Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick Post: Appreciation

There's really not much better than when the person you care for states his enjoyment of a dish you've thrown together.  He really likes when I roast a chicken (I got another one at the Farmers Market this morning, so roast chicken is coming this week), and that's nothing fancy.  He likes when I do the salmon on papillotte, and that's just putting some stuff in tin foil and throwing it in my oven.

So two nights ago when I made another version of my Melting Pot Soup, and he told me that he really liked it, his praise put a smile on my face.  This time, in addition to the chicken feta spinach sausage, I used some whole wheat elbow macaroni instead of orzo, baby bok choy, celery, onions, carrots, dried oregano, dried basil, and some red pepper flakes. 

He loves it.  And it's really easy to make.  There's still a lot left, but it's going quick.

Caffeine Addiction

I like coffee.  But I don't typically drink coffee on a daily basis.  If I have a caffeinated beverage, it might be a Diet Coke or, if I'm going into work early, I'll treat myself to a latte.

But all of that changed when my boyfriend's mom and aunt got me a Keurig for Christmas.  It's the mini-version and you have to pour in the water one by one, but it is perfect.  And since I opened the box just a few days ago, I've had at least two cups of coffee each day.

While I hope things will settle down a bit once I'm back to work following the holidays, I do think in the short term this is going to save me some money.  Towards the end of this year, I was buying a latte pretty frequently.  This way, I can brew my own coffee before I leave for work, drink it on my way to work, and not feel the need to stop and buy something.

I'm finding that I'm drawn to the flavored varieties, which I don't know that I would have foreseen.  I suppose once I finish the K-cups that they gave to me with the brewer, I should settle down and get a box of normal every day coffee (lord only knows what those flavorings include).

My final concern is the environment.  I don't love the idea that these little pieces of plastic are filling up the landfills.  But I'm doing my best to offset it by opening up the top (after the coffee is made) and scooping out the used grounds to add to my compost.  (There will be a post in a bit about my little garden out back.)

So, all in all, I'm excited that I got this Keurig.  If I need to worry about caffeine withdrawals later on, so be it.

Some recipes of interest

Here are some recipes that I've come across recently.  I think they're all certainly do-able, and they look like they'd be pretty tasty.  I haven't tried any of them yet, but there's always 2012.

Chocolate Ganache Hazelnut Torte
First off, how can you go wrong with a pie that most likely tastes like Nutella?  And, this really does seem like it doesn't take a crazy amount of baking skills or practice.  Of course, I say that having not tried it yet.  But it's definitely going to be tried...maybe for Valentines?  I wonder - do they make a heart-shaped tart pan with a removable bottom?

Black-Eyed Pea Cakes with Jalapeno Sour Cream
For New Year's Day, there is a Southern tradition that you need to eat some black-eyed peas for good luck.  While I am a Yankee, I do have Southern heritage, so I can't really remember when my parents first told me about this tradition.  I only remember thinking that it was just something you do.  So, that's why I was thinking that I might bring this to the New Year's Eve party that I'm going to tonight.  And then I thought better about that.  Instead, I'll make some of these tomorrow for NYE brunch.  I think they'd be a good way to start off a new year.  I will, however, likely use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Steak with Cognac Sauce and Salad
This is one of Real Simple's recipes in their "A Month of Easy Dinners" collection.  While I'm disappointed that they go the route of frozen potatoes, I get that it's supposed to be easy, so hey.  Otherwise, I think this recipe could be a real winner.  Yes, it has blue cheese and heavy cream, but it's not much for a recipe that serves four.  I think the hard part (as per usual) would be sticking to sharing it with three people instead of just hording it for yourself.

Party Foods

I have a tendency to overdo it.  This is especially true when I am planning a party.  Apparently, it is also the case when I am GOING to a party at someone else's house.

And, for those of you who might be curious, I don't mean the kind of overdoing it that leads to a headache the next day.  I mean food. 

Tonight, a friend-couple of mine is having a Holiday Game Night.  For starters, I decided to bring some sweet things.  My latest obsession from the bulk section at the grocery store is dark chocolate covered pretzels.  The salty sweet crunch is outstanding.  They went into my large trifle dish.  An easy, but nice, presentation. 

Secondly, one of the boyfriend's favorite cookies (also from the bulk section) are the peanut butter stars.  They have vanilla, raspberry, chocolate, cinnamon, and peanut butter. I bought all but raspberry (they were a little too pink for my liking).  I put them mixed together and put them in my medium-sized trifle dish.   

We were asked to bring a nibble, and the hosts mentioned that they liked cheese balls.  As if planned, I saw a recipe in my daily(?) Real Simple email - Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries.  I went to the store.  I was going to essentially follow the recipe to a T (which isn't too hard, given the three ingredients).  However, when I got to the store, the logs of goat cheese available in my regular grocery store were very wee.

What was a girl to do?

I thought about buying three of the plain goat cheese, smooshing them together to make a larger roll, and then following the recipe.  But then I saw the different flavors - plain, honey, and garlic/herb.

A plan started to develop.

I ended up making three kinds: Honey Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries, Plain Goat Cheese with Cajun Sesame Crackers, and Garlic and Herb Goat Cheese with...well...more herbs.

For the Plain Goat Cheese (far left in the picture above), it took me quite some time to determine what I was going to crush and put on the outside, but I went with the sesame sticks that you often see in party mixes.  I wanted more than the regular plain sesame stick taste, so I decided to up the ante by going with the Cajun sesame crackers.  It worked out really well.

For the Honey Goat Cheese (middle in picture), I bought some plain roasted pistachios.  I added some dried cranberries to the bag and started banging on them with a wine bottle.  Once they were all mostly crushed, I put the crumbled concoction on a plate and rolled the honey goat cheese in it.  I used both hands and made a point to press the crumble into the goat cheese.  I then put some leftover crumble in a piece of cling film and rolled the cheese into a little log, tucked the ends under, and put it in the fridge.

Then, maybe my favorite, is the Garlic and Herb Goat Cheese.  For this one I used some dried oregano, dried basil, fresh cracked black pepper, and some garlic powder.  Super easy, and just sort of pushed up the flavors that ran throughout the cheese itself .

They were a hit.  I might have eaten a lot of cheese last night. :-)

Friday, December 30, 2011

How can it be? Only half way there??

Boy, did I lose momentum!

Almost a year ago, I vowed to post 25 times over the entire year of 2011 . Unfortunately, to date I've only posted 12 times.  And I think one or two of them I wasn't going to count.

Then I looked in my drafts.  I've got a ton of posts started, some even with photos.  Why did I never finish them?  And I've been taking pictures of my food throughout the last 9 months since my last post.  Why did I never post them?

This year, work got a little crazy, so I suppose I can blame it on that.  Not sure that's a good excuse b/c I was able to get a number of other things accomplished throughout the year, but it is what it is.

So, while it seems unlikely that I will be posting 12+ more times today and tomorrow, I will do my best to at least finish the posts that were started and maybe upload some of my food pictures.  I've got some good ones.  I might not make 25 posts in total, but I'm not going to beat myself up for that.

I've since gone into my drafts and posted 3 of those that were waiting in the wings.  I went through and deleted the other drafts that were never going to make it.  Now, I'm only 9 posts away from my goal of 25 for 2011.  Will I be able to do it?

Some potential upcoming blog topics:
  • Christmas cookies
  • Coffee addiction
  • Party foods
  • Thanksgiving empanadas
  • Anniversary dinner

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Variation on a Brown Rice Theme

I realize I've sung the praises of the easiest Baked Brown Rice recipe in an earlier post, but I feel the need to return to the scene of the crime.  This brown rice recipe continues to be a staple.  It's low-intensity, is super tasty, goes with anything, and really can be dressed up with just about anything.

Tonight, as with my earlier post, I have added chopped button mushrooms.  I continue to be lazy here and buy the pre-cut ones.  I really should get more bang for my buck by buying the whole ones, but the concept of standing over my sink brushing the dirt off of them strikes me a having the potential to reduce my motivation to zero.  What can I say...I know my limits.

And, as before, I am going to add half (if not more) of a regular, normal, everyday, yellow onion.  I have added red onion for a little bit of color once.  With the time in the oven, the taste difference is minimal, and the color sort of loses it's luster. However, instead of red, we're going for the other Christmas color - green.  I'm going to dice up some zucchini and add it into the mix.  I love zucchini raw or cooked, so the way I figure, it will be hard to mess that up from my perspective.

I might have gotten a little carried away with the veggies this time (this is probably the most I've ever put in there), but we'll see how the brown rice reacts.  I've got a half diced medium yellow onion, about 1.5 cups of roughly chopped button mushrooms, and 1.5 roughly chopped medium zucchini. I'm certainly not worried about it tasting good.  I'm worried about the brown rice not getting to soak up as much of the buttery, salty, boiling water as it should while it's in the oven.  But then again, both the onions and zucchini should give off some moisture as well, so maybe it will balance it out?

Normally, I double the recipe when I put it in a 13x9 baking dish, but there have been times that when I add veggies to that recipe, it gets awfully close to the top of the dish.  This time I did just one recipe (not doubling) since I put so much else in the dish.  Before I wrapped it up in foil, it certainly looked promising, even if I've got at least twice as many veggies as I do rice. wait for 1hr.    tick tock.

Good news.  It looks delicious.  I will have a bit of it tonight, but then I'll dish it up to be servings

Friday, September 30, 2011

Taco Salad Casserole

This sounds like it could have been taken from some outdated cookbook featuring a woman on the cover wearing a fifties-style dress and a spotless apron while holding up a casserole dish and smiling at the reader. 

Or perhaps it would come from a fabulously retro food delivery pair here in Austin like the Casserole Queens. (They've been featured on the Food Network a couple times.  How snazzy is that?  Or sizzly )

But no.  It came from my brain.  (Please, try to control your awe.)  and...IT'S HEALTHY.  (Now you can applaud.)

I've always loved the idea of 7-layer dip (despite the fact that there is rarely a chip that has the heft required for dipping into such a thing).  So, I figured, how can I make a healthier version and maybe even a full-meal version? 

  • Browned ground turkey (in place of ground beef)
    • This is an instance when you can actually go for a lower fat content since it's going to be with a bunch of other items that will give it some moisture.  When using it in other applications, I typically use 93/7 (7% fat), but for this one, you can use 97/3 or 99/1.  
  • Black beans
    • Black beans are the best ingredient, ever.  I typically like to use Kuner's beans with lime and jalapenos in this recipe, but I actually strain out the jalapenos - just using the black beans without rinsing them includes enough heat for most people.
  • Fat-free Greek yogurt instead of sour cream
    • Use this instead of sour cream.  Seriously.  I promise in this application, you really won't taste any difference.  If you're unsure, don't put it as the top layer.  When it's mixed in there you definitely won't be aware of it. Fage is the best out there.  I buy a big tub of the stuff for all sorts of uses just about every week.
  • Guacamole
    • The fat in this one is good fat...leave it as is.  If the avocados look good to me and area  reasonable price (oddly infrequent even here in TX), I'll make my own with lime juice, garlic, and jalapenos.  However, in the other cases, I use Wholly Guacamole.  It's great in a pinch.  I'd also suggest not putting this one as the top layer as it will brown as it oxidizes.
  • Brown rice
    • I know that rice isn't necessarily a typical addition in the 7-layer dips that are out there.  I suppose this is what makes this a casserole (more of a full meal) rather than just a dip.  Brown rice adds some fiber to the dish (along with what the beans bring to the table).  I often use Uncle Ben's Ready Rice, but can't find the exact flavor here.
  • Salsa
  • Low-fat cheese
    • This is certainly a nice-to-have not a must-have.  It used to be that low-fat or fat-free cheeses weren't worth the packaging they came in, but the past few years have seen advances in the taste of low-fat cheeses, so this can be a decent addition without adding too much fat.
Some other potential additions are corn, roasted chicken, or chili.  Also, add some cumin in there.  It's potentially the best spice out there.

So there you have it.   I like to compile it in a glass Pyrex dish so the people eating it can see each layer they're about to taste.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Swimming upstream with the trout

Yeah yeah.  I know it's not trout that swim upstream, but keep reading.

I went to the grocery store to look at what fish looked good, assuming I would likely purchase some salmon fillets, when I asked the fishmonger, "what's the difference between these two fish?"  "One is trout." "Oh.  It looks a lot like salmon."  (not my finest moment)  But it does!  (And, in my defense, the label was partially cut off.)  Since the fishmonger said that you could prepare it the same way as you do salmon, I figured, let's try it.  I was a little worried as the boyfriend's taste buds tend to be, well, particular, but hey.  I was cooking, so I get to choose.

So, just like I have prepared salmon many times before, I decided to do it en papillotte (in a pocket).  The boyfriend was going to come over after working out, and I figured he was going to be a little hungry, so I figured that I should make a snack for him.  I decided to make kale chips again.  This time, the bunch of kale took up three baking sheets. They were, once again, a hit.

As for the salmon, I didn't want to do the exact same thing as I have done before (lemon, salt, pepper...and...basically, that's it)so this time I put a slice of onion on top and some bell peppers sliced into thin strips beneath.  I did, of course, stick with the salt and pepper, but didn't add acid. 

Once again, fish in a packet turned out...well...swimmingly.  It was flaky and the bell peppers still had some crunchiness left in them.  I probably cooked it at 350 for something like 15 minutes (honestly, I can't remember, as I'm finishing this post many months after the fact). 

Some other thoughts about cooking fish in a packet, if you do include either vegetables that exude a lot of liquid or you put some butter, lemon juice, and/or white wine, you end up with a nice "jus" in the bottom of the packet.  The best thing to do with that is to get a hunk of crusty bread (but not too crusty so as it hurts the roof of your mouth) and sop up that liquid.  Tast-i-licious.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Shameless Commerce Division* of FoodCraft

I've started another blog.  Not that I'm leaving this one...just a different focus.  Crafty Keeping Active:  Basically, it's a blog about how I'm going to add more activity to my life.  

*"Shameless Commerce Division" is from Car Talk.  I love CarTalk. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

the agony of defeat

Shockingly, my experiments in the kitchen don't always turn out as good as I would like.  Tonight was one such experiment. 

First off, at first glance, I thought I had couscous in my pantry.  I wanted to make couscous with dried fruit and almonds.  It's so tasty and almost seems dessert-ish.  Next, I thought, why don't I mix ground turkey with some feta and some spices and make some meatballs. 

None of it worked out.

First I tried to make meatballs.  I had chosen the 97% fat free kind of ground turkey, and let me say, if ever there were a confirmation that fat adds flavor...'cause this stuff was taste-free.  I mixed in some diced onion, feta cheese, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  I thought for sure that would help things.  I balled them up into about golf ball sized meatballs and put them on a pam-sprayed baking sheet.  Into the oven they went at 350 for 20 minutes. 

As it turned out, I had quinoa and not couscous.  I still chopped up the dried apricots and mixed them with the slivered almonds and the sultanas (golden raisins) while the quinoa was cooking...just so I could get my head around things.  I also realized...well, if I'm cooking quinoa, I should use broth.  And then I opened the pantry.  Sweet.  Just one cup of stock.  So the quinoa, after being rinsed thoroughly and toasted in the pan with a tiny bit of oil was cooked in one cup of chicken stock and one cup of water.  Not what I would normally do, but this was just the way the night was going.

The meatballs came out and despite being completely cooked, they looked anemic.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  Despite all the things that I put in the mix, they tasted as anemic as they looked.  Again I say...sweet. 

Then I thought, well, I'll just forgo the dried fruit and almonds (they were really for the imaginary couscous), and I'll add black beans into my quinoa.  I'll throw a little "house dressing" on it too.  I get the house dressing out of the fridge.  It's pretty much empty.  So I put what is left in the bowl and then went to make more dressing.  No balsamic.  It's at the boyfriend's house.  Strike85 against this meal. 

The boyfriend decided to add marcona (as he calls somewhat jokingly "maricopa county") almonds to his quinoa, black beans, and cut up meatballs.  He said he liked it a few times and that the almonds really made it. 

I had quinoa, black beans, a tiny bit of house dressing, and cut up meatballs.  A passable meal, but man, it was not what I had planned in my head.  I'll have to go and get some couscous to do my dried fruit/slivered almond meal. 

(As an aside, two nights ago I made leek/broccoli soup and put too much liquid in it.  The tilapia I made was fine, and actually tasted pretty good when piled into a bowl of the soup, but nothing earth-shattering.  Let's assume this was not the beginning of a streak of mediocre meals.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

this post brought to you by fur

Hi all,

I realize this is not food related, but I couldn't resist. The Humane Society is putting on a contest wherein people vote for your dog, cat, parakeet, horse, turtle, ferret, whatever and it raises money at the same time. 

Below is my furry son.  Vote for him.  The picture below shows him covered in mud - his favorite state of being...outside of snuggling with me on the couch.

"Broderick Monroe Craft"

Friday, February 25, 2011

A new crispy, yet healthy, treat?

I don't know about you, but kale has always been somewhat intimidating.  Not that I thought it would be hard to prepare, but the one(?) time I've tried it, it lived up to its bitter (literally) reputation. 

Enter "The Next Food Network Star." 

Reality TV has its up and downs, but I'm a sucker for a food-related reality show. ::gasp::  I love Iron Chef, Top Chef, ...any of the Chefs.  The Next Food Network Star is a competition to become the next personality on the Food Network a la Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, etc.  Contestants are asked (and constantly reminded because they seem to forget) to demonstrate their "culinary point of view" and to develop their story. I was hooked from episode one...and now, 6 seasons later, I realize much of the finalists are like those of American Idol - oddly, in some seasons, the runners-up were actually better than the winner. 

Season One's winners were a couple guys whose point of view was that they were preparing for dinner parties...or something like that.  Their show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, didn't last more than one season.  I found them terribly insipid.  Season Two's winner fared differently.  The winner, Guy Fieri, has become the ubiquitous, bleach blond, spikey-headed, high octane host of multiple shows.  It might be that I would like some of his recipes, but his overuse of terms like "Flavortown" annoy me to no end. He now even hosts the ridiculously stupid "Minute to Win It" game show outside of the confines of Food Network.

Season Three was forgettable.  There was some sort of controversy when it was revealed that one of the finalists had lied about his background.  (Seriously, people, are we still doing that? Do people ever get away with it??)  The eventual winner was reinstated into the finale in his place, and she won.  I remember her "culinary point of view" but not her.  Apparently she found herself to be forgettable as well, because she chose not to renew the show for another season.

Season Four I remember better.  Of the final 5 contestants, four of them have their own shows. This is where the American Idol parallel is at its best, in my opinion.  The winner, Aaron McCargo Jr. just didn't suit me.  And his show, Big Daddy's House, seems clunky.  That said, it's in its third season, so who am I to judge?  His runner-up, Adam Gertler, had one show that didn't last, but now has a show called "Kid in a Candy Show" where he investigates all things sweet.  While he was frenetic and somewhat tiring to watch given his high energy, I think he makes a better TV host than Aaron.  The other two contestants who have shows work on the Cooking Channel (a sister station to Food Network).  I guess when you create a whole other channel, you need to fill up the hours.

Season Five is where my kale comes in.  This was a pretty good season.  While I found the runner-up to be insufferable, some of the other contestants had great appeal, in my opinion.  The winner, Melissa d'Arabian, has an interesting background.  She met her husband in France, has an MBA, and lived in TX.  For me, the draw to her was clear. Her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, shows how you can cook multiple courses for a family for under $10.  And, amazingly, she can do it.  I watch her show only if I stumble upon it, and the other day she was making croque madams.  As someone who is a sucker for essentially an open-faced grilled cheese with cream sauce and fried egg, I watched further.  A side dish she was making, was kale chips. 

I've heard about kale chips and passed them up at every opportunity.  But this seemed like an easy thing to try, and if it turned out horribly, ehh...not much was lost.  Basically, the recipe calls for three ingredients: kale, olive oil, and sea salt.  Guess what?  DELICIOUS.  And really as easy as it sounds.  Set your oven at 275 and start ripping the leaf off the stalk.  Easy - pinch the stalk at the base and run your hand up to the top of the leaf.  Some of the stalk will rip off in your hand, but not to worry.  Rip the leaf up into pieces about an inch in size.  I ripped and then rinsed (organic kale - no need to do anything other than rinse).  Then, make sure the kale pieces are dry. 

Once they're dry, move the kale pieces to a baking sheet (it took two) and put a total of two tablespoons of olive oil over the dried pieces (I put a tablespoon on each baking sheet).  Roll them around and make sure every leaf gets a little oil on it.  Sprinkle with sea salt.  Not too much, though, because you can always add more after they come out of the oven.  Into the oven they go - 10 minutes then move them around and flip them as best you can.  Put them back in for another 10 minutes, or thereabouts, until they're crispy.  I put a little more sea salt after they came out.  Delish. 

Oh, and Season Six of The Next Food Network Star was pretty good.  Aarti Sequeira, the winner, has a show called "Aarti Party" where she makes sometimes overwhelming Indian food very accessible to the average American.  I haven't tried any of her recipes yet, but they always look tasty. 

So, my only question you lose any of the nutritional value by baking the kale?  If you know, please post!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Minimalist goes the way of the Dodo

As you have most likely heard, Mark Bittman has decided to retire his weekly column in the NY Times, The Minimalist.  Once I picked myself up off the floor and wiped away the tears, I started thinking about a fitting tribute to the man who takes NY dry wit and mixes it with his love of food in a way I could only dream to achieve. 

I may have found it today. 

I'm thinking, a la Julie and Julia, that I might try to create all of the dishes on his 25 favorites list found here. I'm using non-committal language because I've just started a new job and vowing to do something potentially this involved seems a bit daunting.  But it's not like I'm trying to make it through his entire book of "500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living," so maybe it is do-able. 

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Claims claims everywhere and not a bite to eat

Following up on my previous post, I just happened to read this article on by Ellen Tarlin.  A quote is below.  It's not like this is a major surprise, but I will say I did think Cheerios were a healthier option.  Oy.

Manufacturers also label foods in tricky ways. They make portion sizes unrealistically small so calorie and nutrient counts appear sufficiently low. A pint of ice cream is supposed to contain four servings of half a cup each. I don't remember the last time I ate just a half-cup of ice cream—probably because there never was one. Food companies also manipulate our perceptions by printing health claims prominently on their packages. When foods are criticized as unhealthy, instead of pulling products, the market alters them, creating "functional foods," which tie an ingredient in the food to the prevention of a certain disease. In some cases, such health claims are irrelevant, because they tout a characteristic a food already naturally possesses (it's meaningless, for example, to say an oil is low-carb, when, in fact, all oils are fats and contain no carbohydrates), or are so qualified as to render them pretty much meaningless, like this one from a box of Cheerios: "Three grams of soluble fiber daily from whole grain oat foods, like Cheerios cereal, in a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Cheerios cereal provides 1 gram per serving." So if you are already eating a low-fat, low cholesterol diet, eating Cheerios will provide you 1 gram of a substance that might reduce the risk of heart disease. In her book What To Eat, Marion Nestle reveals "The real reason for health claims ... health claims sell food products." Forbes reports that these foods "masquerading as drugs are a booming $31 billion business in the U.S. alone."

Food labels also misdirect. Front and center on a General Mills Cocoa Puffs Cereal box are the words "Whole Grain: Guaranteed," but the ingredients list reveals the whole grain to be "whole grain corn" (corn is one of the most overused foods in our country). The next ingredient is sugar, followed by corn meal and corn syrup, which are two other corn products and one other form of sugar.* (The two main sweeteners are most likely divided this way so the "whole grain" can be listed first since ingredients are listed by weight.) One three-quarter-cup serving of the cereal still contains 10 grams of sugar* and encourages people to eat chocolate (or at least chocolate-flavored foods) for breakfast. Nonetheless, the health claim leads consumers to believe the cereal has health benefits, thus making them feel better about buying it and serving it to their kids or eating it themselves.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A kind of love story...

I am in love yet again.  (Yes, I still love Mark Bittman, but amazingly, this is not about him.)

In recent months, I have experienced a training program called the Corporate Athlete.  It's not training in terms of sports (though there is a "movement" component), but it's rather about energy management.  Everyone always talks about time management, but sometimes time is out of your hands and there is a finite number of hours in the day.  Your energy, on the other hand, is something that you always have control over.

That sounds a little more New Age-y than it is...I promise.  You have to build on your physical or basic energy in order to optimize your other energy (emotional, mental, and spiritual).  It's very Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs for all you nerds out there. 

And while I love the Corporate Athlete program (and desperately would love to be a certified instructor), this is not about that program either.  This post is about Kind Bars

While in this Corporate Athlete program, one of my co-workers who was leading the training mentioned finding Kind Bars.  It took me a while until I tried one.  And as soon as I did, it was love. ...But first let me tell you a story....

I was working out with a trainer (a trainer trainer, not a Corporate Athlete trainer, sadly) and she suggested I try one of those protein bars as a good supplement to the cardio and weight training she was having me do.  This was a woman who was supposed to have my overall health in mind.  A woman who was helping me trim down.  I tried the protein bar she suggested.  "I like the chocolate chip cookie dough flavor."  (That should have been the first red flag.)  It had the texture of all those other protein bars - chewy beyond belief, a serious test for any dental work.  And sweet.  Good lord was it sweet.  So I turned it over to check out the ingredients.

And there they were.  The first five ingredients.  (And remember, this was supposed to SUPPORT my HEALTH and help me LOSE WEIGHT.)  #1- corn syrup.  #2- high fructose corn syrup.  #3- calcium caseinate.  #4- sugar.  #5-fractionated palm kernel oil.  Did I mention this young woman said she was getting a masters in nutrition??

Okay.  Out of the first five we've got two kinds of corn syrup, one of the worst oils we can get, something I can't pronounce, and good ole sugar.  No wonder it was sweet.  yikes.

Now back to the Kind Bar.  Basically, it's made of things that not only can be pronounced but also are actually good for you.  The first one I had was the Cranberry Almond bar.  Tasty doesn't begin to describe it.  It tastes like...well...what it should taste like - cranberries and almonds.  If you look at the first five ingredients (there are a total of 9 compared to 40 in the other bar)  they are #1-almonds. #2-dried cranberries. #3-macadamias. #4-honey. Okay...the fifth ingredient seems to be basically just a nicer way to say corn syrup (from what I can tell), but at least it's not genetically modified.  :-)

The next two bars I have tried by them (I have about another 8 waiting on my kitchen counter) were equally delicious.  For breakfast one morning when in a rush, I had the Fruits and Nuts in Yogurt bar.  Yum.  And then tonight for dessert (when I really wanted to go out and get some ice cream), I had the Sesame and Peanuts with Chocolate bar.  Certainly healthier than a pint of Blue Bell. 

Tomorrow I'm going to try to continue my Kind affair with a Almonds & Apricots bar.  It is, indeed, love.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Quick post - Foolproof Oven-Baked Brown Rice

I can't remember to whom this should be attributed, so I'm hoping my mom will read this and comment.  (I'm thinking it was my idol, Mark Bittman, but I can't be sure.)

Basically, it's the easiest brown rice recipe that allows for a great deal of customization.  I usually add roughly chopped button mushrooms and half of a large onion (also chopped roughly).

Brown Rice, Foolproof Oven-Baked

To minimize any loss of water through evaporation, cover the saucepan and use the water
as soon as it reaches a boil. An 8-inch ceramic baking dish with lid may be used instead
of the baking dish and foil. To double the recipe, use a 13 x 9” baking dish; the baking
time need not be increased.

1 ½ c.
2 ½ c.
2 tsp.
½ tsp.

long-, medium-, or short-grain brown rice
unsalted butter or vegetable oil

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Spread rice in 8-inch-
square glass baking dish.

2. Bring water and butter or oil to boil, covered, in medium saucepan over high heat;
once boiling, immediately stir in salt and pour water over rice. Cover baking dish tightly
with doubled layer of foil. Bake rice 1 hour, until tender.

3. Remove baking dish from oven and uncover. Fluff rice with dinner fork, then cover
dish with clean kitchen towel; let rice stand 5 minutes. Uncover and let rice stand 5
minutes longer; serve immediately.

Brown Rice with Parmesan, Lemon, and Herbs

1. Heat 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in medium nonstick skillet over medium heat until
foaming; add 1 small onion, minced, and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Set
onion aside.

2. Follow recipe above, substituting chicken broth for water, omitting butter or oil,
reducing salt to 1/8 tsp, and stirring onion mixture into rice after adding broth. Cover and
bake as directed. After removing foil, stir in 1/8 tsp ground black pepper, ¼ cup minced
fresh parsley, ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, ½ cup grated Parmesan, 1 tsp grated lemon zest,
and ½ tsp lemon juice. Cover with clean kitchen towel and continue with recipe.

Quick post - Salmon. It's what's for dinner...and lunch

Tonight I did the same thing I did last week - pocket cooking of salmon and zucchini.  Super tasty, super easy, and super healthy.  Honestly, how can you go wrong? 

Amazingly, I managed to keep myself from eating the entire 8 ounce fillet that I had purchased.  Since it had been on the plate with the zucchini I was eating that had herbs de provence on it and the lemon that was on the fish.  I flaked it with some raw zucchini, so the juices from the fish, the lemon, and the herbs de provence were combined with the raw (yet very tender) zucchini. 

I also baked some brown rice tonight - the fool-proof method (see the following post).  So, tomorrow's lunchbox is full.  From the top to the bottom - flaked salmon with zucchini, brown rice with mushrooms and onions, unsweetened applesauce, all-bran crackers with laughing cow cheese, and yellow and orange bell peppers.  I started to pack dried cranberries and crushed pecans for my morning oatmeal, but then I remembered that I am going to a morning event with Leadership Austin, where they will serve breakfast. 

This should give me enough energy to get through the pilates class I'm going to after work....

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

That new year enthusiasm

As with many other people, I start the new year with an enthusiasm that is, let's face it, bound to wear off. That said, I'm celebrating my small wins.

Today, I didn't have too many wins on the breakfast or afternoon snack front. In my previous post, I mentioned my work is having a celebration where we had free breakfast tacos and free cupcakes. I had two of each.

However, the wins began shortly after work. I had worked too late to get to my pilates class on time, but that didn't stop me. I went to the gym and made sure to sign up for pilates classes on each of the Tuesdays and Thursdays for the rest of the month (it's a sign up class at the gym).

But signing up was not the win. I got on the treadmill. It wasn't the world's best workout, but let's be honest, I usually bite off more than I can true, so slow and steady is my new motto. I did 30 mins: a 5 min walking warm-up and then did 3 minutes running and 1 minute walking. I didn't remember to look at the distance I covered, but all in all, I was pleased.

The wins continued at the grocery store where I didn't buy too much (a SERIOUS win), I didn't have any impulse purchases (unless you count pickles and soy sauce), and everything I purchased was healthy.

Another win was dinner. Super healthy. Preheat oven at 350 (ahhh...the good ole all-purpose 350). Two packets made from foil - one had a
salmon fillet (technically larger than I'm supposed to have, but hey), seafood seasoning, and slices of lemon. The other had two medium zucchini sliced in 1/4 inch slices, a little bit of olive oil, and some herbes de provence. The two packets stayed in the oven for 20 mins and came out perfect. Delicious.

The last win of the evening (b/c clearly going to bed early isn't happening) was preparing my meals for tomorrow. 
In my Oots lunch box (as shown from top to bottom), I packed breakfast, lunch, and a snack.  Breakfast is Fage fat-free Greek yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, wheat germ, and ground flax seed.  Lunch is three beans (black, kidney, and green) and brown rice with a bit of italian dressing on it.  Hearty, tasty, and full of fiber. On the left is one of my latest favorite "desserts"'s really just apples and dried cranberries in a skillet with some water and cinnamon stewed down until the apples are really soft and the cranberries are somewhat rehydrated.  It's so delicious.  And, technically, the only bad thing for you is the sugar in the cranberries. 

The next row down is the snack row.  18 (one serving) of All-bran crackers and two pieces(?) of Laughing Cow Light Original Swiss.  Each of those are only 35 calories and they're super tasty.  Lastly, one of my favorite things is dill pickles.  This is two spears of Vlasic dill pickles.  Recently my boyfriend read that they have a lot of potassium (some runners/bikers drink pickle juice to avoid cramping), and since I'm getting back into working out, why not eat more pickles?  (In truth, I just like them.)

I also prepared (somewhat) for tomorrow night's dinner.  It will be chicken and brown rice stir fry. I've got chicken breasts in the fridge defrosting, I've got brown rice in the pantry, and tonight I purchased three different bell peppers, an onion, and some shredded carrots. I'm excited to make dinner tomorrow night. ...with my impulse sauce. :-)

Yay new year enthusiasm!  And with that, good night.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

There's cake in the break room!

What is it about free food? (I'm sure I've blogged on this topic before, but I feel it needs to be revisited.)

With the new year comes many people's resolutions to "get fit" or "go on a diet" or some other health-related goal. While I don't disapprove of that, I'm trying to not think of it as just something that one does on Jan 1st. I was really getting into pilates before the holidays, so I'm going to start back up with that...not because it's the new year, but because I'm back in town.

And, of course, given the time of year, wouldn't you company has free breakfast tacos available this morning and free cupcakes this afternoon (we have a big relaunch of our company brand, so it's a celebration day).

What are they trying to do to us??

I wonder how many people's resolutions we just helped to take two steps back with these offerings.

I knew that we would be having these tacos and cupcakes (I volunteered to help out with the larger event), so I had a healthy dinner last night and will only be having a salad at lunch. I think the key is balance and not beating yourself up about taking advantage of those freebies from time to time.

I'll also be going to pilates today after work - I just hope I can walk tomorrow or, more importantly, Thursday when I plan to go to pilates again followed by a body pump class. ack.

Monday, January 03, 2011

It's a new dawn. It's a new day. And I'm feeling good.

I'm a sucker for a resolution. There's something romantic about large gestures towards our future. The only problem is, I'm also a sucker for being hard on myself when my proverbial resolution eyes end up being bigger than my proverbial resolution stomach.

As such, I've decided to start small. My resolution is to write "more." How 'bout them apples?

So what is "more?" It's a lovely amorphous term that could allow success to be defined in a number of manners. But I am a bit of a nerd, and I do like numbers, so let's be real.

The way I figure, I should average out the past three years of posts and as long as by the end of 2011 I have posted more than average, resolution...well...resolved! I'm choosing an average and not just an improvement on last year because while the first half of the year started out with a bang, the second of half of the year definitely whimpered.

Here's the post count:
- 2008: 20
- 2009: 42
- 2010: 11
To write "more" than the average of the past three years, I need to post 25 times in the next year. The way I see it, that's basically twice/month maybe with one or two additional notes here and there.

That's definitely do-able. And I've got a year to do it. So start counting (what, you thought I wouldn't count this one??), and get ready to read. One down.

And for those of you who recognize the subject line, yes, it is a Michael Buble song. His "I just haven't met you yet" song is a definite guilty pleasure, and I felt "Feeling Good" was a great way to express the new year. Feel free to make fun of me.