Thursday, March 31, 2011

Amsterdam Interlude

No diet cooking posts for a couple of weeks. I'm in Amsterdam for a few days with daughter #3. We've been discussing here learning the family business (business consulting) for a while and in the last six months have gotten much more serious with her visiting and working stateside and now I'm here helping her get started. But being who we are we have have our eating experiences.

Me eating Turkish Pizza on the streets of Amsterdam
Good stuff - some sort of tomato meat filling in a flat bread with lettuce, onion, tomato and two sauces, garlicy mayo and spicy. Tasty. Not low cal.
When I get home next Monday, Daughter #1 and family will already be visiting us so I expect I won't be doing low-cal cooking then either!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Entertaining - Battle of the Bulge Style

On Saturday I was scheduled to have couple over for dinner. The Wednesday before the guy who I know told me that he was dieting even though his wife wasn't. He's on the tail end of two year effort that has resulted in his losing a lot of weight and his goal is in sight. He is on his last push and is on a very low cal diet. What a coincidence! I told him to fear not. All would be taken care of.

So how do we prepare a culinary event and keep the calories low? I have discovered the "small plates platform combined with my low calorie cooking to work wonders. The small plates ensure that you have variety but keep the quantity low. I usually go with five dishes (including dessert) served on my dessert plates to ensure quantity control. The low calorie cooking has taught me ways of bringing out flavor without too much fat or calories.

Another benefit of this menu is that the vast majority was prepared ahead of time with minimal preparation just before serving.

The Menu
  • Mexican style shrimp salad
  • Indian style vegetable stew
  • Braised swiss chard and egg Spanish style
  • Braised pork Hungarian style
  • Fruit parfait
Mexican Style Shrimp Salad

Flavor base - red chile powder, garlic, Mexican oregano, cumin, lime juice. The first four ingredients are pounded together to make a paste. Lime juice is added to loosen everything up.

Shrimp - Marinated in flavor base for an hour then sauteed quickly, cooled and cut in half

Vegetables - Jicama, celery, cucumber, red bell pepper, pickled mini-corn in large dice

Mix ingredients and add flavor base. Let marinate for about an hour. Add more lime juice to taste just before serving. The only oil in this dish is about a tablespoon for the shrimp. Shrimp are low cal and measured carefully how many I put in.

Indian Style Vegetable Stew

In this recipe there are three components to the flavor base

Flavor base one, the spices - whole allspice, whole fenugreek, small piece of cinnamon stick, one dried chile arbol, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, whole anise. Toast these for a couple of minutes in a dry pan until the smell starts arising. Then put into a coffee grinder and grind to a powder.

Flavor base two - green onions, garlic and ginger (both fresh), some ground nutmeg

Flavor base three - vegetable oil, whole mustard seeds, whole cumin seeds

Heat the oil. Add the mustard seeds. When they pop like popcorn, add the cumin seeds. Add the other flavor bases immediately. Lower heat to medium and stir fry for about 3-5 minutes until green onions start to soften. Add a little coconut milk (I used lite - yuch - but it is a third of the calories), a little chicken flavor base and a little water. Let the flavors combine for another 5 minutes. Add your vegetables. In this case I was using zucchini, mushrooms, turnip greens and some white beans (not many beans - high calories). Let the stew cook until the veggies are soft adding water if it starts to dry out. The only real high calorie items are the initial oil and the beans. This whole dish can be done ahead of time a reheated in the micro just before serving.

Braised Swiss Chard and Egg

Flavor base - Olive Oil, pancetta, garlic, pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika

Parboil the chard about 4 minutes for the stems and 2 minutes for the leaves. Put in cold water to stop cooking, drain, squeeze out excess water, and chop.

Fry 1 ounce of thinly sliced pancetta (Italian salted bacon) in a little olive oil to flavor the oil and end up with some crispy pancetta thins. Add sliced garlic and cook until garlic just starts turning golden. Add pimenton. Add the chard, salt, pepper and a little bit of chicken or beef broth. Let chard cook over medium low heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. This can be done ahead of time.

Fry one egg for each serving in olive oil and put it on each serving of chard. Crumble up the pancetta and sprinkle over the top of the egg.

I get a lot of rave reviews for this dish even from those who don't usually like greens. The egg yolk mellows out the bitter tendencies of the green and the little bit of bacony goodness from the pancetta adds salt and crunch. You are getting some calories from the two sets of oil, very little from the one ounce of pancetta spread in this case over 4 servings, and about 70 calories for each egg.

Braised Pork Hungarian Style

OK this is not low cal at all. I justified it because I wanted one splurge dish and I made sure in the small plate format that the portions were small. I used bone on pork chops for this.

Flavor base - Bacon fat, onion, green pepper, garlic, Hungarian paprika, caraway seeds, beef broth.

Brown the chops in bacon fat (not too much!). Set chops aside, saute the onions, green pepper, and garlic until soft. Add paprika - a lot! Add salt, pepper, caraway seed (go light -these are very potent). Add beef broth. Let the braising fluid cook for about 10 minutes to let the flavors combine. Add your chops, cover tightly and braise at a low heat for around 1.5 hours or until the meat comes of the bone. Remove meat into shreds or chunks, toss the bones and put meat back into braising liquid. I did this the day before.

Next day, drain the meat and braising veggies saving the braising liquid. Cook the braising liquid down so it is a lightly thickened sauce. I did this before the guests arrived. Touch up the sauce flavor with some more paprika and caraway seed. Reheat the sauce before serving.

I made some mashed potatoes flavored with slow cooked leeks that made it through the winter in our garden (in spite of the 0 degree weather in February!) ahead of time of course and used those as the base. Put the meat vegetable mixture artfully to one side and finished with the sauce plus a liberal amount of new crop chives from the garden.

As I said, this was the splurge dish of the meal. No caloric redeeming features :(

Fruit Parfait

This is Mrs. de-I's creation and she pulls it off to perfection. Put about 1.5 ounces of pound cake into the bottom of a large wine glass. Sprinkle with a tiny amount of fruit liqueur (Wife likes to us her homemade raspberry). Add two or more complementary fruit. We are using peaches from our last harvest with blueberries. Add a very small amount of fresh made whipped cream.

This ends up tasting much more luxurious than one would think from the very small amount of high caloric components (cake, liqueur, whipped cream).

And how did my dieting guest take this? He had a great time and texted me the next day that he had still lost weight!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Battle of the Bulge - Recipe Two! - Basic Stew

In addition to soups the other basic preparation I make are stews. As with the soups, I use a basic preparation that I alter through 1) different combinations of ingredients and 2) different flavorings. I'm using a Spanish flavoring for this one. Here are the ingredients and the calories - I forgot to write down the actual weights of everything :(
  • Corn - 150 calories (1 fresh ear frozen from the summer)
  • Chicken - 150 calories (3 oz of my pre-cooked pre-weighed chicken)
  • Olive Oil - 100 calories
  • Chicken broth - 30 calories (1-16 oz can)
  • Onion - 40 calories (4 oz - remembered that one)
  • Zucchini - 28 calories
  • Butternut Squash - 75 calories
  • Corn Starch - 30 calories (1 teaspo0n for thickening)

Saute the onions with some garlic in the olive oil

My Spanish flavorings - Pimenton (smoked paprika) and Saffron

The Spanish flavorings added to the onions with thyme

I cooked down the broth to concentrate the flavor and make it easier to get thick

Corn taken off the cob and zucchini cut

Chicken - defrosted

The chicken, corn and zucchini are added and saute with the flavorings

I roast the butternut squash and will save most of it for future uses

Now add the broth, butternut, and cornstarch (dissolve in water first!)

The 287 Calorie Stew

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If I Ever Go Postal... will be because of incredibly obtuse people I run into when I travel. In general I am amazed at how many people seem completely oblivious of the world around them especially other humans. This really comes to the fore when you fly. It is INCREDIBLE how thoughtless and unaware so many people are.

Look, we all want the plane to leave on time right! So if you are boarding a plane, should you spend minute after minute after minute after minute looking at your luggage and thinking about what you want to put in the overhead holding up every other passenger from getting on board?

And I know that you want that extra leg room, so of course you should take your small bag and put it in the overhead along with your larger bag so others don't have room?

And of course I am sure that you are understand that the backpack on your back is really invisible so that when you swing your body around in the aisle while you're trying to have any idea of where the hell you're going of course your backpack isn't going to whack the person sitting down next to where you're standing.

And then when we're in security, there are the people who evidently in the 12 years since 9/11 have no clue that there rules about what you can bring on and can't.

Thank goodness for noise reducing headphones, classical music, and the status to get on the plane first.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Important Milestone in Bulge Battle

On Wednesday the scale was at 175.4 - broke through the 176 barrier where I had been stalled for over 2 months. Thank God. I was getting really frustrated. Of course now I'm off to Connecticut where I cannot exactly keep on regimen. But with DoD (Dear old Dad) I know he isn't going to go too crazy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Battle of the Bulge - FIRST RECIPE! - Basic Soup

Finally, the first of the recipes. This is what I call Basic Soup. When we are in our "we really have to get a breakthrough and get the weight loss started" mode Mrs. de-I and I with our 60+ year old metabolisms need to have our dinner be under 300 calories. So remember the overall goal of this whole program - tasty, filling dinners at under 400 calories.

I call this the Basic Soup because I can use the flavor principles discussed earlier and a selection of veggies mentioned before to make many, many variations off this same theme. The basis of the of the basic soup is broth plus flavored veggies and a tiny bit of meat. The basic flavoring of the veggies is just a little garlic sauteed in olive oil. For this version here are the components for two servings
  • Carrots - 3 oz, 30 calories
  • Potato - 5 oz, 56 calories
  • Broccoli - 4 oz (cooked), 30 calories
  • Chickpeas - 1/3rd cup, 63 calories
  • Chicken - 3 oz cooked dark meat, 153 calories
  • Chicken Broth - 28 oz, 60 calories
Total calories - 492 / 246 per serving

I cut the carrots small and boiled them with the potatoes (also cut small) for 10 minutes

I like to make my own broth and freeze it but use canned broth all the time

When I make my broth I save the meat and divide it into 3 oz portions

Broccoli I will either roast or steam and then use it as a component through the week

Things like chickpeas and beans, I will open a can and use in small amounts in various dishes. By the way, when I use canned beans, I like to wash them in a strainer. It seems to me that it gets the tinny flavor of the juice off of them.

THE basic flavoring technique - sauteing a little garlic in olive oil. I cot this from Marcela Hazan's books which suggest that you put your garlic in cold oil and then bring it up to heat. Just doing this and adding your veggies with a bit of salt and pepper adds tons of flavor!

All the veggies added plus a little dried basil. I saute this for about 4 minutes just to get the flavor into the veggies

I add the chicken for the last minute

I've heated the broth separately. I split the veggie/chicken mixture between two bowls and put in the broth.

Presto - Basic Soup - Tasty and 246 Calories

Monday, March 14, 2011

Battle of the Bulge - Raw Material Clarification

OK - you don't buy ALL those veggies. You buy a small selection that you can use in different combinations over the course of a normal week.

I was soooo close to actually doing a recipe today but I got home real late and was too tired.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Battle of the Bulge - Raw Materials

It may have appeared based on my last two posts that I have abandoned the weight loss path. Not so. Actually in spite of all the travel I have this month, I've been able to stay under good control. What I haven't had is a lot of energy to keep up the posts. But in April there is NO travel planned so I'm hoping to do serious posting of recipes.

But first let's talk about basic raw materials. The key to keeping under 400 calories is focusing on vegetables and broth as THE major components of dishes. The veggies provide texture and flavor components while the broth provides the component that is filling and low in calories. If you're going to try to eat this way, I suggest you get a wide variety of vegetables from all the families of vegetables. Here are some examples of things that we stock up on:

Greens - Cooking - Cooking greens offer a lot of texture, flavor and nutrients with minimal calories. Included in these are:
  • Mustard greens
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Beet greens
Crossover Greens - These are greens that can eaten raw in salads (we'll have a post just devoted to salads) or cooked. Included here are:
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Spinach
Cabbages - Like the crossover greens cabbages can be eaten raw or cooked. Also really low in calories so when you need some volume to fill you a pound of green cabbage is around 70 calories. They also absorb flavors really well.
  • Green cabbage
  • Red cabbage
  • Napa cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Kohlrabi
Squashes - These offer variety between the summer versions and winter versions. The latter provide color and sweetness.
  • Yellow squash
  • Zucchini
  • Butternut
  • Acorn
Other stuff - A lot of these can be used both cooked and raw
  • Mushrooms, fresh
  • Mushrooms dried
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Corn
  • Fennel
  • Jicama
  • Bean sprouts
  • Daikon
For salads
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Green and red leaf lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Cucumbers
  • Hearts of palm

Monday, March 7, 2011

Small Plates

It may seem based upon the last post and this that I've jettisoned the whole diet thing. NOT TRUE. More posts on the joys of austerity cuisine will be coming soon. But for now a brief sybaritic interlude.

This weekend Agent W, wife of Gaius Derf, was out of town so we invited Derf over for some company. When we do this often we just throw something together without a whole lot of forethought. When we talked Saturday morning, Derf asked what he could bring and I said a chicken. I had the idea that to save time I could get a braising liquid started and then just cut up the chicken and throw it in and have it ready in about an hour and half. We will avoid the entire phone conversation about what I meant by "bring a chicken." But then I started to think, "what are we going to do until the chicken is ready?" As is my wont this lead to the following though in my defense, I did this all between 4 and 5:30 PM so it wasn't like spent all day cooking.

My goal was to have a couple of dishes to fill the gap but I got somewhat carried away. I did however succeed in keeping portion sizes very much under control.

First Course
Salad of Corn and Poblano Peppers

I sauteed corn (of the cob frozen from the summer), poblano peppers from last summer's garden, red onion in oil flavored with pancetta. Then added zest of orange and lime plus lime juice. Served it at room temperature with the crispy pancetta on the top.

Spanish Zucchini Tortilla

Saute onion, garlic and zucchini with pimenton and saffron. Throw into beaten eggs. Put back into pan. When almost done slip onto plate and flip back into pan to finish.

Scallop with caper cream sauce

I cooked a single scallop for each of us then deglazed the pan with some dry sherry and heavy cream, a little anchovy paste and added some capers at the very end.

Glazed carrot salad

Carrots cooked in a little water, butter, brown sugar, and berbere (and Ethiopian spice mixture). Let it cool and added a bit of apple cider vinegar.

Braised chicken and mashed potatoes

Friday, March 4, 2011


So what is a "feast" post doing during my supposed low calorie regimen? Well one thing I decided when starting the long-term calorie reducing plan was that I was in this for the long haul and that I wasn't going to beat myself up when occasionally I decided to enjoy myself...just so long as I didn't fall off the wagon.

As it turns out while I was in Chicago this week, there was a special event at one of partner Lakeview Coffee's favorite restaurants, Sapori Trattoria. A winery from Tuscany was bringing in wines and they were doing a special meal with 11 courses matched up with 4 different wines.

We had a very good time and drank way, way, way too much wine. Here is what they served.

  • Assorted crostini with bruscetta, a chicken and bean, and sweet bread, fennel sausage and gorgonzola cheese
  • Pizza rustica
  • Prosciutto and Gran Padano cheese
  • Homemade rigatoni with roasted butternut squash, pumpkin, sage, and pancetta with prosecco butter
  • Handmade fresh ricotta and spinach gnocchi in tri-meat ragu
  • Veal Ossobucco in six hour veal reduction sauce
  • Hicory smoked Wild Boar Ribs
  • Almond Biscotti
  • Saratoga Dark Chocolate
  • Fresh Raspberries
  • Sweet Whipped Cream

PICTURES - Please forgive the quality...the light was very low!

Lakeview Coffee and very Lovely Laura talking to the Wine dude when everyone still quite coherent - not the case in another hour or so. By the way this meal took three hours!

Pizza Rustica

Some of the Crostini - Most of the time we remembered to take pictures only after eating most of it :(

Rigatoni & butternut squash - Magnifico! Sapori does such a good job with pumpkin and squash.

The Gnocchi

The Meats - The Ossobucco was great too.


Good thing I went home on Friday and will be out for a long hike on Saturday.