Friday, February 5, 2010

January, a review in food

Since this is partly a food blog, I thought I should take another look at January from a gastronomical angle as well.

By January, I was getting sick of food.  I had gained 6 pounds in the last two weeks of December, and was starting to feel it.

The New Year Festivities
My husband and I had been invited to a New Year's party at our old college town.  We left Metro in the morning, arriving in town shortly after noon.  Food for the New Year started with a trip to S___'s Beefmasters, for lunch.  The smallest cut of steak they offer is 14 oz, which is their lunch special.  In most places, a 14 oz would be considered a large.  For me, 4 oz is a meal.  Since I didn't want to waste good meat, I ordered a chicken fried steak, instead (which normally uses a poorer cut of meat).  It was still huge, but I didn't feel bad leaving half of it on the plate.

I, therefore, arrived at the New Year's party full.  It was funny, as we arrived just as a group of party go-ers were leaving to go eat dinner.  Even funnier was that they were going to Texas Roadhouse (another steak place), as it was something of a treat for them.  It was ironic--in University Town, I live 0.2 miles from a Texas Roadhouse.

While our hotel was newly remodeled and comfortable, it didn't have much in the way of food--it only had a cafe that was open in the day.  I was hungry by the time we came back from the party at 9, and could only get some peanuts, which they sold in the lobby.

Breakfast was also only so-so--plastic wrapped danishes and bottles of milk.  It was complimentary, however, so I have no complaints.  It's my understanding that the hotel will have improvements in this area with its new management.  I wouldn't mind staying there again.

As we were leaving the hotel, my husband remembered that we had left a piece of steak from the day before in the in-room mini-fridge.  (He had ordered a large steak, and had taken the leftover back to the hotel with us.)

On the way back into Metro, I asked for Italian for lunch.  We found Marsala Italian Restaurant, in a small town outside of Metro. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it's nicer inside, with dark painted walls and skylights.  The food was very good.  We both finished our entrees, and then ordered another set of entrees to take home.

As I mentioned before, by this time, I was getting tired of food.  For our last meal together before returning to University Town, we went to Olive Garden, where I consumed an entire bowl of their salad, and only ordered some pasta as my "main dish", because I needed a little something to accompany the salad.

University Town
Upon returning to University Town, I felt out of sorts.  I had to search for my key to open the door to my apartment.  And when cooking again, the knife felt strange in my hand, even though I had cooked for Christmas and helped with New Year's Eve dinner.

I was relieved to finally be away from restaurant food, and holiday food.  For my first meal in University Town, I pulled my copy of Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish--a low-fat vegetarian cookbook--off the shelf.  I selected Hoppin' John (a black-eyed peas and rice dish), perfect for New Year's.

That followed with a vegetable pot pie (to which I did add a can of chunk chicken), and cabbage stuffed with lentils and basmati rice.  I hadn't been a fan of the cookbook earlier--I had tried two recipes, and only one turned out well--but this time, the recipes have turned out really well.  Since then, I've written in the book's margins, and put in sticky notes.  The pages are now a little warped from when I've dripped water on them while cooking.  In other words, this book is becoming beloved.  Since returning to University Town, I've only had one bad recipe from the book--a recipe for collard greens, tomatoes, green peppers, and onions (in my opinion, it should have been just collard greens, and a little onion and garlic)--and all the ingredients have been common, easily found ingredients.

Here's the pot pie.  I used puff pastry for the top, and a frozen pie shell for the bottom.

Latke FAIL
My two most recent recipes from Dr. Ornish were a cabbage and beet borscht, and potato pancakes (latkes).  I was unprepared for the amount of chopping required for them.  It took me three hours(!) to make those two dishes.  I was exhausted at the end, and the latkes were a major FAIL.

I made the latke batter, blanching, then hand grating the potatoes, but I took so long, the potatoes turned a muddy brown.  I started frying them in a cast iron griddle, with just enough oil to coat the surface of the pan, but the latkes weren't looking anything like they were supposed to look.  I had put in liquid egg whites (remember this is low-fat cooking), but they didn't mix with the dough at all, instead forming a watery puddle under the shredded potatoes.  In frustration I went to look up latke recipes online.  Turns out, the Ornish cookbook left out one important step--squeezing out the potatoes.  That was why I had shredded potatoes floating in "soup".  I went ahead and poured out all the liquid and squeezed the pototoes--losing both the water and the liquid egg whites--then poured the egg whites back in (this time, half of what the recipe asked).  I also added some additional flour and baking powder to get a less watery consistency to my batter.  I then used a regular frying pan, poured in oil to a 1/4 inch depth, and dropped in the latke batter.  This time, they fried nicely, but with a strange overall color, due to the muddy colored batter.

I put them in between layers of paper towels and left them overnight, to drain the oil.

Next time, I'll try baking them. (425 degrees for 10-15 minutes on one side. Brush with oil, flip, return to oven for another 10-15 min.)  I'll also try beating the egg whites until they stiffen.

Weight Loss
Generally, I am oblivious to my weight, and simply eat until I am no longer hungry.  But six pounds in two weeks seemed a excessive to me.  Upon returning to University Town, I purchased a bathroom scale, and started a food diary at (I downloaded their iPhone app.).  

I really liked MyFitnessPal--it was fun and easy to use.  I would recommend it if anyone is looking for a calorie tracker.

I'm not sure how much it helped.  I always used the tracker after I ate, so I didn't really make any changes to my diet because I was using it.  Also, I found that either I have a faster metabolism than they calculated, or I am not measuring my food correctly--I have lost weight faster than they predicted.

I realized too, after two weeks of eating out, that portion distortion does happen.  I was surprised, at first, at how little it looked like I was eating, compared to what I had been eating over the holidays.

I have returned to my pre-vacation weight, which is a relief.  I am also feeling much better.

The penny remains.