Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Battle Protein

I'm in the middle of a body battle.
Don't worry, you're not interrupting anything. This is a quiet battle that you wouldn't notice unless you're looking. It's a war for balance; some days I win a little and some days I lose big.
It's a battle for protein.
Yes, afraid so.
My body has been off its rocker for a while- all of 2009 and probably a decent chunk of 2008. With 2010 approaching rapidly on Friday, I'm forcing myself to change my priorities in the new year. I know I know, its strange and a little lame.
But if you can relate in any way to a non-meat eating, weight-focused girl who loves her veggies and sweets, you might guess how protein could become a problem.
For the past week, I've been entering all of my foods into a meal tracker on my iPhone. It's been fun, but seriously not a practice I can keep up indefinitely. It has, however, proved useful in charting what nutrients I currently ingest in abundance (Vitamins A and C are huge), and where I'm lacking (the big pro-tein). I wasn't that surprised by a deficiency, but a little shocked by the size of it. According to my weight, height, and goals, my protein intake is a little less than half of what it should be every day. When you think about how proteins are the building blocks for the body, that's a big deficiency that could explain a lot.
I cut meat from my diet 2 years ago to feel better and (if I admit to myself) for some weight control. This worked fairly well since proteins are more calorie dense. But it doesn't help build muscle and bone, or get a body clock back on track when you're running on a low tank.
Take these beans for example.
The delicious bowl you see below holds the Green Beans with Browned Butter and Toasted Hazelnuts, a dish that graced the Christmas table this year (I would love to post the original recipe from Cook's Illustrated, but they don't appreciate re-publishing). The hazelnuts were the only protein I ate at dinner since I didn't have any of the beautiful tenderloin steak that was prepared to go with the beans and a pasta risotto. As much as I loved this dish (and I ate a good amount of it), it's still only a small amount of protein.

The mental struggle and constant calculations won't go away. At least right now that is; maybe some day I can get away from that place and feel comfortable whatever weight I end up at, but for now that needs to take a back seat. I've decided that a little meat will land on my plate now and then- when it sounds good to me. Besides that I will eat larger and more frequent portions of the proteins I do love: raw and cooked fish, eggs, nuts, and quinoa. The protein component of each meal will be considered first instead of last, and it will be a priority even if I think I've passed my self-pronounced caloric limit. I'm hoping just a few weeks of this approach will accomplish the physical changes I'm hoping for, and form a healthier habit for the long run.

Being on vacation the past few days has made it much easier. I have more time to consider my options and make enticing meals that I am excited about. A little peanut butter with breakfast, some sardines for lunch, and egg whites at dinner- with a little nut-studded fruitcake for a snack. I'm monitoring the scale with an eagle eye, but would I change what I'm doing if that gives me something I don't like. I want to say no. . . I will say no, because I'll be checking myself and I know that the only one I'm hurting is myself.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Snapshots

~ French Toast Bread Pudding ~
~ Dad's Cheese Eggs ~
~ Parsley, shallots, and parmesan cheese for Pasta Risotto ~

~ Green Beans with Browned Butter and Hazelnuts ~

~ Anchovy-stuffed olives ~

~ Crusty Bread ~

~ Trifle with Roasted Apples and Pears ~


Saturday, December 26, 2009


My family is tight. We enjoy each other's company in a way that makes holidays a lot of fun- a nice excuse to spend the day together with nothing else to do.

When my brothers and I were little, the day changed often - we'd attend church on Christmas Day, a visit to grandparents when we lived in New Jersey, relatives staying with us in Atlanta. Present opening was a flurry of ripping paper and flying bows, squeals of delight and playing with toys all day long. Christmas Eve was about the anticipation of that event the next morning.

Now we're a little bigger and well, I'm married. We visit Ray's family during the day on the 24th before driving to meet mine for church, the same one we were married in. This evening's events have remained steady for at least 5 years now- Mom readies the components for Spaghetti Carbonara before heading for church, and it's finished shortly after we return. We're all starving by the time we get home and it's a joyous, noisy, hungry meal.
She sautes the bacon until crisp and lets it drain on paper towels. Pouring off all but a tablespoon of bacon fat, she adds a few smashed pieces of garlic with a bit of olive oil and sautes until golden, scraping up the good flavor bits from the bottom. She removes the garlic and sets it aside too.

Into the serving bowl goes some eggs which she beats until frothy, then adds lots of grated parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.
The pasta water goes on the stove on low heat before we leave, so it's nearly boiling by the time we return. In goes the spaghetti for a quick 9 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile, we hover around the kitchen island snacking on anchovy-stuffed olives and crusty bread. We munch on leaves of a tossed romaine salad with our fingers, a practice we'll never grow out of.

When the spaghetti is almost ready, the bacon and garlic go back into the pan with about 1/2 cup white wine to reduce. The drained pasta is thrown into the bowl with the eggs and the bacon-garlic-wine mixture. Toss immediately with tongs to coat. The egg cooks when its hit with the hot pasta; toss really well, it's a big bowl!

Mom comes around the big bowl, it's a little hard to pass. She dishes with tongs to everyone before coming back around to deposit some bacon on the top that always sinks to the bottom of the bowl.

It's scrumptious, with a little salad and a glass of champagne especially ;-)

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that you, like me, will reflect on the new memories throughout the coming week.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Yin and Yang- A Relationship through Cookies

How about a Christmas cookie, would you like one?
I've got to be honest with you. I am not a sugar cookie fan.
Rarely do I blog about something I don't like. They are simple as can be, classic and clean. I certainly don't hate them, but I want a cookie with a little more drama, more complexity and flavor. I like many things to be simple, but not my cookies. I pass these altogether at Christmas and reach for other varieties that grace the family table- the pecan tassies, the chocolate madeleines, even the rum fruitcake (now that's good, we'll talk about it later).
But when it comes to sweets I sometimes need to be reminded that it's not all about me. This is the season of giving, and some prefer the classic simplicity of the Christmas sugar cookie. Some like Ray, who counts them as his favorite around the holidays.
Especially when slathered with chocolate frosting!
So I bake them happily, and he gets his own personal tins of cookies to munch on at home until the 24th. Then we both invade the cookie tins of our mothers for some Christmas memories in dessert form.
I am not tempted to eat these, but the smell of butter and sugar creaming together is irresistable to the baker. As is cutting out christmas trees and stockings and sprinkling them with pretty crystals.
Oh yes, I love that part.
Et voila! Bella.

I make a simple glaze for these cookies with semisweet chocolate chips, melted butter, and vanilla; it's a little fudgy and a bit hit. If you want to get fancy, be my guest. I think they are prettiest on their own- naked with those pretty sugar crystals- but a little goopy frosting makes the peeps happy.
The Simplest of Simple Christmas Sugar Cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
sprinkles and icing for decoration

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until creamy and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time and the vanilla, and beat until mixed. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and add, mixing on low speed, until the dough comes together. Split dough in half, wrap in plastic, and chill for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 or 3 baking sheets with foil.

Remove one piece of dough and roll out on a well-floured surface- not too thin! Cut out cookies with cutters and place on baking sheets. Put the scraps back together and roll once more, cutting out as many shapes as you can. Repeat with the second half of dough. Sprinkle with colored sugar or anything you like. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through.

Cool on a rack. If adding frosting, let the cookies cool for at least 10-15 minutes so you don't end up with chocolatey rivers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Dinner at Viognier

Dinner on New Years Eve 2009 was deliciously spent at Viognier Restaurant in San Mateo. We were very impressed with the service and the meal, but we haven't had occasion to return until now. When the invitation for Ray's company holiday dinner announced the location would be Viognier, I knew it would be exceptional.

After a pleasant cocktail hour, we were seated at circular and rectangular tables around the restaurant. My drink of choice was a pleasant cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately I don't know it's origin. It was nice but not exceptional so I'm less bothered by the lack of information.

The bread basket included thin baguette slices heavily perfumed with asiago cheese. Salty soft butter accompanied the basket.

For the 3-course dinner we selected from two options per course. For the first time in the history of our marriage, Ray and I matched on two of the three. Salad or soup?
Butternut Squash Soup

Our soup arrived garnishes only: diced asian pear, maple creme fraiche, and micro greens.

The soup was poured individually for an elegant presentation.

A lovely soup with a nice balance of sweetness and flavor without being too 'squashy.'

Veal Ribeye

The first entree option was a Veal Ribeye, garnished with bacon, spaetzle, cabbage, and a red wine jus.

Roasted California Halibut

My fish sat afloat in a meyer lemon-basil broth with large butter beans and swiss chard. The fish was wonderfully moist and smooth.

Valhrona Chocolate Dome

With choices of a pumpkin cheesecake or chocolate, we both went for the chocolate. The dome was bathed in chocolate and crowned with crispy rice cereal. The little dots of caramel sauce were heavenly. I certainly wished for more to balance to complement the chocolate; otherwise it was an exceptional dessert.

The interior of the dark dome was a paler milk chocolate. The flavor was incredible, it's been a long time since I've had such a true, deep chocolatey dessert.
Which is why I finished mine....and part of Ray's! Ah well, it's the holidays and these dinners are rare.

May you share as festive a meal with your loved ones this holiday season!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Apple Pumpkin Pie

I've been waiting for this one. Holding out on you actually, if I'm honest.
The last week of November suffers from an overdose of Thanksgiving plates and another is probably the last thing you want to see. So I've waited, biding my time until you might feel a little receptive to something really good. Like this combo of apple and pumpkin pie. :-)

Now that we're firmly in December, I'm hoping this will sound good to you. If it doesn't....well then we just don't understand each other.
This pie is a family favorite; we enjoy it several times a year. Don't be thinking this is a recipe to prepare at Thanksgiving only! It suits anytime from September to March (or year-round but I won't push you that far). When this girl came out of the oven I was positively swollen with pride. The interior is moist and juicy from the apple and pumpkin layers, which sink together to create a luscious, pudding-like consistency.

I had some pumpkin custard leftover which I poured it into a ramekin and baked with the pie. You could decrease the measurements of that layer, but you'd have a bit of canned pumpkin left (annoying) and you wouldn't have a personal pumpkin pie to eat right away, or save for a loved one. . . or eat right away.

Apple Pumpkin Pie

dough: 1/2 batch of The Best Pie Dough, rolled out and pressed into a 9-inch pie dish

apple layer:
3 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp flour
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cinnamon

pumpkin layer:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 generous cup fat free evaporated milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

crumble topping:
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup rolled oats
5 Tbs granulated sugar
3 Tbs butter, softened

Place a baking sheet in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine the ingredients for the apple layer- apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and cinnamon- in a bowl. Arrange in an even layer at the bottom of the prepared pie shell. Stash in the fridge.
Combine the ingredients for the pumpkin layer- eggs, pumpkin, evaporated milk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a second bowl. Remove the pie shell from the fridge and pour the mixture over the apples.
You want to fill it pretty well, but anticipate some extra so don't overflow!
Remove the baking sheet and place the pie on top of it. Bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the crumble topping in a small bowl by rubbing the butter into the flour, oats, and sugar until it becomes crumbly. After 30 minutes remove the pie and cover it with the topping evenly.
Bake for another 20 minutes until the pumpkin custard sets. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 1 1/2 hours before cutting and serving.