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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Bullying and Hate

Those who cannot do teach.  Those who cannot teach, teach gym. – Woody Allen

Once upon a time, there was a boy in his first year in high school.  He was in gym class and some older boys decided to play a trick on him.  One of the older boys grabbed the younger boys arms behind his back and tried to throw him in the mud.  The younger boy struggled to get out of the older boys grasp.  When he did, the older boys laughed at their friend, so the older boy hit the younger boy in the face and screamed, “What, you hit me in the balls?”  The younger boy yelled back, “How could I hit you in the balls, you had my hands behind my back!”

Later, the younger boy went to his evil gym teacher.  The younger boy said, “Hey (name here) keep your goons off me!”  To which the evil gym teacher said, “I didn’t see anything.”  The younger boy knew the evil gym teacher was lying, because the entire class turned around to see what all the yelling was about.

Have you been following the Sayreville high school football team story?  For those of you who haven’t, seven football players on the team have been arrested for allegedly hazing the freshman on the team.  Okay, I get hazing to a point…buying all the kids on the team donuts, or having to sing the school song, or something like that.  This, however, went over the line.  Way over.  Allegedly, these older boys would pin the freshman players down, in the locker room, in the dark, and shove their fingers into the boys’ rectums, and then put their fingers in the boys’ mouths.

In response, the school superintendent cancelled the rest of the season.  And the response?  Perhaps even more sickening than the actual act was the reaction of some of the parents.  “My boy wasn’t involved and he’s being punished.  He’s the victim!”


A few weeks ago, I was at Mohegan Sun playing in a poker tournament.  The conversation at the table turned to politics and the lady who sat next to me said, “I hate Obama.  I think he hates this country.”  I replied, “Well, I don’t think he is a particularly good President, but I certainly don’t think he hates this country.”  Her response?  “I’m telling you, he HATES this country, and that’s ALL THERE IS TO IT.”

There sure are a lot of hate filled people in this world. 

Just in the last few weeks, there have been stories about people in Texas riding with urine in their car and then throwing it on people.  Stories about people who put a kitten in a clothes dryer so they could watch the cat tumble in it.  Stories about how an adult at the Grand Canyon enticed a squirrel with some food, and then kicked the squirrel over the edge of the canyon.  Stories about a teacher who had a 15 year old sophomore break her rules by chewing gum in class, so the entire class, at the teacher’s insistence, threw Koosh balls at her.  I mean, why don’t you just stone her?

Oh, I forgot.  Everything bad that’s ever happened in the world is President Obama’s fault.  Oh, I mean President Bush’s fault.  Oh, I mean President Clinton’s fault.  Oh, I mean President Reagan’s fault.  Oh, I mean…

Many people think that people are inherently evil and hate filled.  I disagree.  Sure, there are some people who are just bad apples, but I continue to believe…I have to believe…I must believe…that people are inherently good.  You just have to remind kids all the time about the difference between good decisions and bad decisions. 

So to any parents out there who may read this, I once again beg you to sit down with your kids and talk to them about bullying.  About sticking up for those who are weaker.  About making the right decisions, and not giving in to peer pressure.

Many years later, the younger boy married a wonderful girl, found a well paying job, and is well liked by his friends.  And from what I hear…he’ll be cooking gluten-free turkey picatta tonight.

The End?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Gluten Free Artichoke Pizza

As I was saying…

Artichokes are the ingredient I chose for Rome.  First question is:  What am I going to make?

Well, lets see.  I’d made a pasta dish, so I wanted to go somewhere different.  Salads, dips and the like all seemed too obvious.

The other issue here, is that…well…I’m not a huge fan of artichokes.  So it had to be something I was going to like.  Pizza!  

Before I went gluten free, pizza was my vice.  Every Friday night, Cathy and I would sit in front of the television and watch whatever we had video taped (remember those?) the night before.  I’m thinking it was “Survivor,” because it used to be on Thursdays, and “C.S.I.”

Anyway, I decided to make a pizza with artichokes.  I went to the store and…no artichokes.  Hmmmm…  Well, having watched Food Network enough, I know Giada uses canned artichokes from time to time, and, well, if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.

As for the ingredients on the pizza, I decided to go with quartered artichoke hearts, some hot pickled peppers, and some sliced olives.  Sounded good.  Now what about the sauce?

My thought process went something like this:  “I could go for something traditional…nah…no fun.  I could just use sliced tomatoes.  That might be good.  Again, kind of obvious.  Sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil.  Hmmmmmm…I can do something with that.”

Now, as for the crust, I like the Schar pizza crust.  Actually, I like a lot of the Schar products, particularly their pastas.  You can check them out here.

As for the sauce, I decided I would take the sun-dried tomatoes, put them in a blender, and add a little bit more extra virgin olive oil, and puree it.  That would be my sauce.

Building the pizza was actually pretty easy.  I brushed the crust with extra virgin olive oil, spread the puree on top, added low fat pizza cheese, then put the veggies on top, and put the whole thing into a 475 degree oven for about 8 minutes.

The flavors were fantastic!  I loved the heat from the peppers, the tartness of the olives and, as for the artichokes…well, I don’t really know how to describe the taste of an artichoke.   Not sweet, not bitter, not salty.  I would say that it fit the flavor profile of what I was trying to accomplish, so it worked!

As for calories…okay, remember when I said pizza was my vice?  I mean, c’mon, did you ever LOOK at the size of these gluten free pizza crusts??!!

So, the calories, using the entire crust, totaled 685.  20 grams of fat, but a lot of that fat came from the extra virgin olive oil. 

And, you know what?  It’s okay to indulge once in a while!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gluten Free Roasted Fennel and Sausage Pasta

So I took up the challenge.

After my last post, one of my readers suggested rather than going to a standard recipe for each region of Italy we will be visiting, pick an ingredient from that region and create a dish around it.  I mean, really, isn’t that what “Think Like A Chef” is all about?

I chose fennel, and on to the supermarket I went.

On the way to the store, I was thinking how could I cook it, and what would go well with it?  I knew I wanted pasta (gluten free, of course) somewhere in the dish, but how would I incorporate the fennel?  In the end, I decided to roast the fennel. 

Next decision?  What kind of sauce?  I had a couple of ways I could go here.  I could buy something canned – nah.  Next, I could make my own – maybe.  I could buy some tomatoes, seed and dice them, and use that – maybe.  Or…I could buy grape tomatoes, and roast them with the fennel, and put those of top of whatever it is that I am making.  Yes!

Now…protein.  Chicken is too obvious.  I decided that an Italian sausage would be good.  I chose to go with turkey sausage, so I could keep the fat content as low as possible.  Now, what kind of Italian sausage?  This may come as a surprise to some of my regular readers, but I decided to go with sweet rather than hot.  As you know, I like bold flavors, and I’m not put off by heat.  But in the past, every time I’ve cooked with Italian sausage, I always end up regretting not using the sweet sausage.  So really, that was a no brainer.

At this point, my brain took over and I wandered off to the Italian food section of my megamart.  Maybe there was something I could add to the dish?  Artichokes…maybe.  But maybe that would take away from the fennel.  Pine nuts?  Not a huge fan.  After going back and forth for about 15 minutes, I decided the KISS rule applies, and I decided to stick with my small list of ingredients.

So, first I roasted the fennel and the grape tomatoes, making sure to switch the position of the pan ½ way through.  I roasted them at 350 degrees, with some olive oil.  At the 20-minute mark, the fennel was almost done, but not quite, as they were still a bit too crunchy, and still retained a lot of the licorice flavor and not being sweet enough.  After five more minutes, they were just right.

In the meantime, I chopped up an onion and some garlic.  I was also boiling the water so the pasta could go in.  I took the casing off of the sausage and broke that up in a pan with a little bit of olive oil.  After that was cooked, in went the onion and the garlic.  By this time, the roasting of the vegetables was done, and was cooling off slightly, while the pasta went in the salted boiling water.  I managed to time it perfectly, and once the onions were cooked, the gluten free pasta went into a bowl, the sausage mixture went on top of that, and then op top of that went the roasted grape tomatoes and fennel, and I finished it off with some pecorino Romano cheese.

This is the result.

It was really good.  For sure, I think it was the prettiest dish I have come up with, and it tasted great.  The fennel had just enough crunch to it, to give the dish some texture, and I didn’t miss having a traditional sauce at all.  Cathy said, “This one’s a keeper!”

As for calories, one bowl is 539 calories with 14 grams of fat.  But 9 of the grams was from the olive oil, so really, most of the fat content was good fat.  If you left out the cheese, it would have been even less.

Next ingredient will be from Rome.  I will finally tackle artichokes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gluten Free Pasta E Fagioli

In one year, I will be traveling to Italy to celebrate my 25th anniversary.  To get in the mood (really, who needs to be in the mood to go to Italy, but work with me here…), I thought it would be fun to cook three meals, one for each of the three cities we will be visiting.

The first city we will be visiting is Venice.  According to the website one of the top Venetian dishes is Pasta e Fasioi, more commonly known as Pasta e Fagioli.

Now, food-wise, grilling is a staple during the Memorial Day Weekend.  That being said, it still is…cold here in Boston.  I mean, even today it is “supposedly” 76 degrees outside, but it is very windy and cloudy, and kinda cold to sit outside with a good book.  So, a soup seemed like a good thing to have.

Now, I have never cooked Pasta e Fagioli, and haven’t had it since I went gluten free, so I couldn’t make up my own recipe.  I read a few different things about Pasta e Fagioli, and the same site I mentioned above says it is more like a creamy pudding than a soup.  I could not find a recipe that gave that impression, but I did find a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis that had some of the mixture pureed and put back in the soup, so I felt this was as close as I was going to get.

The first decision I had to make was about the choice of ham.  The recipe calls for pancetta.  Pancetta has roughly 360 calories for three ounces.  I wanted to cut the fat and the calories, so I chose to substitute prosciutto, which has roughly half the fat. 

The second decision was whether or not to use real butter or my butter/oil product.  I decided to use real butter, as I was saving calories by going with the prosciutto.  I also decided to use whipped butter.  Because it is whipped, it has more air in it.  Because there is air in it, a tablespoon of whipped butter has fewer calories than a tablespoon of whipped butter.  I thought this was a fair tradeoff.

Now, the recipe calls for adding a chopped onion, garlic, and the pancetta into a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter.  However, I discovered from my readings that prosciutto gets chewy if cooked too long.  So I did not add it until just before I added 5 ¾ cups of low sodium chicken stock, 29 ounces of red kidney beans that had been rinsed and drained, and a sachet that included rosemary, thyme, and a bay leaf.  I then covered it, brought it to a boil, and reduced the heat to a simmer.  After ten minutes, I took out one cup of the bean mixture and put it in a blender.

This was the first time I ever had to blend something that was a hot liquid, and watching cooking shows all these years obviously taught me that you need to be careful when blending a hot liquid, and that it can expand.  There was also a warning about it in the recipe, and I imagine this is a warning that is in every recipe they have that uses this technique.  I found this YouTube video showing the proper technique.

Meanwhile, while I was waiting for the blender mixture to cool down before blending, I added the gluten free macaroni.  I was quite pleased I was able to find this, and the taste was quite good.

I then blended the bean mixture and, once the macaroni was cooked, added it to the soup.  Now, I have to be honest here, while this may have made the soup creamier, it gave it kind of an…unattractive color.  It kinda sorta looked like baby food.  I was a little disappointed, because we do eat with our eyes.  In any case, I then seasoned with pepper and added a pinch of crushed red pepper for just bit of heat.

To serve, I ladled the soup into a bowl and sprinkled some Pecorino Romano on top, and then added some olive oil to finish it.  I added a small sprig of rosemary for garnish.

Despite the fact I didn’t think it looked all that good, and because of the blended bean mixture, I have to say it tasted quite good, and it did have something of a creamy taste to it.  The prosciutto added a good bit of salt.  I think if I were to make it again, I would use some sort of white bean, in an effort to make the dish more attractive.

As for calories, one bowl had 424 calories, which is pretty good, but had 18 grams of fat, about 41 percent.  This would have been less if I chose not to add the cheese and the olive oil at the end.

Next stop:  Florence!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cajun Shrimp Tacos

I haven’t written a blog in quite a while.  Various physical issues have been haunting me for the last few months, for one reason or another.  The latest was a pinched nerve in my neck, which led to tremendous pain in my arm and my wife’s backside!

However, I am now feeling better, so it was time to get back in the kitchen! 

We recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, which is my favorite place in the world to eat…at least of the places in the world I have been.  I am a big “bold flavor” kind of guy.  For instance, I like French food, but sometimes I think I may be missing something because of the subtleness of the flavors.  Give me a hearty gumbo, or a crawfish boil any day of the week, and I’m happy.

With this in mind, I decided to try to use some of those flavors, and decided to make Cajun Shrimp Tacos, with a Cajun Remoulade Slaw.

The shrimp was fairly easy.  I just covered them with Emeril’s “Essence” seasoning for about 15 minutes or so, while I made the slaw.  I bought precut slaw, but the dressing was made of low fat mayo, low fat sour cream, paprika, cayenne, Dijon mustard, and cider vinegar. (With all apologies, I can’t recall what chef I got this recipe from.)

Then I cooked the shrimp in a bit of grape seed oil, about a minute or so on each side, while heating some corn tortillas.

The assembly was the shrimp on the bottom of the tortilla, topped with the slaw.

On the good side, I really liked my idea of the slaw.  My thought was that, if it wasn’t for the slaw, the dish would be all one note, texture wise.  The slaw gave a nice crunch to an otherwise soft dish.
The bad side was I used too much heat in the slaw.  My intention was to have something that would cool down the shrimp.  Emeril Lagasse actually has a remoulade recipe that I have used before, which is not quite as hot as what I made this time, so I think I might go that route instead next time.

Calorie wise, the dish was not bad at all.  Two tacos using small Corn Tortillas ended up 328 calories, 10 grams of fat.  I will make this again, but with a different remoulade sauce.

I would also add that we had some slaw leftover, and later in the week we made chicken paninis and put the slaw on those…it was fantastic!