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!

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.

295. Make It Monday: Grilled Margherita Portobello Burgers

Happy Monday Friends!  You will all be glad to hear, I’ve gotten my act together thanks to the mini goals I set last Monday.  Although I never did get around to doing laundry…I hate laundry.  In fact, if anyone is willing to come to my house and do my laundry, I will gladly pay them with lots of delicious food and undying thanks.  Seriously.  No takers? 

Well then…moving right along.

My downfall as a food blogger is that I am constantly forgetting to take pictures of my food.  Usually I’m in such a hurry to eat because I’m either a) starving or b) pressed for time, that the last thing on my mind is Oh! Picture!  I’ve wanted to share this recipe since, like, June, but of the three times I’ve made this, I’ve never once managed to take a picture.  Fail.  This is actually adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe, so I’m going to use their pretty picture which basically looks absolutely nothing like what I made.  Oh well.

As someone who is just learning to like mushrooms and tomatoes, this is a killer recipe.  The flavors mesh together so well that it’s hard to dislike anything about it.

Grilled Margherita Portobello Burgers
adapted from Weight Watcher’s Grilled Margherita Portobello Mushrooms
makes 2 burgers | 3 points per serving

Ingredients
2 large Portobello  mushrooms
2 T balsamic vinegar
¼ c shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/8 t garlic powder
½ t oregano
1 medium tomato
4 leaves fresh basil
2 hamburger buns, rolls, or sandwich thins 

(Source)

Directions

  1. Heat grill to medium heat.
  2. Wipe mushrooms clean and remove stems.  Rub each mushroom with the balsamic vinegar.
  3. Combine cheese with garlic powder and oregano.
  4. Wash and slice tomato into four slices.
  5. Spray grill with cooking spray, and place mushrooms stem-side down on the grill.  Cook, covered, for 3 – 5 minutes.  Flip and cook and additional 3 minutes. 
  6. Fill each mushroom cap with ½ of the cheese mixture (about 2 T) and top with two slices of tomato.  Close grill and cook an additional 2 – 3 minutes until cheese is melted and tomatoes are warmed.
  7. Serve on bun topping each “burger” with two fresh basil leaves.

These were so good I actually made them two weeks in a row.  Since summer is coming to a close – it’s been almost fall-like in the Chicago area lately – you should probably make these soon and often to get the most of your grilling season.

253. Fact: Homemade Mac n Cheese > The Blue Box.

I’m a sucker for ooey, gooey, creamy macaroni and cheese.  It is the ultimate comfort food.  Last time I was sick, I had the boy spoon feeding me Panera’s cream white cheddar mac n cheese.  (Yes, I’m the world’s biggest baby when I’m sick.  I turn quickly turn into a whiney 5 year old child.)

Saturday I was rocking a substantial hangover – hey, that’s what happens when your friend brings you copious amount of his delicious home-brewed cider.  I also had a pretty empty kitchen.  I had pasta.  I had marinara sauce.  I had cheese and (surprisingly!) milk.  My first thought was spaghetti, but I don’t particularly care for spaghetti with marinara.  (I like spaghetti, and I like marinara.  But I don’t really like them together.  Weird.  I know.  Moving on.)  In addition to spaghetti, I had half a box of elbow noodles – cha-ching!

Of course, I was still hung over, and baked mac n cheese seemed like a lot of effort.  I sucked it up and Googled my favorite Alton Brown Baked Mac n Cheese recipe anyway.   The second link on the page was this Alton Brown recipe for stovetop mac n cheese.  This seemed like much less effort – of course, I only had half the necessary ingredients.  I made due.

Better Than the Blue Box Stovetop Mac n Cheese

Ingredients

  • ¼ lb elbow macaroni, cooked
  • 2 T butter
  • 4 oz 2% milk
  • 2 – 3 T flour
  • 8 oz mild cheddar, shredded
  • Salt, pepper, paprika, to taste

Do It

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add  milk and whisk in flour. 
Heat on medium until just below boiling stirring frequently.  The milk should thicken slightly.
Add salt, pepper, and/ or paprika to taste.
Stir in cheese until melted.
Add cooked noodles and stir until noodles are completely coated.

PS.  I had no intention of blogging this recipe until my friend Tori requested it on Facebook.  This is pretty much my best recollection.

239. Slow Cooker Saturday: Enchilada Casserole

So far my quest to master the slow cooker has yielded mixed results.  I’ve made some really good things some pretty good things, and a corn chowder so blah that I have yet to decide if I’m even going to share it as a recipe fail.

This recipe is the best thing I’ve made so far.  It’s really similar to Southwestern Cornbread Casserole I posted in my very first Slow Cooker Saturday, but it is so.much.better.  It has flavor.  It has kick.  It has black bean and cheesy goodness.

Slow Cooker Enchilada Casserole
Adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients
4 oz can of diced green chilies – reserve 1 T
1 c salsa
¼ c chopped green onions
¼ c dried cilantro (I would recommend using fresh cilantro.  I just didn’t have any)
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 bag frozen corn
10 oz can enchilada sauce
2 eggs
1 package corn muffin mix
¼ c shredded Mexican blend or cheddar cheese
About 1/3 of a round of Queso Fresco cheese, cut into slices

Do It!

  1. Combine first 7 ingredients in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 4 – 5 hours.
  2. Combine reserved 1 T green chilies, eggs, muffin mix, and ¼ c cheese.  Spoon batter evenly over bean mixture in slow cooker.  Cover and cook 1 hour or until cornbread is done.
  3. Spread slices of queso fresco on top of the cornbread.  Cover and cook 5 minutes or until cheese melts.
  4. Top with guacamole, sour cream, tortilla chips, or other garnish of choice.  (I went with guac.)

If you’re going to make any of the slow cooker recipes I’ve posted thus far, make this one.

237. Apple-Pear Breakfast Risotto

So, today I was going to post about the new approach I’ve been taking to meal planning recently, but then I made this breakfast risotto last night and all bets were off.  I knew I had to share this recipe immediately so you can all make this tomorrow morning for weekend breakfast or maybe for a Super Bowl Brunch…

Originally I intended to make this in the slow cooker, but I totally dropped the ball on preparing it Wednesday night so it would be ready to cook on Thursday.  I loved the idea so I went ahead and prepared it like “normal” risotto.

Apple-Pear Breakfast Risotto
Inspired by CrockPot 365

Ingredients
7 c no sugar added/ unsweetened apple juice.
¼ c butter
1 ½ c Arborio Rice
1/8 t nutmeg
1/8 t ground cloves
1/8 t ground ginger
½ T cinnamon
1/3 c brown sugar
2 medium apples
1 pear

Do It!

  1. Pour apple juice into saucepan and heat over medium-low heat.
  2. Melt butter in stock pot.
  3. While butter is melting, chop up one apply. Add rice and chopped apple to stock pot.  Stir to coat rice and apples with butter.
  4. Add ½ c of apple juice.  Stir and add nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
  5. Continue to add juice in ½ c increments.  After each addition, stir until the liquid is absorbed into the rice before adding more juice.  You do not need to stir continuously but do stir frequently.
  6. Between additions of juice, chopped the second apple and the pear.
  7. After the last portion of juice is added stir in the second apple, pear and brown sugar.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, to soften apples and pears and blend in brown sugar.

This dish was ah-may-zing.  I loved it!  I served it as a side dish with French toast and sausage links.  The risotto itself is a bit sweet so I thought it would be a bit much as a main dish.  However, that wasn’t going to stop me from bringing leftovers as my lunch.

In an effort to add a little bit of fat and protein to my leftovers, I brought along a slice of smoked gouda cheese.  I had no idea if this would be any good, but I’m generally a fan of the apple-cheese combination so I figure it was worth a try.  Holy ohmigod deliciousness Batman!  I didn’t think this risotto could get any better, but I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  The smokiness of the cheese provided the perfect savory balance to the fruity sweetness.  I hadn’t really been looking for a way to make this a main dish, but I found it.  I don’t know how much cheese you should add to the whole thing since I just added a slice to one serving, but I would say add a little bit at a time until you get a good balance.

I also think chopping up some sausage links and mixing those in would be a great way to turn this into a sweet and savory main dish.  I don’t care how you serve it, but you should definitely get on this ASAP!

PS.  I finally updated my Training Page!  My plan for the WI Half Marathon on May 7th is now posted!  I’ll be updating my weekely progress there.