Friday, May 4, 2012

Shiny and sparkly, and splendidly bright; Here one day, gone one night...

Yesterday I read an article online about a black hole that swallowed a star.  I was drawn in by the magnitude of that thought. How can a sun be swallowed up?  Why would nature allow something so bright and important to be extinguished before its time?  It is, of course, the relentlessness of nature that would allow such a thing to take place.  The star, following the path it had for millenia, ran into an immovable force, an object that by all definition is pure nothingness, yet weighed millions of times more than the star.  In 138 days, a star that had shone brightly in the nothingness of space for thousands of years was taken away from us.  There is one less star shining in our night sky, one less beacon sending us signals from places unknown, one less point in an unknown constellation.

While I was reading this article, my family was losing one of its brightest stars to the black hole that is cancer.  My cousin, Linda, lost her battle with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia today, taking part of all of us with her in the process.  Linda would not want us to dwell on her death, but to celebrate her life by remembering that bright spot in the sky, allowing it to burn in our memories, and moving forward with our lives.

When I started this blog last year, Linda was the first follower that I had.  I was so happy, I came home and told Erin, "I have my first follower." It is that support that I will pay forward, that character that I hope I can display in my own life. I am going to start now and urge everyone reading this to do what they can. Every year, 10,000 patients need a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, but only half of those patients recieve one. Please go to http://marrow.org/ to learn about bone marrow donation and sign up to be a donor or make a monetary contribution. I know I will.

I'm starting with the man in the mirror (Ooh!), I'm asking him to change his ways (Ooh!)

A lot of people have been asking me about my recent weight loss.  I have been on my new path for about 65 days now and have lost about 26 lbs.  I look better and I feel fantastic.  I sleep much better and I wake up in the morning feeling energized and ready to take on the day.  I do not like to use the word 'diet', because that is not what this is, so instead I am calling it a lifestyle change. This change focuses on things that I can eat instead of the things I cannot. As with most things in my culinary life, I can thank Food Network's megastar, Alton Brown, for most of my success. In the episode "Live and Let Diet", of his show Good Eats, Alton outlined the strategy he used to drop 50 lbs in 9 months. Alton's system, as are most of his recipes, is simple in form and implementation and wonderfully geeky in its science. Alton's complete plan is available in his newest cookbook, Good Eats 3: The Later Years (Click on the link to buy it from amazon.com), which not only outlines his diet plan but also packs a ton of great recipes. Try his Shrimp Gumbo, you will love it! His plan involves the implementation of 4 lists:

List 1: Foods I must Consume Daily

- Fruits - specifically red and purple fruits which are higher in antioxidants
- Whole Grains
- Dark Leafy Greens - (i.e. Chard, Collards, Spinach, etc) Lettuce does not count
- Nuts
- Carrots
- Green Tea

List 2: Foods I must consume at least three times per week
- Oily Fish
- Yogurt
- Broccoli
- Sweet Potato
- Avocado

List 3: Foods I can consume only one time per week
- Red Meat
- White Starch - white rice, pasta, potato
- Dessert
- Alcohol

List 4: Foods I cannot eat
- Fast Food
- Pop
- Processed Meals
- Canned Soups
- "Diet" anything

I have used these lists as a rough guideline for my own weight loss.  I have not followed them exactly for a few reasons, one being broccoli.  Try as I might, there is nothing I can do with that vegetable that can make it taste good.  The basis for the lists is simple: focus on the foods that you like that are high in noncaloric nutrients. I must say that it was surprisingly simple to cut out the foods in list 4. I have not had "fast food" since January and to be honest, I do not miss it. While I have cheated a little on the pop issue, it has not been much.  I used to drink at least one large McDonald's Coke every day.  Since January, I can count on one hand the number of cans of pop I have had. The other lists are really easy to incorporate and are easily adaptable to most palates.  For example, if you do not like broccoli, substitute with cauliflower.

Alton had one more rule to share, and that was always eat breakfast. I have been eating breakfast every day for the last 60 days or so and it has certainly worked for me.  Prior to my change, I never ate breakfast. Alton prefers to drink his breakfast and I have found that I do too.  A smoothie in the morning is not only a super easy way to incorporate a day's worth of fruit into your diet but also a hand-held, easy to make breakfast for on-the-go lifestyles. A few months ago, I posted about our smoothies which you can find here: Playwurfood.blogspot.com - smoothies, or you can just scroll down to find the recipe for a new version we have been gobbling up.

The final part of my plan has been exercise.  I went from not working out at all to working out 4-5 days a week for 35-55 minutes, alternating between upper body, lower body and full body workouts.

I hope this helps someone out there.  I myself have never felt better and as you can probably tell, I love telling people about it, so if you have any questions, please feel free to drop them in the comments below and I would be happy to answer them for you. Enjoy!

Orange Dream Smoothie

4oz Orange Juice
4oz Fat Free Soy Milk
4oz Peaches (Frozen)
4oz Mangoes (Frozen)
4oz Strawberries (Frozen)
4oz Pinable (Frozen)

Place all of the ingredients into your blender carafe and cover. Refrigerate overnight or up to 8 hours.

In the morning, or when the fruit is partially thawed, place the carafe on the base of the blender and start blending at the lowest speed.  After all of the fruit is blended, increase the speed to medium (if you have it) until you achieve a vortex.  Blend on medium (or low) for 1 minute. Increase speed to high and blend for 1 minute. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Friday, February 17, 2012

I got in a little hometown jam; and so they put a rifle in my hands


Is there any more perfect food than the sandwich? Seriously, it offers everything you need in a handheld device.  When you think about it, the sandwich really is the iPhone of the culinary world. Sadly, we rarely venture beyond roasted turkey or PB and J in this country, which is sad because there are so many great sandwiches from other lands just waiting for us to find and devour. One such sandwich is the Vietnamese Banh Mi, which has been all the rage in food circles of late. I was intrigued at first glance, but never got around to making one up.  After all, there are some unusual components. For those who do not know, a Banh Mi consists of:
1) French Baguette brought to Vietnam by French settlers - I made my own only because I wanted it to be whole grain, you can just get a french baguette from a bakery
2) Grilled Meat, any kind will do - I chose pork tenderloin, because it's delicious and only contains 3g of fat per serving.
3) Pickled Vegetables, usually carrots and daikon - I could not find daikon so I used carrots and jicama. Daikon, being of the radish family, is a little spicier than the jicama, but the textures are similar, and I think the jicama was a good replacement. You could also try a red radish which is much more spicy than a daikon.
4) Mayo - I used light mayo of course and jazzed it up with some Asian ingredients.
5) Fresh Vegetables, usually cucumber- I am not a huge fan of cucumber so I decided to go with cabbage and made a slaw out of the cabbage and mayo mixture.  That will be going into rotation this summer as the world's most awesome coleslaw!

Finally,  I decided to give it a shot and make it healthy at the same time.  We were so not disappointed!  Even though I had to start prepping ingredients 3 days ahead of time, the sandwich ended up being a delight in taste and texture.  First, you bite down through the super crusty french bread, then you get the spicy juiciness of the meat and the ever so pleasant sour-crispness from the pickled veg, and oooohhhh baby!! I am salivating as I type this it was so damn good, so good in fact that Erin requested I make it again the next night. Maybe it's the incredible combination of flavors or maybe it's the awesome name, Banh Mi, but there is just something about this sandwich.  Give it a try.  I would love to know what you think.  Enjoy!

Banh Mi (4 servings)


Pickled Vegetation - Make 3-5 days ahead of time
  1 Lg Carrot, Julienned
  1/2 Sm Jicama, Julienned
  Brine:
  1 Cup Water
  1 TBSP Distilled white vinegar
  1 TBSP Sugar
  2 tsp Salt
  pinch Red Pepper Flake

Place julienned vegetables into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Mix brine ingredients together and pour over vegetables to cover. Let pickle for 3-5 days, the longer you go the more sour the pickle will become.

Coleslaw

  1/4 Cup Mayo
  1 tsp Sriracha
  1/4 tsp Onion Powder
  1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
  1/2 tsp Mirin
  1/2 tsp Soy Sauce
  1/2 tsp Fish Sauce
  1/4-1/2 tsp Granulated Sugar
  2 Cups Shredded Coleslaw Mix

Mix together the first 8 ingredients, until well combined. Add shredded cabbage and stir until well coated. This is a little heavier on the dressing than a standard coleslaw but it is meant to go with the sandwich, if making as a side, use only about half of the dressing mix.

 Meat: (3 hours to 24 hours prior to cooking)
  1 Pork Tenderloin
  Marinade:
  1 tsp Sesame Oil
  4 TBSP Mirin
  2 TBSP White Whine Vinegar
  2 TBSP Fish Sauce
  3 tsp Sriracha (more if you like it really hot)
  1 2inch Piece of Lemongrass, chopped fine
  2 Cloves Garlic, Crushed
  2 TBSP Sugar
  2 TBSP Soy Sauce
  1/4 tsp Ground Ginger
  1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
Bread
  2 French Baguettes

Whisk together the Marinade ingredients until the sugar is dissolved. Place pork and marinade into a zip-top bag and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or even better, overnight.

Start a chimney full of natural lump charcoal and preheat your grill for at least 15 minutes. You'll know it is ready when you can only hold your hand over the grill great for about 5 seconds. Clean the grill with a grill brush and oil the greats with a folded paper towel dipped in vegetable oil.

Remove meat from marinade and place directly onto the grate, grill for about 3-4 minutes per side, until the pork tenderloin is medium. (140-145 degrees). After the pork tenderloin reaches 145 degrees, remove it from the grill and cover with foil, let rest for 10 minutes. While the pork is resting cut the bread in half horizontally and tunnel out the inside of the bread, heat the bread on the grill or under the broiler until toasty and crunchy 5-10 minutes, keep an eye on it so it does not burn.

Slice the pork in 1/4 inch slices and layer on the bottom of the bread, top the pork with the pickled vegetables and coleslaw and top with the top half of the bread. Slice into individual portions and devour.


Friday, February 3, 2012

I'm hot, sticky sweet...from my head to my feet, yeah!


For the last two weeks, I have been revamping the way I eat in an effort to get more nutritious fresh foods into my system and less rich and processed foods. Unfortunately for Erin, that means she is taking this journey with me, and to her credit, she has been absolutely amazing and supportive, but I know she misses a few things. One of her most missed dishes are the Honey Chipotle Chicken Crispers from Chili's.  Upon looking them up, I found that a single serving of these delectable pieces of chicken goodness comes in at 1,960 calories! Holy Crap! That is nearly my entire daily allotment of calories in a single meal!

So I set out to find out what makes these things so damn bad for you.  I mean seriously, it's chicken! That's when I found that these strips of chicken are battered and then breaded, that's right 2x the breading, which means 2x the surface area available to soak up grease. So the question became, how do I get the flavor without the ridiculous amount of calories?  After some internet searching and recipe tweaking, I came up with a honey chipotle sauce and a low fat ranch dressing and turned that into a chipotle chicken wrap or oven baked chicken strips breaded with panko bread crumbs.  Pair either of those with roasted root vegetables dusted with chipotle powder or some oven roasted sweet potato fries and you have a pretty good meal. When all is said and done, the Honey Chipotle Chicken Wrap came in at 382 calories per serving and the Oven Fried Honey Chipotle Crispy Chicken Strips came in at 449 calories.  Now that I can get on board with!  I hope you all enjoy.

Oven Fried Honey Chipotle Crispy Chicken Strips

1 1/4  lb        Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Cut into 1/2 inch strips
1/2     Cup    Lowfat Buttermilk
4        Cups   Panko Bread Crumbs
1/2     tsp      Salt
          pinch   Black Pepper
1/2     tsp      Paprika
                     Cooking Spray
1/4     Cup     Honey Chipotle Glaze (Recipe Follows)
1/4     Cup     Low Fat Ranch (Recipe Follows)


Preheat oven to 400.
Combine Chicken and buttermilk in a dish, cover and refrigerate for at least 15minutes to 2 hours.

Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place Panko in a shallow dish. Drain the chicken and season with salt, pepper and paprika. Coat each piece of chicken with the panko bread crumbs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes, or until instant read thermometer reads 165. Leave the chicken on a baking sheet to cool slightly, it will become crispier. Toss the Chicken in the Honey Chipotle Glaze and Serve immediately with Low Fat Ranch for dipping. Serve with Sweet potato oven fries.


Honey Chipotle Chicken Wrap (4 servings)

1    lb         Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into strips
1    TBSP  Olive Oil
1/4 Cup     Honey Chipotle Glaze (recipe follows)

4               Whole Wheat Tortillas
1/3 Cup     Shredded Carrots
1    Cup     Baby Spinach, washed
1/2 Cup     Monterrey Jack, Shredded
1/4 Cup     Low Fat Ranch (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350
Brush chicken with olive oil and place on parchment lined baking sheet, bake for 10-15 minutes or better still when an instant read thermometer reads 165. Remove from oven and toss in the Honey Chipotle Glaze.

Lay out a tortilla and spread on 1 TBSP of Ranch, top with 1/4 each of the carrots, spinach, cheese and finally the chicken. Wrap into a burrito shape and secure with a toothpick. Continue with the final 3 tortillas and enjoy. Serve with oven roasted carrots and sweet potatoes dusted with chipotle powder and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Low-Fat Ranch Dressing

1/2 Cup     Greek Yogurt, Plain
1/3 Cup     Low fat Buttermilk
3    TBSP  Light Mayonnaise
1     tsp      Dijon Mustard
1/2  tsp      Onion Powder
1/2  tsp      Garlic Powder
1    TBSP   Finely Chopped fresh Chives (or 1-2 tsp of dried, to taste)
                  Salt (to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, season with salt to taste and refrigerate for up to 1 week.


Honey Chipotle Glaze

1/2 Cup     Honey
3    TBSP  Water
3    TBSP  Ketchup
2    TBSP  Apple Cider Vinegar
3/4  tsp      Chipotle Powder
1/2  tsp      Garlic, Crushed
1/2  tsp      Salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, over med-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Can be stored in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You've been hit by, You've been struck by - a smooth criminal.


Over the past year, I have been trying to eat a little better.  As the idea of having children looms in the very near future, I have decided it may be time to start taking care of myself. Including more vegetables into my diet has been an easy task as they are easy to hide in cooked foods and as my cooking has evolved, thankfully so has my palette.  Foods that I used to scoff at now rank among my favorites. Alas, there is always a challenge and for me, it has been incorporating more fruit into my diet. Now, for the most part, I actually like fruit. I have just found that when we do buy it, we end up throwing half of it away because we either forget about it or just don't want to eat it before its time has come.

So, I have decided to take two problems and find a single solution.  Thanks to Alton Brown, I learned that by using frozen fruit, I could put all of the ingredients together the night before and have breakfast ready the next morning in a matter of three minutes. What is this miraculous fruity breakfast you ask?  Why, it's the Smoothie! For the last week, Erin and I have started our day with a homemade smoothie and it has gotten to the point where I now look forward to getting up in the morning.  This is no easy feat for Erin and I considering the two of us are anything but morning people. The formula is pretty simple:  8 oz of liquid to 16 oz of mixed frozen fruit. Try it out and let me know what you think!  Here are a few of our favorites from this week:

Erin's Strawberry Banana Smoothie

4oz Grape Juice (Pomegranate/Acai/or really any juice you are fond of)
4oz Fat Free Soy Milk
4oz Bananas (Frozen)
4oz Blueberries (Frozen)
4oz Strawberries (Frozen)
4oz Mangoes (Frozen)

Place all of the ingredients into your blender carafe and cover. Refrigerate overnight or up to 8 hours.

In the morning, or when the fruit is partially thawed, place the carafe on the base of the blender and start blending at the lowest speed. After all of the fruit is blended, increase the speed to medium (if you have it) until you achieve a vortex.  Blend on medium (or low) for 1 minute.  Increase speed to high and blend for 1 minute. Serve immediately, paper umbrella optional.

Michael's Banana-less smoothie (Because seriously, those things are just gross)

4oz Apple Juice
4oz Fat Free Soy Milk
4oz Peaches (Frozen)
4oz Mangoes (Frozen)
4oz Strawberries (Frozen)
4oz Blueberries (Frozen)

Place all of the ingredients into your blender carafe and cover. Refrigerate overnight or up to 8 hours.

In the morning, or when the fruit is partially thawed, place the carafe on the base of the blender and start blending at the lowest speed.  After all of the fruit is blended, increase the speed to medium (if you have it) until you achieve a vortex.  Blend on medium (or low) for 1 minute. Increase speed to high and blend for 1 minute. Serve immediately. Enjoy!