Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Focusing today

I have been reading some of my blog entries and I feel that it is time to take a big step back and think through what was my original intent and have I been true to that intent. Have I provided you some answers or have I just caused you to have more questions. Frankly, I hope I have done both.

The time after WLS is a complex period in your life. Your body is changing rapidly. Often faster than you think and almost always faster than you can have the waistband of your pants taken in. You have to get new clothes, but what size? It can be an ongoing mystery as your body changes. But it also can be a lot of fun especially if you have been heavy for quite awhile. Seeing a different you in the mirror virtually every day can be life-changing. However, at the same time your body is changing on the outside it is also changing on the inside. You go through those first few healing weeks, thinking will I ever enjoy food again, as you sip those protein drinks that sometimes are not so yummy? I remember how incredibly good that scrambled egg tasted at week three as I transitioned on to soft foods and away from liquids.

It is really important during those first few weeks that you really begin to think seriously about your eating habits. Why did you have the surgery? What were you expecting to happen after the weight loss? Did you think it would be easy and effortless? Actually in all honesty these questions should have been seriously thought out before you had the surgery. Once you have committed to it, it changes everything, hopefully. And I meant hopefully. Too many people I have talked to in the last year are absolutely convinced that all people who have WLS will regain a lot of the weight lost. Insurance companies deny coverage because of the apparently high percentage of people regaining the weight. It really does come down to you and your personal reasons for having the surgery and losing the weight. Are the reasons you used to justify the surgery sufficient to carry you through to the successful weight loss and much more importantly, to the continued maintenance of that lost weight?

My intentions in the upcoming blog entries is to develop a more specific focus on the individual, and how much they eat. I will be looking at any recipes I provide and show you how to make them just for you. To provide you that defined amount of food that will help you maintain the weight loss. My suggestions for portion size and cooking techniques will be directed toward just the individual who has had WLS. I want to clearly show that you can maintain the weight loss by eating carefully managed portions, knowing when to stop, and knowing when you are eating to excess. You can regain weight if you expand the “pouch” the surgeon created to accommodate more food. More food means more calories. More calories goes to the laws of thermodynamics where calories in must equal calories out. You have a restricted input after surgery, but you can still sabotage the results by eating cheesecake and washing it down with a chocolate milkshake, or pureeing strawberry pancakes so they can go down easier, or just gradually eating a bit more than your stomach was redesigned to hold and allowing the stomach musculature to expand and accommodate more food. Again this goes to the reasons you had surgery in the first place. Were you over-eating because of stress or dealing with life’s issues? Did you eat too much simply because you enjoyed the tastes and flavors, and felt you needed to clean your plate? Did you just not balance the thermodynamics by getting sufficient exercise to balance off the calorie taken in? Did you eat a whole pumpkin pie with whipped cream just because it tasted so good?

My objective in these following blogs is to redirect you eating away from what you could eat to what you should be eating. I will describe dishes in light of the adequate levels of proteins you need and put the ancillary food items such as carbohydrates to the side. I am going to give you information on maintaining the portion controls you need to maintain your weight loss. I am not your keeper, but as a WLS patient I have seen the good and the bad that can result if you don’t take full control of your eating and your thinking about food. I am going to try to give you the tools you can use every day to meet not only your physiological and caloric demands but your demands for tasty, interesting, and exciting foods.

Portion control will be the emphasis that I will be working with. Portions are easily over-ridden if you wish, but I want my objective to be to give you sufficient good tasting food that provide you what your body needs and not to provide excess. This will force you to look at how you are eating, how much you are eating and maybe why you are eating more than you need in your after-surgery life.

So starting today I will focus on giving you the information I think you might need to make your new life satisfying.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year’s Eve 2010

This New Years is quite a bit different from last year. Last year I was in Italy and I helped cook for a group of 6 diners, at a very nice house near us. This year I am back in California and starting a personal chef and cooking class business on the north coast above San Francisco.

This New Year's Eve I catered the biggest dinner I have ever done by myself. I cooked for 30 diners at a friend’s beautiful home. It was a fancy party with good music, pretty clothes, and good food. The dinner was served buffet style which made it pretty simple to do. On the other hand, the person who was supposed to assist me backed out at the last minute. So the strategy to prepare and serve the dinner changed. I decided to do a lot of the prep work and some of the precooking at home. Of course that makes it important that the food still taste and look fresh when it is served.

Since this is Eight Bites I want to focus on portions and the food. I also want to show that you can entertain and serve good food to your friends and guests without feeling the least bit deprived of being part of the celebration. New Year’s Eve is a serious party evening. It’s when people want to get out, end the year on a festive note and let their hair down a bit. So this is about making good food, and having fun. It is however not about excess.

The special dinner started with four antipasti dishes.
Crepes with smoked salmon, citrus marmalade and cream cheese
I made a simple crepe batter out of flour, milk, cream, a bit of baking powder, a small amount of sugar, eggs, and melted butter. I then added a good amount of chopped chives to the mixture and let it rest for an hour. It was pretty thick so I thinned it a bit with some more cream. I baked them in a non-stick skillet until there were brown and then flipped them over. When they were done I stacked them separated by paper towels. I made about 35 crepes and put them in the refrigerator overnight.

To make the filling, I took cream cheese and mixed it with a small amount of seasoning salt and lots of black pepper. I then crumbled in the smoked salmon, a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives, a couple of teaspoons of lemon zest, and some chopped parsley and mixed it well. I added about two tablespoons of my lemon mostarda to the cheese. The cheese mixture was allowed to sit for an hour and the flavors combine. At room temperature the cheese was also easier to spread. I spread the cheese mixture on the crepes and then drizzled a small amount of the lemon mostarda on the top. I rolled up the crepes and placed them in a pan to hold in the refrigerator until I finished the prep at the party. All of this prep work was done at home and all I had to do at the party was to cut the crepes into serving size pieces and then plate them on a pretty platter.

Crostini with wild mushroom pate
These wild mushroom crostini were made with a mixture of wild mushrooms and cultivated mushrooms purchased at the local Farmer’s Market. I used dried Shitake and porcini mushrooms, a couple of chanterelles and morels, and commercially grown Portobello mushrooms to make the mushroom pate. The dried mushrooms were soaked to reconstitute them and then were added to the sliced fresh mushrooms. All of the mushrooms were sautéed in a mixture of butter and olive oil. The liquid from the the dried mushrooms was added to enhance the flavor and then the liquid reduced. I added about a ¼ cup of Marsala as well to add more flavor and then added a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley and they were reduced again to evaporate most of the liquid. The mushrooms were placed in a food processor with a cube of butter and mixed to achieve a relatively fine puree, placed in a container and allowed to cool and solidify in the refrigerator. I made this pate two days before the party.

A beer bread was used as the base of the crostini. I have given the recipe for this bread before and have shown how you can vary the flavor of it by the addition of different ingredients. This time since I was putting a mushroom pate on the bread I decided to make the bread with dried Porcini mushrooms. I had brought back from Italy a lot of packages of the dried porcini which has an intense mushroom aroma, particularly in its dried form. I reconstituted the mushrooms in a little water and then chopped them coarsely. They went into the bread mixture along with some seasoning salt, garlic powder and pepper. The resulting loaf was a very aromatic bread that I was able to make a couple of days before the party. After it cooled, I put it in a plastic bag and into the refrigerator. The night of the party I sliced the bread into ½ inch thick slices and painted one side with olive oil. I then grilled the bread in a stove top grill pan, topped it with a small amount of a fig jam I had made and then spread on the mushroom pate. I cut each slice into two pieces and plated them on a nice plate and out it went to the buffet.

Cucumbers with herbed, garlic goat cheese and roasted cherry tomatoes
This antipasti was quite simple and yet a very tasty “finger food”, it is also colorful and is an attractive addition to the buffet. I sliced four large peeled cucumbers into ½ in slices and held them cold in a bowl in the refrigerator. The fresh goat cheese was mixed with three or four cloves of minced garlic, some seasoning salt and pepper. Oven-dried tomatoes were made by slicing cherry tomatoes in half, mixing them with olive oil and dried oregano and a tablespoon of sugar and allowing them to marinate for about an hour. Then I placed them on a baking sheet and turned them all so they were cut side up. Into a 350 degree oven for about 45-50 minutes and then I turned the oven off and allowed them to dry for another hour or so. They were soft yet they had a concentrated tomato flavor. The serving was done by topping a slice of cucumber with a scant teaspoon of the goat cheese and then this was topped with a tomato half.

Grilled eggplant and zucchini dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Grilling vegetables was a technique I learned in Italy and there we grilled lots of different vegetables, depending upon their seasonal abundance. Eggplant and zucchini are available all year around here in California so I decided to use them in a simple grilled dish as a starter. The eggplant were sliced into ½ inch thick slices and sprinkled with salt and allowed to drain in the sink for a hour or more. This causes the eggplant to release a lot of the bitterness they possess. I sliced the zucchini into ¼ inch slices lengthwise. After rinsing of the eggplant and zucchini, I sprinkled good olive oil over them and added a bit of pepper and dried oregano. I would add salt later after I tasted the final cooked vegetable. In my stove top grill pan I grilled the vegetables just until al dente, giving them good grill marks and then placed them on a baking dish to cool. When I served them I arranged them on an attractive platter and drizzled some olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar over them. They were served at room temperature.

The first course was a terrific dish I had for the first time in a restaurant in Tiburon, California in 1987. I was building a laboratory and I came in for the first time wearing jeans and a t-shirt with paint on it. Jose the chef took one look at my tired face and said “Let me fix you something.” I was served a simple dish of fettuccini tossed in a basil pesto with fried halibut pieces on it. It was absolutely outstanding. I have served that dish many times, substituting different fish and shellfish for the halibut and it has always been well-received by diners. So for this New Year’s Eve party I decided to up the ante a bit and use fresh scallops as the seafood.

Fettuccini with basil pesto and grilled scallops
The fettuccini was a dried commercial pasta made in Italy. It cooks up nicely and stays al dente. I made the pesto some time ago and froze it. Basil in December is not terrific and it is better to have good basil and the pesto made and frozen than to make an inferior sauce today. I do not add the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the pesto until I am ready to serve it. I cook the pasta and then toss it with the pesto, adding a little more olive oil and possibly a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in. I kept the pasta warm and prepared the fresh scallops. Lightly dredging the scallops in a mixture of flour, cornstarch and seasoning salt, I fried them in about ¾ inch of vegetable oil heated to approximately 360-370 degrees. The scallops were dropped carefully into the oil and fried for about 2 minutes, turning once. They remained soft and succulent, with a crispy exterior crust. I then drained them and placed them on top of the pasta, and took the large platter out to the buffet.

The main dish was Roasted Salmon with a spicy rub. I had the salmon cut and portioned by the fish monger into 5 ounce pieces. This provided a nice serving size that was perfect for the meal. I put the cut fillets on a foil-covered baking sheet skin side down and brushed them with a mixture of clarified butter and lemon juice. The skin sticks to the foil and when you take them out to serve them, the skin stays behind. I then sprinkled on the sweet and spicy rub. This is a mixture of brown sugar, cayenne pepper, paprika, seasoning salt, black pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. I mixed the components together completely and then just sprinkled it on to the fish. I squeezed lemon juice over each piece and then drizzled a little more butter and lemon on top. The fish went into the 350 degree oven and took about 15-20 minutes to cook. I don’t like overcooked salmon so this came out while it was still moist and tender and still a bit pink. The fillets were placed in a chafing dish to keep them warm and put out on the buffet. I served a side dish of a sauce made from chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, honey and orange juice. It was quite spicy and I told the guests that it had bite so use it sparingly. Many of them used it and loved its addition to the fish.

With the fish I made a rice pilaf using chicken broth and sautéing the rice with onions before adding the liquid. It’s a simple dish that while adding nice flavor, does not detract from the fish. The vegetable side dish was sautéed chard with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. I cooked the chopped vegetables in boiling water with four cloves of garlic until tender, then drained them. At the party I sautéed them in a large pan with 10 small oil-packed anchovy fillets that I cooked in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil before adding the chard. All I had to do was get the vegetables hot and I served them in a chafing dish. This vegetable dish was a big hit and we actually ran out before everyone got some. I will have to rethink the amount I cook from now on.

Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake with ganache icing. I have made this cake a number of times. It is made from chopped toasted walnuts, chopped chocolate, some sugar and vanilla, egg yolks, and whipped egg whites. It is like a soufflé that is allowed to fall. I iced it with a chocolate ganache made from bittersweet dark chocolate melted in hot cream and allowed to cool. I served it with whipped cream and a sauce I created from cranberries and mangos.

Dinner ended with espressos and chocolate truffles. Using the same ganache as for the icing, I added a bit of brandy to one batch of chocolate and left the other plain. When they were cool, I rolled walnut sized balls of each type and then rolled the brandied chocolate in crushed walnuts and the plain one in a classic unsweetened cocoa powder. They were a big hit and all of them, disappeared, including at least two into one guest’s purse. A bit of post-New Year’s partying? She didn’t know I was watching.

How does this tie into Eight Bites? The best that I can do with that question is to look at what I ate during the evening. I had such fun cooking the dishes, (and giving mini-classes on salmon preparation and fettucciniwith scallops) and wanted them all to come out great. So I tasted each one to be sure it was what I wanted it to be. I think that is what a good chef does. I had a rolled up salmon crepe, a small crostini with mushrooms, a cucumber slice with goat cheese, two scallops, two bites of salmon and a few bites of the cake. Sorry, I had already eaten a truffle before I got there. I tasted everything. And that was enough. Over the three hours I cooked I actually ate a reasonable amount of food. I was happy with the cooking, happy with the dishes and I didn’t get overwhelmed by my inability to eat more.

So there is New Year’s Eve 2010. It gave me an opportunity to show people what and how I could cook. And I did it all staying with the basic premise of my Eight Bites thinking. It is important that celebrations do not become times for over-eating, because they can become that easily. The discipline you show at these times of excess is what really determines if your weight loss will be successful or not. But it is also very important to celebrate as well. Have fun at these celebrations and do not deprive yourself of that enjoyment. Just keep in mind why you did have that weight loss surgery and what you have accomplished. So Happy New Year’s everyone and may there be many more celebrations and opportunities for you in this year. Eat tasty dishes and celebrate what you have accomplished. Mangia!