Musings from a Seattle personal chef
Archive for April, 2007
Okay, so I suppose this is a questionable topic for a food blog. However, having a family history of colon cancer shapes so much of what I do: it’s why I got back into running and fitness, why I lost weight (40 pounds and counting!), why I have changed my eating habits to include more fresh vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Getting screened was the next logical step. Besides, it’s my blog and I can write what I want to. If you don’t like it, don’t read it (but I hope you will!). And don’t worry, I’m not going to get all Katie Couric on you.
Another reason I wanted to share was to hopefully take away some of the embarrassment people feel about such a procedure. Colon cancer is 90 percent curable if detected early, so that’s why screening is so important. It always amazes me to hear about people who don’t go to the doctor because they are too bashful.
One of my former boyfriends, a welder, one time had a hot piece of slag fly down his Carhartts, severely burning his chest, belly and his, um, “fadoowatdiddy.” These weren’t burns that could be treated with an over-the-counter burn medication; they required a prescription. However, he refused to go to the doctor since he’d have to show his “diddy.” Instead he suffered through several weeks of pain and discomfort.
I also remember when Tammy Faye Bakker announced she had colon cancer. She had blood in her stool for TWO YEARS before she even bothered going to a doctor. She did manage to beat the disease, but perhaps her treatment could have been less extensive had she caught it early. (I actually had a cancer scare right after hearing Tammy’s news; turns out I just ate too many beets).
So, what was it like?
What can be worse for a chef than having to be on a liquid diet? Being on said liquid diet while having to cook food for others.
No, I haven’t jumped on the latest detox/cleanse craze. Tomorrow I’m finally following doctor’s orders and getting a colonoscopy (colon cancer runs in the family). In order for the test to be accurate you have to get fully cleaned out, so today it’s nothing but clear liquids.
While today’s client will enjoy maple roast chicken breasts with cinnamon apples, Asian marinated flank steak, chicken chilaquiles with salsa verde, macaroni & cheese and turkey ziti with four cheeses, I get to have… clear chicken broth. With a glass of white grape juice. And lemon Jello for dessert.
Whew! I’m stuffed already.
I’m set to run almost 13 miles in tomorrow’s Mt. Si Relay (first leg is just under 6 miles, second leg is just over 7), so I wanted to make sure I consumed enough carbs today to keep me energized throughout the race. Pancakes seemed a perfect choice for breakfast; they’re fast and easy to prepare and would pair wonderfully with the fresh strawberries we just picked up at Costco.
I’ve made multigrain pancakes in the past, but this morning I wanted to make things even simpler. There’s nothing easier than my darling’s buttermilk pancakes, but this time I substituted white whole wheat flour and oat bran for the all purpose flour. They truly hit the spot.
Whole Grain Buttermilk Pancakes
(makes 6 4-inch pancakes)
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (can also use regular whole wheat)
1/4 cup oat bran
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon EACH baking soda and baking powder
Butter or oil for pan
Gently whisk the flour, bran, buttermilk, egg, baking powder and baking soda until relatively smooth (I start with the whisk, then switch to a spatula). Let batter sit for 10 minutes.
Heat a skillet over medium high until hot. Brush with butter or oil and drop in 1/4 cupfuls of batter. Bubbles will start to form on the top of the pancake; cook until they break and do not fill in. Flip over and cook on the second side for about a minute, or until golden brown. Serve with toppings of choice (I tossed the sliced strawberries with some maple syrup and topped with a dollop of plain yogurt).
Every month I get together with a group of foodie friends to try out new recipes based upon a particular theme or ingredient (we’ve dubbed the group The Guinea Pigs). Past themes include Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, tailgating, lavender and chocolate, as well as a couple of free-for-alls. The rules are simple: your dish must reflect the theme and be one you’ve never made before.
My creations have run from the sublime (roast lamb stuffed with garlic & lavender, Asian-style braised beef ribs), to the acceptable (seared foie gras salad, grilled shrimp salsa), to edible (hot pretzels), to the downright weird (empanadas with beef marinated in Southwestern spices and chocolate liqueur, wrapped in a whole wheat savory chocolate dough. They actually weren’t that bad!)
Last weekend I added another to the sublime list: bacon and stilton mini cheesecakes. I was inspired by a Saveur recipe, however, those required no baking and I was eager to try out my new mini cheesecake pans. I adapted the crust from a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheesecake recipe that uses ground Triscuits and dried sour cherries. The crackers provide a wonderful whole wheat crunch and the sweet-tart flavor of the cherries balances out the richness of the cheese.
The key to a smooth cheesecake batter is to have your ingredients at room temperature. Otherwise you’ll end up with small blobs of cream cheese that no amount of processing will smooth out. I followed the directions on the back of the cheesecake pan box for baking (375 degrees for 15 minutes), however, next time I’ll bump the temperature down to 325 and check them at 20 minutes. As you can see, the cakes fell immediately coming out of the oven (some spilled over, so I pushed the filling back in with a knife). I’m thinking a more gentle bake will minimize the shrinkage (although I rather like the rustic look).
While the cakes are delicious on their own, they’d make a wonderful starter course served on a bed of wild or micro greens.
Bacon & Stilton Mini Cheesecakes
(makes 12 cakes)
25 Triscuits (I used Trader Joe’s “woven wheat wafers”)
1/3 cup sour cherries
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Cream cheese filling:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/3 pound Blue Stilton, crumbled
6 slices thick bacon
Preheat oven to 325.
Place crackers and sour cherries in a food processor and process until crackers are fine and cherries are in small bits. Place mixture in a bowl and stir in brown sugar and melted butter. Divide crust evenly into mini cheesecake cups and tamp down (a shot glass with a flat bottom works great!).
Cook bacon until crisp; crumble into small bits. Place cream cheese, Stilton and egg into food processor and process until smooth. Place in a bowl and mix in bacon. Divide evenly among cheesecake cups.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheesecakes are almost set (they will continue to cook as they cool). Cool to room temperature and serve.
I’m not much of a baker, but I enjoy experimenting. However, given there’s only two of us in our household, I limit my experiments to large holiday gatherings where I don’t have to worry about leftovers tempting me with their siren call.
We always spend Easter at my darling’s dad’s house, which presents the perfect opportunity to ply my decadent offerings. Three years ago I made my first layer cake — a coconut concoction from the pages of “Cook’s Illustrated.” Since my father-in-law is not a cake enthusiast, the next year I prepared his favorite — blackberry pie. Last year I thought I’d lighten things up and made mini cheesecakes adapted from a recipe by CI’s “The Best Light Recipe.” I normally don’t tinker with desserts — I’d rather just have a small piece than resort to using ingredients deemed “diet friendly” — but you’d never know these were lower in fat and calories.
This year I contemplated baking another layer cake, and when I saw that Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie was hosting an Easter Cake Bake, the deal was sealed. But what type of cake should I prepare? I found a piÃ±a colada one that looked promising, but I also considered carrot cake as that’s my darling’s favorite. Then the imp in me took over: Devil’s Food cake; what could be more perfect for Easter? (Okay, so perhaps it’s a bit blasphemous).
When it comes to preparing dinner for my darling and myself, I tend to be a thrower- togetherer (you’d never guess I have a degree in communications, would you?). I’m often too wiped to put a lot of thought and energy into our dinners during the week; I typically just peer into the fridge for ideas for a quick and easy meal. The other night it was chips with my darling’s homemade salsa (using up the 2 pints of grape tomatoes our neighbor gave us) and a small bowl of canned refried beans heated in the microwave. Another night it was Trader Joe’s roasted red pepper soup with cheese and crackers. Many nights it’s pizza with whatever we happen have on hand (fortunately our fridge tends to be well-stocked).
While these meals are certainly nourishing and relatively nutritionally sound, they aren’t what I consider a “true” dinner — a well-balanced and visually appealing meal of protein, vegetable and starch. They’re most definitely NOT blog-worthy (although I guess I’m contradicting myself by writing about them, aren’t I?)
At any rate, a few weeks ago I had a hankering for crispy panko-coated chicken and sauteed spinach (both adapted from Cook’s Illustrated). For the chicken, I combined a couple of techniques from CI’s “Best Light Recipe” cookbook. Rather than pan-frying, you coat the chicken with toasted panko crumbs, then bake it at high heat. Normally I dredge the chicken in flour, dip it in egg whites and then the panko, but since I wanted more flavor I used the technique from CI’s oven-fried chicken where you coat the breast in Dijon mustard and then the panko crumbs (no need to dredge in flour first).
For the spinach, I pre-heated my wok over my new turbo 16,000 BTU burner, added a bit of oil, some sliced garlic and about a half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I quickly threw in about 10 ounces of fresh spinach and some halved grape tomatoes and stir-fried until the spinach was wilted and glistening. After plating the spinach I squirted it with some fresh lemon juice. Some prepared tri-color cheese tortellini completed the dish.