Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Easy way to use that chicken stock

Chipotle Shrimp

This one is from Rick Bayless. Serve with white rice and some fresh avocado, and you have a wonderful meal in minutes

1 Can (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice (preferably fire-roasted), drained
3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo
1 Tbs chipotle canning sauce
2 Tbs olive oil
3 Garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped OR crushed through a garlic press
1½ Cups Fish OR chicken broth OR water
1 tsp Salt
1 lbs medium-large shrimp (21 to 25 shrimp per pound), peeled and deveined, tail left on if desired
¼ cup loosely packed,roughly chopped cilantro, for garnish

1 Pour drained tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Add chipotle chiles and chipotle canning sauce. Process until smooth.
2 In a very large (12-inch) skillet, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add garlic and stir until fragrant and golden, about 1 minute. Pour in tomato mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld and reduce to the consistnecy of tomato paste. Add enough broth or water to achieve a light tomato sauce consistency. Taste and season highly with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Add shrimp to pan. Cook, stirring nearly constantly, until shrimp are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Stir in a little more broth or water if sauce has thickened too much. Scoop onto dinner plates and sprinkle with cilantro.

Servings: 3

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back to the Basics

As my cooking skills have improved, my desire to have quality ingredients has increased and I find myself on the weekend not cooking gourmet items, but making the basics that make cooking easier and tastier for the rest of the week. I decided to share some of my favored recipes and the first one is about as basic as you can get, chicken stock. As I said before, the better the ingredients the better the final dish. Since most recipes require chicken stock, I thought I should tackle this one first. This version of chicken stock comes from Cook's Illustrated and their public TV show America's Test Kitchen. This makes a full flavor gelatinous stock that improves the flavor of every dish where it is used.

Chicken Stock


4 lbs Chicken legs each hacked into two pieces
1 onion roughly chopped into big pieces (so they don't fall through a strainer)
2 bay leaves
2 quarts of boiling water


Put a large stock pot over medium heat with one to two tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and cook for about five minutes until soft and beginning to brown and remove onions to a bowl.

Add 1/2 of the chicken pieces and brown on all sides. Keep the heat high and turn after five minutes. The pieces will smoke and stick, just pry up and rotate or stir. Remove batch to the bowl with the onion and brown the second batch of legs. Once browned, add onion and first batch back to the pot, turn the flame to low, cover and sweat for 20 minutes.

Raise the heat to high, add boiling water, bay leaves and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot for all those chicken pieces that stuck to the pot during the browning. Bring to boil, then cover, lower the heat back to low and simmer for twenty more minutes. After 20 minutes, turn flame off, and let cool. Discard the big pieces and strain ( I use a mesh strainer then a finer mesh strainer) and then pour into plastic containers. I use some 2 cup and 1 cup sizes and freeze. The two cup is about the size of the can of stock, and the one cup is the size of those juice box stock boxes.

You can de-fat before you freeze or after you thaw, or just use the fat, its up to you. You can also add some salt when you add the water, but I would rather salt my final dish rather than the stock.

I will add some recipes later that I love that use this stock as an ingredient.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

How Sweet it Is!

Over the summer we hosted several European water polo players who generally ate everything in sight, but I did notice that their tastes ran toward the savory side and they generally stayed away from sweet items, especially at breakfast. I didn't think much of it until this last weekend when I went to the local grocery store for our weekly provisions rather than Whole Foods, as I didn't need a lot of produce or pantry items. Not only was the produce bad, but everything seemed to have added sugar. I couldn't find a staples like a loaf of bread that didn't have high fructose corn syrup (this includes items from their bakery). I even found canned tomatoes with sugar.

So it got me thinking. Am I eating too much sugar? I don't use many (if any) process foods as ingredients in my cooking. I don't add sugar to my coffee or tea. I gave up sodas a year ago. But I do eat Kashi Go Lean Crunch for breakfast most every morning. This cereal is a high fiber, high protein mixture but does have some added cane sugar (but no where near Captain Crunch). But during their summer long stay, none of the water polo players ever touched any of the breakfast cereals in our pantry. The problem is I didn't notice what they had for breakfast. While we were in Italy, the hotel breakfast, although americanized, offered cheese, salami, and other savory items. So I am on a quest to find a natural savory or balanced breakfast that I will eat and like. My hope is to wean myself off the general American desire to eat a sugary breakfast and in turn tune my taste buds to taste the natural sweetness of most produce. Stay Tuned....

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Results are in.....

A year after being told to lose weight, I went for my annual physical and blood test to see how I am doing. Lets just say I passed with ease. Cholesterol was 116,the lowest its ever been. Triglycerides are at 53 HDLs at 42 which puts LDLs at 63. Weight was down 25 lbs to 172. Glucose was within normal levels. All these numbers mean things are good. So then what is next?

My goal weight is between 165 and 169, so I have another 5 pounds to lose, but I will try to maintain my current weight through the holidays and go after those next five pounds after the first of the year. I have almost completely eliminated processed foods. I have drastically changed and improved my eating habits, and I am working out 4 to five days a week, so its down to refining the process.

So my goals are more aerobic workouts (we bought a treadmill and elliptical equipment), more vegetables, more reading, more travel, more variety in wine, more muscle tone, more entertaining, more fish, more live sporting events, and less Haagen Dazs caramel cone ice cream, less TV, less processed sugar and less bread.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Back to the Weight

I made an appointment for my annual physical for later this month, so by December 1, I should know if all the work to shed 30lbs has paid off. I have been hovering around 172/173 for several months now, so either I have hit a wall or that is a good weight for my body. Based on the body mass index, at 172bs, I am susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and all those other things that kill you prematurely. If weighed 171lbs, it says I am in perfect health. Hopefully, there is some leeway in the calculation.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My Favorite TV Chef

I have not been to one her restaurants, and the reviews of her restaurant in Pittsburgh are not good. I have seen her show on PBS, and she seems like she is a task master with her crew and family. She also gushes excessively about her grandchildren. Her show teases you about the recipes and doesn't give details, so you have to buy the book. So why is she my favorite?

As I said previously, I have an ability to look at a recipe and have good idea if my family and friends would like the food. Normally, out of a cookbook you find 2-4 recipes that you would make again. Lidia's Family Table contains dozens recipes that are so tasty and relatively easy. I have received rave reviews each time I make the Venetian Braised Beef. My family raved so much about it that I had to make it for Christmas dinner. I now make her White Bean Soup base regularly for various soup recipes including the ones in her book. I made the Arrabiata (spicy tomato) sauce on Sunday. Mine was a little spicy for some, but it dissappeared in minutes, so it couldn't be too spicy.

I said below, I judge TV chefs based on the number of their recipes that I can recreate successfully. Lidia is far in the lead. Now only if she looked like Giada

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rating Food Network Chefs

Someone asked me the other day who are my favorite chefs on The Food Network. I like to judge my favorites by how many recipes I made from that chef that are successful. The number 1 is obvious from my last post. Giada's recipes are easy, well balanced flavors and are pleasing to my friends and family. Second place goes to Alton Brown. Although I wouldn't consider him a chef, most of his recipes are cullanarily sound and use good everyday techniques. I have usually been able to slightly alter his recipe to improve on depth of flavor. Number 3 is probably Ina Garten. Her outrageous brownies are the best I have ever tasted (verified by my daughter, niece and nephew all in college).

My least favorite you ask? Tyler Florence comes to mind. Charming on TV, I watch him regularly, but each time I make one of his recipes, its bland and lacks depth. They usually taste like something you would get from a box or premixed package.

Paula Deen is right up there. With my desire to eat more healthly, her recipes contain at least a pound of butter, a pound of maynaise or a pound of sour cream. All of which is out of scope for me. I dont think she can make anything without one of those ingredients. My dad used to say the difference between food and gourmet food was the quantity of butter in the recipe. If this is true, her recipes must be on top of the gourmet list.

Sandra Lee uses processed foods to make her recipes. As i have migrated to quality ingredients, using processed foods in any recipe makes that recipe taste like processed foods.

The others like mega stars Emeril and Rachael Ray are interesting. Emeril's recipes are complicated, lots of technique and plenty of ingredients, but usually tasty (his food at his Orlando restaurant was outstanding). Rachael is a personality that cooks things quickly. She has some good ideas, but nothing that grabs me by the tongue and says wow.

Next post i will tell you about my favorite chefs from other sources.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Food Network and cooking

There is no question that the Food Network has advanced my abilities to cook. What started as a need to make some cookies for a team party for my daughter's softball team, graduated to different breads from a bread maker and then, thanks to the Food Network, I not only expanded my knowledge of food, but also expanded the techniques to cook food.

People now say I am a good cook, but I think I have an ability to follow a recipe. What I am good at is being able to look at a recipe and determining if my family and friends will like the result. I now review hundreds of recipes from all sources (Food Network, Epicurious, Google Search and magazines) and pick out a few that I think will please my family and mostly myself. 95% of the time, I get rave comments from the food consumer.

In my mind three things are required to produce a decent meal.
  • Good Equipment - Having good pans, spoons and mixers makes all cooking easier and more fun.
  • Good Ingredients - When a recipe has only a few ingredients, it is crucial to make sure that each of those ingredients are of top quality.
  • Simple Recipes - If you have good ingredients, the more simple the recipe the better. Complicated recipes make things difficult and mistakes are easily made. Simple does not mean short, as many great recipes call for long cooking times. By simple I mean easy to do. Let the artistic chefs create those multi layer goose liver pates.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Italy old and not so old

Rome is full of suprises. Walking along a road with cars and modern shops then all of a sudden something ancient catches your eye. Nothing like seeing a car from 2005, building from the 1800s and then the Colliseum from 80AD. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 06, 2006

Seamhead Tours

My brother on the right has for several years organized a baseball road trip to visit ball parks throughout the country. Here we are at Coors field. Thanks to some contacts our actual seats were just above my left shoulder. Chip has only one park left, while I have two. We both need to get to Minnesota and I have to add Cleveland to the list. The summer of 2007 will complete the tour, but with new parks scheduled for DC, New York (2), and Minnesota, I am sure there will be more Seamhead tours.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Follow Up

Stepped on the scale today and was 171.5. Not bad. My goal for the last couple of weeks is to see the 160s on the scale (ok 169.5 counts as in the 160s). If i see that i will consider my eating lifestyle complete and i can worry about something else. Portion control is working. Eating a little bit every few hours also helps. Whole grain cereal and blueberries with non fat milk at breakfast. A piece of fruit during the morning. Home made lunch (salad or sandwich) at lunch and some trail mix in the afternoon. For dinners, I have simplified the menus. Instead of chicken with rice and a veggie, i have switch to chicken with veggie. A little sweet later finishes my day.

Salt is now my concern, although i am not sure it should be. RDA for salt is about 2500 mg which is about 1 teaspoon a day. Even if I dont use any processed foods, that seems like a very low number. Panera Bread's Fuji apple salad has over 1000mg of salt. Seems like a lot, but is it really? Its the same amount as a Big Mac or slightly less than a MacDonalds California Cob salad with grilled chicken.

Ok so here are the high points:
  • Fruit intake is up
  • Portions are smaller
  • Dont really like fast food anymore
And the counterpoints
  • Still not eating tons of veggies, although leaf lettace count is up
  • Still like my sweets, cookies or gelato
One thing I have noticed is now that I am eating less calories, it is real important to me that each calorie be flavorful. I dont like filling up with blah food, and now i consider fast food blah.

My exercise routine is changing as i am running on the treadmill 3 days a week and lifting on two or three other days. They say some impact exercise is good for your bones. It will probably take me 30 years to verify that.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Losing weight sucks

Well its been another month. I am down to 181 pounds, so 15 pounds in two months. Not bad, but i want to see those 170 numbers, and it seems so much harder to lose pound number 180 than pound number 195. I hope i can be at 175 by the end of March.

I have done pretty well on my plan. My workouts have been a fairly consistent 5-6 days a week. Lots of aerobic stuff augmented with some weights. I have generally eliminated fast foods from my diet, and to tell you the truth, i dont miss it. I have been packing salads for lunch and that works out well if i make my own dressings sometime during the week. For some reason i cant stand bottled dressings.

the biggest issue i have is bread. I love bread, but i am trying to convert to wholesome, whole wheats and breads with no preservatives. The problem is I dont eat the bread fast enough as it goes bad, so i end up spending more money on a good loaf and end up throwing half of it out. I guess i should buy a good loaf, divide it in three and freeze two thirds of the bread.

He are the highlights so far:
  • Cascade Fresh yogurt from Whole Foods. Best yogurt i have tasted
  • Cook alot on Sunday, so meals can be heated up during the week
  • I usually take the weekend off and dont worry about calorie intake. Seems to be working
  • A banana at 10 am is wonderful
  • I find the South Beach diet oatmeal cookies very satisfying. 100 calories and have whole grains.
  • Not a big frozen yogurt fan, but Hagen Daz chocolate sorbet is tasty.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ahh middle age

I went to the doctor the first of January for my annual checkup. In previous checkups i was treated for high cholesterol and higher the average blood pressure but everything else checked up fine. This time a blood test showed elevated blood sugar levels. To treat this my doctor said lose 20 pounds and 30 minutes of aerobic exercise everyday. Now lets start with i am already in decent shape. I have been going to the gym 3 times a week and lifting weights. I had a small ponch, but I consider it much smaller than the average middle age man. My diet was good. I stopped drinking sodas last year. I stopped putting sugar in iced tea and my morning coffee. I was eating a bowl of whole wheat cereal each morning. The milk I used was non fat. But I took my doctor's advice and decided to change my eating habits and change my workouts to lose the weight. But I needed a plan.

To lose 20 pounds ( I was 196 lbs naked on the scale at the gym), i decided my bad habits had to go. Fast food at lunch was a big issue, so i had to find substitutes. I love to cook and my wife, kids and friends say I am a very good cook, but I looked at the dinners I usually prepare and found many of the portions were too big, not enough veges and never any fruit (not a big fruit fan, but thats a future post).

So here is my plan:
30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily, mostly at the gym
Take my lunch to work
Avoid the "food cube" of snacks that most softare companies have (I design software)
Find foods with no high Fructose Corn syrup.
Smaller portions
More veges
More fruit
Avoid fast food when ever possible.

Here is what i wont do:

No fad diets: Diets are isolating. the last thing I want to do is decline dining out with friends because it doesnt fit my diet, or making food that meets my diet restrictions, but turns my family off.

I am not giving up good ingredients like butter, cream or breads. To prepare good food you need good ingredients. Margerine is not an ingredient. I will continue to cook with good ingredients, but i need to alter their proportion.

We enjoy go out to nice restaurants. If the special has an alfredo sauce, then damn it, i will get the alfredo sauce.

I enjoy wine and occasional beer. These will continue.

I am 1 month into my change of life plan and I have lost 8-10 pounds, depending on which scale you use at the gym. I will detail each part of my plan in future posts, but generally all things are working fine.

For inspiration, read the beginning of Rick Bayless's "Everyday Mexican" cookbook. He had a similar realization that he was losing the middle age battle and changed his lifestyle as well.