Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Slow Cooked


Slow cooking is low and slow. I love cooking in this Le Creuset pot; you probably have a slow cooker in the kitchen, a Crock Pot. This size is great for a meal or two for me and my man, or for 4-5 small meals for me to portion out over the week. I love this kind of cooking most of the year. The food I best digest is soft; slow cooking cooks every element through evenly, and the flavors just meld together and create a incredibly flavorful bite. With most of these recipes, I start on the stove top, then put the lid on and move to the oven for an hour or two at about 350.




Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes


Found this recipe in Food and Wine magazine. Start with cooking chorizo and sweet chopped onions in the pot on the stove top. Then add bite-size pieces of dark chicken meat. I use dark because it is more moist than white meat, easier to digest. Choose your chicken. Stir the chicken pieces into the chorizo and onions for five minutes or so. Add in bite-size pieces of potato. I use yukon gold, more buttery, but any kind of root veggie would be great with this. Stir the whole mess around for another five minutes. Add some salt and pepper at this point. Then, pour in a can of light coconut milk and enough chicken broth to cover the ingredients. Stir a bit. Put the lid on and move to oven for at least an hour. Serve with fresh cilantro or herb of choice. Squeeze some lime. Yum.


Chili

Chili is such a versatile dish. I make it slightly different every time; you really can't go wrong. Into my pot I put: can of black beans (drained), can of kidney beans (drained), can of chili beans (do not drain, you want all those seasonings. Then add one can crushed tomatoes and one can fire-roasted tomatoes. Stir all of this together. Add chopped onions and peppers of your choice. You can remain meatless, or you could add some ground meat already cooked in another pan. For seasoning, you could add a package of chili seasoning or add your own. I like to sprinkle in cumin, chili powder, sea salt, smoked paprika, and a bit of cayenne for some kick. Taste as you go as to not over season. Once seasonings are stirred in, put the lid on and put in oven for an hour. Top with freshly grated cheese (tastes SO MUCH BETTER than packaged pre-shredded), sour cream or plain greek yogurt, and cilantro. Throw on some jalapenos if you need more heat. 



Sirloin Pot Roast

I'm not a huge beef fan since the surgery. I can't digest it well, it actually hurts my stomach. But if it is slow cooked and practically falls apart, I can do it. Chop up yellow onions, carrots, and mushrooms into bite size pieces. Trim green beans into sizes you prefer. Put in pot with a bit of coconut or olive oil and a bit of minced garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, add some salt and pepper as you saute. Add bite-sized pieces of sirloin. Stir whole mess around for another 5 minutes. Add enough low sodium beef broth to just cover the ingredients. I like low-sodium broths. You can always add more salt to taste as you cook. Add some worcestershire, or a balsamic vinegar. The dish needs a bit of a sour kick. This is up to your taste buds. Let simmer for 5 minutes, then put into oven for at least an hour, covered. Serve topped with sour cream or greek yogurt and some chives or a favorite herb.



Garlic Lemon Chicken. Spread those whole cloves of garlic on toast with butter. 

Oh my goodness, this has to be my favorite slow cooked dish so far. As previously mentioned, I prefer dark chicken meat. I always have a package of boneless thighs on hand. I also love this because it only has about 5 ingredients. Sometimes simpler is better; let's the flavor of a few things really stand out and NOT get muddled; although these flavors meld like heaven! OK, focus.  So, chopped onions or shallots (I have a hard time finding these in SW Missouri, so I default to onions). 5-10 whole garlic cloves. Smash a few so the garlic will permeate the broth. Pat of butter in pot, saute onions and garlic a couple minutes. Salt and pepper chicken thighs, both sides. Place right on top of onions and garlic. Cut 4 lemons in half. Juice them into the pot, careful to avoid seeds. Then tuck the lemon peels in and around the pot, under the chicken, around the edges. Salt and pepper. Pour in low sodium chicken broth until ingredients are just covered. Put the lid on and put in oven for at least an hour. Serve with some fresh herbs: tarragon, rosemary, or parsley. Pictured here is dried tarragon. Fresh is always better, but it's great to have these on hand. Eat up!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Portions

Before I get deep into recipes and other topics, I need to address portions. They are hard to comprehend on the internet. I had known that I was eating 2-3 times the normal serving size for most meals most of my adult life. It just seemed standard. It was what the restaurants served. If I asked for a to-go box, I got looks from the server (my perception), and besides, leftovers were just not as appealing. So might as well clean my plate! And you know those starving children in Africa. And no dessert unless plate was cleaned. All ridiculous phrases only encouraging my overeating.


Before I qualified for surgery through the insurance company, I had to meet with a dietician six times and learn about nutrition. Day one she pulled these nasty pieces of plastic out of a drawer and plopped them on the table in front of me. The smaller portions are what we're supposed to eat. Funny, with the mac and cheese...I used to eat the entire box, not just double portions. The plastic food totally grossed me out; reminded me of sticky germ-coated toys from Sunday School growing up. Icky.  I've barely touched mashed potatoes or mac and cheese since this moment. Ha.

But it's true. I believe that even more than WHAT we eat, HOW much we eat is killing us. Our stomach stretches, and accommodates how much we shove in, and actually gets used to that. Then our metabolism is SET to that, and even if we start eating much less, it feels like we're starving and we go back to overeating. So for me, even though I had radically changed WHAT I ate, how I prepared it, all the good expected things, I could NOT stop overeating. It was just all too good. This is why I chose bariatric surgery; gastric sleeve surgery. It cut out 2/3 of my stomach, forcing me to eat a 1/3 less than I was used to eating. And it's worked.


These four glass containers represent how much I eat per day now. Plus beverages. It's about 4 cups of food per day. I've found myself grazing a bit between these small meals, but a bit of weight comes back on when I do this (curses, goldfish crackers). If I revert back to these 4 small meals, the weight stabilizes again. 


I usually spend Sunday afternoon cooking one or two dishes, then I immediately split them up into these containers so they are ready for the week. Realize, one of these containers IS the meal. There isn't a pile of corn chips next to it, or a coke. Or a brownie for dessert. None of that. I can't eat and drink at the same time. I'll do another post soon on what I personally can or can't eat or drink. It's been a learning curve.



Saturday, August 20, 2016

Pan Roasted

The stove-top cast iron skilled is amazing. You don't need to heat up the whole oven, and you get an even cook. No worries about things sticking or ruining your non-stick version of a skillet. You simply scrape the bottom and mix the bits into the dish, or turn the bits into a sauce after the meal is taken out of the pan.




Quick Paella


Mussels are super easy. I just get a box of them from the freezer at Aldi. 2.99. Garlic and butter version. First I put the mussels in the skillet. Only takes a few minutes to defrost. Then added a box of quick cooking couscous, the required amount of water for the couscous mixed with the seasoning packet it came with, and chopped or whole small veggies. Let the whole thing simmer and you have a quick paella. I can't eat rice anymore, I just don't digest it well. Couscous is great for me.



Baked tilapia with red onion, lemon and north woods seasoning and a parm crisp


I place a piece of tilapia with chopped red onions, north woods seasoning, a dab of butter, and a slice of lemon on a piece of aluminum foil and fold closed like a pocket or a gift. I put that into the cast iron skilled on the stove top, medium heat, and let fish cook through for 5-7 minutes. Everything steams to deliciousness. Once that is out of the pan, I grate some parmesan directly into the pan. It melts into a gooey then cripsy mess you can scrape up in one piece. Adds great texture to the soft, steamed fish and veggies.






Pan cooked pork with spicy pineapple salsa and roasted asparagus and peppers

Thinly sliced, lean boneless pork coated with a homemade salsa. Peppers and asparagus tossed with salt, pepper, and olive oil. All cooked in the skillet at same time, low and slow.



Pork tenderloin rubbed with rosemary and garam masala

This meal was high maintenance, but worth it. First I rinsed a pork tenderloin, patted it dry, and rubbed it with garam masala and sprinked it with dried rosemary. Melted a pat of butter in a cast iron skillet and added the whole tenderloin to the skillet, cooking medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, chopped sweet potatoes into cubes and boiled in a pan, skin on. Drained, mashed, added butter, cream, maple syrup, salt and pepper. In another pot I boiled water and cooked fresh green beans. When tenderloin was cooked, I took whole thing out to rest and made a port cranberry sauce out of the drippings left in the pan. Add a bit of port and fresh chopped cranberries, cook on low and scrape and stir. Whisk in a bit of flour to thicken. Tend carefully. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Master 5

I've been accumulating recipes for several years now, but recently discovered a way to categorize; not by food, but by preparation. This idea came from Clean Eats by Alejandro Junger. Pick your own 5, but these are my 5 currently:

Pan-Roasted
Slow-Cooked
Stir-Fry
Grilled
Blended

Cooking things brings out the flavor. Chemistry happens. Post-surgery, I can't eat many raw foods. I figure I'm not a gorilla or a cow who must chew chew chew all day to become nourished. Humans can cook, which helps us digest much more easily. My body just can't digest raw food now. That's OK. Michael Pollan dives deep into cooking in his latest book and Netflix series Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. I will be revisiting his words of wisdom often in these posts...


"Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is. Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed. Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction. And as soon as that happens we become easy prey for corporations selling synthetic versions of the real thing--what I call edible foodlike substances. We end up trying to nourish ourselves on images...(Cooking) --defined broadly enough to take in the whole spectrum of techniques people have devised for transforming the raw stuff of nature into nutritious and appealing things for us to eat and drink--is one of the most interesting and worthwhile things we humans do."

So, this Master 5 idea. The gist is that if I can remember 5 basic ways to prepare my meals, I have 5 blank canvases. And these preparations make for 5-6 meals for me, so I cook one or two of them on Sundays, after grocery shopping that morning or the day before, and split them into containers to take the work the rest of the week. These are my Master 5:




Pan-Roasting
Cast iron fry pan. Quick, even heating. Can take a beating. Veggies in first, then meat, then turn the pan stickings into a sauces to pour over everything. Stove top cooking, but can be put into the oven.




Slow-Cooking
Oh my god I love my Le Creuset cookware. Super expensive, but last forever and cook evenly while taking a beating. You get what you pay for. Well, I didn't pay for this. My brother got this for me for my birthday, as well as other LC items. Gifts that have changed my life! 
I start again with veggies,  add the meat, pour in stock, put the lid on, and cook on stove top or move to oven for a few hours. Divine melding of flavors.

Blending
I also use this pot for soups and stews. Once things are cooked through, I just insert an immersion blender and blend as smooth as I desire in the moment. Much easier than pouring into a blender.




Stir-Fry
Super-fast, super-hot. You have to have everything chopped, laid out and ready for this preparation. Touch of sesame oil, veggies, small pieces of meat, then add cooked rice noodles. All in a few minutes. I will also have the sauce already prepared. My favorite is a peanut sauce I make from scratch.





Grilling
OK, this photo's from Amazon. My stove-top grill is a mess right now, and I need to go buy a dang brush and clean it. Next year I want a small grill to keep outside.  The good thing about this is it's small, and will hold just enough meat and veg for a couple meals. So easy; just a tiny bit of olive or coconut oil, salt and pepper. I don't even use sauces on grilled bits.

Next post I'll show some recipes resulting from these Master 5.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Clean Eating


"Clean eating is a vehicle, an approach, that helps make foods work for us. But it is also much bigger than that. It is a way of thinking that helps us move away from the fear of aging and getting ill, and moves us toward the strength of knowing that we can take control of our health.

When food starts working for us, instead of against us, our entire life changes. Not only do we feel better meal to meal and day to day, but we also have the lasting energy and health we need to show up strong for the areas of life we care about most."

The last two years has been a vivid, experiential, experimental, and eye-opening wellness journey. If they say the journey is the destination, then I guess I made it! I hope this will be the first of several posts to describe if not define these deliberate steps I've taken. 

I started cooking for myself years ago, but I couldn't control portions. I never "dieted" because I was smart enough to know it wouldn't last. I tried swimming. I researched bariatric surgery.  I tracked calories consumed and expended for many months. I started cooking like mad in the months before the surgery, convinced if I could fall in love with healthy preparation, I might want to eat it, too. I carefully monitored my two autoimmune diseases and talked to all of the specialists I could stand. I had the surgery. I was very ill for 8 weeks. Then the weight started falling off, and I planned, learned and cooked exponentially more. 

Today I feel fantastic. 90 pounds off my body in one year. Energy off the charts. Swimming a few times a week; I love moving for the first time in my life. The learning curve was huge. As huge as I used to be before I could cross my legs.

Don't get me wrong, there have been lots of bumps, trials and errors. I want to share and record this moment. Take stock (low-sodium chicken) of what I've gleaned, realizing that this reflection on food, exercise, health, and wellness are MY particular combination. What has worked or not worked for MY BODY, not my mother's nor my brother's nor yours. Kind of like every woman having to figure out the best birth control for their particular chemistry, so food. 

I'll be sharing the books and websites that have informed me. I'll share lots of recipes and my own photography of those meals. I'll describe portions, what I can physically eat in a day. What kinds of foods and preparations are working for me, as well as particular foods and preparations that are just toxic for me.

This is why I like the term "clean eating". It's about whole foods: meats, vegetables, fruits, grains. Not processed, packaged, unpronounceable. Not even "natural" or "health" food. Much of that is as processed as Kraft macaroni and cheese and oreos. 

More than just the food, I want to talk about culinary art, presentation, the kitchen as a studio, the joy of feeding others the beautiful, scrumptious things I make, the emotions and excuses around food, the social culture around food, where moving might fit in (you know, exercise), where my time has shifted (the literal hours in a day) as a result of healthful routine, how my body was restricted at 284 pounds, and how my body works differently now 90 pounds lighter. I'm sure many other threads will surface. Let's begin.


At my heaviest. I could not fit on every ride.


A few months ago. My Dad said it was nice to see angles on my face.