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.

Under construction

I am under construction.

BRB. TTYL. K.I.T.

OC Weekly: Niyaz’s top meals of 2013

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Over at Stick A Fork In It, the writers did a run down of their favorite meals/restaurants of 2013.

Read my list of local Orange County favorites in 2013 at OC Weekly’s Stick A Fork In It here.

Birthday beef at The Ranch

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Nadia took me to The Ranch in Anaheim last night for my birthday and I couldn’t have been happier.

I’ve been wanting to visit what many say is the best steakhouse in Orange County for more than a year and I finally made it for the big 3-1.

Each flavor on the wreath of rolls was delicious, as was the spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberry and candied walnuts.

But the centerpiece of this celebration was definitely the bone-in ribeye for two. I don’t think I’ve had a more succulent, salty, perfectly medium steak in my life.

To finish they hooked me up with a dessert of my choice, so I went with the Twisted Milky Way, essentially a deconstructed take on the classic candy bar that looked like it came from “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”

Perfect meal. Perfect birthday.

Smoothie Test No. 1

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I’ve been trying out a bunch of different smoothie variations recently so I figured I’d start documenting them here.

Each recipe made three glasses (I had two, Nadia had one).

Today’s mix:

2 scoops chocolate whey protein powder 4 large handfuls of frozen kale 6 large strawberries 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk 1 cup dark chocolate almond milk 2 T flax seed

Overall, pretty tasty. The kale and the chocolate almond milk are both assertive flavors, but the kale wins out, providing a slightly vegetal finish with each sip.

Breathe, stretch.

“It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action, and discipline that enabled us to follow through.”

Ready for the week!

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I always aim to have food ready for the week, but I usually end up taking all day making multiple dishes and stack up the fridge with huge Pyrex containers that I have to repackage from anyway.

In the effort to tighten up kitchen efficiency, I’ve been trying to perfect my strategy for many weeks, and today it feels like it came together for the first time.

I had a good list at the farmers market and was speedy at Sprouts and Trader Joe’s too. When it came time to cook, I put a bunch of meat on the grill and followed that up with some veggies.

I picked up an extra set of glass containers at Costco so I could cook a bunch of stuff and package it so it’s ready to go all week. Here’s what I packaged for lunches and dinners:

-Garlic marinated shirt steak with baby Yukon gold potatoes

-Chicken marinated in whole grain mustard, honey, smoked paprika and herbs de Provance with green beans

-Oregano and parsley pork chop with oregano-butter grilled carrot

-Soy sauce chicken breast with grilled bok choy

-Chicken soup with shrimp dumplings, bok choy, cabbage, garlic, onion, Fresno chile and shitake mushroom

It’s gonna be a good week!

Summer picnic on crack

A little while back I wrote about “summer picnic,” Nadia’s favorite dish of grilled shrimp and asparagus (abd sometimes other random grilled meats and veggies) with toasted bread. We recently started limiting our bread, pasta and sugar intake, so instead of the bread, I just upped the veggies and the meat.

I purchased the asparagus, red bell pepper and corn from the Laguna Niguel Farmers Market. The chimichurri on the shrimp, the beer-marinated chicken and chorizo Argentino came from Puerto madero in Santa Ana.

Everything was finished with a spritz of lemon.

Everything was totally awesome.

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