Banh Mi Meatballs

Hello readers,

I have a bit of a confession to make.  In the week since the Newport Half-marathon, I’ve sort of fallen off the fitness wagon.  I fell into that “I just worked really hard!  I deserve this time off/delicious food/sugary beverage” hole.  It happens.  I know it did after the Colorado Tough Mudder, and I think it really hurt my running.  So I’m taking this opportunity to hop back on the wagon, and hopefully by doing so publicly, I’ll stick to it better.

And so here we go with a healthy Vietnamese-style sandwich!  Going through some back issues of “Bon Appetit”, I ran across a bunch of meatball recipes.  My wife is a huge fan of the Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich, so when she saw this recipe, she demanded we make it.

In the interests of health, we substituted ground turkey for the ground pork, and used light mayonnaise, but otherwise, it’s a pretty healthy.  And I really like the contrast of the sweet pickled vegetables against the savory meatballs.  It also adds a nice crunch to each bite.

I started with the veggies, since they need about an hour to pickle:

It called for shredding the carrots and daikon (I used regular radishes, and I think it worked fine), but I really hate cleaning the grater, so I just did a little extra knife work.  The amount of sugar in the pickle surprised me, and it definitely results in a sweet taste, but it really works in the finished product.

The meatballs come together like you’d expect.  One thing I’d like emphasise is that as much fun as it is to really squish all the ingredients together, you want to handle the meat as gently as possible.  Use your hands and a motion almost like you would when folding in baking ingredients.  When it comes to forming the meatballs, bring the meat together by cupping it with your fingers instead of your palms.  This will result to a lighter meatball.  Of course, if a dense meatball is more your thing (and no judgement there), go nuts and really pack it together.

The downside of making these lighter meatballs is that they are more prone to breaking apart when cooking.  But this can be addressed with a different technique in turning them.  Instead of using tongs, grab a pair of spoons and use them to gently scoop the meatballs from the cooking surface and turn them.  It also allows you to make sure you get nice browning on all sides when you cook them on the range-top.

Once you’ve cooked all the meatballs, the sandwiches come together pretty fast.  You scoop out a channel in the bread so the ingredients stay in place better.  Put a layer of the spicy mayo on the bread, put down some cilantro, add the meatballs (I would also recommend cutting the meatballs in half so they are less likely to roll away from you), top with the veggies, and cap it  off with the other half of the bread.  Then you get this:

Fairly quick and healthy, and tasty to boot.  Enjoy!

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13.1 miles… because 13.2 would be crazy!

Hello readers,

This past Sunday marked a noteworthy event in my athletic career (and by “career”, I refer to my attempts to justify eating such things as Oreo Truffle Cupcakes).  I ran my first half-marathon!  I made my goal, managed to not hurt myself (not too badly anyway), and really had a pretty good time in the process.

Now how did I come to find myself at the starting line with 2,700 other lunatics on a brisk Sunday morning when I could have still been asleep?  Well the answer to that goes back to early this summer.

After running the Colorado Tough Mudder back in June, I talked to my sister about how it stacked up against other races she had done.  Now to get an idea of how my sister thinks, you need to know a few things:

  1. She’s a bossy OLDER sister.
  2. She’s a Marine.
  3. She’s in obnoxiously good shape.
  4. …and she hit me in the head with a baseball bat once.

So needless to say, despite all behavior to the contrary, I respect he opinion on most things.  She’s done a few Tough Mudders, a couple of marathons, and a bunch of other races, so I figured she would be a pretty good gauge of how events stack up against each other.  After running the 12 mile course in Beaver Creek that wound its way up the mountain, and managed to have not one, not two, but THREE of the obstacles bristling with 10,000 volt shocks, she informed me that if I had finished that, the additional 1.1 miles of half marathon shouldn’t be too hard.

She had a point.  Up until then, the longest straight run I had done probably was in the 7-8 mile range, but I had certainly gone on hikes that topped 16 miles, and those tended to be up to mountain summits.  So it wasn’t so much the absolute distance that intimidated me, but more the idea that such distances are to be covered while running the whole time.  I mean, 13.1 miles is a fair distance.  Living in a place where driving/parking in town tends to double my blood pressure, I routinely walk up to a mile to go to a restaurant or bar.  But quite frankly, is someone tells me that my destination is much more distant than that, I’m either looking for the subway or my keys.  But with the endorphins (and beer) flooding my system that afternoon in June, I figured “What the hell?  Let’s run a half-marathon.”

So after returning to the East coast, my wife and I started looking for a race to enter.  Luckily, we found a race that was taking place just south of us.  Even better, we had plenty of time to train properly for it.  However, I can attest that having the time to train properly, and actually running the prescribed schedule are two very different things.

At the advice of my sister, I based my running on Hal Higdon’s training programs.  I had previously followed his 5k program, and I was pretty happy with the results.  Alas, the heat and humidity of summer often found my enthusiasm lacking to get out on the weekends and do the long runs.  Thank goodness my wife wouldn’t stand for my whining, and she’d drag me out the door to beat the pavement for a while.  Unfortunately, a few weeks into this, out on our 6 miler, my knee really started to hurt.  And not the sort of hurt that you just power through.  Based on previous experience with similar pain, I think it was probably illiotibial band syndrome, or ITBS.  I got this pretty bad in college, to the point where I was hopping one-footed up stairs because it hurt too much to walk.  When my wife (then girlfriend) told me I should go see a doctor, I told her I was fine.  Because hopping up the stairs on one leg is what normal people do everyday, right?  But I relented and went to the see the doctor, who informed me it was probably ITBS, and really the only thing to do about it was to rest it.  Super.

Anyway, back in the present day, I figured that the combination of increased mileage, road surface (all concrete and asphalt) and my stupid habit of not stretching is what got me into this predicament.  So I backed off the running for 2-3 weeks, and then slowly started building up.  Of course by then, I was way behind the training curve of my wife, who has an excellent work ethic, and followed the training program much better than I ever would.  This is why a few weeks ago (as mentioned in a previous post) she was easily outdistancing me on our weekend runs.  But I figured that if I could make it through 10.5 miles of hills, I could probably push through to 13.1 on a flat course.  And so as the air horn sounded around 8:35 this past Sunday, I started putting one foot in front of the other, and didn’t stop for almost two hours.

I had never been in as big a start as that before.  While relatively small (a little over 2,700 participants), everyone starts at once in a high-rise area, so there’s a certain mob feel to it.  But after the first half mile or so, the pack had loosened up to the point that you could start moving around pretty easily.  My goal going into the race was to finish without having to stop to walk, and that if I could break 2 hours, I’d be happy.  This breaks down to a bit over a 9:00 min/mile pace.  Hardly a sprint, but still, it’s a decently long race.  Earlier in the week, I’d done an 8 mile run, and held around a 8:48 pace, so I was hoping I could hold something like that.

I ended up running it in 1:53:32, which made me pretty happy.  And while I was all kinds of sore for the rest of the day, I don’t think I hurt myself.  It turns out I’m not a very consistent runner: my pace varied from 8:01 (mile 2) to 9:25 (mile 13).  But I averaged an 8:40, so now  I know what to aim for if/when I run the next one.  But I learned that if I want to do better, I will definitely have to do more long runs.  Around the 10 mile mark, I hit a wall.  Hard.  And no, not an actual, physical wall, although given my usual amount of grace, I wouldn’t put it past me.  It was just a very rapid onset of fatigue.  At that point we were running along a marina, and while Google Earth claims that stretch was only 0.6 miles, I’m pretty sure it was at least 4, maybe 5.  But I managed to keep on running to the finish, glaring all the way at those who had enough left in the tank to pick up the pace for the final couple miles.  Up until then, I was definitely overtaking more people than were overtaking me, but not there at the end.  Aside from the final 50 yards where I managed a lumbering sprint similar to drunk tyrannosaurus, I was definitely getting passed.  Oh well, I’ll get ’em next time.

I really enjoyed having the goal of something I had never done before to train for, and running with my wife has been fun (aside from a little disagreement regarding running through crosswalks, which I still maintain is the runner’s right of way).  As long as I can avoid injuring myself, I see myself doing a few more of these, so I guess I  better get running!

Spring Rolls Don’t Steam Well

Would you look at the fast and furious updating that is going on here?  I’m like a machine!  Or at least a machine with a little extra time.

This is another food related post, because quite honestly, cooking dinner is generally the most interesting part of my day.  A few days ago, I tried this recipe for Pork and Shrimp Summer Rolls (BTW, “Fine Cooking” is a great publication, if you like to cook, get a subscription).  I thought the recipe was decent, but just boiling the pork seemed kind of boring.  So I decided to try my own variation.

Completely uncharacteristically, I did this with no recipe at all.  I am typically religious about following recipes to the letter, but this time, I just winged it.  As a result, I have no idea exactly how much of the ingredients I used, so I can’t write it here.  Sorry.

I made a marinade of rice wine vinegar, sriracha, hoisin sauce, fresh ginger, garlic and soy sauce.  I figured this combined acidic, salt, hot and sweet flavors to get something complex.  I remember reading that this combination is part of the magic behind Pad Thai, so why not here?

I marinated some pork tenderloin for a couple of hours (yes, I know, it should have probably been 8-24 hours, but I didn’t have the presence of mind last night with the Broncos playing so poorly).  I then roasted in the oven at 350 degrees for about 18 minutes (looking for an internal temperature of 140 degrees).  Then I boiled the remaining marinade for a couple of minutes to make it safe for eating.

 

What you see here is the inside of the roll: cooked rice noodles, pork, sauce, quick pickled carrots (strips of carrot covered with hot distilled vinegar mixed with a little salt, sugar and red pepper flake), caramelized onions and cilantro.  You then wrap them up in the rice wrapper (you can just see it underneath everything else).  This takes a little practice, but if you’re not too caught up in appearance, it’s not too hard.

At this point, you could serve them, as everything is fully cooked.  But I wanted to have everything nice and hot, so I thought I would sort of pan-fry/steam them like pot stickers.  The pan-fry portion went ok (although I used too small a pan), but the steaming was a terrible idea.  I added some chicken broth and covered the pan, and two minutes later… well, actually the rice wrappers kind of melted like some weird deep-sea creature unable to survive out of water.  Whoops.  But it still tasted pretty good.  Worth trying again, but this time, I’ll skip the steaming.

Until next time, happy eating!

…and now I have to go run a half marathon

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Hello avid readers,

This weekend has seen a lot of time in the kitchen.  With the falling temperatures and the feel of fall in the air, I took a shot at the following recipe:

http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/pumpkin-pecan-cake-with-bourbon-glaze.aspx

In throwing this one together, I learned the hard way that a 28 oz can of pumpkin is different from 15 oz can of pumpkin.  That occasioned my 6th trip to a grocery store in 2 days.  In other news, I’m an idiot sometimes.

While that came out pretty good, I want to share with you the experience of making a batch of Oreo Truffle Cupcakes.  When the recipe requires 2 complete packages of Oreos, you know you’re dealing with a good recipe.

My wife volunteered to make (aka was suckered into making) some cupcakes for a friend’s housewarming party.  We had been wanting to make this recipe for awhile, so we pulled out the hardware and set to work: http://www.lovefromtheoven.com/2012/04/03/oreo-truffle-stuffed-cupcakes-with-cookies-cream-frosting/

First off, the Oreo truffle.  It’s Oreo and cream cheese.  How can you go wrong?

You start off by throwing a whole bag of Oreos into the food processor:  Then you add cream cheese:

And then you make like a 3-year-old and mash it all together.  Eventually, you’ll need to roll them into individual portions to stick in the freezer (but only after eating enough to put you into diabetic shock).

We followed the recipe, and just went with box cake mix.  You whip it up according to directions, and then pour a bit of batter into the individual cups and add the “truffle”

Then you pour the remaining batter over the top and bake.

The frosting was out of a can (please don’t judge), and then we added more ground up Oreo.  We ended up needing to get another can of frosting, but that might have been a result of the first can being of the “whipped” variety, so it might have lost some volume.  Lesson learned.  Anyway, after you frost, stick another Oreo on top (because at this point, why not) and eat.  

These are pretty ridiculous cupcakes.  While they are not my absolute favorites (that honor belonging to Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes), getting that bite of truffle will make a lousy day considerably better.

So now I know why I am running a half marathon next weekend: to try to work off this weekend.  We’ll see how that goes.

Run run run…

Hiya,

I know all of you have been simply devastated by the lack of updates.  I apologize.  I wish I could say that I’ve been too busy saving puppies from burning buildings, but to be honest, I just haven’t been trying hard enough.  I’m going to see if I can do something about that.

I hopped on the scale the other day, and I wasn’t too pleased by what I saw.  Now, to be honest, I don’t care that much about my weight because a) it’s really not an indication of fitness or health, and b) my weight can fluctuate 5-7 pounds in the course of a day.  Like back in June when I went running when the heat index was 105 degrees (not the best idea I’ve ever had).  But still, it confirmed the feeling I’ve been having that I have not been leading the healthiest lifestyle ever.

Luckily, my lovely wife who has much more willpower than I do has been training rigorously for the half marathon we are doing in a couple of weeks.  So I’ve been joining her for some of her weekend long runs.  Last week she did 11 miles (I did 7), and today she did 12 (I ended up at 10.5 with a sore knee).  Surprisingly, I felt a lot better after today’s run than I did a week ago.  Not nearly as sore.  Of course, doing a better job managing hydration and running in cooler weather probably helped quite a bit as well.  But I have to say that I love the feeling of knowing that I’ve done a solid workout for the day, so now I can sit on the couch, drink a couple of beers, and watch football.  GO BRONCOS!