day 2

Yesterday was better on the vegan front, if not quite successful. I was able to fast until about 7:30pm, and I might have made it a bit longer except that we were nearby a place we wanted to eat and knew we could get good food that would (technically) fit into the diet. That’s the interesting thing about a vegan, wheat-free diet. It doesn’t leave a lot of options, but one of those is french fries 🙂 So we went up to Burger Bar in Union Square here in SF and split an order of regular fries and one of sweet potato fries. Of course, we gave in and ordered the aioli so technically it was a vegetarian meal.

Then a couple of hours later I tried out the peanut butter and 100% fruit jam on brown rice cakes, and yeah… rice cakes are not any better than I had remembered them. Sort of like chewing on styrofoam, but on the other hand it successfully conveyed PBJ to my mouth, so I’ll keep them around just for that. I was still hungry after that, so I snacked a little until I went to bed. I think they key is definitely more hydration, because that keeps me less hungry – and I need to remember my vitamins! That and choosing vegetable-heavy dishes, because they’re better for me and are far less caloric if done right. That didn’t happen today because I was out of the house, but in the future that’s the way I’m trying to eat more. French fries and PBJ might technically be on my list of foods, but it definitely isn’t in the spirit of this new diet to eat that way.

Food Diary, 9/5/12

  • 7:30pm, fries + aioli – 480 cal
  • 10pm, PBJ rice cakes – 460 cal
  • 11pm, manchego + 2 dates – 330 cal
  • Total ~ 1270 cal

Recipe: Lime Corn

This corn oddly tasted quite a bit like lemon bars – you could almost eat it for dessert if you wanted to.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears corn
  • 2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced

Directions:

  1. Preheat butter or oil in saute pan over medium heat. Cut kernels off corn cobs and add to the pan. Salt and pepper to taste and cook until kernels are crisp-tender, about 20-25 minutes.
  2. Add lime zest and juice and mix to combine thoroughly.

Leave a comment »

a new direction (for now)

New Staples: protein (peanut butter), no-sugar-added sweet food (100% fruit jam, applesauce, dates), the only two wheat-free, sugar-free peanut-butter-carrier-devices at the store (whole-grain oat crackers, brown rice cakes)

As of yesterday, I’ve begun a strict new eating regimen. I hope it will, in some way, “reset” my body’s inner workings and redirect them toward a more healthy direction. The plain truth is that reducing my consumption level of unhealthy foods doesn’t really work for me, because if they’re always around and I’m in the habit of eating them, I tend to eat them too often. A lot of different things are tied into the way I eat – at least potentially: my complexion, activity level, weight, energy level, and the shape of my body. So I’m giving it thirty days. I’m not really attempting to change any specific attribute of those I listed above so much as to see what a restricted diet does for me.

In addition, I am attempting to do a modified ADF (alternate-day fast). Modified in the sense that I plan on doing the 20/4 model (fast 20 hours, eat 4 hours). Some days I may achieve a complete 24-hour fast, and other days I might have to eat in the afternoon. It’s something I’m doing because I naturally do it occasionally and I think it will keep my overall caloric level in check.

So, the diet itself. I’m completely eliminating (as much as possible without going overboard – this isn’t a medically necessary diet, after all):

  • added sugar
  • red meat
  • poultry
  • wheat/gluten

And I’m attempting to eat vegan most of the time, with some exceptions for plain yogurt, cheese, and oily fish. Although this is not a calorie-counting diet, I plan to track my calories each day to be sure I’m staying on track (and to try and monitor my nutrition level).

A typical day might look like this: fast until early evening with unsweetened teas and water with 100% fruit smoothie if needed, small protein-rich snack around 6-8pm, late dinner primarily comprised of legumes and vegetables.

Food Diary, 9/4/12

  • 4 cups tea + 4 cups water
  • 8pm, tuna packed in garlic oil – 540 cal
  • 12am, corn + manchego cheese – 350 cal
  • 12am, split pea soup – 220 cal
  • 2am, 4 dates – 100 cal
  • Total ~1200 cal

That’s a pretty high calorie count for what was supposed to be a fast day, but I’m allowing myself to ease into it a little bit. On the other hand, compared to how many calories I’m probably used to eating in a day (I don’t really count or care usually), it was surprisingly easy to stay so low.

I’ll be trying to post each day with my progress, my feelings, my calorie counts – all to keep me on track more than because anyone else will find it interesting (they probably won’t). But in the meantime I’ll be starting up my cookie baking again, meaning lots of sweet posts and pictures, and I’ve got a backlog of old posts (mostly pictureless) to share.

Leave a comment »

blackberry sauced duck

Duck is probably one of the most common meats that I have eaten very little of in my lifetime.  Actually, until very recently in adulthood, I could only really remember one meal where I had eaten duck, at a Chinese restaurant when I was fairly young.  I remember it being fatty and savory and, to use a word that has been much overused in the culinary world as of late, unctuous.  For a long time, I regarded duck as a primarily Asian ingredient, out of the reach of ordinary American home chefs, since I never saw duck in supermarkets.

Seemingly out of nowhere, duck fat has somewhat become the fat du jour, alongside bacon in its ubiquitous revival.  I found it particularly interesting because in 1975, Julia Child wrote that “duck fat is not considered culinarily desirable.”  Having had duck fat fries, I would have agreed that it didn’t add any particularly special quality to the already notoriously delicious fried potato.  Still, I consider frying dinner’s potatoes in tonight’s rendered duck fat unwasteful, and indeed I found that the potatoes had taken on some transcendental quality that I could not quite identify.  I wouldn’t say that I would go out of my way to use duck fat if I didn’t enjoy duck, but I definitely wouldn’t throw away the more than half-cup of duck fat I rendered off two breasts either.

As for the sauce, in a stroke of impulse, I slaved for hours over a hot stove making it.  In other words, I opened a jar of jam and microwaved it for 15 seconds to melt it somewhat.  Yes, it was that easy, and it doesn’t have to be blackberry.  We have many jams in the fridge and I also considered lingonberry, marmalade, and apricot – cherry and raspberry might also be good choices.  Or, I dunno, salted caramel sauce?

blackberry sauced duck (2-4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1/4 c. blackberry jam
  • 1-2 russet potatoes

Directions:

  1. Score the fat on the duck breasts in a cross-hatch pattern.  Sprinkle generously with salt on both sides.  Place fat-side down in a cold pan, and turn the heat up to medium-low.  The fat will render out over about 15 minutes or so, and in my case, the fat came about halfway up the duck breasts.
  2. When the skin is brown and crispy, flip the breasts and let them cook another few minutes.  This particular poultry you can eat all the way up to rare, I understand, and for me (my breasts were butterflied) it took only about 3-5 minutes to get to well-done.  So, a thermometer might be your best friend if you’re looking for a specific degree of doneness.
  3. Remove the breasts and set aside.  Pour out all but 2 tbsp. of duck fat.  Dice the potatoes in 1/2″ cubes and add to the skillet with a pinch of salt.  Cook about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.  If you find that your potatoes are sticking too much, and you don’t mind sacrificing the super-crispy skin, you can add a few tablespoons of water to the pan once or twice to allow steam to help the cooking process.
  4. Place jam in a small ramekin and microwave until melted.  Slice duck breasts and pour sauce over.  Serve with potatoes.

Leave a comment »

ham, potato, and leek soup

We really like ham around our house.  Unfortunately, with only two full-time occupants, buying even a small ham can result in a lot leftover.  I bought this natural-looking (read: not round) chunk of ham specifically to fry up and serve with cream biscuits on Christmas morning.  Naturally that left us with a fairly sizable piece left and, while I’m not opposed to continuing to slice-and-fry, I was hoping for something a bit more imaginative.

With two bags of russet potatoes intended for latkes that never got made (because I am too lazy, apparently) and four leeks languishing in the fridge, I thought a thick, creamy soup would be perfectly appropriate for a cold winter night.

This soup recipe is incredibly easy, and it comes together in just about a half hour, with most of that time being inactive prep.  My one tip would be to go extra-easy on the salt, since ham tends to be fairly salty and it can overpower the delicate flavors of leek and potato if you’re not careful.

ham, potato, and leek soup (3-6 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 4 leeks
  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 1 qt. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 lb. ham, diced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. cream, optional

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Slice the roots and dark green tops off leeks.  Slice lengthwise, then cross-wise, giving you half-moon pieces about 1/2″ thick.  Place leeks in a bowl, then run cold water over them until they are floating.  Swish them around with your fingertips, separating the leek pieces so that the water can wash away any bits of dirt or sand.
  2. When the butter has melted, lift leeks out of the bowl with a spider, give it a quick shake to get rid of most of the water, and add leeks to the soup pot.  Cook about 5 minutes or so, until getting soft.
  3. Rinse the potatoes and peel, if desired.  Chop into roughly 1/2″ pieces and add to the pot, along with the chicken broth.
  4. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to medium-high and simmer 15-25 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Turn off the heat.  With a hand blender, blend until the soup is perfectly smooth, or still has some lumps of potato – to your preferred texture.  Add ham and as much cream as you like.  Heat through.

Leave a comment »

florentines

Until recently, I had never had a Florentine, those thin, crispy almond-and-orange cookies.  I had seen them in the odd cookie book or collection, but for some reason they had never interested me enough to make.  In the end, for this particular recipe iteration, I’m not totally sure it was worth the time.  Oh, I can certainly see where it would be – they tasted great, after all.  Still, the amount of time needed to turn out what ended up being a very fragile and uneven product, well, it makes me think that I might need to rethink the recipe is all.

The issue is that the dough was very crumbly and hard to roll, and although that problem was fixable – warming the dough in my palms before making balls – it was time-consuming.  Also, the cookies spread far more than I was expecting, so far in fact that they had numerous holes in their surface, and I think, this can’t be right.  So, I’m thinking perhaps the fact that I didn’t pulverize my almonds enough was probably the culprit.  Also, several recipes called for corn syrup, and I used golden syrup, because I like the taste better.

florentines (makes about 30 4-inch sandwich cookies)

Note: When my oven was at 350, my edges got far too brown, nearly burning before the center was cooked past the point of being chewy.  So I eventually had to turn my oven down to 200 in order to get the edges and the middle to cook even close to evenly.  Again, not sure if this is a problem with my dough, so, if you’ve pulverized the almonds thoroughly enough, start off at 350 with your first batch, and keep turning down the oven accordingly, if needed.

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz. blanched almonds, ground finely
  • 1/4 c. + 2 tbsp. flour
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. each heavy cream + golden syrup
  • 1 stick + 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 oz. chocolate (your choice of milk/semisweet/bittersweet)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together almonds, flour, orange zest, and salt.
  3. In a saucepan, bring sugar, cream, golden syrup, and butter up to a boil.  Stir frequently and cook until the sugar has been dissolved.  Leave on the stove another minute, then remove to stir in vanilla.  Add to almond mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.
  4. Let stand until cool enough to handle.
  5. Scoop teaspoon-sized amounts of dough and roll them into balls.  Place them about 4 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  6. Bake about 10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet after 5 minutes, and watching carefully for doneness.  They should be an even golden brown – too light in the middle, and they will be chewy and sticky rather than crispy.
  7. Cool on the baking sheet until you can safely move them to cooling racks, about 3-5 minutes.
  8. When all the cookies are out of the oven and cooling, chop your chocolate and melt it over gentle heat on the stovetop, or in the microwave in 30-second bursts.  Stir while letting it cool briefly, then spread over the bottom sides of half of the cookies.  Top with the remaining half to make thin cookie sandwiches.

Leave a comment »

choux pastry + chouquettes

Choux pastry is so named because a patissier in the 18th century created little buns from the dough, and they were shaped like cabbages, choux meaning cabbage in French.  Choux pastry is one of the last frontiers of pastry/dough-making for me, after having tackled macaron and meringue.  This egg-enriched dough is used for, among other things: profiteroles (cream puffs), eclairs, churros, beignets, and French crullers.  Also, chouquettes (“little cabbages”), which are choux pastry balls sprinkled with pearl sugar, a special kind of large-grained sugar found mostly in Europe.

Unfortunately (?) all of my chouquettes puffed, which I suppose is really a good thing, since I was making choux pastry after all.  I was expecting something a bit flatter and denser, but I won’t complain.  Since I saw that the crushed sugar cubes I was using weren’t adhering well enough, I chose to omit the sugar on most batches and fill the remaining ones with salted caramel sauce, or serve them plain.  No one complained.

choux pastry

This makes a huge amount of chouquettes or profiteroles, so, feel free to halve the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 6 tbsp. sugar
  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • pearl sugar

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring butter, sugar, salt, and water to a simmer.  Add flour and stir until combined.  Cook until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the saucepan.
  2. Let cool about 5 minutes.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring to incorporate between each addition.  The dough is fairly thick and sticky, so this will take a little muscle.
  4. At this stage, you may use the pastry immediately, or even let rest overnight – the dough I let rest overnight puffed, and then fell, so if using for chouquettes, this is desirable, less so for profiteroles.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400.  Pipe small rounds or bars onto parchment-covered baking sheets.  Sprinkle with pearl sugar for chouquettes.  Cook 13 minutes, then open the oven door, and cook a further 5-7 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top.

Leave a comment »

peppermint meringues

So.  Three points to anyone who can name the products sitting on my kitchen table behind the tray of meringues!  I conquered the art of American-style cookies months ago.  Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, peanut butter, brownies – all are things I consider to be among the easiest of baking projects.  Even the sugar cookie, which in its simplicity had long eluded me, has finally become manageable.  I had always heard that cookies like meringues, which involved touchy issues of egg white whipping and precise measurements, were very difficult, so I’d lived in fear.

Plus, I had always equated meringues to chewing on styrofoam, so I wasn’t exactly jazzed to give it a try.

At last I decided to conquer this fear, and turned out row after row of pretty, peppermint flavored puffs that melt in your mouth.  They were among the easiest cookies I have ever made, and might even be my go-to cookie in the future when I want something simple.  Sure, they’re not the quickest things I’ve ever made, but honestly, the time spent in the oven isn’t so different from the time spent scooping out dough of traditional cookies and switching baking sheets half a dozen times because they spread out.  So, I’d say it might even out, but with meringues I can spend more time with my feet up!

peppermint meringues (makes about 100, depending on size)

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg whites
  • pinch salt
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1 c. confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. red food coloring gel

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 200.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Place egg whites and salt in a stand mixer with wire whip.  Beat on medium-high speed until foamy, and then gradually add granulated sugar, allowing the mixer to beat a few minutes in between additions.  Beat to firm peaks, 2-3 minutes on medium-high speed.
  3. Add confectioners’ sugar and peppermint extract.  Beat in until blended.
  4. If you want meringue to come out in stripes, drip small blobs of food coloring gel on the meringue in various locations.  Scoop into pastry bag fitted with round or star tip and pipe out about 1-inch meringues, about 1 inch apart.
  5. Bake 2 1/2 hours, then let cool completely.

Leave a comment »