Friday, January 09, 2009


I finished working through Christmas leftovers last week, and finished off a bunch of delicious Montreal Smoked meat at the beginning of this week. I was glad to finally get back to cooking. This also happened to coincide with my weight hitting new highs, so I decided to adjust eating habits accordingly. Snacks are minimized, and I'm giving some thought to my meals. But I imagine you'll be surprised.

No pictures, as I was hungry.

A couple nights ago I decided to pull a boneless, skinless chicken breast out of the freezer. The plan was to glaze and bake it. I also developed a craving for some homemade fries after my friend raved about the ones we made on the weekend. Plans were adjusted though.

I had decided on a bourbon-honey glaze, but after combining those two ingredients, it was lacking the right bite and texture, plus, it just tasted like really sweet bourbon. I added a few dashes of hot sauce, some pepper, garlic powder, and finally, a nice dollop of dijon mustard. The mustard was the key as it added a bit of tackiness without turning it into a barbeque sauce like ketchup would have. It also took the whole thing up to awesome.

My chicken, however, was taking forever to thaw and I was impatient. Baking went out the window as I cut the chicken up into chunks and dropped them in the bourbon-honey-mustard sauce (not yet a glaze), and put the whole thing back in the warm oven to finish the thawing and to let it marinade a bit. I probably broke about 5 poultry safety rules right there. Yet still, I live.

I took a couple small potatoes and using a wave cutter, cut them up into crinkle-cut pieces, skin on. I dumped these in a bowl of cold water to rinse out a bunch of the starch (rinse and replace water a couple times) and keep them from browning until I was ready to use them.

Meanwhile, I poured a few inches of vegetable oil into an anodized aluminum pan and cranked the heat. I put in a frying/candy thermometer in to keep an eye on the temperature.

I also puleld out a frying pan and put a bit of butter and oil on it (butter for flavour, oil to keep the butter from burning), and turned the heat on it to medium.

As the butter melted and the pot of oil heated, I emptied the water out of the potato bowl and drained the potato pieces on a cooling rack over a baking pan. I used a paper towel to dry off the rest of the water. This is key when making fries, as water + hot oil = splattering hot oil.

I pulled out the chicken and dumped it and the sauce into the frying pan, made sure it was distributed evenly, and left it alone for a couple minutes.

Returning to the oil, it was at 325F and ready for the first fry. I gently placed the potato in the oil with a shallow steel spoon (I'd suggest a slotted spoon, or even better - a deep frying basket, neither of which I had on hand) and fried them for 2-3 minutes.

Potatoes come out, still white, and not done yet. I put them back on the cooling rack over a baking pan setup to drain and cranked the heat on the oil again (there's a lot of manual adjustment involved to keep the oil from overheating, but it drops rapidly when the fries go in).

I returned to the chicken, and flipped the pieces, which were a beautiful golden colour on the cooked side, covered in the glaze. I reduced the heat a notch.

Once the oil was up to 375F, I returned the half-fries to the pot and cooked for 4-5 minutes more, until they were the right shade of brown. I removed them with the spoon and put them back on the rack to drain. I IMMEDIATELY sprinkled them with kosher salt and garlic salt. This was so the salt would actually stick before the oil drained and evaporated.

I returned to the chicken, made sure it was cooked throughout (remember, it's in chunks, so it cooks fairly quickly), and plated it, covering it with the remaining glaze that was in the pan. Then I plated the fries, and enjoyed!

Okay, so the chicken breast makes sense from a weight-loss standpoint. Even the glaze is relatively healthy (low calories, low carbs, low fat, etc.) But fries? When done properly, fries aren't as terrible as their reputation. The trick is the double fry, the draining, and most importantly - proper oil temperature. If you do fries in oil that is too cold, they absorb the oil. If the temperature is right, they seal quickly and don't become a soggy, oily mess. I'm not saying they're healthy, per se, but a small amount of fries done right won't destroy your efforts.


Last night was easier. Marinated elk steak with baked beans.

I've recounted the amount of elk I have in my freezer. Among the roasts, burgers, sausages, etc., was a solitary elk steak. It had been there far too long as was starting to freezer burn.

Elk is lean. Elk is lower in fat and calories than just about any other meat, boneless, skinless chicken breast included. It's also higher in protein. Just in case the fact it's freakin' delicious wasn't enough.

I've generally done my elk with minimal additions. Salt, pepper, oil, that's it. But this puppy had seen better days. It needed some work.

I'd flipped on Chef at Home on the Food Network (Canadian show, doubt the Yanks get it, but it's great and pretty much exactly my style of "what do I have in the pantry?" only with a professional chef at the helm and a pantry to die for). Michael Smith was doing ribs, which meant BBQ sauce, which mean worcestershire sauce. Ding!

I was going to do a soy sauce marinade, but this altered things slightly. Plus, it turns out I'm out of soy sauce. I did, however, have some teriyaki sauce, which is too sweet on its own.

Teriyaki sauce, worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, Salish alerderwood smoked salt, garlic powder, hot sauce, chipotle sauce, smoked sweet paprika, smokey mustard (I have 5 types of mustard in my fridge, and at least 4 or 5 more types unopened in my pantry... none of them yellow) and fresh ground black pepper made the marinade. The nearly-thawed steak went in and soaked on the counter for a bit after being pricked (read: jabbed) with a fork a few times (read: 7 or 8). And can I say? This marinade tasted amazing.

Baked beans? I cheated. One can of Heinz or Libby's or someone's baked beans with pork and tomato sauce opened and dumped in a pot over medium-low heat. Know what? They actually sucked. So out came additions. Hot sauce, garlic powder, pepper, and... pure, Canada #2 amber maple syrup. NOW they were great. I left them over LOW heat once they were hot, as the steak would still be awhile.

Beans are also an oft-neglected food when it comes to weight loss. That entire can of beans only has around 550 calories, and remember, this is canned, mass-produced stuff here with pork in it too. They're HIGH in fibre and protein, and low in fat.

Considering the elk steak probably topped out at 150-200 calories (it was a small steak), and the marinade (soon to be a glaze itself) added not much more, this was complete, filling dinner that was under 750 calories, or about 1/3 of the recommended daily intake for an average male - actually less than I could get away with for dinner.

Anyway, back to the steak. I put my cast iron grill on the stove and cranked the heat. Once water droplets vaporized on contact (and the grill was starting to smoke), I took out the steak, covered it in a sheen of vegetable oil, and sprinkled one side with smoked salt and black pepper. I put that side down on the pan and sprinkled the other side with roasted garlic salt and more black pepper.

After a 1 1/2 minutes, I turned the steak (but didn't flip) 1/4 turn to get nice grill marks. Another 1 1/2 minutes and I flipped the steak. 1 1/2 minutes, quarter turn. 1 1/2 minutes - I picked it up and made sure the sides got some grill contact as well. The steak was a touch on the rare side of medium-rare. Adjust cooking times to suit your likes. But for the love all that's antlered, don't cook your elk beyond medium-rare. Medium if you absolutely have to. Well done? Go buy the shittiest, cheapest piece of steak you can find at the crappiest grocery store in town and save the good stuff for people who can appreciate it.

I put the steak on a plate and covered loosely with foil to let it rest. I was lazy, but ideally you should put the steak on a rack over a plate so it doesn't sit in its own juices.

I dumped the marinade into a frying pan and turned the heat to medium-high. The goal was to reduce the marinade to a glaze (and kill whatever raw meat bacteria were in it from marinading). Once the marinade started to boil, I stirred it and turned the heat down to medium. It bubbled up again, got stirred again, and turned down a bit more. At this point, a steady amount of steam was coming off, and it was reducing quickly. Once it was the consistency I wanted (syrupy, but not a clumpy mess), I turned off the heat.

The steak rested for 15 minutes total, beans were plated, and a LINE of marinade was poured down the centre of the steak (as opposed to smothering a delicious piece of meat).

Results? The beans were tasty, the steak was awesome, but the marinade-turned-glaze had really concentrated the salt when reduced. It worked, but if I'd used more it would have overpowered the meat. In fact, the glaze was an odd combination of sweet (teriyaki), salty/bitter (teriyaki, worcestershire), and smokey (smoked paprika, chipotle sauce, smoked salt, smokey mustard). I have a small amount left in my fridge, which I will find a use for I'm sure.

Overall, two nights of delicious. Oh, and since hitting my high weight on Tuesday? Down 3.2 lbs. I don't expect that rate to hold up, but it's a nice way to start.

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