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The personal blog of Michael Ashby

Category / food

The Final Days Of The Bacchanal

The Bearitage BearAs with any new year, many of us will decide to turn over a new leaf. To make positive changes in our lives so that we will be happier and healthier and all that jazz. With the new year looming just around the corner, I too am planning on making resolutions to change certain habits that I currently have. One in particular is to get back on the South Beach Diet. My family went on the diet last year and it worked very well. 95% of the weight that I took off has stayed off. The diet was fairly easy to stick to and the food tasted good, however in today’s American culture, it’s easy to fall of the wagon.

Since the summer my diet has been a downward spiral into fast food and junk food. To be honest, it’s not that the food tasted any better. It’s not as if a Big Mac is a culinary delight, it’s just easier. When your day is stressful and you’re looking to cut a few corners to get through it, it’s just easier to eat at McDonald’s than it is to go home and cook.

On top of that there’s been the holidays. Spending the holidays in Nashville would be hard enough, but having the holidays in Louisiana is a whole other bailiwick. Every time we go to Baton Rouge, Holly and I graze from one side to the other. Holly and I have been to Baton Rouge three times over the past two months, so we’ve gone back in some cases for thirds. They say that food is life. If that is indeed the case, then life in southern Louisiana is good. Just to give you some idea of what I’ve had to eat over the past two months, here’s a quick run down.

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My New Favorite Weblog

Alton Brown shouting into a megaphoneThanks to a entry on one of my favorite weblogs Simple Bits, I stumbled onto a new weblog that after the first read has become my new favorite weblog. It’s the “Rants & Raves” section of Alton Brown’s web site and it’s an absolute hoot!
For those of you not familiar with Alton Brown, he hosts the Food Network show Good Eats. Before losing cable, something I’m still struggling with demons to try and keep from getting back, I use to watch his show regularly. Brown has this innate ability to go into great detail regarding food and cooking and yet make it VERY entertaining. He lives in Atlanta, which isn’t very far from here (so what that makes him a neighbor?) and in his show and now his weblog he comes across as a regular Joe. Well, a regular Joe who knows a LOT about food. I guess you could call him kind of a cooking geek and I mean that in a good way.

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Grits & Grillades

Grits And GrilladesI’ve been on the South Beach Diet for approximately 6 months now and this morning I decided to stray a little bit. I’ve been wanting to fix a Louisiana speciality called “Grits & Grillades” (pronounced “gree-yahds” ) for some time now, but due to the restrictions of the diet, I kept putting it off. Since I reviewed the cookbook “Tales From A Pantry“, I’ve been seeing the recipe staring at me every morning as I ate my breakfast. It’s been taunting me for far too long! Yesterday, when buying groceries for the dinner I’m cooking tonight for my Mother’s birthday, I threw in the ingredients for grillades too. 🙂

I set the alarm an hour earlier than usual simply because I’ve never made grillades before and I didn’t know how long it would take, etc. Not only that, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve never even HAD grillades before. “But you said that grillades were a Louisiana speciality?”, you might be asking. Well, that’s true, but I’ve never been anywhere where they were served. My Mom is from Kansas, so all of her Louisiana recipes are from friends and no one we knew, knew how to make them. The only restaurant that I know of that serves them is the Court Of Two Sisters and for one reason or another, I’ve never tried them.

There are plenty of recipes that I’ve done that I’ve never tasted before, but I usually have some indication of what it will taste like. I know what steak is supposed to taste like, so when cooking a steak dinner with some new exotic sauce, I at least have some indication of how everything should come out in the end. With grillades, I had no real frame of reference. I know what veal tastes like, but it’s covered in sauce in this dish and that was where the taste came from. My only recourse was to follow the directions and let Holly’s past experiences tell me if I was on the mark, or off.

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Falling Off The Wagon With A Guilt-Free Cushion

Afraid To Step On The ScaleI’ve been following the South Beach Diet for about a month and a half now and other than a little bit of candy, I’ve stayed strictly to the diet plan. My past experiences with diets haven’t been so successful. I usually start cheating after the first week because they are so strict. South Beach has been different because I’ve actually liked the food and the diet has been easy to follow. In fact, as you may recall, I was shocked that upon completing Phase One of the diet, all of my cravings disappeared. No longer do I have a craving for breads, or pasta, or sweets like I once did. Before starting the diet, I couldn’t think of going a day without one or more of those things. That’s not to say that I didn’t have some temptations, but they aren’t the cravings that once consumed me. Unfortunately, my temptations the other day got the best of me. 🙁

In my bucket of bad habits, there was one craving turned temptation that was the strongest. I guess you could say it was the “alpha temptation”, and that temptation’s name was… pizza. I used to love pizza and not having it for 6 weeks was really starting to wear on me, but that’s not what did me in. No it was something much more sinister and diabolical lurking in the dark.

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Grazing Across Louisiana – Part ThreeMary Lee Doughnuts & LaFonda’s

It’s been awhile since my last entry on the “Grazing Across Louisiana” series, but I haven’t forgotten. 🙂 Here is part 3 of an expected 6 part series.

La Fonda's Mexican Restaurant and LoungeWe started off our grazing for the day with hot Mary Lee doughnuts. If you haven’t heard of Mary Lee, that wouldn’t surprise me. The only place that I’ve been able to find them have been in the south. I know a lot of people rave about Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but I think Mary Lee are MUCH better. Unfortunately the only place I can find Mary Lee is in Baton Rouge, so it’s a staple of breakfast when we come to visit. In fact, it’s almost a ritual.

On the first morning of our visit, James, Holly’s Father, goes out and purchases 1 – 2 dozen glazed doughnuts. This time he only brought back one, but if there were more people staying with them, he would have brought back an extra. Holly is normally still sleeping and I usually wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with Judie, while James goes to get the doughnuts. Upon his return, Holly usually wakes up so that she can eat them while they are hot. All doughnuts taste better when they are hot, and Mary Lee are no exception.

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My Take On The South Beach Diet

The South Beach DietI was watching TV the other day and I saw an expose on the Atkins diet on Dateline, 24 Hours, or one of those other news programs and it irked me when they lumped the South Beach Diet in with the Atkins diet and proceeded to take “pot shots” at its validity. Then I was talking to a friend of mine who recently went to the doctor concerning his health and was told that he needed to lose some weight. When he inquired about the South Beach diet, the doctor “poo poo’d” the plan and recommended instead to cut portions and fat. With both of these experiences hitting at about the same time, my quills have become quite bristled and I figured it was time to weigh in on my two cents regarding the South Beach diet. There’s a lot of misunderstanding regarding the South Beach diet, so let’s get those out of the way first.    1. South Beach is NOT a low carb diet.    2. South Beach is NOT a low fat diet.    3. South Beach is NOT at all like Atkins.    4. Although it’s gained a lot of popularity, I don’t view it as a FAD diet. So just what IS the South Beach diet? Well, I think Dr. Agatston says it best so I would encourage you to read this excerpt from his book, but to put it in my own words; the South Beach diet was designed by a cardiologist to help his patients eat more healthy and lose weight. The fact that it worked so well and so fast was as much of a surprise to him as it is to those that have tried the diet. Dr. Agatston was compelled to create the diet simply because there was nothing else out there that did the trick. Pritikin is simply too difficult and complex, Atkins is too unhealthy and the food pyramid simply doesn’t work. In fact, the current rise in obesity is directly related to the food pyramid. So Dr. Agatston felt forced to try and come up with a plan that would be easy to follow, allow for and expect setbacks and didn’t require measuring, counting, or tracking what you ate. Continue Reading

Traveling With South Beach

SuitcaseSince starting the South Beach Diet two weeks ago, I’ve been fairly insulated from the “real word” of food. I’ve been fixing my three meals a day and two snacks for 14 days and so I haven’t had the opportunity to test the diet. Traveling to the 2004 PalmSource Dev Con gave me a chance to try and stay on the diet “in the wild” and it was definitely an experience.

I knew that there would be temptations along the way, but I really had no idea what to expect. One thing I was somewhat sure of is that my usual snacks would be hard to come by, so I packed a handful of string cheese snacks. These little cheese tubes don’t need refrigeration, so it made it easy to keep something handy in case I got hungry. Little did I know how handy they would become.

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Grazing Across Louisiana – Part TwoCafe Du Monde & The French Market

Beignets From Cafe Du MondeOn Friday, January 16, we landed at the Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. Holly’s parents and her grandmother picked us up and we immediately headed for the French Quarter. It’s been a good five years since we’ve been to New Orleans, so we had a day of shopping and eating planned as we meandered through the streets of the Vieux Carre, otherwise known as the French Quarter.

For many people the French Quarter IS New Orleans, however anyone from here knows that it’s simply one small section. Although it’s littered with tourist traps and souvenir shops, the French Quarter is also a vibrant and integral part of New Orleans. Plenty of people still actually live in the Quarter and it is almost a city unto itself. In addition there are tons of great restaurants and shopping that can’t be found anywhere else. If you’re ever planning a visit. I highly recommend getting away from Canal street and work your way deeper in the Quarter. The side nearest Canal street is the most touristy and least authentic section. We always aim for Jax Brewery to park and use that as our starting point for entering the quarter.

Jax Brewery used to be a brewery for Jax beer, but is now a shopping and dining complex that sits next to the Mississippi River and is catty corner to Jackson Square. Most of the businesses there are geared more towards tourists, but it’s a great place to park if you want to be close to the heart of the French Quarter. It’s also just two blocks down from one of the more famous landmarks of New Orleans – Cafe Du Monde.

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Grazing Across Louisiana

A cow wearing heart shaped glassesThere’s a saying, “You know you’re from Louisiana when the topic of dinner conversation is food you’ve recently eaten, food you’re eating now, and food you plan to eat in the future.” Food IS life if you’re in Louisiana. How could it not be when you’re surrounded by some of the best cooking in the world? Not only that, but the state motto is “The Sportsman’s Paradise” because of all the wonderful hunting and fishing that’s available. Holly and I grew up with this culture and if there’s one thing that we miss, besides friends and family of course, it’s the food. When we went back last weekend, we did what we always do – we grazed across Louisiana. 😀

If you’ve ever been to Louisiana, you know how good the food is, but if you haven’t I’ll try and paint a picture. For starters, the majority of the restaurants are not chains, the are family owned businesses. If they have been around awhile, it’s because they are known for their good cooking. There are a few chains that people frequent, but normally that is because the restaurant started as one business and expanded. So places like Ralph & Kacoo’s and Piccadilly are chains now, but that’s not how they started. Oh and don’t think just because you branch means the new location will succeed. If it’s not as good as the first one, the location will fail. That’s becoming the case with the Jambalaya Shoppe. The original location is the best and people will drive out of their way to go to that one, even if a closer one is nearby. Suffice to say, Louisianaians take their food seriously. 🙂

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FoodTV Reprogrammed My Mind

Food NetworkClearly I’ve been bitten by the cooking bug. The dinner that I cooked for Christmas, my failed attempts at French Bread and my success with Madeleines are clear indications that I’ve fallen in love with cooking. I don’t know the cause of it, or where this desire came from. Granted, I love to eat, but eating and cooking are two completely different animals. I’ve been trying to come up with how this new hobby came to be and my only answer is that Food TV reprogrammed me.

My tastes in TV have changed and I find myself getting captivated by home improvement shows. Trading Spaces, While You Were Out, Curb Appeal, you name it, if it’s a home improvement show, I’ll watch it. My rationale is that because some of the channels that air home improvement shows also air cooking shows, it was a natural progression to start watching those. However, I thought that watching a show about cooking was nothing more than a passive interest. Little did I know that it would change the way I thought about food and pull me into the kitchen with mad plans of cooking and preparing big meals. Just look at my wish list for Kitchen Stuff and you’ll see that I’ve gone mad. 😉

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