Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

After missing a year due to the pandemic, BOYZ weekend at my house returns this year on Kentucky Derby weekend. Although they ran the Kentucky Derby last fall, it’s nice to see it back on its original first weekend in May. All us boyz have gotten our vaccines, but we’ll still be doing all the necessary social distancing. And, of course, we’ll drink plenty of alcohol to kill all the germs.

The Mint Julep is such a perfect, classic and historic bourbon drink, it seems silly to wait until Derby Day to have one. Of course, as any aficionado of spirits will tell you, there are as many right ways as wrong ways of making one.

The first step in my Mint Julep is making the simple syrup. Learning from one of my old radio buddies, my pal Rick O’B, I infuse mint into my simple syrup to take my cocktail to the next level. I use the standard ratio of 1 cup of clean, filtered water to 1 cup of sugar, using an organic product like Woodstock Farms Organic Pure Cane Sugar. I place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until just boiling. I’ve found that it needs to reach this stage for the sugar to really dissolve. As soon as it starts to boil, I remove the saucepan from the heat, and throw in a handful of freshly picked mint leaves, stirring to make sure the mint gets in there, and then I leave the saucepan to cool to room temperature. Once it’s at room temp, I strain the simple syrup into a bottle with a tight sealing lid, and place it in the refrigerator to cool. It will keep for about a week.

An equally important ingredient for a perfect Mint Julep is the ice: specifically, crushed ice from clean, filtered water. Don’t even think of using tap water for any cocktail much less this one. Why ruin an expensive bottle of bourbon by going cheap on the ice? I make my own ice cubes, then put them in an untreated canvas ice bag and bash them with a mallet to the perfect crushed size. Untreated canvas bags for crushing ice can be purchased online from bar supply companies for about $30. I got an untreated canvas tool bag (the exact same shape and size) at Home Depot for 3 bucks.

Da bag.

The next step is a little tougher: which bourbon to choose. The explosion of choices on the bourbon market has made it all but impossible for the average imbiber to know which bourbon is best for their tastes. If you’re a beginner, I suggest you go to a trusted bartender and explain that you’re new to the bourbon world, and could you have the tiniest of tastes and sniffs of what he’s got at his bar. Chances are, you’ll get a sampling of some of the better known brands: Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, perhaps Buffalo Trace or Bulleit, and the standard Jim Beam. This is a very good start. If you have deeper pockets, go to the manager of a trusted higher-end liquor store and explain that you’ve had all the rest, now what does he think is the best? (Also, hinting to wife and friends that “I’m trying new bourbons” around your birthday or Father’s Day inevitably gets you a few bottles as well!)

My go-to bourbon for Mint Juleps is the very affordable Eagle Rare 10-year-old at $32.99 a bottle…and you can never go wrong with the classic Maker’s Mark. It’s always on sale around Derby Day.

Finally, a Mint Julep needs a metal–not glass– Julep cup. Made of pewter or aluminum, it frosts on the outside as you stir your drink, keeping your beverage ice-cold on even the hottest of days.

3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. mint-infused simple syrup
crushed ice
Julep cup
Fresh mint for garnish

Crush the ice and pack it into the Julep cup, even letting it dome slightly over the top. Don’t worry…the alcohol will melt it.

I like to add 1.5 ounces of bourbon, then the ounce of simple syrup, then another 1.5 ounces of bourbon on top. Break off a few mint leaves from the stem and push into the ice. Using a long spoon, stir the drink well. A beautiful layer of frost will form on the outside of the cup. Add more ice, if necessary, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

A nice selection of bourbons. This is an old photo: that Pappy Van Winkle is long gone…but I saved the bottle!

When I started a new diet last year, one of the major changes in my eating habits was to incorporate more seafood and less meat into my meals. Seafood has a lot more protein and fewer calories. In fact, shrimp, lobster and oysters are some of the most delicious low-calorie foods you can enjoy, running about 1 calorie per gram. It’s what you add to them–oils, melted butter, batter–that makes them high in calories.

I’ve always loved sushi, but again, on a diet, I need to limit my intake of unnecessary calories, and rice is big on that list. I’ve found that I can use a lot less rice, or maybe none at all, when I make poke…and I get all the satisfaction of sushi or sashimi.

My two favorite fishes to eat raw are ahi tuna and wild-caught Alaskan salmon, like sockeye. There are many great purveyors of this super-high quality seafood online, and I usually buy a decent amount of fish at one time–hermetically sealed and frozen in 4-ounce packages–to last me a long time. (The price is often much better when you buy in quantity, because they have to be shipped frozen overnight.)

Yes, please.

There are many ways to prepare poke, and the only limitations are what’s in your fridge. The first recipe, using salmon, is closer to a traditional poke recipe you’d find in a restaurant.

6.5 ounces wild-caught Alaskan salmon, in the refrigerator (thawed, if previously frozen)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup chopped raw cashews
1 scallion, green and white parts finely chopped
Keep the thawed salmon in the refrigerator. Remove the salmon from the fridge, and remove the skin if it is still on the fish. Cut the fish into half-inch cubes. I like to place the salmon cubes on a clean paper towel to absorb excess moisture from thawing. Then I place the salmon cubes in a bowl and put it back in the fridge while I combine the other ingredients.
In another bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and lemon juice. Whisk them together.
Chop the cashews and add them to the bowl, mixing them in.
Cut the root ends off the scallions, chop the green and white parts finely, and add them to the bowl, mixing them in.
Add the salmon to the bowl, mixing gently, so that you don’t damage the fish.
Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, if you can wait that long, and then: eat!
My tuna poke recipes have also used similar ingredients…
More recently, I mixed up a batch of what I call my “Asian Mix,” a blend of five Asian flavors that really work well together: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. I let my tuna or salmon marinate in this mix for about ten minutes before adding the other ingredients and feasting.

Tuna poke with lettuce, onion, pine nuts, black and white sesame seeds, rice and my “Asian Mix.”

But my proudest achievement was taking my favorite sandwich from my home town of New York, and making it into a bowl. The sandwich is an everything bagel with salmon and cream cheese, and my poke version uses just a bit of the bagel, yet you still get the flavor without all the calories. The secret is a seasoning you can buy already prepared.
3 oz. wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, cubed
1 tablespoon capers
1/2 small Vidalia or sweet onion, sliced very thin
1/2 tomato, seeds removed, sliced thin
1/4 of a toasted plain bagel
1 tablespoon cream cheese
2 teaspoons Everything Bagel seasoning
1 chopped hard boiled egg
Cut the salmon into small 1/2″ cubes and place it in a bowl. Add the tablespoon of capers (including some of the brine), chopped onion and tomato. Mix gently.
Toast the bagel and use only 1/4 of it (I use that little for the sake of calories. But you can use more, if you like!) Spread the tablespoon of cream cheese on the toasted bagel, then carefully chop it up into small cubes. Add this to the bowl. Sprinkle in the Everything Bagel seasoning and the chopped hard-boiled egg, and give it all one last gentle toss.
Then take a forkful, close your eyes, and imagine you’re in your favorite New York deli!

St. Patty’s Day is this coming Wednesday, so supermarkets are full of packages of processed corned beef in preparation for the big celebration. Too bad corned beef isn’t an authentic Irish dish!

The phrase “corned beef” was actually coined by the British, and although the Irish were known for their corned beef throughout Europe in the 17th century, beef was far too expensive for the Irish themselves to eat and all of it was exported to other countries. Owning a cow in Ireland was a sign of wealth, and the Irish used theirs for dairy products, not beef.

The Irish ate pork, and a lot of it, because it was cheap to raise pigs, and they traditionally prepared something like Canadian bacon to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

In the 1900’s, when the Irish came to America, both beef and salt were more affordable, and the Irish, who lived in poor, tight-knit communities, often next to Jewish communities, bought much of their beef from Kosher butchers. And so many of the Irish learned how to corn their beef using Jewish techniques, but adding cabbage and potatoes to the mix.

It takes about 3 weeks to make corned beef. But now that you know it’s not Irish anyway, that’s OK! (If you’re dying to have it on St Patty’s Day anyway, just buy yourself a supermarket package this time, then make your own when the craving hits again.) Doing it yourself is not difficult. It just takes time…and you get a really delicious slab of beef.

Corned beef has nothing to do with corn. ‘Corning’ is a technique for preserving raw meats for long periods by soaking it in salt brine. This method was used in England before the days of commercial refrigeration. Back then, the large salt kernels used in the brine were called “corns.”

Brining is a time-honored way of preserving meat and it prevents bacteria from growing. Both pastrami and corned beef are made by this method. Both start with a brisket of beef. Corned beef is then cooked–usually boiled–and served. Pastrami is made when the brined meat is rubbed with more spices and then smoked to add extra flavor. So corned beef and pastrami are the same meat, just treated differently.

Saltpeter is an ingredient that has been used in brining beef for years. It adds the traditional red coloring to the corned beef and pastrami meat. But since saltpeter can also contain carcinogens, I usually leave it out. The meat may not be the usual bright red color, but the flavor and texture of the meat will not be affected.

Brining the beef brisket

Brining the beef brisket

Step one: corned beef…

beef brisket (about 8-10 pounds)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/4 cup warm water
3 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon mixed pickling spices
3/4 cup salt
2 quarts water

Place the brisket in a large container made of non-reactive material, like glass or plastic.

In the 1/4 cup of warm water, dissolve the sugar, minced cloves, paprika and pickling spices.

Dissolve the 3/4 cup of salt in the 2 quarts of water. Pour in the sugar/garlic/paprika/pickling spices mix and stir everything together. Pour the mixture over the meat in the container. Make sure the meat is totally beneath the surface of the liquid. (You may need to weigh it down to do this.) Cover the container.

Refrigerate the container and its contents for 3 weeks, turning the meat once or twice per week. At the end of the third week, remove the container from the refrigerator and take out the meat. Soak the meat in several changes of fresh cold water over a period of 24 hours to remove the excess salt.

At this point, if you want corned beef, prepare and cook it using your favorite recipe. But if you want pastrami…

Step two: making Pastrami…

pastrami

 

Brined and rinsed corned beef brisket from above recipe, patted dry with paper towels
1/4 cup Kosher salt
1/4 cup paprika
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon white peppercorns
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Combine the coriander seeds, black and white peppercorns and mustard seeds in a spice grinder and grind them coarsely. Place them in a bowl. Add the salt, paprika, brown sugar and granulated garlic. Mix well.

Rub the mix into the brisket well, covering all sides.

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and smoke it for several hours. (My wood of choice is always hickory.) When the internal temperature of the meat has reached 165 degrees, it’s done. It isn’t necessary to smoke pastrami as long as you would a regular brisket because the long brining time makes the meat tender.

It is very important that absolutely everything that comes in contact with the meat is very clean. (This includes your hands.) Also, make very sure that every inch of the meat reaches the 165 degrees before it is removed from the smoker. The corned beef is now pastrami.

Delis that serve pastrami go one step further: they steam the meat so that it becomes incredibly tender and easy to slice. I place a baking pan with boiling water in the center of a 350° oven. I put a grate on top of it, placing the pastrami on top of the grate. Then I invert a bowl over the pastrami to keep the steam in. I will cook it this way for at least an hour to steam the meat.

 

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Back from a vacation down South, visiting some old friends. It was a blast, but nothing says “I’m home” like a favorite childhood dish I would eat as often as I could get my Mom and grandmother to make!

I think I spent half of my childhood in the kitchen, watching my Mom and grandmother make koldūnai (kohl-doo-nayh), the Lithuanian version of a pierogi, by hand, at lightning speed. They would roll a simple dough into a log about 1″ in diameter, then cut it into 1″ pieces, twirling each piece between their fingers to make a flat pancake, filling each with a small spoonful of meat or mushrooms, then fold it over, crimping the edges to make a crescent-shaped dumpling. It blew my mind that they could crank out over a hundred of these little masterpieces in no time, placing them on a cookie sheet and freezing them until it was time to cook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the main reasons why I prefer Lithuanian koldūnai over the basic Polish pierogi is the filling. For me, standard pierogi fillings like potatoes, cheese, and sauerkraut just don’t cut it. My Mom would mix ground beef with chopped onions sautéed in butter, a couple of eggs, and milk crackers soaked in milk. She’d add salt and pepper, then spoon that mixture beautiful beef blend into her koldūnai.

The other delicious stuffing, usually reserved for special holidays like Christmas Eve and Easter, was made from mushrooms. Italy may lay claim to the porcini, but the fact of the matter is, Lithuania is porcini heaven. And when they’re dried and reconstituted, their incredible flavor is so intense, you don’t need many of them to flavor a large amount of regular button mushrooms. We’d get our dried boletes from relatives in Lithuania every year. Mom would place a handful in some boiling water and let them steep until they swelled up and could easily be chopped and added to the other mushrooms. She’d then pour the mushroom liquid into the pan as well, not wasting a bit of that magical porcini flavor. The mushrooms were simply sautéed in butter, cooled, then used to fill the koldūnai.

 

I found that my Mom’s log method was too much work. I roll the dough out into a sheet with a rolling pin, then cut circles with a glass. Yes, that’s mac-and-cheese up front!

 

A few years ago, I decided it was time to try my hand at making koldūnai. As I recall, my Mom simply mixed water with flour to make the dough, kneaded it into a log, and off she went. I decided to go with the rolling pin and glass cutting method, because I found it to be a bit easier creating more uniform koldūnai.

The biggest challenges I had with making koldūnai was my own clumsiness and lack of experience. Once I got the hang of it, things moved along steadily, and it didn’t take long for me to make a decent batch–not all perfect, but not bad for a first try.

 

The rolling pin method.

 

This time around, I made four kinds of koldūnai: traditional (ground beef as well as mushroom) and non-traditional (mac & cheese and pulled pork.)  Patty’s Pierogis, a restaurant in nearby Fall River, Massachusetts, and featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” is where my daughter first had mac & cheese pierogis. She was instantly hooked and begs for them every year.

Here’s my beef recipe…

1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 pat of butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Finely chop the onion and sauté it in the butter until translucent. Let it cool, then add it to 1 lb. of thawed ground beef. Add the egg and the breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly and keep the meat in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai.

Two pots of boiling salted water: one for the meat-filled koldūnai, and one for the mac-and-cheese filled koldūnai…so I don’t get ’em mixed up!

 

In my childhood home, you cannot possibly serve koldūnai without sour cream on the side and without spirgučiai (spir-guh-chay), chopped and fried bacon and onions that are sprinkled on top.

1 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped

In a large pan, fry the chopped bacon until it’s almost crisp. Never drain the fat! Add the chopped onions and cook until they are soft. Set aside.  (My Mom always kept a stash of spirgučiai in a container in the fridge, and sprinkled them on anything and everything.)

 

duni 4

Making the dough is simple.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup water

I don’t use salt in the dough because I boil the koldūnai in salted water later.

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, mixing with your hands. Keep adding flour in small amounts until the dough isn’t wet and sticky. When it forms a nice ball, remove it from the bowl and place it on a floured surface and knead it a bit more. Cut the ball into quarters, and work with these smaller pieces of dough.

For the rolling-pin method, roll each quarter out until the dough is about 1/8″ thick. Cut circles out of the dough using a cookie cutter, rocks glass, or whatever else you have handy. Add about a teaspoonful of filling in the center of the dough, then fold the edges over and pinch them with your fingers. Flip it over and pinch again, making sure none of the filling seeps out. A tight edge means the koldūnai won’t break open when you put them in boiling water.

 

Who knew a rocks glass had more uses than just to hold a great Manhattan?

 

Some stuffed with mac and cheese!

 

I recently discovered these “pierogi makers.” You lay the dough in them, add your filling, and then close them. They automatically crimp the edges for you. They work pretty well…sometimes.

 

I always double-check the crimped edges, because your koldūnai will fall apart in the boiling water if you don’t seal them well!

 

Place the koldūnai on a sheet pan dusted with flour, and when you’re done, place the sheet pan in the freezer.

 

Ready for the freezer!

 

Sometimes the chef gets punchy after making koldūnai all day long!

 

Get a large pot of salted water boiling. Drop the koldūnai in gently, being careful not to overcrowd them. If the dough is thin, the koldūnai will be ready when they float up to the surface. A thicker dough will need longer cooking. The best way to know if they’re done is by taking one out, cutting it open and having a look (and taste!)

When plating, sprinkle generously with spirgučiai, and serve with sour cream on the side.

 

duni 4

 

 

 

By the way…I have tried making these with gluten-free flour, but with limited success.. The dough needs to have elasticity to stretch and seal properly, and it kept falling apart in my hands. But there are many GF flours out there, and one may just do the trick. If you need to be on a gluten-free diet, you can still enjoy koldūnai by using GF flour for the dough and GF breadcrumbs in the beef. (I buy a loaf of frozen Uni gluten-free bread, toast it, then pulse it in the food processor until crumbly. Works great and they taste great, too.)

 

 

 

 

I love onion dip, and really good onion dip is hard to find…you’ve got to make it. It’s not difficult to do, and it’s worth the effort. Great with chips or veggies, it’s perfect for Super Bowl munching.

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
chopped chives, to garnish

In a pan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil and salt until they are soft and barely caramelized, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat and set them aside to cool to room temperature.

In a bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except the chives, then add the cooled onions and mix well.

Refrigerate the dip and stir again before serving. Sprinkle the chopped chives on top to garnish.

Let’s not talk diets right now. Let’s talk about what is probably the greatest invention since pizza itself: stuffed crust pizza.

I mean: first, there was the simple margarita pizza. Then someone thought of “extra cheese.” After that, where could we go? And then, someone who in my mind deserved the Nobel Prize for Food, came up with stuffed crust pizza. Originally the brainchild of Pizza Hut, it boldly put cheese where no cheese had gone before.

 

 

So for me, since I love to make my own pizzas, the next step was to figure out a way to make stuffed crust pizza at home. Turns out it wasn’t really that difficult.

If you’re not into going through the hassle of making your own dough, most supermarkets have pre-made pizza dough balls in the refrigerated section. Grab a couple of them, and save yourself some time and effort. (If you want to make the dough from scratch, see my recipe at the bottom of this blog.)

Same thing with the sauce: I prefer to make my own from real San Marzano tomatoes, but if you have a brand of jarred sauce you like, use that.

The rest is pretty straightforward: cheese!!

 

Let’s get started…

You bought or made the dough. If you bought two balls, you rolled them together to make one larger one. You poured a little olive oil in a bowl, and placed the ball of dough in that, covering with a clean towel, to let the dough rise for a few hours.

After a few hours, you punch the dough down to get rid of the air bubbles, and roll it into a ball again, putting it back in the bowl, covered, to rest for another hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 500 or it’s hottest temperature, with a pizza stone on the middle rack.

Now the dough is ready to work. Place your pizza peel on the counter you’re working on. Sprinkle the peel with a large-grained flour, like corn meal or semolina. (That acts like little ball-bearings to let the dough slide off easily.) On top of the pizza peel, stretch the dough out to a size that will be about 2 or 3 inches bigger in diameter than the peel or pizza stone you have in the oven.

 

Made the mistake of stretching the dough out on the counter rather than the peel, which made it hard to lift. Perhaps it was the influence of the bourbon in the background! I fixed the problem later. (I kept the bourbon.)

 

Buy a firm mozzarella that slices nicely into sticks. (If you use fresh mozzarella, it will get mushy in the crust.) Cut it into pieces the size of the average mozzarella stick. 

 

 

Place the sticks of mozzarella around the dough in a circle, about an inch away from the edge.

 

 

Now fold the dough over the mozzarella sticks. You might need a touch of water to make the dough stick to itself.

 

 

Now make your pizza like you normally would. Sauce it…

 

 

Cheese it…

 

 

Add toppings…

 

 

And bake!

 

 

You can never have too much cheese!

 

If you want to make your own pizza dough, here’s my recipe…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day.

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water (100 to 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let it rise at room temp for 2 hours, punching it down after that. I roll it back into a ball again, and let is rise, covered, for at least another hour.

 

 

TIME TO DIET AGAIN!

Posted: January 5, 2021 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,
“You’ll never out-exercise a bad diet.”
That’s not my quote…but it’s absolutely true.
For me, the start of a new year usually means the start of a diet. I cook more and allow myself to eat more over the holidays, knowing that I’ll be going on a diet in the new year, so I probably make it even worse for myself! In any case, this is a diet that I stuck with last year, and lost a total of 25 pounds. I gained a few back over the holidays, but if I hunker down again like I did last year, I have no doubt I will once again achieve my goals.
My incentive last year was a planned trip to St. John in the USVI in April with my daughter. Although I reached my target weight, the trip was postponed due to Covid until November. And then in November, with the virus raging as much as ever, we had to completely cancel our trip. Here’s hoping that we get a chance to travel in 2021.

I started last year at 238. I got down to 213! But the key was to write everything down: my weight, and exactly what I ate. It takes determination, but it works.

 

After seeing my blog posts featuring ribs, pastas with cheese, huge roasts, and cheesecake, I had several friends ask me how I didn’t weigh 500 pounds! My answer was simple: I cook everything. I just don’t eat everything. That’s what this diet is all about. I might cook a large portion, but I eat a small amount of it, portion out the rest of it, and put it in my freezer for another day. I also share it with family and friends, who are more than happy to oblige!
When I was young, I was rail thin and could eat anything I wanted without gaining a pound. When I got older, my metabolism slowed down, but my love of food did not–in fact, it probably increased, as I learned how to cook really well.

OMG…that was one skinny dude!

 

Now, here I am, writing a food blog. I travel for food. I plan six meals ahead at any given time. I’ll be 63 in March, and I have a 14-year-old daughter. Do the math, and you’ll realize, like I did, that I need to take care of myself to be around for as many of her upcoming life events as possible.

My version of lox and bagels: home-cured wild-caught Alaskan salmon, whipped cream cheese (fewer calories), onions, capers, and toast pieces. Lots of tasty bites here. (A sliced, hard-boiled egg would only add 78 calories.)

There are a million diets out there, and everybody claims they have the secret to weight loss. But no matter what diet you’re on, what it really boils down to is the simple mathematical equation of calories in…versus calories out.
My buddy, Lee, a PhD in chemistry, and someone that dropped 50 pounds a couple of years ago, told me about an article written by an engineer that lays out the basics. You can find it here:
As he states, losing weight is simply thermodynamics: you need to eat less calories than your body burns every day. If you do that, you will lose weight.

My stir-fry has chicken breast, broccoli, white rice (Uncle Ben’s), some onion, and my “Chinese Mix” of flavors: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce, and sesame oil. My trick to add flavor to the rice without calories is to add beef bouillon when I cook it. (I use Better Than Bouillon.)

 

There is a way to find out approximately how many calories a day your body uses to maintain its weight. It’s called the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. In my case, I need about 2500 calories per day to maintain my weight. So, like my friend Lee, I chose a diet where I eat no more than 1500 calories daily…a deficit of 1000 calories per day.
At the end of 7 days, I have eaten 7000 fewer calories than my body uses. Since about 3500 calories make 1 pound, I should be losing 2 pounds per week, according to this math.
Now, there are many variables to this, but basically this thought process holds true.
And the best part is: is doesn’t matter what I eat. If I want to eat bean sprouts, great. If I want Taco Bell, fine. As long as I don’t go over 1500 calories a day, it doesn’t matter what I put in my gut. This is really helpful for people like me, who get bored of eating the same old stuff day after day–a sure-fire way to give up on a diet. Carbs, fats, meat, dairy–even alcohol…all OK within reason.

Fish is an excellent source of protein, and I never ate enough of it. Now, I make a bowl of tuna poke pretty often, and it’s absolutely delicious!

 

My buddy, Lee, is a diabetic, and stays away from carbs. He eats lean meats, seafood, and vegetables. That’s how he lost his 50 pounds. His son, on the other hand, lost weight by eating mostly fast food, but still counting the calories and not eating more than 1500 of them per day. He also lost 50 pounds.
I’m not a big junk food person. I don’t buy cookies, cakes or chips. Ice cream (my kryptonite) is a rare treat. I don’t put sugar in my coffee, and I don’t drink juices or soda. And I don’t like beer! But my biggest weight-gain mistake was thinking I could use unlimited amounts of so-called “healthy fats” in my recipes. I was pouring olive oil over everything…spreading pork leaf lard everywhere…and buttering my butter! Now I measure everything, drastically reducing my fats, and I can’t believe how many calories I’m saving!

Sprays can be extremely helpful in keeping your calories low. Just be careful: they say “zero calories,” but that doesn’t mean you can spray a ton in your pan! Regulations allow them to say “zero” if a single serving is less than 1 calorie. That’s why a single serving here is a spray of about 1/5 of a second! (Seriously!)

 

Portion control is essential. I’ve found that I really don’t have to change many of my recipes in this livethelive blog, which is all the food I love. I just have to control my portion sizes. For example, a ribeye may be a delicious source of protein, but it’s also loaded with fat. (That’s why it tastes so good!) So now I only eat a small, 4-ounce serving at mealtime, not the 12-ounce (or larger!) slab I was eating before.
Last year, when I started my 1500-calorie-a-day diet, I was bloated from alcohol, salt, fat, and simply eating too much rich food. But once the diet really started rolling, I could step on the bathroom scale and see the bloat was diminishing, and rather quickly. At this point, it’s easy to deceive yourself in thinking that this is “real weight,” when it’s not. It’s just your body reaching its natural plateau. But that’s OK. When you see the weight go down, even by a tenth of a pound a day, it gives you the incentive to continue.
After about a week of bloat loss, the real diet and weight loss began.
The human body is full of constant change. So even once I started and steadily maintained my 1500-calorie-a-day diet, Lee told me not to expect to be dropping 2 pounds per week like clockwork. Some weeks, my body will retain more water, perhaps from eating too much salt. Some days, I’ll go to the bathroom more, some less. My bathroom scale itself may be off by a little, too. So what I see when I step on the scale needs to be taken with a grain of salt (pardon the pun.) On any given day, my weight can actually be plus or minus 2 pounds (or more) of what my scale shows.

Find a protein drink or bar you like. It can really help when the cravings get bad. But make sure you choose one that is low in sugar!

The secret of this diet (or any other diet for that matter) is persistence. Don’t give up because your scale hasn’t moved. Your body is going through changes–big changes. And if you maintain your diet, you will see results eventually…the keyword being: eventually. Over the course of a month or two, you will see significant results.
The secret for me is to find the food I like and then eat it in reasonable quantities. Variety is also really important, or I’ll get bored and give up. Other than avoiding too much salt, I have few dietary restrictions. So I’m able to eat whatever I want within my calorie guidelines.
So as you read this blog this year, you’ll see that many of my recipes haven’t changed, with the exception, perhaps, of fats used in cooking, because that’s one of the top calorie culprits. It doesn’t matter if you’re using butter, bacon fat, or healthy olive oil, all fats have a lot of calories, whether they’re healthy or not.
Another key to my diet’s success–and this is the one that everybody hates!–I write down every single morsel of food I eat every day, and then calculate how many calories that entails. Not everyone can be this anal, but I have no problem with it. Once I set my mind to it, it just comes naturally. I have a date book where I write my morning weight every day, and then everything I eat that day, with individual and total calorie counts. (Counting calories is easy, now that we all carry phones that let us simply Google that information.)
Using a simple digital kitchen scale (one that weighs ounces and grams) is KEY to making sure you’re not overeating. Buy one immediately! If you think you can simply eyeball measurements, you’ll find that you are WAY OFF!

Yes…I write it ALL down!

 

Fortunately for me, even alcohol can be included in this diet. That’s not to say that I’m boozing it up! I only allow myself alcoholic beverages on Friday and Saturday nights. At 100 calories for a 1.5 ounce shot of 80-proof booze, I can have 2 3-ounce martinis for a total of 400 calories (without olives.) Of course, that still counts in my 1500-calorie-a-day plan. So that means I have to eat less…which can get me a little loopy on weekends! But as long as I’m not driving, that’s not a problem! Drinking alcohol gives me the munchies…so I have to be very careful with that.

Having a seat at great bars, like the world-famous Bar Hemingway at the Ritz in Paris, is a passion of mine. My diet still allows me to sip a fine cocktail without guilt! I choose drinks that are low in sugar.

Follow this diet and you, too, will succeed. It doesn’t matter if you need to be gluten-free or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re avoiding carbs or not. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or a total carnivore. Keto, Atkins, whatever. What matters is counting your total calories per day…and sticking to the diet every day…no cheating. No business lunch excuses, breakfast buffets, and 48-oz. steaks.
And no “rewarding” yourself with treats because “you did good” for a couple of days. Those things need to happen every few weeks, not every few days.
A great tip is to start by eating everything you love, even if it’s not really good for you, just in smaller quantities. Don’t eat real junk food, but worry about total calories first, not whether what you’re eating is “health food.” (Like my buddy, Lee’s, son who still lost weight eating Taco Bell.) Your first goal should be to limit calories. Get a feel for it. Then, as you get comfortable and progress, start making better and healthier food choices. Let’s be honest: anyone who starts a diet by chewing celery after a lifetime of steak and potatoes is going nowhere!
After I reached my goal weight last year, I went back to my daily intake of 2500 calories to maintain my new weight. (That’s still fewer calories than I was consuming every day before I started the diet, but after 1500 a day, it felt like I was cheating!)
What I learned with this diet, as I cooked healthier, measuring how much fat I put in a pan before frying…cutting my huge steaks into smaller pieces and trimming off the fat…was that I never want to go back to my old way of eating again. I can still eat anything I love…just less of it.

I cut the middle out of my bagel and weigh it!

 

That right there, after cooking, is 90 calories. Nothing brings the flavor like bacon!

 

My breakfast sandwich: the bottom of an everything bagel, a strip of bacon, and a fried egg. 349 calories, including a tablespoon of butter! A sprinkle of everything bagel seasoning adds flavor and just a couple of calories.

 

WHAT I’VE FOUND….
Bad…
1 tablespoon of butter has 100 calories. I used to load my 400-calorie everything bagel with 300 calories of butter…and then I had breakfast! A tablespoon of whipped butter has only 50 calories, so I use that instead.
Same thing with mayonnaise. I love Hellman’s. But it’s got 90 calories per tablespoon. Enter Hellman’s Light: 35 calories and I can still indulge!
Cheese is not a dieter’s friend. It’s a calorie and salt nightmare. And light cheese tastes like crap. So I stick to small amounts of lower calorie cheeses, like feta (70 calories per ounce) or whipped cream cheese (40 calories per tablespoon), and save pizza and pasta dishes for very rare occasions.
Good…
Boiled Shrimp is our friend at just 80 calories for 4 ounces, and lots of protein. Shrimp cocktail makes you feel like you’re splurging, but it’s low in calories if you go easy on the cocktail sauce.
Lobster, too: super-low calorie. Just go easy on the butter!
Raw oysters: packed with protein and a ridiculously low amount of calories. Eat all you want!
A hard-boiled egg, which I love, is just 78 calories…an excellent protein bomb that fills you up. (And don’t worry about the cholesterol unless you’re eating a dozen a day!)
You can still have bacon! My thick-cut bacon is 90 calories a slice after frying. Now I have one slice for breakfast instead of six! (Read the package.)
A diet saves you money! I can’t believe how much less food I buy at the supermarket! Sure, I’m buying more veggies, but a steak that used to be one meal is now three! As a nation, Americans eat way too much food, and what we eat is mostly unhealthy. A diet that focuses on veggies and lean proteins is good for any body. Michael Pollan’s quote is more valuable now than ever: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”
A successful diet is all about being creative. I can’t have a BLT in the usual sense anymore, and that’s my all-time favorite sandwich. But I can have BLT lettuce wraps that drastically cut the calories and still satisfy my cravings.

My BLT. Limiting the bacon and mayo makes it diet-friendly.

 

Adding that strip of toasted bread really adds to the flavor and texture!

Of course, any exercise you do in addition to this diet is only a bonus. If you use a treadmill or stationary bike, the digital readout will accurately tell you just how many calories you’ve burned. You can subtract that from your daily calorie count. But, that being said, one of the biggest diet mistakes people make is to over-estimate how many calories they’ve burned during exercise.  If you’re guessing…you’re WRONG! Guaranteed, you burned FAR LESS than you think you did!
I know the health clubs may not want me to say this, but you DON’T have to exercise to lose weight. Reducing your caloric intake alone–if you reduce it enough and for long enough–WILL make you lose weight. Exercise alone WILL NOT.
Here are my calorie charts from last year. You may not like all the foods I’ve got listed here, but I think it’s a good start. As I mentioned earlier, you can pretty much Google the calorie count of any food. That’s basically what I did….and I read a lot of labels!
One last tip: There will be times where the bathroom scale will be teasing you, taunting you: where your weight won’t budge for several days at a time. Don’t let this get to you! Your body is still changing for the better! This is where you need to be strong! Keep doing the right thing, and you will see that at the end of a couple of months, when you chart your progress, you really did lose almost 2 pounds a week.
I did it last year! I’m gonna do it again! So can you!

Al Forno in Providence, RI, is a legendary Italian restaurant that was established in 1980 and has graced the pages of many a food magazine ever since. Chefs Johanne Killeen and George Germon made it a culinary destination, creating dishes that many have copied, but never equaled. 

One of those creations was the grilled pizza. These days, you can find grilled pizzas just about anywhere in the country, but it was Al Forno that started it all.

Sadly, George Germon passed away in 2015, but the restaurant continues, despite only being open for takeout these days, due to the pandemic. And although the menu offers a wide variety of dishes for takeout, the one my daughter and I crave–that isn’t on the menu–is their 5-cheese pasta dish. It’s not baked ziti. It’s not lasagna. It’s something way beyond.

 

 

Taking the recipe from one of Johanne and George’s cookbooks, my daughter and I decided that we would re-create this magical dish at home as best we could.

One element obviously missing in our home is a wood-fired oven, something Al Forno uses with every dish. (I’ll be able to tackle that end of the recipe in a few months, when my Ooni wood-burning pizza oven arrives.)

And looking at their list of 5 cheeses (mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, fontina, ricotta and gorgonzola), I found that gorgonzola was a bit of a surprise. Having had the 5-cheese pasta dish at least 4 times at Al Forno, I never detected even a hint of blue cheese. In fact, if I would have, I don’t think I would’ve ordered it again. So we chose to remove the gorgonzola and add another favorite, sharp provolone, instead. It turned out to be an excellent choice.

Other than that, we stayed true to the recipe, using shell pasta because that’s what we always got at the restaurant.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree (San Marzano’s, if you can get ’em)
4 oz. thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
1.5 oz. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1.5 oz. coarsely shredded Fontina cheese
1.5 oz. grated Provolone cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 lb. conchiglie (medium shell) pasta
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, sliced thinly
Shavings of raw scallion for garnish (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 500°, or as close to it as your oven will get.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the pasta and the butter. Stir well to combine.

 

 

Drop the pasta in the boiling water and parboil it for about 4 minutes. Drain it in a colander and add it to the ingredients in the mixing bowl. Combine it well.

 

 

Divide the pasta mixture into small ceramic dishes, or just use one large baking dish. You want it to sit in a relatively shallow 1-inch layer.

 

 

Dot the top of the dish with the butter, and bake it until it’s bubbly and brown, about 7 to 10 minutes at 500…a little longer at lower temperatures.

 

Funny how help arrives when it’s all about pasta and cheese!

 

It’s the creamiest, cheesiest pasta dish you’ll ever have…and everyone will fight over those little charred pasta shells!

 

Optional: When I ordered this dish at Al Forno, they would top it with thin shavings of raw scallion on top. I loved that touch and do that at home as well.

 

If you watch as much Food Network and Cooking Channel as I do, you’ve probably heard of Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. Smokin’ and grillin’ since 1925, they put the now-famous Alabama white sauce on the map. They would smoke whole birds, then dunk the entire bird in a bucket of white sauce before returning them to the smoker to cook some more. And then they’d serve more of the precious white sauce on the side as you tore into the most amazing chicken you’ve ever had.

 

 

I lived in Mobile, Alabama about 30 years ago. Never made it to Decatur. Probably never will. So it was time for me to try to recreate the magic at home. I think I did pretty well.

If you Google “Alabama white sauce,” you’ll get dozens of versions, each, I’m sure, pretty similar and pretty good. I did just that, and then tweaked it to make it my own.

I don’t smoke the birds. I simply season them with salt and pepper, and roast them in a convection oven at 350. When they’re almost done, I brush the chicken all over very liberally with my white sauce…bottom of the bird, too. Then it goes back in the oven for a little bit more.

 

Parts work as well as whole birds. I love using leg quarters for this recipe.

 

1 cup mayonnaise
4 tablespoons buttermilk
4 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. I like to keep it in a container with a lid so I can shake it up before using it.

Preheat the oven to 350.

I like to roast a whole bird, though parts work just as well. If I’m roasting a whole bird, I like to spatchcock the bird so that it cooks evenly. 

(Aside from the fact that it sounds dirty, spatchcocking simply means removing the back bone of the bird so you can open it up and press it flat onto the roasting pan.)

 

A spatchcocked bird.

 

It’s relatively easy to do, especially if you have poultry shears. You just flip the bird upside down, and cut all the way up on either side of the back bone.

Be sure to save the backbone for chicken stock. If you’re like me and you pay extra for really good quality humanely raised chicken, every little bit needs to be saved and utilized to get the most bang for your buck.

I recently discovered a brand called Cook’s Venture. They sell an uncommon variety of bird that is pasture-raised and grows slowly, producing delicious meat. The TLC required to raise these birds comes with a price, but to me they are worth it.

 

 

I line a baking tray with foil, salt and pepper my bird all over, and place it on the baking tray and into the 350-degree oven. It takes a little less than an hour for a 4-lb. bird, but before it’s completely cooked through, I pull it out of the oven and brush on all sides with my Alabama white sauce.

 

 

Then it goes back into the oven for about 10 minutes.

The result is a tender and juicy bird, unlike any you’ve had before.

 

And save some of that white sauce to dip in while you’re eating!

 

 

 

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This classic is loaded with sugar. But then…so is everything else around the holidays!

Whiskey slush

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz. frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7-Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.

Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it all into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.

To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix in a tall glass with 7-Up.