My fat cells and I

It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore what the scales, the mirror, the doctor, and clothes are telling you–until you get a look as others see you–a video of you going about your normal activity. As you watch, it’s more like watching another person, and you have a sudden OMG-it’s-really-true moment. You suddenly know that the time has come–that repeated New Year’s resolution that you’ve “renewed” umpteen times and not kept must finally be faced. (Hotel bathroom mirrors are almost as revealing–big, usually with door mirrors too so you get an all-around look in really bright light, too.)

You review all the experience that you’ve had with “diets”–the Atkins (worked like a charm but not sustainable because of the ban on fruit, beans, milk, and dairy products except cheese. The New Atkins–for the same reasons. You read the books evaluating low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets, high-protein, Mediterranean diet, and the French Paradox and feel like a real wuss because you’ve not been able to keep to the latest thing you’ve tried. You even check sites that have BMI computations available–everyone gives you the same answer: you’ve moved over from the overweight into the “obese” range. Then there’s the video–wonderful hive inspection but the beekeeper.

9781455533862I bought the latest diet book on the market–the day it was released–Always Hungry?.  I read it, and think about it, and then I saw myself in a video, And the jig is up! You know you’ve deluded yourself when looking in the mirror, looking at photographs, and feeling how your clothes fit.

So reread the book–really read the book (including the recipes and the meal plans). To add motivation, (since the book discusses movement) I’ve dug in the “junk” basket on the bookcase shelf, and in the drawer where stuff accumulates and, finally, found the pedometer. Now I have numbers to show how truly sedentary I truly am! Scary.

Back to this food plan. Refined sugars are a no=no, but that’s not a real problem because your sweet tooth is chocolate dependent. Soft drinks are not in the in this house fridge anyway. But there are pasta and beans on the pantry shelf. From experience I know I  like (maybe even love) complex carbohydrates, aka starches. Those and milk have been the stumbling blocks every time before–but this food plan allows legumes and milk even in the initial phase. There’s one ounce of dark chocolate allowed daily even in Phase 1. This “diet” for weight loss is a plan for moderation. Phases 2 and 3  (essential since you really, truly like food) allows judicious reintroduction of some of the things you most like (baked white potatoes), at least on an occasional basis and still maintain weight loss.

Since some basic sauces are essential for the food plan, I decided to start with some that would need routine weekly preparation and those that I thought I would like particularly well, to give me an idea of how things the recipes are seasoned.

After reviewing the list of permitted foods (again), this book moves to the kitchen. Trying some of the recipes since in the past food plans have always seemed too contrived. Well, the recipe for Blue Cheese Dressing (All Phases) on page 263 seems like a good place to start since it is a favorite. Can’t you eat the lettuce so you can have the blue cheese dressing? Recommended to make a wide-mouth mason jar (have) and immersion blender (have). The prep time estimate was accurate–really fast and easy.. (Since blue cheese is a strong flavor, I prefer more tartness, so I replaced the tablespoon of water with an additional tablespoon of lemon juice.  Tastes splendid so score one for the food plan Bring on the crudities. This sauce is a keeper even if it is on a food plan for weight loss!

So one tasty recipe doesn’t make it acceptable. I like (and make at home often) vinaigrettes and use oil and vinegar dressings. The Lemon Olive Oil Dressing (All Phases), page 269, is straightforward and a good balance of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If you make this in tandem with the blue cheese, you don’t have miscellaneous bits of leftover lemon.

[There’s a bonus to using mason jars–they have gradations on the sides so with just a bit of planning you won’t even have to wash a measuring cup. If you use a kitchen scale, you might not even need measuring spoons. (I’ve noted weights of things like 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with the recipes).]

Next  for testing,  I chose Creamy Dill Sauce (All Phases). This sauce is a bit more complicated than the first two but noted to keep for 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Again, using a mason jar and scales it was easy to put together.Knowing that I tend to find many recipes under-seasoned, and over-salted, I did use 2 small garlic cloves, substituted 1/4 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika for the “dash of paprika” called for in the recipe. I found it a bit lacking in the lemon flavor with only the lemon juice, so I added 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest. After allowing it to stand for a few hours, I was pleased with the tart dill, lemon, and slightly smoky flavors. (This is easily modifiable without changing the balance of protein/fat–ancho chili or Aleppo pepper could be used.

The final sauce that I made to test was Lemon Tahini (All Phases), page 269. Taking my taste for garlic and tartness into account, I used a large clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons extra lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of lemon zest.

My clean up after making these sauces (in very close to the prep time given in the book and with a little more experience and organization I’m sure I can decrease that):

  • one chef’s knife
  • one cutting board
  • one set of measuring spoons
  • one spatula for scraping down the side of jars
  • immersion blender
  • microplane grater (for lemon zest)
  • one citrus reamer

I can certainly deal with that. Leftover from this prep, one lemon minus zest (lack of organization on my part–next time I’ll just zest all the lemons before squeezing them)

I didn’t have to buy anything that wasn’t already in my pantry except dill and parsley, but since it’s winter, that’s not a negative thing. I’m certainly not going to have to rearrange my kitchen to accommodate, although the immersion blender will need to live somewhere slightly more accessible.

Sauces, as important as they are, don’t make a meal plan. The recipe for Broiled Fish with Garlic and Lemon (All Phases), page 232, looks like a good way to start testing the main dish recipes. It is simple, and besides, it’s very easy to cook fish, although I don’t use the broiler much–but this recipe works as well as those for the sauces. The serving of cod fillet that I cooked with this recipe was for one–so only about 6 ounces. In order not to overcook the fish, I seared on only one side and then finished under the broiler. . I broiled the fish for 8 minutes (the minimum time suggested in the recipe). Broiling it on the lemon slices with the olive oil and garlic worked: nicely garlicky and great lemon flavor. This is another keeper!

Three things that are called for frequently are mayonnaise and  Ranchero Sauce, page 272. I’m going to opt out of those since I can get a palatable mayonnaise made without sugar (that I usually buy anyway) and I have a favorite salsa that lacks sugar in the ingredient list.My local Harris Teeter grocery has a store brand hummus that is without sugar, so I’ll likely also opt to use that instead of making it at home.(There are resources on the  website  to facilitate the plan.)

Now that I have a feel for the seasoning used in these dishes I think I can use many of the recipes provided with the meal plan without having to alter my pantry much at all. After looking at other recipes, I find several that I am looking forward to trying: Ginger-Carrot Soup (All Phases), Red Lentil Soup (All Phases)Chocolate Sauce (All Phases), and Cabbage Casserole (All Phases). A lot of these recipes lend themselves easily to improvisation with herbs and spices, too–another plus for preventing boredom.

There’s only one “special” thing I have to buy–whey protein for the occasional Phase 1 Power Shake. Because of the stress on the balance of macronutrients emphasized in each phase, I will do that. (The thing sounds good when you consider what else is in it).

After rereading the permitted foods, I’ve decided I can do without pasta if I can have legumes and the prospect of adding some pasta and bread in later Phases 2 and 3. With my physician’s words bouncing around in my brain, and that horrible BMI, I CAN do this. It’s about moderation–and chocolate, whipped cream, and wine (after Phase 1) are allowed. It’s about moderation and balance of the amount and quality of protein, carbohydrate, and fats consumed. It’s also about not having to revamp my pantry or suffer deprivation.

This project has to involve getting off my butt and doing more walking and movement, too! That’s likely to take more effort than eating the right things, given how sedentary my work is. But, needs must!

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There is a lead-in phase where you get ready–for three of those days I’ll be on the road or at a convention, but once back home, this starts. No more procrastination!  After sampling the sauce recipes and the broiled fish, I certainly feel more positive about the meal plans that I ever have about any other weight-loss meal plan. (The blue cheese sauce added to egg salad is good–lots of room for improvisation with the recipes, still keeping the macronutrient balance.

I’ll admit to one slight frustration with this book: recipes are listed by name under an entry for “recipes”. Cabbage Casserole appears just where you’d expect it. Coleslaw you will find only if you look for “Tangy Coleslaw”. When trying to locate the recipe for the fish, I couldn’t remember the specific name–fortunately, broiled was in the title so it was close to the first of the list.

Though the main focus is not as a cookbook, but on nutrition and weight loss (index very useful for this), just a few simple entries throughout for main ingredients such as “cabbage”, “polenta”, or “shrimp” would be helpful. But, I shouldn’t complain–I know space considerations often dictate what can be included or what must be cut. I’d happily settle for smaller print in the index (even if it meant getting out my reading glasses) to have those extra entries.

 

 

Jabberwock

Jabberwok liqueurI love the names of the liqueurs from the Brothers Vilgalys. Jabberwock conjures up some interesting images for me–something dark, smoky,  and exciting, and maybe just a tad bit scary.

I can’t say which of these liqueurs I like best–they are all so different, so I  have them all, but this one is close to the top of the list–partly because I love strong, black coffee and I like the spice of chilies.

The ingredient list for this one includes coffee, chicory, lemongrass, eucalyptus, manzano & chipotle peppers. Just like the other liqueurs from Brothers Vilgalys the flavors just unfold as you sip. There is definitely some heat–it’s going to make your mouth feel warm. With the first sip there is the “brightness” of the lemongrass and the eucalyptus, then the heat starts to build, but the heat doesn’t hide the “dark” coffee and chickory. The lemongrass and the eucalyptus come through in the nose. There’s a long, warm finish where the smokiness of the chipotles lingers, even as the heat fades. Another winner!

(It’s a fantastic addition to hot drinking chocolate–the coffee and the chickory enhancing the chocolate flavor and the chilies adding some spice.)

Hot Cocoa

It’s been a chilly, damp, drippy Monday–the kind of day that takes an inordinate amount of caffeine to achieve a minimally functional state. The day’s to-do list included taking the cat to the vet. Of course it was raining  when I toted Frankie out to the car, and it was raining when we came out of the veterinarian’s office. Frankie was lucky–he was in the carrier and dry (not that he was at all appreciative of that).  Now we’re back indoors.  It’s still chilly, damp, drippy Monday–but now dark.  It’s time for a warm beverage that must have chocolate in some form in it–but there must be lots of if.  That means hot coca!

The hot chocolate is sipping chocolate–thick, rich, creamy–for when you feel truly decadent and in need of something sensuous as well as chocolate. There are times when chocolate is required–after a long walk in the snow, or after you’ve finished all the errands that made you go out on a cold, damp, grey, and miserable day. Those are the times when I want hot cocoa–a lighter beverage that comes in a BIG mug (and maybe even whipped cream) to warm me up. It has to be lighter than drinking chocolate because I want to drink more just because. I don’t want the stuff from the grocery store shelves that is supposedly “hot cocoa” but is usually too sweet and lacking in cocoa/chocolate flavor (e.g. Swiss Miss or Nestle’s).

Some chocolatiers have cocoa or drinking-chocolate prepared mixes that are very good–Chuao chocolate Spicy Mayan (expensive and really drinking chocolate), Starbucks, Ghiradelli, to mention a few of the up-scale ones. Even with these, I feel that the cocoa flavor is a bit lacking–I end up using more than suggested on the package,  and they are often sweeter than I like–I’m paying for lots of sugar and powdered milk. For a review of a hot cocoa mixes see Serious Eats.

Scharffen Berger does have sweetened cocoa powder–though more flexible, you’re paying for sugar (that you can get at the grocers inexpensively and you probably already have it in the kitchen).  So, how do I get my great big, steaming, warming mug of hot cocoa?

I’ll start with a premium cocoa: Valrhona is a favorite, Ghiradelli but  you can use the cocoa powder of your choice. The basic recipe for hot cocoa for one is from Epicurious. (On particularly miserable days, I recommend doubling the recipe even if it is just for one.)

Simple Hot Cocoa for One

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you like it
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk or any combination of milk, half-and-half, or cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  • Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, and about 2 tablespoons milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until cocoa and sugar are dissolved.
  • Whisk in the rest of the milk and heat it over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until it is hot.
  • Stir in the vanilla and serve.
  • If you like it frothy, blend it in the blender
  • This recipe multiplies easily. When you get up to a quart of milk, use 1/4 teaspoon salt

For a bit more oomph, you can use both chocolate and cocoa together–and if you don’t want to do more that heat milk to get you cocoa and chocolate fix, here is a recipe for The Best Hot Chocolate Mix from Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2014, page 23 that makes enough mix for 12 one-cup servings. Frankly, I get less than 12 since I usually use a big mug.

The Best Hot Chocolate Mix

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1-1/2 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

  • Process all the ingredients in food processor until ground to powder (30 to 60 seconds, or as needed)
  • Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Making hot chocolate

For 1 serving:

  • Heat one cup milk (whole, 2%, or 1% low fat) over medium heat until steaming and bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  • Add 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) hot chocolate mix
  • Continue to heat, whisking constantly, until simmering (another 2-3 minutes)
  • Pour into a heated mug and serve

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Hot chocolate or hot coca sometimes begs to be dressed up with some additions like Krupnikas or perhaps Jabberwok. If you’re going to add a sweetened liquor like Krupnikas, you may not want to use a mix (as above) that contains sugar. You can only tell by tasting.

Other liqueurs that to dress up hot chocolate or cocoa beverages:

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It’s always fun to dress up your hot cocoa–but for me, forget the marshmallows (unless they are homemade), and the whipped cream (unnecessary when you use at least part half-and-half), but adding some spices or other flavors can be fun. Sometimes I make hot chocolate with favorite chocolate bars:  Chuao Spicy Mayan bars, and I sometimes use that to make hot chocolate. My local Harris Teeter has a “house” dark chocolate with orange that makes a great cup of hot chocolate, and the pear and dark chocolate is a way to get a boost if your bar doesn’t include the liqueurs.

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Hot Chocolate–with Krupnikas

In anticipation of National Chocolate Day–drink up!

I love chocolate, and I would be unlikely ever to turn down good hot chocolate or cocoa. I’m glad fall is finally here with relief from the hot humid, muggy weather; however, today is the ninth day of measurable rain in a row, and what with hurricane Joaquin making its way north along the coast, we’ve got several more days of gray, rainy weather coming–maybe a record-breaking string of rainy days. Well, after a brief lull this afternoon, the rain is back. As I listen to the rain on the metal roof, what better to do on chilly, grey, soggy, damp, rainy days than make hot chocolate or hot cocoa?  A real comfort beverage even if you don’t enhance it with spirits. So start with a good cup of hot chocolate or hot cocoa. . . .

First, let’s be clear about the definitions of hot cocoa, and hot chocolate. These terms are often used interchangeably by Americans and use the terms to apply to some really atrocious mixes. If you’re really “into” this beverage there’s a whole lingo you should know. however there is a difference (Amano chocolate page). In a nut shell: hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, milk and/or water. It’s a thinner beverage. Hot chocolate (also called drinking, or sipping, chocolate) is made with chocolate (often shaved or ground to melt faster) which, because of the natural fat in chocolate makes it a richer beverage.

So, when I say hot chocolate that’s what I mean–and I do distinguish that from hot cocoa–not that I don’t like both in different situations. (This really excludes most ready-packaged mixes–especially the “grocery store shelf” ones.)

So first you must make hot chocolate:

Simplest creamy hot (sipping) chocolate

Ingredients (1 serving)

  • 2 ounces of premium chocolate dark chocolate (unsweetened and/or semisweet) pieces
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • pinch salt
  • vanilla to taste (optional)
  • honey to sweeten to taste

Preparation

  • Place chocolate (cut if in large block) into microwave-save container. The container needs to be large enough to allow you to whisk the warmed mixture vigorously.
  • Add honey and pour half-and-half over.
  • Microwave for about 2 minutes–until milk/half-and-half is steaming, but not boiling.
  • Add pinch of salt, and whisk vigorously until the chocolate is emulsified and mixture is slightly thickened.
  • Taste and add more honey if needed, and vanilla if desired.
  • Pour into a carefully warmed mug, sit back, and enjoy.

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Don’t serve this in a thin, fancy cup–even though it’s rather decadent. I use a mug warmed thoroughly with almost-boiling water so that this creamy, sensuous beverage will stay warm while i sip it slowly. Don’t bother with whipped cream–it’s rich enough without.

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Now you have a very dark creamy cup of chocolate. Good as is, but it’s fun to add some different flavors. With all this cold rainy weather, I’ve been experimenting with additions. One of my favorite inspirations was to add a splash of Krupnikas–a spiced honey liqueur. Awesome!

Another liqueur from the Vilgalys Brothers Jabberwock–a very spicy–with coffee, chicory, lemongrass, eucalyptus, manzano and chipotle peppers–makes a spicy cup of hot chocolate–probably my favorite so far.  A splash of Chambord would not be amiss either! if you want fruit rather than spice.

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Recipe: Apothic Dark Red Wine Cake

I like this wine–just for drinking, and can imagine that this will be awesome.

Wine by Ari

Apothic-Cake-2-3-620x775

 

I came across this amazing recipe for Apothic Dark Red Wine Cake from Chasing Delicious.

Apothic Dark Red Wine Cake

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces flour
  • 2 ounces cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 14 ounces vanilla sugar (or granulated sugar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1⅓ cup sweet red wine (try Apothic Dark)
  • 1 cup cinnamon red wine sauce, recipe below

Instructions

  1. Preheat an oven to 350°F.
  2. Butter and flour or grease a bundt pan. Set aside.
  3. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  4. Beat the sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then the vanilla, mixing well after each addition.
  6. Add half of the dry mixture and mix in well. Pour in the wine and mix…

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Blood oranges….

blood orange slice

blood orange

I have to say that for the most part, I hate shopping–except food-related shopping. When I do food-related shopping, I almost always come home with something that was not on the shopping list (Yes, I do make shopping lists, but I don’t really do meal planning.)  do sometimes venture in to the food store without a list, though I do try not to go food shopping when I’m hungry. Sometimes I go to the grocery store impulsively and spontaneously–triggered by some extraneous event.

My last such foray was triggered by sitting at the counter of Hope Valley Diner discussing food with another regular lunch customer–also a foodie.  What sent me to the grocery store was his mention of a chocolate cake from Fresh Market: namely chocolate ganache cake.That definitely got my chocolate imagination going–after all ganache is basically chocolate and cream, maybe some butter–but it’s really serious chocolate–adult chocolate.

Being in need of a chocolate fix since I’d been indexing all morning, I detoured by the Fresh Market on my way home (it really wasn’t more than a half mile in the opposite direction) hoping that I would find chocolate ganache cake by the slice. So–my intent on entering the Fresh Market was to obtain a single slice of chocolate cake.

As I walked through the entrance into the vestibule I was immediately faced with packages of California-grown Moro blood oranges. I seem to be constitutionally incapable of walking away from blood oranges, so there was the first “additional” item, so I really did need to get a basket though I hadn’t thought I needed one.  Now the blood oranges were not individual–they came in a little easy to carry bag–meaning that I now had several blood oranges.

Continuing on my way to the bakery section, I detoured though the produce (around the edge of the store).  That took me past the Bolthouse juices. (Yes, I find daily grapefruit, orange, etc boring too many days in a row.) I noticed a couple that I’d not found at my Harris Teeter market, so those (Daily Golden Vedge and the Stone Fruit Smoothie–still haven’t found the Mango Ginger + carrot) )got popped into the basket.

I made it to the bakery counter after a brief detour around the cheese counter and the seafood salad bar. I first noticed a whole chocolate ganache cake–shiny top as you’d expect from ganache, very dark, with the sides of the cake covered with dark chocolate shavings or chopped. Thankfully, there was a single slice of this luscious looking cake in the case. That got put into the basket with a sigh of relief–after all, THAT was what I came for! I made it back past the chocolate bars and other candy without adding anything more to the basket, checked out, and headed for home.

Blood Orange and Sage Sparkling SodaOnce home I had a blood orange–and realized that I was going to be eating or juicing blood oranges for a bit. Though straight blood orange juice is certainly not a hardship, serendipity has a way of intervening. While I was perusing my favorite blogs, what should I find but a gorgeous photograph and a recipe for blood orange and sage sparkling soda.

The image at the left is from Snixy Kitchen blog–just too gorgeous not to “plagiarize” with attribution, and share. I’d not thought of the combination of sage and orange, but with the “imagery” of the blood orange I’d just eaten, and a brush of the sage wintering on my deck, I knew I had to try it. This as a beverage is definitely a keeper–I’m sure that I’ll be making sage simple syrup again, and I have to think this would make a great sorbet as well as something to put in a glass and drink.  This combination of orange and sage also has me thinking about veal, pork, maybe chicken….Thank you, Snixy Kitchen for a great combination!

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Now if you’re wondering about the chocolate ganache cake?  Well, I ate it before it even occurred to me to take a picture, and I haven’t found a chocolate cake image that even comes close–so I’ll have to go with words: very, very dark, moist, with ganache between the layers and as icing, not too thick.  Dark chocolate chips/shaving on the sides, not too sweet, but sweet enough–adult chocolate–absolutely luscious.  That’s probably where I’ll go look for my next chocolate fix.

For chocolate lovers….

I just have to share this post from Spoon, Fork, Bacon for Double Chocolate Pound Cake!  Pound cakes are my favorite in almost any flavor, but then add chocolate, and I’m likely to eat way more of this than I should. I’ve not made it yet, but it’s on for the weekend.