Boeuf à la Mode {FFwD}

Unlike last week’s Salad Niçoise, which came in just under the wire, I made this week’s recipe early. Really early. Like almost three years early. Having tried and loved Dorie’s Go-to Beef Daube, I couldn’t wait to try this version of pot roast. So I first made it and blogged about it back in January, 2011, long before it came up in the French Fridays rotation. You can see the original Boeuf à la Mode post, complete with process photos, here.

But looking over the post myself the other day, I knew I wanted to make it again. Add to that the fact that we just had a side of the most delicious beef I’ve ever tasted delivered, and it was a no brainer.

Boeuf a la mode - Braised

Since the prior post has lots of detail and pictures (including the one above), I didn’t take any new photos this time. But I did make the following changes to the recipe:

  • Rather than marinate the beef and vegetables overnight, I used my FoodSaver Quick Marinator, which did the job in 20 minutes, while I was getting everything else ready.
  • Dorie’s recipe calls for lots of pans and moving things back and forth between them. I’m a lazy cook, so I always look for ways to eliminate extra steps or dirtying needless piles of dishes. I strained the marinade into a saucepan to reduce, then browned the meat, softened the vegetables, and melted down the anchovies all in the Dutch oven that I used to cook the whole thing. After browning the beef, I removed it to a plate, then added the vegetables to the pot (no dumping out and replacing oil here). When the veggies had softened sufficiently, I added the anchovies and tomato paste to the pot, along with a splash of the marinade and stock mixture.  I cooked that until the anchovies and tomato paste were mixed in, then added back the beef and poured in the rest of the marinade/stock.
  • I have this wonderful mushroom stock base that I got on clearance at Williams Sonoma, so I used that in place of beef stock.
  • Finally, out of pantry necessity, I used bourbon instead of Cognac.

This dish was as good as I remembered. Even dad, whose idea of the perfect pot roast is one cooked to mush in the crock pot with cream of mushroom soup and dried onion soup mix, said it was delicious. And the dogs had no complaints about the wee bit of broth drizzled over their evening kibble.

This post participates in French Fridays with Dorie. Check out the website to see what the other Doristas thought about this recipe.

Salad Niçoise {FFwD}

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe was a perfectly simple, perfectly composed, and perfectly delicious salad.

Salad Nicoise

See, what did I tell you? Perfect.

This salad featured Bibb lettuce, parsley, boiled potatoes, hard-cooked eggs, steamed green beans, tuna, tomatoes, capers, Niçoise olives, homemade vinaigrette, and, the star of the show, anchovies. Although there were quite a few ingredients, and the potatoes, beans, and eggs had to be prepared ahead, the salad came together very quickly with minimal fuss and almost no clean up.

It might not surprise you to learn that we served this for lunch while the kids were away at school. We all really enjoyed this salad. It was pungent, salty, and quite filling, in that wonderful, salad-full sort of way.

Another keeper from Dorie to start out year four of French Fridays.

A Mere Self of My Former Shadow (or How Alton Brown Saved My Life)

Dear A- D-,

I’ve been mulling over how to write about my diet for quite some time now. I’m not following a set “diet plan”, so it has taken some time to organize my thoughts. I have finally come to the conclusion that I just have to dive into in and hope it falls into place.

I’ll start out by describing what lead me to decide to change my eating habits, including my “a-ha” moment about the meaning of “diet”. Then I’ll talk about the “three list” approach I’ve adopted and give you the lists. Finally, I’ll delve into some of the items on the list in greater detail, along with my observations and realizations as I’ve adopted and adapted to this new diet.

Given everything I’ve been through in the past few years, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that watching what I ate wasn’t high on my list of priorities. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar. I’m not a typical stress eater, but I suppose to some extent I did use the weight I carried on my shoulders as an excuse to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, and as much as I wanted. I inherited my dad’s sweet tooth, and I have never had much luck staying away from sweets. And lately, I didn’t even try. Given that, and the fact that we survived for the past six or so years largely on take out, it’s really no wonder that my weight kept creeping up. I topped 200 pounds at some point, but even that didn’t really motivate me to change (it at least made me think about it).

Two things, both of which occurred last October, finally nudged me into realizing I had to change my diet and get back in shape. First, of course, was J-‘s death and the realization that I was all my girls had left. It’s hard to explain, but as long as J- was alive, even though she was increasingly debilitated, there were always two of us. Losing her meant the girls needed me more than ever. If I didn’t have the motivation to change for my own sake, I knew that, to the extent I could control it, I had to get and stay healthy for them.

The other thing that happened last October was that, shortly after J- died, I went to the doctor. And for the first time in my life, all my numbers were bad. I was overweight according to the BMI index, and my cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure were all in the danger zone. And my triglycerides were through the roof (322).

I knew it was time for a change, but even with all that, it took me a while to get far enough along in my grieving to be able to concentrate on dieting. My “a-ha” moment came when I watched an episode of a show called “Good Eats”. The host, Alton Brown, is a nerdy food expert who approaches food from a scientific and historical perspective. His show is entertaining and extremely informative. The episode I saw was one where he talked about his own weight loss. He was looking at some footage of himself for the show and realized he had really let himself go. He was about 50 pounds overweight.

So, in typical fashion for him, he developed his own weight loss strategy. He developed four lists (on which I based my three lists). But what really struck a chord with me was his discussion of the word “diet”. Although it has come to be synonymous with losing weight, diet really has a much more basic meaning. By definition, your diet is simply the kinds of food that you habitually eat. When I heard that, a light came on for me. I didn’t need to “diet” in the modern sense of the word. I needed a new diet; that is, a new way to think about and approach the foods I habitually ate.

Weight loss has never worked for me for the same reasons it doesn’t work for most people. Simply put, I don’t like feeling restricted in what I eat. And counting calories, carbs, protein grams, Points, or what have you is tedious and unsustainable. I didn’t need to “go on a diet”; rather, I needed to change my diet. That is to say, to change my eating habits, not for a short-term weight loss solution, but for good.

So, with that in mind, I started thinking about what I ate, how I used food, not only from a sustenance standpoint, but emotionally and psychologically as well. And I realized I was ready for a change. Like I said, I started with Alton Brown’s four lists, but I whittled them down to three and changed them to suit me. Unlike a typical diet where you count calories and/or fat grams or, worse yet, totally eliminate whole categories of food or nutrients (e.g., carbs), the lists focus more on what you should eat. Very few items are totally off limits; and they are things no one should eat anyway.

Here, then, are my “lists”:

Foods to Eat Every Day

Whole grains

Leafy greens

Carrots

Nuts

Fruits

Green Tea

In addition, my daily list includes:

Multivitamin

Fish oil

Breakfast

Foods to Eat Not More Than Once Per Week

Dessert

Alcohol

Pasta

Red meat

Foods to Totally Avoid

Pop

Fast food

Prepared meals

Canned soup

Anything labeled “diet”

The daily items I really do try to eat each and every day. Whole grains and leafy greens are filling and chock full of nutrients. By eating them I feel not only full but satiated, and I’m less likely to reach for unhealthy foods and snacks.

Breakfast was a big change for me. I never used to eat breakfast , even though it is well known that it revs up your metabolism and keeps you from gorging later in the day. Eating is like taking pain medication (strange comparison, I know, but you can understand how I relate to that analogy); if you suffer from chronic pain or an injury and you wait to take your pain meds until the pain becomes unbearable, it is almost impossible to get ahead of it. So you end up taking more medication and still feeling the pain. In the same way, if you skip meals, especially the first meal of the day, you have a hunger deficit that is hard to overcome and tends to lead to overeating.

So, I usually start my day with some kind of whole grain — multigrain bread, oatmeal, granola — and maybe some fruit or nuts. This wakes me up, fills me up, and keeps me going until lunchtime. If I get hungry before lunch, I’ll grab a piece of fruit or some yogurt.

I almost always have a salad and carrots for lunch. That may sound tedious or boring, but I keep it fresh by adding different things to my greens every day. I use a lot of dried fruits and nuts, and I often replace salad dressing with something else like hummus, salsa, beans, or rice. I used to take dinner leftovers for lunch, but because dinners tend to be a heavier meal, I was eating way too much. So I keep my lunches light — salad, carrots, fruit, and yogurt are fairly typical fare for me — then I don’t have to worry too much about what I have for dinner.

Nuts, of course, are loaded with protein, which gives you energy and makes you feel full. They also have fat, but it’s the good kind of fat, which can actually help lower your cholesterol. I buy natural nut butters from the store — cashew, almond, and peanut are favorites. But make sure it’s all natural and has no added oils or sugar. The ones I buy contain only nuts and sometimes salt. I often eat nut butter on toast for breakfast or for a snack in the evenings.

Fruit can really help you feel full and can satisfy your craving for sweets. Some people will say you shouldn’t eat too much fruit, as it is high in sugar. But I don’t limit myself. It’s much better than eating processed sugar. And for me, at least, it really does satisfy my sweet tooth.

The benefits of green tea are well known and widely reported. It is high in antioxidants and, for me, replaces that second and third cup of coffee in the morning. It might take some getting used to, but most people find they eventually really like the light, grassy flavor of green tea once they drink it for a while.

Multivitamins are always a good idea, but especially when you’re dieting, to ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs. And fish oil, even more than nuts, provides the good kind of cholesterol that can help lower the bad kind. The fourth list from Alton Brown was of things to eat at least three times per week, and many of them were sources of good cholesterol. I personally find it easier to take fish oil tablets every day.

The once per week list is probably not that surprising if you think about it, as it mostly contains things that should be eaten sparingly. Alcohol is not a problem for me, as I don’t drink that often. But when I do get together with friends these days, I limit myself to one drink, or, lately, pass it up all together.

Pasta might be more difficult for some people to limit than it is for me. We don’t eat that much pasta anyway, so I rarely have it more than once every week or two. And if you choose whole grain pastas, which are increasingly available in stores and restaurants, I think you could have it more than once per week. It’s the semolina-based pasta (read: empty carbs) that is the killer. And on that subject, I’ve also tried to cut out white flour and white rice, both of which are loaded with carbs and almost entirely devoid of nutrition. Multigrain breads and brown rice are much better for you and also more flavorful in my opinion.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I would do with limiting desserts, which also include all manner of junk food in my book. I always heard that if you cut out sweets you eventually stop craving them. I never found this to be true, but then I never cut them out long enough to really know. With this diet, I have been pretty strict about limiting myself to one sugary treat per week. Two things have resulted from that. First, I have found that the less refined sugar I eat, the less I want it. So it really is true that you can overcome your cravings.

The other thing that has happened as I’ve limited myself to one dessert a week is that, before I eat a dessert or sweet snack, I ask myself, “Is this the one dessert you want for the week, or do you want to wait for something more worthy of being THE dessert of the week?” And often, I find I pass up whatever is being offered if it’s not one of my all-time favorites. And many weeks, I’ve passed up sweets throughout the week, and I come to the end of the week and realize I didn’t eat any desserts at all.

Now don’t get me wrong — I still eat dessert. But I’m selective about what I eat. For example, if I know mom is making apple pie later in the week, you can bet I’m going to pass on the Oreos tonight. And I find that I gravitate toward really good desserts, especially homemade items, and almost never eat processed, premade junk anymore.

Red meat deserves special mention. With dad here, it would be impossible to limit red meat to once a week. In fact, when I started on this diet, I was quick to make sure everyone else in the house understood that I was on a diet, not them. I haven’t asked anyone else to change the way they cook or eat. I don’t always eat the same things as everyone else. Sometimes I’ll make something different for myself, especially when we have beef three or four nights in a row (not an uncommon occurrence around here). More often, though, I’ll eat whatever is served, but limit my portion size and fill up more on vegetables and salad and less on protein. Even with that, I don’t know that I’ve ever stuck to the once per week limit on red meat. As long as I limit portion size, I’m OK with having it two to three times each week.

The list of foods to completely avoid is probably not a big shocker. Fast food and pop, for example, are things no one should ever really eat. And that includes diet pop, too (which also falls under the “no diet food” exclusion). Studies have shown that people who drink diet sodas actually gain weight rather than losing it.

The more I read about no calorie sweeteners, the more I understand Alton Brown putting diet food on the no-no list. In addition to possible long-term negative effects on your health, diet sweeteners actually make you crave sweeter food by deadening your palate to the sensation of sweetness. So by eating “diet” food, you can make yourself crave, and ultimately consume, more sugar! Much better to get your sweets the natural way — through fruits, honey, brown sugar, etc.

Canned soup and prepared meals may seem like odd things to be on this list. But all you have to do is read the labels of either one, and you’ll see that they are loaded with sodium, preservatives, and lost of stuff you probably can’t pronounce.

As far as items that aren’t on the list, I simply exercise moderation. For example, I eat chicken several times per week. And if I ate pork, which I don’t, I would consider it a red meat and exercise the same moderation and portion control that I use for beef.

I know this is a lot to take in and probably seems overwhelming. My best advice it this: start with the lists. Eat whole grains, leafy greens, carrots, fruit, nuts, and green tea every day, starting tomorrow. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is, and how filling your stomach with good food will change the way you look and feel almost immediately.

If you simply begin by following the three lists, you’ll quickly adapt to eating better foods. And you’ll find your own routine and make adjustments to the lists as you go.

And I know I don’t need to tell you this, but, YES, IT WORKS! I have dropped 38 pounds, stopped taking both my blood pressure and acid reflux medications, gone down to a pants size I haven’t worn in decades, and, most importantly, all of my numbers — BMI, cholesterol, glucose, BP, and triglycerides — are back in the healthy range. And I feel great!

I think everyone needs his own motivation and has to find a diet that works for him. This was my time, and I found a way that has helped me not only lose weight and get back into good health, but has also made me think about what I eat and my daily diet in a whole new, healthy and sustainable way.

Whether or not my crazy three-list diet turns out to be your thing, I hope you find your motivation to change and a diet that fits you.

Good luck. Keep me posted on your progress.

Love,

P-

Back-of-the-Card Cheese & Olive Bread {FFwD}

AMFT Cover

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is right up my alley — bread, cheese, olives, tapenade, I mean, what’s not to like about that? This recipe is Dorie’s take on a quick bread recipe from the Comté cheese company.

Dorie’s version combines flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, cheese, tapenade, olives, lemon zest, and olive oil. Everything is quickly mixed together, scraped into a pan, and baked for about 45 minutes. The house smelled heavenly while the loaves were in the oven! I doubled the recipe, and we had one loaf with dinner right after it baked. I’m taking the other one to a friend’s house this evening as part of a cheese plate.

We really liked this bread. It’s salty, cheesy, savory, and really rich. I cut back the salt called for in the recipe by just a bit, as I was worried that the cheese, olives, and tapenade would throw it over the top salt-wise. It came out fine, not too salty for my tastes. But I think it would have been OK without any additional salt, too.

My only complaint about the recipe was the amount of olive oil. It was more than 3/4 cup for the two loaves! And combined with the eggs, cheese, and oil-cured olives, it seemed a little on the oily side for me. I think you could cut the olive oil way back, and maybe even eliminate it entirely. I made a note in my book to use less oil next time.

This post participates in French Fridays with Dorie, a group cooking its way through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table one delicious recipe at a time. To see what other participants thought of this recipe, click here.

Goat Cheese & Strawberry Tartine {FFwD}

I wasn’t planning on participating in this week’s French Fridays with Dorie post. In fact, I hadn’t even looked at the recipe. But I wanted to see what everyone else had made, so around 5:00 this evening, I logged into the FFwD website to look at everyone’s posts. I kept seeing words like “easy”, “quick”, “only four ingredients”, and, most importantly “delicious”. I decided I’d better check out the recipe for myself.

Like some of the other Doristas, when I saw “tartine” in the title, I mistakenly assumed it was some kind of cake or layered dessert, which is why I had decided to sit this one out. So I was surprised to look at the recipe and note that it was really an open-faced sandwich of sorts. And a super simple one at that.

Baguette, goat cheese, strawberries, black pepper, and an optional drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Based on the short list of ingredients, the obvious ease with which it could be thrown together, and the rave reviews it was receiving from everyone, I decided to go ahead and make this recipe. I had to run to the store for the baguette (I ended up getting a loaf of French bread, as that was the closest thing they had), so I figured I probably wouldn’t get around to making it in time to post for this week’s FFwD roundup. And it was too late to think about writing a blog post anyway; but I wanted to try the tartine.

It was a lovely evening here, so we ended up lighting a campfire and sitting outside for a few hours after dinner. When we came in around 10:00, I noticed that the goat cheese was sitting out on the counter. I went to put it away, and saw the Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar from Olive My Heart that I had reduced into a thick, gooey syrup following my balsamic reduction recipe. Before I knew it, I was firing up the broiler to toast the French bread and looking for a nice plate on which to assemble everything.

Less than five minutes later, I had these:

Stawberries and Goat Cheese

These were definitely worth making, even at 10:00 at night. I think Mom put it best when she said, “These taste better than they look, and they look amazing!”

So, with just over an hour to spare in my time zone, here’s this week’s post. I think I’ll look at next week’s recipe tomorrow and maybe make it this weekend.

Anne Le Blanc’s Pistachio Avocado {FFwD}

Pistachio Avocodo

This week’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe is hardly a recipe; it’s more a set of assembly instructions. If fact, Dorie says in the introduction that she almost didn’t include this one in the book. Man, am I glad she did!

The hardest part of the whole operation was finding pistachio oil. I checked two health food/specialty stores in the area, but neither had it. Our local grocery chain has a pretty nice specialty foods selection, so I checked there, and voila! It was crazy expensive ($16 for 8 ounces), but I had searched so hard for it, I decided to splurge. You can also make your own pistachio oil, as several of the Doristas were planning to do for this recipe.

In addition to the pistachio oil, the recipe calls for an avocado, lemon juice, and coarse sea salt. You slice the avocado in half, remove the pit, and drizzle the flesh with lemon juice, squeezing a little into the cavity, too. After sprinkling coarse sea salt over the flesh, you fill the cavity almost to the top with pistachio oil. And that’s it.

Words can scarcely describe how good this was. I was going to share one of the halves with my daughter, but I ate the whole thing before she got to the kitchen. It was slightly sweet, salty, unctuous, oily (in a good way), nutty, toasty, in a word, DELICIOUS!!!

I’m grateful to Dorie for introducing me not only to this recipe (and yes, Dorie, I think it qualifies as a recipe) but also to pistachio oil. When I first opened the oil and tasted it, I wondered how I had lived my entire life up to now without it.

Needless to say, I will be making this recipe again. In fact, I’ve already made it twice; and I have one more avocado ripening on the counter.

Asparagus Soup {FFwD}

Asparagus Soup

This week’s recipe for French Fridays with Dorie just screams “Springtime!” It’s light, flavorful, and bursting with asparagus flavor.

The soup consists of asparagus (lots of it), onion, garlic, shallot, leeks, olive oil, butter, salt, and white pepper. I started by snapping the asparagus to remove the woody part at the base, then peeling the stalks (seriously, who does that?). I tied the peels and stems in a cheesecloth, then boiled the asparagus, stalks, and peels in boiling water. I removed the asparagus after about four minutes, reserving the water and discarding the stalks and peels.

Next, I heated olive oil in the pot. I was using a butter-infused olive oil, so I left out the butter called for in the recipe. I added the onion, garlic, shallot, and leeks, salted and peppered them, and cooked them low and slow until they were soft and glistening. I added back six cups of the asparagus water, simmered for a while, then dropped the asparagus back in.

After everything had cooked a bit more, I puréed the soup in two batches in my Vitamix. I thought the first batch looked a bit too watery, so I left most of the liquid out of the second batch. When I mixed it all together, it was a beautiful color and consistency.

The recipe says that the soup can be served hot or cold. I wanted to try it right away, so I served it hot with a dollop of sour cream and a drizzle of olive oil. I found it slightly bland, but a little sprinkle of cayenne pepper solved that problem.

I’m interested to try this soup cold, but I really enjoyed it hot. It was smooth, silky, and brimming with Springtime flavors.

Creamy Mushrooms and Eggs {FFwD}

AMFT Cover

Although I haven’t been participating in French Fridays with Dorie (or any other bake- or cook-along group) recently, I happened by the website the other day, and this recipe was enough to pull me back in. Mushrooms, cream, and poached eggs (singing: these are a few of my favorite things) on top of toasted brioche — I mean, what’s not to love?

This recipe was as simple as it was delicious. Cleaning the mushroom caps and chopping the mushrooms, shallot, rosemary, and mint were the most time-consuming parts of the whole process. After that, it was just a matter of adding everything to the pan in the right order while Mom poached some eggs.

Once I had my mise en place, I began by heating olive oil and melting butter in a sauté pan. I dropped in the shallot and sautéed it for a few minutes, then added the mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Once the mushrooms had given up their liquid and begun to soften, I added cream and let it simmer away for a few minutes while I sliced up the brioche and started toasting it. Finally, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in rosemary and mint.

By that time, Mom was finished poaching the eggs (perfectly, I might add), and we plated everything. We put a slice of brioche on the plate, topped it with a nice spoonful of mushrooms and the poached egg, and then finished it off by spooning the mushroom cream over the top.

Everyone agreed that this was a perfect Sunday supper — simple, homey, filling, and insanely delicious.

I’m glad to be back cooking with my friends for French Fridays. I can’t say for sure how many recipes I will make, or if I’ll post many or any of them. But I have already made next week’s Coupetade. And I love both asparagus and avocado. So there’s a good chance I’ll be around at least for the month of May.

Bon appetite!

Hummus {FFwD}

Part of what I enjoy about French Fridays with Dorie is making something completely new and unfamiliar to me, like last week’s Endive, Apples, and Grapes. It’s fun exploring new flavors, trying new ingredients, and learning new techniques.

But there’s also something enjoyable about a trying a recipe that’s a new version of an old favorite. And that’s what this week’s offering was for me.

I love hummus, and I never go to a Middle Eastern restaurant without trying the house version. And I’ve made lots of hummus over the years. One of my favorite recipes is from the Moosewood Cookbook, but I’m always game to try a new one.

This was a good, solid hummus. Not remarkable in any way. But quite tasty. And it was especially good served on flatbread that I made with this recipe from King Arthur Flour.

I don’t know if I’ll make Dorie’s version of hummus again, but I’ll definitely make the KAF flatbread to use as a base for hummus and other dips and spreads.

Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaf {TWD-BWJ}

I can’t tell you how excited I was about this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie – Baking with Julia recipe. After all, it features one of my favorite ingredients: pumpkin! To say I love pumpkin doesn’t really do justice to how I feel about this ingredient. Obsessed might be a better word.

Anyway, I was really looking forward to this bread. And it did not disappoint!

Now, this is not what you probably think of when you hear “pumpkin bread”. It’s a yeast bread, not a quick bread. And it’s not overly sweet. It’s more like raisin bread. Except with pumpkin. And walnuts. And whole cranberries.

Isn’t that beautiful? And you should have seen the bread!

Here are my observations:

  • As mentioned, this isn’t a sweet bread. It’s actually a bit on the savory side, with the tangy cranberries, walnuts, and even the pumpkin, which is, after all, a squash.
  • Speaking of the pumpkin, it adds a beautiful color to the dough, but not a distinct flavor. If you tasted it with your eyes closed, you probably wouldn’t guess that it had pumpkin in it.
  • As I often do with pumpkin-based recipes, I switched out the spices called for in the recipe with five-spice powder.
  • A number of bakers reported that their dough didn’t rise well. Mine rose fine, but when it came out of the fridge after an overnight rest, it was really sluggish. It’s a really rich dough, so I would probably recommend using SAF Gold yeast if you have any.
  • I baked my loaf in one pan, and it took significantly longer than the recipe called for. The finished loaf was moist, somewhat dense, and delicious.
  • This bread is great as toast with butter. But with Speculoos butter, it is sublime.
  • This would be the perfect bread for making toast on Thanksgiving morning. It wouldn’t be too filling, but it would wake your mouth up to the flavors to come later in the day.
  • I wonder how this bread would be as bread pudding? I don’t think the current loaf is going to last long enough to find out, but it would be worth making again for that purpose.

So, in summary, I loved this bread! And not just because it had pumpkin in it. Although, that certainly didn’t hurt.

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