354. Random Thoughts Thursday

I could probably write  a separate post for everything here, and I probably should for content, but I don’t feel like it.  So instead I present you with a bunch of randomness currently on my mind.

Last weekend was quite the weekend for me.  It was full of all kinds of firsts.  I ran 16 miles for the first time (along with 14 and 15 miles along the way!) I shot a gun (multiple guns actually) for the first time ever, and I made homemade bagels for the first time. (FINALLY! I’ve only been talking about making homemade bagels for about 3 years now!) It was quite an impressive weekend really.

The boy owns guns and likes to go shoot them with his buddies. I have no interest in guns and even less interest in shooting them. Plus, I’m a disaster on my own; I don’t need to be a disaster with a deadly weapon in hand. But I know the boy likes guns, and I knew he would REALLY like it if I went shooting with him one day. So for Christmas I applied for my FOID card (Firearm Owners ID – It’s an Illinois thing. Illinois loves it some gun laws.) and gave the boy a copy of the application along with a note promising to take him shooting once I received my FOID. We finally picked a weekend and went. Honestly, I was surprised by how nervous, uncomfortable, and just plain scared I was to begin with. When we walked into the range, I would flinch or jump every time someone would fire a shot. I was on the verge of tears for at least the first 20 minutes simply because that’s how I most often react to the stress of nervousness/ being uncomfortable. Ultimately I had a good time. I would definitely go again but probably not anytime soon. Nik puts up with a lot of my ridiculousness (and my various kitchen experiments) so it was nice to do something that was really all for him.

I don’t know if I was feeling extra ballsy after my adventures with guns or if it was just fresh in my mind because I found a recipe when I was pulling recipes from old issues of Cooking Light and Vegetarian Times to add to my recipe binder, but I decided I was also going to make homemade bagels on Saturday.
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I used this recipe from the November 2011 issue of Cooking Light. I’m not sure why I waited so long to make my own bagels, but I’m glad I finally did this because these bagels were AWESOME! I stuck to the recipe pretty closely to make sure they came out right, but I did make a few minor changes:

  1. I left out the barley malt syrup because a) I didn’t have any and b) I didn’t feel like trying to track it down. The recipe says you can leave it out so I wasn’t worried.
  2. I brushed the bagels with egg yolk thinned with water. I also topped half of them with salt, minced onion, poppy seed and sesame seeds to make everything bagels.
  3. I only made 11. I had 6 that were about 3.5 oz and 5 that were about 4.5 oz. I could have cut down all the 4.5 oz bagels to make a 12th bagel, but I was too lazy.
  4. I baked for almost twice the suggested time. I cooked them until golden brown on top and hallow sounding.

I totally rocked my February Challenge, and I feel like a rock star for it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for some time now, you know how good I am at failing at my fitness challenges.  Last month, I killed.  I blew my goal of 175 activity points (which I increased about a week into the challenge from the original 150 points) out of the water clocking in at 212 activity points for the month.  I tracked 26 out of 29 complete days.  I did fall short on my fitness class goal only attending 4 out of 5 classes.  However, that was a scheduling failure rather than me blowing things off.  There are a pretty limited number of classes I can actually attend to begin with since I don’t get home until about 6 in the evening. When you account for my Weight Watchers meetings on Tuesdays, my darts league on Wednesdays, and my training runs on Mondays and Thursdays, I’m left with Friday, Saturday and Sunday for classes.  There aren’t any evening classes on Friday and I run on either Saturday or Sunday.  That leaves me one day a week to do classes and since there were only 4 weeks in February, well…getting to 5 classes wasn’t really realistic with marathon training taking top priority.  What’s important is that I didn’t fall short of the goal simply because I was being lazy.  So because I feel like my challenge was a huge success despite that, I’ve decided to go ahead and reward my successes.   I’ve deviated from my original reward plan though and ordered How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (the reward for my bonus weight loss goal) instead of the fitbook.  There is a method to my madness though kids.

The reason I went ahead and ordered the cookbook instead of the fitbook is because I’m following Michelle’s lead and going for a Meatless March.  Back in September 2010, I made the decision to stop eating animals.  I never proclaimed myself a vegetarian because I expected to eat meat again, and I have.  Lately though, I’ve been wanting to get back to a primarily meatless diet.  This seemed like a great way to do it!

I signed up for my fifth half marathon yesterday.  The Rock n Roll race series was offering a Leap Day discount of $29 off any race.  I’m usually able to pass up a deal, but that’s a really great discount.  I decided to snap it up and registered for the Chicago Rock n Roll half marathon on July 22nd.  I was hesitant to sign up since I hate running in the heat.  (Really, I just hate the heat.)  But it was hard to pass up such a deal, especially when it would be an encore performance, and a chance to kick ass, of my very first half marathon.

Last week I decided to impulse buy a cast iron skillet, a cast iron grill pan and The New Rules of Lifting for Women off Amazon.  I haven’t used the skillet yet, but I’m a fan of the other two items thus far.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Have a happy Thursday!

351. Veggietastic Breakfast Bowls

Yesterday I mentioned one of the things that is really working for me is eating a massive amount of vegetables.  One of the ways I do this is to load up my breakfast with 3 – 4 servings of veggies through these “Veggie Breakfast Bowls.”  This isn’t really a recipe so much as a method because you can use pretty much anything you want to create these bowls.  I like to switch it up week to week based on what veggies I have on hand and so I don’t bored.

Aside from being loaded with veggies, one of the nice things about these veggie bowls is that you really can make everything in advance, throw the bowl together and pop it in the microwave for a couple minutes if you don’t have a lot of time to make breakfast in the morning.

So here’s how I roll in the mornings:

  • First, grab a large-ish bowl and add about ½ c of your grain of your choice.  This week I went with quinoa that I made ahead on Sunday, but in the past I’ve used grits, couscous, and even oatmeal.  Since the grain was the only pre-made element of this morning’s breakfast, I just heated it in the microwave for 90 seconds.  If the rest of your ingredients are pre-cooked microwave it all at the end.

  • Next up, top the grains with 2 – 3 cups of veggies.  This week I’ve been using about 1 c of slice baby bellas and 2 cups of spinach which I sauté together in a splash of olive oil.  I’ve also used Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and leftover roasted veggies.

  • Now top your veggies with an egg.  I like to use over-easy or poached eggs so I get a nice runny yolk to mix in, but if runny egg yolks aren’t your thing you could definitely use scrambled or even hard boiled.

  • Top it all with some cheese (or don’t).  I bought a giant bag of Cabot 50% Reduced fat Sharp Cheddar Snackers at Costco a couple weeks ago so I crumble one of those on top.  Feel free to add some salt, pepper, garlic powder, or other seasonings as well.  Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t.

  • Finally, mix it all together and enjoy!

Depending on the grain I’m using, the whole bowl clocks in at 6 – 7 points plus and usually keeps me full for several hours.  (I eat breakfast about 6:30am and generally don’t start getting hungry again until at least 10:30!)

230. A Thanksgiving Story (with a Make It Monday Recipe)

Things that are awesome: getting a brand new stove

(Does anyone else read the 1,000 Awesome Things blog?  It’s pretty awesome.)

Things that are less awesome: getting a brand new stove because your stove died the night before you’re supposed to cook and host your very first Thanksgiving for your parents and your boyfriend’s parents.

My kitchen has undergone some major upgrades in the last week.  It started with a plan to refinish my countertops using Rustoleum’s countertop coating product.  We had to pull out the stove to do the counter tops (which look pretty great, by the way), and when we put it back in place and powered it back up Friday afternoon, the oven door locked.  The stove top still worked, but I was completely locked out of the oven!  This was not good the day before I was supposed to be cooking Thanksgiving dinner part II.  The boyfriend tried to fix it, but didn’t get very far since I own about two tools.  My dad came over, and the two of them worked out what was wrong.  It could have been fixed, but since the stove was probably older than I am and this is the second time it’s broken in less than a year, we decided stove shopping was the best bet.

I actually ended up getting a pretty good deal at Lowe’s (after all, it was still Black Friday.)  Thanks to their free delivery, haul away, and installation and some hard work by the dad and boyfriend in modifying the counter and black splash*, I had my brand-spankin new stove by Sunday afternoon.  In the meantime, I hosted Thanksgiving at my parent’s house.

And I’m happy to report that despite the stove debacle, my first Thanksgiving was a huge success!  The boyfriend and I executed a delicious meal and everyone enjoyed the food and conversation.  While this wasn’t the first time my parents and the boyfriend’s parents had met, it was the first time they were meeting in a place that would allow for conversation.  (Their first official meeting was at a very large, very loud benefit at a bar.)  Every one of the recipes I made has been added to my recipe files to make again.  And since there are plenty of holidays left, here’s the awesome menu rundown for you.

Smoke Roasted Turkey with Pomegranate Thyme Glaze from the November issue of Cooking Light.  I promise you this was the best turkey I’ve ever had.  We used cherry woodchips, and the flavor was absolutely phenominal.

Old-Fashioned Cranberry Sauce also from the November Cooking Light.  I made their Cran-Apple variation by chopping up a pink lady apple.  Everyone thought it was a bit tart, but I loved it.  If you’re not a fan of tart, I would suggest more sugar or possibly skipping the wine.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts from Cassie at Back to Her Roots.  Even my mom, who hates Brussels sprouts, managed to stomach some of these.  Let’s face it, bacon makes everything better.

Whole Wheat Garlic Knots also from Cassie.  I used my mom’s bread machine to make the dough for these.

Pumpkin Pie from the Brown-Eyed Baker.  I used her pie crust recipe for my pumpkin pie last year and it was great.  This year I went the canned pumpkin route so I followed her pie recipe as well.  Just be warned, I ended up with enough filling for two pies.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes:  There’s no real recipe here: roast two heads of garlic, boil some baby red potatoes, toss the cooked potatoes and garlic into a bowl with some milk and mash with a potato masher, hand mixer, or stand mixer.  The garlic gave them so much flavor butter and gravy were total unnecessary.

Dad’s Stuffing

This is the go-to stuffing mix in my family.  The type of stuffing mix is up to you.  I went with the Trader Joe’s mix.  Personally, I think it’s really the sausage that gives it that little sumthin’-sumthin’. 

Serving Size: ½ cup | Yields: 8 servings
View and Print on Recipage

Ingredients

1 lb pork sausage
1 – 12oz package stuffing mix
1 large onion, diced
4 – 5 celery stalks, chopped
2 – 3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon dried, ground sage
1 tablespoon butter, divided into 4 pats

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2. Cook sausage in a large skillet with onions, celery, and sage.  Break up and brown the sausage as you would with ground beef.  Drain grease and pat with paper towels to remove excess grease.
  3. In a large bowl, combine sausage mixture and stuffing mix.  Add chicken broth a half cup at a time and mix until the stuffing mix reaches a slightly mushy consistency.
    Note: You want the stuffing mix to be thoroughly soaked without totally disintegrating
  4. Pour into casserole dish, top with butter  and bake for approximately 45 minutes until the top begins to brown.

I suggest making any or all of these things for Christmas or New Years or Hannakuh or because you’ve got a new stove or just because it’s the holiday season and all these foods are awesome.

*my previous stove was a drop-in which seemed to average a minimum of $500 more than a freestanding range.  I wasn’t looking to spend over a grand on a new stove so we modified accordingly.

326. Pumpkin Swirl Bread

I’ve been in a funk lately.

It seems that the older I get the more I seem to struggle with seasonal affective disorder.  Maybe it’s because my daylight hours are now spent in an office building rather than walking all over campus.  Maybe it’s because Chicago seems to get drearier and drearier every year.  Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older.  I don’t really know.  All I know is it seems to get worse every year.

About two weeks ago it hit me hard.  (That would be about the same time I fell off
the face of the interwebs.)  I had zero motivation to do anything.  I didn’t want
to cook.  I didn’t want to clean.  I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I didn’t want to work out.  I was eating like garbage.  I didn’t weigh in at Weight Watcher’s last week.  Blogging certainly wasn’t going to happen – not that I would have had anything to blog about anyway!

Thankfully, it seems I’ve come out of it.  Last Wednesday around 11:30, I had a sudden
burst of energy and the desire to clean my kitchen.  Sleep totally isn’t important right?  I didn’t really expect that this energy would stick around, but for the most part it has.

I still haven’t managed to work out (oops), but I finally did some meal planning and grocery shopping and cooked a “real” dinner last night.  I also made this bread.  Oh man, this bread.  If I hadn’t already found my way out of my SAD-little hole, this bread would definitely drag me out of it.

I made this for my Weight Watcher’s meeting tonight.  We’re having a holiday recipe potluck.  I actually made this in my bread maker, but my mom was kind enough to convert the recipe for everyone who doesn’t have a bread maker on hand.  Both set of instructions are below.  I can’t promise it will turnout without the bread maker, but I trust my mom so I’m sharing it so you can *hopefully* enjoy the gloriousness of this bread with or without a bread maker.

Pumpkin Swirl Bread

Girl Can Do Pumpkin Swirl Bread

Reminiscent of the Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Swirl bread I loved as a kid, this pumpkin-laced bread is swirled with pumpkin puree, butter, and pumpkin pie spices.

Serving Size: 1 slice Total Servings: 16
Points+ per Serving: 4
View on Recipage

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup + 1 tablespoon warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons yeast

Filling

  • ¼ cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 T butter
  • ¼ cup unpacked brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

Directions

Without a Bread Maker

  1. Combine 1 cup all-purpose flour, yeast, brown sugar, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in mixing bowl.
  2. Add water, oil and pumpkin puree.  Beat 2 minutes at a moderate speed until
    smooth.
  3. Stir in whole wheat flour with a wooden spoon.  Stir in remaining all-purpose flour.  Dough should be a knead-able consistency.
  4. Knead dough 5-10 minutes.
  5. Let dough rise until double in size.  Punch down.
  6. Cut together butter, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spice until crumbly (filling ingredients)
  7. Roll the dough out into a 12” long rectangle that is the width of your loaf pan.
  8. Spread pumpkin puree onto dough
  9. Top with sugar and spice mixture.
  10. Roll up and place seam side down in greased loaf pan.
  11. Let rise 20 minutes.
  12. Bake at 375 for 40 – 45 minutes.

With a Bread Maker aka Easy Mode

  1. Add dough ingredients to the bread maker in the order recommended by the manufacturer and run the bread maker “dough” cycle.
  2. Once the dough is complete pre-heat the oven to 375.
  3. Cut-in butter with brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice until crumbly
  4. Roll dough into 12” long rectangle and spread with pumpkin puree.  Sprinkle on sugar and spice mixture.
  5. Roll up dough and place seam-side down in a loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray.
  6. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes until crust is golden brown.

320. Make It Monday: From Around the Web

I’ve been a busy lady lately which means I haven’t been cooking a great deal.  (Remember when I ate out 6 out of 7 days in a week?!) And when I have been cooking, it’s been straight from recipes with minimal adaptations.  However, the stuff I have been making has been really tasty so I wanted to let you all in on the secret.

BBQ Beer Chicken from How Sweet It Is
Crockpot BBQ Beer Chicken from How Sweet It Is served on pretzel rolls.  This makes a ton of chicken.  I actually packaged up about half this recipe and brought it to my friends Jennie and John who just had a new baby.  I also have some in the freezer to eat at a later time. (Photo Source: How Sweet It Is)

Creamy Tomato Soup from Eat Live Run which was, of course, paired with a warm and gooey grill ham and cheese.  This has become my go-to tomato soup recipe.  It’s so quick and easy to make.

Portobello Cheesesteaks from Back to Her Roots
Portobello Cheesesteaks from Back to Her Roots also served on pretzel rolls.  I’ve never had a true Philly Cheesesteak, but I would venture to guess these are an amazing veggie substitute. (Photo Source: Back to Her Roots)

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes from whisktogether over at Tasty Kitchen.

This Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Cooking Light with these substitutions from The Candid RD.  I did actually make one substitution of my own on this one, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  I had several bags of mozzarella on hand so I used that instead of the gruyere.  I love mozzarella, but it just doesn’t have a strong enough flavor for this recipe.  It was good, but there was much more squashiness than cheesiness.

I suggest you go and make all of these things as soon as possible.  In fact, I just made your meal plan for the week.  You’re welcome.

312. Make It Monday: Cheeseburgerless Lentil Macaroni

Growing up I loved the Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni.  We didn’t eat it often – my mom absolutely hated it so it was often what we ate on nights dad was in charge of dinner – but I think that just made it that much better.  I ate a ton of “helpers” throughout college, but cheeseburger macaroni always remained my favorite.  I still have a soft spot for this stuff, but I just can’t bring myself to eat it anymore.  Between the crazy high sodium levels and the highly processed “cheese” sauce, it’s lost some of its appeal.  After seeing several Hamburger Helper commercials over a weekend, I decided to try my hand at making a healthier, homemade version.

Lentil Cheeseburger Macaroni
adapted from Baked Mac n Cheese
serves 6 |8 points+ per serving

Lentils replace the ground beef in this dish for a nutritional punch, and the tomatoes add color, flavor, and nutrients.  The taco seasoning adds a bit of a kick.  I used beef broth to maintain the beefy, cheeseburger flavor; however, this could easily be made 100% vegetarian by subbing out veggie broth.

Ingredients
1 cup whole wheat elbow noodles
½ cup dry lentils (You could also use precooked lentils)
3 cups beef broth
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 – 4 oz can diced chilies
1 tablespoon taco seasoning
2 tablespoons whipped butter
2 tablespoons flour
¾ cup milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. In large skillet combine noodles, dry lentil, tomatoes, chilies, taco seasoning and beef broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
    Note: You can also use a can of diced tomatoes with chilies.
  2. Once mixture boils, reduce heat and cover.  Cook over medium-low for about 15 minutes until noodles and lentils are tender.
    Note: If using precooked lentils, add them after the 15minutes are up rather than in step one.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat.  Once melted, whisk in flour to create a roux.  Whisk continuously for about 5 minutes until brown and fragrant.
  4. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a low boil stirring often.  Mixture should thicken.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheese.
  6. Add cheese sauce to noodle mixture and stir to coat.

My good camera has gone missing so I don’t have a photo for you.  At least not one that looks like something you’d want to eat.  I really loved this recipe.  I found it very reminiscent of the Hamburger Helper of my youth but with a nice variation thanks to the tomatoes and taco seasoning.  You could easily leave those out for a more “classic” flavor.  The boy liked the flavor, but didn’t love the texture of the lentils.  This is definitely a recipe that will make future appearances in my house.

309. What I Ate Wednesday: Breakfast Edition

Confession: I am terrible at taking pictures of my food.  I manage to write it all down every day and track points, but remembering to snap a photo seems damn near impossible for me.  So today we’re taking a slightly different approach to WIAW.  I go through rotations of eating pretty much the same thing for breakfast every day for months at a time.  Over the summer it was omelets.  Now I’ve started shifting more toward cereals.

First up…

BetterOats Abundance Apples & Cinnamon Instant Oatmeal.

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I’m not even sure what possessed me to grab this off the grocery store shelf because I usually I hate the consistency and flavor of instant oatmeal.  Thankfully, this oatmeal is much more similar to stove-top oats than it is to “regular” instant oatmeal.  I mix in 1 T of peanut butter and call it a day.   Plus, you can fill the packet with water if you don’t have a measuring cup handy!  Oh and the oatmeal clocks in with a mere 4 points+ so with my 1 T of pb, I’ve got a very solid, filling 7 points+ breakfast.

The second breakfast winner this week…

Nature’s Path Organic Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon cereal.

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I’ve been on the hunt for this cereal since Laura mentioned it to me.  Well, actually she told me about the Optimum Slim which is her favorite, but I’ve yet to find that one.  I saw this one at Trader Joe’s this past week and snatched up the second to last box.  It’s definitely a unique cereal on the flavor and texture front, but I’m a fan.  1 cup of cereal weighs in at 5 points+ and since I prefer my cereal pretty dry, the 2T of 2% milk I pour on doesn’t add any additional points!

So those are my current go-to breakfast options.  Maybe next week I’ll manage to take pictures of a whole day’s worth of food!