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The (ever-so-cliche) New Years Diet

12 Jan

There are few things in this world that I loathe quite as much as diets; Few things that I will fight quite as much as I will fight the idea of going on a diet.
I find that it’s fairly common that whatever type of diet I attempt, I crave, need, MUST HAVE the item that the diet forbids. South Beach is supposed to be a great way to lose weight fast. I can promise, though, that the moment I make the decision to go on the South Beach diet, I will want nothing more than rice & baked potatoes.
I think that most people are a lot like me. I think that’s why Weight Watchers has done well with it’s “point” system – you can eat what you want as long as you count the points and balance it out with whatever else you eat that day. There are quite a few similar diets out there.
While I believe that generally, dieting is a terrible plan and a waste of effort because of my lack of fortitude, I have decided that this year I will be one of the millions who engages in a “New Years Resolution” diet. I am of the very firm belief that a diet has to be flexible in terms of what you’re allowed to eat. I am also pretty determined that any type of weight loss regime has to be completely healthy (no Atkins for me – I don’t care how many bunless cheeseburgers I’m allowed to have). Also, I can’t focus on what I am/am not eating all day so there has to be some level of simplicity for me to stick with it.
With all of these factors, I’ve decided to do a diet based on calories/fat. I’m using livestrong.com as my main “diet guru”. They have a great calorie-counting application called MyPlate. I just entered my weight, height, age, normal activity level, and amount of weight that I wanted to lose per week. It provided me with a reasonable daily calorie goal to work towards. What I like about this is that if I do decide to have a cheeseburger (with the bun) tonight, I can balance it by eating really, really low calorie food for the rest of the day (I haven’t checked the cheeseburger’s calories – I might just have to have water for the rest of the day which wouldn’t really work out). Additionally, I can earn extra calories by working out. If I go for an hour-long run, for example, then I get an additional 614 calories for that day (I checked, that’s just about enough for the cheeseburger).
The MyPlate application is free to use, unless you want to upgrade to “gold” status. It tracks my calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbs, fiber, protein, and sugars every day. As an added bonus, there is an app for my blackberry. I can use that to track foods that I eat while away from my computer, look up foods that I’m wanting to eat (to decide if it’s worth the calories), and check my current calories for the day.
Since I’m working on this diet, you should expect to see some recipes/tips for fellow dieters coming up soon. For now, here’s a list of foods that I’ve been enjoying while cutting back on calories (nothing ridiculously innovative here, just some thought starters):
– Skinny Cow Ice Cream sandwiches

– Morning Star Farms sausage links (http://morningstarfarms.com/)

– Baby carrots (skip the hummus or ranch dressing – too high in fat)

– Laughing cow cheese

– Rice crackers (I’ve been eating some from “sesmark” that are pretty low cal/fat- watch out for normal crackers – they are much fattier than you think!)

– Cucumber/tomato salad (chop up cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and squeeze one lemon, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar over it)

– Yogurt

– Fruit, fruit, fruit

– Soup – I like the Campbell’s soup at hand, personally

Also, here are a few things that I’ve learned that have more calories than you think, though they’re generally considered “healthy”:

– nigiri sushi – while overall a pretty healthy choice, Livestrong.com says that one piece of salmon nigiri has 68 calories- if you have a bunch of pieces for a meal, it actually becomes a pretty calorie-heavy meal

– olive oil – one table spoon is 120 calories and a whopping 14g of fat. Even if it’s “the good fat”, that’s still a lot

– Avocado – one large avocado is between 200 – 300 calories and about 30g of fat. I’m still munching on them (because you do need SOME fat) but watch out!.

As you all probably already know, it’s about moderation. I’ve had a few little “indulgence” snacks and managed to stay under my calorie goals mostly by making them REALLY LITTLE amounts of the snack.
Keep your eyes peeled for diet-friendly recipes to come soon.

My Finds at the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival 2010

1 Sep

Hot sauce is an amazing invention. My favorite type of hot sauce is salsa (I live in Texas, after all) – it’s flavorful, healthy, and there are so many types that you could eat them all day and never run out of new types to try. That brings me to a wonderful event that we have in Austin every year – the Austin Chronicle’s Hot Sauce Festival. One can sample dozens (maybe hundreds) of types of salsa and other hot sauces both from restaurants and individuals.

Excitingly, this festival offers not only quite a few awesome salsas, but also other spicy sauces that can be used as dips or marinades. I thought I’d share a few of my “finds” from the festival with you all.  (side note – my sister and one of her friends came with me, and also gave their opinions on the best “finds” – we agreed on pretty much everything).

Kala’s Kuisine’s Cilantro Chutney

This Chutney would be great on lots of different dishes. I want to try it with chicken. (Apologies to Kala and to readers for the blurriness - I was trying to snap a quick picture!)

Kala’s Kuisine had some really interesting salsas with a Nepalese twist. All of their sauces were tasty and had a unique flavor, but for me, the star of the show was, without question, the Cilantro Chutney. It was fresh tasting, and seemed like it would be perfect in about a thousand different recipes. I think it could be a great sauce on chicken, enchiladas, nachos and pretty much anything else you can think of.

If only I had arrived in time to buy a bottle (they sold out)!

The good news is that there are a few places around town that sell the Chutney (and even more that sell their other sauces) including Whole Foods. See their website for locations.

Sweet, spicy, unique barbeque-like sauce. I love it!

Grandaddy’s Sweet Southern Heat

This was probably my favorite find of the festival. As the name implies, it’s a barbecue-type sauce that is both spicy and sweet. The spice tasted to me like a strong black pepper instead of a hot pepper – though I have no idea what actually adds the spiciness. According to the folks working the booth, the sauce was actually their grandfather’s recipe- and there were quite a few photos of Grandaddy up around the booth.

Upon tasting, my sister and I both immediately bought a jar of the sauce. Tonight, I had a baked potato with a little bit of Sweet Southern Heat, onions, and mushrooms on it – WOW. I also have plans to invite over a few of my meat-eating friends to make some ribs or chicken wings featuring the sauce.

This sauce doesn’t have great distribution – but you can get it at Tears of Joy here in Austin, and at a few stores in other cities. I’m sure that they’ll have wider distribution soon, based on how happy everyone seemed tasting it.

La Familia Salsa Company’s Roasted Green Salsa

Supposedly I'm sharing this jar with my sister. I haven't told her yet that I dont' really want to share...

This booth had quite a few salsas to taste, but the very friendly woman working there recommended that we try the Roasted Green Salsa. She made the right choice. You could actually taste the “roastedness” in the salsa and it has a great level of spiciness without being overpowering.

I bought a bottle of this too. It appears that you can order the salsa on their website, and perhaps they’ll be kind enough to reply to this post to let us all know if it’s available locally in Austin.

Don’t Panic Hispanic Salsa

Local, delicious, and super fresh.

Don’t Panic Hispanic was the 2009 winner of the Festival. It’s also been one of my favorite salsas ever since my friend Emily introduced me to it about 6 months ago. It’s amazingly fresh tasting, heavy on garlic, and a perfect “medium” level of spiciness. I prefer the red salsa, but also sampled the green, which was quite tasty.

I buy my “Don’t Panic Hispanic” salsa at Fresh Plus, but apparently it’s also available in a few other locations, including Spec’s. If you’re looking for a traditional, but excellent salsa, I highly recommend this one.

We tasted quite a few different salsas and other sauces at the festival – some good, some terrible, and, happily, a few that are worth trying again soon. I could write about salsa all night, and I promise to provide you all with my mother’s salsa recipe soon. For now, though, I hope you’ll give some of these salsas and sauces a try.

Uchiko’s Sake Social

28 Jul

Uchi and the new Uchiko are generally in my price range only for a “very special occasion” dinner so I was THRILLED when I saw this little tweet from Uchiko:



Naturally, I was a little suspicious – what the owners of Uchiko consider a “deep discount” might differ from what I consider to be a “deep discount”, but I thought I would explore a little.

This little bottle of hot sake was enough for the two of us and only cost $3!

When I called, the very friendly host informed me that Sake (hot or cold) was $3 for a small bottle, and that the chef selects several dishes as the “sake social” dishes each night  – those dishes are discounted about 40% – 50% during Sake Social time. Sake Social is from 5:00 – 6:30 at the bar and the tables near the bar.

Now THAT I can handle!

I went with one of my girlfriends and we enjoyed quite a few dishes:

two alba­core tataki hot rocks

one komaki roll

Nigiri sushi (Sorry it's blurry, best I could do)

several pieces of nigiri

one ao saba

two bowls of miso soup

one small bottle of sake

My surprise favorite was the ao saba, described on the menu as “norwe­gian mack­erel, blue­foot mush­room, onion, juniper, huck­le­berry.” This was a cooked dish, beautifully presented, and it tasted fabulous. The fish was just a little crispy on the outside, and flaky and wonderful on the inside.

This was my favorite dish of the evening - and so pretty! The picture doesn't really do it justice.

Of course, the hot rocks were great too and lots of fun (though we did have a little mishap and almost got our first piece of fish stuck on the rock – don’t worry, we recovered quickly). Really, all of the food was amazing, service was excellent and, the best part – our total bill was around $50. Pretty good for a top-notch meal for two including alcohol. Not to mention that Uchiko is quickly becoming one of the “cool” places to eat in Austin (if you don’t think that it already makes the list.)

You can expect to find me at Uchiko for their sake social as often as I can get out of work in time to make it!

A Little Dinner, A Little Wine – Taverna, Austin

13 Jul

For my first restaurant review, I will preface my post by saying that all I can offer is my “amateur” opinion of any restaurant. I can tell you how I felt about the service, the wine, the atmosphere and the food. I cannot speak to whether a dish was “perfectly rendered in the XYZ style” or anything along those lines. I have no formal training in cooking, so take my opinions on the work of professional chefs for what you will. I will offer my thoughts on good dishes, bad ones, things to watch out for, and great deals that I find around the city. With all of that out there, tonight was a lovely night at Taverna, so I thought I would share a bit.

Beef carpiccio at Taverna was delicious- and look at how pretty it is!

Located in the ever-chic 2nd street district, Taverna is both comfortable and “cool” at the same time. I’m a big fan of patios and theirs is great – it’s in a perfect spot for people watching, and it has thick plastic siding that they can put down in case it’s a bit too cold (they keep it up when it’s warm out, though).

I was with a group of girls, looking for just a little bit of wine and light dinner. Our server was knowledgeable about the wine list, and helped us to choose a wine that would work for all of our varying tastes in wine. While the wine we eventually picked was a little pricier than we had hoped, it was an excellent choice.

For dinner, I had the beef capriccio. Although it’s supposed to be an appetizer, I thought it was plenty for a small dinner. I was a big fan of their presentation – thin slices of capriccio topped with arugula, and big flakes of shaved Parmesan. It has a very light dressing that tastes slightly lemony. According to the menu, it also contained truffle oil – which might have been what made it so delicious.

One of my friends had this pasta dish - which I believe is the Garganelli al Pomodoro e Basilico. I had a bite and loved this too.

I have to say that, while I’m not normally a fan of arugula, I ate every bite.

The only complaint I have is that Taverna does tend to be a bit pricy, but in my opinion, the quality of the ingredients justifies the cost.

A final note about the best-known meal at Taverna – their Sunday brunch is incredibly popular in Austin. I’ve been for brunch a few times, and it’s always great, but what really “sells” it is the $1 bellinis and mimosas – yes they’re delicious and inexpensive. The real question is if you’re willing to wait around for a table – which is almost always an issue. If you have the time, though, it’s worth eating brunch there at least once.