Cooking: Troy and Abed in the Morning Present Apple Nut Bars

Cristina and I are trying to lose weight slowly and surely. Partially, because we are superficial and want to look good for our wedding, but mainly because we just want to get healthy. We both are using myfitnesspal.com to help track our weight and our calories consumed and burned. I highly recommend the site especially since it is a social site. It helps to have friends and family support you while you do this.

Yesterday was a good diet day. We both had oatmeal for breakfast. She had a light lunch of mostly fruit, while I had the baked fish and salad from our school cafeteria. For supper I grilled some Mahi Mahi in some homemade garlic butter (thanks to my future mother in law for the grill pan and the garlic press). I made some green beans and heated up the risotto from the other day to go with it. I topped the risotto and fish with some freshly grated parmesan. I’ll never buy that already made parmesan ever again.

Again, it was a good diet day. We were both way under our calories. We wanted something sweet. I told Crisitna to look up apple recipes since we had apples. However, my pantry is still kind of bare when it comes to ingredients for baking. She went through a couple, and I had to say no to a couple due to lack of ingredients. Then she came to this recipe for apple nut bars from her Touch of Home: Guilt Free Cooking cookbook. Only two pantry items were missing: vanilla extract and pecans. I couldn’t really do anything about the vanilla, but I did have almonds.

I took two of the apples I had, cored them, and put them in the food processor. I also chopped the almonds in the food processor. My sister did a great job getting that for us as an early wedding present. I mixed all the ingredients sans vanilla and put them in my brand new baking pan also from my future mother-in-law. (Getting married is a wonderful thing). They take twenty-five minutes to bake which is the perfect amount of time to watch a DVRed episode of the only show on television that makes me either smile or laugh the entire time it’s on: Community. When the episode was over, they were ready. They were very good leaving me to wonder how good they would have been if I did have vanilla.

Now, I’m trying to convince Cristina we need to have a no-box month of food.

Velveeta Macaroni and Cheese

Cristina's Kryptonite

I know she will sneak some Velveeta and Shells by me though.

Cooking: It’s What’s for Breakfast

A couple of years ago I bought a Men’s Health magazine mainly to make myself feel as if I’m doing something about my health without actually doing anything about my health.  This was before I had high blood pressure and cholesterol.   Ryan Reynolds was the cover model that month.  He attributed part of his good health to oatmeal.

For my birthday, our good friend, Donette, bought me a rice cooker.  I wanted one only because I remember my mom cooking an excellent smothered potatoes in the rice cooker.  Then I came across Roger Ebert’s blog post about “the pot.”  He uses it as a fast slow cooker as weird as that sounds.  One of his favorite dishes is to promote is oatmeal.

So on our last trip to Whole Foods, I bought the 365 Steel Cut Oats.  Steel Cut Oats are supposed to take about 30-45 minutes to cook.  I wouldn’t know.  I put them in the rice cooker with the proper amount of water and some cinnamon and salt for seasoning overnight.  When my alarm goes off at 5:30, I plug-in the rice cooker and set it to cook.  Then I go catch an extra half hour of sleep.  When I wake up at six, the oatmeal and cinnamon smell fills up the house.  I add a teaspoon and half of honey and some blueberries and strawberries, and now I have a nutritional breakfast.  Especially since my breakfast used to consist of Hubig pies and Coke.  Now, Hubig pies are just special…very special…treats.  Tomorrow, I think I will dice up some apples and add that to the mix.  Ebert also uses coconut water, bananas, and other fruits to the mix.  In other words, I could eat oatmeal every morning but still have a different breakfast each time.

Ryan Reynolds

Mr. Green Lantern

Doubt I’ll ever look like the green lantern, though.

Cooking: Overcooking

After a weekend of eating poorly (at least from a healthy point of view), it was time to get back on the track and eat well. Last night, I pan-fried some tilapia (seasoned with Slap Ya Mama), some fresh green beans with onions and prosciutto, and some out the box risotto. Forgive me the risotto, I wasn’t feeling well and I was already late for our basketball game. Besides, the box version is actually pretty good.

This is a simple and favorite meal of mine to make. Except one time, I started paying attention to the TV while cooking and neglected my green beans causing them to burn. I apologized profusely to Cristina about burning the green beans. However, she loved them more than my regular (and I must say) fantastic presentation. Now, she is genuinely disappointed with them if they aren’t burnt. So, I try to make them edible for me, take out my serving, and then burn the daylights out of hers. Apparently, she is not alone. On a myfitnesspal.com forum the other day, there was actually a recipe for charred green beans. Who knew?

Cristina’s love for charred food (which she of course refers to as blackened) extends to most foods except cookies and steaks. Thank god for those two. I weep when I have to cook a well done steak.

Eating: Lüke

Last night, Cristina and I, along with our friends, Eric and Vinny, went to Lüke. It was my choice, and I’m having a rough time remembering why? Was it because I saw pictures of the Lüke burger? Or was I interested in French-German food? Or I wanted to go somewhere better than Copeland’s but with roughly the same prices? I can’t remember so it was probably a combination of all three.

It seems that every time we make the trip to New Orleans, 18 accidents occur on  I-10, so we arrived about 10 minutes late for our reservation. The host didn’t make a fuss. We, in turn, had to wait for our table, which I thought was a fitting punishment for being late. We were seated in the back section right next to the windowed kitchen. Vinny and I both like to cook, so this was a treat for both of us to see. Vinny was also the celebrity of the evening having worked with half the wait staff at a previous restaurant. It seemed that everyone came say hello.

The food was quite good. The seafood gumbo was very good with a nice dark roux. Due to the fact that I live in a household that only has one gumbo lover, I don’t eat gumbo very often. When I get a good one, I tend to not talk while eating it. Cristina got a cup of the crab bisque, and since she didn’t offer me any I’m not sure if it was outstanding or horrible. Eric and Vinny ordered a sausage (not sure which one) and a dozen raw oysters. I’m not sure if Eric ever breathed while eating the oysters. The sausage, which came with smothered potatoes, apples, onions, and bacon, was tasty but lacked a punch. For main dishes, the men ordered the Lüke burgers while the women ordered steaks. The Lüke burger is a $16 burger. I kept thinking of Vinnie Vega from Pulp Fiction in that I needed to know what a $16 hamburger tasted like. And it was delicious. The bacon had that perfect smoky flavor and the Emmenthaler cheese gave it a creamy, melting texture. The fries were also top-notch. Dessert was almost great…if I would have stopped at the first bite. Cristina and I decided to split the “gateau basque” which was vanilla cake with satsuma caramel and crème fraiche. The first bite was so decadent, so rich, so enthralling….I think I had a moment. However, it was too much of a good thing. The sweetness would not stop until it became a sickening sweet. Eric and Vinny chose the bread pudding and kindly offered us some. We politely said no, but I think we both regretted that decision.

Overall, I really enjoyed Lüke. The atmosphere was noisy but not deafening. Sitting next to the kitchen, made me want to try at least four more dishes. Besides, the burger and the steak would make us go back, and our waiter really advertised the roasted chicken as a great dish.

Not sure what I next adventure will be…it’s Cristina’s turn to pick.

Traveling: No pane con pasta; Pane con carne (or how I discovered I love gnocchi)

In the middle of our June 2010 Europe trip, we spent the night at a Best Western in the seaside town of Pescara, Italy. Pescara is the kind of Italian town that Google maps quite doesn’t understand. Instead of having us walk a block from the train station to the hotel…we walked more like 14. Luckily enough for me, Cristina can hold a basic conversation in Italian that we were able to find the hotel.

While checking into the hotel, the people on the streets were going nuts. It wasn’t a riot, but it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Well, as everyone knows, soccer is huge in Europe, and in this tiny seaside town it is matter of civic pride. The professional soccer teams in Italy play in different leagues much like the major and minor leagues in baseball in America. However, in their league, the best teams from the minor leagues take the place of worst teams in the major leagues and vice versa.

Celebration in Pescara

Pescara moves up from class b to class c

Pescara, which was in the C league, won the right to enter the B league right when we entered into the town. Now that I think of it, this explains why the streets were so deserted when we were lost. We decided to go check out the celebration. It was crazy, much like when the Saints won the Superbowl, but on smaller scale…and not in English. It was a great travel moment that obviously couldn’t be planned.

After the celebration and dipping my feet in the Adriatic, we were starving. We went back to the hotel and ate in the little café which had a nice view of the town square. The meal was nice and the star of it was the gnocchi in prawn and pumpkin sauce.

Gnocchi with Prawn and Pumpkin Sauce

1st time eating gnocchi

The sweetness of the pumpkin contrasted beautifully with the saltiness of the fresh prawns. Seriously, the prawns tasted like the sea. It was the first time I had gnocchi. It was filling without being heavy and wonderful end to a very unique day.

The next day we took the slow train to Sulmona. We were accompanied by Cristina’s sister and brother-in-law, Cara and Darin, who were doing their own Europe trip. Slow trains in Europe aren’t necessarily a bad thing; it allows you to see the country side, write in your journal, and nap. We were met at the train station by Emilio, Cristina and Cara’s uncle. Cristina's Uncle Emilio Over a dinner of pizza topped with hot dog slices and french fries (yes, french fries…but that’s going to be another blog), we told them we had gnocchi the day before. Well, the next day for lunch we were treated to a home cook meal of gnocchi. Amazing gnocchi…gnocchi of magical powers. Really, it was great to have a home cooked meal. Darin and I were drinking some of Emilo’s homemade grappa. Straight. No water to cut it. It wasn’t until I was completely sloshed that I realized Emilo had cut his down with water even though the entire time he was telling me wine was for drinking, water was for cleaning.

We also had a culture clash during this meal. Being Americans, we normally would eat bread with our gnocchi to make sure we got all the sauce. This was treated with the similar disdain I have for people when they mention Olive Garden as an actual place to eat. You can’t have bread with pasta. It makes no sense to them to have two flour based products at the same time. It wasn’t until we were finished with our gnocchi and were served the meatballs (the most amazing meatball ever) that we were allowed to touch the bread.

The next day when we went to Cristina’s cousin’s restaurant, her aunt Lydia hid the bread from us until the proper time for the bread. So, if you are in Italy, no bread with pasta. Bread goes with meat.

While I haven’t tried to make gnocchi from scratch at home yet, we have had it a couple of times. We usually buy the dried kind found in the pasta section of the supermarket. I’ve tried to recreate the meatballs a couple of times, and while I’m close, I’m not there yet. We also order it every chance we get. Herbsaint’s gnocchi with pancetta and oven dried tomatoes is the best version we had yet…this side of the Atlantic.

Eating: Why I Don’t Care for Raisin’ Canes

Today, on the way to visit friends in Ponchatoula, we stopped at Raising Canes. As far as fast food goes it’s not bad. However, the craniacs all rave about the sauce (which just seems like ranch mixed with ketchup to me). I don’t get it. In fact, the only thing that makes it bearable to me is two Louisiana hot sauce packets. But that sauce holds a hypnotic spell over most people who eat there. It’s a mystery that amazes and mystifies me.

In other news, Cristina and I will be dining at Lüke tomorrow. Looking forward to it.

Blogging: Hello world! (yes I’m keeping the WordPress Title)

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Best thing that ever happened to me. I discovered that I actually have a passion for something: cooking. I’ve always been the kind of person interested in everything but no one thing in particular. Trying to control my diet led me to cooking. Cooking led to an obsession. In fact, I’m getting married soon – May 28 – and I think I enjoyed registering more than she did. I went nuts in the kitchen section.

However, having a passion for cooking doesn’t mean I do it well. While I don’t think I’m bad, my skills are still on the beginner’s side. My fiancée loves everything I cook…ok the one time I broiled steaks was a very notable exception. However, I have high standards for myself. It’s not I want to be able to cook some crazy dish that the food network stars make; I want to be able to look in my pantry, fridge, and freezer and make something I haven’t made before because I think it will be good. This is a slow, fun, and sometimes painful process.

Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything was a perfect present at a perfect time. Bittman’s book reads as if he is speaking the instructions to you in conversational manner. I’m going to buy the iPad app soon. Having a farmer’s market within 3 miles of my house is also a wonderful asset. Those two things, plus a supportive partner (who doesn’t mind cleaning up my mess since she doesn’t have to cook) allows me to really enjoy this new adventure. Also, I live 20 minutes away from New Orleans. And, I love New Orleans. Sure, it has it’s problems, and they are major, scary problems. But if you love New Orleans, she will love you back, eventually. I love the food of New Orleans. I love that a meal in New Orleans is both totally about the food and totally not about it.

My new year’s resolution was to cook more. By cooking more I know I will become healthier since I know exactly what I’m eating and where it comes from. My other resolution is to keep track of my cooking and dining experiences.