Category Archives: Cooking

Lean Dinners for Fat Tuesday

Packsi

You’re looking at a marathon, folks.

TODAY WAS MARDI GRAS, bien sûr, and in Ann Arbor you couldn’t take three steps without running into some place selling pączkis. Traditionally, these were made to use up lard and sugar you weren’t allowed to eat during Lent. With 40 days of relative privation ahead, one could be forgiven for packing away a few at around 450 calories each. For me, however, it would only create the need to tack on five miles to my next run.

As careful as I tried to be, I was nearly sucked in when I stopped at the Coffee House Creamery near closing for a little Mint Moose Tracks(*). They had pączkis, naturally, and Jamie (I know all their names) was trying her best to get rid of the few they had left. Fortunately, they were out of Bavarian Cream, the only kind I like, so I escaped.

Anyway, in the spirit of balance, I’d like to share on this Fat Tuesday a couple of dishes from Cooking Light magazine that I made recently. They have the distinct advantages of being quick to make, low in calories, and high in nutrition. Oh, and they taste great, too. Click on their titles to get the recipes.

Herbed Shrimp and White Bean Salad

Herbed Shrimp and White Bean SaladThe greens here are great choices – the arugula looks good with the shrimp, and the watercress adds a great mild peppery bite. I used champagne vinegar in place of the sherry vinegar, and chopped Roma tomatoes instead of grape tomatoes. I was surprised that the shrimp was seasoned only with some diluted honey and a bit of salt, but they grilled up with great color and flavor. I think the key was to use good quality fresh shrimp, and not the frozen stuff, which gets rubbery very fast.

Grill pan

Available at your local Gateway to the Abyss Costco.

I used this enameled cast-iron grill pan for the shrimp. Just a couple of minutes per side did the trick. I left the tails on to protect the tail meat from overcooking and for a prettier presentation.

On the same website where this recipe can be found is a more involved one which you’re welcome to try if you’re more ambitious and/or have more time than I do at present. For us, this simpler version was just great. And just 267 calories per serving.

Crisp Lamb Lettuce Wraps

Crisp Lamb Lettuce WrapsThis one was a real surprise to me. I like Mediterranean food, but I was skeptical how well cinnamon was going to work with ground meat. The flavors came at me from all directions, but the hummus, yogurt and mint blended smoothly with the lamb and veggies to create a very satisfying mouthful. This one’s a keeper, too.

While I’m a big fan of wraps, I much prefer flatbread or some other grain-based wrapper to leaves. But the photo in the magazine looked so good I went ahead with the lettuce instead. I didn’t miss the bread. The Boston lettuce is sturdy enough to hold it all most of the way.

Two wraps (one serving) were enough to fill me up. For this much flavor and how filling it is, it’s amazing that they total only 158 calories. I probably used more than 1/4 cup of filling per wrap, but not that much more. This tasted just as good the next day served cold – maybe even better, since the flavors in the lamb mixture had time to mingle.

So there you have it – two healthy, low-calorie dishes to offset any fat-filled sugary goodies you may have consumed today. That said, I happened to stop at the ice cream place on my way back from shopping for some exotic ingredients. Details to follow when I try the recipe, but I will say it’s supposedly healthy but ain’t low in calories.

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(*) Food of the gods.

Quickie Chocolate Review: Francois Pralus São Tomé & Principe Forastero Bar

Sao Tome ThumbnailWhere I got it: Zingerman’s Next Door, Ann Arbor MI

Price: $9.99 for 3.5 oz. (100g)

Cocoa percentage: 75%

Website: www.chocolats-pralus.com

The Sao Tome bar is one of a family of single-plantation chocolates from Pralus.

I got this bar as a Christmas present from my daughter Rachel (have I mentioned that she works at Zingerman’s?). It’s about the only way I would get one, since I’m genetically predisposed not to spend $10.00 on a chocolate bar. But after sampling it, I think my DNA has been rewritten.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
.

Story: (from the wrapper)

The island cultures of Sao Tome and Principe conspire to produce a chocolate that is both intense and distinct in flavour, quite unlike what is usually found in Africa. This is a result of the trees’ genetic purity.”

Sao Tome Wrapper

Appearance:

The wrapper is a pleasing combination of subtle browns, which to me lends elegance to the package. It does not scream for attention, but lies there waiting to be seen and studied. The other Pralus bars look similar on the outside, so there’s nothing that says “Pick me” about the Sao Tome. But Rachel, who has sampled them all, deems it the pick of the litter.

The chocolate has a nice sheen to it, and the “Pralus” in the right corner provides distinction and breaks up what would be an otherwise ordinary small block pattern.

Texture:

The bar snaps cleanly and dissolves rapidly and smoothly in the mouth. Very creamy mouthfeel.

Flavor:

With a 75% cocoa content, you’d expect deep chocolate flavor at first, and that is what you get. It is definitely intense, but not at all bitter. After that, a sweetness emerges that becomes fruity in nature and lasts to the finish.

The best part of high quality chocolate is that you don’t need much to be satisfied, and the Sao Tome fits that bill. Just a few squares is enough for me at any one time. I can actually put the bar down without longing glances at the rest of it, knowing it will be there for me later.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: Not only would I pay $10.00 for this bar, I went to Zingerman’s and did just that today. I didn’t even try to play the “my-daughter-works-here-can-I-have-her-discount” card.  (I ran there and back to give myself some justification – I earned it.)

Rachel: This is the best chocolate bar I’ve ever had. ‘Nuff said.

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Did you like this review? How can it be made better? Would you like to see more? Let me know.

Quickie Chocolate Review: Theo Congo Vanilla Nib Bar

Theo Congo Bar WrapperWhere I got it: Whole Foods
Price: $3.99 for 3 oz. (84g)
Cocoa percentage: 65%
Website: www.theochocolate.com

I was assisted in this review by my daughter Rachel, who works at Zingerman’s and is thus surrounded by high-quality chocolate from all over the globe, is trained to sell it, and gets to sample it frequently. I, on the other hand, am just a snob. You decide whom to believe.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

Story: (from the wrapper)
In Eastern Congo, Theo Chocolate and Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) have teamed up with Congolese cocoa farmers to make this delicious and crunchy vanilla nib chocolate bar. The cocoa and vanilla used to make this chocolate bar are all grown in Eastern Congo by dedicated organic farmers focused on quality and sustainability…Proceeds from this chocolate bar will be donated to ECI…”

Theo Congo Bar

Appearance:
The wrapper is visually striking, which is the main reason it caught my eye at the checkout counter. Its exotic origin (Congo chocolate is not common) and the organic/fair trade/non-GMO labels also helped lead me to the impulse buy. Definitely a marketing win.

With such a striking presentation, I was somewhat disappointed with the appearance of the chocolate itself. It lacks the gloss of higher-end chocolate bars, and its large slab-like divisions are unappealing to me, resembling a mass-produced factory product.

Texture:
The bar snaps cleanly without shattering. It does not melt in the mouth quickly, and with chewing, breaks into small pieces before dissolving. The cocoa nibs provide a nice slight crunch to the bar, which I like.

Flavor:
The dark chocolate flavor is what I tasted first – quite nice, distinctive but not overpowering. The cocoa nibs provide a dark roasted coffee-like flavor when crunched. Despite “vanilla” being part of the bar’s name, I did not directly taste it. Given the suggestive colors of the wrapper, I was expecting fruity notes, but it turned sour at the end, leaving, to me, an unpleasant finish.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: This is not a bar I would purchase again. For me to spend $4 or more on chocolate, I have to really enjoy it, and while it has some qualities I like, they aren’t strong enough to overcome its sour notes.

Rachel: I like the flavor of this bar, and I would let my dad purchase it again.

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Did you like this review? How can it be made better? Would you like to see more? Let me know.

2012 – The Fitness at 50 Year in Review

IT’S STILL A BIT HARD TO BELIEVE that 2012, my “year of being 50” is over and done with, even as full a year as it was.

As a forward-looking guy, I’m more interested in what I’m doing and learning now, and training for events to come. But readers who joined me during the year (thank you, thank you!) may not be fully aware of everything I’d planned for, and did, during 2012. So, in a nutshell, here’s what I’d set for myself to accomplish last year, and how it worked out.

2012 – The Setup

The idea to do something special at age 50 began in 2007 as a “500 at 50” bike trip, in which I would ride from home to our campground near the Sleeping Bear Dunes and back (500 miles) in the summer of 2012. As I continued to train and get in better shape, however, I thought of other things I could do to celebrate being 50, and gradually the plan developed for all the 50-related goals in 2012 – including creating a blog to tell the story.

In addition to the bike trip and a total running/cycling goal of 2,500 miles (50×50), I set monthly targets in the various activities and hobbies I pursue.

With such a great coach, success was a near guarantee.

With such a great coach, success was a near guarantee.

Calisthenics (January):  I kicked off 2012 with a modest goal of 50 pushups per day in January, and despite getting a cold a couple of weeks in, made the goal. A good start!

Cooking (February & March) – This part didn’t work out so well. My initial goal was to cook 50 new recipes in February. I didn’t get near that number, even when I extended it to March. A key certification effort at work meant I didn’t have the time or energy to get there. On the plus side, I created or found some recipes that became family favorites. Later in the year I tried out a few new truffle flavors, too. My experience with durian in December was less pleasant, but a learning experience nonetheless.

Of course, these are all "calorie-free" - since I don't sell them, all the calories are free.

Of course, these are all “calorie-free” – since I don’t sell them, all the calories are free.

ReverseHandThrowAikido (April, July) – Goal: attend 50 classes in one month. I chose April because the big push at work was over, and it wouldn’t be too hot in the dojo (our school doesn’t believe in air conditioning). By attending my regular Rec & Ed classes and getting in lots of extra training at the main dojo, I wound up with 55 for the month. We celebrated by doing 55 pushups at the end of the final class.

Bokken - KamaeIn July my goal was buki (wooden weapons) practice in increasing sets of 50. So at the end of the month I was doing 200 sword strikes per day. I think I improved my technique as a result, although I’ve been told it takes 1,000 strikes per day to get really good.

Cycling (May, August) – The August “500 at 50” bike trip was the main event, but I wanted to get some serious BIS (butt-in-saddle) time before then. I decided on some all-weekend rides in May, with the goal of visiting 50 small towns during the month. Town #50 was Honor, which I reached during our Memorial Day weekend trip up north.

Doing my part to save lives!

Doing my part to save lives! (Breast cancer walk fundraiser in Clinton.)

Daughters - the best welcoming committee!

Daughters – the best welcoming committee! (Arrival at the campground.)

The August 500-mile trip wound up being 600 miles due to back roads (and getting lost a couple of times), and despite some unexpected detours and riding an entire day in the rain, made it there and back on schedule, meeting a number of wonderful people and eating a lot of cookies and scones along the way. You can read about it here.

NaNoWriMo 2012 Winner CertificateWriting (November) – November was National Novel Writing Month (fondly known among writers as NaNoWriMo), whose annual challenge is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month (how convenient!). I selected a story idea that had been bouncing around in my head for a couple of years, and finally put electrons to it. I got over the 50,000 word mark with a day to spare. Now comes the fun part – completing it, then edit, revise, and repeat.

Mile 19 - State Street - croppedRunning (year round) – Wow. When did I turn into a runner? My count shows 20 races from December 2011 to December 2012, with age group awards in 12 of them, a PR (personal record) in every distance, and a finish under 20:00 in a 5K, something I’d been working toward for two years. I also set a distance PR by running a 50K (31.2 miles) ultramarathon at Run Woodstock in September (and did something else for the first time that you can read about here). And you couldn’t ask for better support than my coach, Marie, and the wonderful folks who run with PR Fitness.

The PR Fitness teams at the Crim 10-mile. (I'm the last row, far right.)

The PR Fitness teams at the Crim 10-mile. I’m in the back row, far right. Marie is center, bib #2875.

You may have noticed that not every month is covered. June was the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon and the Ann Arbor Marathon, so I figured that was enough to go on. October I just couldn’t think of anything, so I let it go. (That was the best part of this whole thing. My year, my rules!)

So, have I set goals for 2013? Yes – and no. Details to follow.