Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Going Low Carb...

In case I haven't already mentioned it, I'm in the process of getting my NASM certification for Fitness Nutrition.There's a lot of crazy, conflicting info out there, and I want to be able to sort through it effectively, not only for myself, but also for others who are equally interested in their health and their performance.

I do a lot of independent reading and researching in nutrition because that's the kind of girl I am. Which is to say, skeptical and contentious. I find it almost impossible to take someone's (anyone's) word on something; I need to learn the why and how for myself.

For years, we've all been hearing about the wonders of the various low-carb diets: Atkins, LCHF, paleo/primal, etc. Drop fat! Improve cardiac health! Never feel hungry! Eat all the bacon you can stuff into your mouth and still whittle flab! Make "sandwiches" of bacon and cheese and bacon! BACON!!!

My take on all of this was just, NOPE. I'm a pastry chef and an ultrarunner. Give up whole grains and cut my carbs back to fewer than a 100g/day? HAHAHAHA. But then...

I started investigating. And the science seemed a little more than possible; it seemed plausible. But how to know? Guinea pig it, obviously. So here I go, for the first time in my adult life, jumping deliberately onto a bandwagon. I'm going to be experimenting with a low-carb diet while simultaneously training for a 12-hour ultra run. No pasta dinners, no bagels, no gels or goos or sports drinks.

Is this easy for me? Oh, hell no! Words like "paleo" and "induction" have been like sand in my mouth. I have done my fair share of Atkins bashing. I hate food analogs--I'd rather give up pizza than eat one made on a crust of baked cauliflower mush. If I'm going to eat a donut, I want it chock-full of carbs and dripping sugar. So this is a big serving of humble pie, in a way. And that's okay. In the name of discovery and science and all that.

Am I nervous? Oh, hell yes! My diet has always been carb heavy (refer above to "pastry chef and ultrarunner"). I love my carbs--cereal with bananas for breakfast, English muffins with peanut butter post-run, beer. But dang it, I'm inquisitive. I want to know...can this really work? Can it work for ME?

So, for five weeks or so, I'm going to try this way of eating. I'll be using the Metabolic Efficiency Training model, developed by Bob Seebohar and discussed in his book, Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level . What does that mean? In short, it's periodizing nutrition to accommodate training demands. The first phase means cutting whole grains completely. Yikes, I know. But it's only for a while. When training ramps up, I'll add back my beloved oatmeal, polenta, quinoa. Beer. But for now, no grains, no sugars. On the plus side, I will be eating lots of veggies and fruits, protein, and healthy fats. Seems doable.

I'll keep you posted on my journey along the way. If you're on one of the low-carb diets yourself, feel free to offer suggestions/anecdotes/advice; I'd love to hear from you. If, however, you feel that low-carb diets comprise the meal plan in hell, you don't need to share. Trust me--you won't come up with an anti-low-carb argument I haven't already come up with on my own (again, pastry chef, ultrarunner, bandwagon-hater here). This is an experiment in the name of science (and fitness...and cynicism); I'm determined to keep an open mind--and I'm the one giving up beer.

Let's see what happens. Stay tuned for hilarity, tears, recipes. And if you're inclined, check out some of these resources, which are among those I'm using for guidance. I'll add more as I come upon them, and I'd love to hear about your fave go-tos for nutritional advice.

So that's it. I'm off to buy provisions--spinach, kale, raspberries, bacon. No beer. Sigh.
Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Blog Tour

I was invited to participate in this tour by one of my favorite and dearest and BFFest friends, Sherri Jo of The Adventures of Kitchen Girl. I met her waaaay back in the early days of food blogging, before Facebook share groups and Pinterest. (Yes, there was a time before Pinterest ~ believe it!) If you have some Sherri Jo in your life, you have a pretty good thing, so I strongly advise you to check out her blog, her Facebook page, and her Twitter feed without further delay.

While you're checking out Sherri Jo's sites, be sure to pin a few of her awesome recipes. Two of my faves:

Asian Style Beef "Hot Pockets"

Beer Cheese Soup with Vegetables and Andouille Sausage

Blog Tour Questions

1. What am I working on?

I'm currently writing 3 blogs ~ Eat Real (food), Growlers and Lace (craft beer), and Run the Bend (running). I have a romance novel (under a pen name) coming out this summer, and I'm in the process of shopping a cookbook proposal. Beyond that, I've outlined 3 more cookbooks, a  couple of YA novels, a romance novel trilogy, and I'm working on a collection of short stories. I also write nonfiction pieces for a Vegas-based lifestyle magazine and a few other outlets.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My approach to food is "real food for real people" ~ whole, quality food prepared in satisfying and interesting ways. I love to play with flavors, textures, and colors in my cooking. I'm a scratch cook and baker; I use only very minimally processed foods. I've been a food writer/editor for more than 20 years and a pastry chef for the last five, so I have a pretty large base of culinary experience to draw from. I try to develop recipes that are accessible to people of all levels of culinary skill, so it's important to me that they be accurate and well-written.  

3. Why do I write what I do?
I like to cook! I also like to eat ~ I really like to eat. Writing about food gives me a great way to justify experimenting with recipes all the time. Recipe development is also something of a creative outlet ~ it combines writing, photography, and food artistry.

4. How does my writing process work?
Like many writers, I have an idea feed going through my head all the time. I don't keep specific hours at my desk (the joy of freelancing!), but I do keep journals and files of ideas and write stuff down in short, cryptic bursts all the time. I like to write fiction at my computer, but I write recipes longhand and then retype them. It helps me think about the process of preparation and makes me more careful about details. Fiction is better suited for typing (for me) because if I'm not writing very quickly, I tend to edit as I go...a bad, bad habit formed from 20+ years of being an editor.

My Featured Faves

Kelly from Sass & Veracity ~ to describe Kelly? She writes, she photographs, she cooks, she travels...she's witty and sassy and her blog is gorgeous and elegant. I've known Kelly from our earliest days of blogging, and she's just continued to grow and evolve as an artist. Treat yourself and visit her blog!

Fideua: Spanish Pasta with Clams, Mussels, and Shrimp
Strawberry Key Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Marye from Restless Chipotle ~ Marye is a wise woman of many talents, not the least of which includes writing with razor-sharp clarity about some very tough subjects. Marye is my sister from another mother: she is a wearer of tall, sexy shoes; a kicker of a$$; a funny, smart, take-no-crap babe. And she's from Texas, y'all! You, like me, will be glad you met her.

Heirloom Sweet Potato Gratin
Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Patsy from FamFriendsFood ~ I don't know exactly how long I've known Patsy, but I do know we met in the early days of blogging. And Patsy has the distinction of being one of the only blogger friends I've ever actually met in person! And that, I can tell you, was a rare treat. Patsy's recipes are warm, welcoming, and delightful ~ just like she is. Want to find something wonderful for family dinner? Head to her site!

Braised Short Ribs to Warm the Tummy

Caramel Apple Bread
I hope you enjoyed this sampler of some of my favorite blogs. Please make sure to take the time to stop by and visit them; trust me, you'll come away happier and hungrier!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Avocado Green Goddess Dressing

Creamy, light, rich, and perfect for summer salads, this version of the '70s fave, Green Goddess, is going into heavy rotation at my house. I didn't add anchovies because I was out of them, but I highly recommend tossing in a filet or two before blending.

The lemon juice will help preserve the lovely green of the avocados, but I probably wouldn't make this more than a few hours in advance. I find mine stays pretty overnight, but it does eventually darken as the avocado oxidizes. If this happens, no's still delicious.

Avocado Green Goddess Dressing

Yield: About 1 cup

  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted and diced
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt  
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired. If desired, thin with a tablespoon of milk or water at a time.

Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Use within 2 days. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Leftovers: Great or Gross?

Leftovers...everyone has them. Some people plan them, others despise them, and some view them as a happy consequence of making too much of a good thing.

I happen to like leftovers most of the time. There are some foods that do very well giving an encore performance and others that are opening-night stars but flame out. The thing is, this definition changes with the eater. What I consider to be a bang-up leftover meal might make you reach for the phone and a takeout menu.

I decided to make a list of the items I find myself looking forward to as leftovers and the ones I usually suffer through (because I feel too guilty to just throw them out). These are just preferences on my part. You may (probably will) disagree. In which case I'd love to hear your picks.

Leftover All-Stars

  1. Lasagna/manicotti/stuffed shells. YES. If I make lasagna for dinner one night, I wake up in a good mood the next day just thinking about leftovers. 
  2. Pulled pork. Just gets better, especially if it's sauced. 
  3. Spiral ham. Cook for a couple of hours, eat for a week.
  4. Meatloaf. I prefer this the next day--pan-warmed slices of meatloaf on a roll with a little mayo and mustard are heaven. Heaven, I tell you.
  5. Chili. My idea of the ideal make-ahead meal. Even resurrected from the freezer, it's delicious.

Leftover Fails

  1. Pizza. Hot or cold. Pizza is one of my very favorite foods. But I've never been a fan of reheated pizza; never eaten cold pizza for breakfast. I don't even fully understand that concept. 
  2. Pot pie. So delicious on day 1, so mushy ever after. 
  3. Pasta Alfredo/macaroni and cheese. As many times as I've tried to, I've never been able to resurrect a cheese sauce successfully. I'm usually left with pasta clumped with cheese and swimming in butter. Which might have it's charms, but it's just not the same.
  4. Cream soups. Just, nope. 
  5. Ribs. So sad, but no. The meat gets stringy and greasy. I've found a work-around, though. If we happen to have any leftover ribs, I cut the meat from the bone and reheat it that way, with a little BBQ sauce. 

Now it's your turn. Which leftovers do you look forward to from the minute you snap down the lid on your Rubbermaid containers? Which ones do you avert your eyes from as they languish on the fridge shelf?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Chocolate Velvet with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Chocolate. It heals all wounds. Stops time. Says "I love you" or "I'm sorry" or "it's Tuesday" in every language. Chocolate doesn't judge, it just offers it's broad shoulders for crying on or hoisting to celebration.

So, what, exactly, is Chocolate Velvet? "Velvet" is not an actual pastry term. It's a little like saying "Chocolate Surprise," but more descriptive. To me, this dessert is something like the love child of chocolate mousse and a brownie: creamy and smooth, it melts in your mouth, but it's dense and intensely chocolaty. You can eat it warm or chilled. You can eat it plain or capped with a snowy mound of vanilla ice cream. You can share it with a loved one, but you probably won't. Better make enough for everyone to have his or her own.

Chocolate Velvet

Yield: 6 servings

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I like Perugina)
  • 1.5 ounces butter, room temp
  • 4 large eggs, room temp
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Optional flavorings:

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons coffee, almond, or hazelnut liquor
Vanilla bean ice cream to serve (optional)
Chocolate syrup to garnish (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease six 6-ounce ramekins with nonstick baking spray. Place ramekins in a 13x9-inch glass baking dish or roasting pan. 
  2. Melt chocolate and butter together in the microwave or in a double boiler; stir until smooth. Allow to come to room temperature.
  3. Beat eggs with sugar until light and foamy--about 5 minutes. Add vanilla extract and additional flavoring, if using; beat 1 minute more. 
  4. Fold about 1/4 cup into cooled chocolate mixture to lighten; add chocolate mixture to beaten eggs and fold gently to combine completely.
  5. Divide batter among the six ramekins. Pour very hot water into baking dish to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F 20 to 25 minutes, until velvets are set and the top is no longer glossy. Remove from water bath and allow to cool 10 minutes on rack. Eat warm or let cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and chill. You can eat them cold or rewarm in a microwave for 20-30 seconds.
  7. Serve with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and drizzle with chocolate syrup to garnish, if desired.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Apple Cinnamon Granola with Roasted Almonds and Pepitas

Yesterday, I ran 41 miles. Then I came home, slept, watched the World Cup and ate delivery pizza, and pretty much called it a day. Today, I'm a little more ambitious. I toasted an English muffin and spread peanut butter on it. I got my sneakers on my feet. I walked up and down the stairs and didn't cry. Also, I made a batch of this super-delicious granola because it is unbelievably easy to make, is perfect over Greek yogurt, and it doesn't require more than a few minutes of standing to produce it. Also, it's pretty good for you, which is a nice thing when your body is trying to recover from running 41 miles.

I dry my apples in a dehydrator, but if you don't have access to one and want to dry your own apple slices, try my oven-drying method.

Apple Cinnamon Granola with Roasted Almonds and Pepitas

Yield: about 6 cups
  • 3 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup dehydrated apple slices, chopped
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, nuts, pepitas, brown sugar, honey, coconut oil, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and salt. Toss to coat all ingredients.
  2. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with the tablespoon of butter. Pour oat mixture out onto baking sheet and use a spatula to smooth it down, covering the entire sheet. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes at 250 degrees F, stirring the oat mixture every 15 minutes. The mixture will turn golden brown and dry out as it bakes. It will firm up as it cools.
  3. Leave on baking sheet until completely cool, then sprinkle with dried apple pieces. Pour cooled granola into a large container with a tightly fitting lid. Will keep for at least a week at room temperature.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Better Banana Bread

Everyone and his or her mother (and her mother) has a go-to banana bread recipe. If you purchase bananas with any regularity, at some point you'll need one because bananas are in a race against humanity and start browning the moment you look at them in the store. 

I have perhaps 10 banana bread recipes--all of them different, and all of them delicious. This version is distinguished by its virtues, namely Greek yogurt and whole wheat flour. The fat I've chosen is coconut oil, which gives this bread a come-hither aroma and a subtly exotic flavor. Coconut oil lends richness and moisture to the crumb.  

I've kept my bread simple, but you can add toasted walnuts, pecans, or chocolate chips if you favor mix-ins. Try a slice with cream cheese or peanut butter. Or Nutella, if you're a libertine like me.

Better Banana Bread

Yield: One 9x5-inch loaf

2 large eggs
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, optional but recommended
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a 9x5-inch loaf pan with nonstick baking spray.
  2. In a large bowl combine the eggs, coconut oil, yogurt, sugars, vanilla extract, and mashed bananas. Beat on medium speed to combine. Add the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, fresh nutmeg, and salt; stir just till all the dry ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until top is golden and set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If bread browns before the center is set, you can tent the pan loosely with foil.
  4. Let bread cool in pan 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. 
  5. Bread will keep in an air-tight container (I use a resealable gallon-size plastic bag) in the refrigerator for up to a week. Wrap tightly and freeze for longer storage. 



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