Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Overnight Apple Butter and Whole Wheat Bread

Pretty sure everyone knows about my obsession with making jam (got old fruit? make jam).  I'm always buying more fruit than I can consume.  Grapes go soft, bananas turn freckly and brown, apples get mealy.  Ew.  But tossing it out would be like throwing money down the drain!  All that fruit is still good for purposes of cooking down into delicious preserves!  I usually end up with a collection of old bananas that I'll peel and freeze until I have enough saved up to make a small batch of preserves.

Since I stay away from refined sugar I usually make my jams naturally sweetened.  In the case of my banana jam, no added sugar is even needed - the fruit is already sweet enough, especially once you cook it down :)  Same with this apple butter recipe, adapted from here.  My last preserves came from an ancient, frozen 10-ounce bag of Trader Joe's mixed berries that got cooked down in a pot with a little added sucanat to counter the tartness.  Keep in mind that the end result is usually barely just enough to fill a teeny 4 ounce mason jar, but it's perfect for spreading on toast or even mixing into your morning oatmeal :)

I will say this apple butter couldn't really have been easier!  What follows barely qualifies as a recipe...

4 apples, any variety, cored and cut into eighths (I used Granny Smiths, unpeeled)
A very generous sprinkling of cinnamon

Place the apples and cinnamon in a slow cooker, set to low, and cover.

After about four hours, apples will be mush.  Stir to break up and then leave lid slightly ajar, allowing steam to escape and fruit to reduce, for about one hour.

After one hour stir, replace lid and adjust setting to warm.  Allow to set up overnight if more caramelization is desired.

Mmmmm... butter.

We're still experimenting with baking whole wheat bread, but this is the best we've made so far!  Since I refuse to get into anything too labor-intensive, this recipe was perfect for us.  (The hardest part is setting aside 12-18 hours to let it proof.)  I recently picked up some white whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flours to play around with as well, so hopefully they'll be more experiments to come...

For the recipe to the delicious bread pictured above, head to Jo Cooks here

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Zucchini Lasagna for Two

Have lasagna any time!  Next time you prepare spaghetti sauce, make a double batch and freeze the leftovers to make this easy, noodle-free lasagna any night of the week.


4 cups prepared bolognese or marinara sauce (here is a basic one you can modify)
1 medium zucchini, washed and unpeeled
2 cups cottage cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
Salt and pepper, to taste

Using a mandoline slicer on the thinnest setting, slice the zucchini into thin rounds. Sprinkle rounds liberally with salt and set aside for ten minutes, then pat dry with a paper towel.

In the meantime, transfer the cottage cheese to the bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle with pepper and blend until smooth.

In the bottom of a small loaf pan, spread one fifth of the tomato sauce. Top with one quarter of the zucchini slices. Next spread over one quarter of the cottage cheese mixture. Sprinkle with one quarter of the mozzarella, then repeat layers beginning again with sauce.

Continue until ingredients run out or pan is full. Finish with the remaining mozzarella and sprinkle with Parmesan. Cook at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then broil for 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese.

Let stand for at least ten minutes before slicing and serving. Enjoy!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Shrimp & Sofrito

An easy, low-calorie, fresh and filling recipe for winter!

3 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
1 poblano pepper
1 white onion
4 cloves garlic
1 pound tomatoes, any kind, fresh or frozen
1/2 a jalapeño
Dried chiles, optional
One lime, divided in half
3/4 pound fresh or frozen shrimp

Blend all ingredients up to jalapeños in a food processor.

In a large pot, drizzle a small amount of olive oil over high heat. Add the sofrito blend and sauté, until sauce reduces. Add chiles if desired for more heat. Season with salt.

When sauce has reduced to desired consistency, turn down the heat and add the shrimp. Cook until shrimp is just cooked/thawed. Squeeze in half the lime juice.

Garnish with chopped bell pepper, jalapeño, the remaining lime, and enjoy!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

No Mayo Bacon Cheddar Deviled Eggs

If you love deviled eggs but try to avoid store-bought mayo like I do, here is a recipe that is good enough to eat for breakfast! Perfect for brunches or the holidays.

10 hard boiled eggs
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
6 tablespoons salted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch cayenne, to taste
Pinch ground mustard, optional
Paprika, to garnish

Slice eggs in half and scoop out yolks into the bowl of a food processor.

Combine remaining ingredients except cheese with yolks and blend until mostly smooth. Season to taste, then add cheese and blend until just combined. Transfer filling to a large plastic bag. Snip off one corner and pipe filling into egg whites. Sprinkle with paprika and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fast Fritattas

Hello!  Last night was one of those nights - I needed a quick protein-based dinner I could whip up before running out to do some grocery shopping.  But we were out of meat!  What's a girl to do?  I had a big zucchini in the fridge, but no protein to round out a meal.  Luckily we had a full pack of eggs in the fridge to make this quick and easy fritatta!  We also keep bacon on hand for just these types of occasions (since we don't eat it that often, Dave wraps it up into packs of four strips, puts them in the freezer, and they defrost easily anytime he wants a little breakfast pig).  If you chop while you fry, everything is ready in about 30 minutes, plus 15 minutes to wash the dishes before you eat :)  For this veggie fritatta, I intended to include a tomato I had laying around, but the whole onion and zucchini were enough to fill the pan.  For some added color, you could use just half the onion and a smaller zucchini, and throw in a sweet red bell pepper or small chopped tomato.  Spinach, kale or any other quick-cooking veggie would work in place of the zucchini :)

A few days later I made another quickie frittata using anything I could find in the fridge: a few chopped scallions, some handfuls of spinach, the rest of a pack of smoked salmon... It was delish!  The combinations are endless :)  Find the variations for that recipe at the bottom.  Enjoy!

Veggie Fritatta

2 slices of bacon, chopped (or four, if you want more bacon flavor and don't mind the calories)
1 medium onion, diced
1 large zucchini, chopped
4 ounces feta cheese, diced or crumbled
8 eggs, beaten
1 tsp turmeric (optional, but it's totally good for you!)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a 10-inch saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat (it has to have a metal, oven-safe, non-plastic handle).  Preheat oven to 375.

Chop the bacon and add to the pan, stirring from time to time until slightly browned.

While bacon cooks, dice the onion, then add to the pan.  If the pan looks dry add a couple tablespoons of white wine.  Season with salt, stirring frequently, until wine evaporates.

While onion cooks, chop the zucchini, drop it in a colander and sprinkle with salt.  Toss to coat.  (Skip this step if you prefer, or do it at the beginning to give the zucchini more time to sweat.)  When onions are soft, drain the zucchini on a paper towel, dabbing any excess moisture before adding to the pan.  Season with pepper and turmeric, stirring frequently.

While zucchini cooks, crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk vigorously.  Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Chop or crumble the feta.  When zucchini is cooked, scrape any vegetables from the sides of the pan so there is an even bed of cooked vegetables.  Sprinkle the feta cheese evenly over the top of the vegetables, then pour the eggs directly into the pan.  Tip the pan so that the eggs distribute evenly.

Allow eggs to cook undisturbed for a few minutes until the edges are solid.  Move the pan to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, until eggs are set and don't jiggle when you shake the pan.

That pan took forever to clean.

Using a rubber spatula, gently separate the fritatta from the sides and bottom of the pan.  Use a knife to cut into four servings.  Serve with a green salad or wine.

Estimated nutritional info per serving:
288 calories, 20 g protein, 19 g fat, 10 g carbs

Double the nutritional information if you accidentally eat two of these, like my husband did.

Spinach and Salmon Frittata

2 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 scallions, chopped
4 cups fresh spinach or (10 oz frozen, thawed)
8 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
8 eggs, beaten
Pepper to taste (the smoked salmon and feta are already very salty)

Preheat oven to 375.

In the ovenproof saute pan heat the oil over medium.  Add the scallions and saute for a few seconds before adding the spinach.  Cook until it wilts, making an even layer of spinach around the pan.  Drop the smoked salmon into the pan, distributing the pieces evenly.  Do the same with the cheese.  Season with pepper to taste and pour the eggs into the pan, tipping the pan if needed to make an even layer.

Allow eggs to cook undisturbed for a few minutes until the edges are solid.  Move the pan to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, until eggs are set and don't jiggle when you shake the pan.

Slice and serve!

Estimated nutritional info per serving:
400 calories, 31 g protein, 30 g fat, 4 g carbs

Leggo my eggo

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart

So beans are like my least fave thing.  I can seriously never get excited to eat them or find a way to work them into my diet despite all their nutritional benefits (low fat source of protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, magnesium...).  But!  I think I have found a new way for me to finally get them in my life: the bean dip.

Now I'm not talking about 7 layers or a can of refried beans topped with melted cheese.  What good would that stuff be when you can't eat the tortilla chips??  I started with the inspiration of hummus (kinda blah) and took it to the next level.  Or maybe it was Giada who put the idea in my head.  Either way, I'm talking about a super smooth creamy dip that you would never even know was made outta beans!

I've made hummus a million times and followed every trick in the book to get it super smooth (whip the tahini first, painstakingly remove the bean skins...) but it's never as good as what I'm hoping for.  THAT IS until I blended it all up in my Nutribullet!  (How did I live before I had this thing?)  I usually need a little extra liquid to get it going since the bullet is designed for smoothies.  Throw almost anything in there and the Nutribullet grinds it down to a smooth paste and then whips it into a fluffy spread.  Chick pea skins included!

However, you really can't beat buttery cannellini beans.  If you aren't a chickpea fan either, next time grab a can of the white beans and you will be amazed at how luscious beans can really taste.  A few baby carrots and some bean dip is a perfect snack for me between lunch and dinner.  The options are endless!  Start with one can of cannellini beans and add:

a few tablespoons lemon juice, a clove or two of garlic, and cilantro (this has been my go-to use for leftover cilantro);
some roasted red pepper strips, smoked paprika and a few walnuts;
sun dried tomatoes and a handful of basil leaves;
some kalamata olives and a sprinkle of feta cheese;
a scoop of kale pesto!

After dinner I often find myself looking for one more little thing to snack on.  Often it's a scoop of peanut butter and a glass of milk, or maybe a few bites of goat cheese with a drizzle of honey.  But I think I am onto something with this bean kick - last night I blended up a can of black beans to make a yummy chocolate mousse that I think would be perfect on toast, some banana or apple slices (or a spoon).  You could take this same recipe and substitute white beans and vanilla extract, cinnamon, bananas, dates, honey, blueberries, peanut butter, melted white chocolate, you name it!

Who would have ever thought of beans for dessert?!  Enjoy!

1 can low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed until water runs clear
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons milk (if needed to blend)

Blend all ingredients in a Nutribullet or other blender until smooth!

Not poop.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Banana Jam

This is a little something I came up with to use up a bunch of freckly old bananas.  Normally I'd make a couple loaves of banana bread, but they take a long time to get rid of when you're low-carb!  (Well, that is unless I bring them into the office.)  Plus my hubby is always making these super healthy whole wheat loaves of bread on the weekends, and when you smear a slice of bread with this banana jam... well, this stuff smeared on anything would make it taste like banana bread :)

The idea for this recipe came from my Bananas Foster recipe from the New Orleans School of Cooking.  Enjoy!

6-7 bananas, overripe and freckly or brown, peeled and mashed
1 oz dark rum
ground cinnamon

Add the mashed bananas to a saucepan and heat over medium low, stirring.  Continue stirring until fruit reduces and becomes caramelized, about 15-20 minutes.  When the bananas look brown and mostly dry, they are done.

Remove pan from heat.  Add the rum to the pan and light a long match to ignite the rum.  Sprinkle the cinnamon into the flames.

When flame dies out, stir mixture together.  Taste for sweetness.  (Carefully!  It's very hot.)  Serve immediately or store in a glass jar for several weeks.

That's my jam!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Workout Challenge, Calorie Counting and Meal Plans, oh my!

Wow!  It's been a five-month hiatus.  But with good reason.

Every year around February I start working on my summer bikini bod :) and my gourmet cooking game always takes a hit.  Fresh and healthy foods in, fatty foods and carbs out.  It's been a struggle this year.  I'm 35 now, and every year dropping weight gets harder and harder.  Not that it was easy last year, but knowing that I was slimming down "for the wedding" gave me a fantastic end goal to motivate me.  I intended to keep up the same eating plan post-wedding, but a few indulgences were necessary... and then, I kinda fell off the wagon.  This year I am back on my plan and intend to stay on it.  I read a great article here, and it helped me realize that my diet and exercise goals haven't been realistic.  Every year my goal is to lose "enough weight" so that once I'm "thin enough" I can eat "regular" food again.  This year I realized I will never be able to eat "regular"... I have to find an eating plan that actually works for me, and stick to it forever.  As sad as that sounds, it's actually a little liberating!  Instead of deny, deny, denying myself everything with an end goal in sight, there is no more end goal.  The goal is to feel good and eat healthy everyday.  And if I decide to eat something right now that's not technically on my meal plan?  I'll have it, and then I'll get back on track after.  I try to always listen to my body, and if my body is telling me it needs something sweet or something fattening, I try to find foods in my plan that help me respond to those urges.  But having a meal plan also means that I don't deviate from it (even if someone brings pie in to the office).  I think anyone who has suffered from disordered eating and binge eating like I have can hopefully identify with this.  For me, it's about the slippery slope - a mindset of, "Well, I just had an entire gyro, and I feel really full and guilty about eating it now, so I might as well have those french fries now and then I just won't eat anything tomorrow and I'll work out really hard."  If I have a setback I try to remember that I'm human and it's not the end of the world, and it's not an opening to "let myself go" and binge.  I also log it, along with my other meals, so I can keep myself accountable and figure out what's working for me and what's NOT.

But anyway.  In November, a month after our wedding, I picked up a little weekend job pouring wines at a tasting room.  It's hard not to obsess about wine when you're around it all day!  I was definitely enjoying increasing my knowledge of wine, and accentuating that knowledge was increased consumption :)  My biggest source of excess calories is wine, so in February I decided to kick things off with a detox - the day after Valentine's until the day before St. Patricks, to be exact.  (See how I made sure I wouldn't be missing out on any holiday drinking...?)  After a week without booze I went into some serious withdrawals (and my sugar uptake spiked in response).  After a couple weeks I was fine, and actually felt like the whole exercise was sort of stupid and pointless.  After a month I gave it up, and was glad that at least now I can say the benefits of giving up alcohol are: there are no benefits.  Haha :)  I did at least manage two things: one, I broke myself of my nightly "cooking with wine" habit!  ("Cooking with wine" for me usually means consuming half a bottle by the time dinner is served.)  And two, I discovered there are other things to drink out there: tea, kombucha, club soda, water!!?  Seriously - after 35 years of hating water and refusing to drink it until absolutely necessary (despite all the health benefits of consuming mass quantities of it), I now drink two liters per day.  Which is a pretty big feat in itself!  I still love wine, but I try to limit myself to either having it on weekends only, or a very small glass with dinner occasionally.

So what was all this detoxing, clean-eating, water-flushing doing for my waistline?  Not much.  About a month ago I was disappointed to realize that I was behind where I was this time one year ago - thanks sooooo much to the Timehop app for putting that in perspective :-/  So, I decided to challenge myself to amp up my workouts.  I realized I wasn't actually pushing myself hard enough.  I started my June Workout Challenge by making myself a workout plan for the week, with scheduled days to lift, days to rest, and days for hardcore cardio.  I got off to a great start, up at 5:45am everyday to hit the gym, absolutely killing it!  But by week 2 I started faltering - I could barely get out of bed in the morning before work everyday, and missed a few days of exercise because I felt like I could barely stay awake.  The problem?  I had cut all the freaking carbs out of my diet!!  I had amped up my protein intake to three servings a day, including a large serving of fish for lunch daily (did anyone else feel inspired by The Rock's supposed diet?!)  But without really paying attention, I had squeezed that extra protein in by eliminating all the grains and bread from my diet.  So on Wednesday I went out and had an enormous farro salad from Mother :)  And the following day I felt better, and by 6am Friday I was feeling so incredibly AMPED that my body was screaming to get to the gym.

In case you are curious, my meal plan includes fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and fish, and whole grains.  Since I work out in the morning, I try to always eat my carbs as early in the day as possible so I have the whole day to burn them off.  The end of the day is protein to keep me feeling full until bedtime.  I eat five to six small meals per day.  Last year on the wedding diet I managed to permanently wean myself off coffee, but I'm experimenting with having a single cup before my morning workout in lieu of meal one.  (I also loved this little article right here, which helped give me some new meal plan ideas.)  I do keep a log of my food intake daily using the Calorie Counter by FatSecret app.  It can be a little tedious, but it REALLY helps me monitor my portion control and to make sure that I'm still getting my fruits and veggies everyday... and not just eating peanut butter and Greek yogurt all day long :)

A pre-planned meal schedule is a new addition that has also really kept me on track so I can make sure that I have whatever I need on hand to keep my diet balanced.  Hard to get those servings of veggies everyday when I haven't been to the store and all I have at the office is macadamia nuts :(  We go to Costco and load up on salmon or tilapia, cook it all at once and then I have it ready to go everyday.  After I get home from the gym in the morning I make my breakfast, and while I eat I pack up my lunch and snacks for the day according to my scheduled plan and/or whatever I anticipate my dietary needs will be for the day (more protein when I lift, fewer calories on rest days, more grains in the days before monster workouts).  FatSecret also lets me log my exercise, so I have an idea how I'm doing in terms of my ratio of calories in to calories out.

Here is a sample of my meal plan for the week!  I generally use a small amount of maple syrup as my favorite sweetener in coffee and Greek yogurt.  I also use salt pretty liberally since I sweat quite a bit.

Monday (workout - one hour of cardio)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 3/4 cup quinoa w/sliced banana, milk and maple syrup
Snack: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Lunch: tilapia filet w/mango salsa
Snack: 12 strawberries, 10 macadamia nuts
Dinner: small serving chicken paprikash w/cauliflower rice (recipe forthcoming!)
Snack: 12 cherries
Estimated calories: 1724 consumed/2365 burned

Tuesday (one hour of weight training plus 30 minutes cardio)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Snack: 1 small slice of homemade wheat bread with 1 tablespoon all-natural peanut butter
Lunch: tilapia filet w/homemade red pepper aioli
Snack: 1 banana, baby carrots
Dinner: 1 serving vegetarian zucchini lasagna plus red wine
Snack: 4 cherries
Estimated calories: 2000 consumed/2488 burned

Wednesday (rest day)
Breakfast: 2 small slices homemade whole wheat bread, 1 tbs butter, 1 tbs peanut butter
Snack: banana
Lunch: small tilapia filet w/mango salsa
Snack: large salad with homemade balsamic dressing
Dinner: small serving chicken paprikash w/cauliflower rice
Snack: 5 cherries
Estimated calories: 1462 consumed/2035 burned

Thursday (one hour weight training)
Pre-workout: small cup of coffee w/half & half and maple syrup
Post-workout: 1 cup Greek yogurt w/maple syrup
Snack: 1/2 cup quinoa w/ 1/2 banana and maple syrup
Lunch: tilapia filet w/pesto and 1/2 cup quinoa
Snack: 5 cherries
Dinner: chicken w/zucchini noodles and sun-dried tomato cream sauce
Estimated calories: 1615 consumed/2168 burned 

Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are a little more flexible, since my workouts are usually longer and there are social events going on where food consumption is more unpredictable.  If I'm hanging out with friends, I always make an effort to bring something healthy to share, like vegetables and hummus or fruit, on the off-chance that there is nothing but chips available (but if there is cheese I'm all in).  If I have plans to head to a restaurant I'll try to eat light during the day, knowing most of my calories will probably be consumed over drinks and food later.

So that's what's been on the agenda lately!  I will admit this more regimented approach is time-consuming, but I'm hoping as it becomes the norm it will get simpler to keep up automatically.  I kind of like being so organized, and it's great always having my lunches pre-cooked and ready to go (not to mention cheaper than trying to eat out healthfully everyday)!  I'm also seeing some results, and just in time for the 4th!  Time to bust out last year's bikini!!

Bikini body circa 2014 - almost there!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Chicken Pasta with Spinach Sauce

2 thinly sliced chicken breasts or one, sliced lengthwise
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1-2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup white wine
6 oz baby spinach, or one huge handful
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, stems removed
6 oz goat cheese
2 cloves garlic
Zest of one lemon
1 oz creme fraiche, optional
1/2 box quinoa pasta

Boil water for pasta. Dice chicken into bite-sized pieces and slice grape tomatoes lengthwise. Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat.

To prepare sauce, chop the spinach and basil in a food processor. Add the goat cheese, garlic, lemon zest and creme fraiche if using. Blend until smooth.

While pasta is boiling, season chicken with the salt and pepper and cook chicken pieces until all pink is gone. Add grape tomatoes and wine to pan to deglaze and cook to reduce, until tomatoes have softened.

When pasta is al dente, add the goat cheese mixture to the pan with the chicken, tomatoes and wine and stir until smooth. Add the pasta and stir until evenly coated. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Green is good.