This is Not Health Food

The hubby says he wants me to cook healthier.

I’m against it.

We can eat healthy when we eat out.  I keep salad in the fridge for lunches.  We can cut our portion sizes and exercise more.  Whatever it takes.

I cook because I love it.  And if I can’t use butter and bacon and lard and tons of cheese, what’s the point?

This meal is a great example.  And while the hub was slurping the meaty, rich au jus off his wrist after it ran down his fingers, he wasn’t complaining about the calories.

The meal: Texas cheesesteak smothered in caramelized onions, mushrooms, and peppers topped with aged Provolone and a creamy horseradish sauce on a ciabatta roll, with homemade au jus for dipping.  Rosemary roasted red potatoes loaded with Oaxaca cheese, bacon, and green onions.  And a stirfry of snap peas, red bell pepper, and mushrooms with fresh herbs, because there has to be something green on the plate.  My veggies lay there, untouched and lonely, while I devoured the sandwich and potatoes. 

This is hands down one of my favorite meals that I’ve ever cooked.  And I’m not much of a sandwich girl.  It’s the au jus that does it for me, for sure…I could drink the stuff with a spoon!  I’ve always used the little packets for au jus, because making something like that from scratch was intimidating.  But I couldn’t write about carefully tearing off the top of the brightly-colored paper packet, whisking the contents into a saucepan of water, and simmering for two minutes!  A new culinary age has dawned and we don’t use those packets anymore. 

Well, not unless we’re in a hurry or desperate.

So I called up my old friend foodnetwork.com and started searching, and sure enough, Rachael Ray had a recipe for au jus that doesn’t involve roasting an entire side of beef just for a little stock.  I’m still not quite up to making my own stock yet, mostly because it involves planning ahead too much and I’m pretty spontaneous.

And for the horseradish sauce…I’ve always used the jarred, prepared horseradish, but remembered vaguely that there is such a thing as ‘fresh’ horseradish.  So I went looking for that in the produce section of my grocery store.  About ‘my’ grocery store – they’re ‘mine’ because I always go to the same one, I’m there at least 4 times a week, and they know me there.  I get hugs from the sweet old greeter guys at the front door and the produce guys always bring me fresh basil from the cooler without me asking.  I have an open invitation to work in the store’s demo kitchen if I ever need a second job.  It’s cool.

While I was there…I grabbed one of the little paper au jus packets…just in case.

So without further ado…the recipes.

Horseradish cream sauce:

Horseradish in its natural state - scary!

Sour cream
Grated fresh horseradish (it took a lot more than I expected…maybe 3 parts sour cream to 1 part horseradish?  Just keep adding a little at a time until you like it)
1 spoonful Dijon mustard
A couple splashes of white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

To prepare the horseradish, use a vegetable peeler to take off the barky peel.  Trim off any brown spots, then cut a manageable chunk and grate as much as you need.

Combine all your ingredients, stir, and adjust to taste.  I kept adding more horseradish; it took a lot to get it spicy enough for us.

Au Jus: (courtesy of Rachael Ray)

2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 jigger dry sherry, optional (I used a healthy splash of cooking sherry)
2 cans beef consomme, found on broth and soups aisle

In a large, shallow skillet over moderate heat, melt butter.  Add shallots to butter and saute 2 minutes.  Add flour and cook a minute longer.  Whisk in sherry and cook liquid out.  Whisk in consomme in a slow stream.  Bring sauce to a bubble and allow to simmer over low heat until ready to serve sandwiches.

That’s all there is to it!  And this stuff is a.ma.zing.  I can’t believe I ever used those nasty little packets of dried crap!!

Caramelized Veggies:

Thinly slice a sweet onion, some mushrooms, a seeded jalapeno, and a poblano pepper.  Heat a hunk of lard in a cast iron skillet (I told you this wasn’t a healthy meal!) to almost smoking.  Add your veggies carefully (this stuff pops!) and stir.  Cook for a couple of minutes, until they start wilting, and add a couple dashes of worchestershire sauce, salt & pepper, and a big pat of butter.  Keep cooking until soft and caramelized, 5 to 10 minutes.

Assembly:

I bought 3/4 pound of seasoned roast beef, sliced thin.  Toast your rolls lightly (I used ciabatta rolls, but you could do hoagie buns or french bread or whatever).  Dip your roast beef slices in the pan of au jus for a few seconds, then layer them onto the toasted rolls.  Top generously with caramelized veggies, then add a slice of aged Provolone cheese (or whatever kind you like).  Put in the oven at 350 degrees or so, open-faced, until cheese melts, just a couple of minutes.  Add creamy horseradish sauce to top buns and serve with au jus for dipping.

The hub and I could only eat half our sandwiches during dinner…but by bedtime we had both polished off the other half (well, I just picked the meat & veggies out and dipped them in the jus) and were wishing there were leftovers.

Loaded Roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes:

Ready for the oven

Cut 8-10 small red potatoes into small, uniform pieces and put on a baking sheet.  Finely chop fresh rosemary and put in a small bowl.  Add salt, pepper, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and garlic powder, then pour in olive oil to make a thin paste.  Pour over the potatoes and toss to coat.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, tossing halfway through.

Grate your favorite melting cheese (we had Oaxaca in the fridge) and sprinkle liberally over the potatoes.  Add roughly chopped bacon and put back in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.  Take out and add chopped green onions. 

Oooh, don’t forget to try dipping the potatoes in the au jus!  Foodgasm… 

Veggie Stir-Fry:

This is my old stand-by when I need a vegetable component to complete a meal; it takes no time and can use lots of different ingredients depending on what you have on hand.  This particular night it was:

1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into medium pieces
Stringless sugar snap peas
Mushrooms
Fresh garlic
Fresh rosemary & thyme, finely chopped

Heat olive oil in a skillet or wok, then add garlic.  After 30 seconds or so, add veggies and toss.  Cook for a couple of minutes and add a generous pat of butter and the herbs.  Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 more minutes.

Though the meal wasn’t healthy by any stretch, it was darned tasty.  And we’re in Texas, after all.

Yee haw.

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Some days

are better than others.

Gotcha!!

I was diagnosed in 1995 with Fibromyalgia.  Back then, it was a particularly controversial diagnosis, as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and related illnesses were under intense scrutiny and evaluation from the FDA and related medical agencies.

By the year 2000, Fibro was a widely recognized, if still disputed, syndrome (a collection of symptoms with a predictable pattern, though the cause and medical specifics vary widely from patient to patient).

I have lived with constant, widespread (affecting many parts of the body) pain for literal decades (omg I’m OLD!!).  It is a part of who I am, one of the first three phrases I use to describe myself to someone who doesn’t know me:

I love life.
I cook.
I have fibromyalgia.

Given the choice, those would be the three phrases that define me…to myself, at least.  To others in ‘real life’, unless I know them well, it would change to:

I love life.
I cook.
I love fashion & personal style.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the parts of ourselves that we try to keep hidden?

Updating my Facebook status is always a challenge.  A large part of who I am on a given day, or how I am experiencing the world around me, is influenced, if not dictated by, my physical handicap.  Even when Life is going my way, I may be in so much pain that turning too suddenly to the side, or bending to pick up a scrap of paper on the floor, is enough to make me pale, wince, and turn away from any possible onlookers until the flood of painful sensation washes over me and recedes to a tolerable level.  But do my 304 Facebook friends really want to hear that?  Nah. 

My life is a rollercoaster of discomfort, and my dear hubby has adjusted admirably to its necessities and reality. 

I told him about the fibro on our first date, giving him just enough information that he understood something of its daily impact on my life without dwelling on the specific symptoms or discomfort it entails.  By our second date, he had not only remembered the name of my disability…but had googled it and asked me intelligent questions about my personal experience, diagnosis, and prognosis.

I am a lucky girl.  Luckier than I deserve.

Because I have my days.  Boy, do I.  And he loves me through them.

There are days we’ve planned for weeks in advance, to go to a museum or movie or party…and when the day arrives, all I can do is sit morosely in my bathrobe and offer a wan, fake smile when he asks me how I’m feeling.  We don’t make it to the planned event on those days.  I wince every time I shift my weight, he insists on bringing me drinks and food and pillows I don’t want, and he is so excruciatingly gentle when he touches me that it hurts.

Sometimes, on those days, it really gets to me.  What I think about most is how different his life would be if he’d married a woman without so many complications and restrictions, a woman who could reliably plan her days in advance and answer with ‘Why not?’ when asked ‘Do you want to?’

We go on a road trip, even a short one like this weekend, and after 85 miles it’s all I can do to unfold myself from his incredibly impractical, but very cute, sports car and walk like a woman in her early (okay, mid!) 30’s and not like my own grandmother with a broken hip.  Sitting still for too long kinks the muscles, you see, and I’ll have crazy, miniscule muscle spasms for the next several hours.  Just part of life with fibro.

When it gets to me…sometimes I lash out.  I want to rage, and scream, and sob at the injustice of it all.  I am a decent human being, I use my turn signal, I wash my hands after using a public restroom…I don’t deserve this shit.  And some days it pours out of me, the frustration and the anger and the confused tangle that is my heart that day. 

And he listens, and holds me, and loves me anyway.  He rubs my shoulders when I can stand it, and drops butterfly-light kisses on my face when that’s all my overwrought nerves can tolerate.

He does the major bulk of the housework, keeping the litterboxes clean and taking out the trash and loading and unloading the dishwasher like clockwork, without ever throwing it in my face or even allowing me to feel bad about my relative indolence.  When I feel like cooking (which I do as a release from the pain as much as anything else) he cheerfully chops and stirs and samples for me.  And when he sees the pain in my eyes grow too deep, he insists that I sit for a minute and take a break, and I am grateful, even while I resent the necessity.

I go to work at the luxury department store where I’m a manager, and I smile and wear heels (at least most of the way through a shift, most days!) and act like nothing is wrong.  And when I go home and show him what’s really going on for me, I feel bad, because if I could maintain a smile for a hundred anonymous customers I’ll never see again…shouldn’t he get at least that much from me?

But there are still the nights when, as soon as I make it through the door from the garage and a cat or three meets me, rubbing affectionately against my calves and purring like they haven’t seen me in weeks…I can’t help tearing up and showing how grateful I am to be home with the ones who love me, no matter what I’m feeling like.

I am a lucky girl.

And I have Fibromyalgia.

She's my favorite...don't tell the others!