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.

273. Defeating the Dough

It all started innocently enough.  My grandma bought a nearly new bread maker from Goodwill and gave it to my mom. Since my mom already owned a bread maker and clearly didn’t need two, she decided to hand her old Breadman down to me.  (This is how I have acquired several of my small appliances including my KitchenAid stand mixer and my older-than-I-am food processor.  Oh and that crock-pot I returned to her a year later.)

I was pretty stoke to receive the old Breadman figuring it would play a vital role in helping me knock that pesky “get over my fear of making yeast bread items” off my Mission 101 and Culinary Bucket List.  I knew right away I was going to make it happen.  I went out and bought some yeast to ready myself for the task of making me some homemade bread.  The B-Man sat unused in my pantry nearly a month.

It all started innocently enough.  Nik wanted cinnamon rolls for breakfast one day.  I knew I couldn’t feed him those canned Pilsbury cinnamon rolls.  I harp on the whole “unnecessarily processed foods” thing way too much.  If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right: real foods from scratch.  I decided Easter Morning was d-day.

I used a very basic white bread dough recipes my mom gave me in the disaster that is my recipe binder.

White Bread Dough
Ingredients
1 ½ c warm water
2T butter, cut up into small pieces
4 ½ c all-purpose flour
¼ c sugar
2 t salt
1 T yeast

Do It

  1. In the order listed above, combined ingredients in the bread maker
  2. Set to dough cycle and start
  3. Relax until the bread maker is done

I rolled out the dough, mixed up some cinnamon, sugar and butter, spread it on, rolled it up, and sliced my way to some pretty awesome cinnamon rolls.  They were so good I ended up beingin the rest to Easter “dinner” (Is it still dinner at 1 in the afternoon?) to share the goodness.

Of course, I’m not sure one small cinnamon roll victory really counts as conquering my yeast dough fear. Like I said, it all started innocently enough.  Later that week, dinner plans with Nik were grilled pineapple and chicken sandwiches on pretzel rolls.  I had stowed away some Trader Joe’s pretzel rolls in the freezer a few weeks prior.  Unfortunately when I hadn’t noticed was these rolls had started molding prior to me getting them in the freezer.  Well, damn.

I remembered a few days earlier Jessica had posted a link to her pretzel roll tutorial over on Tasty Kitchen.  Bingo!  Now was the time for me (and B-man) to shine!  Whipping up homemade pretzel rolls at 6:00 on a Thursday night it totally normal, right?

I used the same white bread recipe to make the dough for the pretzel rolls.  Once the dough was finished I followed the method in Jessica’s post.  (By the way, they turned out absolutely amazing, and you should definitely make them soon!  I’ve never been a huge fan of pretzel bread, but I have seen the light.)

Since those pretzel rolls, I’ve used B-Man to make more pretzel rolls (this time in the shape of hot dog buns) and whole wheat cinnamon rolls while Laura was here to visit.  I also made pizza dough (more on that later) Monday night.

Thank to B-Man, I think I can officially cross   “get over my fear of making yeast breads” off my Culinary Bucket List.

Next up…homemade bagels, soft pretzels, and assorted experiments with the B-Man…

265. Teach a Man to Fish

Remember that old saying, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for like.”

I absolutely hate that cliche actually.  Maybe it’s because I come from a family that lives to terrorize the local fishermen on our lake.  However, as I was making dinner Monday evening, the old saying came to mind.  I may hate to fish, but I do love to cook.

Honestly, I’ve always kind of taken for granted the ability to cook.  My mom is a Family and Consumer Science teacher.  I grew up learning to cook.  I have a distinct memory of the first apron my mom made me (She also taught sewing for a while.)  I remember making some sort of stained-glass Jell-o in a park

district cooking class.  I remember hating cooking because I hated having to clean up after myself.  (Okay, I still hate cleaning up after myself.)  I remember cooking for myself in college because I was used to eating home cooked dinners.  I remember falling in love with cooking about a year ago.

Tonight I made this for dinner…

Girl Can Do Mac n Cheese

I haven’t been grocery shopping yet this week.  I had no idea what to make for dinner this evening.  I wasn’t even sure I had enough to to actually consturct a legitimate meal.  It’s amazing what you can do with 1/4 of a bag of noddles, 1 cup of frozen mixed veggies, some shredded cheese (I kid you not, I had 4 diference bags of shredded cheese all with les than 1/4 cup left.), some milk, and a little skill in the kitchen.

(Apparently some form of mac n cheese is also my go-to throw it together dish.)

Cooking is such a valuable skill.  It’s a shame more people don’t learn how to do it.  It’s a shame my mom’s class is thought to be a “blow-off” class by so many students.  It’s a shame people rely on pre-made meals and convenience foods.