch? Mixed greens with cucumber & roasted red pepper

For lunch today I ran over to Alon's in Morningside to pick up a salad from their "create your own" bar.  While I've always enjoyed their prepared foods,  fresh baked breads, cheeses, desserts and salads - I was just recently turned on to having their salads "chopped". I LOVE IT! The truth is, long stems on spinach and other mixed greens often make me gag while chewing. Having everything "chopped" completely solves the problem! I wish I'd discovered this sooner.

My go-to salad at Alon's is currently mixed greens, cucumber, roasted red pepper, goat cheese and a side of balsamic vinaigrette. I ate half at lunch time and the rest before I left the office at 6:15pm (as fuel for the gym).



Weight Loss Check-In
Day 3: 144.6lbs (.4lbs lost)

Sweet and spicy slaw

I did it! I made a sweet and spicy cabbage slaw! Woo hoo! The sweet came from the juice of one orange and one teaspoon of honey. The spicy came from homegrown hot  italian peppers and some pickled jalapenos. I chopped half a head of cabbage and shredded one large carrot. Everything went into went a bowl with a tablespoon of mayo and the juice from one lemon. I served it for lunch alongside the shredded chicken mole I made on Friday. Yay! One entire meal by me! - Cullen

Lazy Sunday eating

We ran out of food before our weekly YDFM run so yesterday I stopped by our neighborhood Kroger for a few healthy basics. Half pound of turkey, a freshly baked boule of rosemary bread, an avocado and a head of lettuce. Avocado with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes is really delicious; a great addition to a regular ole turkey sandwich. 

Beans are soaking now and will be stewed for our work week lunches. Hoping to post that recipe sometime this week. Money gets tight this time of year and this very inexpensive meal can you get through until your next paycheck if needed.

Tailgate gumbo for the LSU game

Saturday Oliver and I invited our friends and family to join us for a tailgate party before the SEC Championship football game. Oliver spent Friday making a giant pot of gumbo to share with everyone. Two chickens, four pounds of sausage, two pounds of okra and at least a gallon of homemade chicken stock went into the dish. I think it might have been his best gumbo yet - DELICIOUS!

What's for lunch? You guessed it - beans!

Admittedly not a gorgeous photo - but that was made up for by the deliciousness of these red beans and rice. A Louisiana dish if there ever was one. Knowing this weekend will be an all out eat-fest I'm doing my best to eat light and healthy now.

Over the last couple of months we've cycled through pinto beans, lentils, black beans and red beans. I really don't know what Oliver will come up with next. But it also doesn't matter - I like all the beans!

Speaking of beans... I LOVE this painting of beans and lentils by my favorite new Parisian artist, Lucille. Click over to her blog to check it out: click here! There seems to be no end to her wonderful watercolors, collages and drawings of food. Super inspiring.

What's for lunch? Black Beans!

While this may not be the prettiest lunch I've ever eaten it was exactly what I needed to get through a rough day at the office. Working to meet a deadline meant no lunch break, no time for a snack and then staying two hours late. The good part? I never got hungry. Oliver's homestewed black beans and tomatoes kept my mind focused and my belly full for eleven straight hours of work. Thank goodness for fiber!

Even so, I am ready for today to be over. That means a short post tonight so I can move on to cuddling up next to Oliver and watching a Netflix (Bridesmaids). Good things are in the works though. The etsy shop is set to open this weekend, Oliver is currently cooking a delicious smelling vegetarian curry and I have a very exciting cholesterol update to share!

Turn that frown upside down - happy tomatoes!

Turn that "sad tomato" frown upside down because Oliver has successfully ripened some of our late summer tomatoes! I want to start with the acknowledgement that fried green tomatoes topped with homemade pimento cheese are not heart healthy. But fortunately they are real food!

If you read the "sad tomato" blog post then you know we ripped out our tomato plants the day before the first predicted frost of the year. Oliver then took the 7.5 lbs of

growing tomatoes and wrapped them in newspaper and placed them in a cardboard box. Ten days later we checked the box. I was so excited to see that some of the tomatoes had continued to ripen! By then it was obvious which tomatoes were going to stay green and which had a chance of becoming perfectly red and plump. We rewrapped the reddening tomatoes and brought all the green ones to the kitchen.
Step one: slice! Step two coat: flour, then egg, then corn meal. Step three: Fry in vegetable oil. (We fry something possibly three times a year so I'm not feeling guilt about enjoying a fried sandwich but I should take the opportunity emphasize - stay away from fried foods!) Oliver then mixed up a homemade pimento cheese and spread it on bread fresh from the Grant Park Farmers Market. He topped it all off with the warm fried green tomatoes. We ate together outside on the freshly painted front porch.

I am so glad we grew those tomatoes. I am even happier Oliver was able to salvage the ones I thought were goners. There is still a box-full ripening and I promise to update as soon as we do something with them!

What's for lunch? Arugula with lemon and parmesan

This has been one of my favorite salads for at least five years: fresh arugula, the juice from one lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, a small pinch of salt and parmesan cheese. Its an easy lunch to make in the office too. I keep all of the ingredients in the office fridge or in my desk drawer so I don't have to worry about finding time to make a lunch at home in the morning. It beats the pants off a can of Slim Fast!

This arugula came from the Grant Park Farmer's Market on Sunday. When I got  home and put my bag down Topher went straight for it. He rubbed against it incessantly until I pulled the arugula out. I finally gave in and let him have a leaf...because Topher wants a healthy heart too! The video is posted below.

What's for lunch? Pinto beans!

In an earlier post I explained my weekday breakfast goal is to eat a cereal high in fiber, low in sugar and made of real food ingredients. My goal for weekday lunches is just as simple: beans or greens. Beans means a bowl of homestewed black or pinto beans. Greens is a salad of spinach or arugula (depending on the season).

It's true what the kids say: beans, beans they're good for the heart. So today I'll highlight a few of the reasons beans make the MVP list of heart healthy eating.

1. Beans are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering, heart diease preventing, fiber! In fact "a cup of cooked pinto beans provides 58% of the recommended daily intake for fiber". 
2. That same cup of beans fulfills 23% of a body's daily need for magnesium. What does magnesium do for the heart? It "improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a [lack] of magnesium is...associated with heart attack". (Full article here: WH Foods)
3. One cup of pintos also provides 73% of the recommended daily intake for folate. Top 5 Health Benefits of Folate (Folic Acid) listed here
4. Besides, your colon just loves pinto beans! My Dad would refer to them as "roughage". (As in, "You need to make sure you're eating enough roughage".)

Beans! The more you eat the better you'll feel. Beans, beans - well maybe not at EVERY MEAL - but how about four times a week? Your body will thank you (but your significant other may not).

Side note: A pot of stewed beans is a very cheap meal that requires four hours of stewing and returns many days of eating. We purchase our dried beans in quart containers from YDFM. Costs about $2.50. Stewing them is a day long process. (Historically stew day coincides with wash day, Monday, and the left over meat carcus from Sunday's meal). A big pot will make more then enough for Oliver and I to eat Tuesday through Friday as lunch. By Saturday we're both tired of them and what's left tends to be thrown out. Picking up a bag Vigo beans and rice at the grocery is a tempting alternative but high sodium content counters some of the health benefits.