Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicken Chop Suey

I have no intention of turning this blog into a food/calorie journal, but I must confess, I ate very well last week. I put some old habits back into practice and found that getting back to eating healthy really is mostly about finding a good routine! The trick for me seems to be deciding what I'm going to eat for the whole day (including snacks) before I even put anything in my mouth... so that way if I'm tempted to eat, say, one of those cookies sitting in the break room, I already know that my calories are spent and I have other tasty, healthier options waiting for me at their pre-scheduled time. It's not the most terribly fulfilling way to eat, but it is better for health as well as my waistline. And most importantly... it's what works for me. :)

Well, after that wonderfully empowering week of healthy eating, I opted to let loose a little on Saturday when I spent the evening with my sister. We went to one of my favorite restaurants back home - which no restaurant in my new hometown has yet to compare to - and I guiltlessly enjoyed a deep-fried egg roll with my usual fried rice and pork chow mein. It really was a satisfying treat, especially since I don't get to eat them very often. And I probably could have gotten away with one gluttonous meal for the weekend... if I hadn't promptly come home on Sunday and eaten way too many of the delicious, cream cheese-laden taquitos I made for lunch, haha. Then, in an unfortunate turn of events, I stopped at McDonald's for dinner on my way in between hospitals during my evening shift, knowing that I wouldn't have time to stop at the hospital cafeteria before having to get report. Tisk, tisk. This, my friends, is precisely the kind of situation I usually avoid with a little pre-planning. Oh well.

So, I figured that after a weekend of pure pigging out, it was time to jump back on the healthy-eating bandwagon. My food planner is all nice and filled out for the week, complete with perfectly-portioned meals and well-balanced snacks, to set myself up for success. And this meal I share with you was the perfect way to get my week of healthy eating off to a good start.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Linguine with Creamy Red Pepper Sauce

People who swear off carbs are crazy. :)

It's a well-known fact... I love pasta. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm secretly Italian, nevermind what my family tree actually says, haha. So the thought of giving up pasta to lose weight... well, that's beyond unimaginable. Not to be dramatic, but if being skinny means giving up pasta, I don't want to be skinny. Lucky for me, it seems that Ellie Krieger agrees. There are 15 different pasta recipes in her book! probably doesn't surprise anyone that the two recipes I've tried so far have both been out of this category. :)

The sauce for this recipe is simply delightful. It's amazing how creamy it is considering that it doesn't actually contain any cream! The roasted red pepper flavor just sings, and the feta is a surprising accent. As a dedicated omnivore I wondered if I'd miss having meat on my plate, but I added a little spinach to for an extra dose of veggies and found that the portion of pasta was more than enough. I'm definitely looking forward to making this again!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Pasta with Kale, White Beans, and Turkey Sausage

I don't believe in "dieting."

Don't get me wrong... I've been on my fair share of diets before, and all of them seemed to be very effective while I was on them.

But that's the thing - who can stick to a crazy restrictive diet? Not this food-lover, for sure. Inevitably we all fall off the bandwagon and go back to our old eating habits and wind up weighing the same if not more than we did before we started the stupid diet.

I do, on the other hand, believe in eating well.

Yes, I'd like to be skinny for my wedding, but I'm not going to crash-diet to do it. I'm ready to find a way of eating that provides a healthy balance of nourishment and pleasure. I, like most of us, already know what kinds of foods I should be eating - more veggies, fruits, and whole grains, and less of the fatty and sugary stuff. Lucky for me, I actually really like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and I'd love to find ways to incorporate more of these into my meals. Most research indicates that preparing meals at home is the healthiest way to eat too, and I'm already doing that. So... I already know how to eat healthier. I already know how to cook. All I need is someone to show me how to cook healthier.

Why hello, Ellie. :)

I've been a fan of Ellie Krieger for a while. I love her food network show, and I love the fact that she's a registered dietitian. But what I love most about her is her holistic approach to eating. It's not about counting calories or banning certain foods with Ellie - it's about eating real food that is as enjoyable as it is nutritious. Basically - it's about eating the way we were intended to eat.

So, when Dane bought me her cookbook (The Food You Crave) for Valentine's Day, I was very, very excited. So much so that I sat down to bookmark the recipes I wanted to try...

...and wound up bookmarking almost the entire book. :)

This pasta recipe is one of the first I've tried out of this cookbook, and it lived up to every expectation I had. I had to make a few changes based on what I could find at my grocery store, but it still turned out every bit as delicious as I had hoped! I couldn't find Italian chicken sausage or escarole like the recipe called for... so I substituted low-fat turkey breakfast sausage with just a touch of Italian seasoning, and kale instead. I was a little wary at first that 6 ounces of sausage might not be enough meat for four servings - especially the way my boy likes to eat - , but even such a small amount added so much flavor that I certainly didn't miss it. The combination of onion, garlic, sage, sausage, and chicken broth created this light little sauce that made this dish truly to die for. If this is how the whole book is, I can't wait to try more!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cinnamon Whole Wheat Pancakes

Sunday morning bacon is somewhat of a tradition in our household. Sunday mornings are often the only time that Dane and I get to spend together during the week, so I always try to make something special for breakfast when I can. I try to mix it up, with omelets and frittatas and the occasional breakfast burrito, but we both find that our favorite breakfasts usually involve bacon. I mean, what's not to love about bacon? Crispy and salty and savory, with that intoxicating odor that makes the house smell like breakfast for days... I'm pretty sure I could eat bacon at every meal for the rest of my life and not mind one bit (even though my arteries probably would).

It might be a little cliche, but pancakes and bacon seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. These pancakes go especially well with this cheap honey maple bacon that Dane and I are particularly fond of (it's not gourmet, but it sure is yummy!). I adapted this recipe from the one I grew up eating at home, which I loved as a kid. The original is a great standard recipe all by itself - light and fluffy with just a hint of sweetness, and relatively easy on the wallet since it consists primarily of household staple ingredients. (And it's so easy, I don't know why anyone would eat the processed stuff out of a box.) But as my tastes began to mature, I found myself craving a more "grown up" pancake. And I was pleasantly surprised by what I was able to accomplish with just a few simple tweaks... whole wheat flour adds nutritional value as well as a subtle nutty texture, and a hint of cinnamon and vanilla lend a savory-sweet flavor to the pancakes that make them perfect for topping with pecans and maple syrup. Of course, they're really perfect for topping with whatever you'd like... I enjoy them topped with fresh berries during the summer, spread with peanut butter and rolled up for breakfast on the go, or even sprinkled with chocolate chips if it's an extra special morning. :)

This pancake recipe is one of my favorite breakfasts to serve to overnight guests, and it always gets rave reviews. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Madeleines

What could possibly be more romantic than strawberries and chocolate? I mean c'mon... this combination just screams Valentine's Day.

It seems that my coworkers have grown a little accustomed to me bringing sweets in on the weekends I work, so I promised something extra special for this weekend since V-Day is on Monday. And I just couldn't get the strawberries and chocolate idea out of my head! Strawberry cupcakes with chocolate frosting sounded nice at first, but a little overdone, I thought. Then one day, as I ate a buttery little madeleine cookie while at coffee with a friend, it hit me... chocolate-dipped strawberry madeleines! It would be like eating a chocolate-dipped strawberry - small, delicate, and strawberry sweet with luscious chocolate - only in cake/cookie form!

I searched and searched for such a recipe, but eventually resigned myself to the idea that I'd have to create my own... a little scary for me at this point, with my very novice baking skills. But I must admit, they didn't turn out half bad! I chose to use real frozen strawberries to flavor the madeleines rather than jello powder, as I really prefer unprocessed, non-chemical ingredients in my food. (I also took a little inspiration from this strawberry cake recipe from Courtney at Cook Like a Champion.) Worried about the moisture content of these little cakes, I opted to chop the strawberries into small pieces rather than puree them for my first attempt, but I wound up adding the drained juices for extra strawberry flavor anyway so I think pureeing next time might still be successful. Three other things I learned from this little experiment of mine: 1) Add more food coloring next time. The batter was a nice bright pink before baking, but (as you can see) they faded by the time I took them out of the oven. 2) Don't overfill the madeleine pans. They spread and rise as they bake, so one cookie scoop is plenty. Tapping the pan gently on the counter after filling also helps the batter to spread out evenly. and 3) Don't overbake! While they still taste almost as good, they quickly go from a nice golden color to brown with just a minute or two's alteration. Overall I think this is a recipe I think I'll keep playing with... they still turned out pretty scrumptious, but I do think there is some room for improvement.

Here is the recipe, as made this weekend.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Corn Bread Muffins

What a game this weekend, eh? I didn't really have my heart set on either team winning this year's super bowl - my fall schedule kept me too busy to keep up with football this season. But no matter which team you were rooting for you've gotta admit, it was an entertaining game at least!

I know it's a little late to be posting a game-worthy recipe... the super bowl (and football season) is over, afterall. But, still, I can't quit thinking about that delicious chili my girlfriend Dawn made for game day, and how well these little corn bread muffins went with it.

This recipe is sooo worth making more than just once a year. These savory little muffins are perfect for serving with chili or stew or soup... or anything, for that matter! I'll be the first to admit they are a bit dry, but I think that's what makes them go so well with any bowl of steaming broth. And with just a hint of sugar, this corn bread recipe can easily become a sweet breakfast or dessert... top with a little butter and honey or maple syrup, and enjoy!

Normally, if I'm baking for just Dane and I, I pour all of the batter into a greased pie plate and eat it in pie-like slices, but I find that muffins are perfect for gatherings since everyone can just grab one or two without having to worry about slicing it. One batch makes about 10-12 muffins, depending on how much batter you use for each, so I usually double the recipe if I'm planning to take them somewhere. No one wants to run out, after all!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Not-Diet Brownies

I know, I know... I'm supposed to be eating healthier and lighter these days, since I need to make sure I fit into that wedding dress in August. But over the years I've learned one thing about myself and sweets - if I'm really craving something specific, and especially if it's chocolate, I might as well just eat it. I know all the little low calorie tricks in the book about how to curb a chocolate craving... 60-calorie pudding cups, a cup of diet hot chocolate, a teensie-weensie handful of chocolate chips... trust me, I've tried them all. But if I'm craving a brownie or a candy bar or a piece of cake - and if, heaven for bid, it's already in the house - no amount of 60-calorie pudding is going to satisfy me... after I've eaten all six cups in the pack I usually still wind up eating the thing I was craving in the first place. Might as well just eat what I want and enjoy it! ...and then make sure I'm a super good girl for the rest of the week. :)

Well, these brownies are a product of such cravings.

I don't know what was going on, but a couple of weeks ago all the food bloggers I read were making something with chocolate. Annalise at And Now for Something Completely Delicious posted this sinful looking recipe about Brownie Chunk Cheesecake... and then there was this Almond Joy Cheesecake from The Curvy Carrot... and then the Giant Double Chocolate Cookies from Annie of Annie's Eats... it looked like chocolate cravings were going around like the flu! The more decadent pictures I saw the more I wanted needed chocolate. And my coworkers kept asking me when I was going to bring goodies in again... seems those cookies I brought in over Christmas were quite the hit... I caved. I'd like to say that I made these wonderful, fudgy brownies for my coworkers, but they were really for me. And I intended to only eat one, but that little glass of milk, sitting there still half-full after my first one, was just begging for one more. Wedding diet approved? No. Totally worth it? Oooh yes.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cashew Chicken

Just about everyone knows that when you're trying to eat healthy, stir fry is a good way to go. Minimal amount of oil, healthy veggies, rice... I mean c'mon, does it get healthier than that? But, unfortunately, no one is going to get excited about a bland bowl of vegetables and rice, so a flavorful sauce is a must. And that sauce is just one of the many reasons I love this dish.

I found this recipe through Eat Better America, on a free calender they sent me last year. Its arrival came at the perfect time because I was really getting tired of my own beginner's version of stir fry sauce, which sadly consisted of nothing more than chicken broth, corn starch, and way too much soy sauce. Having never used rice vinegar before, I remember being apprehensive about trying this dish... but the rice vinegar turned out to be my favorite part of the sauce! Combined with the small amount of sugar, it creates a wonderful little sweet-and-sour effect that is quite addicting. These days I find myself looking for new ways to use rice vinegar, so please feel free to share if you have any ideas!

With the spring semester now in full swing, fast meals that reheat well are also a must. I'm happy to say that this dish only takes about half an hour from start to finish, including prep work... in fact, if you use brown rice, the rice may take the longer to cook than the stir fry itself! But time rewards those who plan ahead, so feel free to use leftover rice or cook it the day before (chances are it will soak up more of the sauce too, hehe). Plus, this recipe is a great, healthier way to curb that Asian food craving, in about the same time it would take the delivery boy to show up from that greasy take out restaurant across town.

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