Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter-time Black Teas

   I handle pain and illness much better than most people.  However, sometimes you have to admit defeat.  Announcing that I am under the weather is very hard for me, call it a pride issue.  My immune system can probably kick your immune system's ass, but the occasional cold is inevitable.  I haven't had a cold in years, but this season I've had 2 (this is my second.)  They don't put me out of commission for any serious length of time, but I do need to take at least one day where I just lay around.  Today will be that day, hopefully, even though I have already had a very productive morning.  On these days--really any lazy day--I love to watch copious amounts of Netflix Instant or Lord of the Rings and drink my body weight in hot tea.  So I thought it would be appropriate to share with you my favorite winter-time black teas that can be bought at any grocery store.  (I'll save the specialty loose teas for later!)

Twinings Earl Grey
Hands down, favorite tea EVER!  I have probably tried over 20 varieties of it.  I've had Earl Grey cheesecake and I have plans to make an Earl Grey creme brule.  But this is the tea that causes a divide in my family.  To bergamot or not?  I love the citrus-y notes and medium depth of flavor.  I could literally drink Earl Grey all day long.  Twining's is the best brand in the grocery store because the bergamot is not overpowering or off-tasting (like some brands... like maybe their oranges went a little south.)  Drink with a slice of lemon and a drizzle of honey.

Orange Spice Tea (sometimes called Christmas Tea)
I have a sneaking suspicion that Kroger's premium brand equivalent (Private Selection) is the exact same tea as Bigelow's Constant Comment.  This tea is rich and full flavored with orange rind, clove, and cinnamon.  So delicious and comforting in front of a fire.  This tea makes the holidays feel like they could last a little bit longer.  I like mine with a little honey and some cream.

Bigelow Vanilla Chai
I lived off this stuff in the month of November during my semester at LSU.  Chai was the fad of teas of a few years ago, but luckily people realized that is beautiful and the varieties haven't disappeared into oblivion.  I especially love the vanilla chai.  Bigelow adds more cardamom to this blend which works wonderfully with the vanilla.  If you like chai, you'll adore this tea!  A simple pour of cream is all you need.

Stash English Breakfast Tea
This is a bold tea with incredible depth of flavor that will get you started in the mornings!  It is the tea alternative of coffee.  There are many brands that make a great English Breakfast but for the regular grocery store, my preferences lean towards Stash.  No real reason, I just like it.  For me, this tea is a little too heavy for the summer months, but great for those chilly days when you just want to curl up with a book and a blanket.  I like to bust out one of my specialty honeys (Pepper, Orange Blossom, Wildflower?) when I have a mug of this tea.

If you have any suggestions on tea I would love to hear them!  I am always looking for new teas.  (Although, I seriously do not need to buy anymore, lol!)

Oh, and sorry.... pictues of Harry Potter food didn't happen.  =(  I will still share recipes though!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Heather's Very Potter Birthday

   I can't even being to describe how excited I am about tonight!  We are having a Harry Potter themed party for one of my best friends in the entire world!  (She turned 24 this past Monday.)  We go all out for most of our parties, but when a GREAT theme is settled and decided we take it over the top.  Several of us have made our own wands.  We've bought ties and wigs where appropriate.  I'm breakin' out the old Hogwarts track jacket I've had for, God, 6..... 7 years? now.  Everyone has chosen a character.... well, my friends chose Cho Chang for me.  Because I look totally Asian.

   When they told me it was HP themed, I was super jazzed about going out to buy the Harry Potter cook book.  However, after reading many of the recipes in the store, I realized it was incredibly lame and not worth $25.  Ten dollars maybe.  I'm sorry, broiled chicken wings (seasoned with only salt and pepper) is not a recipe and not even really related to Harry Potter.  So I came up with my own menu of English inspired food.

Very Potter Menu 
"Mince Meat" Pies
Roasted Tomato Chutney on Toast

Bangers and Mash Bites 

Crudite with Double Mustard Dipping Sauce

Pumpkin Pudding Cake Trifle

Chocolate Frogs (Sarina is making those)

Butterbeer (also Sarina)

   I believe we are also going to have copius amounts of alcohol that will be made into "Potions" (shots).  I don't exactly what were are doing with that yet, but I think such concotions as Love Potion, Polyjuice, and Liquid Luck were discussed.  I will let you know later.  And I will share pictures and all the recipes!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mushroom Scallops with Asparagus and Udon

   Hey people.  Sorry for the short break.  I wasn't feeling so hot and then I got really busy (babysitting the cutest 2 month old girl in the world! And seeing Shrek: The Musical <3, oh yeah, that's how I roll.)  I meant to post this yesterday, but I ended up spending waaay more time at the tattoo shop than I intended (over 8 hours.....)  But that is cool.  I got to spend some time with my wonderfully awesome and crazy friend, Krista, and we chatted about the up coming Harry Potter themed birthday party for Heather.  Oh, and also I got a fucking incredible tattoo.  So not a bad day.  Aaaaalso, side note.  Yesterday was the season 2 premier of Archer, so we totally had stir-Thursday.  (It was like 11 at night so it was almost stir-Friday!)

   And now for the real part of the post.  Mushroom scallops.  This concept was baffling, confusing, intriguing, and a little upsetting when I first read about it over at The Chubby Vegetarian.  I couldn't resist though.  This concept is what hooked me onto this Memphis photojournalist's food blog and it quickly became my favorite blog.... ever.  I am even over coming an extreme sense of ego to say this.  Like most bloggers, I adore my page.  But this guy.....  Well, his pictures are amazingly drool-worthy, and he is beyond creative with vegetarian fare.  The thing I like most, is that the vegetarian and vegan friendly recipes never seemed forced.  He presents his food in a perfectly natural way that I often forget there is never any meat.  Seriously head over there and check out stuff, you will not be disappointed! 

   The mushroom scallops were a must try though.  I've been obsessing over the idea for months now.  The only problem was, where the hell do I find king oyster mushrooms?!  Problem solved.  Last Saturday we strolled into the Bangkok Market off of Armory Dr in Nashville.  This little store is magical; I wondered why I had never been there before.  After talking to the owner I found out.  They opened last Thursday.  They had been in business literally 50 hours when I walked in.  I saw the mushrooms and snatched some up immediately ($3.49/lb)!

   I was absolutely blown away by these milky white beauties.  The flavor is more reminiscent of seafood than mushrooms, but very mild.  And they even have the appearance of the the vertical muscle fibers of scallops.  Although, don't expect the texture of a scallop.  The larger, fatter mushrooms and the big ends farthest away from the tops have a slightly tough bite to them.  Not unappetizing in the least, but just so you know.
Crazy, right?!  Those are seriously mushrooms!

Mushroom Scallops with Asparagus and Udon Noodles
2 king oyster mushrooms
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
~3 oz dried udon noodles (one bundle)
1/2 bunch of asparagus
1/2 oz dried shitakes
1 1/2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
juice of 2 clementines (about 1/4 C)
2 tsp dark sesame oil
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
sea salt and pepper
   Clean and trim mushrooms.  Cut into 1 inch slices (about 4 slices per mushroom).  Score top and bottom of each slice.  Use 1-2 tsp to brush tops and bottom of slices.  Liberally salt and pepper.  Heat ~1 Tbsp oil over medium/med-high heat.  Sear mushrooms for 2 1/2-3 minutes a side.
   Reconstitute shitakes according to package.  Add liquid to pot for cooking noodles.  Cook udon according to package directions.  Drain.
   Combine soy, sesame oil, juice, garlic and ginger.
   Clean and trim asparagus.  Saute for 3-4 minutes over medium heat.  Add shitakes and the sauce mixture.  Allow sauce to reduce by 1/3.  Add udon noodles.  Cook another 2-3 three minutes so sauce absorbs into noodles.
   Serves 2
Better view of stir-fry.

AND because I am in love and I feel you need to see the product of my absence:
"Pura Vida" was existing.  Top three flowers are finished, bottom two are not.
Chip Rutz at Absolute Ink in Murfreesboro, TN is a fuckin' GENIUS!!!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage

   For some reason, yesterday afternoon I just crashed.  I don't know why.  I didn't want to do anything except curl up and sleep while dreams of Eureka danced through my head.  (Love me some correctly discussed theoretical physics!)  Anyway, I slept on and off after a very busy morning/early afternoon from 3-6 ish.  The only time cooking is a chore for me is when I have slept away the afternoon.  Last night I was not up to the task, so my mom made red beans and rice.  Then it occurred to me that this dish is so simple I could have mindlessly thrown it together even in a post sleep stupor!  And her recipe is a little less complex than mine so this is a great meal for a busy weeknight or days you just don't feel like attempting anything complicated.  You can use any sausage you like with this, but in my opinion a smoked variety gives the best flavor.  (Vegans, I know I have seen some smokey, herby tofu sausages out there!)  The only real stipulation with this is I encourage you to use organic canned dark red kidney beans because they are much lower in sodium and don't have any of that dreadful sugar added.  (Why do companies feel the need to ruin perfectly beautiful kidney beans with sugar?)
Red Beans and Rice with Smoked Sausage
1 C rice (plus 1 3/4 C water for cooking), I suggest looking for parboiled rice
1 tsp oil
1 small green bell pepper (1 C chopped)
1 small onion (1 C chopped)
2 large ribs celery (1/2 C chopped)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 7-oz link smoked turkey sausage
2 14-oz cans organic dark red kidney beans
1/4 C water
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp lemon juice (or mild vinegar)
2 green onions, chopped (optional)

   Cook rice according to package directions.
   Heat oil in a non stick pot over medium heat, saute pepper, onion, and celery until tender.  Add sausage, brown slightly.  Add garlic, saute for about 1 minute.  Add beans (with liquid), 1/4 C water, and worcestershire.  Allow liquid to reduce by about 1/2 (it will take roughly 15 minutes.)  Stir in lemon juice and a dash of Tabasco.  Serve over rice, garnish with green onions.  Add more Tabasco if you like.  (I like!)
   Serves 4.
Total Ingredient Cost$6.25
Per Serving:  Calories 430, Fat 6.5g, Total Carb 81g, Fiber 12.25g, Protein 24g
Daily ValuesVit A 4%, Vit C 57%, Vit K 8%, Vit B6 8.25%, Calcium 16%, Iron 17%, Thiamine 25%, Folate 25%, Niacin 15%


Monday, January 24, 2011

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Shells

   Mmm, stuffed shells.  Ooey, gooey, cheesy little packages of lasagna.  (Because that is pretty much what they are.)  Healthy?  You better believe it!  This particular recipe is at least.  You can have your cheese and comfort food fix is one while still getting your veggies.  And don't balk at this if you think you don't like spinach or mushrooms!  These beauties will change your mind.  The spinach is balanced perfectly with the ricotta adding a hint of green sweetness and the mushrooms give a slightly meaty, earthy flavor.  I can even get my husband to eat mushrooms this way.  That is saying a lot considering we have literally had arguments in the grocery store when he saw me putting mushrooms in the cart.  Also, adding spinach to a dish with pasta, cheese and red sauce is a great way to trick your kids into eating their green vegetables.

   In addition to being really tasty, stuffed shells are a great way to feed a crowd on a budget.  You can make a double batch in about the same time as a single batch and it will only cost a few dollars more.  These shells, a big salad, and some good bread would make any group of hungry people happy!

Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Shells
7-8 oz jumbo shells (24 shells)
1 (24 oz) jar favorite pasta sauce
1 (10 oz) pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/2 medium onion (~1 C diced onion)
8 oz mushrooms roughly chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 C part skim ricotta cheese
1 C shredded mozzarella, divided
1/3 C shredded parmesan, divided
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp ground crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
cooking spray
   Cook shells 1-2 minutes less than package directions in boiling, salted water.  Drain and immediately separate shells so they do not stick together.
   Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute onions for 3 minutes.  Add mushrooms.  Cook about 5-7 minutes.  The liquid from the mushrooms should be almost completely evaporated.  Add garlic saute 1 minute.  Cool.
   Squeeze water out of spinach.  Mix with ricotta, 1/2 C mozzarella, 1/4 C parmesan, herbs, salt and pepper.  Stir in mushroom and onions.  Add beaten egg and mix thoroughly.
   Spread a little bit (about 1/2 C) of sauce into the bottom of a lightly sprayed 10x10 (9x11 or 11x11 also work) backing pan.  Fill shells with about 1 1/2 Tbsp of filling.  Place in pan.  Top shells with the rest of the sauce and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
   (At this point you can cover and keep in the fridge for a few days.  Yay make ahead!  For cooking add 10 minutes to covered bake time.)
   Bake at 350 deg F covered for 25 minutes and uncovered for an additional 10-15 minutes.
   Serves 6 (4 per serving.)
Total Ingredient Costunder $10.
Per ServingCalories 345, Fat 11.5g, Total Carb 42g, Fiber 3g, Protein 20g
Daily ValuesVit A 52%, Vit C 11%, Calcium 37.5%, Iron 21%, Thiamine 20%, Riboflavin 8%, Niacin 8%, Folate 17.5%


Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Not So "Dulce" Post

   Since The Cooking Channel's inception last May, I have found myself angrily watching David Rocco's Dulce Vita on too many occasions.  (Yes, it is possible to angrily watch TV!)
   Everyone carries around a bowl of pasta when they go moped-ing through Italy, right?

   Why do I hate that guy?  Let me count the ways.  He's a former model with a douche baggy smile who spent his model earnings to open up some casually pretentious pizzeria/wine bar in his home town of Toronto.  But he didn't cook in it; he just makes money owning it.  He wrote one cookbook early in the millennium and released a second cookbook a year or so ago.  Two cookbooks in 10 years is nothing to write home about, but at the same time is no small feat.  Unless you are David Rocco, and you simply rehash many of the recipes from the first book for the second.

   But let's get to the main reason why this man makes me livid:  David Rocco's Dulce Vita.  Not once have I seen this show and gained anything except the making of a stomach ulcer.  I learn nothing and there are no tips or recipes I take away from it.  The premise of the show is "Hey, look at how awesome my life is."  He doesn't have to eat weird foods, do humiliating things, or spend countless days traveling to catch a few hours footage.  It simply features Mr. Rocco just casually living his life in Florence, boating with his model-esque wife, partying at exclusive clubs with his impossibly gorgeous Italian friends, and never having to wake up at 5 am for an important meeting.  Sure he occasionally throws some pasta in the pot and some garlic in the pan, but the "recipes" which are featured at tooooootally phoned in.  Some of my favorites include spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, arugula with lemon and olives, and calamari with black pepper.  You get the picture.  He takes a few ingredients, throws them together, and calls it a day.  Then his perfect friends come over around 10 pm and they magically have a feast of food that I assume was cooked by a hidden slave.
Typical "my life is so much better than yours" scene.

   Grant it, he is extremely involved in the making of his show.  Listening to music all to layout a soundtrack for 30 minutes of your week?  Editing footage to make your life look even more fantastically fun?  Whoring yourself out for high-class bar appearances where you drink free, get free publicity, and raise production money at the same time?  Planning trips to other parts of Italy to feature people other than yourself cooking?  Tough job.  I fail to see the stress.  The only stress I can glean from his life is that he has twin baby daughters who are too fucking beautiful.

   Really, I guess the true reason I hate David Rocco is that I am intensely jealous.  I want to be paid handsomely for a stress-free, no-brainer life that I can coast through. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whole Wheat Lemon Cranberry Biscotti

   Time to sooth that sweet tooth.  Sour is my favorite flavor followed very closely by salty, but every once in a while you just have to have something sweet.  A piece of dark chocolate?  A couple jolly ranchers?  All fine and good and won't bust your belt.  Some times a heartier sweetness is called for, though.  Something with oomph that you can really sink your teeth into.  Like a huge dense cookie packed with chocolate chips and walnuts.  However, cookies--good cookies at least--have two sticks of butter per batch.  If you eat more than one, the guilt starts to set in.

   Enter biscotti.  Fancy, no?  I assume you know what biscotti is... decadent fingers of twice baked dough that are crispy on the outside.  But let's face it, some of the pre-packaged biscotti out there is a little too crispy and crumbly.  These cookies are actually incredibly easy to make.  So why spend five dollars on a box of 8 when you can make them at home?

Whole Wheat Cranberry Lemon Biscotti
1 C AP flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 stick room temperature butter
1/2 C white sugar
1/4 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 C dried cranberries

   Sift together flours and baking powder.
   Beat butter and sugar together.  Incorporate eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla and lemon zest.  Slowly work flour into butter mixture, careful not to over mix.  Fold in cranberries.
   Shape dough into 2 12inch logs that are 2.5-3 inches wide.  Place at least 4 inches apart on a baking sheet.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 30 minutes, until edges are very, very lightly golden.
   Cool for about 20 minutes.  Use a very sharp serrated knife to slice logs on a diagonal about 3/4-1 inch thick.
   Bake again at 350 deg F for 10-15 minutes.  Until edges are golden.
   24 cookies (slices)
Total Ingredient Cost$3.60-ish
Per CookieCalories 95, Fat 4g, Total Carb 8g, Fiber 1g, Protein 1.5g
Daily ValuesVit A 3%, Vit C 1%, Calcium 0.5%, Iron 2%

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Side Tracked... New Bern Lemon Soy Candle

   This is a perfect example with why you should have to take a breathalyzer test before accessing the internet, but here goes.....

   Right.  So I will attempt to not drunkenly recall how this candle is totally fuckin' awesome! 

   But it is.  There is an amazing little wine/gift shop in Cedar Point, NC called Christina's Collectibles.  For my mom's birthday (last June, I might add) I made her a pretty little gift basket from this quaint little store.  One of my favorite items was a lemon candle from the New Bern Candle Company.  It smells exactly like fresh lemons!  She doesn't normally burn candles, but I have been cooking a lot of seafood and garlic lately and the lemon helps to neutralize those odors.

    It is made from natural lemon zest/oils and soy products.  This product is being featured because you could litterally eat if you wanted to!  All of the company's products are made from completely natural ingeredients.  I like them because they are not doing the "all natural" thing to be PC and/or granola.  They do it because it give them the best product imaginable.  Right now, my kitchen smells like fresh lemons instead of shrimp, garlic, cumin and paprika. I would say that is pretty darn good.

   Seriously.  Buy 10 of these now!

Turkey Sloppy Joes

   Two nights ago with the shells and cheese, I made sloppy joes.  Several people had made them on Food Network that day and I couldn't take it any more.  I had to make the "sandwich".  After a moment's pause, I realized that I was experiencing my first ever sloppy joe.  In the elementary school lunch line I avoided the ketchupy mess of sloppy joes like the plague, because for all I knew, that slop may have literally carried the plague.  It was always painfully obvious when it was sloppy joe day.  We would be skipping towards the lunch room in a more-or-less single file line happily wondering what we had to choose from for the day's grub.  The previous lunch period would pass us in the halls and shirts would be stained red, arms and faces fruitlessly wiped with napkins that only spread the orange grease around.  I was not a fan of messy eating as a child so this scene sent of alarms in my head. 
"Run!  You don't need to eat lunch today!"  
Of course, as a 6 year old you are not allowed to make such decisions for yourself.  Once in the line I was usually fine because there was always the second choice.  Fried chicken was the only second choice that would kill my spirit for the day because that meant I was resigned to the floppy white bread PB&J.  Honey roasted sunflower seeds were my only consolation on those days.

   Tuesday night, though, I thoroughly enjoyed my slop.  It was smokey and a teeny bit spicy.  Sophisticated enough for adults, but still totally kid friendly (if you are cooking for youngsters.)  Nothing resembling the ketchup brown sugar concoction of school cafeterias.  Shells and cheese, sloppy joes, and a pile of raw carrots and sugar snap peas to me back to my childhood despite the fact that I never ate a meal like this as a kid!      
"Classic" Turkey Sloppy Joes
4 4-inch lengths of whole wheat baguette,
1 lb ground white meat turkey
1/2 tsp oil
1 small onion,diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
1 small (5-6 in) carrot, diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced (optional)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 C (8 oz can) tomato sauce
1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tsp red wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp cayenne

   Heat oil over medium heat in a non-stick pan.  Saute onion, bell pepper and carrot until tender.  Add turkey and cook through.  Be sure to break up turkey very well while cooking.  Add garlic and jalapeno when turkey is 3/4 of the way done.  Pour in tomato sauce, worcestershire, vinegar, and spices.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve immediately or turn heat to low and keep covered for up to another 40 minutes.  (Add a touch of water if it tightens up too much.)
   Halve bread and toast.
   Serves 4 (or 6... probably 8 if you are feeding children!).

Total Ingredient Cost:  about $5 Price of meat will vary, try to buy on sale.  If all white ground turkey is really expensive on your shopping day, look for 93/7 turkey.  It is a fairly new addition to the market so it may not be available everywhere.  Vegans:  Go ahead and use soy crumbles for this!  It will absolutely work!
Per ServingCalories 260, Fat 2g, Total Carb 27g, Fiber 3.2g, Protein 29g
Daily ValuesVit A 49%, Vit C 49%, Vit B6 64%, Vit B12 18%, Vit E 6%, Vit K 4%, Calcium 3.25%, Iron 44.5%

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creamy Baked Shells and Cheese

   Oh yeah, it's healthy.  Don't freak out when you see the fat content though, you are eating real cheese here.  That is going to come with some fat.  Nature of the product.  The thing is you are not eating anything that is overly processed and you are not scrimping on flavor!  The macaroni and cheese craving with be 100% satiated, and I've allowed for a generous portion.  Also, this isn't the kind of thing you eat every day (I hope.)  It is a once or twice a month dish that is a little bit of a fat splurge but will by no means bust your diet.  Tomorrow I will share my sloppy joe recipe that has almost no fat at all!  Pair your mac 'n' cheese with those bad boys and some raw veggies and you have a perfectly balanced all-American meal that will take you back to your childhood.
Creamy Baked Shells and Cheese
1/2 Tbsp butter
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp flour
1 tsp minced garlic
1 C low-sodium chicken stock
1/2 C low fat milk (2% or 1%, I used 2%)
2 oz light cream cheese
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
~6 oz (half 13.25 oz box) whole wheat shells
1 C (4 oz) shredded reduced fat shard cheddar

   Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.
   Melt butter with olive oil over medium heat.  Saute garlic for 1 minutes.  Sprinkle in flour and whisk briskly to avoid lumps.  Continue whisking, add milk and chicken stock.  When mixture has thickened (about 3 minutes.)  Whisk in cream cheese, mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
   Combine white sauce, pasta and shredded cheese.  Pour into a lightly sprayed 9x9 baking dish.  Cover
   Bake at 350 deg F for 15 minutes.
   Serves 4  (Although, you can easily get 6 servings from this.)

Total Ingredient Cost$3.50, if items like pasta and cheese are purchased on sale.
Per Serving (if assuming 4 servings):  Calories 246, Fat 11g, Total Carb 33.5g, Fiber 4.5g, Protein 14.5
Daily ValuesVit A 10%, Vit C 1%, Vit D 3%, Calcium 24.75%, Iron 6%


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quick Braised Red Cabbage

“Idealist: One who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.”
--Henry Louis Mencken

   Luckily roses don't make better soup, because that would get really expensive really fast.  I don't know why more people don't eat cabbage.  Especially red cabbage.  It is sweet, mildly flavored, pairs well with so many things, and is chock full of vitamins and minerals.  

   After a day of sanding, staining, and refinishing my bathroom cabinets, I needed a fast dinner.  So last night we ate the last of the pierogies that had been lingering in the freezer (yet still perfectly delicious!)  On a spur of the "crap, I need to use this before it goes bad" moment, I made a quick braised red cabbage for our side.  I had never made this before, but I definitely will again!  Think of it as the coleslaw haters alternative to cabbage.  It is sweet, a little tangy, tender, and hearty.  Oh, also, cheap and pretty! 
It's crazy that a natural food can be this color!

Quick Braised Red Cabbage
1/2 head of a large red cabbage, shredded (or 1 small head)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 C low sodium broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef)
1/2 tsp oil
salt and pepper

   In a nonstick pan with a lid, heat a drizzle of oil over medium.  Add cabbage and garlic.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add vinegar, a little salt and a little pepper.  (Be careful not to over salt, the broth has salt in it).   Cook ~1 minute.  Add beef broth, bring to a simmer.  Cover.  Turn heat to med-low.  Cook for about 15 minutes, until cabbage is desired tenderness.
   *I had a very sweet cabbage, if yours seems to be holding on to a little bit of bitterness, add a tsp of honey.
   Serves 4.

Total Ingredient Cost$1.25  It may even be cheaper, it just depends on the cost of the cabbage.
Per ServingCalories 44, Fat 1g, Total Carb 10g, Fiber 2.75g, Protein 2g
Daily ValuesVit A 30%, Vit C 132%, Vit K 67.5%, Vit B6 13.75%, Calcium 6%, Iron 5%

Monday, January 17, 2011

Steak Faux-rite

   Steak frite.  Quintessential bistro fare.  Classically a sirloin cut of steak seared and cooked in butter with a generous portion of long-cut potatoes that have been deep-fried in animal (beef) fat.  Goodness, my mouth is watering.  So good, but obviously not waist or artery friendly.  Wouldn't you love a healthy version that you can make at home and not have any hot oil to worry about?  This incredibly easy meat and potato meal will satisfy the urge for an expensive steakhouse dinner and fast food fries all in one go. 
Grilled New York Strips with Horseradish Sauce
1.5 lb New York strips (two 1 1/4 inch thick steaks)
2 tsp grill seasoning  (ie McCormick Grill Mates for Steak)
*cooking spray
2 Tbsp light sour cream
1 Tbsp plain yogurt
2 1/2 tsp grated horseradish
1 tsp minced garlic

   Cut steak in half or grill and then cut in half, that is up to you.  Season both sides of steaks very well with grill seasoning.  Lightly spray steaks on both sides to prevent sticking.  Pre-heat grill to high.  Cook steaks 4 minutes each side (if whole, 3 min per side if cut in half) for medium/medium-rare.  Let rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.
   Combine sour cream, yogurt, horseradish, and garlic for sauce.
   Serves 4 (6 oz portions).

Total Ingredient Cost: $14, four good steaks and sauce for the price of one mediocre steak at a restaurant.
Per Serving (assuming you do not eat the fat layer on the edge of the steak):  Calories 312, Fat 10g, Total Carb 1g, Protein 23.5 g
Daily ValuesVit A 1%, Vit E 3.25%, Vit K 3.25%, Vit B6 53.5%, Vit B12 42%, Calcium 5.5%, Iron 16.75%   

Rosemary Roasted Potatoes
3 large russet or Idaho potatoes, scrubbed and cubed
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 tsp sea salt
cracked black pepper

   First of all, do not peel the potatoes!  Place cubed potatoes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Toss to coat potatoes.  Spread into a single layer.
   Roast at 400 deg F for 35-40 minutes.  Toss once during cooking.  Don't open the oven too often to look at them because they won't get crispy if you do.
   Serves 4.
Total Ingredient Cost$1.30, doesn't get any cheaper.
Per ServingCalories 140, Fat 3g, Total Carb 25.75g, Fiber 2g, Protein 2g
Daily ValuesVitamin C 45%, Vit B6 10%, Calcium 2%, Iron 3%

   If you have the steak with sauce, crispy roasted potatoes, and a caesar salad, you are looking at under $20 for a very nice meal for 4!  Each plate of food is only around 500 calories, and remember that those calories are not coming from large quantities of bad fats or nutritionally void starchy carbohydrates!  The average steak house meal with sides and a salad will probably run you $40/meal (not including drinks) and 1000 calories.  Plus, you can eat this in your underwear on the sofa if you like.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Classic Caesar Salad... Lightened!

   Who doesn't love a classic caesar salad? 

   Alright, bad question.  I don't like classic caesar salads.  The dressing is too creamy without much flavor and there is always too much of it.  I base this statement off of observations of friends ordering caesar salads (as the "healthy" alternative,) and the one time an idiot of a waiter brought me a side caesar instead of my house salad with balsamic on the side.  My first inclination was, "I don't want to be that customer who nit-picks about the salad. (Despite the fact that it was totally wrong.)  How bad can it be, really?  Everyone else seems to love this salad."  I dove in and then I gagged.  One bite and I wanted to run for the bathroom!  This was years ago, but the memory of that mayonnaise clogged (this was not a fancy place that used real egg), limp romaine, terrible crouton mouthful haunts me to this day.  Perhaps my first caesar experience would have been better spent at a lovely steak house or at least a restaurant which had an entree over $13, but alas, it was not.

   I have since had wonderful caesars, but I always hesitate.  As my mother and I have been making more of these New York classics at home, I have grown to [almost] love them.  The lingering memory still takes hold occasionally, but I am much better now, truly.  This version, I really do love:  there is no mayonnaise and it is fun to make! 

"Classic" Caesar Salad
1/2 tsp pasted garlic (1 medium sized clove)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp lemon juice (1 1/2 tsp if using bottled variety)
1 tsp dijon or deli mustard
1 tsp worcestershire sauce (use 1 1/2 tsp if you don't have anchovy paste)
1 1/2 C baby spinach
1 large heart of romaine, chopped
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
cracked black pepper
**Wooden bowl

   To paste garlic:  mince, sprinkle with salt, and crush with the flat of your knife blade.  Spread around the bottom of the wooden bowl.  (Somehow the combination of smeared garlic in a wooden bowl makes all the difference.  I can't explain the magic.)  Add oil, anchovy paste, lemon, mustard, and worcestershire sauce to bowl and mix.  Making the dressing in the bottom of your serving bowl prevents overdressing the greens and helps to ensure even coverage.
   Toss spinach, romaine, and cheese in dressing.  Freshly crack black pepper over the top.
   Serves 4 side salad portions or two meal portions.  (For a meal, add grilled chicken, shrimp or steak.)

Total Ingredient Cost$3.75  That is the price of one side salad at a chain restaurant!
Per ServingCalories 65, Fat 4g, Total Carb 2g, Fiber 1g, Protein 0.5g
Daily ValuesVit A 19%, Vit C 6%, Calcium 9.25%, Iron 3%

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quick Shrimp and Tomato Curry

   You can never have too many recipes that are fast and easy.  You probably didn't think curry could be a quick weeknight meal, but this dish from start to finish took less than 30 minutes.  It is a two pot meal-one for the main part, one for the rice-so clean up is a breeze.  Also, it is easy to change things up.  Chicken breast would be great and is less expensive than shrimp.  If you are a vegetarian you can substitute the meat for paneer (can be purchased at Indian markets.)  Or if you are of the vegan persuasion, you can use extra firm tofu; it would have about the same texture as paneer and I don't see why that wouldn't be delicious!  (I would sear the tofu first, though.)
Shrimp and Tomato Curry 
1 lb medium peeled deveined shrimp (thawed if frozen)
1 tsp oil
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 small carrots (or 1 large), sliced into strips
1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp grated ginger (not packed)
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tsp semi-mild vinegar (like red wine or cider)
1 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro or parsley
1/2 C water (may not be needed)

For Rice:
1 C long grain white rice (parboiled preferred)
1 C vegetable or chicken stock
3/4 C water
1 bay leaf
1 star anise

   Bring water and stock for rice to a boil.  Add rice and herbs.  Cover, bring back to boil.  Reduce to simmer.  Cook 15-20 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  (Time will depend on pot/pan used.)
   Heat oil over medium heat.  Saute pepper, onion, and carrot until tender (about 5 minutes).  Toss in ginger and garlic.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, vinegar, honey, and dry/ground spices.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  If tomatoes start to look like paste, add a little bit of water (not the entire 1/2 C).  Do this whenever the pan looks too dry.
   Salt and pepper shrimp, add to tomato sauce.  Cook 5-7 minutes until shrimp are cooked through.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in cilantro or parsley.
   Serve over rice.  Serves 4.

Total Ingredient Cost: $9.80.  Quick and easy dinner that is super healthy for 4 under $10?  Yes please!
Per ServingCalories 370, Fat 3g, Total Carbs 24g, Fiber 3g, Protein 27g
Daily ValuesVit A 97%, Vit C 74%, Vit E 14%, Vit K 4.5%, Vit B6 17.25%, Vit B12 28%, Calcium 11%, Iron 24.5%, Thiamine 25%, Niacin 17%, Folate 27% 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Honey-Wheat Blueberry Muffins

   Make your muffins and eat them too!... Two that is.  Yes, you can eat two of these muffins and not feel guilty.  In the age of unnecessarily giant muffins that are pure fat and carbs (but delicious, I will admit), it is nice to have a couple normal sized muffins for breakfast.  A little fiber, some vitamins and minerals, and a burst of fruity sweetness.  I love muffins on the weekend, because if you make a big batch, you have some left overs that you can toast up for a quick, run out the door, weekday breakfast.
Honey Wheat Blueberry Muffins
1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp quick dissolving clear fiber (optional)
1 tsp lemon zest (optional)
1/2 C buttermilk
1/3 C honey
1/4 C unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 C fresh or frozen/thawed blueberries

   Stir together flours, baking powder, salt, fiber and lemon zest.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Add buttermilk, honey, applesauce, egg and oil.  Combine.  Slowly work dry ingredients into the center of the well.  Be careful not to over mix.  Fold in berries.
   Divide evenly among 12 lightly sprayed (or paper lined) muffin tin cups.
   Bake at 375 deg F for 18-20 min.
   Serves 6

Total Ingredient Cost$3.70
Per Serving (2 muffins)Calories 220, Fat 2.5g, Total Carb 44g, Fiber 4g, Protein 6g
Daily ValuesVit C 4%, Vit A 2%, Calcium 3%, Iron 10%, Thiamine 7%, Riboflavin 4%, Niacin 5%, Folate 7%

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cilantro and Green Onion Crab Cakes

   The briny sweetness of crab lends itself to a variety of preparations.  Crab cakes probably being the most popular.  It is a pricey ingredient but perfect for special occasions like date-night-at-home.  Most restaurants charge you a ridiculous amount for a hockey puck that mostly filler.  Making crab cakes at home isn't hard and you makes them really crabby!
Cilantro and Green Onion Crab Cakes
16 oz crab (I used claw and "special premium")
1 egg
1/3 C bread crumbs
1 1/2 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
3 green onions, thinly sliced
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 tsp oil

   Drain crab and very carefully pick over it to remove any bits of shell/cartilage. 
   Mix together all ingredients except crab and oil.  Very gently fold in crab, be careful not to break up the meat.  Form into 4 patties.
   Heat oil in a non stick pan over med-high heat.  Place in patties.  Cook 4-5 minutes on each side.  Serve with rice and steamed or stir-fried veggies that have a drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.  Top with sauce.

Garlic Mayo Sauce
2 1/2 Tbsp light mayonnaise
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp mustard or wasabi powder
1/8 tsp cayenne (optional)
zest of 1/2 lime
juice of 1 lime

   Combine ingredients.  Serves 4.

Crab Cake and Sauce:
Total Ingredient Cost:  $15.00  I know it's a little expensive, but this is not an every day sort of thing.  It is the seafood equivalent of steak night.  Think of it this way:  you'd pay about $20 at a good restaurant for a crab cake entree.  For 4 entire crab cake meals at home, it will only cost about $18.  This is a deal, people.
Per ServingCalories 230, Fat 10g, Total Carb 10g, Fiber 1g, Protein 26g
Daily ValuesVit C 14%, Vit A 7.5%, Calcium 9%, Iron 5%

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not All Yogurt is Created Equal

   I honestly have no idea how yogurt became America's "ideal" of a healthy snack.  I blame really good marketing campaigns.  For the most part, yogurt really isn't that great for you.  Sure it has calcium and milk proteins, sometimes added vitamins and minerals, but the amount of sugar (most of it being extremely processed, refined sugar) totally cancels out all the benefits!  Have you actually read the yogurt labels?  I have.  I actually spent about 20 minutes reading the labels on all the brands that my Kroger carries.  (I know, I am that person.  But I was doing it for you.)  Regular yogurt can have up to 32g of sugar in 6 oz!  That is more than 20 g of added sugar.  (**Stay tuned for cute stuff at the end!!!)

"There is no official Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) or Daily Values for sugar. However, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises adults who eat a 2,000-calorie diet to limit consumption of sugar to about 40 grams (10 teaspoons) of added sugars per day."

   That's kind of scary, huh?  (Added sugar means the processed sugars that are... well, added to foods.  This statement does not apply to sugars found naturally in products like milk and fruit.  Plain yogurt, 6 oz, generally has 7-12 g sugar, all natural.) 

   Don't misread my caution.  I love yogurt.  It is creamy, sweet, filling and gives you a boost of energy that doesn't let you down.  It can be a great source of calcium, vitamin D, and protein (sometimes other vitamins and minerals as well.)  But I urge you to read the labels.  Even the "light" yogurts aren't always good for you.  Companies skim off about 0.5 g of fat (regular usually only has about 2g.) but keep most of the sugar.  That, or, they use chemical sweeteners.  If people did the research, they would realize that chemical sweeteners in moderation are A-Okay.  I say use caution on the basis that they can cause severe headaches in some people.  Plain Greek yogurt I think is always the way to go.  It has a distinct but mild flavor that is mellower than regular plain yogurts.  It is rich, creamy, and packed with protein!  Add some fresh fruit, little drizzle of honey, and you have breakfast!  As Greek Yogurts become more popular, more and more companies are emerging.  That means prices are coming down a little.  Even many grocery stores have their own brands.
Here are the best yogurt options I found in my grocery stores: 
  • Yoplait Light Very Vanilla:  110 Calories, 0g Fat, 15g Sugar, 6g Protein  (Contains chemical sweeteners including aspartame; reasonably priced and often on sale.)
  • Kroger Carb Masters (not shown):  80 Calories, 1 g Fat, 3g Sugar, 12g Sugar  (No chemical sweeteners.)
  • Great Value Light Vanilla:  exactly the same as Yoplait light (May even be the same yogurt just packaged differently!  About 2/3 the cost of Yoplait, cheaper whole price than many sale items.)
  • Dannon Light and Fit (not shown):  80 Calories, 0g Fat, 11g Sugar, 5g Protein (Chemical sweeteners and expensive as far a yogurt goes.)
  • Publix No Sugar Added Peach:  90 Calories, 1g Fat, 8g Sugar, 6g Protein (Uses Splenda; reasonably priced and often on sale.) 
  • Chobani Plain Greek Yogurt:  100 Calories, 0g Fat, 7g Sugar, 18g Protein (All sugars are natural milk sugars.  Considerably more expensive, but reasonably priced when purchased in large tubs instead of individual cups.  Also, check online for great coupons.) 

  **My cat loves yogurt.  Really any dairy... yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, you name it.  He will follow us around if he sees us even holding a small plastic container.  With total lack of concern for personal space, he will crawl all up in your business if you sit down to enjoy your dairy.  So after reading this boring post here is some cute stuff for you as promised!
He will lick the cup for ever.  Even well after the yogurt is gone.  And, yeah, that is Giada at Home on the background.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Spinach and Prosciutto PIzza

   Everyone deserves a splurge every now and again.  The key is to not over do it.  People often eat way more pizza than they should in one sitting; I am no exception.  I have to force myself not to go back for more.  Having a side salad is the best way for my to control the urge for just one more slice.  I eat the salad first, like you would in a restaurant, then eat pizza.  Also, making pizza from scratch at home is a great way to prevent over-indulging.  Frozen and delivery pizzas are loaded with sodium, saturated fat and provide no vitamins or minerals at all (may a little bit of iron....)  Besides, making the dough is fun and burns more calories than dialing a phone number!

   For this dough, you can use 50/50 flour, which is half regular unbleached flour and half whole wheat.  Or just use half and half, like we did.  Also.  Feel free to use whatever combination of herbs you like in the dough.  Normally, I just use rosemary and thyme, but last night my mother insisted we use all four Italian herbs.  The dough recipe is enough for two pizzas.  If you aren't making two pizzas, refrigerate the other half or make focaccia with it.

Herbed Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
1 1/2 C AP (or Better for Bread) flour
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 1/2 C very warm water
1 tsp honey
about 1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil

   Combine white flour, yeast, water, and honey.  Stir together well.  Let it sit about 5-10 minutes until little bubbles start to burst on the surface.  Add about 1 C of the whole wheat flour, herbs, and salt.  Mix.  When dough is dry enough to handle (doesn't stick all over your hands.)  Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead.  Slowly working last 1/2 C of whole wheat flour.  It will take about 10 minutes.  (**If it is very dry outside, the dough may not take all the whole wheat flour.  Likewise, if it is very humid, you may need another 1/4 C.)  Form into a ball.
   Place oil in the bottom of a bowl.  Turn dough around in it so it is coated.  Cover with a warm, damp towel.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour.)
TIP:  While you make your dough, turn the oven on very low, about 200 deg F.  When it is time to let the dough sit, turn oven off and let dough rise in the warm oven.  It prevents cool drafts and helps speed up the rising process a little.
   Make 2 12-inch pizzas.  8 servings.
Total Ingredient Cost:  $1.50
Per ServingCalories 175, Fat 1g, Total Carb 32g, Fiber 4g, Protein 6g

Spinach and Prosciutto Pizza
1/2 herbed whole wheat dough recipe
2 Tbsp purchased pesto
1/2 petite diced tomatoes
1 C torn baby spinach leaves
2 oz shredded mozzarella
2 oz soft goat cheese
2 slices prosciutto

   Stretch dough into 12 inch circle on a lightly floured surface.  Place on a pizza pan or baking sheet.  Spread with pesto.
   Bake on bottom rack of 350 deg F oven for 5-7 minutes.
   Spread tomatoes onto crust.  Top with spinach, then mozzarella.  Place small dollops of goat cheese evenly over the top.  Tear prosciutto into small pieces and add to pizza.
   Bake on bottom rack of 400 deg F oven for 7-10 minutes.  Until bottom is crispy and cheeses are melted.
Serves 4.
Total Ingredient Cost$8.15 (Dough is calculated into cost and nutritional info.)
Per ServingCalories 315, Fat 10g, Total Carb 33g, Fiber 5g, Protein 17g
Daily ValuesVit A 28%, Vit C 11%, Calcium 13%, Iron 12%

Friday, January 7, 2011


   Today a friend of mine leaves to go back to Scotland where he is attending grad school at the University of Glasgow.  Since we probably won't be able to see him again until Halloween, we had a very quite dinner at Heather and Sarina's.  (Where all our dinners are basically.)  It was just four of us but still lots of fun.  Maybe you've heard of a little show called Archer?  If you haven't, I strongly suggest that you go out, buy season 1 now, and marathon it until season 2 premiers on Jan 27:  top notch cast (featuring a favorite of mine, Jessica Walter), brilliantly hilarious writing, and kitschy animation.  "Stir-Friday" is a weekly event for some of the characters.  We have been talking about doing a stir-Friday for a while now, but we literally had no Fridays available in a month to do it on, so we had "Stir-Thursday".
   I didn't write down exactly what I did, because I recently featured a stir fry recipe.  After the fact, I realized I should have written it down, but that's ok.  Another time--maybe in a month or so.  I will give you a brief rundown of the flavors (not all of the ingredients).
The Sauce:  orange, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, and sriracha (Thinned with water and then thicken with cornstarch.)
Veggies:  broccoli, onions, sugar snap peas, and green onions tossed in at the end (I literally could not find my carrots anywhere... I am still a little bothered by it.)
Meat:  Shrimp, because Drew is a pescatarian.  Or as Heather calls it, a fishtatarian.
Bed:  whole wheat angel hair pasta

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Huevos... Texarkana?

   I love huevos rancheros because my husband loves them.  It wasn't something I had growing up... we just didn't do it.  However, Louis adores them so I would make them for breakfast on the weekend every few months or for a quick dinner.  Ok, that's a lie.  They way I normally make them isn't fast.  I render down some sort of meat and then slow cook an amazing salsa.  But I digress.

   These aren't really huevos rancheros.  I woke up about an hour and a half ago, wandered around the house, and the decided I wanted an egg.  Then I started rummaging through the refrigerator and found a pot of black beans.  I call these eggs Huevos Texarkana because they are a little bit of Texas tex-mex and a little bit of good ol' southern Arkansas.  Also, I've been to Texarkana more times than I care to tell you and I have a feeling these would go over very well there.  The great thing about this is you can make 1 or 10 in about the same amount of time (~15 min)!
Huevos Texarkana
4 eggs
4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted (I used this bread)
1/2 C fresh salsa (any heat level)
1/4 C cooked black eyed peas (or frozen and thawed)
1 tsp chipotle puree
1/4 C grated cheese
1/4 C sliced black olives
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 lime wedges

   In a small sauce pan combine salsa, peas, and chipotle.  Heat over medium-high and let all the liquid cook out.  Turn down to med-low and let the tomatoes start to break down and everything get thick.
   Heat oil in a large (nonstick) skillet over medium heat.  Gently crack eggs into hot oil.  Fry until the yolk is at your preferred consistency.  (I like over medium.  About 2 minutes on each side.)  When eggs are flipped, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
   Place egg on toast, top with salsa, cheese and olives.  Serve with a lime wedge.
   4 servings.

Total Ingredient Cost:  Around $2.
Per Serving:  Calories 175, Fat 9g, Total Carb 11 g, Fiber 3g, Protein 11g
Daily Values:  Vit A 8%, Vit C 3%, Calcium 2%, Iron 4%
Serve with fruit to boost vitamins and start (or end) your day on a high note!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Controlling Urges At Home (The Food and Drink Kind)

Do you really need to eat that or are you just bored?

   I ask myself this at least once a day.  The answer is more often than not, "I'm bored."  So I grab some water and go do a couple sit ups.  That fixes my urge to eat something every time.  Asking yourself if you are just reaching for a snack because you are bored is a great way to control mindless eating because it automatically holds you accountable for something.  Most people, when confronted by the question will feel a little guilty about getting a snack and then will just put it down.  Sometimes a little bit of guilt is a good thing.  And wouldn't you rather feel guilty about a snack before it has touched your lips than after you've already eaten it?

   If water and sit ups don't work for you, try this.  (Don't laugh at me, but I heard this tip from Pamela Anderson a few years ago.)  Brush your teeth.  Mint is a natural appetite suppressant.  When your mouth tastes like mint, your don't want to eat peanut butter or Doritos.  Following this theory, mouthwash, strong mint floss, and Altoids should also do the trick of getting enough peppermint oil swirling in your mouth to make you not want to eat.  A couple of good peppermint candies after dinner should do the trick of satisfying a sweet tooth and not have you munching away on brownies.  (This tip will not work if your body is actually craving nutrition like a solid, balanced meal.)

   Out of Sight, Out of MindKeep snacks stored away in cupboards or behind a closed door and not on the counters.  When you see something out you are more likely to grab and munch than if you have to search for it.  Instead of having chips and bakery items out, keep fruit on the counter.  You'll be amazed at how much more fruit you eat.  But don't buy fruit just to buy it, if you don't like something it will sit there until it rots.  My favorite things to have on the counter are bananas and a bowl of washed grapes because they are cheap and easy to grab/eat.  Also, clementines are season which means these intense, juicy cousins of the orange are only about $5 for 5 lb.  They are easy to peel, have very little pith, and no seeds.  You are much more likely to eat a couple of these than a regular orange.

   Pay attention to your liquids.  We all know alcohol has a good amount of calories, but I am talking about drinks that you have throughout the day.  Sodas are the epitome of empty calories.  They are loaded with sugar that does nothing for your body, and those simple carbohydrates are easily converted to fat.  I am not going to tell you that fruit juice is bad because it isn't... when drunk in moderation.  Cranberry juice and orange juice contain lots of things that are good for you, but they have natural sugars.  An 8 oz glass of all natural, no sugar added fruit juice can have up to 120 calories.  And even worse, drinks like processed lemonades and fruit flavored drinks can have just as many calories in 8 oz, but no good-for-you things.  My suggestion?  Crystal Light (or equivalent).  I would say water, but I am one who easily tires of water and I need variety.  Sugar free drink mixes are cheap and have 5-10 calories per 8 oz serving (if you make them to suggested strength).  I like lightly flavored water, so I dilute mine to half the original, which means only about 3-5 calories per serving.  They even have ones now that have added vitamins and fiber.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Breakfast Banana Bread

   One slice of this and you'll be ready to go until lunch!  Enough carbs to jump start your day but enough fiber and protein to make that energy last.  This bread is loaded with good-for-you stuff in a familiar banana bread package.  The inspiration for this was Publix's Bakery Breakfast Bread.  I don't know if you've had it but it is delicious: dense, nutty, and fruity.  My suspicions are that it is just empty, carby calories though.  While it is loaded with dried fruit, that doesn't mean it is nutritious.  Also, you can make this loaf, which is bigger, for a dollar less.  I used a lot of different stuff in my bread, because we just had the stuff in the house, but feel free to use whatever stuff you like!  Even sweet roasted nuts; I used vanilla cinnamon almonds (because... that is what we had)!

   You may not know this but most dried fruits have been completely stripped of their nutrients and vitamins in the drying process.  Some retain their good-stuff better though and some companies are more conscious of their products.  Read the labels of dried fruit to find out which ones have vitamins.  Mango and apricots reserve their nutrients best.  Cherries, blueberries, cranberries and raisins vary greatly by brand.  You may also want to check out the bulk isle for specialty dried fruits like Turkish apricots which are sweet and tangy and loaded with vitamin C.
Breakfast Banana Bread 
3 bananas, over-ripe
2/3 C unsweetened applesauce
1/2 C brown sugar
2 eggs (or equivalent of egg substitute)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

1/8 tsp salt
1/3 C dried (Turkish) apricots, chopped
1/4 C dried cranberries
1/4 C golden raisins
1/4 C almonds, chopped
1/4 C walnuts, chopped
1 C all purpose flour
1 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
light cooking spray

   In a bowl mash bananas but not until completely smooth.
   Add applesauce, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Work in eggs ones at a time.  Fold in all nuts and fruit.  Add all purpose flour and baking powder.  Mix until it is about half incorporated.  Add whole wheat flour.  Gently but thoroughly mix.
   Lightly spray a 9x5x3.  Pour in batter.  Level out.
   Bake at 350 deg F for 50-55 minutes.  Until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
   Serve with a light smear of light cream cheese or light butter spread.
   12 slices (servings)
Total Ingredient Costjust under $3.00
Per ServingCalories 194, Fat 4g, Carb 36g, Fiber 4g, Protein 4.5g
Daily ValuesVit A 2.5%, Vit C 7%, Potassium 4%, Calcium 1%, B6 5.5%, Iron 5.5%, Thiamine 6%, Niacin 7%, Riboflavin 5%, Folate 7%

Monday, January 3, 2011

Beef Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce

   I seriously debated about whether or not to post this.  Stir fry is really easy, but it is all about timing.  If you don't have everything planned out and added at just the correct time, your whole meal can be thrown off.  For example, I first started making stir fry when I was about 14, my onions would be mushy and my broccoli would be too crunchy.  It's a delicate process of timing and perfecting.  But once you master your own timing, it is great!  Stir fry is the best way to use the last bit of veggies left in your fridge.  I made stir fry at least once a week for 7 months because my husband craves it more than I do.  We usually had it the day before grocery shopping to clean out our refrigerator.

   Cleaning out is exactly what we did last night.  We had left over beef tenderloin from the holidays and like one zucchini, one stalk of broccoli, etc.  I don't expect you to use beef tenderloin in your stir fry because normally it is $15/lb.  Flank steak and any cut of sirloin will work just as well in this and be considerably cheaper without increasing fat or calories.  You can also use chicken or shrimp if you would like.  Literally, whatever you want to put in this. 

   Don't freak when you see the calorie count, fat, carbs, etc.  Remember this is an entire meal which is packed with good protein, fiber, and vitamins!  When you take that into consideration everything is extremely reasonable.  I do suggest using reduced fat peanut butter, though.  We just couldn't find the brand I like the last time I was at the store.  And obviously, if you use chicken, shrimp, or no meat the meal will have less fat and calories, but also less protein.  A lime wedge and sprinkle of Skillin's Roasted Peanuts sent to me by my lovely friend over at 87Life perfectly finished this dish!
Beef Stir Fry with Peanut Sauce
1/4 C smooth peanut butter
2 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp mirin (optional)
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp sriracha (more or less to taste)
1/2 tsp lemon grass puree (optional)
zest of 1/4 lime
juice of 1/2 lime
2/3-3/4 C reserved pasta water

1/2 lb whole wheat (or whole grain) pasta (cooked in lightly salted water)
1/2 lb lean beef, sliced into very thin strips
1/9 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
a couple grinds black pepper
~1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 zucchini, sliced into half rounds
1 yellow squash, sliced into half rounds
1 medium stalk of broccoli, broken down into florets
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
4 oz crimini mushrooms, sliced

   Combine sauce ingredients together (minus pasta water).
   Toss beef in salt, pepper, and baking soda (which helps tenderize the meat).
   Heat a little bit of oil over medium/med-high heat.  Sear beef very quickly, not cooking all the way through, and remove from pan.  Toss in onions and carrots.  Saute for about 2 minutes.  Add broccoli.  Cook for another 2 minutes.  Add squashes, mushrooms, and beef.  Cook for about 3 minutes.
   Pasta should be cooking while vegetables are cooking.  Before draining the pasta, add 1/2 C of the water to the beef and vegetables and reserve another 1/4 C.  Add peanut sauce to pan and stir.  If it seems globby, add a little more of the reserved water.  Toss in pasta.
   Serves 4.
Per Serving:  Calories 415, Fat 12g, Total Carb 59 g, Fiber 12g, Protein 30g
Daily ValuesVit A 127%, Vit C 75%, Calcium 6.5%, Iron 16%
Total Ingredient Cost$8.80  This can obviously be brought down by using a less expensive meat.  We used 1/2 lb of beef tenderloin that was purchased at $9.99/lb (sale).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Tips for Smart Grocery Shopping

   People have always told me that me that it is exceedingly more expensive to buy healthy food than it is to buy the frozen or pre-packaged meals that are loaded with saturated fat, unneccessary sugar, and an astronomical calorie count.  I absolutely refuse to believe this.  Why?  Proof.  I am used to feeding a very large Marine who requires a minimum of 3000 calories a day just to function (on the days he doesn't have a serious workout.) 

A normal day in my husband's food:
  1. two large bowls of cereal for breakfast
  2. a package of cracker sandwiches and a banana for mid-morning snack
  3. a loaded sandwich (sometimes 2), Sunchips, fruit salad (that I force him to take), and a v8 for lunch
  4. almonds and yogurt for afternoon snack
  5. 2 regular sized servings of whatever I make for dinner
  6. 3 cookies for dessert (I have to have them made... all the time.  Some batches, I don't even eat 1)
Needless to say, I was terrified of what our food bill was going to be.  I thought we would be spending $500+ a month just keeping up with his food intake.  I was wrong.  We purchased some packaged items, because we needed to, but we got the healthiest option.  Sunchips are better than potato chips, and whole grain crackers are better than club crackers.  Our grocery bill averaged about $350/month.  (Alcohol not included, but averaged probably $50/month)  We didn't go out to eat often.  I cooked almost every night, threw very little food away, and we did not have the same boring thing every night.

   I took our neighbors (in NC) to the grocery store a couple times  and was amazed by their cart.  It was loaded with sugary cereals, frozen pizzas, chips, snack cakes, and pre-made frozen meals like pot pies.  It was enough food for 2 weeks and their final tally was over $250.  That didn't include beer and cigarettes.  Shocked doesn't even begin to describe the red and brown cart before me.  The only color came from packages and the only items from the produce section were bananas and a lonely head of iceberg lettuce.  (I found out that he also bought his lunch on base everyday, so who knows how much that was.)

   It occured to me that it may be slightly cheaper to purchase frozen meals, but the people who do that probably are not satisfied with the food they eat so they load up on the chips and cookies in a vain attempt to shove nutritional satisfaction down their gullets.  It is a nutritionally-deprived cycle:  buy cheap food, eat, not satisfied, eat more cheap food, run out, buy more..... 

   When you have a plan and a goal, shopping healthy is not hard or expensive.  It may take a little more time to plan out, but it is worth it in the end.  These are my favorite, simple tips to keep the wallet and belt in check:
  1. Plan your meals out for the week.  This eliminates food waste.  If you know you are going to use half a bell pepper in one thing, you can plan to use it in another dish.
  2. Make a list and stick to it!  Deceivingly simple, but so helpful.  I have a tendency to see new veggies or fruit and want to buy them when I have no plans for them.  That is when stuff gets thrown out and money is wasted.  
  3. If are tempted by certain items, like chips and candy, just don't go down the aisle.  This in combination with the list eliminates junk food in the house and therefore helps control mindless snacking.
  4. Stock up on sale meat and cans.  Lean proteins can be pricey.  Buy on sale and freeze.  Cans won't go bad so buy a few more of the items you know you frequently use.
  5. Store value cards, store brands, and sales.  I have four store value cards on my key chain.  Its ridiculous but they can save you a lot of money because rewards members often get much better sale prices.  (And most of them are free!)  Shopping on sale is always smart.  Many people do it with clothes but forget to do it with food.  And store brands are often names brands that are packaged differently; especially when it comes to canned goods and frozen vegetables.
  6. Shop once a week.  Most fresh things will last an entire week (bananas, broccoli, apples, squash...) but aren't going to make it to the end of two weeks.  Once a week shopping allows you to be more focused on the immediate future and will help prevent the throwing away of precious produce.
  7. Shop one store.  When you get used to one store, you know what and when things usually go on sale.  Two grocery store also works as long as you get used to it.  Shopping all over the place and not having a steady schedule usually ends up costing more. (Unless you are the crazy person pouring over all of the grocery circulars looking for the best price... My dad is this person.)
  8. READ LABELS!!!  You might be shocked by some of your normal go-to items.  Stay away from goods with high DVs of sodium, processed sugars, and saturated fat.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Food

"People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really
should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas."

   I have only had one New Year's resolution in my life.  In third grade, I promised myself I would stop biting my nails.  I accomplished that task and felt like I never needed another New Year's resolution.  This may not count as a resolution, but as I have told you, I am making January all about healthy eating.  Normally I do eat really healthy because that is the way I was taught to cook and eat.  My mother never soaked a pan in oil or butter; she always used the freshest, least processed items available; and made sure that every meal was a balance of protein, veg, and carb.

   October through December tend to be a rather unhealthy--or at least less healthy--time for most people.  I am no exception.  Lots of amazing food (and sugar) was enjoyed, but I have started to feel the burden of those meals.  I am not even talking about weight, that has nothing to do with it.  But I notice myself starting to feel a little sluggish, and that is not a good feeling.  Already, I feel my spirits and energy lifting because there are no huge, heavy meals in my immediate future.

   Losing weight is always a popular New Year's resolution.  Or maybe your resolution is simply to eat better and healthier.  Those resolution usually fall apart around mid-February when the red and pink candy boxes start rolling in.  Six weeks is also about how long it takes most people to get bored of a diet.  I am not proposing a diet plan here.  Nothing like that.  I am just talking about simple tips, tricks, and recipes that are easy to follow if you are committed.  A simple shift in the way you think about food and cooking is all it takes.  The South Beach Diet and Weight Watchers do the same thing of making you conscious about what you put into your body and how much, but you don't have to pay to read my blog!

   Tell yourself you can do it, because you can!  Throw away the left over Christmas cookies (they've probably been sitting on your counter for too long anyway.)  Say goodbye to butter laden meals and cream drenched dishes.  Vow not to frequent the drive-thrus.  And rest assured that you won't have to eat Lean Cuisines for dinner.