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.....