May 17, 2013
Starting this coming Monday, I will be taking part in a three-month body fat loss contest with some of my coworkers. Since I’m still trying to lose the extra 5 or so pounds I added over the holidays (that would be the late November through early January holidays), it seemed like a perfect time for a little extra motivation.
The initial and final weight and body fat measurements will be done using hydrostatic weighing (aka underwater weighing), which is one of the most accurate methods of measurement. We have a lot of very fit people at my company, so it should be an interesting contest.
My food plan for the summer is to really focus on nutrient-dense food, avoiding empty calories as much as possible, and making sure I have a good balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates (unrefined grains and fruits and vegetables). And summer seems like the ideal time for that with such a variety of fresh produce available. I still plan to eat out and have fun once a week, but definitely have a lot of room for improvement for the other 20 meals a week.
In terms of exercise, I’ve had some trouble with tendonitis in my knee and some lower back pain, so my goals are to work on strength training (especially my physical therapy exercises for my abs to help take stress off my back), and slowly increase my cardio workouts so I can avoid any overuse issues. I also plan to vary the type of cardio I do to minimize this type of risk as well.
I’m a bit nervous to see what my starting percentage of body fat is, as I know without a doubt that it’s increased since I last had it ‘officially’ measured nearly 20 years ago. While my BMI is in the normal range (on a scale of underweight/normal/overweight/obese), judging by the values I see from my body fat measurement scale at home, I fear I may actually end up categorized as obese in terms of body fat. Which really speaks to how a person’s weight measurement really doesn’t tell you much about the quality of that weight in terms of lean body mass or fat.
So we’ll see – I’ll post my starting and ending percentage body fat, and do a few posts during the summer as to how things have been going. I’m excited to get started!
I’ve been negligent in terms of cooking over the past couple weeks, as I’ve been very indulgent of my new obsession with acrylic painting. Last weekend I determined it was necessary to add summer, fall, and winter versions of the Spring Aspens painting I did at Whimsy Paint and Sip in Erie, CO, so I really had nothing shareable in the food arena.
This weekend I thought I would finally try to make sorbet in the ice cream maker I got late last year. (Up until now I had only made some semi-successful dairy-related attempts with it.) Mangos came to mind, but I wanted to use something else in addition, so I went with pineapple, figuring that was a nice tropical combination.
My research into sorbet turned up a lot of recipes that used some sort of sugar/fruit syrup, but I didn’t plan to use a lot of sweetener since mango and pineapple are already pretty sweet, and wasn’t really in the mood for cooking down a syrup. So I just went with puréed fruit. Most of the recipes I saw, even for pineapple sorbet, used a cup or so of sugar, but I ended up just adding 1/4 cup of erythritol, and even used a little more lemon juice than most recipes called for.
I put the mix into my ice cream maker, and waited to see how it would turn out. Traditionally, sorbet has a small bit of alcohol added, which prevents it from freezing into a block of fruit ice when stored. But I made this without any alcohol – I already wasn’t following the sugar/fruit syrup convention, so I wasn’t going to stand on ceremony at this point.
The ice cream maker determined that my sorbet was finished before it got too terribly solid and frozen (I figured once the sorbet froze in place, leaving it in there wasn’t going to have much (or any) effect). So it was a tad more like soft serve sorbet (that sounds legitimate, doesn’t it?) than traditional sorbet, but it still tasted awesome.
Soft Serve Mango Pineapple Sorbet
makes 4-6 servings
3 cups fresh pineapple chunks
3 cups fresh mango chunks
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup erythritol (or sugar)
Purée the pineapple and mango in a food processor until completely liquidy. Add the erythritol or sugar and 2 Tbsp of the lemon juice, and process again. Taste and add additional lemon juice if desired. Then follow the directions for your ice cream maker. The process took about 15 minutes in mine.
Note: If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can use this recipe to make granita instead. Pour the mixture into a container like a metal baking pan, then freeze for 20 minutes, use a fork to break up the ice crystals and move the frozen parts into the center of the pan, and repeat this process for about an hour and a half.
April 21, 2013
Since my first taste of a duck egg at a Farm Dinner several years ago, I’ve been searching for some to buy myself. But I had no luck up until this year’s Boulder Farmers’ Market opened. I didn’t get there early enough the first week, but I made sure to get there early enough to get some from Jodar Farms the second week!
Duck eggs are quite a bit larger than chicken eggs, as you can see from the picture below:
As a result, they are also higher in calories and fat, but are also quite a bit higher in cholesterol (nearly three times, in fact). So they are definitely something that I would limit in my diet (although I don’t really eat a lot of eggs anyhow, and rarely use more than one yolk per person in a serving). Nonetheless, I find duck eggs to be richer and more satisfying than chicken eggs, so definitely worth an occasional splurge!
Once it came time to cook my first dish with duck eggs however, I found myself unusually nervous and hesitant. I realized that I hadn’t cooked eggs in any way other than scrambled or a badly formed omelet since…ever. My mom poached the eggs we had when I was younger in the handy poaching contraption, and we just didn’t do fried eggs. I did a bunch of reading on poaching, and was rather skeptical about the whole non-contraption poaching process. Dumping the egg into boiling water free-form? That sounded like a recipe for disaster. I ended up putting the egg in a ramekin and lowering it (in a rather ungainly manner) into a pot of boiling water. I had no clue how long to let it cook, so I just guess, and then pulled my slightly overdone, whites-sloppily-arrayed egg out of the water, and put it atop some caramelized leeks, green garlic, and potatoes.
Not bad tasting at all, but there was too much ‘stuff’ underneath the egg, so the taste of the egg really didn’t come through at all.
The next week I had planned to try poaching again, but reconsidered at the last moment and thought I’d try frying in a very small bit of butter in a non-stick pan. I did a small bit of reading, still didn’t really understand exactly what I was doing, but just went for it. I melted 1/2 Tbsp of butter in the pan over low heat, and then gently poured the egg from a small bowl into the pan. The white seemed to separate into two different levels (whatever that was about), one that cooked quickly, and one that cooked after I turned the heat up closer to medium.
At that point (and we’re talking only a few minutes overall), the white seemed nice and done, but when I touched the yolk it was still cold. Okay, then – I’ll go for the hard-to-do-without-breaking-the-yolk over-easy egg! Oddly enough, I was able to flip it without breaking the yolk, let it cook another 30 seconds to a minute, and then took it out of the pan.
I decided to go with the simplest thing in order to really feature the egg, and just put it on top of toast. I was thrilled when I broke it open that the yolk was exactly as I like it – nice and runny (but warm). Now THAT’s the way to enjoy a duck egg!
April 13, 2013
After sampling the chicken skewers with chermoula at the preview for Fresh Thymes Eatery, I was inspired to make some chermoula myself. A marinade or sauce in North African cuisine, chermoula varies greatly from recipe to recipe, but the common ingredients are generally cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. (Although there were a lot of recipes I found online which resulted in a reddish or orangish sauce, so clearly not all use cilantro).
Christine (the Fresh Thymes chef) mentioned sumac when talking about her chermoula. So being a sumac fanatic myself, I wanted to include that in mine, despite the fact that the majority of recipes I found online were sadly sumacless. (Seems like it should be a word to me, given my love for it.) Sumac is a spice made from the dried fruit of a bush native to the Middle East, and is frequently used in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s a gorgeous redish-maroon color, and tastes very lemony, but with a more complex flavor I can only describe as somewhat like the taste of red pepper flakes without the heat. I buy mine in a huge container that I use extremely liberally in the dressing I make for Fattoush.
I wanted my sauce to be lower in fat than most recipes I found online, so it turned out like more of a paste, but still tasted completely delicious. I used a recipe I found on whatscookingamerica.net as a starting point, and used more cilantro, less olive oil and lemon juice, and added sumac. The result was a gorgeous vibrant green, which seemed perfect for spring.
adapted from a recipe on whatscookingamerica.net
makes about 3/4 cup
2 cups fresh Italian (flat) parsley
2 cups fresh cilantro
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 medium cloves garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground sumac
1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red chile flakes
1 pinch saffron*
Put all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until a paste forms.
* Technically, you should soak the saffron for a couple of hours in warm liquid, but I just soaked it for about 10 minutes, then drained it, and added it to the processor. If you want to maximize the taste, soak it in a tsp or so of warm water well before you start on the sauce, then break up the saffron threads and add the liquid to the processor.
I made two dishes using my chermoula during the week. The first was scrambled eggs with oyster mushrooms, spinach, and chermoula, and the second was baked halibut with chermoula. The sauce (paste) worked wonderfully with both of them. Another keeper!
April 7, 2013
This past week I was lucky enough to attend an event previewing the concept and food of the soon-to-open Fresh Thymes Eatery. Natural Chef Christine Ruch shared her long-time dream of opening a healthy take-out market, as well as some incredibly tasty food. Fresh Thymes Eatery will be located in the former site of Elephant Hut, in the Boulder Steel Yards on 30th Street, between Pearl and Valmont. In addition to the take-out option, there will be tables and counter seating on-site.
By now, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a fairly household term. But Community Supported Restaurant (CSR), which is Fresh Thymes Eatery’s model, was new to me. I read about it, and thought it was a great idea – community members pay an up-front sum, which is used for start-up and operating costs, and throughout the year are given amounts to spend in the restaurant, as well as other membership perks. I love the idea of helping to support a local restaurant that serves natural, healthy food from local sources, just like you would support a farm through a CSA membership. (A membership is not required to dine at or purchase food from the restaurant.)
But it isn’t just the CSR concept that I like. The style and quality of the food is incredibly intriguing. Chef Ruch, who was diagnosed with celiac disease as well as other food allergies wants to provide a place where people with food sensitivities can eat without going through a litany of questions and substitution requests. She also wants to share her passion for natural, healthy, nutrient-dense food. But those who shy away from ‘healthy/natural/hippie food’ need not fear. The vegetarian items are full of bright, bold flavors that any carnivore would be hard-pressed not to appreciate, the gluten-free baked goods are excellent, and Fresh Thymes will also serve locally raised meats.
The food theme for the evening was late spring (using produce that will be in season in June, when the restaurant is due to open), with a Mediterranean influence.
We got to sample two lovely fresh salads. The first was a Sugar Snap Pea and Heirloom Radish Salad, and the second was Asparagus and Roasted Red Pepper Salad. Both featured fresh vegetables and bright, vibrant flavors.
One item I truly fell in love with was the Sweet Spicy Date Relish, served with Tangier Street Bread. The relish was a perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and salty. I snagged a small jar of that from the take-home sample table and nearly polished it off in two days.
I’ve always loved lentils, and the Arugula Spinach Pesto with Beluga Lentils was delicious. (I could see this being a perfect take-out item for lunch during the work week.)
Unfortunately I didn’t get good pictures of the Chicken Skewers with Chermoula Sauce, which were completely delectable. The chicken was flavorful enough on its own with lovely Mediterranean flavors, but the Chermoula Sauce was divine. (Chermoula is a Mediterranean sauce usually made with parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon, cumin, paprika and olive oil). This rendition was wonderfully flavorful and demanded seconds. The final item was a dark chocolate tart, with a crust made of almonds and cashews.
After sampling the food, I decided to buy a membership to support Fresh Thymes. It’s like joining a CSA, but you don’t have to figure out what to cook each week (and there’s no risk of not using up all your vegetables before they go bad). Additionally the memberships, which are good from one year up to three years depending on membership level, provide food and perks year round, so it’s not just a seasonal venture. You can view more details on the Fresh Thymes webpage, and can purchase a membership via PayPal.