Category Archives: Chef’s Notes

The chef’s pantry

fatdude_spicerack

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

The key to eating right for life

A few weeks ago, Niyaz called after he made the charmouleh-marinated chicken. He was blown away by the flavor of the dish, and how all the ingredients worked together so well in such a healthy way.

He told me he tried to cook healthy at home before, but that it never turned out this good. Then he asked: “How do you come up with stuff?”

Every diet I’ve tried either cuts out all of the foods you love, or has you eating bland, tasteless meals. When we’re on one of these diets, we try to convince ourselves the food we’re eating is tasty and satisfying, when really most of us would rather be eating pizza and burgers. Ever watch “The Biggest Loser?” I do with my girlfriend, and the best example of what I’m talking about is when the contestants on the show get completely convinced that salt-less steamed cod with a squeeze of lemon on top is absolutely delicious. C’mon! Nobody can eat like that forever unless they really should for health reasons, like the contestants on the show.

It’s been said “Fat is flavor,” but in keeping things healthy, my dishes highlight building flavor with lower-calorie ingredients including dry spices, vinegars, herbs, etc. We also use healthier methods and swaps including making dry rubs and marinades for meats; crusting fish with seeds and herbs, and flavoring with yogurt instead of cream, butter and mayonnaise.

I look at Fat Dude On A Diet as a meal plan for foodies. People who love flavor, new twists on food and making an event out of having dinner with your family and friends will love these recipes. Though all of our meals are healthy, I try to write them so you don’t really feel like you’re missing out on the foods you love.

These meals might have a few more ingredients than you are used to, or take a little longer to prepare than you want to spend, but I’ll defer to what Niyaz says about the blog: “I put my time in in the kitchen, so I don’t have to at the gym.”

In other words, putting in the time to make healthy food taste great is the key to eating right for life.

He was telling me about a meal he made for friends a couple of weeks ago using what he’s learned writing this blog. He came up with a menu off the top of his head, and executed it using different components from our Fat Dude meals.

The picture up top is chicken Parmesan marinated in the shallots and herb mixture from Week 1. He made the pomodoro sauce from our Aphrodisiac menu to top it off. He fried the chicken in canola oil, but promised he would for now on only use our “fried” chicken method (he hadn’t learned it yet).

I also like introducing him to new ingredients — one of which was balsamic vinegar. He used that with olive oil to make a vinaigrette for halved cherry tomatoes, an ingredient he said he also never used before. A little fresh mozzarella later and he had a quick salad ready to go. (No butter on that garlic bread, either, he said!)

We’re only one-third of the way through 52 weeks of cooking, but I can already see one of our biggest goals starting to happen. When we do stop, Niyaz won’t only have a bunch of healthy recipes to use, but the knowledge to make his own healthy, great-tasting food at home.

Meet the (Former) Fat Dude

I find it funny the title on my bio is “Meet The Skinny Dude.”

It’s the first time I’ve been called that — and it’s one of the reasons I decided to take on this project with Niyaz. Not because I like being called “the skinny dude” (though it is nice), but because I know what it’s like to go through the weight loss process and I know how enjoyable life can be when you accomplish those goals.

I was always a chubby kid, and I topped out at 250 lbs. about a year after moving to Las Vegas in the early 2000’s. I decided to get healthy and started going to the gym, doing P90X, eating well, etc.  I have managed to stay within a reasonable weight — fluctuating from 195-210 lbs. — for the last 7 years.

I think the reason I’ve been able to maintain my weight loss is because I dropped it the healthy way. I love food too much to be on those crazy no carb, low fat, no sugar diets. Until three years ago, I worked in restaurants and was surrounded by delicious food. There was no way I would be able to maintain any of those diets — too much temptation. I learned it was more about portion control and enjoying the foods you want to eat. My belief is that when we deny ourselves the foods we want, most of us will eat more to get our minds off of the foods we denied ourselves in the first place.

If I wanted to try something in the restaurant, I would make myself a “one-biter” just to get the flavor combination as opposed to trying a whole dish. At home I would try to keep healthy snacks around, like cut fruits and veggies. It was easy for me though — I never had to cook at home because I was fed enough at work.

Since becoming a private chef, my entire outlook on food has changed. In restaurants I never cared how much cream or butter I put into a dish as long as it tasted and looked great. I’d probably lose my job if I cooked that way as a private chef. Suddenly, I had to be conscious of what I was putting into food, as well as making it taste and look great. It was tough at first, but just like any struggle in life you adapt and improve.

I have come to believe it isn’t so much how many calories you eat, but what kind of foods you get those calories from. Eat until you are satisfied, not until you feel stuffed. Obviously the number on the scale is a big factor in assessing your general health, but, in reality, do you care what number pops up as long as your body feels good and you feel like you look good in the mirror?

Eating processed foods full of sodium, preservatives and artificial ingredients might be easy and satisfying, but in the long term, if you eat 2,000 calories a day of that junk you’ll feel worse than if you ate 2,000 calories worth of fruits, veggies, and, of course, meals like the ones you’ll find on our blog.

Niyaz will attest to this. That’s why I’m here — to provide guidance with recipes for those who want a maintainable change instead of a temporary fix. Of course, it’s gratifying to help a friend get his health, and life, back.

So far, that’s working better than I had imagined.

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