Monday, March 26, 2012

The Bad Blogger

Ok, it’s truth time.  Between our busy schedules and some recent kitchen disappointments, I don’t have a recipe to share for this past weekend.  However, I thought I would share one of my inspirations for this blog: improving my health.
At the end of last summer, I began to experience some asthma issues that I hadn’t dealt with in almost 17 years.  After multiple trips to the doctor and a variety of attempted treatments, I finally found a prescription combination that has almost completely controlled my condition.  Unfortunately, almost 6 months passed while I was struggling to breathe, and that made it impossible to stay in shape.  As a result, I about gained 20 lbs.
This is the third time I’ve battled weight issues.  The last time, I found a simple system that worked efficiently.  This time, it’s been more difficult to get my shape back.  I’d like to share some of the tips that have worked for me, as well as some I would still like to try.
The last time I lost the extra 20 I kept a weight journal.  In it, I recorded the following:
  • I allowed myself one “bad thing” per day (For me, usually this meant soda or sweets)
  • I required myself to spend 30 minutes per day or 3 hours per week of activity (Anything that increased my heart rate or made me break a sweat)
  • I recorded my daily weight before breakfast (I also measured my waist on a weekly basis)
I also started paying attention to calories.  I only “counted” calories in snacks, but I learned to portion certain foods like cereal.
Since starting my weight loss plan, I’m also trying to do some of the following:
  • Drink water or Crystal Light instead of soda. (Even though juice contains sugar, I am also a fan of it because of the nutritional benefits you get, unlike with diet soda.) You could also add fruit juice to carbonated water to help wean yourself off soda.  In addition, coffee is a better option for caffeine than soda as well.
  • Always eat breakfast; eat smaller, more frequent meals; and taper off your meals throughout the day (You can also suppress hunger by eating snacks that are high in protein)
  • Make simple substitutions like choosing vegetable spread instead of butter, sandwich wheat bread instead of white sandwich bread, or baked chips instead of fried chips (However, I can’t bring myself to substitute corn instead of flour tortillas, black beans for chocolate in brownies, or applesauce for vegetable oil in baking)
  • Eat fish one night a week, and eat vegetarian one night a week
  • Avoid sodium-filled prepackaged foods, and limit your added sugar intake to 3 tbsp. per day
In addition to these diet tips, it is highly recommended that people who are fighting their weight take 10,000 steps per day (which is the equivalent of walking approx. 5 miles).  While walking can give your legs a great workout and help you drop inches overall, you can carry 3 lb. weights to help tone your arms.
And finally, don’t look at pictures of supermodels for inspiration.  Use pictures of yourself at your most fit, or look for healthy body images like Christina Hendricks, Beyonce Knowles, or Kim Kardashian.  Know that these things take time, and what might work for one person might not work for another (even in the same family).  Check out Tracy Anderson’s Metamorphosis program to determine your body type, and look for programs that target your specific weight issues.
I know that my genetics determine that I will always have to watch my weight, but I don’t plan to stop enjoying food.  I don’t want to develop an unrealistic body image, but I do want to be around to see my future children and grandchildren grow up.
Next week, I will resume posting recipes, but until then, here are some weight loss tools you might find helpful:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Taste the Rainbow

This St. Patrick’s Day, the hubby and I started celebrating early.  We had plans with some friends on Friday, so I made my shepherd’s pie which was inspired by a Rachael Ray recipe.  (I will point out, that aside from the lack of lamb, this is not a traditional recipe because it doesn’t contain colcannon.  I think Rachael still came up with a pretty amazing dish despite her lack of Irish lineage though.)  For our vegetarian friend, I steamed the carrots and peas and made twice baked potatoes – minus the bacon bits.
Here’s my version…

Shepherd’s Pie

*1 – 1 ½ lbs. ground beef (diet lean ground round)
*Approx. 1 cup baby carrots, chopped
* – ¾ can sweet peas
*1 pkg. McCormick Au Jus Gravy (and 1 cup water)
*¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
*2 lbs. brown (Russet) potatoes, peeled and cubed
*½ cup sour cream
*1 large egg yolk
*½ cup half and half
* ¼– ½ cup butter, melted
*Scallions (Green onions)
*Garlic powder to taste
*Salt and pepper to taste
*Paprika for garnish (optional)

*You will need a small pot, a large pot, a deep skillet and either a micro-cooker (i.e. Pampered Chef) or an additional small pot, as well as a large bowl and a 9x13” casserole dish
*Spray the casserole dish with cooking spray
*In the large pot, bring water to boil while you prepare the potatoes
*Boil potatoes in salted water for 10-12 mins. (or until tender)
*In the large bowl, combine sour cream, egg yolk, butter, half-and-half, and scallions (When potatoes are done, you will add them to the cream mixture and mash until almost completely smooth)
*Steam carrots for approx. 3 mins. in micro-cooker
*Spray the large skillet with cooking spray and add meat, cooking over med-high heat
*Brown and crumble meat for 3-4 mins., add salt and pepper to taste
*Add carrots and peas, cooking 5 mins.; stir frequently
*In the small pot, prepare Au Jus (gravy)
*Add gravy to meat mixture
*Transfer the contents of the skillet to the casserole dish
*Spread potato mixture evenly over the meat and vegetables
*Top with extra paprika for color
*Place casserole dish on top of a large cookie sheet and broil (6-8” from top of oven) uncovered on high (350-375°) for 25 mins. (or until potatoes are evenly golden brown)
*You may top with parsley instead of paprika, but this must be done after cooking or the broiling process will cause the parsley to brown

You should wind up with something that looks like this:
A great dessert to pair with this dish would be a Betty Crocker grasshopper fudge cake topped with mint chip chocolate chips and shamrock sprinkles.
We spent St. Patty’s Day at a local Irish pub that we affectionately call “Danny Boys”…

... and a new sports bar in town called Pitchers which has taken up residence in the building which until recently housed another favorite Irish pub, Castletown Geoghegan.

While we seemed to have the luck of the Irish on our side all week with temperatures in the 80s, we did experience a wicked downpour midday.  The rain made for some pretty – and very appropriate – rainbows though!
My only regret was not being able to wear the new McClaren's Pub t-shirt my hubby bought me for my birthday.  (I love that he thinks I’m a size small though!)
I suppose there’s nothing more to say except, “Erin go bragh!” 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring is in the Air

Time changed this morning, but rather than enjoy the additional daylight, we spent most of the day occupying ourselves with rainy day activities.  (My husband played on his Xbox while I painted pottery, and we re-watched season 1 of Game of Thrones.) 

Due to the crummy weather typical to early March in the Midwest, I decided to pull out our trusty crock pot and make homemade chicken noodle soup.  I realize now that I was spoiled growing up because my mom has almost always made her noodles from scratch.  I’m too lazy to do all of that (and we don’t have the counter space to lay noodles out to dry all day).  But who says chicken noodle soup can’t be “homemade with help” as well?  I promise that if you make this recipe even once, you’ll never eat canned soup again!

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

*1 pkg. chicken breasts, thawed and cubed
*4 carrots, cleaned, peeled, and sliced
*2 celery stalks, cleaned and sliced
*4 cups (32 oz.) chicken broth or stock
*2 chicken bouillon cubes
*½ pkg. Mrs. Miller’s Homemade Old Fashioned Egg Noodles (preferably in kluski)
*Minced onion flakes, parsley, and salt & pepper to taste
*⅓ stick butter, optional

Pour chicken broth and bouillon into a large crock pot and turn to high.
Clean and prepare vegetables and add to the pot along with spices.
Cut up chicken and add to the pot before covering.
Leave for 4 hours.
When you are approx. 20 minutes from serving, add noodles, and make sure they are well submerged.
Allow noodles 20 mins. to cook down, then serve your soup with grilled cheese, buttered crackers, or oyster crackers.  (I prefer the buttered crackers.)
You should wind up with something that looks like this:
Chances are we will be eating this meal for a few days because it makes about 6 adult-size servings.  My only complaint is that I have to store it in multiple containers because the gallon-sized ice cream container I kept for this exact purpose was used to mix grout for our bathroom remodel… so I guess I’ll have to invest in a new storage container.
All I know is that I’m looking forward to a week of predicted temperatures in the mid to upper 70s, and I’m looking forward to the season 2 premier of Game of Thrones!  Only 21 days!!!

Image courtesy of

Sunday, March 4, 2012

It’s My Party and I’ll Eat If I Want To…

Yesterday was my 28th birthday, and originally I had very simple plans for the day.  I wanted breakfast in bed, movies in bed, and to have my husband’s complete and undivided attention from the time I woke up until the time I went to sleep.  However, after fielding many questions about my birthday plans, I decided to share my day with a few other friends while watching the Blues hockey game and a cult classic, Slapshot, starring another food icon: Paul Newman. 

Mr. Newman actually released at least 3 cookbooks in his life: Newman’s Own Cookbook, Shameless Exploitation, and The Hole in the Wall Gang Cookbook, all of which he co-wrote with A. E. Hotchner.  (On a side note to any male readers, there is nothing sexier than a man who cooks!)
We started with a one of my absolute favorite brunches: ham and cheese quiche!  As it were, I actually taught my husband to make this dish yesterday morning. 

Ham and Cheese Quiche

*4 eggs
*2 cups milk
*1 cup Bisquick
*1 pkg. shredded Colby Jack cheese
*Approx. 6 oz. ham, cubed (We like Double G brand)
*Salt and pepper to taste

Spread the ham and cheese over the bottom of a greased 9” round baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and milk, then add the Bisquick, salt and pepper.  (I always use twice as much pepper as salt.)
Pour the Bisquick mixture over the ham and cheese, and bake at 350° for an hour.  Allow 5 mins. to cool before serving.

You should wind up with something that looks like this:
Then, I chose a mutually favored dish for dinner – crispy Italian beef – accompanied by an old favorite of mine, but somewhat uncharted territory for my husband – cheesy spinach casserole.  Usually, we serve our Italian beef with spaghetti noodles covered in butter, garlic, and parmesan, but since I was pleasantly surprised by a 7-lb. weight loss (according to my scale) yesterday, I thought it best to skip the extra carbs.  You could always serve the pasta with a Caesar salad and skip dessert though.  (We also like to indulge in Cole’s garlic bread from time to time as well.)

Crispy Italian Beef (also known as Sicilian Steak or Bistecca Siciliano)

*1 pkg. cubed round steak
*Italian bread crumbs
*Vegetable oil or EVOO
*Parmesan cheese
*Lemon juice

Cut the round steak into single serving sized pieces.
Pour oil into one bowl, and 4 parts bread crumbs with 1 part parmesan in a separate bowl.
Dip the steaks into the oil, then into the bread crumb mixture.
Place in a 9x13” casserole dish, and squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over each steak.
Bake at 350° for 50 mins. uncovered.

Cheesy Spinach Casserole

*1 pkg. frozen spinach, drained
*8 oz. large curd cottage cheese
*½ pkg. Colby Jack cheese
*3 eggs
*⅓ stick of butter, melted
*3 tbsp. flour
*Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the butter and flour in a mixing bowl.
Add the eggs, cottage cheese, and Colby Jack.
When this is thoroughly combined, add the spinach, but don’t over mix this or the spinach will break down.
Add salt and pepper to taste.  (I always use twice as much pepper as salt.)
Spread into a greased 9x9” casserole dish.
Bake at 350° for an hour covered.

You should wind up with something that looks like this:
And finally, for the pièce de résistance: salted caramel brownies!

Salted Caramel Brownies

*1 box Duncan Hines Double Fudge brownies (with ingredients on back)
*1 bag of Rolo candies
*Sea salt
*Cupcake papers

*3 ½ cups powdered sugar
*1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
*4 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
*1 tbsp. vanilla
*Caramel ice cream topping
*Sugar crystals

Prepare the brownie batter in a mixing bowl.
Place cupcake papers in a standard muffin tin.
Pour batter into the papers to approx. full, and place an unwrapped Rolo in the center of the brownie.  
Add a pinch of sea salt to the top of the caramel, then bake at 350° for 28 mins.  (This should yield approx. 14 brownies.)
While brownies are cooling, combine butter, milk and vanilla in a mixing bowl, then add powdered sugar in small increments.  (Otherwise, you will wind up with a dust storm in your kitchen.)
Ice brownies when cool, then top with caramel sauce and sugar.

You should wind up with something that looks like this:
So, I didn’t get to be waited on hand and foot, but I suppose that was my own fault.  However, if I’d stuck to my original plan, I wouldn’t have gotten to spend some much needed time with some of my favorite people!  And for the record, the Blues won 3-1 last night!  Stanley Cup, here we come!