No Carb or Cheese Week

I realized my diet consists of mostly carbohydrates, followed closely by cheese. With Spring on the way (at least I hope it is), I am inspired to change my eating habits rather than do a crash diet to shed the winter weight. I noticed my portions have become larger and meals more frequent. I knew what I had to do… shrink my stomach. I have used this tactic before in conjunction with exercise. It also alleviates the feeling of being a stuffed Thanksgiving turkey, with all the fixings. This is about practicing discipline.

No carbs or cheese for a week. I came up with this challenge to see if I could do it and introduce more raw vegetables in my diet, and cut down on the pizza slices. Cheap food is not the healthiest food. Always thought it should be the other way around. It should be a luxury to eat like shit. Quality of life people.

To compensate for the void left, and the needing to eat, I tried to make something I would be excited about. Slow-cooked pulled pork shoulder. It was a lot of fun. I never made pulled pork before. Did a dry-rub of chili powder, cumin, black pepper, salt, cinnamon and cilantro. I laid the pork shoulder over a bed of garlic cloves, 3 onions, chicken broth & red wine. I left it in the crock pot over night. 8 hours or so. All the juice soaked through it and the fat dripped off. Better than Christmas morning. Put it in the fridge because I had to go to work. That night, I pulled the meat off the bone, set in a deep pan and set the oven to 500 degrees for about 10 minutes, stir up then another 10. I drained the juice and pulled the pieces of pork into smaller pieces. I stirred in bbq sauce with my hands. I then broiled on high 5 minutes, stirred in more bbq sauce and broiled until lightly crisp. I shredded the meat with 2 forks poured on some more sauce. Had trouble restraining myself from eating the whole thing.

So wish me luck. I just had veggie omelette with 2 sausage patties. Salad with grilled chicken on deck. It’s not so bad. Just need to make the meals exciting so you have more faith in the cause.

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Lasagna in a Crock Pot

The winter has forced me to gain some winter weight in order to stay warm. I live in New York City, where you must be out in the elements in negative 9 degrees. This year’s winter weather is especially arctic. I walk a lot and eat a lot, so hopefully that balances out, but it really doesn’t. We experience the fullness of the season whipping past our faces, to remind us that we are nothing but a small part of the circle of life. So we must nourish our existence with passion. Such as a passion to consume fuel that excites us upon anticipation, and ecstasy in the moment that the fragrant perfumes come steaming off the plate. I’m hardly able to wait for the lasagna to cool, often time so impatient, I burn the roof of my mouth. But it just tastes better that way.

This colorful analogy has been inspired by making Lasagna in a Crock Pot this past weekend. I had been meaning to get out the crock pot and try some new recipes and I am Italian, so this jumped out as the first I must try. The ingredients are inexpensive and it is so much easier than baking, even though it takes slightly longer. Low and Slow!  Maximum customization! We can build it faster, stronger and with more layers… can’t forget the massive amount of cheese. Thinking of Garfield, the cat I can now identify with, wanting to eat the entire thing, but unable to physically do so… in one sitting. I waited to digest a full belly of layered pasta, cheese, sauce and meat 3 stories tall. I left the crock pot temperature on low, so after I could feel some space let up, I could eat another helping proportionate to the space available, still hot and gooey!

1. Brown meat and diced onion, drain, add tomato sauce. Mix mozzarella, cottage cheese and Parmesan in a bowl. 2. Spray PAM lightly in crock pot. 3. Layer meat sauce evenly on bottom, followed by broken, uncooked lasagna noodles, and then spoon over with cheese mixture. 4. Repeat layering 3 times, add sauce to the top, then drizzle extra cheese. 5. Leave on LOW for 4-5 hours!

I should stress that it is unhealthy to eat this by yourself, so invite some friends or bring it to a gathering. It is sure to be an instant classic. They will never know how easy it was… unless you tell them!

Stock the Cupboard

Some people find cooking to be tedious because, from their point of view, it is not easy. Some other complaints are that it takes too much time or have to go food shopping or groceries are expensive. This can be avoided by thinking ahead and… stocking your kitchen! The cupboard, the freezer and fridge are the cornerstone of culinary preparedness.

Shopping: There is an economic reason for keeping staples in the house. It’s not even about buying in bulk, but is one way for convenience and cost. The danger in that is over eating and waste if it is not consumed. I don’t want to eat meat that’s been frozen since last 4th of July BBQ. Shop smart! Shop the sales, but don’t over buy. Where are you going to put all the groceries? Save space! Granted I shop for myself, but whether you are shopping for one or a family of 6, same concept applies. Have a plan! Write a list of things you like to make. You buy them every time you shop. Buy spices in large but manageable containers. The basics are: salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper, garlic powder, cumin. Buy other spices that apply to common meals. The spice rack will require little maintenance.

Non-Perishables: Dried goods assist in making a meal out of something that would just be an appetizer. Helping conceptualize dinner by matching sides with a main course. Spaghetti and meatballs wouldn’t be possible without the pasta, which has a long shelf life. Non-perishables include: oil, grains, pasta, canned beans and vegetables, broth, soup, flour, baking soda, bread crumbs, sugar, pancake mix and syrup, peanut butter, jelly, tomato sauce, pesto, salad dressing, balsamic and red vinegar, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, bbq sauce… you get the gist. Dry goods that may go stale if opened: tortillas, wraps, chips, bread, cereal, crackers, nuts, snacks-related items. Frozen foods can stay for a long while: pizza, veggies, meat, raviolisanything that makes life easy so on a night you don’t feel like cooking, you won’t be eating a bag of chips for dinner.

Perishables: This is a little more tricky. Get only what you will use in the next 2 weeks or less. Planning meals before shopping is helpful. Make a list on your smart phone. That way you wont forget it at home. The essentials: eggs, butter, minced garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cheese and milk. Any one of these ingredients will be in 99% of the food that you prepare. The 2nd most important: bell peppers, lime, lemon, avocado, lettuce, cilantro, parsley, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, fruit. The meat or meat substitute is the substance or main ingredient. This can include: chicken breast, ground beef, sausage, steak, pork, veal, deli meat, fish, tofu, soy products. There are plenty of other items that may be important to you like Sriracha. Put it on the list. I tend to get meat, specialty or anything that may perish quickly the day of to insure the quality.

Pay attention to where you shop. Do they have fresh produce consistently? Variety? Convenient location? Stocked well? Deals? Good music? Pick a place that inspires you to create delicious expressions of nourishment. Consider how much room you have and your budget. Prioritize items that are needed most. Open the door to budgeting both health and wallet. You will be surprised how much you can actually save. Now… stash away!

 

Dining Out – CARACAS

Restaurant Review: This is the first of many restaurant experiences I will share. I will only talk about how good the food is and what I liked. Unless it was extremely bad, no reason to write about something bland. So I have picked one of my favorite establishments, Caracas Arepa Bar, located in Brooklyn (Williamsburg), NY. There are other locations, but this is my favorite. It has outdoor back yard! They serve arepas, which are toasted (outside), yet spongy (inside) corn-flour, pita-like pockets filled with goodness.

Arepas originate from Venezuela and are at the center of every meal. Caracas has fused the traditional with NYC sensibility. It contains anything from beef, chorizo, grilled chicken, Perico (Venezuelan-style eggs, scrambled with peppers and onions), avocado, Guyanese cheese, black beans, and much more. Most entree’s can be made vegetarian and Gluten-free. They also offer platters, salads, brunch, sidekicks and rum bar, Roneria Caracas. I love appetizers and tapas. It’s what my mom calls ‘grazing’. Any choice you make will be the right one. However, I have my favorites, so let me go into detail.

Roneria Caracas rum bar: The restaurant consulted Apotheke’s Orson Salicetti to create a rum-heavy cocktail menu, as well as gather more than 30 premium rums from the Caribbean Islands, Central and South America. My favorite beverage is the michelada. They are perfected with exact amounts of spice and flavor in every ounce. Their recipe features Pacifico, lemon, housemade spicy panela and salt. I get a shot of rum for an extra dollar and pour it in the mix. Delicious and hard to just have one.

The guacamole and homemade plantains are great. They have 2 different kinds of plantains as sides. Croquetas are super tasty fried potato cakes of chorizo, corn & cilantro. My current favorite arepa is “la sureña“, filled with grilled chicken, chorizo, avocado & spicy chimi-curry sauce. For Brunch my go-to, especially if I want something a little lighter, is “la sencilla” consisting of Perico (scrambled eggs with pepper and onions) and white cheese.

I recently went there for brunch with my family, table of 6, and they had never been. Seating is quite roomy, but it gets busy, so they take reservations only at the Brooklyn location. We got there early (starts at noon), so we sat right down. During the nice weather there is sizable back yard with seating. If you are waiting, the rum tiki bar is at the front. We over-ordered, because my family is worried that we may not have enough. Needless to say, there were doggie bags. We all did a toast with a micheladas, and the extra shot. My mom doesn’t drink, so she was feeling nice. We all left with a sense of satisfaction, everything tasted great and the staff was incredibly friendly. So bring family, friends, dates, anyone who wants a break from the norm, with something for everyone.

291 Grand st.
Brooklyn, NY 11211
718.218.6050
Hours: Everyday 12-noon to 11-pm

Fried Mash Potato, Egg & Cheese

This is a pictorial account of a dish I like to make. Mexican influenced brunch. Really simple, start with oil, onions. Smash potatoes in with some butter, sea salt, pepper and any other spices. Get it toasty brown by frying it, mashing it into pan and letting in brown on low heat once the butter and oil work their way through.

Part the sea of potatoes for your eggs. Add more butter. Let the eggs go over easy for a little then fold it all over a few times, add cheese and start flipping like a pancake until it is both sloppy and crispy.

Mash avocado on the 2 tortillas, squeeze some lime and pinch of salt over it. Place eggs over and throw broken tortillas on top, with extra cheese and hot sauce, if so desired. Eating for 2 to share or a hungry man. Man that was good! Completely vegetarian. Ingredients at the bottom.

2 baked potatoes pressed into pan with onions in oil

Fried Mash n Eggs 2

Add butter, spices, mash & flip the potatoes

Fried Mash n Eggs 3

Press into pancake once butter & oil have worked its way through, flip until brown

Fried Mash n Eggs 4

Create a trough, parting the pancake with spatula

Fried Mash n Eggs 5

Crack the eggs and let them partially cook over-easy

Fried Mash n Eggs 6

Cheese

image

Fold potatoes, eggs & cheese together

Fried Mash n Eggs 8

Mash avocado on tortillas, drop the lime & salt

Fried Mash n Eggs 9

Plate over tortillas, cover with tortilla chips & cheese

Mexican-style fried mashed potato, egg and cheese:
oil
butter
2 potatoes, baked and mashed in pan
1 onion, diced
pepper, sea salt, cayenne, hot sauce
2 eggs, over easy
shredded cheddar cheese
tortillas
1 avocado
1 lime

I Could Eat…

My grandmother says.”Have you had anything to eat today? You look thin”.

Thank you Nan, I have been stuffing my face all week, I think to myself. Not thin, but just a little ‘winter weight’ from the holidays. Then I say, “I could eat. What do you got?”

I come from an Italian household, in NJ, and got much praise for being such a good little boy for eating not just seconds, but thirds. I didn’t bother with dessert. “But you’re a growing boy.” Nan, I’m an adult and growing horizontally. She always had snacks. Bugles, Goldfish and Klondike bars, oh my.

I always thought the sensation of being full, but still wanting to eat, is strange. It’s like continuing to drink, even though you are already hammered. But when delicious smells hypnotize you, you rationalize that it’s just one taste. After all, that cheese cake is from Junior’s. All you can eat Buffet… What?!? I house that. BANG! I’m getting my money’s worth, I mean they keep bringing it out. It’s so hard to keep up. Wendy’s used to have something called a Super Bar. Basically every type of food that would immediately put on pounds.

 

At that office job you work at, you can actually watch people gain weight. There are bagels, pizza, birthday cake, holiday related candy, bread your co-worker made, left overs from the corporate lunch (which they always over-order to keep the minions fat & happy). It’s all up in your face, how can you say no? Gym membership should be included in your benefits. As a result, being full is what we are used to. So eating a regular portion is not enough. Hence… I could wake up, eat a taco (if it was next to me), then go back to sleep. #NES (Nocturnal Eating Disorders)

How do we fight the winter weight gain? Discipline. Plain and simple. Try drinking water before indulging in that high-calorie, convenient snack. Save those calories for something worth eating (that’s also high in calories). Pick and choose. Half all your portions and save the other half for later. You would be surprised how full you are afterwards. And a meal for later. I like to look at winning small battles, rather than take on completely changing my eating habits. So set your standards high. Eat only the best!

Fast Snacks – Microwave Nachos

I think I am going to have Fast Snacks as a re-occurring segment. I am so lazy sometimes. Just getting home from work, I throw off my shoes, drop my crap on the floor and stare at 2 things: #1. my bedroom with HDTV, Netflix, possibly Skyrim and chill zone. #2. my kitchen. I walk back and forth between the two areas. I stare at the remote, which will signify going with choice #1. Then I open the fridge and stare inside, hypnotized by the light, like a deer in headlights, the way a zombie would stare at brains.

Don’t get it twisted, I love to cook. LOVE IT. However, if I’m not inspired, it becomes a chore. Or I am really busy. I still have to eat. I keep  lots of things that will sustain me, but also delight the taste buds. Cheese. You must realize, I am biased to a few key foods: cheese, butter, garlic and carbohydrates. This blog spends a lot of time offering praise for dairy and grateful I’m not lactose intolerant.

I keep special ingredients for super lazy mode. I mean, besides the obvious frozen pizza, cans of soup, cheese and crackers, humus and veggies. Don’t you dare tell me you have Chef Boyardee. These snacks are fine, but I offer a broader variety.

Microwave Nachos require very little and you can get fancy or super lazy. The essentials: bag of tortilla chips, shredded cheddar cheese and salsa. My grandmother called these Chippies. It was an after school treat to tide me over until dinner was ready. She used pepper jack cheddar. Chips on a plate, drizzle shredded cheese, light salsa on top, little extra cheese. Microwave for 1 minute. Consume!

Chippies

To expand on “Chippies”, we need some extra ingredients: avocado, limes, salt, cilantro, tomato, can of re-fried beans, sour cream, hot sauce. Only have to wash spoon, knife and plate. Mess factor = 1. First, dice 1 tomato into bite-sized chunks. Put chunks in non-dominant hand. Spread a generous amount of chips on plate with free hand, lay tomato over top evenly. Throw shredded cheese, then pull some cilantro off its stalk, and distribute. Open can of re-fried beans, put half the can piled in the center on the plate. Lightly cover all chips, but mostly in the center, forming a well at top of beans. Microwave for 1 minute. Cover with more cheese, turn plate, microwave for 1 more minute. Add some more cheese. Drop it like it’s hot (even though it’s room temperature) half a very ripe avocado, diced in its skin, scooped out with spoon. Squeeze fresh lime with a little salt. Now throw the hot sauce, sour cream on and you are done! You could also add sliced jalapenos, olives or chilies. Now go watch some Netflix.