Don’t call it a diet

Last November I embarked on an effort to get healthier. I had gained a lot of weight and wasn’t happy with that. So my plan was to go back to the gym and start cooking more and rely less on processed foods in an attempt to get my eating under control.

I started and it kind of fell off in December (the cooking; the gym thing held on). For the most part, I’ve been hitting my twice a week goal. There were some weeks where I only went once or didn’t go at all but for the most part, I’d make it to the gym. Now that Daylight Savings is here and it’s still light after work, I’m hoping to add a day of running during the week which is important since race season is upon us.

So I’ve been working out, eating more healthily, and planning my meals. I’m trying to snack on fruit more often and even reduced the amount of sugar I consume by simply changing my tea cup (I switched out my 16 ounce cup for a 10 ounce cup) and enacting a one-cup maximum per day. Before, I had been drinking upwards of 2 cups a day, which was technically 4 cups. So it’s like I cut out 3 cups of tea per day. Isn’t math fun? One of my newest obsessions has been steel cut oats. The best thing is you can make a big pot on Sunday and eat them all week long. And the even better part is you can make a big pot in your slow cooker (I have one of those now. Best thing ever!).

So far my efforts have been working. I’ve really cut down on the amount of processed meals I’ve been eating and I feel much better. Combined with the workouts, I’m feeling pretty unstoppable. I’m down 11 lbs so far (and even kept off some of the weight I lost during my church’s annual fast at the beginning of the year) and I’m about 8 pounds away from my goal weight.

There has been some happy changes to my routine so it’s been a little bit of a struggle to maintain my gym nights but I’m encouraged that I’ll be able to keep things up. I like the small changes I’ve made and after almost 5 months, they’re still in tact. I look forward to my gym nights and while trying to figure out what to cook everyday is pretty hard, I enjoy cooking (though I still have my occasional bowl of cereal for dinner).

I’ve made a lot of small changes but do feel this way is more sustainable. I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to lose those last few pounds but mostly I’m excited that I’m on the road to a much healthier lifestyle.

Eating…Oxbow Public Market

Lately the weather has been unseasonably cool and rainy, odd considering that it was late May/early June in California and it’s usually warmer around this time. The bf was actually a bit disappointed since he was looking forward to the warmer weather. In fact, my plans for a fun outing in Napa Valley with him was cancelled due to general un-picnic like weather. Boo rain. Because of the weird weather, I’ve spent the past few days hanging out at home so when the need to be outside to photosynthesize suddenly became overwhelming, I decided to pretend I was a tourist and hit up Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it’s basically a large market hall with a bunch of small alcoves for shops, similar to the Ferry Building marketplace [apparently the guy behind the Ferry Building space is the genius behind Oxbow]. I wandered around for a bit checking everything out and getting a lay of the land. One shop in particular, Whole Spice, really grabbed my attention which had a ton of different spices, extracts and salts, including Himalayan Pink salt. I’m not quite sure how I would use the Himalayan Pink salt but I was tempted to buy a few ounces just because. I would like to go back to further discover what else they had in store.  Since I didn’t really have a game plan when I came to the market, I ended up deciding to make it a day of eating. Of course I did.

My first stop was to C Casa. There were a lot of things on the menu that I wanted to try but since I had plans on sampling a few other bites, I had to pick only one. Instead of leaning on my go to [steak], I inched outside my comfort zone and ordered the spicy lamb taco (with goat cheese, avocado crema, mint, jalapeños, garlic aioli & micro greens) and the hibiscus orange iced tea.

I really enjoyed this taco. The lamb was nicely seasoned and really tender and there was a slight heat from the jalapeno peppers. The lamb was so good I would have eaten it by itself. I was disappointed that I couldn’t really taste the mint and I ended up taking out almost half of the micro greens because it was just too much. They really overwhelmed the rest of the taco.

Next, I stopped by Gott’s Roadside in hopes of getting an order of their crazily delicious calamari, however my plans were thwarted when I found out there was, in fact, NO CALAMARI. How rude!

I sulked for a second as I slowly made my way back to the marketplace before realizing the bakery I wanted to try was just around the corner. The Model Bakery has tons of different breads, cakes, cookies and other yummy looking pastries available all day long. I stopped in to try one of their famous English Muffins that was featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate…

This was no ordinary English Muffin; it was large, fluffy, and crispy. The dough is actually a ciabatta bread so it lends its unique texture to the muffin, plus they griddle them to give it a nice outside crust. I had mine toasted and slathered it with butter and apricot jam and I instantly fell in love with it on the first bite. The bread itself is really chewy, the good kind of chewy, and my mouth is watering just thinking about it right now. I want more and I know I won’t ever be able to enjoy a Thomas English Muffin ever again. I have effectively been ruined and I’m not mad about it in the slightest.

Thomas would be jealous of these nooks and crannies.

After feasting on the world’s best English Muffins, I made one last stop at Pica Pica Bar to see if anything on the menu could entice me. Originally I was going to order some tajadas [sweet plantains] but I ended up being swayed by a display of patacones. I’m not exactly sure what I got [I let the cashier pick the fillings for me] but they’re like twice baked potatoes with meat fillings instead of more potato. Also, instead of potato, it’s actually a plantain. I ended up with a trio of pork, chicken and steak with a spicy cream dipping sauce [which was sour cream with smoked chile].

Of the three, the chicken was actually my favorite. It’s rare when I prefer chicken over steak but the chicken had a smoky almost barbequed taste to it that I really liked. The pork was good too, it was just salty enough for me, though the tomato and avocado slice made it a little messy to eat. I could have done without the steak; it was just meh. It didn’t really taste like they had done anything to it. I would have rather have a second chicken patacone.

In all, I’m really glad I made the trip up to Oxbow and loved everything I nommed on during the two hours I was there. It was the perfect distraction from my day and I’d definitely come back to eat everything again. Especially that English Muffin.

In the Kitchen: Baked Donuts

I have been talking about making donuts for many moons now, so much so that I had looked into buying a doughnut pan. Naturally, I never got around to getting one even though I kept talking about these magical doughnuts I somehow was going to make. Not one to let a silly logistical matter like owning necessary baking equipment deter me, I kept my eye out for any baked doughnut recipe I came across, ignoring the vast majority that utilized yeast. I have this unfounded fear of working with yeast. Unfounded because I have never worked with it yet I’m terrified of doing so. I also have several recipes for challah bread. All of which uses yeast. Yeah, that’s some fuzzy math right there.

Lindsey was so kind enough to gift me my very own doughnut pan for Christmas. I was so excited! So much so that I immediately started tearing through the Internets looking for a good non-yeast baked doughnut recipe. I found a few but never got around to making them. Figures.

But on Thursday night I was hit was a strange and overwhelming desire: I wanted to watch The Office while eating a baked doughnut and hot chocolate. I’m still not sure where that came from but I couldn’t shake it. It had become my duty to make these doughnuts; never mind that I still had a good four hours before The Office aired. Time schmime. I am not a prisoner to time.

I halved the recipe to get six doughnuts since it was only me and there was no way I would be able to get in touch with my inner Homer Simpson. The only changes I made was to use my vanilla bean paste instead of regular vanilla extract because I’m slightly obsessed with vanilla bean paste.

Baking was quick and easy. I didn’t know that only the part that was actually in the pan would get browned. Maybe that’s not true and my oven was just being stupid but it didn’t really matter. It bakes evenly so if you’re so inclined, you can just flip the donuts over like I did.

These doughnuts had a cakey texture that was delicious. Now, they’re not light and fluffy as your conventional deep-fried doughnut but who said that was the only way doughnuts should be? There are a great healthful alternative to the deep fried version. They also kept pretty well too. Granted, they only lasted a couple days but they were delicious those couple of days!

Vanilla bean baked doughnuts
via Naturally Ella

makes 12 doughnuts

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla [I used my beloved vanilla bean paste]
4 eggs
6 tablespoons butter melted
1/4 cup milk

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar may need more to reach consistency
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla [and more vanilla bean paste]

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 375˚and spray a doughnut pan.

2) In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients and set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and butter until mixture is slightly frothy.  Stir into dry ingredients until ingredients are just combined (do not over mix.)

3) Scoop batter into plastic or piping bag.  Cut a medium size tip (if using the plastic bag) and squeeze batter into doughnut pan, filling each doughnut almost to the top (leave about 1/8″.)

4) Bake for 7-9 minutes until doughnut springs back.  Remove from pan and let cool.  Once doughnuts are cool, prepare icing.  Icing should be not be too runny but should be stiff enough to hold to doughnut.  Dip one side of the doughnut in the icing and return to cooling rack.

Why I wish Tyler Florence was my friend

While I don’t watch Food Network as much as I used too [or SportsCenter for that fact but that's neither here nor there] I do usually stop to watch just about anything Tyler Florence is in because his recipes have been on point. Plus, I think he’s kind of cute. There. I said it. And I may or may not have had a dream in which I was actually friends with him  where he may or may not have cooked me lunch in his house.

I may or may not have woken up slightly disappointed after realizing it was just a dream.

Anywho, so I’m a fan and I was excited to hear he that he moved to Mill Valley and was opening a restaurant in Downtown Napa [I’m still itching to check out Wayfare Tavern in the City – any takers?]. I want to say that I was anxiously awaiting the opening but in reality I just plain forgot it was even happening. You know how long it takes for restaurants to be built? A while, plus, I don’t think they ever open on time in the first place so of course I was going to forget about all the exciting news swirling around.

But then my dear friend Christina from way back in the day [seriously, since the fourth grade!], writer of East Bay Dish and my partner in gastronomical crime, reminded me of it when we made plans to hit up Bouchon Bakery so she could experience the joy that are Thomas Keller’s macarons. Afterwards, we jetted down to Downtown Napa to check out Rotisserie & Wine. We didn’t have reservations and crazily braved a two-hour wait for a table by wandering around the block a few times and sitting outside on the patio [they had these cool rockers PLUS throw blankets to keep warm. Snazzy].

Once we were seated, we looked through the menu and began to plot our march  as we munched on the complimentary cornbread sticks with honey butter:

We started with the cheese puff and scrapple. The cheese puff was filled with a bacon mornay sauce of awesomeness, aged vella jack cheese and chives. I waffled a bit on ordering on but am so glad I did because there was no way we would have been able to share one of those things. One bite and we were both sold [we even scraped up the bits of cheese and bacon on the serving plank]. I can’t begin to describe the amazingness of that little puff but to say that I would go back just for that appetizer. If you go, order one for everyone. Seriously, even one is not enough. That little puff made me fall in love with Tyler all over again.

Cheese puff of bacony AWESOMENESS!

The scrapple with smoked honey mustard came next. Christina ordered this out of sheer curiosity. I wasn’t too hot on the idea having seen it featured on Food Network and knowing it was basically meat scraps smooched together. Our server even explained it like being almost like a hot dog. Uh, okay. After some convincing, I sampled a bit and promptly offered the rest of Christina. I was not a fan. It was kind of mushy and I’m not a big fan of mushy textures. The smoked honey mustard was light on the honey and heavy on the mustard and seeing how I’m also not a fan of the mustard, well, I think this dish was doomed from the start for me.

After a small break, our entree arrived: beef and bones (prime rib eye with bone marrow, yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce), Hudson Ranch collards, and Arbuckle grits draped with lardo and “baked” peanuts. The collards were pretty good but they did taste very vinegary [they are dressed with hot pepper vinegar], the grits were absolutely divine and buttery, practically melting in your mouth though I did not enjoy the baked peanuts that are included. I just felt that they kind of took away from the smoothness of the grits. The beef & bones were delicious, well, the beef was delicious. I wasn’t so much a fan of the bone; the marrow was too mushy for me [though I did love the crispy crust on top]. The prime rib eye was cooked perfectly [the steak knife was seriously heavy! It felt like a kitchen knife] and the Yorkshire pudding was nice and airy. I wanted to eat both halves but alas, I had to share.

Overall, the food was pretty good. The service was really good, which was shocking considering it had just opened. I appreciated how my water glass never reached half empty since someone was always there to refill it, though there was some confusion about splitting our bill at the end of the evening. I would definitely go back to try something new and, of course, get another cheese puff. Mmmm, cheese puff.

The next day, I tweeted my love for the cheese puff and was excited to see this:

I die. Seriously Tyler, let’s be friends.

I see the light

At the height of the cupcake revolution, someone somewhere [read: I don't remember where I saw it] proclaimed the French macaron as the new cupcake. Now, I’ve been on cupcakes since I first learned of their awesome existence because I’m freakishly obsessed with cake so I wasn’t really feeling the whole new proclamation [I believe I scoffed when I first read that] and wrote it off. Because, really? A macaron? It’s just a pretentious cookie. A pretentious cookie that looks like Spongebob’s Pretty Patty.

But then the macaron just about exploded all over my computer. I was seeing them EVERYWHERE. On Yumsugar, Tastespotting, Serious Eats, everywhere and suddenly I became obsessed with making them, even though they do have a reputation of being temperamental, but that made me want to try it even more. Taming the diva of cookies? Who doesn’t want to do that?

I rolled the idea in my head for a while and then finally decided that I should probably try them out before making them, just so I knew what to expect. So I stumbled to the Ferry Building and picked up a few macarons from Miette: rose, chocolate, vanilla and I think strawberry. I forget since this was a few years ago. I was excited: I’d finally be able to try this dessert I had been hearing so much about and was sure I would like.

I took a bite and: nothing. They were not good. Well, that’s not true. They were just okay. The cookie was overwhelmingly meringuey and dry and just not appealing. Lindsey and I were not impressed and I was thoroughly disappointed. No way could this cookie be the next cupcake.

And so I dismissed the macaron and gave up on making them. Why would I make something that I wasn’t so excited about?

Then during our St. Helena eating tour I decided to give the macaron another shot while at Bouchon Bakery. And oh my goodness. Thomas Keller, you have made me a believer. I finally understood the deliciousness of the macaron. The cookie is light and chewy and totally not meringuey like the ones from Miette. It was just sweet enough and before I knew it, it was gone.

Oh Thomas Keller, how I love your heavenly macarons

Since then, I have become slightly obsessed with Bouchon’s macarons. So much that I’ve developed a sort of Pavlovian response to them. Especially with Bouchon only being a 30 minute drive from the house, it’s really easy [and tempting] to pop on over on a whim for a macaron fix. Yes, I am now quite adept at driving to Yountville for macarons.

I want to be best friends with Chef Keller because he must be awesome to make such an amazing cookie. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about those macarons. While I’m not relinquishing the cupcake’s throne as of yet, I do totally welcome the macaron into the pantheon of desserts.

Can I have my macaron now?

Dear Kermit: I’m sorry

One of the bigger highlights from my “summer in the Midwest” adventure was eating frog legs.

More accurately, I nibbled on a small portion of a frog’s leg.

I know what you’re thinking, how exactly did frog legs end up on the menu for a Fourth of July family BBQ? We’re not really sure but the bf’s aunt brought them along with a ginourmous cooler filled with fish. I didn’t know about the legs until I walked into the kitchen to see her cleaning the cooler contents and saw the sister playing with them.

People, the legs were connected to each other. Seriously. They looked like they could really small people legs! It doesn’t help any that the Aunt then started singing some song and making the legs dance around as if they were part of a chorus line.

Almost like this actually…

I was curious because I’m kind of reckless like that but apprehensive because I’m kind of scary like that. I was really curious as to whether or not it tastes like chicken like you always hear. The sister and I went back and forth on whether or not we would eat one, finally settling on if one tried it, the other would too. The family laughed at me since I was staring at the frogs legs for a  while, but that was just me sizing up the situation and making it a little less scary.

The aunt fried them on the grill and I finally worked up enough courage to try some [the sister had tried early but failed and the grandmother sampled some - if she could do it, how could I chicken out?].

My frogs leg eating twin

The verdict? They were okay. I maybe might try them again in a restaurant setting if someone else ordered them but I wouldn’t order them myself. They did have a slight chickenesque flavor to them but I tried fingering the exact taste but couldn’t. I was actually surprised that the bf sampled them as well, especially after he spent the better part of the afternoon refusing to do so whenever I asked.

At least I can cross this snack off my list of foods to try. I’m going to definitely earn that “Been there, Ate that” tshirt.


Yum?

How to eat an abomination

I lived in Michigan for four years and never had a good Mexican meal. There was one restaurant near campus that I attempted to like my freshman year but ruled out because it wasn’t cutting it and one quick franchisey burrito joint that filled the role of Taco Bell without the post-meal regret: it wasn’t special but worked in a pinch.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t any good Mexican in the entire state of Michigan, so if there is a place y’all swear by, please let me know so I can try it out, but as far as I know, there is no good Mexican food in Michigan. Michigan being Ann Arbor and Flint.

Yes, I attempted to eat Mexican food in Flint. What was I thinking? I have no clue but I had developed the most intense craving for chicken enchiladas that I was desperate to satisfy and couldn’t wait until I returned to California. Which was the next day. Patience is definitely not my virtue. We’ve covered this many times before.

Anywho, so the bf’s mom took us out to dinner and gave me the honor of choosing where to eat. For a normal person, this decision isn’t hard, especially since there aren’t too many restaurants in the Flint area to begin with. But pose this question to me and since I rarely ever desire a specific type of food, I’ll furrow my brow, stare, hem and haw until someone else makes the decision because my answer of “Food?” [yes, with the question mark] is not helpful in the slightest.

I asked if there were any good Mexican restaurants and we ended up at Tia Helita‘s in Burton. I’m not sure when I became so particular about my Mexican food considering that I’ll happily eat at Chevy’s. To be honest, I probably don’t really know what “good Mexican food” really is but I sure do know when it’s bad.

My grievances with this restaurant is long: the decor is stereotypical of a tacky Mexican restaurant: random sombreros, plastic “Cinco de Mayo” beer flag banners and images of the Virgin of Guadelupe. Plus it was really dark for some reason. Probably to make sure you don’t know what you’re supposed to be eating. So the food. In one word: bland. Mexican food is about the flavor and the spice and the heat and I got none of that. First problem: they served their unevenly fried and salted chips with salsa and canned nacho cheese.

Let me repeat that because I’m sure your indignation was as riled as mine: CANNED NACHO CHEESE. Who does that?!

Second problem: the bland food. My chicken enchiladas were lacking in every department. The sauce didn’t taste like anything except red, the chicken wasn’t seasoned at all and dry. The enchiladas were overstuffed in parts that when I cut into them, I’d end up with a wad of chicken on my fork. The rice was dry on top and pretty bland everywhere else and the refried beans started out tasting okay but then weren’t tasting like anything. To be serious, I kept looking around after just about every bite expecting to see Gordon Ramsey to bust into the dining room and tell me that they were serving me old refried beans.

I felt like a real jerk for requesting something only to be so critical later. Thankfully the bf admitted he didn’t like the food either and we had a good laugh about it. I definitely learned one thing: next time I’m in a mood for Mexican food, I’m just going to go to Red Robin for a burger.