OC Weekly: Niyaz’s Top 5 Dishes of 2014

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I was fortunate that 2014 was a year of great eating across the country: Spicy Pie slices on the Coachella sprawl (an old favorite); the best steak of my life in Maui; impossible gnocchi in D.C. But there were many dishes to be discovered in Orange County as well. From new twists on old classics to simple things done right, I knew right away what dishes inspired me in the kitchen, or simply kept me coming back for more.

Read my Top 5 Dishes of 2014 at OC Weekly’s Stick a Fork In It blog.

Here’s how I cooked my Thanksgiving turkey, and what I did with the leftovers

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We had guests in town for the holidays, so I was honored to cook the Thanksgiving turkey in our house this year. It’s not every year that I get to cook because we typically eat Thanksgiving lunch out with my family and then fill our bellies at night with Nadia’s family, but lucky me, this bird had my name on it.

I wanted to make something a little different this year, so I went with orange and orange juice, and a few Asian ingredients I had in the pantry. I guess we’ll call this one Asian Orange Turkey. Keep reading to see how I brined and cooked the bird, and what I made with the leftovers. Continue reading

OC Weekly: Eat This Now—Confit & Caramelized Pork Belly at Marché Moderne

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Before our friends Neil and Gina went back to Norcal on Monday, we stopped by South Coast Plaza to share with them our favorite “celebration” restaurant, Marché Moderne. Plates aren’t cheap here, so we don’t come often, but when we do it’s typically for their insanely delicious, insanely priced 3-course $25 lunches (more on that here).

I’ll post more photos from that lunch soon, but for now, here’s a menu item we ordered separate from the prix fixe, which I ended up writing about for OC Weekly. Check out what I have to say about Marché Moderne’s Confit & Caramelized Pork Belly here, at OC Weekly’s Stick A Fork In It blog.

22 crazy courses and more at SAAM at the Bazaar

saam_1My wife Nadia’s 30th birthday is today and we were lucky enough to celebrate with our many of our friends over the weekend. Our group of five—myself, Nadia, middle school friend Neil, his wife Gina, and high school friend Matt (known nerdily to ourselves as the Pentapod)—have made it tradition to celebrate our milestone birthdays together. I’ve blogged about those epic trips before, like when we ate through San Francisco, CoachellaSolvang and Las Vegas (twice).

This weekend the Pentapod was in L.A. and Orange County so we found places near home to enjoy together. Neil and Gina are fans of molecular gastronomist and chef José Andrés, having been to two of his restaurants—é in Las Vegas and SAAM at the Bazaar. They wanted to share the experience with us and I’m glad they did because the 3 1/2-hour meal we had at SAAM turned out to be one of the best dining experiences of my life.  Continue reading

Tattoo No. 6, Version 2.0

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Recently the blog went offline for a while, but now it’s back and I have an iPhone’s worth of food to write about this winter. I’m also going to write a lot more about non-food stuff because I’ve been in the mood to stretch these fingers out on the keyboard for a while, so let’s do this.

First up: My new tattoo!

Here’s what I’ve learned over sitting for 6 tattoos:

-Always research your tattoo artist and their work
-Always check your design stencil twice (four! five!! six times!!!) before it gets inked
-Never get something without thinking through how it will look on your body

With all that said, I recently got a new tattoo to cover up an old one that didn’t come out the way I wanted it to. The positive: I know have a piece of art that I really love, and it’s much better than the one on there before. I found the picture online after searching for art related to the band Tool and their album “10,000 Days.” Their last two albums featured liner note art by Alex Grey, who makes some of the most beautiful and unique paintings I’ve ever seen.

I had three qualifiers for the artist: 1) Can tattoo feathers; 2) Female; 3) Local artist. All of my previous ink was done by men and they tend to hunker in and drill down until the work is done. There’s something to be said about having a light touch—especially when you plan on having multiple needles jammed into your skin over and over.

The lovely and talented Latisha Wood at Vatican Studios in Lake Forest drew the piece directly on my arm and went away at it for 6 hours until we had the final product above.

Feeling good about yourself is important, and as a tattoo “collector” (as I was recently called), fixing the old tattoo was important to me. I couldn’t be happier with the final result, and now I’m already thinking about what No. 7 should be!

First on, last off

IMG_0760.JPGIt’s been a while since I posted to the blog, but mostly because it’s been the most transitional time I’ve experienced since launching Fat Dude.

Long story short, what I’m doing at work has evolved more this year than at year prior in a very satisfying way. Also, the atlas adjustment treatment I’m doing for chronic severe back pain has been effective for the first time in four years. It’s a strange process and an even stranger journey to learn how to keep the adjustment. It’s not something I have really written about much, but I feel positive about this experience for the first time, so I might as well celebrate it.

The secret to holding the adjustment according to the doc is to be free of stress by keeping my mind calm, and tiring out my body by hitting the gym regularly. If not, my physical or mental stress tightens up the muscles around my neck, pushing out of alignment the top bone of my neck, called the atlas. This causes a lot of problems in my body, which are fixed when I’m in adjustment. In my mind, I’ve likened it to a lifebar in a video game and I need to maintain it to feel good. Trying to maintain consistency in being active and making healthy food choices has been my jam in the last month because it has to be.

With consistency in mind and the desire to light light but long so as to reduce the stress on my adjustment, I’ve been working on a full body circuit for lifting, one set of 100, for each machine. The goal is to lift every other day, with cardio days and rest days in between. A workout is better than no workout at all and I’m really enjoying this for now.

In general, I’m at a point. A crossroads of care. Where I finally see the way out, and now I have to push myself forward to get there.

Reminder to self: “Even if you fall on your face, you are still moving forward.”

Nadia says I look like a Ninja Turtle these days because my legs and arms are smaller/slimmer and more toned than before, though my gut’s still hanging on for dear life.

I tell her I’m Michelangelo then, because we both like pizza. Lol.

But I’m back from a great vacation where I made it a point to exercise and stretch almost daily, and I’m ready to keep going. When I don’t take care of myself, it all goes straight to my gut. Now, my gut’s the only thing left to eradicate.

First on, last off.

I’m shedding a mindset. Gaining perspective.

Just Mauied

IMG_1160-0.JPGThe day Nadia and I got married was one of the best days ever … my boo, my family, my friends, the food.

For our honeymoon, we jumped in the car and headed to Palm Desert because it was what we could afford at the time. But we always wanted to take a far away vacation together, just the two of us, and this year being our five-year anniversary, Nadia picked Hawaii. She planned an adventure that I luckily reaped the benefits of. Continue reading

Inspiration from the master

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Thomas Keller just posted this amazing “avocado louie” to his Facebook page. The hashtags lead me to believe it’s his contribution to Vanity Fair’s Oscars party.

Such simple ingredients, turned into art. Legit x100.

The chef’s pantry

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If you’re like me, you need variety of meals to keep yourself interested in eating healthy foods. Though I do have a handful of go-to dishes, often times it’s trying new things that keeps me inspired in the kitchen. Whether it’s something I’m putting together on the fly or a recipe from a cookbook that I am following meticulously, nothing throws a wrench in the plans like a missing ingredient. There are good resources like this one for figuring out ingredient substitutions, but it’s always a good feeling to be stocked up.

I’ve often asked Chef Brian what the ingredients for a proper pantry should be and he provided a list of the things he has in his house–an array of ingredients that help him whip up almost anything he can think of.

Note that necessities are marked with an asterisk.

Spices
Salt*; Sea salt; Smoked salt; Pepper*; Allspice; Anise seed; Caraway seed; Cardamom; Cayenne pepper*; Celery seed; Cinnamon*; Chili powder; Ancho chile powder; Chipotle chile powder; Cloves; Coriander*; Crushed Red Pepper*; Cumin*; (Madras) Curry powder*; Fennel seed*; File powder (for gumbo); Garlic powder*; Ginger*; Liquid smoke; Mustard powder*; Nutmeg; Old Bay seasoning; Onion powder*; Dry oregano*; Paprika*; Sweet paprika*; Smoked Paprika*; (Dry) Rosemary; Saffron; Star anise; Dry Thyme; Turmeric

Baking
Baking powder*; Baking soda*; Cocoa powder*; Flour*; Powdered sugar; Semolina flour; Sugar*; Vanilla extract*

Miscellaneous
Bread crumbs; Panko bread crumbs*; Tabasco sauce

Nuts
Almonds; Peanuts; Pine Nuts

Grains and starches
Arborio (risotto) rice; Basmati rice; Black lentils; Cous cous; Jasmine rice* (multi-purpose); Polenta; Sushi rice; Wild rice

Vinegars
Apple cider vinegar*; Balsamic vinegar*; Champagne vinegar*; Red wine vinegar*; Sherry vinegar*;  White balsamic vinegar; White wine vinegar

Asian
Fish sauce*; Green curry paste; Mirin*; Oyster sauce; Red curry paste; Rice vinegar*; Sesame oil; Soy sauce*; Sriracha*; Sweet chili sauce; Ume (plum) vinegar

Cooking wines
Cheap red wine*; Cheap white wine*; Marsala; Plum wine; Port

300+ miles.

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I started weight lifting last year, but gave up after a while because of my back pain. Instead of the weights, I decided to dedicate my time to walking off the weight, which was what I originally set out to do on this blog.

My goal last year was to finish on Dec. 31 with 300 miles, because I like big round numbers. I started last March with a friend at work on a 2.81 mile track that we would later lengthen for a solid 3 miles each go-around. We marched through lunch break after lunch break, and over time the pounds started falling off. My calves got ripped (I get comments on them, for real, lol) and one woman even stopped me on the route one day to tell me how much weight I’d lost. I was down to the low 220’s, even seeing 219.something on the scale one day in mid-summer.

We were doing pretty good until the end of August/beginning of September when it got scorching hot outside (Orange County hot, so like high 90s). Then Halloween (candy). And Thanksgiving (pie). And Christmas (cookies). Somewhere along the line, Jack in the Box released the Munchie Meal and there went my waistline.

Chef Brian once told me “easy on, easy off” in regards to gaining and losing small increments of weight over short periods of time, say, a vacation or break from a stricter diet. I definitely took that too far, and watched as the scale went back up and up and up to 240.1, which has twice been my red alarm on this blog for the fluctuation in weight and roller coaster that is long-term weight loss.

In the beginning of 2013, I made a goal to give up on restaurants and create a better me, and while I started out that way, by the end I had given it back once again. That I had failed to make it to Dec. 31 with more than 300 miles really hit me hard. I hate failure. Especially when the blame is solely on me.

I should learn by now that life is better when it evolves organically, not when you try and force something, because, by the end of the year, there were a couple of changes that happened which have brought me to where I am now.

One: I found a solution to this back pain in the form of the atlas adjustment. I’ll likely get into it in a future post, and while it’s not a permanent fix, it’s the most-permanent fix I’ll ever have and I’m so thankful for it. After being in pain for nearly three years straight, to finally experience some relief has literally saved my life. I was starting to lose it a little and fray at the edges. I’m doing better now.

Two: Nadia gave up meat in November. There was a time before I met her in 2006 when she was a vegetarian (and survived on the veggie burritos from King Taco). Sometime before Thanksgiving she decided that she didn’t want to eat meat anymore for heath and ethical reasons. Writing this in the same week that Hot Pockets have been deemed poisonous, I don’t blame her. I’ve likened myself to Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction when he wants a bite of the Big Kahuna burger because he’s mostly vegetarian now since his lady dictates the diet.

Nadia isn’t telling me what to eat so much that it’s easier to cook for two if I’m making the same things for both of us. Plus, the omission of meat has allowed us to stretch our food dollars a little more. We ate a lot of beans (and bean burritos), shrimp and tuna fish sandwiches in December and January while I was still figuring out–as a life-long carnivore and glutton–what exactly the hell to do to in the kitchen.

That’s where seitan and brown rice/pasta come in. I don’t know what changed, but I no longer think brown rice or pasta are disgusting. They’re just fine and I’m good with it. I’ve also started making my own seitan, which is a vegan meat substitute made of gluten (YES, THAT GLUTEN). It’s the isolated protein of wheat and you can use it just like you would chicken or beef in a ton of recipes.

As I continue to update Fat Dude, a lot of posts will cover the number of things I’ve been making with seitan lately. A few of my meals are even vegan. By choice. What?!

Three: I’ve been working out again and it’s made a lot of difference.

Rewind a little though … I hate New Year’s resolutions because I think they’re bullshit. If you want to start something, start it today. Don’t wait for an arbitrary restart that you’ll likely give up on. I say that as a person who made those kind of promises to myself year after year only to give up over and over again. I only started this year in January because I still wanted to shove my face with sugar and crap and Munchie Meals during the month of MostOfTheEndOfLastYear. Straight up.

I know myself and know that I can’t allow myself to fall into patterns with fatty/sugary foods. We all have different issues and triggers and I recognize that– and recognize I am easily susceptible to mine if I allow myself to be weak/on auto-pilot.

I started hitting the weights with my friends from work and then Nadia too started hitting the weights with me, so I’ve switched to only lifting with her. I’ve been tracking gains, of which there are some, and I’ll be posting those here soon. The best part though is the shape of my body is changing. I even have triceps that pop out when I flex. They make me feel like the Hulk.

Having Nadia with me has made a world of difference because it’s something we can accomplish together. I started walking again, by myself, with my group of friends at work, and with Nadia, too. Recently we started taking these 5-mile hikes from a neighborhood in Aliso Viejo to the top of a peak in Laguna Beach called Top of the World.

It wasn’t December anymore. But I hit 300 miles. I earned them, each one. And, though I went down then back up, I weigh less at this time this year than I did last year, and I have more muscle. That’s a win. No matter how ugly it was at times.

Just another reminder that it’s not the end result, but the journey of getting there that really matters. If you focus on the journey, you’ll eventually reach the end.

Perseverance is the key.

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