Archive for the ‘Living Alone’ Category

I Do Have a Stove Which is Why I Need My Coffeepot.

August 13, 2010

Stove Top Cooking

Old habits are hard to break. Of course I have a stove as a matter of fact 2 but when cooking on a stove top, the meal is usually started when I am hungry and after a owning a few restaurants and family gatherings, I have a collection of super-size pots and darn few small ones. But my lack of will power occasionally forces me to use a stove because there are meals that will not work in either the coffeepot or fondue pot.

Regular readers know that whenever I get a craving I indulge it just like a normal human being. I am not on a prohibitively strict diet with dos and do nots. What I am trying to accomplish is a lifestyle change where I live and get healthy eating portioned controlled meals but occasionally bad habits rule the day.

I had a craving for ravioli so I purchased some frozen ones in a 24 ounce bag for about $8 which I thought was outrageous and I had some leftover homemade sauce in the refrigerator. All day long I dreamed about the meal so I reheated the sauce and divided the bag in thirds without thinking. Of course the meal fit on the 11 inch plates and I ate all that I had cooked without thinking that 8 ounces of pasta is like eating half a loaf of bread. When I checked the bag, it said it serves 5 so without thinking I had eaten almost two portions.

And their in lies the problem with me cooking on the stove top when I am hungry. I simply cook and eat too much so I get fat. While one day’s indulgence may foretell the end of a diet, it doesn’t destroy a lifestyle change because good habits are also hard to break. The next few days I was back to coffeepot cooking to reinforce my portion controlled meals.

Ravioli and Sauce

There really is no recipe except reheat the sauce, boil salted water and cook the frozen ravioli for as long as it says. Serve with the heated sauce. I had a women last night tell me she can’t cook and that her boyfriend cooks every meal. She’s lucky because I think I told her there is a huge difference between”can’t cook” and “wont cook” but since she was attractive, young and alone, I did offer to cook a meal for her and she accepted. Too bad, I will be occupied with family for the next month.

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Another Simply Beautiful Salad

August 12, 2010

Simply Beautiful Salad

Most people never learn that a salad can be a lot more than shredded lettuce, pink hothouse tomato slices and wilted limp cucumber slices. Italians and Greeks seem to have gotten the message and serve the most creative and unnamed combinations as Greek Salad or Antipasto. My wife was from the Italian school by heritage and so creative salads were always present.

In season, I prefer the richness of fresh Tomatoes to the bland flavor of Roasted Red Peppers from a jar but the peppers are preferred to hothouse tomatoes. With tomatoes on hand, I prefer fresh mozzarella for the subtle flavor that balances tomatoes. With the bland roasted red bell peppers, I prefer a Cottage Cheese and Gorgonzola topping.

Cheese and Gorgonzola Recipe:

1 cup cottage cheese

1 diced small onion

1 diced stick of celery

2 oz Gorgonzola crumbs

Mix everything together. Slice Romain lettuce across the stem in ½ inch slices and spread around the plate. Place pimento slices on top and then scoop as much of the cottage cheese as you would like on the plate. Another unusual, flavorful and beautiful combination.

Puerto Rican Rice and Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules)

August 10, 2010

Fondue Pot Pigeon Peas and Rice

For those who know little about St. Croix, our foods reflect our diverse cultural background. About 40% of the population speaks Spanish so you would expect Spanish influences in our foods. Then another 40% is descendant from eastern Caribbean heritage and as you would expect, it has influenced our meals from roasted corn to stewed goat and the rich flavors of Asian Indian cooking transported from Trinidad. Without even consciously thinking about it, our local restaurants offer a Crucian Fusion Menu with almost every cultural reflected in their menus.

Years ago one very successful local restaurant (Oscars) offered Curry, pasta and meatballs, steak and baked potato, Arroz con Gandukes, Rice and Red Beans, Stewed Goat, Conch in butter sauce and more. Jimmy Carter visiting at Christmas village was so impressed with the local sweet potato stuffing, he asked for the recipe to take home with him. It is tough for a natural Fat Savage to not want to partake of all of the culinary offerings and learn to make them.

Arroz con Gandules is traditionally served as a side dish, but since the recipe included 4 oz of ham, I used it as the main course. I made it twice this year four months apart, but if I were a true Islander the frequency would be closer to every four days. Perhaps this is so popular because a can of pigeon peas and 50 cents worth of rice will feed eight people and it is fine when reheated or microwaved. The first time I tried it was in my coffeepot, but the more traditional and easier method is in my fondue pot which is essentially an electric skillet. So I will describe that First.

Puerto Rican Rice and Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules)

Recipe:

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

4 ox ham (cut from picnic steak)

1 small onion chopped

¼ cup green bell pepper chopped (1 very small)

2 cloves garlic minced

4 oz of Goya Tomato sauce

½ can Goya Pigeon Peas undrained.

1 slice 1/16 inch scotch bonnet or other hot pepper

1 packet Sazon Goya con Culantro y Achiote

1 ½ cup water

1 cup rice

The Goya label says you will make 8 portions with a full can and I believe it because even cutting the recipe in half, I had more than enough for 3 meals with no other food on the plate. The biggest challenge other than making good rice was splitting the can of pigeon peas in half and splitting the water that came with the peas in half. I froze the extra peas and water with the other half can of tomato sauce because I hate to feel obligated to plan meals around leftovers and if it doesn’t survive freezing, I will simply through it out. The two extra cooked portions were also frozen and I know from experience that frozen rice is just fine.

The fondue pot process was just as it said on the can. Turn the heat on to 250 (medium) and add the ham, onions and peppers and cook about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add everything else and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce the heat to just the boiling point, cover the pot and walk away and have faith you can’t do any better.

If there is too little heat, the rice won’t cook as fast but 20 minutes is usually enough on even exceptionally low heat. If it is too hot, the rice will stick to the pan which is not a big problem as you gently remove the Pigeon Peas and Rice from the pot leaving behind any burnt rice sticking to the bottom of the pot.

The hardest thing for a novice cook is to leave it alone for 20 minutes. If you open the lid and stir the pot to check and see if it’s too hot, you will turn the rice into a pasty mess that is definitely not Caribbean Style.

Coffeepot Pigeon Peas and Rice

Now if making good rice in a stove top pot is tough it is almost impossible to do in a coffeepot and even worse in a Crockpot so don’t even try. The work around is to leave the water out of the recipe above and use microwave rice or buy cooked rice from a Chinese restaurant and then mix it in and serve your pigeon peas and rice right away. I ran one test where I left out the water and added an ounce of Cruzan Dark Rum to the pot and poured the microwave rice on top of the mixture of Peas and spices and ham and covered the pot with foil. About 45 minutes later, the rice was done so I stirred everything up and ate the delicious Arroz con Gandules.

Near Perfect Pea Soup

August 9, 2010

Creamy Pea Soup

When it comes to comfort foods, noting beats pea soup on a rainy day. Our mothers both made it and made it about the same. The both strived for a rich creamy texture and built the soup around an old ham bone which contributed to the richness. Of course Dolores’ Mother added more meat and Carrots whereas my mom cooking for six instead of three, used less meat and included dumplings to add some substance to the soup. Dolores hated dumplings so I learned to leave them out and include carrots.

Now forget about dumplings in a coffeepot, they are hard enough to do on a stove top where you can turn up the heat but I suppose one day, I will give it a try just to see if it can be done. But for now I just wanted to see how close I could come to our mothers pea soup in terms of texture and flavor and yes, this soup started life as a vegan meal before I kicked it up a notch by adding Turkey Ham to get the flavor I am used to.

Recipe:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Chopped onion

2 cloves minced garlic

2 stalks diced celery

1 bay leaf

1 thin slice scotch bonnet hot pepper

½ teaspoon Thyme

½ teaspoon Rosemary

1 Tablespoon Parsley

Separate the can of peas add the liquid to the pot and mash the peas with a potato masher.

1 can 14.5 oz Vegetable broth. Or if adding turkey ham, use chicken broth.

4 oz Turkey Ham

Now as the ingredient list shows, there is no major change in the ingredients from the vegetarian pea soup other than the Turkey Ham, the biggest change was in the processing and the Peas. Other than my old standby Cruzan Rum, I rarely go out of my way to buy a specific brand of almost any product although I do read the labels and as I said last time avoid anything with sugar added. I usually buy the generic brand because I never see much of a difference.

Libby's Naturals Sweet Peas

This time I stumbled upon a can of “Libby’s Naturals” Sweet Peas that are just peas and water with nothing else added to enhance flavor or improve the color over what God provided.
The other major change was that when I separated the peas and water, I held back the water because it really doesn’t have that much flavor and put the peas in a blender with the broth and liquified the peas. The soup had perfect consistency in line with our family traditions but if you like it thinner, you can add some back to the pot about an hour or so before you want to serve it.

I tested the soup about 2 hours before I wanted to eat it and it was great. However, at this point I succumbed to the call of the turkey ham screaming from my refrigerator to make the soup perfect. I added about 4 ounces of turkey ham and let it cook for 2 more hours.

The end result was fantastic, but I’m not sure it was perfect. Maybe that’s the purest in me coming out and I believe it cant be perfect unless it’s made from dry beans and you suffer over the pot for a day hoping that the beans will completely break down into the rich creamy texture desired by dinnertime.

As described above, the vegetarian meal has about about 300 calories and the turkey ham only adds about 150 more with about 40 fat calories. Since I’m not a purest about any food fads and eat most anything, I don’t think the 40 fat calories will do more damage than the bottle of wine I consumed with the meal.

Vegetarian Pea Soup

August 8, 2010

Vegetarian Pea Soup

Making split pea soup from dried peas is an art form that simply cant be rushed and is different every time, Fortunately, once you have done it correctly it can be refrigerated and even frozen and come out perfect when reheated. The issue is the peas do not become hydrated in the same cooking time and you have two choices: Turn it off and reheat it a second day when it is always perfect or eat the inferior not as smooth but still very good tasting product. I have done both depending on how hungry I am and what’s in the refrigerator.

Obviously for a meal this touchy, you can’t make it in a coffeepot or a slow cooker and do it right. I was curious if you could make a reasonable substitute using canned sweet peas and step number one is read the label and try to find a product made from peas and water alone although salt would not be too bad. Absolutely avoid anything with sugar added because it is not the right taste.

I made this as a vegetarian soup for a few reasons; I don’t mind mental collapse from protein deficiency a couple of days a week, I was looking for the texture of the end result more than the absolute flavor and I would hate to waste good ham or even smoked turkey necks on bad soup.

When you see the richness of the ingredients you’ll recognize that the soup was pretty good with two caveats. It lacked the traditional flavor of the ham and it was not as creamy as I would like my split pea soup to be but it was still alright.

Recipe:

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 Chopped onion

2 cloves minced garlic

2 stalks diced celery

1 bay leaf

1 thin slice scotch bonnet hot pepper

½ teaspoon Thyme

½ teaspoon Rosemary

1 Tablespoon Parsley

Separate the can of peas add the liquid to the pot and mash the peas with a potato masher.

1 can 14.5 oz Vegetable broth.

All the Aromatics in the Pot

The method is straight forward. Add everything except the can of peas and the broth to the coffeepot and let simmer while you shower shave and get ready for the day.

Seperate and Mash the Peas

Open the can of peas and separate and save the liquid. Mash the peas into a paste, add the mashed peas, water from the peas and broth to the pot.

All in the Pot

Let simmer all day and when you return enjoy your soup.

Egg Salad Sandwiches are not Terrible and they Taste Good.

August 7, 2010

I found out a long time ago that if I have to do paperwork, I should drink coffee as it slows down my ADHD and allows me to focus on mental instead of physical activity. I also walk away from my desk and snack. Over the long haul I can gain tremendous amounts of weight when I am a dedicated desk jokey.

Egg Salad on Wheat Bread with Pepper and Paprika

Yesterday, I snacked on carrots, celery and my 3 oz can of tuna fish during the course of the day and drove around to do errands at the various government agencies whenever I needed a break. I also skipped exercise because I just didn’t feel like it. For dinner, I hard boiled three eggs and made an egg salad sandwich on titty bread. I just had to load up on my fat, carbs and cholesterol. The diet Gods rewarded me by dropping a pound to 191.

Actually, I suspect it might be that my snacks are much healthier than they used to be and perhaps a little dehydration because when I don’t exercise, I don’t drink a lot of fluids other than my daily bottle of red wine and enough coffee to slow me down.

The last time I did egg salad was last year so I am not too stressed about overloading on fat, carbs and cholesterol as the total meal comes in at 1000 calories and as pointed out in that post, the new evidence suggests that eggs in moderation are not unhealthy. Besides as pointed out in that post, the total meal is cheep costing less than $1.50.

A Celebration of Life

August 6, 2010

I'm 3/4 the Man I Used to Be.

When I first started this blog, I was aware that there was nothing special about cooking in a coffeepot, it was just a crutch to force me to make portion controlled meals that were ready to be eaten when I got home from work.  My weight at the time was about 240 and I had a hundred excuses why it would never get any lower.  When challenged by Dagny and Cait, I was 245 at Thanksgiving and had already shed 5 pounds by the first of the year.  Since that time my family has been questioning my mental health as I stick to cooking very weird and  challenging gourmet meals in my coffeepot.

Near my Maximum of 265 Pounds.

I am now down to 192 which is my lightest in 25 years and I have noticed a mental transformation in that I am starting to develop an anorexic personality.  I mean I am not happy with my current weight and I am thinking in terms of 165 as an ideal which would put me about 100 pounds lighter than my peak.  Now before anybody starts worrying about my massive weight loss, I might point out that I have finally moved from the obese weight zone to overweight and at 165, I would still be classified as overweight even though it would be tough to find any fat on my body.

Another transformation was the suffering of a stroke when I was  in excellent shape and had dropped about 30 pounds.  I find now that exercise is a passion and mostly out of fear for an unnamed  mental condition.  I would call it pelagic-phobia and its my manic fear of paralysis.  My mini stoke only left me paralyzed for an hour and I know that this is a medical condition I never want to experience again.  I am now exercising intentionally more than I ever have since 1981 when I actually ran every lunch time along the Melvin Evans Highway.  Since that only lasted a couple of months, this makes my longest continuous period of physical fitness since 1964.  I am also getting into that blue zone habit of working more around the house .

At this point in my life I am not concerned with my obsessive Fear of Paralysis or Anorexia.  It would seem that both are working together to take me on a path of  healthy longer life even if I am a little nuts.

Puerto Rican Style Red Beans and Rice

August 4, 2010

Puerto Rican Red Beans and Rice

Well, I guess I’m in a rice and beans mood right now because when my granddaughters get here, there will be a lot of grilled chicken, hot dogs and beans and Italian pasta in red sauce. Although I’m sure when their mother gets here, we will have some rice and beans again.

The recipe for Puerto Rican Style Red Beans and Rice is so classic that locally when you call for rice and beans, everybody knows you are expecting red beans. This recipe started life with the Goya recipe on the back of a small can of beans but whenever I put meat in a Crockpot or a coffeepot I add rum to make sure nothing goes bad if the power goes out. Also, the recipe calls for ¼ cup green bell pepper and ¼ cup tomato sauce and I happened to have tomato based Goya Sofrito which was predominantly tomato paste and green bell pepper so I used that instead of opening a can of sauce to use a small part of it.

Recipe and Ingredients:

I Tablespoon Olive Oil

4 oz ham chunked

1 small onion chopped

1 clove garlic minced

1 thin slice of Scotch Bonnet hot pepper

1-2 oz Cruzan Dark Rum

4 Tablespoons Sofrito Tomato Cooking Base

¼ tsp oregano

1 can 10.5 oz Goya Red beans

1 packet Sazon Goya (could have used a ½ packet to reduce salt)

This is a very easy coffeepot meal if you have microwave rice on hand.

Saute the Onions, Garlic, Oregano and Ham

Everything except the beans and Sazon was added to the pot and allowed to simmer covered with aluminum foil for an hour after which the beans and Sazon were added to the pot. If eating right away, cook for an hour uncovered and if in no hurry replace the foil and let it cook as long as you want.

Serve over cooked white rice which is difficult to prepare except on the stove top or microwave or buy the white rice from a Chinese restaurant.

Deep Fat Fried, Cooking For One!

August 2, 2010

Fried Pork and French Fries

When I first went on a diet, I was ashamed that I still had cravings for fried foods. I continued to develop cooking methods for fried foods but was too ashamed to post my success. Even though I stopped eating out, I still wanted fried foods. Now cooking fried foods in a fryer is easy enough to do even if it’s a dirty process. After all, as you fry, spices and breading drops off and gets deposited at the bottom of the fryer, the fat is rendered from the meat so as excess oil, builds up, it must be removed from the pot and oil costs money so smaller restaurants reuse it too long and cannot afford to separate the oils with meat, fish, foul and potatoes so everything ends up tasting like fish. And in the hands of an amateur who lets the pot get too hot, the end result is really nasty. Then there is the issue of getting rid of the oil which is now classified as hazardous waste and must be legally disposed of if you are a restaurant.

Even worse, I avoid big chain fast foods like Kentucky Fried and McDonalds with their portion controlled, super safe and high technology frying process in favor of old fashioned mom and pop rum shacks that serve “chicharrón de pollo or Lechon”. Unfortunately, locally prepared fried Hispanic foods are likely to be done without the elegance of a HACCP plan so the concepts of cross contamination and endless oil reuse are largely unaddressed and you are served too much food guaranteeing a plate of leftovers to take home and therefore over indulgence on these tasty treats.

I checked my photographic record and since the start of the year I have cooked fried foods four times. When I confessed to my nutritionist that I still liked fried food and occasionally prepared them, she suggested lean meats and chicken, but since you fry chicken with the skin, lean pork with no fat or skin is probably no worse than chicken with the skin on. The next issue was the oil.

Pork and Fries From Corn Oil - 3rd use.

Like most Caribbean cooks, I was using corn oil which visibly darkens and deteriorates after three uses. The concept of contamination is largely eliminated by poring the oil through a coffee filter after each use. Also the oil volume increases with each use as fat from the chicken or pork is rendered from the meat and expands the volume of the vegetable oil. I minimized this effect by pretty much sticking with heavily seasoned lean pork with all the fat cut away.

The new in vogue and allegedly healthier product is grapeseed oil which is supposed to stand higher temperatures without breaking down as much as corn oil. I must admit, I am not impressed because after 3 uses the oil is starting to be thicker and there is an actual loss of oil in the cooking process so I am definitely eating some of this stuff. It takes 1.5 liters to fill my favorite fryer, and at $15.00 a bottle and only three uses this is very expensive fried food. The introductory photo is grapeseed oil and there is only slight improvement in color. and no difference in taste.

Cooking for One - Deep Fat Fryer

The other issue is what pot to use and this is the only part of the frying process which is perfect. Of course I use my asparagus steamer. This pot comes fitted with a basket and is tall enough that 1.5 liters of oil only fills it half way.

Test Cooking the Potato - Notice How Clean the Oil and Pot Are.

I start with the end of the potato and moderate heat, when the potato starts to cook, I take it out and add all of the meat being careful not to let the boiling oil get to high in the pot. It is easier to start a fire with frying than any other cooking method not involving severe neglect or incompetence. The meat was rinsed with lime juice and dusted with seasoned salt, Adobo. When the meat has cooked for about 20-25 minutes and starts to settle down I carefully add the sliced potatoes and be sure not to allow it to boil over. Cook additional 10 – 15 minutes.

When the fries are done, the metal tray is removed and placed on a paper towel on a plate. The contents is dumped in the towel and patted dry. Test the meat, if not done return it to the fryer, but everything is probably done and slightly overcooked West Indian Style.

Fried, Deep Fat Fried and healthy as it can be. ;-p

I like Playing With My Food!

July 30, 2010

Polish Flag Salad

When I was a kid, I can remember my mother yelling at us to, “Stop playing with your food and eat it. There are children starving in China” I never did understand the connection but took it to be some dire form of warning. Since I was always hungry as a child there was little chance that I would skip many meals so it really didn’t apply to me. In my teenage years when my dad was working two jobs, Mom started to cook things that she liked and could afford instead of meat and potatoes. I remember my initial rejection of cottage cheese, pea soup and anything with beets and my brothers and sister hated kidneys.

My Mother stopped warning us about children starving in China when someone told her to pack it up and send it to China because they would rather starve than eat what was being served. Now I started to like cottage cheese because it was one of the few things I could snack on when I went on the first Stillman diet 40 years ago. As I said before, I started to like beats when Tracey and I developed a pleasant recipe for a very good Borscht.

I don’t really love beets enough to eat them by choice aside from Borscht, but decided to play with my food. I think my pretty salad the other night inspired me to think of other ways to make attractive salads and the green white and read jumped at me because these are the same colors that appear in the Italian flag and it is fairly easy to concieve of a salad sculpted to look like an Italian flag using only foods that an Italian might eat on a regular basis.

Than I began to wonder how many other salads could be made to look like the flag of a nation using the traditional foods of that country. Immediately two others came to mid and as a tribute to my mother, I made my first Flag Salad a Polish Flag.

Chopped Celery and Onions

White Cottage Cheese

I chopped some whitish celery hearts and half a small onion and mixed with with one cup cottage cheese. For those who don’t know cottage cheese or pot cheese is indigenous to central Europe where it was developed and I also have a recipe for Polish Noodles and Cottage Chees which I could have also used as the white top part of the flag.

Pickled beets Recipe

1 can of sliced beets well drained

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup white cider vinegar

1 small onion sliced into rings (not used in this salad added for flavor)

Polish Flag

The Polish Flag Salad Platter

I used a base or Romain cut into a 2 to 1 rectangle and placed my cottage cheese salad at the top and then placed the red beets for color on the bottom.

I am sure if I were either more patient or a better photographer, you would have noticed an even more stunning resemblance to the Polish Flag. The cottage cheese and pickled beets was a nice combination.

I called my friend Tracey and we talked about the concept. Tracey thinks out of the box so came up with different colored foods to expand my potential easy designs to more than six so I can keep playing with my food. Sorry Mom, your son is playing with his food and the Chinese are prospering. It’s a whole new world order.

Anybody that wants to can join the fun. Send me a link to your best flag. I have half a dozen more to go in the next few weeks so I will keep having fun playing with my food.