Friday, October 31, 2008

More, I promise

Dear friends, family, and foodies,

I will be posting more in the upcoming month (partially as an attempt to achieve my NaNoWriMo goal -, so as a teaser, here are some of the upcoming topics:
  • the long promised second post displaying my cookbook collection
  • a summary of what i cooked last Wednesday night for my family in NYC
  • the menu I plan on serving on election night and its history
  • Mufas

And much more.

Get excited, foodie folks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My legs hurt from standing so long...

Well friends and fans....I have been cooking/baking for the past four hours, which doesn't quite make up for the fact that it's been over a month since my last post. :-( Anyway, I picked up some essential ingredients at the grocery store on my way home from work, changed into my pjs and an apron, and then hit the ground running at 7:30pm. I had been itching to make something more than my typical sauteed green and yellow squash or my frequent whole wheat pasta with ground turkey pasta sauce. I even tried to invite friends over on Saturday and Sunday just to have mouths to feed (the scare of a hurricane kept them home....we didn't get but about three drops of rain...but I digress). Thankfully, my team is having a day-long meeting on Thursday, so I jumped at the chance to provide some food for the day.

The first thing I made was lasagna. Let me start by saying, I am not of Italian heritage. I am a British Isles mutt...a sort of nondescript combo of all the islands (maybe with the exception of Wales?). And my mother who grew up on typical mid-western farm food (read: fried and boiled within an inch of their lives...but laden with fat, so awfully tasty). So one might find it surprising, but I think she makes some of the best lasagna I've ever had. The funny thing is that it couldn't be more simple. There's no meat in the sauce and it is a total of 6 ingredients: noodles, sauce, mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, and eggs. Basta.

I never saw her using a recipe when she made it, I guess mainly b/c I can't imagine how one would mess this recipe up. As long as you remember to start with a tiny bit of sauce in the pan so the noodles don't burn or stick, alternate layers, tuck in the corners, and don't overfill the pan, you're pretty much good to go. As with most lasagna noodle boxes, there was a recipe on the side. It's a good thing. If going off the top of my head, I had forgotten about the egg to be used as a binder for the cheese blend. I also wasn't sure what temp to cook it - though my guess was only 25 degrees lower than what the box suggested. Other than that, it was a pretty typical recipe, but included meat.

While boiling the water for the noodles (no ready-to-bake noodles for me!), I microwaved a Weight Watchers Smart Ones: Fruit Inspirations meal (the ultimate irony, don't you think?). The water came to a rolling boil, and I cooked the noodles, drained them, and laid them out to dry so they wouldn't stick to each other like boys at a sixth grade dance scared of actually having to talk to a member of the opposite sex. I giggled at the promise of using my Cuisinart to turn my block of parmesan into tiny cheese crumbs. At that thought, I immediately threw my two hunks of mozzarella into the freezer. I had an idea....I'd use the shredding attachment on the same Cuisinart for the first time and turn the mozz into perfect little strips of creamy cheese, but they needed to be more firm for it to be successful. The parmesan worked like a dream. I pulsed it a few times and then let 'er rip. Tiny little dusty flakes were the beautiful result. The mozzarella's fate was not as pretty. I didn't really have the time to fully freeze them for any decent length, so the first hunk ended up almost burning out the motor of the Cuisinart when it got stuck between the shredder blade and the top of the device. I messed with it enough to sort of go through one of the hunks, but decided that I'd be better off leaving the second one for the topping, which would give me some time to cut it up (I julienned mozarella...haha!). And one last thing - I put my sauce on to heat through.

I assembled the layers: first sauce, a layer of noodles, a layer of nine "dots" of the cheese blend with half the mozz that was supposed to be in there, more sauce, a layer of noodles, 9 cheese dots, and so on. Once I was at the top of my Pyrex dish, I covered it with foil and started baking. In the meantime, I cut the remaining mozz into little fine strips. After baking about 10 minutes, I sprinkled the julienned mozarella on top (almost the whole other hunk) and re-foiled the top. I had a ton of materials left over...but not enough to make a whole entire other pan. So I decided to get creative. I have these two large baking ramekins that I bought at the Junior League Resale Shop after one of my shifts last year. They're the iconic white fluted ramekin...I couldn't resist (and I think I paid $4 for the two). So, I decided to put a little bit of cheese blend in a noodle cut in half, roll it up, and put that little cheese filled pasta roll on its end in the ramekin. I repeated and periodically doused it with sauce. It got pretty messy since the pasta rolls were taller than the sides of the dish, but it looked neat. I covered with foil and added to the oven.

Lastly I tried little layers of noodle squares, sauce, and the limited remaining cheese blend (certainly couldn't let anything to go waste!) It didn't fill up the top and I didn't put foil on this one when i put it in the oven. In retrospect, had I not filled my initial Pyrex dish quite so high, I would have probably had enough supplies to make a whole other (if slightly anemic) lasagna. I would have just been a little low on the cheese blend, I suspect. But I have another thing of ricotta, some left over mozz, and some more parmesan, so I could have whipped something up. I might have also run out of sauce, but I would have seen that coming and would have been able to know when to call it the last layer.

So after all my lasagna dishes were in the oven, I moved on to desserts. I had told some co-workers (including my boss) that I would bring in a loaf of banana bread today, but last night three things got in my way - I fell asleep on my couch while reading, I didn't have any buttermilk, and my little recipe post-it DIDN'T HAVE A COOKING TIME ON IT!! I've made this banana bread recipe multiple times, though not on God's green earth did I make it if I didn't know how long to cook it?? Anyway, in order to make up for the fact that I came to work empty handed, I decided to not only bake a loaf of banana bread, but I also decided to try out a new recipe for a citrus pound cake. It wasn't part of the of the recipe, but I decided to also create a citrus glaze (a few of the pound cake reviews said it was too dry).

Feeling adventurous, I started with the pound cake. Thankfully, when I bought a set of silicone baking items it came with two loaf pans. The batter for this pound cake required cake flour (which I don't think I've ever used before). I sifted the flour, baking powder and a few other things, whipped up the sugar and the zest of the orange an lemon until it was all sort of a light orangey color, and so forth. The batter didn't have any immediate leavening (like the banana bread recipe), so it definitely looked more like a runny cake batter. The recipe called for a loaf pan of slightly different dimensions, but when I piled the batter into the silicon pan, it was only about 3/4 of the way full, so I figured, let's throw caution to the wind. I tapped it on the counter a few times to let the bubbles out, set the timer on my microwave, and tossed it into the oven (having moved one of the racks to the middle).

On to my banana bread. I washed out my teaspoons, my mixing bowls (I had already used another couple bowls others during the great lasagna extravaganza which were washing in the dishwasher), a spatula, etc. Because the recipe has buttermilk, baking powder, and baking soda, it basically explodes once you mix wet and dry ingredients. Thankfully, I remembered that and got those two separate bowls ready. Then, in a flash, I used my trusty hand mixer to mix the two bowls' worth of ingredients. As it was expanding, I managed to get it into the other silicone loaf pan. Thankfully, both desserts are supposed to bake at 325 degrees, so I was able to pop it in the oven as well - I just set the timer on my oven.

The citrus pound cake came out first. I tested it after an hour, and it was just a bit too moist in the middle. But after another measly 5 minutes, the toothpick came out just slightly moistened. I let it rest for a bit in the silicon loaf pan. About 15 minutes later, the banana bread came out. At that point, the pound cake was cool enough to touch. I turned it out and put it on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. I had created a citrus glaze (mostly lemon with a bit of orange) and decided that I wanted to double-glaze the loaf. I pricked the top crust with a toothpick to make a few holes. I drizzled the glaze over the still warm cake, intending for this first layer to soak in (like I said, some reviews of the recipe said the cake was too dry). I will either bring the glaze with me on Thursday and apply the second and final layer of glaze right before surviving...or maybe I'll glaze it Thursday morning so it will have a chance to set. Decisions decisions.

My one regret is following the part of the banana bread recipe that said to grease and flour the pan. I think, actually, that flouring it was the reason a little corner stuck to the pan. It was a blessing in disguise, however, b/c I was able to do a quick taste (if only a corner of the pound cake had stuck....).

I can't wait for Thursday's lunch.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

I'm stuffed!

I went to the nutritionist yesterday. This is part of an overall effort not only to slim down, but also to understand more about the fuel my body consumes in and burns.

Based on the results of my RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate) tests, I should be taking in 1950 calories. Or rather, the balance at the end of the day should be 1950 calories. So that means that if I burn, say, 450 calories doing yard work, then I'm supposed to be taking in 2400 calories. HOW ON GOD'S GREEN EARTH IS A HUMAN SUPPOSED TO TAKE IN THAT MANY CALORIES??

Now, of course, this doesn't mean 2400 calories of crap (sadly, no cheese enchiladas with cheese sauce), but rather increased fiber, fewer simple carbohydrates, and so on. I would have never thought it was so hard to add calories!! One interesting (and now that I know it, seemingly obvious tip) was that my snacks shouldn't be just almonds, or just fruit, but a little of both. Apparently it's the combination of protein and carbs that makes the snacks more effective.

The online tracking service I use ( sets guidelines for how many grams of fat, protein, carbs, and fiber one should take in based on your calorie target. I have yet to figure out how someone is supposed to get up to that kind of a calorie count without going over at least one of those targets. Plus, get this. I played squash Thursday after work and, according to my heart rate monitor, I burned 1170 calories. So how am I supposed to end up with a balance of 1950 net calories after that? I'm supposed to magically eat 3120 calories without going over those fat, carb, protein, and fiber guidelines??

I'm definitely looking forward to my next appointment with the nutritionist next week where she'll actually give me a meal plan and hopefully explain some of these guidelines and rules that are seemingly conflicting notions.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The great muffin quest - episode one

I'm trying to figure out some "grab-and-go" breakfast that won't bore me to tears and won't fill me full of trans fats. Thus was born the great muffin quest of 2008 as I feel blueberry muffins might just be the answer to my prayers.

Based on the rave reviews their pancake mix got over Thanksgiving, I turned to Hodgson Mill for my two base mixes. The first option was the Whole Wheat Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix. It has a delightful little blueberry-colored banner on the front of the box boasting, "Made with 100% Whole Grain Flour & Milled Flax Seed!" and another little seal saying, "450mg Omega-3 Oils per serving."

I mixed the box according to the instructions (yield listed as 7-8 muffins). I added an extra half cup of blueberries (dusted with flour to keep them suspended in the batter) for a little extra burst of flavor. But boy let me tell you, this batter was thick. In my little silicone muffin "tins" I put about a 1/2 cup of batter into 9 holes. The rose a little...just enough to have that little top, but thankfully didn't spill over. (I checked in on them periodically throughout the 16 minutes the box said just to make sure.) I put a toothpick in the center of two of them at the 16 minute mark, and they needed a couple more minutes. After 2 more minutes in the oven and 10 minutes of cooling, I popped them out of the silicone and put them on another rack (truth be told, the "cooling rack" I used at this point was an overturned flat bottomed basket in which you would cook smaller veggies on a grill).

They're deceptively moist, so that's good. They're also very that's also good. But I really thought they were greatly improved with one spritz per bite of I Can't Believe it's Not Butter.

When these are gone, I'll move on to the next mix and let you know how it goes.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mission Grillpossible!

I've done it!

I just thought I'd let all of you know that I have finally managed to cook a steak to medium rare on my grill pan! Hazah!

Type of steak: bone-in rib eye
Thickness: about an inch thick, maybe a little thinner
Size: large enough to make two portions...both for me - one of the times living alone is a great thing!
Seasoning: just salt and pepper...nothing fancy
Heat: just slightly under my #5 setting on my gas range (6 being the highest)
Cooking Time: 4 minutes on the first side (turning 90 degrees 2 minutes in to get those great grill marks) and 2.5 minutes on the second side (I did attempt to get the grill marks on the other side, but was not successful.
Resting Time: 6 minutes

It was juicy, flavorful, and full-on perfectly medium rare. The crust on the outside due to the high heat was the perfect complement to the tender pink silky center. I tried to mix a little balsamic vinegar and some margarine with the juices left in the grill pan to make a sauce, but something about the olive oil based margarine I have in my house just didn't taste right (not to mention it's not like there was fond, I mean, it's a non-stick surface, but there were just juices, so it was a valiant attempt).

All in all, I really want to eat both servings. Thankfully, I had the foresight to cut it in half and put the other half in a ziploc and in the fridge for a future meal.

Tonight, I will make my basil and goat cheese turkey roulade, and tomorrow I'll be baking blueberry bran muffins. The former I've made before, the later...never. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

To box or not to box

This particular post will be dedicated to one of my favorite foods....mac and cheese. When my sister and I were young (but not too young), my mother had us cook one night a week (this didn't last for long just because of crazy schedules). We even started our own little cookbook in a red spiral notebook (we had little tabs cut out to represent the different sections a cookbook would normally have). One of our favorite meals to make was macaroni and cheese. This never involved a boxed sauce (certainly no Velveeta or powdered cheese to be found). We would create a rue, grate in white cheddar using one of those cylindrical hand crank graters, and mix away. Sometimes we'd bake it...sometimes we wouldn't.

But as an adult I moved away from sauces from scratch. Boxed pasta kits became a much easier option (especially the ones that just had squeezy cheese not requiring milk or's sort of hard to guarantee that as a college student you have those staples at your fingertips). Then as I got a little older, I started putting in canned tuna, Italian breadcrumbs, and cayenne pepper (I believe this idea might have come from an ex...but it's mine now, so there!). That combo became my ubiquitous tuna mac and cheese casserole. Occasionally, broccoli would be added. (I would like to point out with a bizarre mixture of disappointment and pride that I never once topped my casseroles with those little canned fried onions.)

Recently when my mother and sister were visiting, we watched a Food Network Mac and Cheese Challenge and an episode of the Next Food Network Star where two of the remaining four contestants were asked to cook mac and cheese. It was a full on craving attack. We had originally planned to eat something else (which escapes me at the moment), but after those two shows, it became obvious - we absolutely needed to make mac and cheese. Only problem - I didn't have any of the ingredients (except for flour) to make the sauce from scratch, so to the grocery store I went.

We used the whole wheat + protein (or something like that) fusilli from Barilla (I think), which was a slight attempt to increase the nutritional value of the meal. I made a roux, browned the flour just a bit, and started putting in the two cheeses that I had purchased - fontina and extra sharp white cheddar. The fontina was for it's melty qualities and the cheddar was for it's personality. A little nutmeg and black pepper were added to make the sauce pop a bit. I added a touch of freshly grated parmesan to add some salt. Once everything was boiled, drained, and mixed, I put it into a pyrex dish and topped it with a bit of the remaining cheddar and parmesan. We baked it for a while, but nothing got brown and bubbly (I think the brown would need to come from it being under the broiler, but I digress).

All in all, with a glass of a fairly nondescript red wine (just the kind my mom and I like), it turned out pretty well. Personally, it wasn't cheesy enough for me. I think I would have liked to either have a higher cheddar to fontina ratio, or maybe a different cheese altogether in the place of the fontina. Like I said, it melted really well, but it just didn't have enough punch. Mom and Sis said they thought it was good, and certainly it didn't keep me from eating the leftovers in quick order, but I'll need to adjust the recipe in the future.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Food Shelf…Installment #1…

I have a lot of books. I have an Art History section, a Religion section, a Fiction section, and more. I have, at times, received some ribbing about this. (One guy picked me up for our first date and said, “Wow, so did you like read all these or are they just here for decoration.”) I even have a food section. For the most part this section is made up of cookbooks, but there are a couple other food-related books that similarly inspire me. I thought I might list all the books that live on that food shelf, but Mom, I'm not sure I'm listing this bibliography by the strict standards of Chicago Elements of Style...please forgive me.

My Food Shelf:
  • On Cooking: a Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (Third Edition), Sarah R. Labensky & Alan M. Hause. This was my text book at the cooking class I took at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration while there getting my MBA. This book is riddled with post-its, many of which stick out of the side with labels for things like clarified butter, popovers, mayonnaise, roulade, etc. I've only made two of those four things, but the banana bread recipe on a post-it on the inside cover I've made a ton of times. All in all, this book is not only a great cookbook, but a fantastic textbook to follow along for basic techniques, or those not so basic.
  • A Taste of an Arbuckle Mountain County Christmas: A Special Collection of Holiday Recipes and Ideas, Rainbow Family Community Education Club, Sulphur, Oklahoma. Yup, you read that right, Sulphur, Oklahoma. I got this (it's actually two years' worth of recipes in one) from my great aunt in that same state. This is a pretty country cookbook - it's a binder ostensibly to add in pages for years to come. There are the typical tabs for "Appetizers & Beverages" and "Breads & Rolls," but my favorite tab is at the back called "This and That." What, you might ask, would be in a section called "This and That?" Well, there's Friendship Tea, Susie's Sausage Roll(??), Cold Lye Soap (uhhh...isn't this a cookbook??), and of course the ever-popular Edible Play Dough.
  • The South Beach Diet Good Fats Good Carbs Guide: The Complete and Easy Reference for All Your Favorite Foods, Arthur Agatston, MD. This is one of the two South Beach books I have in my collection. This book, however, is not a cookbook but as the title suggests, it's a reference guide. I have not taken the time to really use this (I think it came bundled with my other SB book, but the basic concept is that you can look up a food and it lists the portion size, the total carbs, total sugar, and total fat. It follows up that food's listing with the recommendation (good, very limited, avoid, limited, etc.). I suppose since it's small and paperback one is supposed to carry it around in one's bag, but seriously, I think it's a little crazy to be that obsessed with food. Ok...that sounds weird coming from someone who has a food blog, but I mean, if you're preparing food, you know what you're putting in it and you can use common sense as to whether it's good for you or not. If you're out to dinner, it's not like you're going to know what's in every sauce and every dish, so there would likely be hidden "costs," and you can probably also use your common sense again. And heck, if you're out eating, enjoy it! (Of course, knowing the right thing to do doesn't mean you have the will power or desire to do the right thing, but that's a Dr. Phil show, I guess.)
  • The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss, Arthur Agatston, MD. This is that book that everyone was talking about for a couple years. There was a bit of a backlash against it when the Atkins diet was found to cause some problems, but I really think there are a lot of sensible recommendations in here, not to mention, some seriously tasty recipes. The first 110 or so pages tell you about the philosophy behind the multi-phased approach, the medical support, and so on. Honestly, I don't know if I ever read more than 20 pages of that stuff. The recipes for each of the phases take up 175 or so pages, and it's really rather easy to understand. It literally goes through each phase day by day. And while phase 1 does "deprive" you of most carbs, it's a pretty reasonable list of items. The daily lists sometimes make reference to recipes that are later in the book, and most of them are super easy to create. Without belaboring the point, I remember a recipe with chicken breasts and pistachio nuts. It was excellent....especially since the dressing was made of avocado. Seriously tasty.....just picture smothering a chicken breast in guacamole and then encrusting it in chopped pistachios.....delightful.
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson. While this book doesn’t focus solely on food, the food section covers topics such as “The Whys and Wherefores of Home Cooking,” “Stimulating Beverages,” and “Serving Meals.” I haven’t made it through the whole book yet, but so far there are some good discussions around hosting and the larger food-related topics.
  • Food & Wine Annual Cookbook 2007: An Entire Year of Recipes, Food & Wine Magazine. I got this book last year at the Texas Conference for Women. The Editor in Chief of the magazine, Dana Cowin, was one of the speakers on a culinary culture panel. I went up to her after the panel dispersed and told her about my restaurant idea, and she was really excited and quite encouraging. Of course, I might be missing my timing, but I still dream of opening the restaurant. Oh well. But I digress...the pictures, as you might imagine are mouth-watering. Everything looks glossy and succulent (I need to remind myself that they’re probably sprayed multiple times with shellac so they’ll stay as perky as they were at the beginning of the day. There are the typical sections of poultry, pasta, fish, grains, etc. , but I will say that many of these recipes are likely not things that I would make with any regularity.
  • Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Cookbook, Sponsored by the American Heart Association. The pages of this “classic” (note the sarcasm) have yellowed. This was printed in 1989, so needless to say, I’m quite sure many of the recommendations are somewhat out of date. I suspect, though, that many of them are probably still quite useful.

Ok. That's it for Installment #1. Stay tuned for Installment #2. Yes, there are more. :-)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Vegetarians...avert your eyes

I love flesh. I love seared flesh. There are few food products that I actually crave, but red meat is high up on that short list. When training for the NYC marathon last fall, all I wanted after my long runs was a steak or a burger. As a celebratory meal after finishing the marathon (MANY hours after the masses), my father took us back in time to when he used to cook steak and potatoes on Sunday nights.

And yet, despite multiple attempts, I cannot cook a steak to save my life.

I'm a pretty good cook. I might even be well above average in that arena. But I cannot cook a steak. I've tried in my regular pan with a little bit of butter. I've tried in that same pan with some non-stick spray. I've tried both substances and no substance in my non-stick pan. Now that I'm the proud owner of a non-stick grill pan, and I've now tried multiple times to cook a steak on that pan.

I have the sear down. High heat, rotate 90 degree, and you get that fantastic "x" marks the spot sear marks. They're good looking. I've got that down pat. But getting it to be medium rare has been eluding me.

Yesterday at the grocery store, I bought a decent-quality steak. Nothing like what you'd bet from a real speciality store, but it looked good and was the type of cut I would have ordered at a restaurant. So tonight it went on the grill pan, and tonight the sear looked better than it ever had....I had high hopes. But after 4 minutes on each side, I put the steak on a plate to rest. It's definitely too raw, but I figure with 8-10 minutes of resting it will get to my beloved medium rare (on the rare side). I probably came back to it on the short side of 8 minutes, but it was still pretty raw inside...more so than I'm comfortable eating (at least when it's been cooked by my hands as opposed to someone who cooks steaks every day). So I put it back on the grill pan (screwing up my sear, I might add). I only left it on for another 1.5 minutes per side (or there abouts). I took it off the pan and let it rest for another around 8 minutes.

Guess what....yes, you could have guessed. IT WAS MEDIUM. argh. I mean, it's probably the closest I've gotten to medium rare, so I suppose I've been improving, but man, this is not how I like my steak. Should I have let it rest the second time for less time? Should I have put it back on at a lower temp? Should I have seared and then turned it down? Should I have transferred it to an oven-safe pan and put it in an oven for a bit to cook through, but not too much?

Obviously I'm going to have to refer to some of my many cookbooks (that list coming soon) to get some pointers or maybe I'll go to a higher end store (do they have "butchers" any more that have their own store?), b/c I really can't keep doing this to all this glorious flesh.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


OMG, for those of you in a generation with a letter earlier in the alphabet than X, means Oh My God/Goodness.

This is the phrase that I said upon discovering that there is a show called The Best Recipes in the World with Mark Bittman. My obsession has now made it on to TV. I have watched all of his Videos on I also read all of his articles. I love his irreverent humor and his "devil may care" attitude about cooking - that's where I am. For instance, I was thinking about putting up a recipe for a soup that I made, but I haven't the foggiest what the amounts were of the ingredients. I chopped up what celery I had, possibly the remaining half of an onion (if memory serves right), and some of the baby carrots I munch on and put the three ingredients in the pan to serve as the aromatic base - the trinity, if you will. But I have no clue how much of each of them there were. Anyway, you get the point.

Ladies and Germs, set your TiVo's to your PBS Station on Sunday mornings...and it looks like you too might catch the upcoming episode entitled "Pure Porcine Pleasures II."

I love this man.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


This will be brief as I have to run off to work, but apparently I burn roughly 1962 calories on a daily basis just doing my regular walking around the house, sitting at my desk all day, and occasionally getting up to get a glass of water or a pretzel rod. WHAAA?? The metabolic consultant told me that I need on average 1509 just to sustain consciousness...consciousness being a good thing, I assume. Of course, you can eat less one day and more the next, but this is the overall goal calorie intake.

That's crazy to me (she said pretty much everyone is shocked by how many calories they burn during a day). When I've paid attention to my calorie intake I usually aim for 1200-1400 calories. In order to lose 1 lb per week, I'm supposed to cut my calorie intake by 500 calories, but never go below that I guess I'd aim for 1550?? And of course if I exercise that gives me more room to play with. Now that I've got my heart rate monitor all calibrated, I'll be able to see how many calories I burn during any given workout (even the walking on the treadmill reading a magazine kinda workouts).

So the next step is to talk to a nutritionist to find out what types of food (the whole carb/fat balance) I should be eating and at what times of the day.

I know I haven't started out the day well b/c all I've had this morning thus far is a cup of coffee right after the test. If I get ready for work quickly enough, I'll scramble up a couple eggs and scarf those down.

...more later.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Resting Meal Rate?

Tonight I'm going to bed early...around 10:30pm. That'll give me just shy of 8 hours of sleep before I have to get up for my RMR test at the gym. RMR stands for Resting Metabolic Rate and apparently the results of this test will indicate roughly how many calories I burn at different levels of activity, and with that information, we'll be able to tell how many calories I'm supposed to be taking in on any given day. Not only that, it's supposed to indicate what percent of my intake should be fat and what percent should be carbs (pray that I can eat my beloved Spicy Pantry Tuna Mac & Cheese Casserole going forward). I'm intrigued to see what this thing tells me.

The MAP (Metabolic Assessment Profile) test I took last week had some interesting results. I've been an athlete all my life. In my adult life (ahhh...grad school and 4 years of a relationship based on beer intake), I've put on some extra pounds, but through training for the NYC Marathon last fall, I lost 20 pounds and was really looking slim and trim. Sadly, I injured my right knee during training (I limped the last 10 miles of the marathon), so I haven't been able to run since last November. I'm now seeing my second Physical Therapist, and I have a lot of hope that she'll realign me. I'm so hopeful that I'm going to her even though she's not covered by my insurance (ouch!!). This is all after two orthopedists, a previous physical therapist and 4 cortisone shots (ouch again!!).

So back to the results, the MAP test told me that in order to burn 80% fat 20% sugar during a workout I need to keep my heart rate between 126 and 135. I chuckle even writing that. It took me a solid month of training to teach myself how to run slowly (I was a sprinter in junior high). But even after learning how to run for endurance and not sheer speed, walking on a treadmill is really frustrating when I'd rather be running. Keeping my heart rate at around 130 is literally walking at 3.1/3 mph on the treadmill with no incline. Can you say boring????? I didn't even break a sweat during my last workout. But if this is what I need to do to get my weight going back down, then so be it. And hey, maybe it will help me get through that pile of magazines that is looming in my living room.

Anyway, I guess all of this is to say that I'm curious to see what nutritional suggestions there are from the combined results of the MAP and RMR test. I'm also curious how that's going to affect my grocery buying and my cooking. I suspect that my grocery buying isn't going to change much. I feel confident that I make good choices at the grocery store upwards of 90% of the time. And I love spending my money at the farmers' market where there's a plethora of fresh produce. I do think, however, it's going to make it that much more important that I prepare a week's worth of meals and be diligent about bringing my lunch to work. Things are hard when I'm strapped at work, and I barely feel like I can leave my desk, so I run out and grab something quick....quick usually does not equal particularly healthy. ( We won't speak of the times I have only had around 7 minutes for lunch (1.5 minutes to get my change and walk to the vending machine, 1 minute to purchase the "Lean Pocket", .5 minutes to walk to the microwave, 2 minutes to heat, 1 to cool, and finally 2 minutes to eat).) But aside from the grocery/farmers' market shopping, I might also need to some pantry culling.

So, with that, I log off and go to sleep. Dreams of food. :-)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Night Owl

I know I'm not supposed to eat late in the day. I get that. I even understand why (eat stuff, then lay's not rocket science). But I can't seem to eat earlier. Normally it's because I don't often get home until 7pm.

Tonight that wasn't the case. I got home on time. In fact, I left work early (I got in at 6:30am, so by 3pm, I was done for). I went to the gym, did one of my new boring workouts (walking slowly on the treadmill...keep the heart rate low and in my fat burning range...mind numbing), and came home. I cleaned up a bit, grabbed a small bite, and then my friend came over and we played Rock Band for a couple hours before his volleyball game. So then it was 8:30pm...and I wasn't really hungry, so I sat down and watched a quick TV show. Then by the end of that show, I was hungry - tummy growling. So now we're talking 9:30pm and I haven't really eaten dinner. I can't go to bed this hungry, so I decide to eat. I do a quick ham and cheese omelet, and it's pretty tasty. But now it's an hour later and now I'm super hungry again. What am I supposed to eat at 10:30??? I was going to go to bed in a half hour. I guess I'll grab some almonds and have a big glass of water. This is annoying.

Friday, July 04, 2008

At least I didn't use saltines...

Well folks, I just made the most non-descript salmon croquettes. This is not so surprising as I really only used salmon (canned), Italian bread crumbs (store bought), and two eggs (not farm fresh like I typically like to have on hand). So given the ingredients, who would be surprised? I think I also over cooked them slightly. I decided to bake them instead of pan frying. I brushed a little olive oil on top of the cakes (croquettes, whatever) to make them sort of crisp up. When they came out of the oven, I put them on a cooling rack for a bit just to make sure that if there was any excess oil it could drop off.

I also didn't make the trip to the grocery store (it's July 4th...I'm still in my night shirt) to get some chipotle paste to make a chipotle mayo dipping sauce that I had originally wanted. Instead I used cayenne pepper and some garlic powder, which turned out ok...the redeeming quality of this sauce, however, was my homemade mayo from earlier in the week. (Yes, I'm very pleased with myself for making that mayo.) The dried spices were fine in a pinch (no pun intended), but not what I had really wanted.

There are a few things I would change.
  1. I'd either spray my foil-lined sheet pan with cooking spray or I'd brush it lightly with olive oil before putting the croquettes down (that's sort of a d'uh...I should have thought of that).
  2. I would also attempt to make my own interesting breadcrumbs and not use the ever-ready and ever-popular Progresso Italian Breadcrumbs (as much as I love them). Though, truth be told, I don't really know what I'd put in that outside of some garlic powder and some oregano...maybe dried basil? I'd have to look that up. I have a great baguette in my freezer for this very purpose.
  3. I would possibly bake my own salmon fillets and flake that to make the base (though, let's be honest, canned salmon is probably fine for this application). Besides, do you bake the salmon? Poach it? What lends itself best to then being flaked and put in a cake?
  4. I might try to make some more interesting dipping sauce. Maybe some sort of mix between guacamole and mayo? Or maybe a soy wasabi mayo sauce? I'll have to do some more investigating.
  5. I would put some sea salt on the croquettes right after they came out of the oven. They could have used some more seasoning.

That's all off the top of my head. There's a great deal of room for improvement, but they weren't so bad overall.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


While I like a fair number of Rachel Ray's recipes, I do not like her little EVOO and other cutesy words/phrases....but for some reason, I just had to call this one "yumm-o."

And here's why...

Even if not all of these appeal to you, Mark Bittman has once again put together a great list of picnic type foods. At first glance, I'd be up for making most of them, but probably not exactly as he has them. But that's sort of the point, isn't it? As long as it inspires you, what difference does it make. I'd say unless you're trying to win a Mark Bittman cook-alike contest, or if he happens to be attending your picnic, it really shouldn't matter.

Happy grilling!

the flogging blues

My secret has been revealed. I was thinking that by storing up flogs (food+blog=flog) I could beat the curse of falling behind in my 3x flogs/week. The problem is, they apparently show up listed as the day I created them, even if I actually post them three days later. So now I'm thinking that I have to keep my flogs in a Word doc and just copy and paste periodically. What a bummer.

Anyway, upcoming flog topics:
- the Ithaca Farmer's Market
- my small but bizarre cookbook collection
- last Thanksgiving and the great fire of 07
- where do you draw the line?
- my new Costco membership and my inability to shop sparingly

By the way, if anyone knows how to change this date problem, lemme know...that'd be dandy.

Much love and quiches.....

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Struggling meal to meal

For some reason, when I go on vacation or I have friends/family in town, I plan the meals first and fit all the other things around it.

Take my trip to Paris with my mother and sister back in June 2006. We had some touristy things we wanted to do (my sister hadn't been there in a decade), but let's be honest - the food was really all we HAD to experience. There was a restaurant that only served souffles (more expensive than we would normally have gone, but how often do you have a three course meal solely in souffle form?). There was the ubiquitous sidewalk cafe where we got our croque monsieurs, goat cheese salads, coffees, and carafes of red wine.

There was the crepes place we had to visit in order to subdue my sisters crepe-obsessed cravings. There was also the charming Italian restaurant across the street from our hotel. Sort of funny that we chose an Italian restaurant, but it was literally 10 yards from our hotel front door. Our waiter there was adorable (we went back a second time) and spoke Italian with my sister. He also sang for us and sort of "convinced" us to buy his CD, but it was charming all the same.

But the best food experiences, in my opinion, were the trips we took to the local grocery store or markets and the lovely fresh ingredients we consumed on benches in the park. The cherries were unbelievable and made a convert of me. The baguettes were as crispy and tender as you might imagine. And it was so difficult to restrain ourselves with the cheeses we got from the frommagerie.

God, those cherries were good. I had never really been a fan of cherries before that trip.
But this brings me to what will be my next topic - farmer's markets. The one we had up in Ithaca was fantastic. There are multiple ones here in Austin, and I usually hit up the closest one every Saturday morning. More on that later.

Food on TV

For the majority of my life, I have watched too much television. I'm not completely sure how it came to this, but some have suggested that it was because I was limited to one hour per week for a few years of my childhood. Either way, I agree - I spend too much time in front of the television.

My television watching, however, has evolved from constant sit-coms and dramas (my TiVo is still full of Seinfeld at any given moment) to more "educational" shows - like food-related programming. Depending on the season, I watch:
  • Top Chef (Tom needs to learn how to use his knife and fork properly, but it doesn't dampen my viewing experience)
  • The Next Food Network Star
  • Hell's Kitchen (Chef Ramsay is terribly rude, but remarkably delightful)
  • Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (sorta makes me never want to eat outside of my house again)
  • A Cook's Tour (Tony Bourdain is a god)
  • No Reservations (ditto)
  • Martha (yes, I still love her)
  • America's Test Kitchen (I love Christopher Kimball's geeky New England persona)
  • Everyday Food
  • Nigella Lawson's new show (Express?)
  • Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger
  • Iron Chef America (Who doesn't love Alton Brown's wry sense of humor?)
  • Good Eats (ditto)

I'm sure I'm missing some, but it doesn't end with the TV. I love watching Mark Bittman's videos on the NY Times website (see the links to the right). Sometimes during lunch (for which I never leave my desk), I sit there munching on whatever I've brought in or gone to pick up and I watch him effortlessly create something as involved as paella or something as simple as tomato soup. His humor, his irreverence, his just general down-to-earth-ness (like that?) makes it a great escape despite the fact that while I'm watching him my inbox is being flooded with emails marked "urgent" and "high priority."

I also very much love checking out the recipes on (I am biased, though, my brother-in-law runs the website). I love that they have joined in on the Facebook bandwagon. So now when a recipe excites me (which is hard to avoid), I can save it to my Epicurious recipe box and my friends on Facebook can view that inspiration for themselves. This almost implies that I cook some of these recipes. And, truthfully, that never really happens. This is the technological equivalent to my mother's big binders of recipes (that during one fateful visit home I tried to organize....I gave up and will likely not try again). I have a number of friends from various points in my life who also consider themselves foodies, and this type of technologies have made it possible for us to have a collective recipe box. How lucky can we be??

I must also make a shameless plug for the food blog of my college friend, Annemarie. My blog is more the pedestrian foodie blog. Hers is the blog to which I aspire. Let's be frank, while working 10-11 hour days, I'm not going to come home and make my own macaroons. I'm lucky if I don't hit up the fast food on the way home instead of heating up leftovers. But I drool almost every single time I read her blog. Her savory and detailed pictures of "pre" and "post" make my stomach growl, no matter how much Taco Bell I might have had that night. Her descriptions are so detailed and so well-written that it makes me believe that I too could attempt such grand dishes and meals. She tells stories of London dinner parties, great cheese discoveries, and her herb and vegetable garden....all things I dream of (yes, I dream of great cheese discoveries). In any event, the link is to the right - it's the Nectar and Ambrosia blog and it is most definitely worth the read.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I have made a pact with myself, much like the almost annual pacts I would make about keeping a daily journal - I have vowed to post 3 times each week. That's less than 50% of the days, so surely I can have the discipline to even just post what I ate...if it's's fair game.

And with that, I'm signing off to go back to the one thing that might just keep me from flogging (get it - food blogging?) - Rock Band. I love hitting those drums. :-)

Mayonnaise is not as good as hollandaise

Growing up, my sister and I had this book called From Bach to Verse. It took the famous hooks from classical pieces and added words to them. (This is a unsolicited plug for the book. I don't know if it's even in print any more, but it's brilliant.) For instance the chorus of Beethoven's 9th had the following words: "Sigmund Freud never hoid a concert due to chronic slouch. All his ritzy, somewhat schitzy patients tied him to his couch."

I don't know exactly what year it was (the book came out when I was 7, so I don't think it was too far after that), but my mother, sister and I were sitting at the piano in the living room plinking out the songs on the piano while singing the words. My father, who was sitting in the kitchen (probably eating a clandestine bowl of ice cream), would then yell out the name of the piece and the composer. As an avid classical music fan, my father found this exercise exceedingly simple, but he outdid himself with one piece. My sister, who would have been 4-5 years old at the time asked my mother spelling out the word, "what is M-A-Y-O-N-N-A-I-S-E?" Without hearing any other words in the phrase or even the tune, my father yelled out, "Chopin!" Unbelievable. He was, in fact, correct - the piece was Chopin's Polonaises. The "lyrics" are, "Mayonnaise is not as good as hollandaise. Hollandaise is inferior to sauce bernaise." Genius.

Today I made my own mayonnaise. I've been a sous-chef on this endeavor before when my ex periodically made his own, but this was the first time I've tried it on my own. I originally intended to use my blender or Cuisinart (as those are the ways he did it), but when I went digging into my cabinet to see which one I could grab first, I remembered my immersion blender. I decided that would be my implement of choice. I feel fairly certain that pretty much every single cookbook I have has a mayonnaise recipe, but I chose to go with my cooking class cookbook - it's a great reference for everything from basics like mayonnaise to ridiculous recipes (involving ingredients I've never seen in person) I will never attempt. The book is On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals by Labensky and Hause. It's super thorough and is usually my first stop. (I think in a future post I'll list the cookbooks I have. It's a motley crew.)

Anyway, I only had two eggs in my fridge (alas, the last of my farm fresh eggs), so I needed to halve the recipe. I had to decide between regular ground mustard and Coleman's mustard and ended up going with the former. I think next time I'll put some Coleman's in there - maybe it will give it a bit more personality. And that's what the finished product really missed overall...personality. I suppose I could have done the math wrong (which, as a former math teacher would be just shy of tragic), but it sure seemed like there wasn't enough vinegar in the recipe. It said to add lemon juice to taste, which I did. But at a certain point (always taste throughout the process!) it got too lemony, so I ended up also adding more vinegar instead of more lemon juice to it to balance out the immense amount of oil and to loosen it up a bit. I think in retrospect I'll also add a bit more salt the next time around.

What are my plans for the mayo you might ask? Well, I bought some grapes, some apples, and some canned turkey (yes, canned turkey) at Costco a week ago. I think I might see if I have walnuts and make some sort of Waldorf salad. I'll definitely have to thin the may with something, so I'll need to do some experimentation. I either need to get some big crispy lettuce leaves (Bibb or Butter, perhaps) or a tasty little roll on which to serve the outcome. I might also need to replace the walnuts with pecans, but I'll need to taste that and see if it works. I love pecans, but they're definitely different from walnuts.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A schmear in the land of steer

This Sunday afternoon I decided to treat myself to a proper NYC bagel. My 32nd birthday is coming up and I’m feeling a bit homesick. I kept seeing advertisements online for “Manny Hattan’s New York Delicatessen, and I decided I needed to go and evaluate it. First check in the “con” column is that it’s up at the Gateway Marketplace – miles North of where I live. But if it’s good, that con can be overlooked easily. Second con, within the Gateway Marketplace, it’s sort of hard to determine where this place actually is, and the parking immediately around it is limited. Okay, so that’s two cons. A half con is that I wasn’t greeted promptly by a waiter upon being seated. This isn’t a biggie, but if it had gone on much longer than it had, I’d probably have been a bit cranky. The prospect of a bagel keeps me elevated. And the last con, which I guess should only qualify for a half con, is all the signage around the place. It’s hilarious to me that a deli (Deli is generous, by New York standards) in North Austin has signs saying “Home of the World Famous Reuben” as if it were invented here. I will say, though, that while the “Featuring Grandma’s Homemade Matzah Ball Soup” sign entertained me because now I’m intrigued enough to get a pint of it (or however they sell it) to take home and inspect. (For the record, I have never seen it spelled with an “a” – in my Brooklyn world I have only ever seen it spelled “Matzoh.”)

So what did I order, you might ask? They had a “Hudson Special” (again, chuckle-inducing name) where you could get two different smoked/cured fish with your bagel. I chose to have the ever-popular toasted everything bagel with cream cheese, whitefish salad, and lox. Let’s just hope they don’t put the whitefish salad on top of the cream cheese. That would be tragic. I also ordered a coffee, which has proven to be just the kind I like (with my little creamer and two packets of even more fake blue sweetener). They also provide you with a stainless steel bowl of two dill pickles and some kraut. That’s a definite check in the “pro column” as we all know how much I love pickles.

The plate arrives with a lightly toasted everything bagel (I like them lightly toasted, so that works for me) with nothing on it, a decent-sized scoop of whitefish, a little individually packed tub of name-brand cream cheese (slight minus), some tomato slices, and about four pieces of lox with some capers scattered on top. My one gripe is that the seasonings on the bagel were only on the top. But I suppose I can’t find that as a fault of this place – after all, they’re H&H bagels. So far so good. Now to eat.

The first half was exquisite. I don’t know if these really are H&H bagels (though I’m not sure how they could market them that way if they weren’t), but they are the perfect consistency. The cream cheese, was, well, supermarket cream cheese, but that’s all you need when you’re putting lox on top. And the lox was sort of thick, but not too bad. I’m really just looking for things to complain about at this point. I’ve never been a caper fan, so they remain on the plate. But if the second half of this bagel with whitefish salad is as good as the first half, I might have to make this a bi-monthly trip. (I can’t afford it on a monthly basis. Sodas here are around $2.50. So is the coffee, if you can believe it. I haven’t determined if there are free refills for either yet.)

The whitefish is more fragrant than flavorful. It’s not bad, but it’s not like La Bagel Delight around the corner from my house in Brooklyn. I tried it with the bagel, not so great. I tried it with the bagel and tomatoes. No improvement. I tried it with just tomatoes. Ditto. I even tried it on its own in order to give it a fair chance. It’s not that it’s bad, but something about the seasoning is off. I just doesn’t have the personality as the whitefish salad of my youth. Next time around, instead of getting a half order of both fishes, I’m definitely going with the full order of lox, and they had better include a second tub of Pennsylvania City cream cheese, because one of those tubs is really only enough for a generous schmear on one half of a bagel.

All in all, the bill came out to around $16.50. I know lox and whitefish salad are pricier items in the city as well, but c’mon….this is pretty crazy. I’m just trying to remind myself that this was an experiment in finding a decent bagel in Austin. And on that front, it was a raving success. But like I said, including a tip we’re talking $20 and that certainly isn’t something that I can afford with any regularity.

To eat or not to eat

The theme of this blog keeps changing....but I think I've finally stumbled on a good topic - food. At the most basic of levels, food sustains. But when it's really great, food also entertains. Preparing it or enjoying it, both can be hobbies, and as it turns out, they're my hobbies. Weekends are when I do the majority of my cooking (I'm normally too exhausted during the week to do any significant cooking), but even when not really cooking anything new, I try to be creative. For me, drinks fall under the broad interests of the foodie, so I'll be writing about that a bit too. And as a quick disclaimer, by foodie I don't mean I eat cornish game hen with parsnip puree and quince chutney (or whatever)...I mean I enjoy food in most (all?) of its iterations. So don't be surprised if some store-bought breadcrumbs and canned tuna make appearances. That's just how I do things.