A 90 Day Fitness Challenge (Breakfast Day One)

I ran out of booze last night.  It is a rare occasion that I would let that happen but I did it on purpose.  Even though I miscalculated by a day or two and because I have no intention of replacing it for a while, this does nothing but allow me to start my fitness challenge early.

I am still not comfortable with those words, fitness challenge but I decided to take on the task for a lot of reasons.   There is money that will be donated to school lunch programs for one but mostly because I started my fitness journey almost 1 1/2 years ago and I have hit the wall over the past months.  As with everything in life lots of things get in the way, we loose interest, or gain interest in other pastimes but nonetheless it is easy to move onto other things.

I kept chiding myself though.  I wasn’t ready to give up on my fitness goals, I am not ready to settle for less then what I told myself I would accomplish,  nor am I ready to go into a maintenance mode where I don’t loose what I have gained but don’t gain anything either.  I want more.

Of course if you know me, or haven’t been around me for a while,  you would know these are foreign words coming out of my mouth but somehow I have really taken to the idea of being healthy from an exercise standpoint.

So the journey continues and for the next 90 days I am going to lift myself up each day and exercise, go the the gym, and run.  I am also going track my diet, make sure I am on track to eat healthy well rounded meals so that I don’t hurt my, uh hum, 50 year old body.

I think you will see I don’t plan on changing my diet a whole lot.  I do want to track my macro intake so I know my percentages of carbs, fats, and protein.  I want a good balance.  I also have no intention of weighing myself.  This challenge is about Body Mass Index (BMI) for me, it is not about losing weight.  The goal is to change my body shape by gaining muscle mass and building a stronger core.

My ultimate goal isn’t that I might live longer but my hopes are I will live better.

Poached Eggs, Roasted Asparagus and Crispy Prosciutto

4 eggs

1 bunch of asparagus

4 pieces of prosciutto, real prosciutto is cured with salt only and the ingredients list should reflect that, if you are trying to avoid sugar or additives make sure you read the list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place the asparagus onto a sheet tray and drizzle it with olive oil.  Roll, or toss them around being sure to give them a good coating of oil.  Salt and pepper the asparagus.

3. Separate the thin slices prosciutto and place them on top of the asparagus making sure to keep them from overlapping.

4. Fill a 3 1/2 quart sauce pan 2/3 full with water. Add 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar.  Bring the water to a boil then reduce the heat to low.

5. Place the asparagus and prosciutto into the oven.  Roast for 15 minutes, or until the prosciutto is crispy and the asparagus tender.

6. Crack your first egg into a small bowl.  Using a slotted spoon stir the water vigorously so you create a water spout/tornado kind of effect.  As it slows carefully lower the small bowl to the center of the vortex with out letting the bowl touch.  Gently pour the egg into the center of the vortex.  Let it spin.  Poach the egg for 3 minutes.  Remove it to a plate and continue to poach the remaining eggs.

7.  When you have finished poaching all the eggs place them all back into the water to gently warm them.  Don’t leave them in the water to long or they will become hard.

8. Plate up the asparagus and prosciutto, top with two warm eggs and serve.

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A Classic Potato Gratin With No Recipe

 

Have you ever had a friend who knows no strangers? The kind of genuine person to whom everyone in the room gravitates — someone who doesn’t have to work at meeting new people, because somehow it is coded into their DNA for others to like them?

For me a potato gratin is just such a friend. A friend who hangs out with all the cool entrees too: a mustard crusted beef tenderloin  taking a bath in a flavorful sauce or a perfectly roasted chicken with crackly brown skin are its best friends.

But, to its credit, a potato gratin knows enough to complement all the other dishes and, with the exception of a few rules, remains unfussy enough not to need a recipe and somehow is always perfectly put together for any holiday gathering.

How to Make Potato Gratin Without a Recipe

1. Peel your potatoes. For a 10-inch oval gratin pan, I like to use six to eight medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes — about 2 1/2 pounds. (Don’t worry: If you overdo it, you can snack on leftovers after step 6.)

DSCF0970

2. Slice the potatoes an 1/8-inch thick, ideally on a mandoline right into a heavy bottomed pot. Add a few minced cloves of garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and roughly equal parts of water and milk to cover the potatoes.

Potato Gratin

3. Bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook the potatoes till just tender but not falling apart, then drain. By cooking the potatoes most of the way through in flavorful liquid, you don’t have to worry about exact quantities of liquid and seasoning later on.

Potato Gratin

4. While the potatoes are cooling, grate approximately 2 1/2 cups of Gruyère or Comté cheese — they are traditional but expensive. Other cheese in the family would be gouda, fontina, or American Gruyère.

Potato Gratin

5. Get out an oval gratin, or any casserole, pie pan or dish you choose. Just take note: with a smaller circumference dish you have more creamy interior and less crunchy top and, obviously, the reverse is true for a larger gratin. Place around half the potatoes into the gratin (they don’t need to look pretty, yet). Season with salt and white pepper. Top with half the cheese and drizzle about 1/2 cup of cream over the top.

Potato Gratin

6. Starting with one slice of potato placed in the middle of the gratin, spiral the potatoes around until you reach the gratin edges. Make it look pretty — it makes a difference.

Potato Gratin

7. Top with the remaining cheese, then drizzle another 1/2 cup or so of cream over the top and around the edges so it gets to the bottom, too.

Potato Gratin

8. Bake at 425˚ F until brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Don’t overcook the gratin so it dries out. You want a little cream to remain on the bottom. Serve.

Potato Gratin

Saving Grace Biscuits

Saving Grace Biscuits

Back when I thought I could eat gluten I was a biscuit hound.  It was nothing for me to scarf down two or three.  I have been known to forgo the rest of dinner for a good biscuit.  I always considered myself a connoisseur, from angel biscuits to crescents or buttermilk to sweet potato I think I have made them all.  Some of them were more fussy to make then others and all always in need of a light hand and a quick touch to keep them from being tough.

This biscuit is what I call a redneck biscuit and  I call them this with fondness.  They are a working mom’s weeknight biscuit.  They come together quickly and without worry and they lack nothing other then fussiness.  There is nothing in the instructions about overworking the dough, you don’t need to look for a cornmeal texture in the flour, there is nothing about spacing the biscuits perfectly or about flakiness or making sure you cut the edges cleanly for a good rise.  No they are pretty much cream, add the liquid, stir and scoop.Saving Grace Biscuits

They are inspired by Shirley Coriher’s Touch-of-Grace biscuits which I started making just before I found out I couldn’t eat gluten.  They are the kind of biscuits that are gooey in the middle, they aren’t layered but are tender and airy.  They are the kind of biscuit you might find at a really good diner.   You can imagine this old dogs disappointment when I had to stop eating them.  The thing is about 4 months ago I started playing around with and making gluten-free biscuits.  While I found many I liked, I went nuts for none.

Then I got a burr up my craw and decided I wanted to make Shirley’s biscuits but gluten-free.  It wasn’t all that tough, or I should say, maybe I got lucky.  I found a recipe on Bob’s Redmill and, using it as a base and replicating what I knew about Mrs. Coriher’s biscuits, well,  low and behold I struck biscuit gold.

In all honesty I like the flavor of this biscuit better then the original.  The sorghum flour has such a great flavor.  One of the big bonus’s if there are any left, which is a rarity around here, is they hold well into the next day or two.

Saving Grace Biscuits (inspired by Shirley Coriher’s Touch-of-Grace Biscuits)

1 cup white sorghum flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 1/2 to 1  3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 450˚F.  

2. In a bowl combine the dry ingredients.

3. Cube the butter and add it to the flour.  Using your hands work it into the flour until there are no big hunks of butter left.

4. Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon,  The batter will be very loose, it should barely hold its shape before  slowly begins spreading.

5. Liberally butter an eight inch cake pan.  Using a half cup ice cream scoop, scoop up a ball of dough and turn it out into the pan close to the edge.  Continue turning out biscuits working your way around the outside first leaving room for the seventh and final biscuit in the middle.

6. Bake the biscuits for 23 minutes or until browned on top.  When you remove them from the oven they will drop.  That is OK.

7. Serve with lots of butter.

Dear Mr. Pepin,

I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.

I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.

Jacques Pepin's Shrimp Gratin

Jacques Pepin’s Shrimp Gratin

At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.

I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions. Continue reading →

Dear Mr. Pépin

Shrimp Gratin

Dear Mr. Pépin,

I made a recipe of yours last night. It wasn’t the first time I have made this recipe, in fact, I have made it several times but it has been far to long since it has graced our table, rest assured, this will not happen again. Just in case I haven’t been clear it was beyond delicious as always.

I remember the night I watched you make the gratin on TV. It must have been about three in the morning or somewhere around there. I was still working in the restaurant business and it had been a long night on the line. Now I was home, my wife fast asleep in bed, and I out in the living room and on the couch with a beer in my hand winding down. I was flipping through a food magazine and doing the same with the channels on TV.

At the time I had not seen but a couple shows in any of your many series because our local PBS station didn’t carry them or they were on at times when I wasn’t around. But here you were in the wee hours of the morning in front of the camera, your heavy French accent, broad smile, all as unmistakeable as the sparkle in your eyes. You caught my attention right away.

I watched as you peeled shrimp and even went so far as to show me how to pinch the tails between my thumb and forefinger, then wiggle, and finally you gently pulled and I watched as all the tail meat slipped out of its casing without any waste. Then you sliced a handful of the freshest white mushrooms with such speed and accuracy it could have been a magic trick. You wasted no time doing the same with a couple of green onions.

All the while you were discussing and telling the audience why you were doing things the way you did them. Like the time I watched you make cauliflower soup and you used the entire cauliflower not just the white florets. You told us how the leaves were full of flavor and nutrients and how in France it would have been a crime to throw them out.

What I watched that night was not the norm. I had seen enough food TV to know. There were no bams, no yelling at young chefs until they cried or some person telling me I can’t cook at home because I am not as skilled as they, no, I didn’t even see someone saying organic, local or sustainable because you didn’t need to say the words to teach them.

No, it was someone doing the hard job of quietly, but realistically, teaching people how to cook and be successful in their own home kitchens. What I saw before my very eyes was a man passionate about food, the table and living. Someone helping people to use and understand simple, easily obtainable fresh ingredients that would deliver great taste at dinner time. It was someone extremely talented in the kitchen, who understands how food works and who has spent years building on techniques he was taught as a child. A person who understands if people are successful in the kitchen they will continue to cook, maybe even start to like, enjoy and use these skills the rest of their life.

You are and will continue to be a wonderful role model and I want to say thank you.

Sincerely,

Tom

Makes 4 servings

1 pound of raw shrimp, 26-30 size is great, peeled and deveined

2 cloves of garlic, minced finely. You want it to cook so really mince it.

2 green onions, chopped

1 cup white or cremini mushrooms, wiped of dirt, and julienned

3/4 scant cup bread crumbs

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

kosher salt and fresh ground white pepper

1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Heat you oven to 400˚F.

2. Place bread crumbs and the parmesan into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter and season the mix with salt and pepper. Mix everything really well to distribute the butter this will help a great deal in getting the top to brown evenly.

3. Put the shrimp into another mixing bowl and add green onions, mushrooms and garlic. Toss to combine, season with salt and pepper then combine this mixture with half the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle with the white wine and toss again.

4. Fan the shrimp out in individual gratins or one large gratin or casserole. Top with the remaining breadcrumbs.

5. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is brown and the shrimp are cooked through. If you have over lapped the shrimp a great deal it might take longer to cook and you may need to back the oven down to 375˚F so the topping doesn’t brown to quickly. Serve.

Spinach and Feta Pie

Spinach and Feta Pie

Most people, it seems, remember the first time they ate spinach pie. Chances are you were at an ethnic restaurant, maybe on your first food adventure to a Greek establishment, feeling continental and worldly. Maybe you where in college and eating at the local hippie restaurant where they also introduced you to North African Peanut Stew with Tofu, bags of tamari pepitas and herbal tea.

The joint smelled of clove cigarettes, Turkish coffee and sweat. Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell tunes rained down from the speakers above and mingled with the smell of patchouli making you think it was the birth of cool. There are newspapers hanging on bamboo racks, a clothesline drying out today’s laundry, for anyone to pick up and read. People played checkers and chess and snacked on millet muffins.

It was a health food restaurant without a non-smoking section.  In the kitchen Moosewood cookbooks lined the shelf above the stove.  The food was vegetarian except on Sunday morning when all of campus lined up for a killer breakfast that included sausage and bacon. Sunday being the only day the restaurant actually made money.

Just sitting in the pine high-backs with a good cup of your daily grind and a used but unopened copy of The Sheltering Sky, lying face up on the table, made you feel smart. Lots of broody wannabes wrapped in black with their berets mimicking Kerouac, but really, all of them a breed of Caulfield.  Each with tattered composition notebooks lying open to the first page waiting for that initial first stroke of the pen.

It was an ocean of intellectual doldrums, bitter hopes and angst filled dreams. Everyone who came here was looking for more than a good meal.  They had either lost the wind in their sails or were looking for an intellectual soul mate with which to share their troubled waters, if not their sheets.

And, yet, you came back. Somehow at this place in time, the angst ridden shirt feels comfortable, it fits and you fit or maybe the spinach pie, really, was just that good.

Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

For the strudel dough:

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour dough

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons safflower oil

5 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups yellow onion, small dice

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced

two 1 x 4 inch pieces of orange zist

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

10 oz. baby spinach, washed

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons currants

kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Place the flour, safflower oil and water into the bowl of a mixer and using the paddle attachment mix the ingredients until they become well combined and elastic.

2. Turn the dough out and need it till it is satiny smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 1 hour. You can make the dough up to a day in advance and store it, wrapped, in the fridge. Just be sure to let it come to room temperature before shaping the dough.

3. Place a large saute pan over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Add the orange zest strips and let them bubble away for a few minutes. Remove the strips.

4. Add the onions and cook them until they just start to turn golden at the edges. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, remember feta is salty. Add the garlic and chili flakes and stir until fragrant.

5. Add the spinach and turn it with tongs in the pan to coat it with oil and to wilt it. Once it is mostly wilted turn it out into a clean kitchen towel that is set in a colander. Pull the edges of the towel together then place your tongs around the towel, like a hair pin, and use the tongs to twist the towel into a ball around the spinach and squeeze out the moisture.

6. Place the pan back over the heat and add a more olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and brown them. Add the grated zest and the cooked spinach to the pan and mix to combine. Remove from the heat and cool. Once cool add the feta and currants. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 ˚F.

8. A large 18 x 24 wood cutting board works great for this but the corner of a counter or table will do as well. Cover the cutting board with a large, non terry cloth, towel or apron. Dust it with flour.

9. Flatten the dough into an 8 inch disk and dust it with flour. Work it out with you hands into a larger disk. 12 to 14 inches round. Now, hook an edge of the dough onto a corner of the board. Using the backs of your hands, tucked under the dough, start stretching and pulling, gently, the underside of the side of the dough towards the empty corners of the board. If you get a whole just pinch the dough back together and continue. You can stretch the thicker edges from time to time with your hands. Keep stretching from the underside of the dough with the backs of you hands until the dough is transparant and eggshell thin and is 18 x 18 inches.

10. Sprinkle the dough with a little bit of olive oil and using a pastry brush gently and lightly coat the dough with the oil.

11. Lift the dough into a 12 inch non-stick saute pan leaving the edges of the dough to hang over the sides. Trim off the thick edges of the dough with scissors.

13. Place the filling ingredients into the center of the dough. Grab the edges of the dough and bring then to the center of the pan. Pinch the center and twist the dough. Pinch of the dough ball in the center.

14. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until brown and crusty. Remove from the oven and let the pie rest for 20 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.