Sunday, June 27, 2010

Just a note

I was asking my doctor about a piece of information I had received about a delayed weight gain, a number of years after weight loss surgery. I was wondering if this delayed response was a particular issue that I had to watch for and be concerned about. His response was enlightening and yet totally obvious. He stated that in lectures to new patients in group support meetings that he has seen weight regain with all procedures over all periods of time.  His  strongest point during the lecture is always:  A good operation done correctly gets all the weight off, the patient then has to keep it off. 

So it is the patient's responsibility to keep the weight off. How novel. I have discussed previously the problems with regaining weight dearly lost and why. But this statement really puts that issue into perspective. If you have this surgery because you are overweight, you are responsible to yourself and to those who care about you to ensure that you do not regain the weight. It takes a personal responsibility to keep the weight off. The path you took to get to the weight loss was one traveled with some trepidation, some  excitement, and some hope. It was not a SIMPLE solution to your weight problem. It required a substantial commitment, in terms of money, desire, and the willingness to change your life. 

As a cook I hear from customers all the time that all it takes to lose weight is a starvation diet and exercise. Its easy isn't it?  No it is not. A great chef at a restaurant owned by a slender person is told that all he has to do is exercise and diet. All will be well.  Yet he still is heavy, still at risk, and to some degree still looked upon as lacking some will to change

Choosing  bariatric surgery is not the choice of a weak-willed person. It is a choice made to better yourself using a tool that is available and safe.  But it is not easy. It changes you. It allows you new freedoms and a new healthy body. It does not make you smarter, more reliable or a better driver. It does make you less heavy. It enhances your life in ways you have no idea about until they happens. It changes not only your waist size but your attitude. But like the doctor said, the surgery can get the weight off, but the patient has to keep it off. You have to decide if you want to go back to the way you were before the surgery. I have thought long and hard about that question and there is NO chance of me returning to that life. I am healthier, stronger, happier and in a better place and will never go back to that persona again. It means that I have taken personal responsibility for maintaining my diet and my exercise. I still eat Eight Bites, not because I have to but because I choose to. I can eat more but choose not to. Choices......

So it is very personal when you decide to have this life-changing surgery. But it is also your decision to ensure that you maintain it. I wish all of you the very best, and a longer and healthier life.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

A week in the life of a cook

This week in the middle of June has been a busy one for us. In June we have 24 dinners to cook and in some cases we have had to split the teams and serve two dinners in one evening. One group of 13 people that we cooked for every evening from Sunday to Friday presented a series of challenges. There were older adults, middle aged adults, teenagers and pre-teenagers. Some didn’t want sauce with their pasta, others didn’t like cheese. Some ate salad, others liked their meat medium while others wanted it rare. The first two days were dominated by vegetarian main dishes like gnocchi and polenta and the last four days were primarily meat meals. We made bread salad, Insalata Caprese and a large number of antipasti. It was a good effort for the cooking team, rewarded by kudos every night. I was happy with the results.

Cooking like this requires a complicated dance to be performed by the cooks. They need to work, often in smallish places with crowds of people sitting in close proximity. They need to perform a variety of tasks from going the refrigerator, back to the counter top, then to the stove. Focusing all of the time on trying not to run into each other, or get in each other’s way. It is a semi-choreographed dance that can end up in a well-presented meal or with the cooks glaring at each other. If care isn’t taken, cooks can get burned, cut and Band-Aids are an essential part of the work sack. To work effectively in these conditions, it is really important that you do not feel that your individual task or cooking responsibility is the most important one. That sometimes is difficult to remember. You must accommodate each person’s needs and requirements. And the phasing of the preparations is really important.

Cooking meat for a crowd, particularly where you have individual preferences for the level of doneness of the meat, is sometimes difficult. Roast pork is easier to cook than individual steaks. But these are challenges that have to be met. Tonight for example I will be preparing Bistecca Fiorintina (essentially grilled Porterhouse steaks) cooked rare. But there will be requests to make them medium rare or medium. Ah, the joys of cooking for 13 people all wanting their food at the same moment.

So here are the primary dishes done this week in June 2010. I hope you enjoy them. Mangia!

Polenta with mozzarella
Cook 1 ½ cups of quick cooking polenta in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and add 1 tsp of salt. Cook stirring frequently over medium heat until the polenta is cooked. Take the pan off the stove and add 125 grams (1/4 pound) of butter and a cup of grated Parmigiano. Stir until the butter has melted and the cheese has disappeared. Stir in 8-10 boconcini (small mozzarella balls. Serve hot with a favorite sauce.

Baked Polenta with mushrooms and sauce
Cook 1 ½ cups of quick cooking polenta in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and add 1 tsp of salt. Cook stirring frequently over medium heat until the polenta is cooked. Take the pan off the stove and add 125 grams (1/4 pound) of butter and a cup of grated Parmigiano. Stir until the butter has melted and the cheese has disappeared. Pour half of the polenta into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Smooth the top with a spatula. Add some fresh mushrooms to your favorite tomato sauce and pour over the polenta. Smooth the sauce, sprinkle on some Parmigiano and top with the rest of the polenta. Smooth the top. Sprinkle about a cup of grated Parmigiano on the top of the polenta. Bake in a medium to hot oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove the polenta from the oven and allow to set for 5 minutes. Cut into 4” x 4” squares and serve on warm plates. Pass additional Parmigiano.

Roast Pork with milk (Arista con latte)
This dish is based I believe on an old Roman recipe and is often made on top of the stove. It can however be made in the oven.

1 – 2 tablespoons fat (butter, bacon grease, vegetable oil)
4 – 6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 – 4 pound pork roast (allow about 6 ounces uncooked bone-in, fat-on meat to yield a three-ounce cooked serving)
2 cups of chopped leeks (washed and cleaned)
Seasoned salt (or salt and pepper)
2 cups whole milk
Sprig of fresh rosemary, optional

Preheat oven to 300F. Remove some of the thick layers of fat from the roast. Pat it dry and rub with a seasoned salt mixture or just salt and pepper.

On medium high, heat the fat in a Dutch oven and sauté the leeks and the chopped garlic until softened. Do not allow to burn. Remove the vegetables to a dish. Leave the flavored oil in the pan.. Brown the meat on all sides until slightly crispy. Add the vegetables, milk and rosemary. Cover and place in the oven. Cook until meat reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees F, about 1¼-1½ hours, turning over halfway through. For a very tender roast, cook 2-3 hours in the oven or for 6-8 hours in a slow cooker

Lift meat out, transfer to cutting board, cover and let rest for 10 minutes under a tent of foil. Transfer half of the hot braising liquid including the vegetables to a blender and blend until smooth. Repeat with remaining liquid. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce. For a thicker sauce, mix ¼ cup of the hot liquid mixture with 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Stir slowly into remaining milk mixture and cook, stirring often, until thick.

Veal scaloppini with Marsala and mushrooms
This dish requires some quick cooking so be sure all of the ingredients are in place before starting (Mis en plas).

Veal or tender beef, sliced thin (1/2”) and pounded with a flat surfaced meat tenderizer.
Flour for dredging
Seasoned salt
Vegetable oil for sauteing
2 ounces of dried mushrooms or 8 ounces of fresh (or a combination of both)
½ Cup of Marsala (or more)
2 tablespoons of Butter
The “veal” used in Italy is often cut from a top round and can be quite tough and even after pounding is not as fork tender as I like. So with my catered dinners, I used a thick Porterhouse steak that I bone out and slice thinly. I then flatten the meat and it is ready to cook. If good veal is available, that is fine.

Heat the oil in a saute pan to 360 degrees F. Dredge the meat slices in seasoned flour and shake off excess. They should not be doughy. Saute the meat quickly (1-2 minutes per side), dip in the sauce, and place on a warm baking pan in a slow oven (250 degrees F). Continue to saute all the slices.

To make the Marsala mushroom sauce, rehydrate the dried mushrooms in hot water for about a half hour. If using fresh mushrooms, slice and saute in butter until golden and the moisture in the pan is reduced. Add 1-2 table spoons of flour to pan and using a spoon thoroughly mix into the mushroom mixture. Check for seasoning. Do not add too much salt. Add about a cup or more of beef stock or the same amount of water with a bouillon cube in it to start the creation of the sauce. Check the seasonings again. Cook to thicken. Add ½ cup of Marsala and a ½ cup of chopped parsley. Add a tablespoon of butter to the sauce just before serving. Put the slices of cooked veal scaloppini in the sauce for a couple of minutes to warm in the oven and then serve with a bit of the sauce and some mushrooms.

Vitello tonnato
This a fairly complicated dish that takes two days of preparation and served thinly sliced cold. It can be used as an antipasto or as a main dinner or lunch course. It is particularly good during the heat of the summer.

For the vitello:
2 1/4 pounds (1 kg) boned veal, cut from the rump (check for gristle)
A bottle of dry white wine
6 salted anchovies (the canned variety, sold by delicatessens)
A rib of celery, thinly sliced crosswise
A few leaves of sage
2 bay leaves
3 cloves (some people omit these)

For the tonnato:
3/4 pound (320 g) tuna packed in oil (three cans drained)
The juice of a lemon
3 hard boiled egg yolks
A tablespoon of drained, pickled capers
1/2 cup (approx.) olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Cooking stock from veal to finish sauce

To serve:
A handful of perfect capers (look for the smaller ones)
Some thin lemon slices with seeds removed
Sprigs of parsley or some chopped parsley for garnishing

Put the meat in a bowl with the bay leaves, cloves, sage and celery, and pour the wine over it. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning the meat occasionally. The next day place the meat in a Dutch oven. Strain the wine and pour it over the meat, then add enough water to cover. Lightly salt the pot and bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the meat for an hour.

In the meantime, wash, scale and bone the anchovies. When the hour is up add them to the pot and continue at a high simmer for another half hour; the liquid should be reduced by half. When the meat is fork-tender remove it from the pot and strain the broth into a bowl. Retain the anchovies in the strainer. Allow the veal to cool, and then wrap the veal and place in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, add the anchovy fillets from the strainer, the drained tuna, and the egg yolks. Add in the capers, the vinegar, the lemon juice and the olive oil and process until smooth. Dilute the sauce to a thick but pourable consistency with some of the warm, reserved broth. The sauce should be a pale color, almost white. Sauce can be refrigerated.