Posts Tagged ‘steamed fish’

Silicone for my breasts

Fast food my way

Fast food my way

Here’s a New Year’s Resolution for you: question everything you eat.

(I was going to say, “Question everything you put in your mouth,” but that sounded dirty.)

It would be easy to imagine that someone who writes a blog about baking would be…uh…ample. Generously proportioned. I have at times battled the bulge, yes, but the truth is that I do not eat the stuff you see here every day, and certainly not until it has been photographed. Worse: I’m not sure that I believe in moderation. Some stuff should be indulged in only on special occasions.

Full disclosure #1: I have a sweet tooth.

Full disclosure #2: I am vain.

Full disclosure #3: My vanity often trumps my sweet tooth. And that’s saying a lot.

I’ve been working out in a gym since I was in college, yet, several years ago after a routine, yearly physical during which I aced every test, my doctor sat me down, looked me squarely in the face and asked, “So, what are you going to do to lose some weight?”

I rebelled, but saw the light one morning when I stepped out of the shower and saw myself in the mirror. “The doctor is right,” thought I, “I look kind of…dumpy.” And as if awakened from a deep sleep, my vanity (bless its heart) took over.

Like Dorothy trying to get back to Kansas, I “…had the answer all along.” I didn’t need to pay a trainer. The kitchen is the one room I can walk into and feel perfectly confident. I can do anything in the kitchen, not just bake. (Yeah, I know. That sounds dirty too.)

No, I did not invent a cookie diet. But, over a lifetime I have learned a lot about cooking and food. As surprising as this sounds (even to me), there are people who do not understand the difference between protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Are you one of them? It’s okay.

What’s not okay is to deny the role a proper diet plays in your health. I often joke that I honestly believe that chocolate has medicinal qualities. But I don’t eat it every day. Oh, by the way, that’s no joke: I do actually believe that chocolate has medicinal qualities.

Every day I eat a good, healthful, pleasurable, diet so that when the good stuff comes along—the treats, the “special” meal, the really good ice cream—I can eat them without guilt. Over the holidays I helped my friend’s three and six-year old kids bake cookies. You think I left without indulging in the Rice Krispies Treats? Think again.

I don’t believe in diets. A co-worker recently tried a liquid cleanse. Tried, but couldn’t complete. Silly. Passive. Don’t diet. Instead, change your life. Learn what works for you. Learn what makes your jeans seem to “shrink.” Fire up the internet. Find an app for your phone. Get educated.

ANYWAY. I consider myself a picky eater. But the good news is that there are a lot of foods that I enjoy that I can eat every day. I’m the guy who can make a meal out of a can of sardines. (Let’s just say I know my way around the canned fish aisle. Some of it, like good sardines, is superfood. Some of it stinks like a house guest who has exceeded the three day hospitality limit.)(Ahem: How many friends do you have who can claim they know their way around the canned fish aisle?)

Many New Yorkers never cook a meal at home. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released the results of a study that concluded that you get more calories, more saturated fat, more salt, and less fiber when you eat out. Does this mean I never eat processed food? No. It means I pick and choose carefully, based on ingredients, the nutrition label, and my needs.

I hear you thinking. “I don’t have time to cook every meal from scratch.” Neither do I, so I don’t. That’s not the point. The point is to question everything you eat. Ask what’s in it, where was it made, and how big is that portion? I recently asked a waitress the weight in ounces of the flounder on the menu. While she looked a little surprised at the question, I knew that the chef would know. I tried it in a corporate cafeteria recently. I noticed that the woman making the sandwiches had all of the meats in portions, and yes, she had weighed each one. (Four ounces.)

Speaking of flounder: isn’t that a beautiful fillet in the picture above? That thing in which it sits? Looks like a model of the cargo bay from the Space Shuttle, yes? Actually it is a Spanish-made Lékué steamer. I enjoy steam-roasting fish, usually in parchment. Fish steamed in a pot on the stove tends to be a little bland for my tastes, but wrapped in parchment and baked in the heat of a hot oven you get the best of both worlds: the moisture of steam, and the finish from the heat of roasting or baking. I found the Lékué steamer one day while trolling the aisles at Sur la Table. It is made of silicone, and, while designed for microwave cooking, it is perfectly at home in a regular oven.

You can see I have my whole dinner in there: some peppers, a bit of buckwheat pilaf I’d made in advance, and some citrus slices to season the fish while it bakes. I come home from the gym, pop my food into the Lékué then into the oven, and it cooks while I take a shower. It cleans easily, doesn’t retain food smells, and is reusable. It’s a bit slower than parchment, but I’ve enjoyed several meals cooked in it. (No I was not compensated for this, and yes, I found the Lékué myself and paid for it out of my own pocket. No endorsement here, just a report of a happy test drive.)

Don’t feel limited to fish. Anything that might normally dry out in the oven (chicken breasts or lean beef) cooks well in a steamer. Just be sure to add some moisture like broth or light vinaigrettes to help them cook.


The Lékué steam case and other products are available at Sur la Table and on

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Welcome to the Spa.

A little

A little

Hey, how’re you doing? How’s your year going? Me? Fine, fine…although I could use a cookie right about now, thanks. At the moment though, no cookies; I am concentrating on losing the ample holiday joy that is making my pants just a little tight. I wouldn’t be surprised if the buttons and zipper in my pants sued me for hazard pay.

The bad news about the holidays ending in the dead of winter is that we are all at the peak of our “fatten-up-for winter-and-then hibernate” instinct. So, to then turn around and start trying to lose weight seems like Mother Nature is taunting us. Bears have the best technique: they sleep through several weeks’ worth of meals then emerge svelte but ravenous. I don’t recommend this for humans. Okay, maybe runway models—if they can fit the hibernation into their schedules.

I look at it this way: during the holidays I eat a lot of the stuff I make myself. Simply by changing what I make (no cookies) I have a head start on dropping my holiday heft.

As I continue my sentence at hard labor for sins of over indulgence committed at holiday time, I am looking around every proverbial corner for meals that will amuse me. Having been a waiter for a long time, I am able to adapt ideas I saw over the years in restaurants to this cause.

As it happens, my memory was jogged a few days ago during a trip through the plastic wrap and foil aisle of the supermarket. (Yes, yes I know: I hit some exciting spots, don’t I? A colleague just returned from Buenos Aires. It’s summer there. I just returned from Gristede’s. It’s winter there.)

Ah, yes, the supermarket: my eye caught a box of parchment baking bags. Long ago I had a chef teach me (or try to teach me) the elaborate crimping technique they use to create the beautiful parchment bags in which they steam and serve food. Pre-made parchment bags seemed like a convenient idea for me. Lazy? Yes. Sorry, it’s the hibernation instinct coming out. (I’m milking that excuse for all it’s worth.)

Don’t worry: I’m the first one to snore at steamed food. I’ll even throw in a “yech.” The real trick I learned from those chefs is what goes in the bag along with the beautiful fish and perfectly manicured vegetables.

Any chef worth his salt (pardon the pun) will tell you that it all starts with the best ingredients. Yeah, sure: that’s like saying that great literature is just a bunch of words. Chefs know how to “goose” the flavor in everything they cook: a little extra grilling here, a little touch of pepper there.

When it comes to parchment-bag steamed meals—which enjoyed a vogue about fifteen years ago—the magic ingredient was compound butter. Compound butter goes back – at least—to Escoffier. The concept is trés simple: soften butter, mix in colorful, flavorful ingredients, and freeze into a log. Slices of the frozen butter are then added to cooking food, or in the case of beef, melted on top as the beef is plated for service.

The gorgonzola you often see in photos relaxing alluringly on a filet mignon was likely a bit of compound butter. In the case of the about to be steamed fish in the picture above, I made a citrus compound butter. Right about now you’re asking, “Hey buddy! I thought you were on a diet. What’s up with the butter?”

My answer is that I don’t use real butter. Even on a good day I can’t eat butter. You may notice that many of my recipes mention that I use a butter substitute. To be polite, real butter is delicious, but gives my stomach…um…grief. Purists: I agree, nothing tastes like real butter. But nothing is better than a happy tummy tum tum. Aside from that, using real butter in this recipe is relatively harmless. At most you’d be using two tablespoons. I say go for it.

I use Earth Balance because its mix of oils mimics the healthy profile of olive oil. (There are several excellent products like this.) This makes it perfect for the Butter Flour Eggs spa menu. Besides: it’s the flavors in the compound butter that do the heavy lifting. The butter is mostly there for moral support.

The citrus compound butter recipe is simple: allow a quarter pound of butter to soften. With a fork, mash in the grated rind of three oranges, and one lime. Feeling ambitious? Throw the butter in a blender with the grated citrus rinds, a half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of orange juice. (I find the blender version delicious but hate cleaning the blender.)

Roll the butter into a parchment-wrapped log and freeze. When it is time for dinner, cut the log into silver dollar-sized slices, place in the parchment bag with the other ingredients, salt and pepper, and bake.

To be honest, the flounder shown in the photo above is not ideal for this technique. Use a slightly thicker fish like halibut, salmon, or the ubiquitous sea bass. I added julienne strips of carrot, red pepper, and fingerling potato. Yes, potato on a diet. One. Sue me.

Again, it’s about the technique. Anything you add to the bag should be cut to approximately the same size so that everything cooks evenly. Green beans? Perfect too.

Keep this technique in your back pocket for summertime. A little gorgonzola butter on your burgers anyone? How about melting some of the citrus butter on your corn on the cob?

As I write this it is 27˚ outside and the weatherman is predicting snow. Mmmmm. Summer. I’ll be thin by then.

Won’t I?


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