Posts Tagged ‘food’

The original recipe for this white bean soup used bits of bacon. But it just so happened that I was planning on slow-cooking a pork shoulder in my smoker today. When the smoked pork met the white bean soup, it was a match made in pig heaven!

 

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, finely chopped
1 smashed garlic clove
3 cans (15 1/2 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 1 1/2 cups reserved
40 oz. veal bone broth or chicken broth (homemade is best)
1/4 teaspoon bouquet garni
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Bacon fat and/or olive oil
A slab of slow-cooked smoked pork shoulder, pulled and shredded

 

In a large heavy saucepan, sauté the onion, fennel, and garlic in bacon fat or olive oil until they are tender, about 8 minutes.

Drain and rinse the cannellini beans, reserving 1 1/2 cups for later. Pour the beans in the saucepan.

Add the veal (or chicken) broth, the bouquet garni, and the salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it cool for 15 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, until smooth.

Return the soup to the pot and add the reserved beans. Heat it for 10 minutes, and then taste it, adding more salt and pepper, if needed.

 

 

To serve, place a mound of the pork, cubed or pulled, in the center of a bowl. Pour the soup on top, and drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil. Chopped scallions, or fresh chives, or parsley on top never hurt!

 

 

 

My buddy, Lee, and I had a discussion the other day about fresh versus frozen beef served at fast food restaurants.  What’s the big deal about fresh beef? Does it really make a difference?
Doing a little research, I found that the answer to that question is: yes and no.
Wendy’s claims their beef has always been fresh, since they first opened in 1969. Never one single frozen patty. Because the meat is fresh, it comes from local farms in North America and is delivered in refrigerated trucks to your local Wendy’s restaurant. They claim the flavor of fresh is better than the flavor of frozen.
They also go on to say that because their beef is fresh, it doesn’t come from “cheaper, far away places,” like Australia.
My experience with both Australian and New Zealand beef, shipped frozen, is that it is of very high quality. Where most American beef is fed corn, grains, antibiotics, and who knows what….beef from New Zealand and Australia is grass-fed.
Wendy’s claim that their beef was never frozen is really more of a marketing ploy to try to appeal to people who want to think they’re eating healthier food. The fact of the matter is, a properly frozen greasy burger is just as bad for you as a fresh one.
Giving in to Wendy’s ad campaign (and their taunting on Twitter),  McDonald’s brought in the fresh meat Quarter Pounder. (The rest of their burgers are still frozen.) Again, this really has nothing to do with good health. It’s strictly good marketing.
Personally, if my meat is going to be sitting around for more than 24 hours, I would rather keep it in a freezer, not a fridge, to reduce the possibility of contamination.

I like the taste of the Quarter Pounder Deluxe, though it isn’t a very big burger for the $7+ I paid for it.

The only negative of frozen beef can be the texture if it is not frozen properly. If you don’t place the meat in a freezer that’s cold enough, the beef doesn’t freeze quickly, and can form larger ice crystals that will change the texture of the flesh when the meat thaws.
If you’re not sure whether the quality of frozen beef is any good, simply ask your friendly neighborhood farmer…or hunter. My in-laws hunt deer and bear, and they process the entire animal, freezing the various cuts and putting them in a deep-freeze to enjoy later. I can tell you that when I’m allowed to share in the bounty, the frozen meat is absolutely delicious.
So my research tells me that fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Go with quality, go with price…or go with what you think tastes better.
Whether you should go with meat or not…is another topic altogether. Plant-based burgers are all the rage, now that Burger King has introduced the Impossible Whopper.
But from a health standpoint, is it any better? Not really. Check the nutrition information below and you’ll see that most fast-food burgers are pretty similar when it comes to fat and calories. Even the plant-based ones aren’t healthier.

It tastes like a real burger…an overcooked, very dry real burger.

It all boils down to what your feelings are about eating meat. If factory farming makes you cringe (and it should), go with a plant-based burger. But remember this: If you’re going vegan because you don’t want to kill animals, many creatures, from ground birds to moles and voles, to rabbits to foxes, are killed by vegetable harvesting machinery. Unless you’re growing your own, or getting your veggies from a local farm that doesn’t use machinery, you’re substituting the life of one animal for another.

Burger King’s “real” Whopper.

As for fast-food flavor…my vote goes to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Deluxe (not the plain one.) The beef patty is juicier because it’s thicker, so it doesn’t dry out like either Whopper. And it’s cooked to order. Both Whoppers are frozen patties that have liquid smoke added to simulate a grilled flavor, and have fake grill marks painted on them before cooking. The Dave’s Single from Wendy’s, the original fresh beef burger, is good, but small, like the Quarter Pounder, and greasier.

Dave’s Single from Wendy’s.

IMPOSSIBLE WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 630
Fat (g): 34
Cholesterol (mg): 10
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 58
Fiber (g): 4
Sugar (g): 12
Protein (g): 25

Impossible Whopper: mayo, tomatoes and pickles keep it from being a dry brick.

REGULAR WHOPPER: (from Burger King‘s website)
Calories (Kcal): 660
Fat (g): 40
Saturated Fat (g): 12
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 90
Sodium (mg): 980
Carbohydrates (g): 49
Fiber (g): 2
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 28

The Whopper.

QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE DELUXE: (from McDonald’s website)
Calories (Kcal): 650
Fat (g): 39
Saturated Fat (g): 15
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 110
Sodium (mg): 1180
Carbohydrates (g): 44
Fiber (g): 3
Sugar (g): 11
Protein (g): 32

Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe.

 

DAVE’S SINGLE: (from Wendy’s website)
Calories: 570
Fat (g): 34
Sat Fat (g): 13
Trans Fat (g): 1.5
Cholesterol (mg): 100
Sodium (mg): 1080
Carbohydrates (g): 38
Sugar (g): 8
Fiber (g): 2
Protein (g): 29

Dave’s Single was good, but quite greasy.

 

 

After tasting all these burgers, my choice is to go back to a humanely-raised grass-fed burger, but for that, I have to go to my own kitchen. I can’t get it through the window of my car.

 

PAN PIZZA, TWO WAYS

Posted: February 9, 2020 in Food, pizza, Recipes, restaurants
Tags: , , ,

Well, I posted my blog about pizza last week, not realizing today is National Pizza Day! So let’s talk pan pizza this time…

 

I got my first restaurant job when I was 17, working at Pizza City East, just down the street from my childhood home in Plainview, NY. It wasn’t a great job, but I learned an awful lot about food preparation. It’s where I opened and tasted my first clam on the half shell. It’s where I had my first sip of espresso and cappuccino. And it’s where I learned a lot about how to make really good pizza. My buddy, Mel, and I worked the counter. Mel made the pies and I did the rest: sandwiches, espressos, clams, and eventually even cooked in the kitchen. We were 2 hard-working slobs in high school, but we bonded in a way that kept us friends to this very day, over 40 years later.

So you could say pizza was in my blood. For me, the true test of a great pie is a simple slice with only sauce and cheese. It’s not easy to get that right, despite how easy it may look.

And for me, there was no other pizza than New York style Neapolitan pizza, the classic round pie with thin crust. I have no doubt that it would be my choice for the classic question: “If you were stuck on a desert island, and you could only have 1 food, what would it be?”

But then I discovered Sicilian pizza: it was thicker, square, and was baked on a large sheet pan. The crust was crisp on the bottom, and light and airy inside. I thought: OK, I have room for 2 favorite pizzas. And then, believe it or not, I went to Uno’s…(Pizzeria Uno back in the day)…and I had my first pan pizza. It was thick like Sicilian, but somehow different, and heavier on the sauce. But absolutely delicious. I finally settled on 3 favorite pizzas.

Despite having 3 favorite styles of pizza, I always cooked a Neapolitan pie when I made pizza at home. Perhaps it was a bit easier, or perhaps I just never felt I really made the perfect pizza, and I needed to keep trying. In either case, it meant that after 40 years of making my own pizza, I finally made a pan pizza for the first time just last year. And it was good…really good.

 

The dough is stretched out and ready to accept whatever tasty toppings you like!

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores, or online. Using ready-made store-bought dough saves a lot of work, and it’s great, too. Ratios for my dough recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast or regular 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, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that. I roll it back into a ball, cover it, and let it rise another 2 hours again.

Let’s talk pans. For me, nothing beats a real heavy duty cast iron pan for this recipe…and I’ve got a large one. I brush olive oil generously all over the inside of the pan–even on the sides–and then place the dough in the center. Slowly, using my fingertips, I spread and flatten the dough out from the center evenly all the way around. I keep spreading and stretching until the dough just starts to come up the sides of the pan. I cover the pan with a clean towel, and turn the oven on to 450 degrees to pre-heat.

Leaving the pan on the stove top while the oven pre-heats will help the dough rise again. Meanwhile, I get my ingredients ready for my pizza.

 

Crumbled sausage on top of the pizza.

 

White pizza…

 

3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
mozzarella
Parmigiano Reggiano
Provolone cheese
dried oregano
crumbled Italian sweet sausage

 

The first time I made a pan pizza, my daughter requested a white pizza. I minced a bunch of garlic and lightly sautéed it in olive oil, being sure not to burn it. I set that aside.

I grated mozzarella cheese and Parmigiano Reggiano, setting them aside. I also use sliced provolone.

And this time, my daughter asked for sausage on the pizza, so I got a few mild Italian sausages, cut open the casings, and crumbled the meat in a bowl, setting it aside.

The oven should be pre-heated in about a half-hour, so it was time to make the pizza. I removed the towel covering the pizza dough, and stretched it out a bit more. Using a spoon, I spread the garlic and oil mixture evenly on the dough. I layed down 5 or 6 slices of provolone. I then sprinkled the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, followed by the mozzarella. I crumbled the sausage meat over half the pie (I like my side plain), and then I finally gave the pizza a sprinkling of oregano.

The pizza went into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. I kept an eye on it to make sure it didn’t burn.

 

My first pan pizza: half sausage white pizza.

 

My second pan pizza was a classic tomato sauce recipe…

I use canned crushed tomatoes for my tomato sauce pizza.

 

Tomato sauce pizza

1 cup crushed organic tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
mozzarella
peperoni, sliced thin
dried oregano

 

I like my tomato sauce to be a little chunky for my pan pizza, so I bought a can of crushed organic tomatoes. I placed about a cup of the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a teaspoon of sugar, mixing it well. This cuts the acidity of the tomatoes, and makes the pizza even better! I spooned out the tomatoes onto the the pizza dough. I sprinkled the mozzarella over the sauce. I layed slices of pepperoni on half the pizza (like I said, I like my side plain!), and I gave it a sprinkling of oregano.

 

Don’t skimp on the pepperoni!

 

The final product!

 

Delicious! Crispy crust on the outside, soft on the inside.

 

 

I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life. But truly great pizza? I can probably count that on one hand: Sicilian at Ben’s in the Village in NYC…Pizza Montanara at Pizzarte on W 55th in NYC…a coal-fired oven-baked clam pizza at Frank Pepe’s in New Haven, CT…Sicilian at La Piazza in my hometown of Plainview, NY…and now…my house!

The “paste” used in this dish is really more like a citrusy pesto that you smear all over the meat before cooking, preferably the day before. The citrus flavors work really well with the pork, and the initial high-heat cooking really gets the fat crispy and delicious. I used a pork loin here…but this is fantastic on a pork belly! Don’t use a pork tenderloin, but it’s very lean and will dry out.

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1 pork loin, about 8 lbs. (I use Berkshire pork)
zest of 2 oranges
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 cloves garlic, through a press
1/4 cup olive oil

 

In a food processor, combine the orange and lemon zest, the rosemary, sage, salt and pepper, and garlic. Pulse the processor just to mix, then turn it on and add the olive oil slowly, in a stream, until you get what resembles an oily pesto.

Score the fatty side of the pork loin with a knife in a diamond pattern. Rub the paste on all sides of the pork, but especially into the cracks of the fatty side.

Lay the loin down on a rack, raised off a sheet pan, fatty side up. Place it in the fridge, unwrapped, overnight.

The next day, about an hour before cooking, remove the loin from the fridge and let it come back to room temperature.

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Bake the pork loin at 450 for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and cook until the pork reaches a temperature of 140 degrees (light pink). Let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

 

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Calamari is the official appetizer of the state of Rhode Island. And for good reason. Squid means big business, and what we catch in Rhode Island accounts for up to 50% of the east coast’s quota every year! Squid have a lifespan of 12 to 18 months, reproduce twice a year, and can be caught year-round, with very few catch limitations, making it lucrative for fishermen.

Great fried calamari is an art form. It may seem like a simple dish, but to make it light and crispy, you need to be on your game. That’s why it can be a real hit-or-miss item on most restaurant menus. And there’s nothing worse than getting what would have been a great plate of calamari had the chef not decided to pour sauce all over it, turning the crispy cephalopod into mush.

What makes great fried calamari are three basic elements: it needs to be wild-caught in the US (preferably Rhode Island!)…properly cleaned…it needs to be fried at the right temperature for the right amount of time so that it’s perfectly cooked and not greasy…and the coating needs to be light and crispy.

 

calamari

 

1 lb. wild caught cleaned squid (thaw if frozen)
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1  teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup milk
1 large egg
oil, for frying (I use avocado oil)

Thaw the squid and slice them into bite-sized pieces. In a bowl, whisk the milk and the egg together. Toss in all the squid pieces into the bowl to coat. Place the bowl in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the flour, oregano, paprika, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Set it aside.

Fill a large pan halfway with oil…or use a deep fryer if you have one. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Working in small batches, remove the squid from the milk and egg mixture, letting some of it drip off, then place the squid in the flour mixture and toss to coat. Shake off any excess flour and place it immediately into the hot oil. Fry the squid until it’s golden brown, about 4 minutes. Serve it immediately with tartare sauce, tomato sauce, hot peppers, whatever you like. (But keep the sauces on the side for dipping.)

About the oil: I cook almost exclusively with olive oil. But for hot frying like this recipe requires, I go with avocado oil, which can take higher temperatures.

Winter is here. It’s time for some serious comfort food.

Years ago, when I received a shipment of venison from my father-in-law, an avid hunter that lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I knew that although I could certainly use beef for this dish, it would be absolutely stellar with venison. I’ve made it several times since then, with beef or venison, with delicious results!

 

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Olive oil
3 red onions, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons butter, plus extra
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
10 oz. baby bella mushrooms, chopped
3 lbs. venison (or beef), cut into 3/4″ cubes
A few sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
Salt and pepper
24 oz. of your favorite lager or stout
3 tablespoons flour
12 oz. freshly grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 pounds store-bought puff pastry (all butter is best)
1 large egg, beaten

 

Pre-heat the oven to 375.

In a large oven-proof pan, heat a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the onions and fry gently for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat up and add the garlic, butter, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Stir well, then add the venison, rosemary, and a teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Sauté on high for about 4 minutes, then add the beer, making sure you take a swig for luck! Stir in the flour and add just enough water to cover. Bring it to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid or foil, and cook it in the pre-heated oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove it from the oven after 1 1/2 hours and stir it a bit to combine all the flavors. Put it back in the oven (covered) and cook another hour, until the meat is cooked and the stew is rich, dark and thick. If it’s still liquidy, place the pan on the stove top and reduce it until the sauce thickens. (You don’t want a soupy stew or you’ll get soggy puff pastry later.) Remove the pan from the heat and stir in half the cheese. Taste it to see if it needs seasoning, but remember there’s more salt coming when you add the rest of the cheese. Set it aside to cool.

Depending on whether your puff pastry comes in sheets or a block, you’ll need to use a rolling-pin to get it into sheets about 1/8″ thick. Butter a good-sized pie dish or an oven-proof terrine, like the one in the photo above. Line the dish with the sheets of pastry, letting the pastry hang over the sides. Pour in the stew, even it out with a spatula, and add the rest of the grated cheese on top.

Use another 1/8″ thick sheet of pastry (or a couple if they’re not wide enough) to cover the top of the pie dish. Lightly crisscross the top with a knife, then fold over the overhanging pieces of pastry over the lid, making it look nice and rustic. Don’t cut or throw any of the extra pastry away! Find a way to use as much as you can, since everyone will want some.

Brush the top with the beaten egg and then bake the pie on the bottom of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pastry has cooked, and it’s beautifully puffed and golden. Serve with a side of peas (and beer!)

 

 

 

 

Shrimp with an orange sauce is something you see on every Chinese restaurant menu. I didn’t have oranges, but wanted a citrus kick to my sweet and spicy sauce. I went with grapefruit and I never looked back!

Although I call this recipe “Asian shrimp,” I never buy my shrimp from Asia! Only wild-caught American shrimp will ever do. When you realize just how nasty Asian shrimp can be (farmed in over-crowded conditions, swimming in their own filth and fed chemical food pellets and antibiotics) you’ll never eat it again.

Green beans looked good in the produce aisle, so I used them, but feel free to substitute with broccoli, asparagus, or any veggies you like.

Chili garlic sauce and hoisin sauce can be found in most supermarkets, in the international foods section.

As long as you use gluten-free soy sauce and hoisin sauce (the brand La Choy is GF), this dish is gluten-free!

 

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For the rice:

1 cup cooked basmati rice (I use Texmati brown rice)
2 cups seafood stock (I use homemade shrimp and fish stock, but vegetable stock will work)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 scallions, finely chopped

 

For the veggies:

1/2 Vidalia onion, finely chopped
1 lb. fresh green beans, washed and cut into 1/4′ pieces
1 teaspoon soy sauce
splash of peanut oil

 

For the shrimp:

2 dozen thawed, peeled and de-veined wild-caught USA shrimp
1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
juice and zest of 1 grapefruit
splash of peanut oil

 

Making your own seafood stock is easy: just peel the shrimp you’re going to use in this recipe, and place the shells in a saucepan full of water. Let it boil until you’ve reduced it to 2 cups. Strain out the shells and discard them. Then use the stock to cook your rice, according to the package directions. Once the rice is cooked, toss in the chopped scallions, mix well, and set the rice aside.

Add peanut oil to a hot pan and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the green beans and cook them until they’re al dente. Add the soy sauce, stir, and then pour the contents of the pan into the rice. Mix well.

Using the same pan, add a little more peanut oil and sear the shrimp on both sides. Don’t overcook them! Push the shrimp to the sides of the pan so that a circle remains in the middle. Add the chili garlic sauce and hoysin sauce and stir them together, then blending in the shrimp until the shrimp are covered with the sauce. Add the grapefruit zest and juice and stir until everything is combined and the sauce has thickened just a bit.

Pour the contents of the pan into the rice mix and combine. Add more soy sauce to the rice, if you like.

THE CHALLENGE OF DIETING

Posted: January 19, 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,
Like many people, I’ve done my best over the last few years to avoid the obvious: I need to lose some weight. Every time I get my yearly check-up at the doctor’s, he tells me: “You need to lose at least 20 pounds.” I nod my head, as if I’m going to give it a try, then head straight for Fellini’s pizza in Providence, for a couple of slices. The next year: same thing: “You need to lose at least 20 pounds.” I nod….
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 62 in March of this year, and I have a 13-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.
With a trip to Florida in March and a trip to the Caribbean in April, I have two deadlines set in place for reaching weight loss goals. As I put it to my daughter: “I want to lose enough weight so that women won’t vomit when I take my shirt off!” (She responded with the typical teenage eye-roll.)

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 last year, 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…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, and rarely sits in my home freezer. I don’t put sugar in my coffee, and I don’t drink juices or soda. 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 slab I was eating before.
Having a deadline or a goal really helps. As I said, trips to Florida and the Caribbean, where I’ll be showing my gut to the world, is plenty of incentive. So I made a decision back before the holidays that I would start on January 2nd.
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 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!

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. Of course, that still counts in my 1500-calorie-a-day plan. So that means I 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.
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. Then, as you get comfortable and progress, start making better and healthier food choices. Anyone who starts a diet by chewing celery after a lifetime of steak and potatoes is going nowhere!
After I reach my goal weight, which is my wedding weight of 217 pounds (that’s a 21-pound drop), I can choose to continue my diet or go 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’ll feel like I’m cheating!)
What I’m learning with this diet, as I cook healthier, measuring how much fat I put in a pan before frying…cutting my huge steaks into smaller pieces and trimming off the fat…is that I never want to go back to my old way of eating again. I can still eat anything I love…just a little bit less.

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 for very rare occasions.
Good…
Boiled Shrimp is our friend at just 80 calories for 4 ounces, and lots of protein.
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, it will tell you just how many calories you’ve burned. You can subtract that from your daily calorie count.
You WILL lose weight if you diet without exercise. You WILL lose weight FASTER if you diet AND exercise, assuming you don’t gorge after your workout. You will NEVER lose weight eating the same junk, thinking you can “work it off.”
As I write this blog, it is Day 17 of my diet and I’ve lost 9 pounds! But for the last couple of days, my scale has been holding steady, teasing me…taunting me!  I know I’ve got to keep doing the right thing…and that’s going to get me through those days until I step on that scale and see that downward movement again.
I can do it! So can you!

I rarely order beef at a restaurant, because I can usually make a better steak at home. For one thing, I use humanely raised grass-fed beef, something few restaurants offer. And I can cook it for less than a third of the price of a steakhouse. Granted, most steakhouses dry-age their beef, a time-consuming process of taking slabs of beef and keeping them in a fridge for weeks until a certain amount of moisture is sucked out of the meat, intensifying the flavor. I can do that at home in my fridge, but it takes a lot of time and effort.

There is one steak that I couldn’t match for the longest time, and that was the Capital Grille’s bone-in Kona crusted dry-aged NY strip. I would have dreams about that steak! It was time to find a way to make something that would satisfy my craving for that amazing steak at home.

Looking at a variety of coffee rub recipes on-line, I started the slow and steady process of combining ingredients in just the right proportions, tasting as I went. What I came up with really accentuated the flavor of the beef I was cooking, better than I had imagined!

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3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground coffee (use your favorite)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 

Combine the ingredients, mixing well, and keep them in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.

When using, sprinkle the seasoning liberally on both sides of the steak before cooking. Searing a steak on all sides in a cast iron skillet and then finishing it in the oven is a great way to cook a slab of beef, but let’s face it: nothing beats the grill!

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Let’s face it: there are few foods as magical as bacon. Add bacon to just about any dish you’re preparing, and it elevates it to incredible new heights of flavor. The BLT is possibly the greatest food combination ever invented: just a few simple, fresh ingredients, when placed together, transforming into one of the greatest sandwiches on planet Earth.

 

BLT wraps: home-cured and smoked bacon, local farmstead romaine, home garden tomatoes.

 

If I’m buying bacon, I go on-line to Burger’s Smokehouse, a family run business in Missouri that has made great bacon for decades. The prices are good, and they include shipping. (www.smokehouse.com) I buy in quantity and freeze what I don’t need right away. My favorite is the thick-sliced country bacon “steaks.”

But nothings beats making your own.

Bacon comes from the pork belly, and they’re easy to find in any good butcher shop. But to get something a notch above, I’ll buy a heritage breed, like Berkshire pork, from Heritage Pork International. (www.heritagepork.com)  I follow the simple curing techniques outlined in “Charcuterie,” a great book written by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn.

To cure bacon, all you really need is salt and sugar, and what they in the curing biz call “pink salt,” which is not to be confused with salt that happens to be pink, like Himalayan salt you would find in a gourmet store. Pink salt is bright pink to let you know that it’s a special salt that should only be used in small quantities for curing. The reason is: nitrites. Nitrites delay the spoilage of the meat, and help keep the flavors of spices and smoke. They also keep the meat nice and pink instead of an unappetizing gray. That’s good. But nitrites can break down into nitrosamines, which have been known to cause cancer in lab animals. But let’s face it: you would need to eat a ton of cured meat to really worry about this. (I buy uncured deli meats and hot dogs at the supermarket, because processed meats are a different story. But since I know exactly what goes into my own bacon, I’m not worried about the level of nitrites.)

 

Just out of the smoker! Diamond-shaped slashes in the fat allow more of the rub to penetrate while curing.

 

To make the basic dry cure:

1/2 lb. kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
1 oz. pink curing salt

Mix the ingredients well.

An important note: all Kosher salts do not all weigh the same! The two largest brands, Morton’s and Diamond Crystal, for example, are very different (Morton’s is heavier), so always go by the weight and not by a cup measurement.

Once the dry cure is mixed, I keep it stored in my pantry, ready to use when I need it.

When it’s time to be makin’ the bacon, I combine the dry cure with other ingredients to make my bacon rub.

 

My improved bacon rub:

1 cup basic dry cure (above)
3 tablespoons Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal in my recipes, for consistency)
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion

Mix these ingredients well. Rub it generously all over the pork belly. I like to slash the fat side of the pork belly with a knife, to make sure the rub permeates the meat.

I have a large plastic container with a lid that fits one slab of pork belly perfectly. I place the belly inside it, put the lid on, and place the container in the fridge. The pork belly stays there for at least a couple of weeks, maybe three. I flip the belly every few days. You’ll see that the salt will draw moisture out of the meat and form a brine. This brine will continue to cure your pork belly, so leave it in there. Just flip it, push the belly down into the liquid, then put the lid back on the container, and back in the fridge.

 

Pork belly in…bacon out!

 

In two or three weeks, once the pork belly has cured, rinse the belly with cold clean water, and pat it dry with paper towels. Now it’s time to cook. You can simply cook the pork belly at 200 degrees for about 2 hours…or smoke it. I place the pork belly in a digital smoker, which allows me to set an exact temperature. I smoke it at 250 degrees for at least 2 hours, using hickory chips.

 

 

Smoked bacon

And now it’s bacon!

That’s it. You have achieved bacon!

The reward is so worth the effort.
Smoking the pork belly won’t necessarily cook it all the way through, so you still have to slice it and fry it before eating. (Would you eat a raw package of bacon from the store? …Exactly!) That first slice you cut off your bacon and toss in a pan to lightly fry for a few moments will be the best bite you’ve ever had in your life!
And if you’re making one slab of bacon, why not make two or three? It freezes well. And…you will eat it. You know you will!
Frying in the pan!

Frying in the pan!

 

Slicing the bacon up for freezing.