Deborah Madison is coming

Deborah Madison, former chef at the Greens restaurant in San Francisco, and author of What We Eat When We Eat Alone* and the award winning Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, is coming to give a talk in the Cuyahoga Valley.
*When I'm alone, my perfect meal is a grilled steak and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
**She also wrote another of my favorite quotes from a cookbook.  I'm paraphrasing her opening to This Can't be Tofu:
I was shopping at my local grocery store, and I put a block of tofu in my cart.  A man who was going by stopped and said: "Tofu.  My wife doesn't have a good recipe for that.  Do you have one?"  I thought about it for a minute, then replied: "Well, unfortunately, the recipe I usually use is this.  Leave it in the refrigerator until it is past it's expiration date, then throw it out and buy a new one."
His response was: "Darn.  That's my wife's recipe, too."

She will be at the Happy Days Lodge on February 12th at 7PM.  Tickets are available by calling (330) 657-2909.  Details are available here: Lyceum Series - Deborah Madison: Growing Food, Culture, Community, Wellness, and Pleasure.

Orange and Olive Salad with Herbes De Provence

You have probably noticed a lot of citrus in my recent recipes. That's because it is citrus season. Every week in January, my local supermarket has oranges on sale. They are tasting great; juicy and sweet.

This is a recipe I picked up from Mark Bittman last year. It turns oranges into a fancy side dish for dinner. Combining orange, olive and herbs is a classic flavor pairing in the Mediterranean, and this recipe comes together in seconds.
*Yet another "so simple it's barely a recipe" post.  Remember it the next time I publish a recipe that starts with the instructions"24 to 36 hours before cooking..."

Recipe: Orange and Olive Salad with Herbes De Provence

What my rotisserie wants to be when it grows up...

This is what my grill wants to be when it grows up, and is old enough for a driver's license:

I'm going to have to try the drip pan caramelized onions. That's genius.
*And, darn it, now I'm hungry for some rotisserie chicken. Time to fire up the grill.

They also lead this video from the Wall Street Journal about gourmet food trucks.  I know where I'm going for lunch the next time I'm in San Francisco.

[h/t] Street Food Profiles: RoliRoti in Northern California []

Check out their website:

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My Big Television Adventure

*Or, as Jeff at work put it: "Paging Andy Warhol...your fifteen minutes are starting..."

I now have video of my appearances on WKYC Channel 3 News Today.

First up: a profile of me and my blog, and some shots of my White Chicken Chili from Wednesday the 20th:

Recipe from WKYC: Ch.3 News Today: Dad cooks dinner blog
Recipe from my Blog: White Chicken Chili the Easy Way

Then: On Thursday the 21st, Hollie Strano cooks one of my recipes on air, then I get interviewed.  I'm live about 4:40 into the video.

Recipe from WKYC: Hollie's Dish of the Week: Sear Roasted Chicken with Lemon Herb Pan Sauce
Recipe from my Blog: Sear Roasted Chicken Breasts with Shallot Herb Pan Sauce

Everyone in my family, and that I work with, has been emailed this video.  Other bloggers I talk to a lot have been emailed this video.  I've been grabbing people as they walk by, shoving my iPod at them, and saying "Did you see me on TV?"  If you fall into any of these categories, I'm sorry for being repetitive.  I'm just so excited.  I think the adrenaline is starting to wear off, and it's three days later...

Here are the questions I've been asked by the unsuspecting victims freinds and family I've shown the videos:

1. Is Hollie as nice as she seems on TV?
Yes, absolutely!  She's a sweetheart.  The first video was shot at my house, and Hollie showed up before the cameraman did.  We talked about food and our kids for about a half an hour before the shooting started, and I had a great time chatting with her.  She insisted I come to the set for Thursday's shooting of Hollie's dish of the Week, so I could taste how she did with my recipe.

2. She didn't follow your recipe!
Yes, and I'm OK with that.  She had to improvise with some of the ingredients, using what she had on hand.  I talk about this in the original recipe - it is a good base for variations, and the sauce can be almost anything you want it to be.*  She did put a rather large handful of dried herbs in there.  OK, two handfuls.  In the recipe I say "make sure it is highly seasoned", and Hollie sure took me at my word! The sauce turned out fine, and it all tasted really good.
*The key to the sauce is to add 1 cup of chicken stock, or some other liquid, to the pan.  That dissolves the browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and builds a very flavorful sauce.

3. Live on TV!  Were you nervous?
Surprisingly, no.  I think it's because I'm passionate about home cooking.  Give me an opening, and I'll talk your ear off about techniques, recipes, ingredients, where to shop...  (Hey, maybe I should start a blog!) The fact that it was live on TV didn't worry me.
*It also helped to chat with Hollie for the earlier shoot; it just felt like an extension of that conversation.

4. Are you going to be on TV again?
I had a great time, and I'd do it again...once I get caught up on my sleep.  They get up really, REALLY early for the show.  Also, this was an act of kindness from my sister-in-law, Erin, a producer at WKYC.  I appreciated the opportunity, and I don't want to be a pest by asking to be on again any time soon.

5. What did you learn from the experience?
Don't take a big bite of food if I'm on live TV!  All I could say for the last 30 seconds was "MmmMmm" while I waved my hands around.

Once again, a huge thank you to Erin and Hollie for giving me this opportunity.  I had a great time!

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
White Chicken Chili (the easy way)
Sear Roasted Chicken Breasts with Shallot Herb Pan Sauce

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Pork Chop Saute with Orange Mustard Sauce

Let's put the saute with pan sauce technique to use again. Different meat, different sauce…but it's really the same thing, behind the curtain.
*This was the second recipe I thought of when All-Clad asked me to test their d5 pan.

I've complained before about how boring boneless pork loin can be. This recipe takes care of that with a crispy exterior and a flavorful pan sauce.

The pan sauce is an example of why I keep going on and on about making your own stock. I freeze it in 1 cup containers for use as the base of pan sauces. Homemade stock gives you a depth of flavor and a richness from gelatin that canned just can't match. Stock makes a simple pan sauce into something sublime.
*Of course, Michael Ruhlman says that if I would just make veal stock, it could be even better. He's probably right. But I roast a chicken every few weeks. Chicken stock uses the bones and scraps to make something delicious.

Recipe: Pork Chop Saute with Orange Mustard Sauce

Chicken Breast Saute with Marsala Sauce

Let's put the Saute with Pan Sauce technique to work. This recipe is inspired by, of all things, Macaroni Grill. It's one of our regular stops for lunches at work, particularly if we have picky eaters in the crowd. It's a safe choice - who doesn't like pasta? And, for a chain restaurant, it's not bad.
*I like it a lot more than the other alternative that always comes up. Olive Garden.  Eh, I think I brought my lunch today.

One of my good friends always orders the Chicken Marsala.* Not to knock Macaroni Grill, but I think I can do better.
*Hi, Jeff!

I love to call these "Chicken Cutelets" (adding the extra "e" in the pronunciation, Cut-eh-lets). That is how it was pronounced by the retired Italian auto worker turned caterer who cooked them for our wedding reception. When we went to his house, before we hired him, he gave us a sample of the chicken. Then he proudly served his homemade wine. I still smile, thinking of us sitting in his tiny, immaculate, knick-knack filled front room, tasting chicken cutelets and homemade wine. Of course we hired him!

Recipe: Chicken Breast Saute with Marsala Sauce

Basic Technique: Saute with Pan Sauce

Saute is derived from the French word "To Jump". In cooking, it means:
Using a small amount of oil in a hot pan to cook thin, tender ingredients by giving them a good sear on the outside.
The saute technique is one of the core techniques in cooking, and is used for both meat and vegetables. Most recipes saute at least a few of the ingredients. Sauteing builds flavor in two ways. The first is the good sear you get on the food you are cooking. The second is the browned bits that are left in the bottom of the pan, called the fond (French for "foundation"). Fond is the foundation of pan sauces; it dissolves into liquid added to the pan, adding flavor to that liquid.

I'm going to use a saute to make a quick weeknight dinner, with a pan sauce from the fond. This is the first real cooking technique I learned. I was chained to recipes, to use Michael Ruhlman's wonderful turn of phrase.  Learning to saute, as a technique, unlocked those chains. Everything in this blog followed from that "Aha!" moment. Behind every recipe are techniques (like a saute), flavor combinations (what do you put in the pan sauce?), and ratios (how much salt per pound?). This realization made me a real cook. Of course, it also showed me how little I actually knew, and how much more there was to discover. I've been happily chasing better techniques, different flavor combinations, and new ratios ever since.
*I know I've been mentioning Pam Anderson a lot recently.  I have to. I owe it to her. How to Cook Without a Book, with it's explanation of the saute and pan sauce technique, was the key. Without it, I might still be chained to recipes.

Here is the technique, in shorthand form:

Basic Technique: Saute with Pan Sauce

DadCooksDinner: As Seen On TV

Image from Wikimedia Commons

[Update 1/25/09 - I was on TV, and I've got the video here: My Big Television Adventure]

Loyal readers, set your Tivos on stun*.  I'm going to be on the WKYC Channel 3 News @ Sunrise show next Wednesday, January 20th, some time between 5AM and 7AM!
*I don't expect you to get up at 5AM, just to see my smiling face before your first cup of coffee.  You guys are loyal readers, but you're not THAT loyal.

They're doing a segment on DadCooksDinner, and interviewing me and my family about having Dad do the cooking.  I'll find out more details tomorrow, when they come to my house to do the shoot.

Then, on Thursday the 21st, Hollie Strano is going to cook one of my recipes as Hollie's Dish of the Week.

This is it, I've hit the big time!  I'll be sure to remember all the people who made this possible...
* my sister-in-law Erin, who is a producer at WKYC.  She really DID make all this possible.  Thank you, Erin!

Rotisserie Leg of Lamb Provencal

This week I'm sharing recipes inspired by my trip to the winter farmer's market in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

I had a pleasant surprise at the market: locally grown lamb from the Great American Lamb Company. I bought a 5 pound bone in lamb leg. Then came the fun part: when I got it home, I had to figure out what to do with it!

I decided to cook it with my rotisserie.* I've already posted recipes for rotisserie lamb leg Greek and Moroccan style. I needed to come up with something different.
*I know you're shocked, SHOCKED to hear I'm cooking it on the rotisserie.

What other leg of lamb recipes are there? Why, leg of lamb Provencal, of course!
*Have I mentioned that I spent a week at a cooking class in Provence? Not recently? Don't worry, I have a series of posts from those classes coming, so you'll get to hear all about it. Again.

I went to my cookbooks for inspiration. A few of the recipes wanted me to poke holes in the lamb with a paring knife, and stuff them with garlic, rosemary and olives. I've tried this approach before, and I've never been impressed. I know it is traditional, but it is also fussy work filling in all those little holes. And the results, while good, have never made me sit up and say, "Wow!"

It was time to go my own way. I would use a dry brine, like Judy Rodgers does on her lamb.* And I would baste the lamb with a lemon/mustard sauce, using a thyme and rosemary herb brush, inspired by Lulu's Provencal Kitchen.
*Yes, I've done a lot of dry brining recently. It works, and works well.
**And, I would like to formally apologize to any linguists who read my blog. I know that "dry brine" is a contradiction in terms. But it describes what I'm doing (using salt to denature the proteins in the meat, just like a brine does), and it is what cooks seem to be calling the technique.

Recipe: Rotisserie Leg of Lamb Provencal

Roasted New Potatoes

This week I'm sharing recipes inspired by my trip to the winter farmer's market in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

When I'm cooking a roast, and I want an easy side dish, roasted new potatoes are what I make. This recipe can be explained in one sentence: Put the potatoes in a baking dish, toss with oil, salt and pepper, then cook for one hour.
*This is another of my "so simple it is barely a recipe" recipes. I'm a fan of side dishes that take little effort or attention.

Don't be fooled by how easy this recipe is. The results taste fabulous. You get bite-sized potatoes that are salty and a little crisp on the outside, and deliciously creamy on the inside.

Recipe: Roasted New Potatoes

Winter Farmer's Market in the Cuyahoga Valley

Would you like to give your cooking a mid-winter shot of inspiration?  Find your local winter farmer's market.

My CSA from Crown Point doesn't run during the winter.  I needed a fix of locally grown produce and locally raised meat.  The Cuyahoga Valley Conservancy, the organization behind the Howe Road farmer's market in the summer, moves the market indoors for the winter. It is in the Happy Days Lodge in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and it runs one Saturday a month from November through April.

I was impressed with the variety of food available for a market in the middle of winter.  Obviously, since this is Northeastern Ohio, we don't have a wide range of produce, but the storage vegetables were out in abundance.  I couldn't believe all the different, locally grown meats that were available.  Beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, chicken, duck...and those were just the ones I saw; someone might have been hiding in a corner that I didn't get to.

They even have a "bank machine" at the front desk of the lodge - they can run a debit card and give you $5 tokens for the market.
*This is a big help when you have a space cadet moment and forget to stop at the bank machine on your way there.  Like I did.

While I was there, I ran into DineInDiva from Garden, Grocery, Gadget Girl.  It's always nice to meet someone you've been reading on the internet, to put a real face on the person behind the words.

Countryside Winter Farmers' Markets
Saturday: November 21, December 19, January 16, February 20, March 20, April 17
Happy Days Lodge
500 West Streetsboro Road
Peninsula, OH 44264

My top five list of favorite things they sell:

DadCooksDinner and Pam Anderson back in 2002

I found this picture while going through my photo library, looking for the right pictures for my weight lost post last week. And, while it's not a good picture of my weight loss, it is a good weight loss picture.

This is me and Pam Anderson at a cooking class she was giving at the Western Reserve School of Cooking in 2002:

*If you haven't already figured it out, I'm the geeky looking one on the left.

I had already lost all my weight, and was as thin as I've ever been, or probably ever will be. Pam hadn't started her weight loss yet.  
*We've been emailing back and forth about our blogs for a little while now, so I sent it to her, because I thought she might like it.

She said that the picture was amazing, and better than any possible advertisement for her book. Take a look at her now:

*This has been the best part of DadCooksDinner - I get to connect with people who have been positive influences on my life and my cooking.  And because of this blog, they treat me like I'm a Real Food Writer.  Me!  Can you believe it?  And, as I've said before - thank you, Pam!

Go visit Pam and her daughters, Maggie and Sharon, at their fun food blog:

Pam Anderson: The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great

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Mexican Hot Chocolate

Mexican Hot Chocolate is my favorite drink on a cold winter's day.
*Non-alcoholic division.

Mexican chocolate has a hint of cinnamon and spice in it. It makes a better cup of hot chocolate than the one I grew up with.
*Swiss Miss powder, with the tiny "marshmallows" in it.

Our kids love it. They've been drinking it since they were little.

Years ago, we were visiting my aunt and uncle in Chicago.* We spent a day downtown on Michigan Avenue, checking out all the shops on the Miracle Mile. Ben and Natalie loved the Lego store; Tim was a little over a year old, and was snoozing in his stroller. We went for a late lunch at Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill. The kids thought it was the best meal of our visit. They ate tortillas and drank cup after cup of Mexican hot chocolate, while the servers cooed over Tim as he slept in his stroller.
*Hi, Terry and Mary!

Recipe: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Rules for Losing Weight

Weighing in, 12/30/2009. Darn! I gained a pound over Christmas!
Here are my rules for healthy eating and sane weight loss.
*See yesterday's DadCooksDinner Loses Weight post for an overview of how I got to these rules...

1. Eat a variety of foods. (The Marion Nestle, "Eat a variety of foods within and among food groups" rule.) The wider range of food I eat, the healthier a diet I have. There is no one way to eat; different cultures have figured out many different cuisines that are both delicious and healthy. Explore!

2. Cook for yourself, using unprocessed food, and emphasize plants in your diet. (The Michael Pollan, "Eat real food, mostly plants" rule.) If I eat at home most of the time, and do my shopping around the edge of the grocery store, then I'm on the right track.  I cook most of our meals; we reserve eating out as a treat.
*I get bonus points if I shop at my local farmer's market, but the important part is to stay away from the processed stuff in the middle of the grocery store.  I do most of my shopping in the produce, dairy, and meat departments around the edge of the store.

To emphasize plants, I try to use meat as a side dish, not as the main part of dinner. I try to have two different vegetables at every meal (usually, one cooked side dish and one salad). I also divide my plate into quarters, and make one quarter meat, one quarter starch, and two quarters vegetables.
*Emphasizing plants is hard one for me, as you can probably tell if you've been following this blog for any length of time. I'm used to the big hunk of meat being at the center of the plate. I try to cook one vegetarian meal a week. With my crowd, that usually means rice and beans, or a pasta.
**While I enjoyed both Pollan and Nestle's book, I know they're not for everyone. If you want the simple, summary version of their arguments, read Mark Bittman's Food Matters.

3. Practice mindful eating. I pay attention when I'm eating, taste my food, and stop when I'm just getting full. I eat less and enjoy my food more.  For me, slowing down while I'm eating is the key.  If I take my time, and savor my food, it's easier to notice when I'm full.
*The hardest part was learning what "not hungry" felt like.  I was used to eating until I was stuffed.

**Diane mentioned another trick while reading this.  She said that it's easy to get caught up in the speed other people eat, and that I eat very fast.  (Who, me?)  She has to make a conscious effort to slow down when she's eating with me.

The flip side of this is avoiding mindless eating.  If I stop paying attention, I eat an awful lot of tortilla chips and salsa.  That's where portion control comes in...

4. Portion control matters. (The "please don't Super Size Me" rule.) While mindful eating is important, studies show that we will eat until we clear our plates, not until we're full.  Portion control is critical to losing weight, and it's tough for people to recognize appropriate portions.  Our mind responds to visual cues for determining portion size.*
*In a study using self-refilling soup bowls, researchers found people would eat 73% more soup if their bowl never emptied.  And they didn't feel any more full than people who ate out of regular bowls.

I use this trick to my advantage.  Diane talked me into buying 9 inch dinner plates, to fool our brains into thinking we were eating more.  I said "yeah, right", but bought the plates anyhow.  That was four months ago; I have lost five pounds since then, with no other changes in my eating habits.

5. Calories matter. (The anti-Atikns rule.) There is no silver bullet in avoiding certain types of food. Fat has calories; protein has calories; carbohydrates have calories. If I eat more calories than I burn in a day, I will gain weight. Eat less calories than I burn, and I lose weight. In other words: When I want to lose weight, I have to eat less. Calories can be an imperfect measurement, but they're the best we've got. Less calories means more weight lost.  The rule of thumb is to eat 500 calories less than I burn a day, and I will lose a pound a week.
*Here is the Mayo Clinic's Calorie Calculator.  It will estimate the calories you burn in a day, based on your age, height, gender, and activity level.

5a. How to cook when you want to cut calories. Since I'm a geek, I'll explain how to cook to lose weight using an equation:

Fat and sugar > Low fiber starch > Lean protein > High fiber starch > Plants > Water

The more of my meal that's to the right of the equation, the less calories it has. I can eat plants until my jaw is tired, and not eat many calories. But, I need some of the middle to the left side of the equation to give a meal flavor.

If I can move a meal to the right, I can cut calories. As an example, I can cut out some of the fat.  Or I can make my chili with more beans (high fiber starch) and less fatty protein (beef). Meals with a lot of bulk that are almost entirely from the right side, like soups and salads, are great for cutting calories and staying full.
*And don't forget salt and spices, which add a big boost of flavor without adding many calories.

6. Enjoy your food. (The "don't torture yourself" and "be a food snob" rule.) Overly restrictive diets will not last. If I try a diet that involves cutting out foods that I love, at some point I won't be satisfied, and I will fall off the wagon. Remember: this is a lifelong change of eating habits, not a diet. Denying myself for the long term is only possible if I have an iron will. (I do not.) As I said above, plain vegetables have almost no calories, but they taste much better with a little bit of butter and some salt.

A related point: I try to be picky about my food. Smaller portions of higher quality food help me lose weight, even if they have more calories per ounce. This ties back to mindful eating and portion control - if I love what I'm eating, I pay more attention, notice when I am full, and stop eating.

7. Celebration meals are part of being human. (The "Moderation in all things, including moderation" rule.)  As Rick Bayless says in the introduction to Mexican Everyday, everyday food should be simple, healthy, and quick. Special occasions are for celebration with family and friends. I always give myself one meal a week where I don't worry about what I'm eating. A delicious meal, with a tasty beverage and lively conversation, is one of life's simple pleasures. Every culture has feast days and celebrations built around food. I enjoy them, and worry about being eternally vigilant tomorrow.

8. Let kids be kids. (The "kids are going to be picky eaters" rule.) Kids will prefer junk food, be very texture oriented, want all their food kept separate on the plate, avoid anything green, and will only eat things that are not "yucky". Remember the division of responsibility at the table. Parents provide a variety of nutritious foods, and kids choose wether or not to eat them. Don't short order cook, and try to make a kid friendly dish in every meal.
*Don't be surprised when the kid friendly dish is suddenly "yucky".  Don't worry, they won't starve to death if they just drink milk with a meal.
**Around the age of two, when kids start to pick everything up and put it in their mouths, they develop a strong aversion to anything with a bitter taste. It's a self-defense mechanism; in nature, bitter equals poison. They're much more likely to survive to be adults this way. But, I know from experience that it's not much fun when a two year old suddenly refuses to eat anything other than white rice, bread and milk.

9. There is no one-size fits all answer to maintaining a healthy weight. (The "Find your own path" rule.) Consumer Reports polled their readers a few years back, asking them about weight loss and what had worked.  According to their poll, about 80% of people who tried to lose weight had gained it all back within a few years.  The ones who kept the weight off followed different paths to keep the weight off; the only constants among the group were changing eating habits instead of dieting, and regular exercise.
*The highest failure rate was meal replacement diets, ones that substituted "diet shakes" for real food.

Everything listed above works for me. Your milage may vary, and your answer to "What is healthy eating?" may be different from mine. That's OK! We all have different tastes and preferences for food. That's part of what makes food so interesting.*
*Particularly with the rules suggestions for kids! There's nothing as annoying as someone who thinks they know how you should raise your kids. (Not that I'm ever guilty of that.)
**And remember that your kids have their own personalities, with their own likes and dislikes. What works for you might not work for them. (Again, not that I'm ever guilty of that...)

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

*Special thanks to Dan at Casual Kitchen for inspiring this post with his review of The End of Overeating.

**Extra special thanks to my lovely wife, Diane, for giving me a second set of eyes on these posts.  While I've lost weight and kept it off, because of our kids, she's lost, gained, lost, gained and lost again - she's had to pay more attention than I have, and the results are looking great for her.

Pam Anderson: Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight
Mark Bittman: Food Matters
Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food
Marion Nestle: What to Eat
Rick Bayless: Mexican Everyday
Ellyn Satter: Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family
Walter Willet: Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

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DadCooksDinner Loses Weight ... Then Gains Some Back

2001 and 260 lbs, 2002 and 180 lbs, 2009 and 225 lbs

Growing up, I was always a skinny kid. In my twenties, that changed. I injured my knee playing basketball, which caused me to cut back on my activities. After I graduated from college, I started my first job behind a desk. My weight started to creep up. And up. And up. At my heaviest I weighed over 260 pounds.
*I bought a scale after I started losing weight, so I don't know where, exactly, the top was. The first time I was brave enough to get on the scale, I weighed 255 pounds. Yikes.

In the summer of 2001, after Ben was born, Diane signed up for Weight Watchers to help lose her pregnancy weight. At the same time, I read Walter Willet's Eat, Drink and Be Healthy. This book explains current medical research on eating and health. These events pushed me to get serious about losing some weight. In my imagination, I was thin, like I was as a teenager. I wanted to look like that again, not like the fat guy in the mirror.
*In my imagination, I'm also much younger - about 23 years old.

I started counting calories, limiting myself to 2000 a day. Following Willet's book, I ate less processed starches and animal fat, and ate more whole grains, unsaturated fats, and vegetables.
*That is, less white flour, pasta, potatoes, white rice, animal fat, and whole milk; eat more fish, oils, nuts, fruit and vegetables, brown rice and whole wheat bread and pasta.

The weight started to drop off immediately.  My enthusiasm for home cooking really helped. Without doing my own cooking, I don't think I could have lost weight.  Cooking changed losing weight from drudgery and denial into a challenge. Could I adapt my cooking to weight loss, while still enjoying the results? Where could I cut calories in a recipe without losing flavor? What worked, and what didn't? What recipes were inherently low calorie, what recipes could be adapted to be low calorie, and what recipes should just be avoided? I enjoyed this whole process, and learned a lot about cooking in the process.
*Much of what I knew about basic technique came from Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book. I would have had less trial and error if she published Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight back in 2001. I think it's the best "diet" cookbook out there, because it teaches you techniques more than recipes.

I trained myself to be a mindful eater. To keep below 2000 calories a day, I had to constantly ask myself: are these calories worth it? Am I going to enjoy them enough? As an example, I would always keep enough calories in reserve for a glass of wine with dinner, as a treat for myself. It helped to be a bit of a food snob. For example, when confronted with a dish of candy in a co-worker's cube, I would say to myself: "I don't want that hershey's miniature, I want to wait and have a piece of good, dark chocolate."

Portion control was another key to losing weight. At first, It came as part of calorie counting. Unless I knew my portion size, I I didn't know how many calories I ate. Soon I put two and two together - larger portions meant more calories.  But the flip side was I could get away with eating smaller portions of higher calorie foods, and not bust my calorie budget for the day.

It wasn't all about denial. I would have a celebration meal once a week, either Sunday dinner, or a party with family and friends. For this meal I would relax all the rules. I would eat a large serving of vegetables with dinner, and otherwise just enjoy myself.
*And did I mention the glass of wine or two that would go along with it?

By the summer of 2002, I dropped from 260 pounds to 180. I was rail thin. People were amazed, and some were a little taken aback. Occasionally I was asked questions that implied, "are you having a medical issue?"
*I think I was able to lose so much weight so quickly because I have a high metabolism.  That's why I was always skinny when I was a kid.  My metabolism slowed down as I got older, but not that much - it was still pretty high.  I just had to slow down my eating to match it.

I settled into a virtuous groove. My eating habits were stable. I could tell how many calories were in a dish from the portion size and the ingredients. I knew when to say I was done. Eventually, I stopped tracking calories every day.  I let myself eat some of the foods I was supposed to avoid.

We had Natalie in late 2002, then Tim in 2004. Pretty soon, we were cooking for the kids, not just us. At that point, what I ate became less important to me, and I started to worry about what the kids were eating. Or if they were eating at all. Ben was an extraordinarily picky eater as a toddler, and would only eat‚ you guessed it, processed starches, and whole milk.*
*Well, not exclusively, but to someone who enjoys a range of food as much as I do, it sure seemed like it. He's starting to grow out of it now, but it's still a struggle to get him to try new stuff. And Tim is turning out to be even more stubborn about what he eats.
**I have NO IDEA where this stubborn streak comes from. Wait…why are you all looking at me like that?

We started using the approach recommended by Ellyn Satter for dealing with picky eaters - divide the responsibility at the dinner table. Our job as parents was to give them a variety of healthy food options with the meal; their job was to decide whether or not they want to eat. Don't make the dinner table a power struggle. If they won't eat, another meal will be coming. They won't going to starve if they skip a meal. That said, I tried to be kid friendly with our menu.  I wouldn't make an entire meal that was challenging to them.  I would make at least one part of every meal familiar or kid friendly.
*Her best piece advice, other than the division of responsibility: try to make sure there's some bread on the table. If nothing else, they'll eat the bread. 
**Her second best piece of advice: No short order cooking! The whole family eats the same meal. That's how you get kids used to different foods. If they see their parents eating and enjoying a range of foods, the will eventually try it. Even if they won't touch anything but the bread right now.

I started to chafe against the restrictive Willet approach. I get a lot of enjoyment out of eating food, and it felt wrong to label certain foods as good or bad. I didn't want my kids to pick up food phobias from me; they were doing a good enough job themselves. I don't want them to think some foods are bad, just that some food should be eaten in moderation. I wanted them to focus more on variety than on avoiding certain foods.
*I loved the switch to whole wheat bread, but I was never able to make the "no white flour or white rice" part work for me.  Whole wheat pasta and brown rice are pale substitutes for the real thing. I would cook them, and then try to eat as much of everything else in the meal as I could. When the kids refused to touch them, they drifted out of my cooking routine. If I'm not supposed to short order cook for the kids, I'm not supposed to do it for me either.

Then came the one-two punch that finalized the change in my eating habits.

First was the Atkins diet. I had a strong, almost visceral reaction to it: this is wrong! Any diet that said fruit was bad for you is not helping. I started to question the sanity of restricting entire ranges of foods from my diet.

The second change was my interest in the "eat local" movement. I wanted to eat more locally and seasonally, and that's tough to do if you're restricting your diet.

In the end, I relaxed quite a bit on my eating. As a result, my weight crept back up. By 2006, I was at 225 pounds, and have been there (plus or minus five pounds) for the last three years. And, while I would like to lose 25 pounds and be back down to 200, I also have maintained 35 pounds of weight loss for eight years. From what I've read, that's a great result.
*With that said, I've decided that it's time to start paying attention again, and get my weight down a bit. I had a hard time writing this piece; I kept picking it up and putting it down. Eventually I figured out that my current weight does bother me a bit, and that's why I was blocking on it so much. I'm going to try to get my weight closer to 200 pounds. That would give me a BMI of 25 for my 6 foot 3 inch frame. I've already lost 5 of those pounds; I regularly weigh in at 218 now. Only 18 to go!

Tomorrow, in part 2, I'll lay out my rules for losing weight.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

*Special thanks to Dan at Casual Kitchen for inspiring this post with his review of The End of Overeating.

Pam Anderson: Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight
Mark Bittman: Food Matters
Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food
Marion Nestle: What to Eat
Rick Bayless: Mexican Everyday
Ellyn Satter: Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family
Walter Willet: Eat, Drink and Be Healthy

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New Address:

You've probably noticed the recent design changes I've made to DadCooksDinner.  If you haven't yet, try out the options on my menu bar at the top of the page, including a Google search of this site.

Here's another change - I now have my own address,!

If you are linking directly to my site, please change the address to point to instead of

If you are subscribing through my RSS feed or through email, everything should be seamless for you - my feedburner feed should remain the same.

What do you think of the changes?  Anything else you'd like to see?  Let me know in the comments, below.

Happy New Year!

Here are my resolutions for 2010:

Try something new:
The most fun I've had over the last year has been trying out new things:
Oh, yeah, and writing a blog. What I love about food is that there is always something new to explore. I haven't decided what the next thing is, but I'm leaning towards one or more of the following:
**My brother-in-law Travis gave me a Japanese cooking package for Christmas - a cookbook, dried seaweed, kombu, dried I know which one to lead with...

Use the cookbooks I have:
Instead of buying a bunch of new ones, dig into the cookbooks I already have. I bought some great cookbooks last year, which I enjoyed reading.  But I didn't cook much from them. A recipe here, a recipe there...and that was about it.  I read them more for inspiration and flavor combinations than as a direct source of what I'm going to cook. This year I will cut back on my cookbook purchases, and focus on what I already own.
*But…Steven Raichlen's Planet Barbecue is coming…and so is Rick Bayless's Fiesta at Rick's…and Robb Walsh's The Tex Mex Grill…and that's just in May.
**Darn. I've already broken this resolution, haven't I? It's just a matter of time.

Eat healthier, and blog healthier:
Yes, this blog has been very heavy on the Meaty Main Dish side of recipes. They're fun! I love cooking them, and writing about them. Not to mention eating them. But I don't feel like I'm giving an accurate picture of how I actually eat. I'm going to try to get more interesting side dishes posted in the new year. *But don't worry - I'm not giving up on the meaty main dishes entirely. In fact, I'm trying to line up a pork belly so I can give it a try on the rotisserie.

What do you think? Any suggestions? What are your cooking resolutions for the new year?  Leave them in the comments section below.

Happy New Year, everyone!

*Enjoyed this post?  Want to help out DadCooksDinner?  Subscribe using your RSS reader or by Email, recommend DadCooksDinner to your friends, or buy something from through the links on this site.  Thank you!