Me and my Diet

Image credit http://www.flickr.com/people/16004130@N08/

I have never had to watch what I eat. I am blessed with a fast metabolism and some very skinny genes on my mother’s side. (Thanks to the well-cushioned genes on my father’s side, however, you will never catch me wearing skinny jeans.) I love my body. It has some flaws, as all bodies do, but I can work with them, and I’d say my body’s assets easily outweigh its problems.

For my whole life, I’ve lived around people who are dieting for one reason or another, and I’ve felt varying degrees of scorn or sympathy for them. Scorn in the cases of people who were dieting to lose those 5 vanity pounds that they clearly didn’t need to be losing, and sympathy for the ones who really struggle with their weight or with health issues. I’ve looked over the meals of folks dealing with lactose intolerance, high cholesterol, celiac disease, type I diabetes, or allergies, and I’ve thought to myself, “Thank God I don’t have these problems. I would die if I couldn’t eat cheese/bread/chocolate/eggs/whatever-it-is.”

Eating is an activity I really enjoy. I began life as a picky eater, but grew out of that when I spent a year living in France. I love to taste new things. I love to experiment with what I can cook for myself. I love rich foods full of delicious, flavorful things like butter and spices and homemade stock. I want to learn to like all the vegetables (though I’m currently stumped on broccoli… it is not a vegetable that goes out of its way to make itself lovable). I’m even trying to learn to like fish, a thing that does not come naturally to my land-locked palate. (After California Rolls, the world!)

But I’ve been recently diagnosed with GERD. That’s Acid Reflux disease in fancy new medical terms. After a lifetime of eating everything with no problems, what caused this? Probably an over-dependence on ibprofun. Is there anything I can do about it? A lifetime of taking drugs, perhaps, but I’m really not into that. The alternative? Eat things that don’t make me sick.

And when I say “sick,” I mean it. GERD strikes by spazzing out the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, the muscle that keeps the contents of your stomach where they belong. My issue is not eating too many spicy or acidic foods, my issue is eating foods at all. Fun fact: eating tomatoes doesn’t give you heartburn because they are acidic, it gives you heartburn because they cause the LES to relax, loosening the barrier between stomach and esophagus. Esophaguses are not designed to fend off the level of acidity that’s very normal inside a stomach. When that happens to me, I feel like there’s a tiny little man living inside my stomach, punching me repeatedly. Antacids don’t help. All I can do is wait for the evil little man to finish digesting my food and take a nap.

So apparently there are things I can eat that will keep my LES from going on the fritz. Lots of websites out there advocate extreme measures (giving up carbs and giving up dairy completely are the most frightening propositions I’ve seen), but I’m much more interested in trying the middle of the road options that at least leave me with balanced diet options.

Even those are hard. Here’s a list of things that are straight out the window:  Fruit (except apples and bananas), dairy (except low-fat cream cheese), flavorful meat (the leanest of all cuts are okay), egg yolks, garlic, onions, tomatoes, peppers, alcohol, anything sour, anything spicy, and cookies.

COOKIES.

You guys, I’m going to die.

But I’m not, actually. I keep thinking I will. I love to eat these things. Cheese? Onions? Peppers? BUTTER? My favorite things. I had no idea how dependent I was on them until I had to start thinking about not eating them. I’ve spent about a week moping, declaring that all I can eat is peanut butter toast and rice. But now that I’m (mostly) done feeling sorry for myself, I’ve been finding some better options. Stir-fry is a very good option, as long as you’re careful with the amount of fat you use for the frying (hooray for a well-seasoned wok!) I had a very nice pork chop with apple marinade last night. I bought things to make low-threat sandwiches for lunch, and some rice cakes for when I get the munchies.

Rice cakes…

 

I take it back, I’m going to die.

No no no, I’m not. Because my goal is to keep this up for a couple of months until the GERD goes away. If I can teach my body to behave again, I should be able to add the good things back in, hopefully a little at a time. I sincerely hope that if I can retrain my body, and stay away from the ibprofun, eventually I’ll get fully back to normal without having to restort to a lifetime dependence on Prilosec. (If too much ibprofun killed my tummy, I don’t like to think about what too much prilosec would do to me.)

In the meanwhile, if you catch me casting sad puppy eyes at your slice of pizza or your giant piece of chocolate cake, you’ll know what’s wrong. And I sincerely hope I don’t lose too much weight, because I need what I’ve got, and my honey likes my soft parts.
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Ah, me.

We have a professional blogger staying with us this weekend, and it makes me miss my poor, neglected blog. Apparently, my limit is one online distraction at a time. I suspect the dwindling of my posts here roughly coincides with the infatuation I’ve developed with Kingdom of Loathing, an online game with terrible(awesome) graphics and hilarious writing and endless possibilities for ways to play.

So let me at least post a sort of wrap-up on the Chili Cook-Off while I think of a more satisfying post to put up. The reporting sort of dwindled, I was, in fact, sampling many and varried chilies throughout the winter. In addition to the two I posted about, I tried out:

Chocolate Chili

Summary: I loved the chocolate note, but to cancel out the bitterness, I had to add more sugar than I care for. Was also the ugliest chili I’ve ever seen.

  • Deliciousness: 3
  • Beauty: 1
  • Idiot-Proof: 4
  • Dirty Dishes: 4
  • Total Score: 3

Sweet Potato Veggie Chili

Summary: Very simple chili with few steps. You can slice up your veggies and toss them in the heated pot one at a time, giving them just enough time to cook while you chop the next veggie. I found the final product quite bland, though, and nothing I could do with veggie options made it any better. I finally gave up and tossed in a chicken boullion cube, and that was perfect. Oh well. The colors of the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and black beans were beautiful together.

  • Deliciousness: 4
  • Beauty: 5
  • Idiot-Proof: 3
  • Dirty Dishes: 5
  • Total Score: 4.25

First Attempt at Conglomerate-Everything-Perfect Laura Chili

Summary: I took all the things I’d liked best from the recipes I’d tried so far and put them together. The result was pretty darned satisfying.

6 strips of bacon
1lb ground beef
1 bell pepper, diced
1  onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (seeds optional)
4 cloves garlic minced
3 T chili powder
2 T (heaping) cocoa powder
1 tsp rosemary
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1-2 T chipotle in adobo (or one chipotle, chopped fine)
2 cups homemade (or canned) stock (I used chicken stock, even with the beef – it was fine)
1 can each pinto beans and black beatns, drained and rinsed
1 can of sweet corn, drained
1/2 c red wine
a couple dashes of Tabasco
brown sugar (add about 1 T at a time and taste after each addition)
salt/pepper taste

Cook up the bacon, set aside and pour out most of the grease but reserve it for later. Cook the beef in the same pan. Set the cooked beef aside with the bacon.

Add a bit of the bacon grease back into the pan and add the onions. Cook for a couple minutes, then add the bell and jalapeno peppers. Cook three or four minutes until tender. Add the garlic. Continue cooking until everything starts to stick to the bottom of the pan. Deglaze with a bit of water, then add a bit more bacon grease and the spices. Saute until it smells delicious. Stir in tomato paste, tomatos, and chipotles. Return beef and chopped bacon to the pan. Add one cup of stock, beans, corn, and wine. Start with 1 T of brown sugar, add a couple dashes of tabasco, and let it all simmer for about an hour. Now you can taste it and adjust the amounts of sugar, wine, and spices if necessary. Use additional stock to thin it out, or add an extra can of beans (kidney, to add variety) if it seems like it needs more stuff. Serve with lots of cheese and corn chips.

Yum.

The Neeley’s Chili Recipe

I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com and it looked absolutely delicious. More than that, it was 5-star rated by a gazillion reviewers, which is always an excellent sign. So this made it onto the list of chili trials as #2. I’ll paste the ingredients for your perusal. For full details on how to put them together, click the link above to check it out right on their site.

No pictures this time… I seem to have lost Dustin’s camera. Oops.

Pat’s Famous Beef and Pork Chili

Ingredients

  • 6 slices thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 cup beer (recommended: Budweiser)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (24-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (24-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
  • Lime wedges, for garnish
  • Sour cream, for garnish
  • Shredded Cheddar, for garnish
  • Sliced scallions, for garnish

I first got suspicious when  no where in the directions was I asked to drain the grease from the six strips of bacon or 85% lean (read 15% fatty) ground beef. But this experiment is all about following directions, so I went with it. Having all that fat in there and browing the meats *among* the vegetables (instead of on their own) caused a sort of amazing meat-melting thing to happen. The meat disolved into very small bits without even much prodding from my spoon. I personally like my meat in very small bits, so that was a good thing.

The next suspicious thing was the quantity of spices. This recipe, which is at least double the volume of my brother’s turkey recipe, called for the same quantity of spices. Sure enough – they had to be significantly increased. I probably doubled them, though I lost track because I gave up on measuring the extras I added.

We also didn’t use Bud for the beer because, uh, we don’t drink that stuff. All I could find, in fact, was a porter. So, not exactly an equivalent, but how much difference could that have made?

The end result was disappointing. Perhaps it’s because I had such high hopes. Bacon! Pork! Beer! But what I got was a sloppy, *very* meaty chili that had no real defining flavors. Even with all the extra spices, it was bland. It felt heavy going down and did not leave me with any desire for seconds. Could I blame the beer substitution? Is my taste for spices out of control? I don’t know. In any case, this was not the chili for me.

Deliciousness: 1
Beauty: 3
Idiot-Proof: 3
Dirty Dishes: 3

Total Score: 2.5

Tommy’s Turkey Chili

Enter the first contestant in my winter-long personal chili cook-off!

My brother Tommy is going to be a chef when he grows up. He’s already an excellent cook, and he’s got official cridentials too. He’s worked in some pretty swanky restaurants in Denver and went to Florida for some sort of national cooking contest when he was in high school.

But my brother has a few anti-cridentials too. For example, he doesn’t really like vegetables. (“I can work around them!” he says.) And he doesn’t like beans (“they’re just mooshy and get in the way”). Which, unsurprisingly, leads to the correct conclusion that he also doesn’t like chili.

And yet… he does like this chili. I don’t know where he got the recipe, but since it’s the only chili he’s willing to eat and I got the recipe from him, I’m declaring this recipe his. It gets to be the first chili on the menu because it is the simplest of all the chili recipes I have considered so far. Let us begin:

Tommy’s Turkey Chili

1lb ground turkey (beef is also fine)
1 bell pepper, diced small
1  onion, diced small
1-3 habanero peppers (see note)
a couple dashes of Tabasco or Sriracha
3 cloves garlic minced
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
32oz low sodium chicken broth
3 T chili powder
salt/pepper taste
maybe a pinch of sugar

Like so:

I was probably supposed to use a green pepper, but yellow was what I had on hand so I used that. Besides, yellow peppers are way tastier. I also didn’t have any habanero peppers, but since the “note” on that said “I use three habaneros but apparently my spicy capacity is ridiculous…”, I wasn’t too worried. That pepper you see there had been living in my freezer since the last farmer’s market. I don’t even know what sort of pepper it is, but it couldn’t possibly be worse than three habaneros, so I decided to go with it.

Step one: brown the meat and add diced vegetables.

Did you know that ground turkey is really gross to cook with? It’s creepy slimy, and wouldn’t crumble up the way ground beef does. At some point shortly before adding the veggies, I had what looked like turkey meatballs rolling around in my pot. But eventually I got it figured out.

Next: add tomato paste, chili powder, and hot sauce of your choice. No problemo.

Hey, that looks a lot more like chili now!

Final steps: add diced tomatoes, beans, chicken broth, and “simmer for as long as you can stand to not eat… it is much better the longer it sits and the next day is AMAZING!” I was foresightful enough to start cooking at 2:00, so by the time we ate at 7:00, all the flavors were delightfully well melded and yes, it was really very good.

I had not added any sugar or salt initially. I added both and upped the chili powder just a smidge, along with a couple extra shakes of Tabasco to round things out. A handful of cheese and some corn chips made it all just right. It is a very simple recipe without any fancy ingredients, but that’s just what you want some nights. The texture of the turkey was softer than the beef I am used to, but that was rather pleasant too. I like the flavor added by using broth instead of just water. My mystery pepper was also just the right amount of spicy, thank goodness.

Thank you for the recipe Tommy! I dub this chili a success.

Deliciousness: 4
Beauty: 4
Idiot-Proof: 5
Dirty Dishes: 5

Total Score: 4.5


The Great Chili Cook-Off

Yesterday, I walked back into the office after eating my lunch of a stale bran muffin and an overripe banana, and I smelled chili. Someone had warmed up chili for lunch, and I wanted it. Badly. So badly that I stopped by Wendy’s for dinner and got chili there, and even that tasted pretty darned good.

So I sent out a Facebook plea, asking for favorite chili recipes. My chili “recipe” has always consisted of tossing into the pot whatever happens to be in the fridge. Every time I discover a new trick people use to make their chili delicious, I add that to my chili strategy. The result is that my chili usually has about 57 ingredients and cannot be relied upon to taste good. Sometimes I accidentally do something that results in wonderful chili, sometimes the combinations  aren’t right and I wish the leftovers would just go away.

I wanted a recipe. A real one. With measured ingredients. And my Facebook friends came through for me. So far, I’ve gotten recipes for Grandma’s Chili, Kitchen Sink Chili, White Chicken Chili, Chocolate Chili, Triple Pork Chili, and Turkey Chili. That’s not what I was expecting. I was expecting to get three or four recipes that all looked more or less the same, from which I could glean the secrets of a perfect chili. Who knew there were so many varieties?

And what am I supposed to do about it? Try them all, obviously. So I’m declaring this winter my personal Great Chili Cook-Off. I figure I’ll document my efforts here. And I’m still accepting submissions. Anyone else have a chili recipe that you’re willing to share? Don’t worry – I promise not to enter any actual chili cook-offs with your recipe. I’m way too inconsistent a chef to pull that off without it ending in tears (for me and the judges, no doubt).

Facebook, email, comment, text, tweet, write, or whisper me your recipes. I’ll add them to the list and let you know how they stack up.

PS: Extra judges always welcome. Feel free to invite yourself over for dinner.

Dinner & the Artifact: a post I owe to Jerry

Okay, Jerry. Here’s the story:

I had to borrow a large number of Dutch Ovens for a French Feast* I cooked back in September. One of the ovens I was offered was from Jerry. Apparently he unearthed it in some dusty, moldy corner of his basement when he and his wife moved into their house fifteenish years ago. Here’s how it looked when I picked it up:

(Images blatantly stolen from Jerry’s fb album)

I immediately set out to clean the pans up. Alas, they weren’t ready in time for my French Feast, but I did manage to make the smaller “lid” pot usable, and used it to sear up some delicious steaks last week. So here’s what it looked like after I scrubbed 100 years of petrified grease off it (the artifact bags in the background are purely coincidental):

I then greased the pan back up and stuck it into my oven for several hours of seasoning. Here’s the picture I drew for Jerry of the results:

I swear I took pictures of it when I used it to make dinner the other night, but now we can’t seem to find them. I’ll keep looking, and some day, I’ll also give Jerry his pots back. 🙂

*The Dutch got to name the oven because they perfected the method of casting iron that made the most desirable ovens. The French, as is their style, took what the other folks invented and found a way to do much, much tastier things with it. This is why all the recipes I know for my Dutch Oven are actually French. Yum.

The Cake That Almost Killed Me (and soon will)

In school, they teach you to read all the way through all the instructions before you begin a task.

I did that. It was still chaos.

Since settling into my new kitchen, I have been especially enthusiastic about putting it to use. Perhaps I was suffering from cooking-withdrawl. It was also one of those happy weeks where I get both of my cooking magazines, which is doubly inspiring.

Last week, I made Crack Pie (recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit). It was definitely a success, though I’d be tempted to add chocolate chips if I made it again. (Bad habit. Can’t help it.)

This week, it was Blackberry Jam Cake, recipe courtesy of Cook’s Country. I didn’t take pictures starting from the beginning, because I had no idea what sort of ordeal it would be, but the following seemed worth posting.

I started with the frosting at about 10:30 this morning because I knew it would need to sit and cool several times. I’d done a good job shopping for all my ingredients, but managed to forget butter, so I made a quick trip to the store for that. I set the required butter (three sticks!) out to get to room temperature while I started the caramel frosting base.

The recipe tells you to mix the sugars, milk, flour and vanilla together, then whisk constantly over medium heat in a medium saucepan for 5-7 minutes “until very thick.” I pulled out my medium saucepan and began whisking. Twenty minutes later, my sauce was not at all thick, but it was very, very frothy. It had doubled in size and was threatening to spill out of the saucepan. Referring back to my recipe (while continuing to whisk, resulting in some sauce on my chin), I noticed the picture of a “medium” sauce pan was a pan that looked like it could hold 7 or 8 quarts. Reluctantly, I switched pots.

It was the right thing to do. A mere 10 minutes later, I had a thick, lovely-looking caramel. I might have overdone it, because by the time I scraped it into a glass bowl, it was already solidifying to caramel candy status. About 10 seconds after I finished scraping, I realized I would need to have it in my stand mixer bowl so I had to move it again. D’oh.

I let that cool plenty long enough, then proceeded with the next steps of the recipe. As far as I can tell, there were no problems during this part. My “miracle” frosting did not do the miraculous thing the recipe said it would, but after 7 minutes of beating it, I gave up and it tasted delicious.

Next: bake the cakes. This is where my enthusiasm for participation but inability to follow directions really becomes a problem.

Step one: grease and flour two cake pans.

I don’t have two cake pans.

How is this possible? I own 76 pans.

Oh. They’re ALL pie pans. (Or muffin pans.)

Well crud.

So I greased and floured one pan, and planned to do my stupid two-layer cake in two rounds. I should have just made it a two-layer square cake.

Consulting the recipe again, I saw that my buttermilk was supposed to be room temperature. Oops. Pulled that out right quick, then went to do something else for a half hour to give it a chance to warm up. I came back down and set to work. It was all fine until I realized I needed more room temperature butter. Two and a half sticks of it. Now let’s play a game: were you paying attention above? Did you notice how many sticks I used in the frosting? I didn’t have 2.5 sticks left.

I fudged it and used the salted sticks from the freezer. A little extra sodium never really hurt anyone. I cut them up and left them to thaw while I looked at the next step of the recipe. Four room-temperature eggs. What the heck is up with all this room-temperatureness? What could it possibly matter? So I took my four eggs and went upstairs to check my email, the eggs resting in my lap like I was some sort of upside-down chicken.

Another frittered half-hour later, I returned to try again. Now, everything seemed to be going smoothly, except upon walking back into the kitchen, I realized I’d apparently used every mixing bowl we own. Really very impressive.

My first cake came out of the oven looking beautiful. Then I tried to flip it onto the cooling rack and things fell apart. Literally.

But reconstructive surgery seems to have gone well.

Just to be safe, I greased and floured the begeezes out of the pan for round two. I dare anything to stick to this!

(And now typing will go slower because before putting cake #2 in the oven, I saw the new oven thermometer sitting on the counter. Apparently completely forgetting that I’d set it there after removing it from the oven to get the first cake out, I grabbed it thinking “I should put this back.” I now have a pretty painful burn on my index finger. Gaaaah.)

The second came out twice as big as the first (the hazard of not pouring both cakes at once), but it popped right out of its pan without leaving even a speck behind. Ahh! While waiting for it to cool, I frosted the first one and jammed it up.

And now, a little after midnight, my cake is ready. I’m so stressed out by baking it, I hardly want to eat it.

But I have to. And it’s good. Dustin seconds that. I have a lot. In case you weren’t keeping track, there are 5 and a half sticks of butter in this cake. That’s almost three cups. If you don’t come over and help me eat this cake, it will probably be death by delicious butter.

The moral of the story? Huh. I can’t even come up with one. Read the directions first? I did that. Read them again? Did that too. Take all your ingredients out of the fridge before you proceed with step one? Maybe. Have more cake pans? Should do. Delicious cakes are worth the tears and pain? Definitely.