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Well things are going well. The restaurant has been super busy with the great weather and we are catering two large events this weekend, both high-end events, one a wedding and the other a big lunch for one of the non-profits here in Reno. I think the count is at a bit over 300 at this point.

Everyone has been calm until today and now the stress is starting to work its way around the place. Menus are being finalized, shopping lists are starting to be made and we are trying to figure out where to put everything. We have no space in the restaurant and even less refrigeration as many of you know.

The great thing about this business though is that you don’t have any choice but to get it done. You can’t be late, you can’t skimp on the ingredients and you have to bring your A game every time or you quickly find yourself out of business. Fortunately for me, Megan and Nancy have been doing this, with limited resources, for the past 6 years. All I really need to do is to do as I’m told and not ask questions. Ha ha.

So with the stress of the week I decided I would handle the cooking for the family last night. I bookmarked a chicken curry recipe from eatingwell.com not long ago and I thought it was time. I love curry, and especially enjoy the smell when we make our chicken curry salad for the restaurant.

For a bit of background on my first first-hand curry encounter we need to go back a bit over a year ago. I had started at Dish, most important was the fact that I was coming from a sales and marketing background. Other than working at Lyon’s Restaurant when I was 18 as a dishwasher I had no experience. Granted I heard all the stories from Nancy for the prior 5 years, but as Megan still says “Joe you always find the hardest way to complete a task”.

When I first started it was hard to be the co-owner of the place when I didn’t even know what the heck I was doing. Granted I increased our catering business at a drastic rate in the first few months, but I didn’t have a good grasp on how to complete the day-to-day activities of the business. Yes I knew how to do some cooking and I could handle the customers and the cash register, though I didn’t write tickets too well, still don’t actually.

So one day, trying to help out, learn and garner some respect from the employees, I told our prep cook that the next time the chicken curry needed to be made I would take care of it for him.

Well soon enough the day came and in typical Dish fashion they threw a half written recipe at me, yelled out a few instructions and said thanks and all went back to doing whatever it was they were doing. Now not only did I not have any idea what chicken curry was all about, I had four lunch caterings I was trying to organize that day. I knew I didn’t have enough time to complete it, but I was trying to get respect from my employees and get in the trenches with them. So I said, “Sure, okay, I’ll do it”.

I then surveyed the place trying to find somewhere to prep and put my portable burner so I could get going. My usual space, behind the front counter, was being used by another employee who was making Greek Salads en masse for the caterings. Somehow I found a small place with a table that would do. Unfortunately it was about as far away as you could get from everyone else in the restaurant and far from the kitchen. Resulting in… back and forth to the kitchen to ask questions, get spoons, knives, etc. DOH!

Needless to say about 20 minutes into it, I had completed about 5 minutes of work and beads of sweat were starting to appear on my forehead. My employees, who could see I was stressed and in over my head just watched in amusement as I fumbled around and generally made a fool of myself. None of them said a word though. Finally Nancy came over, thank God, and told me to get back to the counter and finish overseeing the catering orders and she would finish the curry.

It took me another month or so until I tried again… I came in on a Sunday night when everyone was gone and made it for Monday morning. Everything worked out well and I saved face.

Back to present time. This recipe worked out great. It was super easy to make, which I like since I made it after work. It didn’t take long and it tasted great. Both boys ate two helpings and neither are super curry fans. I really enjoyed the yogurt sauce as well instead of a coconut-milk-based sauce, which Randy has some issues with.

Definitely give it a try! I made it with brown basmati rice which I cooked for 45 minutes after it started to boil. To spice it up as well I added a teaspoon of coriander and half teaspoon of cumin along with a tablespoon of butter and a good pinch of salt to the rice and water before it started to boil. Nancy made some steamed rainbow chard with salt and butter to serve alongside. The boys said this was not bad, and ate some. These are “greens” and are high in nutrients, so steam some up and serve ’em to the kiddos.

Low Calorie Chicken Curry with Yogurt Sauce (serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped – I like onions so I used a large onion
  • 1.5 pounds boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cubed into 1.5 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (can sub 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon & 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more if you like
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 2 cups low-fat or nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in onions and garlic and saute until golden, about 5 minutes. Make sure to not burn the garlic. Just reduce the heat if it’s cooking too fast. Add the chicken and saute until browned. Add the water, coriander, ginger, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, raisins and apricot preserves.

Simmer uncovered until chicken is cooked and the liquid is mostly absorbed and/or evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes.

Slowly stir cornstarch into the yogurt until dissolved. Add mixture into the pan and stir to incorporate. Simmer gently, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens. Do not boil or the sauce will separate. Season with salt and pepper.

Eat it and enjoy. Please pass on other ideas to help me with my Curry Cooking Quest!

Thanks!

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I started this post last Wednesday. The past few days have been a bit rough. The restaurant has been very busy and we were down one person for the past few weeks. This changed today though, as we had someone start who worked for us in the past and she was able to plug right in.

To give you a bit of background our restaurant is small. We have 38 seats inside and 12 outside. Total square feet is 1,200 and there are 6 of us. Nancy is the creative genius and overseer of the operation, baker and chef. Myself, chef dishwasher. Megan, our superstar chef de cuisine has been with us for almost 4 years. Lisa, is the focused prep and line cook. Joannie the great baker (who probably doesn’t need to work, but does because she loves working with me so much) and our counter person Anna who just started back with us today. Last, but not least is Mike who handles a ton of deliveries for us and makes sure the lunch caterings are ready to go out the door.

With only 5 employees in the cafe, if you are missing one person you can really feel it. On average we have a full restaurant everyday and most days we handle 3 to 5 catering delivery orders that go out before the lunch rush. We make all of that food in the midst of steaming milk for the latte people, scrambling eggs for the breakfast burritos and corralling pastries for the “just coffee ma’am” men who change their minds when they see a tray of hot scones hit the counter. The best part is, we do it with a 87 square foot kitchen. Imagine that if you can. Most of you probably have a larger walk-in closet than our kitchen.

Anyway getting back to food… you can tell by the last few posts we’ve been eating pretty rich lately and I’ve missed a few days of exercise. We had frittata last weekend as well as spare ribs on Sunday (post coming on that one) still doing some research. We had a lasagna with an excellent bolongese sauce Nancy made as well.

I was hoping to get home a little earlier last Wednesday, so I could try out some low calorie chicken tacos. I love tacos plain and simple and believe me I need to start making some lower calorie, lower fat food for a few days and get myself back in line. Nancy leads a bible study and was going to be heading out early, so the goal was to get home, work out and make dinner so we could eat together before she had to leave. The evening didn’t work out as planned.

Nancy left while I was working out, said she would pick something up on the way. I had no desire to cook anything so I pulled out one of my standbys… a Trader Joe’s, Trader Ming’s meal in a box. There are three different versions, Pad Thai, Kung Pao and Peanut Satay. They are actually pretty darn good.

The noodles are in one package, the sauce in another. You open the box, remove the noodles from their package, put back in the box, mix with the sauce and warm in the microwave for 2 minutes. Viola! You have a meal. The best part is they are only about 550 calories, which is what I’m shooting for at dinner.

So, if you haven’t tried them, give them a shot.

Okay, back to chicken tacos. The recipe is inspired from a few different versions I looked at on Food Network. I was able to make them on Thursday of last week, but due to chaos and craziness it has taken me until today to get the text done. They were excellent, so easy to make and tasted great. You can literally make them in 1/2 hour after work and enjoy a filling and low calorie meal.

Low Fat Chicken Tacos

Ingredients

  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into small cubes or strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced or not seeded if you like it really hot
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup store bought salsa or make your own
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 sliced scallions and 1 large tomato chopped for garnish
  • 1 cup low fat sour cream, or the real stuff
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheese

Pat chicken dry with paper towels to remove moisture. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet, preferably not non-stick (the chicken will not brown as well), over high heat just until oil starts to smoke. Add the chicken and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until browned on all sides. This is going to take about 4 to 6 minutes. If the bottom of the pan becomes full of liquid and the chicken is poaching instead of browning, pour off the liquid. You want the chicken to brown, not steam or poach. If the chicken starts to burn you can add more oil and/or turn down the heat. You want the brown bits to form on the bottom of the pan, this will add flavor later.

When the chicken is browned remove from pan to a bowl and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. When hot add onions and cook, stirring until they are tender, about 5 minutes. As the onions release their liquid you can start to scrape up the browned bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan. You will notice that they mix in with the onions and your mouth with start to salivate at this point.

Now add the bell pepper, garlic, jalapeño and cumin. Continue to stir so as not to burn the garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes until peppers are bright, but still remain crisp.

While this is finishing up, take your tortillas, place them on a plate, cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the microwave for 1 minute. This is the quick way to warm through your tortillas without having to warm up the oven. It works fine! The plastic wrap holds the moisture in as they warm.

Now stir in the salsa and the chicken you set aside. Cook, stirring and bringing up the remainder of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan until the chicken is hot, about 3 or 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Spoon into the warmed tortillas and garnish as you see fit. Pig out!

Let me know how it goes and what changes you have made! -Joe

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Wow, what a week. We went out to Mexican food on Friday, Spanish Tortillas on Saturday and Sunday mornings, baby back ribs for dinner on Saturday and slow cooked (6 hours) brisket on Sunday. Monday, left over Brisket. Tuesday I came home from the restaurant and Nancy was baking two pizzas, one with fresh mozzarella and basil from our small garden and one with some pepperoni, mozzarella and cheddar.

I told myself I would eat two small pieces, 5 trips back to the cutting board and 7 pieces later, they were small, I was laying on the carpet with the dog standing over me (I think she was laughing), feeling full, content and well a bit sick! The pizza was good and my willpower was bad!

Holy cow… how am I supposed to not gain poundage like this? For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve lost 45 pounds in the past year. How? Simply less food, watching portions and exercising for 45 minutes each day. Oh and not eating like I did the past four days more than once every three or four weeks. Yes you can have a ton of fun eating and experimenting while still losing weight. I also eat very small meals throughout the day, 300 or 400 calories and then I try and limit my dinner to 600 calories max. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in hearing more. I’ve done quite a bit of research and testing. Maybe too much!

So how do I fix this? I still want a filling meal, in fact I still wanted meat. I need to get out Mark Bittman’s vegetarian book soon. What I came up with is a relatively low fat, turkey burger. I have cooked them multiple times on the stove on on my All Clad grill pan to great reviews and they always come through. They taste good, fill me up and best of all I don’t feel any guilt when I’m done. Both of the kids even like them, though they like my chuck cheeseburgers better.

I decided on Wednesday night that I would try to barbecue them for a change. I’ve been really juiced on the BBQ lately so I thought why not. I was a bit worried about the burgers sticking to the grill so I decided to rub a bit of olive oil on each side which did the trick. Also make sure your grill is oiled! One other important note, don’t let these burgers sit on the counter for long like I suggest for other types of meat. They don’t hold together as well as they get warmer and tend to break on the flip. Lastly, you do not have to put breadcrumbs in your turkey burgers to keep them together. Breadcrumbs are for a meatloaf, not burgers.

Now you will notice one thing in the one particular photo, ahhh, well, yeah there is a version that doesn’t look too low fat, which is the one with the Brioche Bun, yummmm! Yes the bun has more calories than the hamburger and the cheese combined, hahah. Oh well, I guess after the past week I still don’t completely have my willpower back. Whole Foods just opened not far from my house this week, yes I’m so freaking happy, and I couldn’t resist them when Nancy pointed them out to me!

As for the recipe I found it in “Best Light Recipe” last year and have adapted if for the BBQ. They suggest cooking it on the stove, so will include their version and mine. Honestly the Cooks Illustrated books are some of the best cook books you can buy if you want to understand and learn what is going on with the food. Oh and it tastes as good on the stove as the grill!

So next time you have eaten your quota for the week, but still want a good burger, try these out. I promise you, it will be time well spent.

Turkey Burgers on the Grill: Serves 5 (my adapted version)

  • 1 1/4 pounds Ground Turkey 7% fat
  • 5 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup of low-fat ricotta cheese
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Olive Oil

Prepare grill for medium high heat. Make sure to oil grill before starting to keep burgers from sticking.

Combine the turkey, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, ricotta and 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl until mixed well. Divide the mixture between 5 burgers, 3/4 inch thick.

Lightly salt both sides of the burgers and then coat with a small amount of olive oil.

Grill for a total of 9 to 11 minutes depending on desired doneness, turning only once. Instant read thermometer should read 160 degrees to be safe. One minute before taking burgers off be sure to grill your hamburger buns or sourdough English muffins, add cheese to the burgers, close lid and let melt. If using Brioche they will grill fast and can burn pretty quickly so wait until you pull the burgers off, then grill them.

Grilled Asparagus

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste

Place asparagus on a plate or in a bowl. Drizzle oil over the asparagus and turn spears until they are coated. Sprinkle with salt and turn again.

Grill asparagus for 7 – 10 minutes. I put them on when I first start my burgers, flip them halfway and if they cook before the burgers I move them to the top rack of my grill!

Turkey Burgers Serves 4 (Cooks Illustrated)

  • 1 1/4 pounds Ground Turkey 7% fat
  • 3 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup of fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Combine th turkey, ricotta, Worcestershire, mustard, salt and pepper together in a large bowl with your hands until uniformly combined. Do not overwork. Divide the mixture into 4 portions. Light toss one portion from hand to hand to form a ball, then lightly flatten the ball with your fingertips. Make four 1-inch thick patties.

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until smoking. Lay the burgers in the skillet and cook until light brown and crusted, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the burgers and continue to cook until the second side is light brown, 3 to 4 minutes longer.

Reduce the heat to low, partially cover and continue to cook until the burgers are no longer pink in the center and the thickest part registers 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes longer.

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