Posts Tagged ‘how to’

It’s been a month since we all rang in the New Year. How is your New Year’s resolution going so far?

I was reading an article earlier in the month that said around 50% of New Year resolutions are related to fitness and weight loss. I thought this was crazy considering the sheer amount of people I see exercising throughout the day (making me feel horrible about my own exercise routines) and the reports on the multi billion dollar diet industry. With this, I thought I’d let my readers in on my own weight maintenance.

I have no problem managing my weight. I tend to eat what I want, when I want it, and don’t really think about the consequences except for extremely spicy food. When I see my weight go up a few pounds, I cut back on heavier foods, take single servings at dinner, and usually I debloat and see the scale tip back to normal within a week.

I get comments from some of my friends and family that I’m “so lucky” that I don’t have to worry about my weight and some have accused me “not understanding what it’s like to lose weight.” That’s true. I don’t know what’s its like for anyone to lose weight. By that token, they don’t understand what it’s like to maintain my weight. It goes both directions.

When I hear people claim that they are starting their diet, I also wonder what that actually means. Are they monitoring what they eat? Are they exercising more? Have they joined a gym or hired a personal trainer? Do they understand what a calorie is? Are they going to start eating balanced meals? I figure these are all personal questions, so I stay away from them, but I can’t help but think that I could help them. Why are they so resistant to taking advice or getting a little bit of education and then applying it?

Dieting is hard. If it wasn’t, America would not be the fattest developed nation in the world – 33% of all Americans, 20% of American children, and 18% of adolescents are considered obese.

74% of Americans are consider overweight by the World Health Organization.

I’m 6’0″ tall and like to maintain my weight between 170 – 180 pounds. This is the lower end of my “ideal weight” according to every doctor I’ve ever seen. The World Health Organization approves of this as well.

When the scales do start to rise, I know it’s my body retaining water or storing energy in the form of fat. I do not exercise nearly enough and I won’t fool myself into thinking I have more muscle than I actually do.

I don’t start dieting. I monitor my diet. When I was growing up, this is something I did naturally. My lifestyle in general accommodates the idea of living and eating healthier.

  1. I enjoy a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, I eat many different whole grains. I am okay with eating whole wheat pasta and bread over the more delicious white flour versions.
  2. I refuse to eat processed foods 98% of the time.
  3. I have not gotten my dinner from my local grocers freezer in well over a decade.
  4. I cook the majority of my meals at home. I have no qualms about bring a brown bag lunch to work and eating at my desk while my peers order out.
  5. I know how to read a nutritional label and can determine if my body can handle it.
  6. I shop for food using a list. I do wander through every aisle to see if I missed anything, but I only pick up things I need and not the things that I want.
  7. I don’t need to “treat” myself or “cheat” with a piece of cheesecake, a bowl of ice cream, or a candy bar. If I want it, I have it. This is not that often. I do not eat a whole cheesecake in one sitting.
  8. The scale is not my enemy.
  9. No matter how much advertising is put out there or how available and affordable it is, I know that fast food is not actually food and should never be consumed.
  10. I consider myself a social drinker. When I go out, I will have one or two. When I’m home, I will have one or two. When hosting other people at my home, I will have one or two. A six pack will last me a minimum of 5 days. I use bottles of liquor for cooking purposes. I never drink alone. I know how high alcohol is in calories and how hard my body works to burn it off. Alcohol dehydrates my body, which means I have less water to whisk away the sodium and other things that retain weight.
  11. I use moderation in damn near everything I stick in my body. It’s important.

When I do want to exercise, I don’t make any excuses that gyms are too expensive, it’s too cold outside, I don’t like to work out with other people around, I need other people around to motivate me, or any of the other classics I’ve heard in my life. Exercise is free – I don’t need a gym or any fancy equipment in order to do it. It can be done in my home where I control the warmth.

can do it alone. I need to be self motivated or else I’ll quit.

I’m not here to judge. I’m not here to say that I’m better than anyone or that my way of life is ideal and somehow superior. I am not saying that I have the secrets to weight loss and staying healthy. I am not a nutritionist or a doctor. I am just someone who has always maintained my weight.

My diet is my adventure with food. I’d like to continue that trip for as long as possible even if that means denying myself a second helping, a daily breakfast of donuts, or staying away from the fryolator.

Starting is the hardest part. Why not today?

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At some point, I think we’ve all heard that what has commonly been regarded as “stuffing” should actually never be stuffed inside of anything. While pictures from the 1940s and 1950s showed an iconic turkey bursting with goodness, putting stuffing inside a turkey or chicken actually slows down the cooking process and leads to what I believe is a lesser quality flavor. So yes, for your geniuses out there that will inevitably critique my recipe, this should be called “dressing” and not stuffing, but I suppose if you really wanted to, you could easily stuff this inside a chicken or turkey after everything is cooked separately.

Ingredients

  • 16oz unseasoned croutons
  • 1 lb lean pork sausage (without casing)
  • 1/2 lb thick cut bacon
  • 2 small carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 3c chicken stock
  • 1/2 c white wine
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 tsp sage, ground
  • 1/2 tsp oregano, dried
  • 1/2 tsp basil, dried

1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon strips. You are probably going to have to do this in two batches. The goal is to achieve a beautiful crispiness that will not become soggy once inside the stuffing. Set aside to cool on some paper towels.

2. Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon fat. Keep the heat on medium high and place the carrots, celery, onion, and apple in the pan. Saute for 5 minutes or until the carrot just begins to soften. Add the garlic, oregano, basil, and sage and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes. Add the white wine to deglaze. Continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Place the cooked vegetables inside a large mixing bowl.

3. In the same pan, add the sausage and cook through. You can choose to cut the sausage into small bits, or keep in large clumps. The choice is yours. Cook until you cannot see any pink. Add the sausage to the vegetables.

4. Chop the bacon and add to the mixing bowl with the croutons. Add the chicken stock 1/4 c at a time until the croutons begin to get soggy and fall apart slightly. Combine the vegetable and meat mixture to the bread crumbs. Add to a casserole dish.

5. Cook at 400 degrees for 20 minutes until the top begins to get crispy. While cooking, the outside will get brown and crispy, the inside will remain moist and delicious. Serve piping hot.

Except when intentionally put there such as salted caramel desserts, finishing salts on soups, snacks such as chips and pretzels, or other uses deemed necessary by the chef, I want everyone to know that

Salt is not meant to be a flavor! Put down the shaker and walk away slowly!

Let me explain. When I was growing up, my kitchen table played host to a napkin holder with a salt and pepper shaker. My guess is your home might also have this or at least you grew up in a similar environment. Whenever dinner came around – and sometimes breakfast – the salt and pepper shakers were passed around to each person who would apply the “correct” amount of salt to their food. This was normal to me as my parents did it who grew up in homes where that was normal. The cycle has probably continued on for generations. But none of it was ever correct. In fact, the salt shaker need not have ever been anywhere near the table.

Among a host of other roles, salt is a flavor enhancer. When used properly in the kitchen, a small amount can boost the flavor of the ingredients inside the dish. You should never actually be able to taste the salt, but the flavors that explode in your mouth would otherwise be pretty dull without it. When added to the cooking process, the chemical makeup of the sodium attaches itself to the molecules in the food. When eaten, these molecules stimulate the salt receptors of your tongue which sends a pleasant good taste signal to your brain. When simply added on top, salt never has an opportunity to attach itself and change the chemical composition of the food your cooking, it just masks the flavor.

If you find yourself constantly adding salt to your food because it tastes pretty bland without it, that just means that you didn’t use enough salt when cooking it. Sure, you can use too much and completely ruin your meal, but you will actually add more salt to your food by shaking it on top than if you added it to your food to begin with. This is one of the hardest things to learn when cooking, but learning how to properly season your food before and during the cooking process is one of the more effective methods of reducing your salt intake and improving your health.

If you are like me, then you have been invited to a least one holiday party in which the host expects you to “Just bring your selves.” I wasn’t raised this way and I feel pretty uncomfortable showing up to even a  simple dinner party empty handed.

I think most people think to bring a bottle of wine, but I’ve noticed that whenever I do bring a bottle, it’s rarely opened. Wine is an acquired taste and you never know if your offering will be well appreciated and enjoyed or banished to the cooking wine shelf to collect dust. So in the spirit of the holidays, I offer you five new ideas that you can bring with you as gifts for your gracious hosts:

1) Champagne: I know what you’re saying. “Isn’t this the same as wine?” No, it’s not. Champagne is luxurious and bubbly and festive and I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy a glass of champagne at any point in the evening. If you are unsure of your hosts preferences, stick with a Brut which will be sweeter and not as dry. For the holidays, you can bring a Rose champagne which are pink in color just to give a little more festive vibe.

2) Gourmet Chocolate: Who doesn’t enjoy a nice bar of chocolate every now and then? For a special host gift, stay away from the big chocolate companies such as Lindt and Godiva and give an array of chocolate bars from a company your host may not have heard of such as Vosges-haut Chocolate. This company makes some pretty wild, yet delicious flavors such as their Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar and Black Salt Caramel bar. Wrap three or four of these bars together tied with some ribbon and you have a pretty memorable gift.

3) Dog Chew Toys: If the host has a dog, it’s never a bad idea to bring a new chew toy to keep their canine companion occupied while you enjoy your meal. If you don’t have a pet store near you, your local supermarket probably has some chew toys. But here’s a word of advice: don’t give them a squeaky toy. You may find yourself without an invitation the next time a party comes around.

4) Homemade Preserves: If you spent anytime during the summer or fall doing some canning, your host would love a jar or two complete with a homemade label and gift tag.

5) Small Gift Basket: Lastly, you can put together a small themed gift basket for very little cost. Grab a bag of colored pasta, a small bottle of good olive oil, and a jar of tomato sauce and you’ve given an instant dinner. Raid the sale racks and you’re bound to find a small collection of fun items your host might enjoy.

There are a bazillion ideas that you can give your hosts that would cost about the same as a bottle of wine. The question becomes whether you are willing to take a little extra time to think about your hosts and hostesses and what you might be able to give them for inviting you to their holiday party.

So readers, what host gifts are you giving your party hosts this year? What have you given in the past? Let me know. I’d love to get some fresh new ideas!

I love using crimini mushrooms. They pack all the meaty flavor of Portobello mushrooms inside a small, easily manipulated, package. Best of all, they are conveniently found in any local supermarket. For those that are not as comfortable with super sharp knives and small produce, you can often find these mushrooms pre-sliced as well.

In a previous post about picking side dishes, I mentioned how I enjoy looking at menus and deciphering what to place alongside my main entrees. This title came from a steakhouse in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve noticed in my travels over the past couple of years that Executive Chef’s have been using the word “salad” liberally these days to dress up their menus and make their dishes sound more sophisticated than they actually are. In essence, a salad is a mix of ingredients topped with a sauce. Thus, below is my best interpretation of what this steakhouse might have served had I been there.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 4 12 oz grass fed porterhouse steaks
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp shallot, minced
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne Pepper (or to taste)

1. Start by blending the brown sugar, ground mustard, sweet paprika, garlic powder, salt, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper together in a small bowl. Be sure to break up the clumps of brown sugar.

2. Rub the spice mixture on the steaks and let sit on the counter for 30 minutes. There are two reasons for this. The first is this will allow the spices to melt into meat and ensure the flavors are consistent in every bite. The second is you want to allow your meat to come to room temperature. When cold meat meets a hot pan, it instantly sticks and you’ll have to fight to get it off. This is a fight, by the way, that you won’t win without casualties.

3. While the steak is marinating, slice the mushrooms thin and add the shallots to a hot pan with olive oil over medium high heat (a 7 on the dial). Saute until the mushrooms have caramelized.

4. Remove the mushrooms and place the pan back over the heat. Add the balsamic vinegar to the pan to deglaze the pan. Make sure to scrape up any brown bits left behind. Add the vinegar to the mushrooms.

Note: You have a few options to cook your steaks. You can grill, broil, and roast them. For this recipe, I decided to butter baste them. This is good if you are cooking a small amount of steaks. If you are having the family over, for time purposes, it would be best to grill or broil the steaks.

5. Add 2 tbsp butter and an equal amount of olive oil to a pan and place over medium high heat. Once nearly smoking, add the steak to the pan. It should instantly sizzle. After a few minutes, tilt the pan slightly towards you and use a spoon to spoon the hot oil/butter over the steak. After five minutes, flip the steak and baste again. Set the steak under some aluminum foil to rest. Clean the pan out between steaks.

6. Plate your steak and add the mushroom salad on top. Spoon any juices over the steak. Here I’ve served the steak over french fries that will soak up the steak and mushroom juices.

I was asked this question about a month ago and wanted to take some time to address it. There are national staples such as pork and applesauce, soup and salad, cheeseburgers and fries, buffalo wings and blue cheese dressing. But what about other ambiguous meals. What do you put with roasted chicken? steak tips? pizza? Variety is important, but so is practicality. When deciding on a menu, there are a few different practices that you can adopt that will bring variety to your weekly menus. In an effort to bring continuity to information posts, I summon the spirit of Rob Gordon in order to list 5 ways to pick a side dish.

Top 5 methods to picking a side dish for dinner

5. Look in your pantry and freezer: There’s a good chance that somewhere buried behind the potato chips and six month old frozen meals that you have a bag of frozen vegetables, some rice, couscous, or some other accompaniment. While this may not satisfy your creative need, it does remove old food stuffs from your kitchen and makes room for new food stuffs.

4. Stroll through the produce section: This is a tough one as you may not completely trust that your culinary skills can make a side dish from a product you’ve bought. But, stroll through the produce section and see what looks good, what’s fresh. Talk with the produce guys and find out which produce is local. Local produce is fresher as it doesn’t have to fly on a plane or ride in a container to get to you. Fresh = flavor. Then when you get home, look up ways to make a side dish with it. If your pantry is well stocked, you should be able to make 75% of the recipes.

3. Look at the pictures: If you are using a recipe from a magazine, cookbook, or online blog, there should be a picture of the final product. What did they use? What ingredients surround the main entree? If the recipe was created by a reputable cook, wouldn’t it make sense that they probably know what side dish would go well with it?

2. Trust your taste buds: What do you like to eat? Sometimes picking a side dish is as simple as asking yourself this question. This entire blog is about the experience of food, making an adventure out of eating. Trying stuff you like and cooking it in a new way is another experience. Like french fries? Try making homemade ketchup or a different dipping sauce. Like corn on the cob? Grill it or make a garlic-herb butter to melt over. Like fried food? Try making a baked version of the dish.

1. Use restaurant menus: My all time number one favorite way of picking a side dish is to look at restaurants that I like to eat at (or wish I could afford) and see what they pair with their meals. Most restaurants have their menus online. Feel free to explore restaurants in Dallas, Miami, Boston, or Las Vegas. Also, don’t be taken aback by the description of the entree. Dry aged Ribeye served with a chanterelle sauce served over a fluffy bed of polenta is just steak and mushroom sauce with polenta. Grey sole with farm beet, upland cress and a citrus vinagrette is fish with a salad of roasted beets, watercress (lettuce) and a lemon vinagrette (salad dressing). If you can break down the components of the entree into individual ingredients, you can see what well trained executive chefs come up with. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, look it up. If you see something you like, give it a try. If you see something you’ve never tried before, now is the time!