Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

I came across this picture the other day:

Looking at this, I finally understand what it means when people say that muscle weighs more than fat. I get it now, how one can gain weight while losing mass. Do you see? Do you get it?

Does it click for you, too?

This clicked so hard for me, that I joined a gym – the North Kansas City Community Center – in order to build more muscle, which in turn will help me burn more fat.

Because, you see, I have decided to try something new. I’ve been fat – had a high body fat percentage – for as long as I can remember. Since childhood. I’ve never not been fat. So I’ve decided to try not being fat for a while and see how that goes. In order to give it a run, I’ve got to do some work in the form of weight training, cardio and all the rest.

Speaking of cardio – I started Week 4 Day 1 of the Couch to 5K program yesterday. After a 5-minute warm-up walk, I ran for 3 minutes, walked for 90 seconds, ran for 5 minutes, walked for 3 minutes, ran for 3 minutes, walked for 90 seconds and ran for 5 more minutes before walking a cool down. For those keeping score, I ran a total of 16 minutes yesterday, a personal record! Sure, I’m not a speed demon at this point in my running career, but I’m not working on speed. I’m going for endurance. Once I can run for 30 minutes in a row, then I’ll work on how far I run in that 30 minutes.

All of this running and walking and weight training means we’ve been trying to put together quicker dinners lately. Luckily, it’s summer so there’s all sorts of fresh fruits and veggies out there to throw in the mix. Also, salmon sears up fast! Here’s a couple of hits recently:

Salmon with Strawberry Salsa and Cilantro Lime Rice:

How pretty is that?!

Salmon with Peach Cucumber Salsa and Tabbouleh:

No recipe with this one – I had leftover tabbouleh from camping (I’ll post that recipe soon) and whipped up a peach salsa with cucumber, cilantro, red onion, a Serrano pepper, peaches and lime juice. Delish!

Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Frittata and a salad with spring greens, beets and goat cheese:

All of these meals are fresh, healthy and quick to prepare. That last part is pretty important when I want to spend a couple of hours in the gym each evening.

Tonight we’re having baked fish fillet sandwiches with leftover tabbouleh – I’m on a tabbouleh kick lately – before heading out to the gym for an upper-body workout. My arms are going to smart tomorrow, but I’ll earn that pain.

Remember – sweat is just fat crying. I love to watch it cry.

 

So I’m doing it!

Last Thursday, I started the C25K program. Since I’m new to running, I’m taking it a little slower. So instead of running for three sessions then moving to the next week, I am going to do Week 1 through the end of this week. That way, I can build up my endurance and muscles so when the intensity increases, I’ll be ready!

I’m following a mix of podcasts/apps. On Thursday, I used the C25K app and that version of the program. It had me alternating 30 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking for 20 minutes, with 5 minute warm-up and cool-down walks. On Saturday and Monday, I followed the 5K101 podcast, which had me alternating running for 2 minutes with walking for 3 minutes, for 20 minutes with 5 minute warm-ups and cool-downs. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to the C25K version, and I haven’t decided what I’ll do on Friday yet. I like this approach because it varies things up a bit to keep things interesting.

I’ve read a good deal of information about proper running form and how to take care of myself before, during and after a run, so I’m not going in blind. One of the biggest things I keep in mind is that this isn’t a race – speed and distance at this point isn’t important. The most important thing at this point in my development is building endurance. So while I may run for 2 minutes, I might not get that far. But I run for the entire 2 minutes. If I start to feel sore or breathless, I slow down, but I keep running. And so far, this has worked really well for me.

Of course, I’ve run about 24 minutes total so what do I know?

I watched a really inspiring video yesterday, and want o share it with you, too:

In the video, Arthur says, “just because I can’t do it today, doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.” This is the most inspiring and motivating thing I’ve heard in a long time, and have taken it on as a mantra of sorts. I may not be able to run a mile or two or twenty today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to run that far someday.

By the way – since I started walking (and now running) with my Fitbit and tracking my food with the program (about 2 1/2 weeks), I’ve lost 4.5 lbs. That’s pretty motivating, too.

I’ve been in a weight-loss slump for the last year. I haven’t gained any back (thank goodness), but I haven’t lost any, either. I needed something to get me going again – a jump-start. A kick in the (still larger than I’d like them to be) pants.

Enter the Fitbit.

The Fitbit is a high-tech pedometer that tracks steps, distance, stairs, calories burned and activity levels, then syncs the information via a base station to a website. The website then shows graphs and charts of activity through the day, and can also be used to track food, weight and health stats. There’s a social aspect in that you can Friend others with Fitbits, and keep track of their information via a leaderboard – who walked the most steps, was most active, etc. It will even track sleep patterns, though I haven’t used it for that (yet).

Mr. Awesome and I got Fitbits about two weeks ago and have since turned into walking machines. Our goal is to walk at least 10,000 steps a day, but we’ve exceeded that by thousands every day so far. We see it as a competition of sorts – who can walk the most during the day at work, can we be at the top of the leaderboard – and that keeps me motivated to want to walk further.

It’s also what is making me want to take up running.

I’ve never been a runner. In high school, I avoided physical activity of that sort like the plague, and have never run more than a couple hundred yards in my life that I can remember. That is, until the last few days.

Gradually, as we walk on the trail near our house, we’re inserting short bursts of running. “To the end of the fence!” “To the scoreboard!” “Make it to the big tree – not this big tree – that big tree up there!” Over the last few days, as I’ve been able to run in these short segments and realize that I’m not gasping for air or tripping or keeling over in pain, my self-confidence has grown and I am coming to believe that yes, I can be a runner.

Last night, I ran almost a quarter of a mile in one stretch. I wasn’t fast, but I made it, and when I reached my goal point (a light pole somewhere on the trail) I almost cried.

I can’t wait to do it again tonight.

If you have a Fitbit, befriend me at http://www.fitbit.com/user/234NVL. If you don’t have a Fitbit, consider getting one. It’s changed my life – I really don’t think it’s too soon to say that.

All this new activity requires proper fueling for the body. Lately, we’ve been eating a lot of salads for dinner…

…like this one with spring greens, smoked salmon, beets, blue cheese crumbles and candied walnuts:

Or this one with baby arugula, beets and imitation lobster:

Those are goat cheese stuffed dates in the background. Which, by the way, are about as delicious as it gets.

Sometimes, we want a little more than just a big salad. When that happens, an egg makes an appearance:

Don’t forget the Sriracha!

I’m planning on starting the Couch to 5K program in a few days. I’m optimistic – for the first time in my life I can actually picture me not just slimmer, but active and physically fit. This is really exciting – I’m going to be a runner!

Remember when I told you I love to cook seafood? I also like challenging myself to find new ways to cook seafood, which is why I picked up a copy of Rick Moonen’s Fish Without a Doubt. I love this book because there’s a good mix of simple and challenging recipes throughout. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve made two meals from the book, both with excellent results.

The first recipe we tried was for Jalapeno Salmon Burgers. The instructions were clear and easy to follow, and the only modification we made was to serve the burgers on whole-wheat hamburger buns instead of pitas.

These are so flavorful. I think we’ll kick the heat up a bit next time, though, by using a Serrano pepper instead of the jalapeno. Just a tiny bit more heat would be really good.

The other recipe we tried was his Oil-Poached Halibut with Gribiche and Poached Eggs, with became Sous Vide Whitefish with Gribiche and Poached Eggs. This one we modified quite a bit to reduce fat and because I couldn’t find some ingredients locally. We used cod because we couldn’t find halibut, but I prefer halibut so we’ll use that when it’s available. We also chose to sous vide the fish, rather than oil-poaching it, because while oil poached fish sounds delicious, it also sounds like a plea for a heart attack. Our version was really, really good, capturing the essence of Moonen’s dish while staying true to our healthy convictions.

Another winner.

So many people say they “don’t like fish.” I don’t get it. There are so many varieties of fish, and preparation methods – it’s like saying, “I don’t like vegetables” or “I don’t like meat” – such a sweeping condemnation of such a large family of food choices. Poach it, eat it in a burger, pan-sear it, form it into patties, chunk it up in stew – jeez, the possibilities are endless. Moonen’s book as recipes for all of these and more. It’s hard to decide what to cook next.

Such a wonderful dilemma.

I love seafood. I love cooking it, I love eating it, I love looking at it all laid out in a fish counter. Seafood can be temperamental, if not treated right. But when you do get it right – and it’s not hard, once you have a little practice under your belt and know some basics – it’s divine.

We pan-sear lots of salmon in our house, because we love salmon, because pan-searing is easy, it’s versatile, and it’s a great way to get stunning results with little effort. You’ll need a good, non-stick skillet, and we’ve found that a cast-iron skillet works the best. So long as you use the minimal amount of oil possible to cook with – cooking spray is perfect to help monitor oil use – you’ll end up with a beautiful, healthful, delicious piece of cooked protein.

To perfectly pan-sear salmon fillets, pre-heat a cast-iron skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Pat the fillets dry and season with a little salt and pepper about 1 minute before they are ready to go in the pan. Spritz a little cooking spray in the skillet and immediately lay the fillets in the pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes, and leave the fillets alone until the timer goes off. After three minutes, flip the fillets over, set at timer for 2 minutes and leave the fish alone again. Remove from the skillet to whatever plate you’re eating on and admire that gorgeous, golden crust.

This will cook your salmon to medium doneness. I prefer mine a little on the less-done than more-done side, so adjust your time by about 30 seconds either way for each level of doneness you prefer.

We usually cook some rice, make some sort of sauce and serve our fillets on the rice with sauce and veggies, like so – Red Curry Salmon with Peppers and Bok Choy:

A meal like this, if you have some Trader Joe’s frozen rice, can take about 15 minutes to put together, from the time you open the fridge to get the salmon, to the time you sit down and take your first, luscious bite. So quick. So easy. So, so mouthwateringly good.

Lots of good food going on in our kitchen lately…

Some of it is really simple, and some of it has been a bit more complex. We’ll stick with the simple stuff for now.

Like a ham and cheese omelette:

A day off led to sleeping in, after which I thought an omelette was appropriate. I was right.

Egg Beaters, leftover ham, cheddar cheese, Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning (ah-mazing with eggs), salsa, sour cream. Great way to start a day. Or an afternoon.

Or like sous vide pork chops with pan roasted cauliflower:

Tastes like super-thick bacon.

Brine the pork overnight in a solution of 1/4 c. salt dissolved in 4 cups of water. Rinse, season with a little salt and pepper, vacuum seal and sous vide at 140 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. Remove from bag, pat dry, and sear in a blazing hot cast iron skillet for about 1 minute on each side.

Or maybe old-school taco crunch:

Ah, the best part of high school food – taco crunch. Mine isn’t as good as the kind covered in Fritos, but it’s close.

Lettuce, baked corn chips, cheese, salsa, sour cream, taco meat – nothing fancy here, just tasty.

Or like a sous vide flank steak with roasted purple potatoes and blue cheese:

Let’s talk for a minute about steak.You can have a tender cut (tenderloin, strip) or a flavorful cut (flank, skirt) but you usually can’t have both. Which is why the sous vide method of cooking is so incredible.

Season a flank steak with salt and pepper, vacuum seal it, and sous vide it at 140 degrees for 36 hours. Remove from bag, pat dry, sear and slice. You’ll have a perfectly cooked medium piece of tender, flavorful steak.

I repeat – if you want the best steak you’ll ever eat, cook your steak this way. Your first steak cooked this way is worth the cost of a Sous Vide Supreme. For reals.

So simple!

There’s a downside to learning to cook great food at home: most restaurants just don’t do it as well as I can.

This isn’t a conceit – it’s the truth. I get to focus on two or four plates, not an entire restaurant. I can tailor the flavors to my own palate, the nutrition to my own needs and the level of execution to my own standards. This isn’t to say I’m rigid in what I like and dislike – on the contrary. Those who know me know there aren’t many flavors or foods I won’t eat. When I give it real thought, it’s a short list, and based on experiences I can pinpoint:

  • Yuzu and lemon together – an unfortunate tart at a restaurant in Denver
  • Duck confit – overly-greasy at a school in Kansas
  • Torchon of foie gras – a much-too-large portion at a bar in KC
  • Baby corn – general disappointment each time it appears

Even those examples aren’t deal-breakers for me. My rule is, if I don’t like something, I need to try it prepared by a chef I trust. If I still don’t like it, I don’t like it, but I gave it the best effort. I learned to love Brussels Sprouts because of a dish at Room 39. I crave beets thanks to a preparation at Rioja in Denver. Both of these items were on my short list before I had them prepared in the right way. Who knows, there might be a right way to prepare baby corn. I doubt it, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

I digress. The downside to learning to cook at home. It’s like learning to knit. Now that I can, and I know how simple it is, I can’t get myself to pay $40 for a cowl at the GAP. I will, however, spend $30 on yarn and make the cowl myself, with improvements. Same with cooking – spending money on a meal that I know I can do better at home is just aggravating. So I seek out places that hopefully can do things better or, at the very least, inspire me to do something new in my own kitchen.

Such was the mindset as we made reservations at The Farmhouse last Saturday. We’d never been, but the reviews were positive and the menu looked very good. Unfortunately, our experience didn’t meet our expectations.

The Farmhouse is located in the River Market area at 3rd and Deleware. The restaurant space is quite nice – it has that rustic upscale feel that’s been popular for a while, with dark hardwoods and antique furniture alongside bright artwork and twinkling lights. The feel is romantic and cozy, and we were charmed. I especially liked the chalkboard towards the back of the main dining room which listed the sources for all of the ingredients used in their dishes. A very nice touch indeed.

It wasn’t easy making dinner choices – everything sounded so delicious in the menu. We each ordered a different salad, but chose the same entree, and split dessert.

The salads were just okay. The ingredients were fresh, and both had high points – a perfectly fried slice of goat cheese on mine, and some beautiful polenta croutons on his. But they both had lackluster dressing with little flavor and too much oil. They were overdressed to the point that the oil flavor masked the fresh, local vegetables the restaurant is so proud of.

Our entrees were sort of a disaster. We both ordered a chicken roulade dish with smoked mushroom duxelle, sweet potato puree and arugula.  The presentation was lovely – the chicken was browned and crisp on the outside, the puree was smooth and creamy, the arugula was bright and fresh. The first couple of bites were very good. But then things went south. Neither of us could cut through the center of our chicken – they were completely raw in the center. At about this point, the smokiness of the mushrooms became overwhelming, then intrusive and ultimately boring. We ate about 75% of the dish (the cooked part) and informed our server that the rest of our chicken was raw. We didn’t want replacement meals, and asked that he simply inform the chef so that future diners didn’t suffer such a dining fate.

Not completely satiated from our entrees, we opted finally for a slice of pecan pie for dessert. Again, nothing special. My molasses pecan pie is much better, and Pillsbury crust is flakier and had more flavor. We both agreed that our meal at The Farmhouse was less than stellar, but we also agreed that some of that is due to our own culinary skills at home.

Some good things did come out of the meal. We’ll be making polenta croutons soon, and will also be adding some thinly sliced pear to our salads on occasion. The biggest revelation, though, is the chicken roulade. After some discussion, we decided that we can perfect this dish by tightly vacuum-sealing the chicken roulades, and cooking them sous vide until done. Then a quick sear in a hot skillet to finish. This will guarantee tender, perfectly formed, perfectly cooked roulades. I’ll let you know how that works, when we try it.

The Takeaway: The Farmhouse (http://www.eatatthefarmhouse.com/) just didn’t rise up to our admittedly high standards. Overdressed salads, raw chicken, lackluster pie – nothing was outstanding. However, their commitment to locally sourced ingredients is commendable. This may make a good brunch spot, but someone else will have to fill me in as we won’t be returning any time soon.

The Farmhouse
300 Delaware Street
Kansas City, MO

Since my bone marrow donation in October, I hadn’t heard anything about how my recipient was doing. Paulette from Be The Match said this happened sometimes, that no news was good news, that we might hear something at the 6-month mark. I resigned myself to not knowing anything about her, other than her age and disease, hoped for the best regarding her recovery, but prepared for the worst should I get an unfavorable update somewhere down the road.

But yesterday, I received a welcome surprise: Paulette called and told me that my recipient had send me a letter and small package, and that “because of the language” I would be able to figure out where my recipient was from. Since knowing those sorts of details before the allotted time period is a no-no, Be The Match had to approve sending the package on to me, and had to black out some specific information that would give away more information that they thought appropriate at this point in time.

In a matter of minutes, I learned that my recipient was not only alive, but doing well enough to put a letter and package together. Not only that, she wasn’t from the United States as I thought, but from another country. When my cells were rushed to the airport, they caught an international flight to points unknown! I was overwhelmed with happiness at these developments. To know that my recipient was alive and relatively well is, well, I just don’t have words.

This morning, I received a FedEx envelope at work containing a typed letter (with names of towns and people blacked out). I started to read the letter out loud to Mr. Awesome over the phone, but I couldn’t finish because I started to get all teary. It’s one thing to think about how my recipient is doing. It’s another to read what she thinks about my contribution. Her words are ones that are burned into my heart, and as much as she tells me I have done for her, she has done just as much for me.

It’s clear from the letter that English is not my recipient’s first language, but it didn’t give away any country of origin. However, included with the letter was a Christmas card and small wooden ornament:

Hmm… what language is that? Maybe there’s more inside…

It’s German! My recipient is from Germany!

The text is from a poem by German poet Arno Holz. Here is the Google translation:

And now again be in the dark,
the stars twinkle their Christmas
Thr lights illuminated even every home
and the Christ Child tells out the gifts.

I took a minute to read a little about Arno Holz. He was fascinated with the work of Charles Darwin and believed it was scientifically possible to eliminate subjectivity from art. He summarized this philosophy in the following formula:

Art = Nature – x, where “x” is the materials needed to produce art

While I don’t agree – I believe art is based on subjectivity and it’s value is derived from the emotional impact is has on a participant – I respect the attempt to quantify such a broad idea.

My patient wants to meet me someday. I would like to meet her, too. Perhaps we could talk about life and art and nature. Or we could just hug each other and be happy for one another’s existence.

I have a little scar just above my clavicle from the central line, and whenever I think about my patient, I reach up and touch it and send a good thought into the universe for her. The scar is my badge of honor, a reminder of my experience and how fragile we all are. I send good thoughts into the universe for my patient a lot. I like to think it helps her heal. I know it helps me. Maybe one day we can talk about that, too.

(This is a cross-post with my not-so-foodie site, Sit. Stay. Good Blog. It’s important, so I want as many people to learn about bone marrow donation as possible.)

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to eat was the Caesar salad at the Savoy Grill in Kansas City. The salad was prepared table-side in a large wooden bowl and I was fascinated that so many odd-smelling and -looking components could combine to make something so delicious.

I was thrilled to open my copy of Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal to find a very workable version of this classic salad, conveniently portioned for two.

With anchovies and egg yolk at the ready, I prepared to take on this classic… and won the day, with a few minor adjustments from the original recipe. Take a look:

It’s a Caesar salad from (mostly) scratch! I didn’t make the croutons, but I did make some kick-ass Caesar dressing. Wow wow wowee.

Perfect Caesar Salad for 2
Servings: 2 (just like in the title :) )

1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy, minced
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. sherry cooking wine
1 1/2 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and pepper
14 croutons
1 medium head Romaine lettuce, tough outer leaves removed, cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch strips

Combine the garlic and anchovies in a jar or glass using a hand blender until smooth. Add the egg yolk and continue blending, then add the sherry and vinegar until fully incorporated. With the hand blender running, slowly drizzle in the oil and blend until mixture is thick, sort of like mayonnaise. Add half of the Parmesan cheese to the dressing and stir by hand, then season with salt and pepper. If the dressing should be thinner, add a little water or vinegar, depending on your preference.

Toss the dressing with the lettuce and the rest of the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Divide onto two plates, then divide the croutons between the salads.

A salad fit for an emperor, or just your average Monday night. Hail, Caesar!

In the spirit of people making New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to expand my cooking horizons in the new year.

This vow has stemmed, in part from the fact that I received many excellent cookbooks for Christmas. Many. Excellent. Cookbooks. This will receive its own post as soon as I unload my camera (I probably should vow not to procrastinate as much this year, but I think I’ll save that one for next year).

One of the books I received was Ferran Adria’s The Family Meal, a well-done, practical guide to simple, straightforward cooking. Loaded with photos to guide you at every step along the cooking process, the book is filled with recipes for complete meals made from common and inexpensive ingredients. Like many cookbooks, this one has a section of “basic” recipes for things you can use in other recipes. Things like pesto, tomato sauce, and the first thing I decided to make from the book, sofrito, which is a combination of onions, garlic and tomatoes used as the base for many dishes.

Sofrito
Servings: 2 1/3 cups – for use in other recipes

9 garlic cloves
1/2 c. extra-virgin oil
4 1/3 c. onions, finely chopped
3/4 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. dried rosemary
1 dried bay leaf
8 oz canned tomato puree
1/2 tsp. salt

Put the garlic into a tall jar or beaker, then process to a paste using a hand-held blender. Put a saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Fry the garlic until browned.

Meanwhile, process the onion in the blender. Add to the pan with the garlic. Lower the heat, add the herbs, then fry, stirring frequently, until the onion has browned.

Add four-fifths of the tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes. Add the remaining tomato, cook for 30 more minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

This will keep in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for 6 months.

I froze most of this for use later, but used some of it in dinner last night:

That, my friends, is one of the tastiest, and probably the healthiest preparation Chicken Tikka Masala you or I will ever eat. Those are some halved dates on the plate in the background, left over from Christmas’s sticky toffee pudding (I promise to post about that sometime soon, too).

I based my recipe on one I found from Weight Watchers, but tweaked it quite a bit to fit my proclivities in the kitchen – like the addition of sofrito to the sauce, and using the sous vide cooking method for the chicken. Using sous vide for the chicken cut down on time, in that I could cook the chicken and marinate it in one step. The chicken came out melt-in-your-mouth tender, and was intensely flavorful. Sofrito added a depth of flavor to the sauce that isn’t normally found in quick-cook meals, and really took this dish to the next level.

Lyndsey’s Chicken Tikka Masala
Servings: 4

For the chicken:
2/3 c. low-fat plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. fresh ginger root, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp cumin seeds, divided
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast(s), cut into 2-inch chunks

For the sauce:
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp. sofrito (see above)
1 small jalapeño pepper(s), minced
1 tsp Cumin seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
8 oz canned tomato sauce
1 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup(s) cilantro, fresh, chopped
2 cup(s) cooked white rice, basmati, kept hot (we used TJ’s Frozen Jasmine Rice)

For the chicken:
Heat the Sous Vide Supreme to 147 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together yogurt, lime juice, ginger, garlic, cumin and pepper; add chicken and toss to coat. Put into a food-safe bag and vacuum-seal on medium. Sous vide for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken from bag and pat off most of the marinade.

Heat 1 tsp. oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Just when the oil starts to smoke, add the chicken and sear for 1 minute on each side. Remove to a plate while you make the sauce.

For the sauce:
Heat 1 tsp. oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the sofrito and jalapeno; cook, stirring occasionally, 1 minute. Add remaining teaspoon of cumin and paprika and stir to coat. Add tomato sauce and evaporated milk, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add chicken back into skillet with the sauce and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve with rice.

Both Mr. Awesome and I loved this dish and plan on putting it in the permanent rotation.

This will be a year full of love, laughter, good food and good times. Hello, 2012!