Kitchen Experiment: Halloumi – The Cheese That Doesn’t Melt

As I mentioned I have been reading the TNT diet book again and one thing I had not seen before was a mention of a type of cheese from Cyprus called halloumi that didn’t melt when you heated it – it browned. Their suggestion was that the stuff could substitute for bread or act as a pancake-like thing with a little zero sugar syrup on it.

Sounded odd. And hard to find.

But I found myself, somewhat reluctantly, in Whole Foods. Now, I don’t like Whole Foods – not because of their selection, which is actually wonderful, nor their prices on some high-quality staples such as milk and eggs, which are sometimes the same, or even better than the regular supermarket prices.

I even like the fact that my Whole Foods has a roof covered in solar panels.

But when I walk in there and see for example, a small wheel of Laughing Cow cheese for double the price of the exact same item right down the street at the regular grocery store – I feel like my intelligence is being insulted.

C’mon Whole Foods – just match the prices on the readily available items, keep your frighteningly high prices on the specialty items, and the insult will at least not be so overt.

But anyway…halloumi, right? We were talking about halloumi. 

So, if any store would have halloumi, it’s Whole Foods – and of course I found it there – at maybe close to $9.00/lb. 

This was NOT about to become a staple of my diet at that price, but I did want to try it – at least to say: “I tried it.”

So I bought a small slab of the stuff and put it in the fridge for a week – not knowing what to do with it.

Then I did my search and came across this recipe for cheese fingers, which showed a neat little picture of the cheese nicely browned and parked aside some Mediterranean foodstuffs. 

I decided to – of course – completely ignore this, and just decided to try frying in butter, which had been recommended at another link (lost as my 2-year-old got to my computer and rebooted it on me before I saved the link).

First mistake: too much butter. I probably put in 3 tablespoons, but the stuff itself had enough fat content on its own and I probably could have gotten away with just enough to impart a butter flavor.

One observation: the stuff does tend to melt a bit – this is apparently a side effect of purchasing commercially-produced halloumi rather than traditionally produced halloumi, but since Cyprus is a little out of my way for a cheese run, I’ll have to grin and bear this – wasn’t a show-stopper, though – you just have to be careful in turning it over.

The cheese did brown nicely, as advertised, and I soon had a plate of these very greasy browned cheese sticks. The cheese itself has little flavor of it’s own, similar to mozzarella, so it can take on the flavor of whatever you spice it with.

I was intrigued by the notion mentioned in the TNT book of using it as a fried sweet like a pancake, so I sprinkled Splenda on some and tried it.

Second mistake: I had read somewhere that the stuff is salty – that typically doesn’t bother me, and I know that salt intensifies sweetness when cooking, but this stuff was SALTY. I had read that you can wash some of the salt off, and in retrospect, I should have at least rinsed the cheese sticks and patted dry before cooking – maybe even let them site a bit in some water before cooking to reduce the salt.

The result wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great – the word that came to mind was: feh. I don’t know the origin of the word or it’s offical meaning – or even where I first heard it, but I’d liken the meaning to ‘spectacularly underwhelming’.

OK – still had some to go, so I tried some with The Condiment That Makes Everything Better: Low Carb ketchup. 

Yep, it was edible – but I wanted more than edible for the price per pound.

Now – perhaps if I had followed the recipe and had it with oregano and a squirt of lemon juice, it might have been better. 

Maybe if I washed some of the salt off. 

Maybe if it wasn’t so damn expensive.

In short, it was an interesting experiment, but unless a situation comes up where I’m looking for some special substitute – or there’s a sudden precipitous drop in halloumi prices due to the global financial crisis, I think halloumi and I will be going our separate ways.

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Your Words of Wisdom to the World

There is a Zen story about a student that endeavors to meet a great Zen teacher so that he can learn more. They meet, and the Zen student begins to tell the teacher all that he knows about Zen.

The teacher says nothing for a long while as the student rattles off all that he has done, and all that he knows about Zen teachings.

The teacher then says to the student: “Would you like to have some tea?”

The student agrees, and he and the teacher sit before a tea pot as the student continues to talk.

The Zen master places a cup before the student and begins pouring the tea until the cup is full – and he keeps pouring. The tea spills over the rim and onto the floor.

Suddenly, the student notices what the teacher is doing and says: “Why are you doing that? The cup is already full?”

“That cup is like your mind.” Says the Zen Master. “You cannot expect to add more when your cup is already full.”

I think I need a bit of time to be more quiet. And to listen rather than to speak.

I have a very busy month ahead with work and travel. I am also still working on incorporating exercise as a daily habit.

And of course, I’ll be continuing my low carb ways.

So I think there will be less postings from me for the rest of the month of January.

So – my challenge to you – what words of wisdom do you have?

Surely all of you who come here have some wisdom, some insight, that you would like to pass on – if only people would listen.

Maybe it’s locked up deep inside, as you’ve given up hope of anyone listening, caring, or understanding.

Here’s your chance: leave a comment to this post that contains your words of wisdom. Remember – when you post, no one can see your email address or identity unless you choose to reveal it, so feel free to write that thing that you have never put to paper and pen – but it should be made known.

Wisdom can range from the simple, to the mundane, to the profound – there’s no limit to the definition of wisdom except the one you place upon it. It can be diet-related or not – the sky’s the limit here.

Me – I’m listening. And I have seen how words can change lives.

Maybe your words here can do the same.

Rerun: Make a Habit of Making New Habits

I am doing a lot of thinking as of late on the notion of change – how we change, why we frequently can’t change when we want, and what we seem to change effortlessly – and why it is effortless sometimes, and an absolute hell other times.

Most of us are capable of far more than it seems to us as well as others – why do we fall short? And why (and how) do others who succeed get beyond this?

The following thought came to mind the other day: am I merely a sum of my habits and my possessions? What would be left if these were stripped away? I began to think about Viktor Frankl’s book: Man’s Search for Meaning where, as a concentration camp survivor, he did indeed have all his previous habits and possessions stripped from him. I’m also remeinded of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Gulag’ books, where story after story tells of the same ego-death.

This, I believe has a connection to the art of change, and change is what we’re all here for, right? We want to lose a few pounds – OK, maybe more than a few. 

But it ain’t really about the diet – it’s about your ability to change. And, as one old post of mind was titled, if you can change your weight, you can change your life entirely – not because being thin suddenly provides a world of endless advantages, but overcoming the odds instills something in you – what this is can be found in the books mentioned above.

The Gulag books are 3 fat volumes and probably over 3000 pages, so I’m not going there anytime soon, but I do think I’m going to run to the bookstore today and pick up Man’s Search for Meaning

Now, most people trying to lose a few pounds don’t run out and buy books about surviving Nazi death camps as part of their strategy to lose weight, but I don’t think I’ve ever led you folks to believe that I take a conventional approach to anything.

I leave you with a rerun from a year ago on changing habits, and my thoughts at the time. Hopefully you find it meaningful.

LCC

Make a Habit of Making New Habits

If you are fat and would like to lose weight, you are going to have to change.

Change is tough for a lot of people – it’s as if they have become their habits – or disappeared into their habits. They’ve ossified – turned to stone, essentially, in the way they deal with the world. They tend to say: “This is just the way I am.”

They climbed inside their habits so long ago they’ve forgotten that habits are something you wear, and you can change them any time – just like clothing.

They are confusing their clothes with their skin.

To continue with this metaphor, the difficulty in changing habits is that many times there are no new habits to ‘wear’ once you change out of the old habits. When you try to break old habits, it is handy to have some new habits – or better habits less ‘worn’ – to wear.

Most people who’ve successfully stopped smoking replaced the habit of smoking with another, somewhat similar habit, like chewing gum – at least for a while.

Getting rid of an old habit without some similar replacement – even a temporary one, is tougher than swapping habits. We like habits, they can be useful, they are comfortable, we do them without thinking.

God knows I’d never find my car keys without them.

Breaking bad habits is a hard thing to do even with replacements. Especially the bad ones.

Bad habits are typically formed when you decide not to think about things – they grow like weeds in empty soil (to switch metaphors). If you don’t plant something there, the weeds will come. Overeating is one such habit. Unless you are bulimic, most times you don’t consciously choose to overeat – it just happens without thinking.

When it comes to low carb, you have an advantage over other people trying to lose weight. You can eat – they can’t. Low calorie dieting requires a lot of ‘not doing’ – not eating.

And the proponents of low calorie diets say replace the bad habit of overeating with the good habit of exercise.

Nice thought, but it’s really hard to swap out a good habit with a bad habit.

Teacher – more homework, please.

It’s so moralistic. In the low calorie way of losing weight, it’s just a matter of will. You don’t have the willpower to lose weight? You fat slob.

Atkins allows you to eat – maybe not the stuff that made you fat, but you have a replacement habit (eating low carb) that is somewhat similar to the habit you are replacing.

You are swapping eating till full with eating low carb to full – it’s easier to swap out an old habit for a new one if they are somewhat similar.

Replacing eating with exercise is like replacing your hat with your shoe (to go back to my clothes metaphor).

When you start Atkins, it’s a great time to inventory all your habits and see which ones you might want to change. If you’ve begun Atkins, you’ve begun making changes in your life – maybe for the first time in years, and this can provide the momentum to change other things as well.

This inventory can be a scary process. It might feel threatening. That’s good – it’s means you are making progress. Life isn’t all about ‘being comfortable’ – and if that thought scares you, get used to it.

You are a human, in a time and a place that offers so much more than mere comfort.

So take the opportunity to make new habits. New habits that are good for you, like exercise, are tough, so start easy, if you like. The point here is to consciously make new habits – not the new habit itself. Start easy, then go for the big ones.

Here’s a simple one – put your car keys in a different place. Dumb? Well, if you only look at it from the outside, it is dumb, but what you are doing is getting in the habit of swapping habits. You are rattling your own cage, even in a small way, and the exercise acclimates you to the habit of changing habits. Do other ‘dumb’ habit changes: take a new route to work, or the grocery store. Rearrange your furniture or the contents of your cabinets. I’m sure you get the idea.

When you begin doing this on a regular basis, you begin to consciously reprogram your brain and replace unconscious habits with conscious habits. When you stop going to the old spot for your car keys and go to the new spot – there! – you have proof that you can reprogram yourself.

This can be empowering. If you feel totally helpless, then prove to yourself that you can make small changes, it will become easier to make the big changes as well.

This exercise builds momentum, as I stated before, and it will help your diet when you hit those rough patches.

Finding My Exercise ‘Dread Level’

As noted previously, I have embarked on an exercise program, and as is usual for me, I struck out rather blindly in the hope that I could conjure up something that works for me. I read a little – enough to be a danger to myself, and fumbled about to come up with something that vaguely resembles some sort of routine that real people who know what they are doing might appear to do.

There’s a name for this – it comes from NLP if I recall – ‘Neurolinguistic Programming’ – it’s called: ‘Act as if’. A very simplistic explanation for this is: if you don’t know how to do something, act like you do – most people won’t notice this difference anyway, as they probably don’t know what they’re doing either, and are too busy trying to hide the fact that they are clueless to notice that you are as well. (NLP is an absolute mess of concepts with some quality ideas at it’s core, that unfortunately hang around with some whack-job thinking and a lot of charlatans.)

So, slight digression aside, I’m making it up as I go along. And as my short-term goal of exercise is to exercise, it doesn’t really matter all that much what I’m doing at present. I’m working on the hardest part of any exercise regimen: getting my ass to the gym and following through with my routine.

Getting to the gym and ‘punching the clock’ is the goal here. 

While I’m there, I do try to push myself, and I read something at Mark’s Daily Apple (I think it was there) that left an impression on me: if you are not having fun, you are doing the wrong exercises.

Revolutionary – I never thought that exercise could be fun, but I have noticed that my 20 minutes on the treadmill every day, and 3 circuits through 4 machines: leg press, chest press, lat pulldown and vertical row – leave me feeling pretty OK in the morning.

There is something sensuous about the cold January air against the skin after the exercise and it feels good.

But I’ve been pushing myself a little harder each morning to go a little faster and steeper on the treadmill, and to add a 4th circuit to the weight lifting. 

The other day, I pushed up the speed to 3.8 from 3.6 and put the incline up to 3.0 from 2.5.

This beat the hell out of me. My heart rate zoomed up to 150 – I would not have thought that a 0.2 mph speed difference and a .5 degree in incline would make a 20-point difference in my heart rate, but it did.

I then went to do the machines and intended to do 4 circuits, but stopped at 3. I was too exhausted.

Then yesterday I blew off the gym.

I had hit the Dread Level.

I worked myself too hard and it wasn’t fun – and it made me dread the thought of going to the gym again. 

This is where most people stop. 

But because my goal of exercising has nothing to do with the size of my biceps or the weight on my scale, slowing the pace – or even going backward – is not a defeat for me. 

Not going to the gym is a defeat for me. 

So today I went back to 20 minutes on the treadmill at 3.6mph and a 2.0 incline. I bumped it up to 3.8mph after 5 minutes, but I left the incline at 2.0, which is going backward for me. I find the incline a bigger killer than the speed.

And I went back to 3 circuits on the machines. I upped the weight on the leg press to 150 from 130, found the lat pulldown and the vertical row felt a little easier today, and the chest press a little harder.

But it was fun today. And while the lighter workout might not get me to the goals most gym rats are looking for in their workouts, since my goal is, deep down, to have fun, I think I’m on the right track again.

Recipe – Mashed ‘Potatoes’ (Really Cauliflower – Ssh!, Don’t Tell The Kids)

I made this 2 days in a row – this came out so good, I couldn’t believe it. My major failure on both batches was an overdose of garlic which was beyond the ability for most mortals to tolerate – but screw ’em – I’ll eat it.

  • 1-1/2 bags frozen cauliflower
  • 5 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 c. Parmesan cheese
  • 4 garlic cloves (unless you are like me, you’d better put in a lot less!)
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 t. dried tarragon
  • 3 T. unsalted butter

I nuked the frozen cauliflower in the microwave for 15 minutes. Then I took out my long-neglected food processor and blended all the ingredients above together until smooth – at least 5 minutes.

For me, the food processor here was critical – I always thought that a food processor was unnecessarily complicated and my trusty immersion blender was faster and easier.

Fool.

The food processor gave it a creamy and consistent texture I would have never gotten from the immersion blender.

I found this stuff goes great with Brussels sprouts fried in butter with shallots – for me, it’s a combo to die for.

This induction-friendly recipe really fills the void of mashed potatoes for those of you new to low carb – you have to try it and see.

Making Resolutions That Stick – and the Difference Between Goals and Committments

Hope you all had a great holiday – and let’s hope that 2009 is a heck of a lot better than 2008 was for a lot of folks.

That having been said, for me it’s time to hunker down and do some serious goal-setting for 2009.

It’s not like I’m just starting – I’ve been actively researching what I want to achieve in 2009, and how I can make goals that stick. I’ve read that 95% of people don’t even know how to set realistic goals – what they really do is come up with some wishes, which have about the same chance of occurring as hitting the lottery.

So I’ve been trying to come up with some solid, ironclad, hang-your-hat-on-’em goals that I will stick to, come hell or high water. If I don’t absolutely know that I can achieve a goal, I don’t want to commit to it.

There’s an interesting aspect to this – a really interesting aspect:

If you only commit to things that you will absolutely, positively will do, then you have magic powers of sorts. It means you can predict the future.

It means that when you say something will happen, it will happen.

How many people do you know with that power?

The trick here is to know how to say no – I can’t commit to that, and how to clearly define your goals you do commit to so that they are reachable.

How do you know that they are reachable? Simple: if somebody else in your situation has done it, then it can be done. This is a great yardstick to test your proposed goals against.

I have made the following commitment:

  1. I perform aerobic-style exercise for a minimum of 6 days per week for a minimum of 20 minutes
  2. I weight-train for at least 20 minutes per day 3 days per week.

These goals have NOTHING to do with weight loss. I’m not connecting them with my weight. They are the entire goal.

Look deeper, and you’ll see that the goal has at it’s core what I call: ‘Punching the clock’. It’s about habituation – learning a new habit. It’s about getting up every day and finding the time to exercise for the sake of exercise. It’s to commit to something because I committed to it – and to do it way after that self-serving glow of resolution-setting has faded, and doing it when I damn well don’t feel like it.

Building muscle would be great. Losing weight would be great, too. But if I somehow attach these goals to this, and the muscle doesn’t come to my endomorphic physique, or the weight doesn’t come off, then I’ve poisoned my commitment, and I’ve gone against my word – my promise to myself.

You’ll note, again if you look carefully, that my commitments leave some room for error. My goal is to exercise every day, and to weight train every other day.

My commitments are phrased to allow for 1 day off each week on the aerobic, and 1 day off every 2 weeks on the weight training.

That means I have 52 days per year I don’t have to do aerobic, and 26 days I don’t have to do weight-training.

This gives me an out if I need a few days off for travel, or some other reason – I can just make it up in the upcoming weeks.

So that’s how I set my goal – and how I set my commitment. See the difference?

Now – next up is the fact that I don’t have a friggin’ clue what I’m doing. I think that the answer there is found in the following bit of wisdom that I must tell myself a half-dozen times a week:

Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first.

Armed with that going through my head since mid December – way before I set any goal or any commitment, I have gone to the little gym I have access to, and made a complete fool of myself fumbling with the treadmill and 4 of the exercise machines, which I can’t quite remember the names for just yet.

As I don’t want to hurt myself, I’m not getting hung up on how many I do, or how much weight I do, or how much strength I gain – punch the clock, remember? It’s the daily investment of time that is the goal here – not what comes as a result.

That’s the gravy.

Each day I feel a little less stupid. I have reread the TNT Diet Book again, and am trying to incorporate some of the things that I grasp in the book. I don’t have some of the equipment they have, and I think some of their exercises are just too hard on my knees, but I keep reading, and keep going to the gym, and keep trying.

I’m beginning to understand the machines a bit more – how they adjust, and what weight feels OK, what weight I can take, and what level of workout I can get out of myself so that it doesn’t conjure up that feeling of dread of the next workout.

Oddly, I’m finding that I am beginning to look forward to it – Me, the exercise hater, who has crowed for years that I lost weight without exercise.

I still feel very stupid – I see the other people in the gym that use the machines without fumbling, they are an almost natural extension of themselves.

But I also pick up little things from watching them – maybe I won’t (or can’t) do what they do, but each day, I pick up a little more.

And today I went to the gym and saw someone who seemed to be even more clueless than I am, and I remembered another gem of wisdom that is a corollary to the above aphorism:

Anyone you see who is at the top of their game, once started at the bottom.

There are a number of negatives to comparing oneself to others, but in measured units, it can be a yardstick to your progress. I don’t think I’m better than that fellow – I’m just a wee bit further along. If he keeps his commitment, he’ll see the progress that I have seen.

And I have seen progress. I started on the treadmill with a goal of 20 minutes per day. Not much, but I thought it’s better than nothing. I started at 3 miles per hour, 0.0 degree incline, and had my heart rate in the 120-130s – top that I recorded was 142.

Today I did my same 20 minutes, but at 3.6 miles per hour at a 3.0 degree incline, and my heart rate only went to about 129 bpm.

So even though I’ve gained weight since I started, apparently I have been conditioning myself and I’m less winded than when I started.

Regarding the weight training, I know I’m doing it wrong, but my feeling here is again, anything worth doing well is worth doing badly at first, so I’m doing a small set of exercises, and following the regimen where you have 25 grams of protein powder 1/2 hour before the workout, 25 grams right after, then another 50 grams an hour after that.

I haven’t been really keeping track methodically of what I do – I keep playing with the weight and the reps, but today, here’s what I did:

4 circuits on leg machine 100lb – 30 reps
4 circuits on lat pulldown 75lb – 10 reps
4 circuits on seated row 75lb – 10 reps
4 circuits on pushaway 75lb – 10 reps

What I’m talking about is I start on the leg machine, do 30 reps, then rest a minute, move to the next machine, then the next, then the next, then start again, and do this 4 times.

My terminology is probably totally off – Jeez I call the one machine a ‘pushaway’ – I think it’s name is ‘vertical press’, but I’m not sure.

Again, here I’m taking the ‘punch the clock approach’ – doing it is the end in itself, but I did notice the other day in the shower, I noticed a bulge on my arm I had never noticed before.

Apparently, that’s what a bicep is.

Recipe – Low Carb Pepperoni Pizza Quiche

I came across a link to this recipe on the TNT forums, which referenced this recipe, which mentions that the recipe was found on http://www.atkinsdietbulletboard.com/– which doesn’t exist anymore, sadly.

It sounded crazy enough to work, and I was crazy enough to try it.

I decided to try using my neglected food processor for grating the cheese and mixing the egg – this worked out better than expected. Maybe I’ll actually begin to use the thing?

  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup pizza sauce (the canned varieties are the lowest carb)
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 3 cups mozzarella cheese
  • pizza toppings, of choice (I used pepperoni)
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Beat together cream cheese and eggs until smooth.
  3. Add cream, Parmesan, garlic and oregano.
  4. Spray 9X13 pan with cooking spray or oil.
  5. Place 2 cups mozzarella cheese in bottom of pan.
  6. Pour egg mixture over cheese.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven and spread sauce and pesto (mixed together beforehand) over baked mixture.
  9. Add toppings of choice.
  10. Cover with remaining mozzarella cheese.
  11. Bake until bubbly and brown. This should take about 10 minutes, but I didn’t time it, so you’re on your own regarding the time here.
  12. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Except for the step I added, which was ‘drop pan with a loud bang into the bottom of the stove, sloshing some of the contents from the pan on the bottom of the stove and filling the house with smoke’, it came out very pizza-like, except for the crust.

The crust actually looked like a pizza crust, but it was a quiche-like consistency. There’s nothing there to bind it together, so I ate it with a fork.

Other than than the crust issue, the taste was excellent.

This is a great one for those of you new to Atkins who might be jonesin’ for a slice of greasy pizza a few days in to starting the diet. It’s induction-friendly, and it should fill that need for pizza quite well, unlike other recipes that sorta, kinda make you feel like, ‘yeah – if I imagine real hard, I can pretend this is pizza’.

Well worth the try.