Thursday, December 2, 2010

Flavor trapped in amber

One of the common questions that gets posed to foodies across the social media-verse from time to time is, What are your staple food items? What do you always keep on hand in your kitchen?

The answers include a lot of the familiar items like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, various spices, stocks, produce, etc.
Of course we wouldn't be foodies if many of us didn't try distinguish ourselves with less typical responses. Cubes of frozen demi-glaze, jars of duck fat, truffle salt, preserved lemons, chow chow are a few that come to mind.
In my case, I keep two squeeze bottles in easy reach of my stove. One of them contains olive oil (probably the number one answer) and the other contains apple cider reduction.

Mmmm, I love this stuff. Just a little bit adds sweetness and a nice pop of flavor to vegetables, meats, desserts ... so many things.
Try finishing a quick saute of zucchini & onions with a tablespoon of cider reduction or drizzle a little over a piece of pan seared salmon. It makes a great finishing glaze for pork or poultry. Use it to sweeten your breakfast oatmeal. I even like to put a touch into Earl Grey tea.

All of these require just a small amount of the reduction; that's why I keep it in a squeeze bottle. As the sugars and the flavor in the apple cider are concentrated, you want to be able to carefully portion it out in small amounts. A little goes a long way with this stuff.

The recipe is simple:
1 gallon of fresh apple cider
Use only the real, pressed apple cider. If it is kept on an unrefrigerated store shelf, don't use it.
If the ingredient list contains anything other than apples (or pears if you choose to make a pear cider reduction), don't use it.

Measure 2 ¼ cups of cider and place it in a 5 or 6 quart sauce pot. This is so you can see how much liquid should be left in the pot when it is done.
Pour the rest of the gallon of cider in the pot and place it over medium heat. Bring it to low boil & continue to cook until it reduces to 2 ¼ cups.
This is going to take a while, probably a couple hours and you'll need to keep an eye on it, especially as it gets closer to finishing. Don't try to rush it by turning the heat higher.
As the cider begins to get close to desired level of reduction, the bubbles will get smaller & the boil will look somewhat “foamy”. You'll need to reduce the heat slightly at this point so that it doesn't boil up or scorch.
Be careful, hot syrup is dangerous.

Once it is done, allow to cool to room temperature before putting it in a storage container. Ideally it should be the consistency of honey. If it is too runny, it can be reduced more. If it is too thick, it can be gently rewarmed and thinned down with a little more cider.

Like honey, cider reduction is shelf stable, although feel free to keep it in the fridge if you like.
I make a couple batches during the fall when fresh, local cider is available and even with as much as I use it, that's usually enough to last me most of the year.

I used it just recently when I made a pumpkin pasilla bisque topped with caramelized pears & cider reduction.

2 pasilla peppers, sliced (leave in seed & sponge to your taste, that's where most of the heat of the peppers lives)
½ small onion, sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
1 sugar pie pumpkin, peeled, seeded & diced
1 quart good quality chicken stock or broth
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons crushed schezuan peppercorns (or ground black pepper )
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon cider reduction
½ cup heavy cream

Saute the peppers and onions in the butter until soft. Add the remaining ingredients except for the cream and simmer until pumpkin is soft. Remove from heat.
Add in heavy cream & puree in blender. Be careful pureeing hot liquid; do it in small batches and then strain.

1 ripe pear, peeled and diced small
cider reduction, to taste

Quickly saute the pear in a very hot pan until it begins to darken in color.

Top the soup with a spoonful of pears and drizzle lightly with cider reduction.

Note: If you are feeling ambitious, a bit of shredded duck confit makes an excellent addition to toppings for this soup.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Gluten Free Holiday Treat

Shauna, the Gluten Free Girl herself, set up her own holiday gluten free challenge in an attempt to help those with gluten intolerance find options for their holiday meals.
Even though my contribution here is outside my normal vein, not exactly gentle in the calorie department, it's almost Thanksgiving and I can't resist tossing a decadent treat in the mix.

When it comes to feeding my clients who need to keep a gluten free diet, I more often than not go with items that are naturally gluten-less rather than go down the substitute ingredient road.

One of my favorite flour free pastries is a dacquoise: layers of almond or hazelnut meringue usually layered with ganache & chocolate buttercream.
For the holiday I chose to make a pumpkin version with candied cranberries on top to add a tart, acidic counter point to the pumpkin's rich creaminess.

Dacquoise aren't really hard to make but there are a lot of steps involved. Also, they don't have the shelf life of a regular cake. You want to eat them relatively quickly, within a day or two.
That's why I don't make them all too often. For a holiday however, when you are feeding a crew of family & friends, they are a nice, decadent treat.

Pumpkin Dacquoise with Candied Cranberries

almond meal (or ground almonds) 1 cup
granulated sugar ½ cup
egg whites 10 (about 1 ½ cups)
cream of tartar 1 tsp
superfine sugar 2 cup
vanilla extract 2 tsp

Toast almond meal in 350 degree oven until golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool slightly, 3 – 4 minutes.
Stir nuts & ½ cup granulated sugar together & set aside.
Reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees.
Whip egg whites & cream of tartar in mixer on med-high speed until soft peaks begin to form. Gradually add in superfine sugar and vanilla and continue to whip to stiff, glossy peaks.
Gently fold nut mixture into meringue.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using the bottom of a 10 inch spring form or cake pan as a guide, draw 4 circles in the paper. Using a piping bag with a wide, plain tip pipe out discs of meringue in a spiral fashion filling in the circles.
Bake meringue in oven at 225 degrees for 1 ½ hours, turn the oven off and continue to dry for another 1 ½ hours. Check to make sure they are completely dry.

Pumpkin Ganache

pumpkin puree 1 cup
heavy cream ½ cup
white chocolate 12 oz chopped
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
ground cloves ¼ tsp
ground ginger ¼ tsp
unsalted butter ¼ cup (½ stick) cut into small pieces

Heat pumpkin puree and cream over med-low heat in a heavy bottomed sauce pan until close to but not quite boiling. Be sure to keep stirring to make sure it doesn't scorch.
Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate until it is melted and blended in. Add in spices then stir in butter one piece at a time until smooth. Cover & refrigerate.

Pumpkin Butter Cream

unsalted butter 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) room temperature
pumpkin puree 1 cup
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
ground allspice ½ tsp
ground ginger ½ tsp
vanilla extract 1 ½ tsp
confectioners sugar 3 cups

Cream together butter, pumpkin and spices in mixer. Add in sugar one cup at a time and beat until smooth.

Candied Cranberries
fresh cranberries 4 oz
sugar 3/4 cup plus more for coating
water 3/4 cup
Bring water and sugar to a boil until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat & pour syrup over cranberries. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Drain cranberries and toss with sugar to coat. Lay berries out on a baking tray to dry for one hour.

Lay on meringue round on a flat plate or cake circle. Using a bag with a star tip pipe a ring of buttercream around the outer edge of the meringue. Then pipe a small rosette in the center of the circle the same height as the ring.
Note: I actually forgot that last little part when I made mine. That's why the tip of the the slice of cake sunk down a little when it was cut. The buttercream adds stability as well as richness.
Now spread a layer of ganache inside the buttercream ring.
Place the next meringue circle on top of the first layer and gently press down with light, even pressure being careful not to crack it. Although it's not the end of the world if you do.
Continue the same filling procedure for the next two layers.
Top the final meringue circle and garnish with candied cranberries & toasted sliced almonds.

I used almonds for this recipe but because, I had them on hand. Given my preference and a little less laziness, I'd go with hazelnuts. They have a touch more "woody" nature to their nutty flavor that I bet would lend itself well to this dish.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What do the healthy folks do...

Some time ago I posted a quote on my livejournal blog from Jeff Ainslie, "If you want to be a thin, healthy person then live lifestyle of a thin, healthy person; your body will follow suit".
I got a little heat for posting that quote because to some people, the phrase "lifestyle of a thin, healthy person" meant being able to eat anything you want and get away without exercising.
I have to say I never saw that reaction coming, probably because it didn't occur to me to think of a fit, healthy person's lifestyle as a life of french fries & leisure. And from being somewhat familiar with Mr. Ainslie's work I can assure you that he didn't mean the quote that way either.

Sure we all of know one or two of those people, the ones that seem to be able to live on cheeseburgers & sundaes, never hit the gym and still keep that waif-y figure. I don't have to tell you that that particular branch of the X-men is the exception not the rule. No one should follow their lifestyle, not even them.
Remember, thin does not necessarily equal fit or healthy. Can you say heroin chic?

So what is the lifestyle of a fit, healthy person? The basic answer of eating right & exercising we all know. However some more specific tips are always helpful.
Well our good friend Jeff Ainslie in his podcast he does with Russ Turley pointed out an article on Diet about those who have lost weight and managed to keep the weight off and why they were successful.

The article lays out a few practices and characteristics that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. They are worth checking out.

* They include regular physical activity for at least 30 minutes, four to five days a week.
* They stay focused on improving health
and energy, with weight loss being a nice accompaniment. Focusing on weight loss as the primary outcome, especially rapid weight loss, usually results in a decreased chance of long-term success.
* Their desire to lose weight and improve health is for themselves and not someone else.
* They replace fatty and sugary foods with more healthy substitutions like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and other high-fiber foods.
* They frequently monitor portion sizes and hunger -- this is important in today's world of "super-size" restaurant portions.
* They find ways to make fitness fun. For example, they join a hiking group, a soccer league, or take dance classes. They don't fear trying new activities.
* They eat at least three meals a day and even a few snacks in between and do not skip meals.
* They use problem solving strategies when old behaviors return to haunt them. They succeed at creating and re-assessing goals.
* They recognize that it is a continuous, life-long journey to pursue better health, not a temporary diet.
* They never give up on themselves and don't allow occasional slip-ups to end their progress.
* They accept that no "miracle" weight loss diet or pill exists, and that the time-tested principles of weight loss, while not always exciting, are the only ones that work permanently.
* They separate their body size from their self-worth. They recognize that their value is about a lot more than what they weigh. When their attitude shifts to self-acceptance at any size, weight loss and maintaining it becomes more natural, and much easier.
* They have developed passions, interests, and hobbies to help them focus on things other than food.
* They have found and developed creative ways to manage stress effectively.
* They have banned the words "never" and "always" from their health vocabulary. That is, everything in moderation. It's not realistic to say you'll never eat ice cream again or that you will always exercise every day. In short, they gave up perfection, but they remain focused without it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How can you resist a deli classic?

“Once your taste buds get set to reuben, it's not easy to switch them off.”
~ Adam Carolla

Oh brother, truer words were never spoken.
Maybe it comes from my east coast upbringing but just the thought of a good reuben sandwich stirs something primal in the part of me from which my hunger arises.
Some consider it the perfect sandwich and I would have trouble arguing that. A fine corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut, 1000 island & swiss cheese grilled & melted together on rye bread....
I do declare, is it getting warm in here?

I swear I could have a reuben for lunch 4 days a week and not even begin to tire of them. The problem with that of course is that the traditional reuben isn't exactly shy in the calorie department. This is one of those meals you need to keep as an occasional treat, especially if you are trying to trim away a few extra pounds, like I am now.

So I had a bit of a conundrum before me when one of my sales reps gifted me a beautiful chunk of navel pastrami the other day. As soon as I saw it my mind when back to the days when I lived an easy walk from Katz's Deli in New York City and my tastes buds were instantly set to reuben.
The problem was that this was the middle of the week and my plan now is to eat light on week nights and save the splurging for nights out.

I could have done an open face sandwich, that would have eliminated one slice of bread, tried to find low calorie dressing & fat free cheese …. None of that sounded fun to me though.
So I decided to try to come up with something that hit the same flavor notes as my beloved reuben but was more in keeping with the way I choose to eat most of the time.

Here is what I came up with.

Reuben Style Cabbage Rolls

I wasn't weighing & measuring when I made these, so I'm giving you a procedure rather than an exact recipe.

The meat:
as I said, I had pastrami to use but I've always preferred corned beef on my reubens. If I was buying meat for this & trying to keep it light I'd go with corned beef and a round cut rather than brisket. It's simply leaner. As it was, I trimmed off some of the larger sections of external fat.
I can hear my foodie friends groaning about that. Sorry guys but I have a purpose here and it wasn't like there wasn't plenty of fat on there to spare.
I sliced it up nice and thin, across the grain of course and them rough chopped it a little.

The veg: sauerkraut needs to happen, use your favorite kind, just make sure it is well drained. I picked up a head of napa cabbage & broke off several fat outer leaves and set them aside.

The sauce: I needed to avoid 1000 island of course, that's just a mayonnaise based source of fatty calories. The pickle component was easy to replace, I just picked up some nice kosher dills. I split them in half lengthwise and then sliced them thin at an angle.
As far as the tomato/acidic part of it I chose to use a sundried tomato pesto. I made a simple one with sundried tomatoes, garlic, basil, lemon juice, black pepper & a little olive oil pureed together.

The cheese: I considered forgoing the cheese altogether but realized that a little would add a nice pop of flavor without sending the calories through the roof. I choose some Jarlsberg instead of domestic swiss and cut sticks slightly less thick than a pencil out of it.

The procedure:
I heated a large saute pan up and seared the meat. The pastrami was fatty enough that I didn't need any added oil in the pan. I kept it moving and cooked it until a good amount of fat had cooked out and some of the pieces had gotten crispy. Then I removed it to a plate covered with paper towels and drained the excess fat out of the pan. (Yeah I know, “groan, groan”)

Next I tossed the sliced pickles into the hot pan that was still coated with the residual pastrami fat and cooked them until they started to brown and then added the sauerkraut and a little crushed caraway seed. Once the kraut had gotten some color I stirred in about a tablespoon of the sundried pesto.

I scooped the sauerkraut mixture into a bowl and then put the cabbage leaves in the pan along with ½ cup of water and covered it with a lid to let the cabbage steam. That only took a couple more minutes.
Then I had my components all cooked and I only dirtied up one pan. Now I just had to roll them.

I laid out two cabbage leaves overlapping, side by side for each roll. I smeared them with a little more of the sundried pesto. Then I spread some kraut mixture over the them, them some of the meat and finally one stick of cheese. I rolled them up and set them on a baking sheet.

I popped them into a 350 degree oven. Everything was still a little warm so they only took about 10 minutes to get piping hot inside. I served them over quinoa.

I won't claim that these were as sinfully exquisite as a deli style reuben sandwich (heck, what is?) but it was a delicious dinner that satisfied my very specific craving without sending my calorie average out of whack.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back from hiatus in time for a snack

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
- St. Francis de Sales

It's been a while since I posted here; just over five months in fact. I could go into a number of reasons that I've been so negligent: computer troubles, work issues, as much of my summer free time spent on the water as I could manage, etc. They are all just excuses though and those only get in the way.

I like to think that my time away from the blog wasn't totally wasted though. I did have time during the many hours I spent trying, and more often than not failing to catch salmon, to think about what I want to accomplish here and how I want to go about it. Hopefully that will show with future entries.

Right now, I figure my best approach is to handle this the same way I do if I fall off the exercise or proper eating wagon. I don't beat myself up too much, I simply get back on track & move forward.
So without further ado, let's talk about snacking.


There is phenomenon in catering I call “the crudite effect”. Simply stated it means that although many people don't usually crave raw vegetables, when they are presented in front of them those raw veggies become surprisingly popular. Of course caterers love the crudite effect because having the guests fill up on partially vegetables and not just the more costly hors d'oeuvres, is good business.

However the crudite effect can not only be used to help the bottom line, it can also be used to effect your bottom, and in a good way.
Snacking is a big issue some people struggle with when trying to cut those excess calories from their diets. A helpful solution is to keep some raw vegetables on hand. It can be whatever you like; carrot & celery sticks, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, radishes, whatever.
Sure, when those snack cravings hit it's probably for something else, usually something sweet or salty. However if you can get ahead of those strong cravings & have those veggies already in front of you, you can curb those urges before you reach for a Snickers bar or bag of Doritos.

If you think about it, I bet you know when you tend to get those cravings for a snack. Perhaps during work around 2 or 3 in the afternoon or in the evening while watching Law & Order? Try setting out a small dish of vegetables for yourself before you get the urge to eat something else. When it's in arms reach you're going to find yourself crunching on a radish before the need for sweet overtakes you.
Trust me, it works. :)

Of course the best option would be to buy some nice, organic vegetables preferably at your local farmer's market and cut them up for yourself but if you need something more convenient, there are plenty of pre-cut veggies available at just about every supermarket. Those are fine options.

However, as good as raw vegetables are for you, the is a caloric dark spectre hanging over the crudite effect, the dip issue.
Some people just refuse to snack on raw vegetables unless they have something to dunk them into and one of those fatty, mayonnaise-y, high caloric condiments can quickly turn your healthy vegetable snack into something every bit as fattening a serving of chocolate pudding.

It's OK, if you need some dip to go with your raw veggies then all you need to do is choose which dip carefully and of course, don't over portion.
There are plenty of fine options for healthy dips, here is one that has been a favorite of mine recently.

Roasted Carrot & Harissa Dip

Roasted Carrot & Harissa Dip

2 lbs carrots, peeled & cut into chunks *
1 tbs light olive or canola oil
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 tsp harissa**
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil***
2 tsp sherry vinegar
3 – 4 garlic cloves
salt & pepper – to taste
1 – 2 tbs chopped cilantro : optional

~Toss carrots in light oil & pepper and roast until tender. I did mine in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. That left them with a nice touch of color and perfectly soft.
~Allow carrots to cool to room temperature & puree in food processor or blender along with harissa, olive oil, vinegar & garlic. Note: you may need to add a little water to get the mixture to puree smoothly.
~Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper and stir in cilantro if desired.

Certainly this recipe is great with crackers and flat breads but I encourage you to enjoy it with vegetables. Some of my personal favorites to have with this dip are cucumbers slices, sticks of jicama and split cherry tomatoes. It's even really good with apple slices.

* Use organic or “fresh from the farm” if possible. Carrots are near the top of my list of vegetables that have a huge flavor difference between organic & the typical supermarket variety.

**I pride myself on not being an extra virgin olive oil snob but this is one of those recipes that really benefits from using a high quality EVOO.

***I used Mustapha's Moroccan Harissa for this recipe. I bought it from The Spanish Table but it can also be ordered from

Finally, keep in mind that this is a dip not an entree. There is a good amount of olive oil in this which is good for you in moderation but you don't want to eat a soup cup full of this in one sitting. Remember to keep the raw vegetables as the bulk of the snack and limit the dip to a condiment portion size.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Red Velvet Pancakes

I first heard of these from The Kitchy Kitchen Blog. What a great and simple idea, buttermilk pancakes with a light cocoa flavor and that flashy crimson eye appeal.

I could have just tried the recipe off her blog or grabbed one from elsewhere and tried that. However I opted to do that thing I do, take the idea and make my own version of the dish. After trying the food and considering what it may need, how it could be improved and generally tweaking the formula, I'll then look at other recipes and see how they differ.
Sometimes I like my own recipe better, sometimes I like the other. I usually end up with some sort of hybrid.

Of course I'm often looking for ways to make the dish more lighter and more healthy. Odd as it may sound, this luscious disks of flour & sugar are prime candidates for just such a skinny make-over.
First things first though, I had to make an initial test batch or, as called it this morning, breakfast.

I'll put this initial test batch in the category pretty good. Nice flavor & balance of sweetness but they could stand to be a touch lighter. I believe I went too easy on the baking soda and perhaps a teaspoon too light on cocoa powder as well. I included a touch of lemon zest was a nice touch although next time I may try orange just too see what that is like.
Something about the color of wasn't sitting well with me; a little too pink so I'll have to address that next time.
Oh and that chicken basil sausage I had as a side, delicious.

I just want to repeat, this was my breakfast not just a photo shoot prop. I took time out of enjoying it to take pictures.
I may not have mastery of the craft but at least I have some small level of dedication to it. Smiles

Monday, April 26, 2010

Doing it by the book

My newest mini resolution is to cook one recipe from a cook book each week.

I usually cook from the hip, as it were; putting together what sounds good to me from what I have available at the time.
Oh I love cookbooks, I enjoy reading through them but I tend to take ideas for dishes from them but prepare them in my own way.

For these I want to follow the recipe as written: well, mostly anyway. I can't help but tweak a little.

Last week I made Momofuku pork buns. They were fun to make and came out delicious.
I was having so much fun in fact that I never bothered to pull out my camera.

Tonight I made Molly Stevens Soy Braised Chicken Thighs.

I stayed pretty close to the book on this one although I did add carrots to the braise & served them with a cous cous.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sweet Respite

Those who know me are aware that the past few months have been ungodly hectic for me. I don't care to get into details here. Suffice to say that being a small business owner can be demanding.

One of the things I've been missing is cooking at home, cooking for pleasure. The hours I've been keeping have left me far too few opportunities to play in my home kitchen, so when I did get some "me" time I wanted to indulge.

Some weeks back I had a few hours free one evening and I decided I was in the mood for something sweet.

In keeping with the theme of the blog, I should mention my policy on desserts.
You should make your desserts at home when possible and try to never eat store bought sweets from a cellophane wrapper. Also, desserts are a treat they should be enjoyed as such, don't make a daily habit of them.

So, it was treat time for me and I decided to try something from what is quickly becoming one of my favorite recipe sources, Lorna Yee's Cookbook Chronicles blog.
I'm a sucker for a good coconut dessert so I had to try her Triple Layer Coconut Custard Cake.

Lorna Yee's Coconut Custard Cake

This is definitely a keeper recipe. It had a rich coconut flavor and a nice, light balance of sweetness. This cake didn't even hint at needing ice cream to prop it up.

One of the things that's nice about this recipe is that it gives you plenty of custard filling and frosting. Too many recipes seem to give you just barely enough frosting and/or filling to assemble the cake. As you can see, this give you plenty of custard to fill between the layers and enough frosting to give the cake a "healthy" coating.

The only change I'll make next time is raising the bake temperature.
A 325 degree bake on my home oven wasn't quite hot enough, next time I'll try 350 on convection setting.
I'm also considering cutting back a little on the cornstarch in the custard and adding a couple egg yolks.
It's not that I think it needs it, I'm just curious how that will effect the product. I enjoying playing with my food and I can't help tweaking recipes sometimes, even when they work.

Coconut Cake Slice

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Not your grandmother's porridge

Just about everyone knows that a big part of eating properly is to start your day with a healthy breakfast. None the less it's still the meal that people seem to struggle with more than any other.

Hey, we're all busy.
For me mornings are usually about hitting the snooze button one or two too many times, rushing to get ready for work while answering phone calls & questions from my opening crew, purveyors & clients. Taking time out, even if it's only five minutes, to prepare breakfast just doesn't fit in to my typical morning "schedule".
Of course as I'm out buying food & supplies on my way into the kitchen I find myself wanting something to eat.

I'm one of those people for whom the mornings are when I crave something sweet the most. In the days when I used to work in hotels, the aroma wafting off the racks of fresh baked breakfast pastries coming up from the bakeshop would call to me like a siren's song. These days the temptations usually take the form of grab & go coffee shop pastries.

They are quick, convenient and seem to fill the void. However after a night's sleep and usually too much of a delay before eating at all, a bunch of empty calories, sugar & simple carbs is exactly what you do not want to eat.

What you need is solid food with a good, complex fibrous carbohydrate like ... OATMEAL!

Yeah I know, "Oatmeal? Yuck."
To be fair though, have you seen the way most people cook oatmeal? Boiling it in just water or milk and maybe topping it with a little sugar: bor-ing.
How many other grains do you tend to eat that plainly? How often do you sit down to a meal of just plain boiled white rice?

Oatmeal is so good for you though and gives you good, long burning source of energy to get your day going. Can't get yourself started with out that triple grande latte? Try switching to oatmeal for a week. Find yourself running out of gas by late afternoon? Fill your tank with some oatmeal in the morning and see what kind of mileage you get out of your body.

There are a lot of different ways I like to prepare my oatmeal to make a breakfast I really enjoy. A simple tricks is cooking it in apple juice instead of water with a touch of cinnamon and some fruit like diced apple & dried cranberries. Just be sure you use an good, natural, unsweetened apple juice rather than some sugary crap.
Of course I highly recommend adding a source of lean protein into your breakfast as well. Hard boiled eggs are a favorite accompaniment of mine.

As tasty as the apple juice trick is, I often like to jazz up my oatmeal a bit more. Let me show you one of my favorites. It's tasty, healthy, satisfies my need for sweet in morning and made ahead of time it's convenient enough to fit into my hectic mornings.

Chocolate Cherry Banana Oatmeal

Makes 3 to 5 servings

1 1/2 cups Regular Rolled Oats Don't use quick oats.
3 cups water
2 ripe bananas, sliced
1/3 cup dried tart cherries I like the Dried Monterey Cherries they sell at Trader Joes
6 scoops Chocolate whey protein powder This is where it gets a little tricky. All protein powders are not created equal, in fact they are all very different in flavor as well as quality. For this recipe I used 6 scoops (1 1/4 cups) EAS brand. It's sold commonly in a lot of stores from Walgreens to Costco. GNC's "100% Whey" brand is also a good choice.

Combine the oats, water, bananas & cherries in a medium sauce pot.
Put it over medium heat and bring to simmer stirring occasionally.
I like to mash some of the bananas while I'm stirring.
Continue to simmer for 4 to 5 minutes until thick & creamy.
Many recipes tell you to add the oats to boiling liquid but starting it cold & bringing it to a gentle simmer produces a smoother, creamier result.
Remove from heat and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
Stir in protein powder.

I like to do all this in the evening or on the weekend when I have time and then immediately divide into microwaveable containers that can be quickly zapped for a fast breakfast.

It's pretty rich and dividing this recipe into five gives you one cup portions that make a decent breakfast: 250 calories, 20 grams of protein, 40 grams of healthy carbs.

If you are particularly active & need a bigger boast in the morning if can be divided into 4 or even three portions.
At three portions it breaks down to 413 calories, 34 grams of protein & 69 grams of carbs. If you are working out regularly, that's a good choice for your morning meal.

I'm never going to claim that chocolate protein powder is as delicious as actual chocolate but with the added richness and sweetness of the fruit, this makes a very enjoyable morning meal.

Ten minutes of cooking yesterday and I have breakfast all set for the next few days and I'm ready to face the week.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Digs

I'm about to move my business to a new kitchen facility. Like any move I'm excited about the change but dreading the process. The next two weeks should be rather interesting for me.

I've been in my current kitchen since I started my business, 4 1/2 years ago. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for that space but it has become increasing troublesome in recent months. It's time to move on.

The new place lacks some of the equipment the other kitchen has but it offers plenty of perks that more than make up for it. It has more space, a better layout and an office. Hallelujah!
My days of doing paperwork at my personal version of the Thanksgiving kids table are nearly over.

Here are a couple quick shots of what it looks like at the moment.



As you can see, I've hardly moved anything in yet and that coffee service stuff off to one side is something the former tenant's that they have yet to take out.

Can I get my company moved and settled in two weeks? We'll find out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taste of the Irish

How does an Irish American Chef cook his corned beef for St. Patrick's day?

Sure boiling it, as most people do, is fine but I like to put a little more pop into my corned beef.
My preference is to sear it and braise it with beer.

I cooked off 80 lbs for the holiday. This is one of the three big roasting pans that I used for them. I used my iPhone to take these pictures so apologies if the photo quality is not very good.

As you can see they have a good sear on them and a liberal sprinkling of pickling spice. What you can't see is that they are sitting on a bed of chopped onions and whole peeled garlic cloves.
Into that pot I poured two bottles of Red Hook Copper Ale and about a quart of tomato rich demi-glace. Then I covered it with foil and cooked in a low oven for six hours.

The result was fall apart tender corned beef that not only had the usual perfume-y saltiness but also had a rich, roasted caramel quality that was too delicious to hide with mustard.

Here is a where I cut of a few tasting slices just after it came out of the oven.

If I was doing it at home I would have added cabbage, carrots & potatoes to the pot for the last hour of the braise to allow all the flavors to blend. Working in professional quantities like I did, that wasn't practical.

The saddest part is that I didn't have leftovers as I was hoping to take home and enjoy. Those pesky customers ate it all up on me.
Oh well, I may have to make this again sometime soon just for my own pleasure.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Off I go

After a bit more delay than I had intended I've started the P90X program.

Right now I'm two days in and frankly, I'm sore.
This morning I did the Plyometrics workout, which is a jumping style of cardio. I hope my downstairs neighbors aren't too mad at me for that.
My legs are really feeling the effects this evening from the morning's workout. I wonder how stiff I'm going to be when I wake up tomorrow.
The first day's workout, chest & back, hasn't left me as sore. That's probably because this is closer to a style of exercise that my body is used to.

One of my first impressions is that, had I only been watching these exercise routines rather than actually doing them I'd think they were far easier than they actually are.
Push ups and pull ups seem so much easier than lifting heavy weights to the observer and jumping up & down in various ways in 30 second spurts doesn't look like lung heaving cardio but this system has me feeling worn out in the first ten minutes of the hour long sessions.

Sticking to the schedule is going to be tricky for me. I've lost my two lead cooks at work & I'm still working or hiring and training their replacements. While that is happening I'm about to move my business from the kitchen I've had since since I started, to a new facility.
In addition I have some non-work thing to take care of as well. All work and no play is not my idea of a healthy lifestyle.
I have a few interesting weeks ahead of me. However I'm going to make my best effort to stick to the P90X program in the midst of everything else.
If I'm really good I may even find time to do some cooking at home and hopefully work on my photography.

Let's see how I do with all this.

Speaking of food & photography, prevailing wisdom in the blogging world is that photos make your posts more interesting.
So turning away from the exercise topic, last weekend was Mobile Chowdown 3 here in Seattle. Below are a few pictures showing a couple of the dishes from the Marination Mobile folks: their wonderful tacos, spam sliders and the delightfully pleasant smile with which your food is served.
If you haven't tried their fare you are missing out.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Worth much more than 1000 Words

I've been reading the literature for the P90X workout program and learning what they want you to do before you begin working with the DVDs.
There's a basic fitness level test that they want you to take and pass before you start the program. It's nothing outlandish, 3 pull-ups for men, 1 for women, 15 push-ups for men, 3 regular or 15 from the knees for women, etc. There are other tests for strength, flexibility and the like.
It also gives you a place to write down your results so you can chart your progress from before you start the workout routines and then again after 90 days is over.

They also want you to take a photographs of yourself once before you start, again at 30 days, 60 days and finally after 90 days when you've completed the program. You're supposed to take a front view, shirt off picture (or with a sports bra on if you're a woman) with your hands on your hips, another with your arms raised to the side and curled in bicep flexes, two back shots just like the front views and one picture with a side view.
Don't worry I'll spare you posting them here, at least for now.

That got me thinking about how hard that can be, taking body shots of yourself especially when you feel like you're out of shape. I consider myself to be in decent shape and the idea still makes me a little uncomfortable.
That may sound odd to friends of mine who have known me to be, well, not exactly body shy but there's just something especially nerve wracking about having photos taken specifically for evaluation purposes.
However, I've come to realize taking those dreaded "before" photos is a damned good idea and I won't make the mistake again of skipping this step.

I believe I've mentioned on here before that although for much of my life I was the tall lean type, there was a period of time in my mid/late 30s that I started getting heavy and I really put on quite a few pounds. While I never got to the point that one might think of me as a fat guy, I did get quite a gut, pronounced love handles and soft, flabby arms .

Back then I was relatively new to Seattle. I was living with my girlfriend of the time, I had a few work friends but aside from that I didn't have a very large social circle. Even the couple local folks I knew from before I moved to Seattle I had very limited contact with for a couple years. I didn't even travel back home to visit old friends and family for the first couple years I was in Seattle.
Time went by and I managed to shed those excess pounds. My old girlfriend and I have long since parted, I left that job ages ago and have lost contact with just about everyone I knew from there.
It wasn't until after I started getting myself in shape that I started going out more, being more social and I began to meet the people that have become the wonderful circle of friends I now have. I've also since began traveling back east at least once a year to visit old friends.

The point of this long-winded piece of personal history is that when I tell friends I have now that I used to be heavy or at the very least, heavier, I sometimes get remarks to the effect of that's hard for me to picture, if not outright smirks of disbelief.
Last summer a couple of old friends came through Seattle to visit and the two of them went out to dinner with my girlfriend and me. Unprompted by me one of them pointed out to my girlfriend “you wouldn't know this to look at him now but Patrick got got fat there for a while”. The look on my girl's face, I could swear, was a look of Really? I always thought you were full of shit about that.
Of course I would never have to worry about any of these looks of disbelief if I only had some photographs of myself from back then.

There are a few different things that finally woke me up and got me motivated to change my diet and live a more active lifestyle. One that stands out very clearly in my mind is a snapshot my old girlfriend took of me back then. I was sitting on the couch watching TV and believe and I wasn't aware she was taking the picture at the time.
I remember when I first saw that photo, it was almost like I couldn't believe that was me; my stomach was hanging well over where my belt would've been, my arms looked bigger than they ever had before but not in a good way and my face looked puffy. However the thing that really struck me most about that photograph was that I just looked unhealthy.
Seeing myself look like that was startling and depressing.

It was quite a few years later when I went to go searching for photographic evidence of how heavy I had gotten, that I realized that I had no photographs of me from then. Even the photo I just described above I seem to have misplaced somewhere along the line. I swear I did not consciously get rid of that picture but some part of me obviously didn't want it around.

While I didn't have the interest in photography back then than I do now, I've always enjoyed taking pictures and I have photographs from just about every era of my life. During the time that I put on that extra weight though I apparently also put my camera in a drawer and forgot about it for while because I was taking no pictures back then. Again, I never consciously thought to myself that I wanted to avoid having my picture taken because I was out of shape. I think it must have just been some sort of an internal vanity self-preservation instinct that kept me from breaking out my camera.

Whatever it was, it's clear to me now that during that time I didn't want to be social, I dressed to hide my form and I clearly did not want to have my picture taken. I didn't even take pictures when I was joined a gym to mark my starting point. That was probably because I didn't have faith in myself that I stick to my plan and get myself in shape.

It's a shame because now I would really like to have photos of myself from back then. Certainly it might be a good thing to show on this blog. An image of how I looked at 35 compared to how I look at 45 might add a little bit of credibility to what I have to say.
For myself I wish I had pre-fitness pictures just to remind myself where I've been and what I can accomplish when I make the right choices.

So yes, before I start this P90X thing I'm going to take those photos. Even if I don't show them to anyone else, I'll have them for myself as either mementos of what I accomplished or reminders that I need to try harder next time.
None of us like the idea of being the “Before” picture but that is after all part of the process of becoming the “After”.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I'm really proud of Jamie Oliver

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Jamie from his Naked Chef books & TV show. Let's face it, the guy is simply very marketable as a celebrity chef. He's young, good looking and personable and his approach to cooking has kept with a consistent and accessible theme; keep it simple, fun & delicious.

What you may not know, is that he has also made healthy eating as a pet cause and has been active and effective in promoting it, especially in regards to children.
If you haven't watched his Eat to Save Your Life videos on You Tube I highly recommend taking 45 minutes out of your day to see it.

In 2005 he began a campaign to improve the meals in the British school system and now he has turned his attention to American school meals.

Of course, how do you bring an issue to the attention of the American people? You do it on TV. Take a look.

It premieres Friday March 26th on ABC and you can read more about it on his website.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lean is flavor too.

I've mentioned before the old kitchen mantra Fat is Flavor; I used to hear it, and say it, all the time.
You don't hear it so much anymore. I'm not exactly sure why; it may just being fading from use the way a lot of the old kitchen slang has. I especially miss calling people "shoemaker" if their cooking is not up to par. If I caution my cooks these day to not get "shoe-y" in their work, I have to back up and explain what I meant. Sad to see the traditional insults be lost to history.
But I digress.

I think part of the reason that Fat is Flavor isn't used as much anymore may have something to do with the growing popularity of leaner cuts of meat. Certainly there is still plenty of fat to be found on restaurant menus; the pork belly trend alone is clear evidence of that.
However, the active use of special flap cuts, shoulder "tender", flank & pork tenderloin to name just a few, have made it clear that there is plenty of flavor to be found in the lean cuts as well.

Today I grilled up about sixty pounds of one of my favorite lean cuts for a customer of mine; boneless lamb loin. Hardly a whisper of fat but with lots of that sweet, delicious lamb flavor. If you haven't tried this cut before I highly suggest making a stop at your local butcher and picking some up.

I grilled up the stuff for my client today as you can see.

Even though I'm still sticking to mostly softer foods I couldn't resist sneaking a few thin slices: delicious.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A bump in the road

The whole blogging thing to some extent is really an experiment for me. I'm trying to figure out if I have the talent to effectively share what I have learned and what I do in practical application each day via the written word.

One of the things I keep hearing as I try to learn more about the blogging process is that I need to "find my voice" and figure out who my audience is and to speak to them.
This all sounds very good and I'm certain is valuable and useful advice. I'm just not sure I fully understand it. I guess at this point I'm trying to find my voice and work out exactly what I want this blog to be. The food/fitness partnership is certainly a big part of it but I also want to include my photography as well. Plus I think it needs to be about me & my life to some extent. That is what any blog truly is, yes?

I want to share what I've experienced in the past, those things that have brought me to where I am today as well as certain things I have observed in working with others who are trying to find the balance of health, fitness and a happy, pleasureful life.

Of course I also need to talk about what's happening with me right now. After all living a healthy life is an ongoing process. It's nearly impossible to strike a perfect equilibrium with our bodies and our lives where we maintain a certain level of health without fluctuation. Our health is constantly in motion and are almost always either getting better or worse, more fit or less healthy, thinner or fatter. For most people this is a pendulum swinging back and forth and the real secret is to do as Scott Smith says "Be more gooder than badder".
It's okay to take that step backwards so long as you make sure to take those two steps forward as well.

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've hit one of those little bumps in the road that happens in all our lives. Nothing major mind you, but enough to throw me off my game as it were. I was thinking that I have nothing to write about because I wasn't working on anything positive that I should share. It occurs to me now that this is the kind of thing that should be shared as well. We all go off track and that should be every much a part of the blog as when I am scoring high on my diet, exercise and motivation points.

This current little bump in the road I've been facing is a dental matter of all things. It seems to have some sort of issue with my jaw in which I've lost bone in one area. Due to that my dentist told me that I had a few lower teeth that I was going to lose; it was only a matter of time. So after much discussion and second opinions it was decided that they were to removed these teeth preemptively before they became too painful and put in a bridge to replace them.
Well as these things tend to go the process hasn't been 100% smooth. Some 10 days after the initial procedure I'm still on pain medication and I still have trouble eating many foods. I don't need to tell you, this is gotten very old very quickly and I really want my mouth to get back in working order again.

The combination of being on constant medication and having a severely restricted diet has left me feeling weak, listless and completely without motivation.
While the reduced calories I've been able to take in have kept me from putting on excess fat, in fact I do believe I've lost some weight, my inability to take in a decent amount of animal protein combined with a lack of resistance training isn't doing much good for my muscle tone. Granted it's not much of a change, it has only been a couple weeks but I can feel the difference.
I miss the gym and I also know that having taken a break for this long starting back up again may require a bit of a push. I just hope that I can get off this medication soon because it's draining my strength and my will and that's not the way I like to live my life.

So what can I do before I doze off early on the couch? I can plan and I can prepare.

I've been thinking about doing some sort of change in my workout regimen. It's good to keep your body challenged by new activities and also I want to try different things just to see how my body reacts.
One of the workout programs has become very popular and I've heard some very good things about is Beach Body's P90X program. If you haven't heard about it or seen the infomercial it's a 90 day home workout program that uses only a pull-up bar, dumbbells (or resistance bands) and a workout mat along with DVDs of various exercises.

I am not a fan of fitness and weight loss products you buy off TV or anywhere else for that matter but from all reports this one does have some merit. If I'm going to keep myself abreast of fitness info and trends and be able to offer informed advice than I should at least investigate this a little bit myself.

So that's what I'm doing right now. Even if I don't feel up to working out at the moment I'm gathering info and planning my next step. I guess I'm trying to do is keep my head in the game and at the very least and keep some sort of momentum while I'm sitting still, if that makes any sense?

Everything I've read about P90X so far has made it seem relatively solid. So as it stands right now I'm thinking I may start this around the beginning of March. If that's what I end up doing I'll write about it here at all as you can keep me accountable.

Right now even though I may have pulled my car over to the side of the road, I still have my eyes focused further down the highway.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Boneless "short ribs"

I'm going to make this post brief because tonight is after all the season premiere of LOST. Also after tonight Dexter is slotted to be removed from On-Demand and I haven't seen the finale yet. So I have "work" to do tonight. ;-)

The flap meat or "boneless short ribs" were a success, of the sort anyway. They came out tender and delicious although I believe they could've been better. Partially because they were cooked in a crockpot rather than a true braise in the oven but as I said before I was nervous about leaving them unattended in the oven for so long while I was at work. The crockpot was simply a safer choice.

Also next time, along with adding some herbs and other seasonings, I will increase the amount of red wine and let it reduce a bit before adding the meat and I will also decrease the amount of stock I use. Then again, ideally I would make a reduction sauce from the cooking liquid after the meet was finished. I didn't do that this time. I was testing out the quality of the meat first and foremost this time around.

Still, it was a delicious dinner and I look forward to making it again, the right way that time. In fact I think I may cook up some of this for Super Bowl. I'm not sure yet but it's a notion I'm kicking around.
Here's an idea of what the meat looked like when it was done.

Okay, enough of this, time for me to get to "work".

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Local Flavor

Eating more organic, local, sustainable foods has been a steadily growing trend over recent years. This is a very good thing in my opinion, for a number of reasons. Those who are trying to eat more in this fashion do it for reasons of environmental concerns, health concerns, supporting local small farmers or to cut down excess energy consumption among many other reasons.

The one that I'd like to talk about now though is the flavor aspect that foods of this nature bring to the table, literally.

I personally believe that a contributing factor to our food having more fats, more sugars and more salt is that the base ingredients for a lot of the foods we eat have become less flavorful. Large-scale commercial farming quite simply gives us blander food. The same processes that make our vegetables less nutritious; practices such as replanting the same crop on the same land year after year, using chemical fertilizers that replace a fraction of the natural nutrients there should be in the soil, the speeding up of the growth cycle as well as picking fruits and vegetables before they are nearly ripened in order to make them transportable and storable not only deprives them of nutrients, it also deprives them of flavor.
If you doubt this it easily tested, simply go to a local farmers market and by an organic carrot and then go to your local supermarket and buy a commercially farmed one. Cut them both into sticks and taste them side-by-side. I think you'll be surprised by the difference in flavor and quality.

Commercial food producers are forced to add more salt, sweeteners and the like to their products in order to make up for the flavors their ingredients lack.

Simply put if you're eating local and organic you're eating better, you're eating healthier, you're supporting your community and you're supporting the planet. It's a win all around.
Plus, I really like the idea of shaking the hand that grows your food and your local farmers market is one of your best opportunities to do that.
Not everyone has access to year-round farmers markets but even if you don't, spring is coming and with it, for most of us, that means local produce. Here's a resolution you might want to try making for the coming year. As soon as your local farmers market is open resovle to make a shopping trip there at least once a week to stock up on whatever produce you can use. It's a habit you be glad you've gotten yourself into. Besides it's just so much cooler to get food from Rick the lettuce man, Jerry the vegetable guy, Bob the mushroom forager and Mary & Phil the apple growers rather than getting all that from Super-value Mart.

Okay, let's talk some cooking. I went to a local farmers market today, the Ballard market for those of you in Seattle, and picked up some lovely carrots, parsnips, onions, and garlic among other things.
One of my purveyors gave me a sample of flap meat, a cut becomes just above where the short ribs. Being a food service professional free samples like that are one of the perks you get sometimes.
Now a lot of Asian and Mexican places will take us cut and do a hot fast cook on it but I want to try cooking it slowly like I would short ribs. Now normally I would do that at about 200° for about 12 hours and if I was cooking is at work I would do that on a braising pan in the oven. However, I'm making these at home and plan on having for dinner tomorrow night with my lady friend. So I'm going to cook some in my crockpot. I just feel safer doing that than leaving my oven on unattended all day.
I prepped them up tonight and tomorrow when I get up Ill start them on low and by the time I get home from work they will hopefully be tender and delicious.
Since this is the first time I'm testing out this particular cut I'm going to keep the seasoning simple and let the meat and vegetables do the talking. So I just coated the four pieces of meat with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and seared them on all sides in a hot pan. Then took them out of the pan and placed them in the crockpot insert.

Here they are:

It may be hard to tell from the picture but I have a large crock pot and there's enough meat in that pot to easily feed eight or nine people. When it comes to cooking dinner at home that's kind of how I like to roll. When I go to the effort of making a good hearty meal I like having leftovers around to enjoy later in the week. After all, with all the cooking I do at work it's nice being able to come home at night and not have to worry about cooking there as well, at least not every night.

Anyway, getting back to it, while the meat was searing I was dicing up one large onion half dozen of those beautiful carrots and four small but very nice parsnips. I also peeled one whole bulb of garlic.
When the meat was out of the pan I kept the heat on high and I poured off the excess fat. Now I know that that fat is flavor but that little bit is really not needed. This meat has plenty of intramuscular fat, or marbling as it's also called, that will slowly cook out tomorrow the crockpot. I'll be able to skim that off but the meat will still retain a lot of that flavor:
& delicious. *wink*
I then added e onions to the pan and let them start the cook and get a little color to them. I like starting the onions first because I like them to be a little bit more caramelized than the other vegetables. That's just my personal taste.
As soon as they started getting some color I added in the carrots and parsnips and allowed them to start to caramelize as well. I waited until the end before putting the garlic because I wanted to be careful not to let that darken.
Here are the veggies in the pan when they were almost but not quite done getting the color I wanted:

As soon as the veggies got to the color I wanted added about 3 cups of red wine. Now I could've added fresh herbs or more spices but as I said before a want let the meat and veggies do the talking on this one. So I turned off the heat and used my wooden spoon to scrape along the bottom of the pan to free up all this delicious little cooked bits of meat and veggie that were stuck there. Then I poured all this over top of the meat and I'm then letting it cool right now a bit before putting it in the fridge.

Tomorrow morning I'll put the insert into the crock pot and turn on low and I'll add probably about a quart of beef stock. When I put the lid on I'll put it slightly ajar. A fully closed lid even on low with my crockpot could have the mixture coming up to a medium simmer and that's hotter than I want it to get. With the lid slightly ajar the excess it to be for the long, slow braise.

Tune in tomorrow and I'll let you know how it came out.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pyramid scheme

We've all heard of the food pyramid. Well check out this activity pyramid courtesy of the University of Missouri. It even has a food bar graph of sorts included for good measure.

Take a look at the web page here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Talking turkey

This is just a quick cautionary note about ground turkey and turkey burgers.
I saw an article some time ago in Men's Health magazine, the same people who put out the Eat This, Not That books, about how ground turkey is often no leaner than ground beef. By example Ruby Tuesday's turkey burger, without cheese mind you it is, according to them 1171 calories with 58 g of fat. That folks is a very unhealthy burger. That's significantly worse in fact the many fast food burgers.

I'm assuming many of you know this already but just to be clear, if you're buying ground turkey for yourself at home make sure you buy ground turkey breast. Ground turkey breast is a great source of lean protein but the other varieties of ground turkey while sometimes quite tasty, don't really give you the health benefits that most people are seeking when they buy ground turkey over say ground beef or ground pork.

The real caution to want to give you here though is be careful of ordering turkey burgers or other ground turkey items and restaurants. I use ground turkey breast a lot for my clients; not just for burgers but also for chili, stuffed peppers, enchiladas and taco salads just to name a few examples off the top of my head. Of course, I always buy ground turkey breast because after all, my clients are paying me to give them lower calorie, a more healthful options.

Yesterday however, by purveyors sent me the wrong product and I got just a normal restaurant case of ground turkey. I hadn't seen a product like this in quite a while and one of the first things that jumped at me was reading the label is not only was it not ground turkey breast but they actually added in fat.
That's right, they took the non-lean fattier pieces (well, scraps to be more accurate) of turkey and then added an extra turkey fat, 24% added fat in fact according to the label. Presumably that was done to stretch it so the meat company to get more money per pound.

The point is that this is the kind of product that most restaurants that are serving turkey burgers are selling. Not only is this not as healthful for you as beef they actually go out of their way to make it less healthy & more calorie dense.
So if you're out and you get a hankering for a burger, quite often you would be better off with good old-fashioned ground beef rather than the "healthier" option of a turkey burger.

Sad but I thought you should know.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Staying resolved

So everyone, how are those New Year's resolutions coming?
We are after all, coming up on the end of that first month. I am of course talking about those of you who have made resolutions to lose weight, shape up, or just live healthier.

This is the time each year that I see people giving in, giving up or just conveniently forgetting about the whole thing. Soon those excess crowds in the gym will start to significantly dwindle and the volume on the workout floor calms down to more normal levels.

It's hard isn't it? Having to deny yourself, avoid the good stuff and and constantly keep putting in the work. Especially when your goals seem so far away sometimes. It seems so long before you can stop all this and just start enjoying yourself again.

Then again, maybe that's the problem. If you're looking at this as a means to an end, if you're thinking that once you lose X amount of weight or get yourself down to a size what ever, then you can give up this diet crap and stop going to the gym, then you're setting yourself up for failure.
Worse yet, you may be setting yourself up for yo-yo dieting. You know, the practice of losing weight on some sort of a diet then gaining it back again then doing the diet or some other diet and losing it again so that your weight is going up and down repeatedly. Many health professionals consider this to be even less healthy than just being consistently overweight. I'm no doctor but at the very least it seems like a waste of effort me.

If you want to get healthy, I mean really get healthy, lose the weight you want to lose and keep it off then you're going to have to get beyond the idea of temporary solutions. To be a healthy person you need to adopt and embrace unhealthy lifestyle. This doesn't mean giving up forever things like pizza and beer and pasta Alfredo and chocolate cake or ice cream or any of the other things you may love to to indulge yourself with.

What it does mean is you're going to have to start living at a calorie deficit, a reasonable calorie deficit, until you get down to the weight you want to maintain. You're going to have to incorporate healthy food into your diet on a regular basis and you're going to have to move your body in order to burn calories and maintain your muscles and support a healthy cardiovascular system. Did you know that as you get older, past the age of 30, your body you will slowly but steadily lose muscle mass year after year unless you stimulate the growth of new muscle tissue through exercise. When you lose muscle mass your body with burns less calories and you are then able to eat less without gaining unwanted weight.

I know, none of this sounds like good news. However if you approach it reasonably and with a positive attitude you'll find that there is a lot and I mean a lot of really delicious food is good for you out there.
Also, there are plenty of ways to burn calories and exercise your body that can be extremely fun. It's all a matter of thinking about what you enjoy doing that active and get your body moving your muscles working and your heart pumping. Do enjoy cycling, hiking, playing volleyball, yard work or swimming? Perhaps there's some game or activity you haven't tried yet or used to enjoy years ago but hadn't done a long time. Fortunately now with the Internet it's easy to find activities and groups around us that might actually be quite fun as well as healthy.
Enjoy volleyball? Then Google volleyball and your town and see if there any groups around you can join. Want to start running but don't want to do it alone? Go to and look for running groups in your area. Actually, is a great resource for finding groups to help you with all aspects of losing weight, being more active and just getting healthy.

As far as the food part goes, There are tons of books available and recipes on the Internet for lower calorie but quite delicious food. And yes, as I work more on this blog and begin to flesh things out I will be giving you some strategies and tips to help you put together easy and tasty food that also just happens to be good for you; even if you "don't cook". You'll just have to ask you to be patient with me for now and keep in mind that this blog is sort of an experiment for me and I'm just figuring out how I want to do this.

For now, as we near the end of the first month of the new year, I would ask you to reframe in your mind but that resolution you made four short weeks ago. Instead of focusing on all the foods you are not allowing yourself to eat, at least not nearly as much, anymore; think in terms of the wonderful vegetables and fruits that you rarely eat that you want to start incorporating more regularly into your diet.
Instead of dreading having to force yourself to work out, start thinking about active things you can do that might actually be fun for you. After all, people often talk about wishing children would spend more time outside playing; maybe it's time you incorporated some more play in your life as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy New Year! Are you ready to take a bite out of 2010

“There's nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway.”
~Mark Burnett

I like this quote a lot. I just heard it the other day and it really struck a chord with me.
If you ever listen to the motivational speaker types you'll occasionally hear the term "limiting beliefs". I not a huge fan of self empowerment buzz terms but there really is something to this idea. We all have notions of what we are and are not capable of accomplishing.
Certainly some of these are just simple reality. For instance, I'm a 45 year old man. I think I can state with confidence that it is beyond my capacity to make the Olympic women's gymnastic team, no matter how much I apply myself. OK, that may be an extreme example but you get my point.

The thing is that far too often we sell ourselves short on just what we can accomplish. And the really insidious part is that sometimes we don't even realize that we are harboring these limiting beliefs. If someone were to ask you if you think you could ever run a marathon or fit into a size 5 again or run your own business you may honestly answer "Sure, if I were to apply myself and remain focused I could get myself there in X amount of time". However there might be that little inside voice, or maybe just a hidden assumption that puts day dreams like that in the same category as dreams of flying like superman or being the first person on Mars. A nice little fantasy but ... come on, let's be real.

A few years ago I took one of those be all you can be weekend seminars. Yeah, yeah, I know but I had just gone through a break up that left my heart in tatters, I hated the job I had and basically I felt directionless. A dear friend of mine who was, and still is, involved with this particular education group talked me into taking the three day seminar.
If I hadn't been at such a low point I never would have done it but in retrospect I'm glad I did.
Yeah the group uses a ton of those buzz terms I dislike so much and the people there can at times be a little on the overly upbeat side but behind all the lectures, exercises and warm fuzzies of a very long weekend there were some valuable core lessons.
Among them was that because you are a human being living in the world you have certain assumptions about yourself, others and life in general. Assumptions that sometimes you don't even realize you've made but still affect how you live and many of the major decisions in your life.
I hadn't realized how many of the options in life that lay before that I had written off as beyond my abilities before I ever knew I wanted them.

A couple months after taking the seminar I gotten past the emotional funk I was in, I quit that awful job and started my own business. This put me on a path that allowed me to get rid of the debt I had lived under for my entire adult life and buy my own home. None of that would have happened if I had not recognized and confronted the deep down, bedrock assumptions I had about myself. Among them were that I just wasn't a business man, that I would always be in debt, that I would always live hand to mouth & never be able to put together a down payment for a home.

I remember when I saw Eddie Murphy's Nutty Professor movie; at the end when he had conquered the conflict of the movie, won the heart of the girl of his dreams and had made the decision that he was going to change his life and lose weight he told his girl "I'm going to lose weight but I'll always be big". I thought to myself, really? That's the triumphant moment? I'll take off some of the weight but I'm always going to be a fat guy?
If that's your choice, to be a heavyset person, so be it and Gods bless you. However if your desire is to lose weight and be, well, let's say for now "not fat", then you may want to take a close look inside and see if you've already decided you can't do it.

A lot of people have that mindset. Once you know what to listen for you can often hear it in the way people speak about themselves. Many have reasons they use to fortify their beliefs like genetics or environment or because they have children and still many more just have internally cast themselves in the role of the fat person. The simple self limiting belief that you will always be overweight can sabotage your efforts before you begin.

Right now it's the first week of the new year and just like every year at this time the gyms are full of newcomers. That's a wonderful thing. Alright, it does make parking a pain in the ass but aside from that, it's good.
And just like every year those crowds will have dwindled back down to normal levels by Valentines day. Many of those that give up do so because they have no faith in their own ability to succeed in significantly changing their health & their fitness level.

If getting in shape is one of your goals in 2010 then I challenge you to not be one of those who gives up on it. Losing excess body fat and/or building up some of that muscle you've always wanted is within your control. I want you to believe it, to know it deep down inside.

It's not going to happen overnight and there are no magic bullets for this. You need to alter your lifestyle to a point that you are mostly eating a reasonable, balanced diet that is a bit lower in calories and you are moving your body enough to burn some fat and at least maintain if not increase your muscle mass.
This doesn't have to be done all at once. In fact, the best way, in my opinion, is to keep making little changes in your diet & activity level.

Before you know it those little bites of change you keep chewing on have you accomplishing something that you may have thought you never could and the way that feels, the realization that you can become what you had thought was beyond your grasp, well as Mark Burnett said, there is nothing like it.