Sunday, January 30, 2011

10 Natural, Organic Oils With Huge Health Benefits

Last night I came across this story from TreeHugger: 10 Natural, Organic Oils With Huge Health Benefits, so I thought I would take the time to share.  There is some interesting information about various essential oils like rose, lavender, lemon balm, pine and even black pepper oil.  Home remedies for acne, PMS, cramps, headaches and all sorts of stuff with just 10 simple oils. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homemade Clif Bars

As mentioned, my plan for this weekend was try try out the homemade Clif Bar recipe from Camilla Saulsbury's personal blog,  Enlightened Cooking.  Wel, I did it and they are excellent!  Camilla's recipe was so easy and so quick that I can't believe I waited this long... oh and on top of that, the bars are super yummy.

Of course, there are a few things I will mention about my version.  Partly because Camilla has left the recipe a little open ended with various options for fruit and nut combination, partly because I couldn't find one of the ingredients and of course, typical me, I picked up one of the wrong items.

Start with Camilla's Recipe for Homemade Clif Bars that can be found here.
I used the following specifications and variations:

Nut Butter:  I used Maranatha Natural Foods Crunchy Almond Butter (No Stir)
Fruit: I used dried cherries that I picked up at our local Fresh Market
Chopped Nuts: I used almonds
Syrup: I look at both Fresh Market and Publix and was unable to locate Brown Rice Syrup.  So I did a little online research and came across a few options.  I decided to go with 1/3 cup of light corn syrup plus 2 tablespoons of brown sugar.  I think it worked.  After I made this substitution, I found the Cook's Thesaurus website that lists a few other options in case you can't find this product either.
Oh and my mistake was that instead of getting ground flax, or flax meal, I actually ended up with flax seeds.  I could have ground them up somehow I think, but I have neither a food processor or a coffee grinder, and was honestly a little lazy about it - so in went the whole flax seeds.

I'm still not sure if the cost of all the ingredients totals an actual save vs. purchasing actual Clif Bars.  I think the cost of the almond butter is what I'm stuck on.  I got an 12 oz container so that will only make three batches and the container cost just under $8.00.  Add in the cost of the dried fruit and the nuts and really, like I said, is it cheaper?  I would have to do the math and break it all down to find out (still pretty sure it is cheaper, the that almond butter was super pricey!).  I imagine that if I used peanut butter (a variation that is listed in the recipe) and peanuts that the cost wouldn't be as significant.  I will more than likely try that in the very near future.  For now, I have 11 little homemade Clif-like snack bars that were fun to make and super tasty.

Also, do check out Camilla's blog as she offer several other recipes for varies types of bars: energy bars, snack bars, power bars etc etc.   I'm looking forward to trying some other varieties as well.  Enjoy!!

Use your Phone to get Healthy

While browsing few a couple headlines on my Time Magazine iPhone app this week, I came across a couple interesting little stories about health, exercise and weight loss.   5 Fitness Apps to Get You Off the Couch and 5 Weight Loss Apps That Work. The posts both provide a little insight to a total of 10 mobile applications that are available - some free and some with an associated cost.  Since I am a super iPhone app addict, I was really interested in what suggestions they gave.  While I as familiar with some, I did also take the time to download a few others.  I had the Lose It! app as well as the Restaurant Nutrition app already installed on my iPhone.  I took the time to also install the Jillian Michaels App (along with another one of her's that I found in the App Store) and the iMapMyRide app (as I really hope to purchase a bicycle within the next few months).

Here's the thing about these apps and any other weight loss/exercise tool: You have to use it for them to do you any good.  I know that we would all like to think that we can install the latest and coolest running app on our phones and be doing 5Ks the next week, but that's not going to happen.  I have a total of nine (9) applications on my iPhone at the moment that are geared toward weight loss or exercise and I have to admit, I regularly use only one of them (and that is the LoseIt! app - which I love).  I do browse through the others from time to time and have watched several minutes of Jillian telling me how to do lunges and chest presses, but I haven't got into the habit of utilizing these free tools.  I have good intentions when I install these apps (most, no all, were free) - isn't it the thought that counts?

If you are interested in checking out the LoseIt app (shown at the left), I highly recommend it.  Its the perfect combo for anyone looking to keep an eye on what they are eating, set goals for weight loss and keep a log of exercise.  It works great to track food intake as well as work-outs or daily activities.  The interface is easy to use to record your meals and snacks.  It also offers a 'my previous meals' option so if you eat the same thing for breakfast everyday, you can easily add daily without extra effort.  The best part is that you set your goal for weight loss within the app and it will then provide you with a target calorie intake for the day.  It will also track other things such as fat and sugars.  There is an option to track weight on a daily basis and you can update your goals as you go along.  Quick, easy, friendly and free.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lazy Pescetarian Dinner: Quick Tuna Noodle 'Casserole'

Today was a long day.  I was up early and spent about an hour on the computer taking care of some random things like bills, emails, social networking, work emails, and a couple other things.  Then I went on with my regular routine of shower, dress, go.  Before the go part, I had to fold a load of laundry and start another.   I whipped up my morning cup of coffee and out the door I went.  I was glad that took the extra couple minutes at home to get my work emails sorted because as soon as I got to the office I was busy and it didn't let up at all during the day.  Lunch time came and I spent a few minutes at my desk scarfing down some left-over fried rice from earlier in the week, a yogurt, some almond snacks and half a bottle of iced tea, which was also left over from earlier in the week.

I finally left the office after putting in 10 1/2 hours and spent the next 45 minutes driving home.  Fortunately, Dan and I had discussed dinner, or lack thereof, earlier in the day.  See, Dan works a very early shift, so he would prefer to eat dinner earlier as opposed to right before he goes to bed.  Therefore, once I knew that my day was going downhill fast, I let my wonderful husband know that I probably wouldn't be making it home in time to get any kind of dinner on the table.  This way he could fend for himself and eat before it was too late in the evening for him.

I planned on a simple PB&J or a grilled cheese sandwich for myself for dinner.  Then, as I reached into the pantry to get out the peanut butter, I saw that we had a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (we had the Three Cheese flavor, but I usually prefer just the good ole Spirals).  Next to that happened to be a can of Starkist Solid White Albacore Tuna (in water) and I knew we had some peas in the freezer.  There it was quick and easy tuna noodle casserole.  I made the mac & cheese as per the package instructions, tossed in a handful of peas (about 1/2 a cup) when the mac & cheese was done.  Then I drained the tuna and tossed it in.  Season with a little salt and pepper and VIOLA! Dinner.  Not really a casserole, but you get the picture.  Probably could use this same recipe and spice it up a bit by putting it into a casserole or other baking dish, top with some bread crumbs and bake for a few. 

Finished my tough day with a quick and easy, yummy dinner, a little blogging, a movie and some nice relaxation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Early reflections

As of today, January 26, 2011, we're just over 25 days into our meat-free diet and just under a month spent eating, what I like to think as, better.  We've explored some new ingredients and tried some new things; some good, some not so good, some freakishly horrible.  We've progressed well, in my opinion, and I'm looking forward to continuing the challenge.  Yes, I'm still in the mindset that this a challenge for me.  I've yet to decide if this will be our eating habits for life.  Dan actually just mentioned this evening that he did plan on eating meat again.  I'm pretty sure that although I really really want a cheeseburger, I don't mind that lack of it.  I recently came across the word "flexitarian" and I think I like it. 

What we do need to do is research.  I mentioned this in an earlier post, but as much as I like to think what we're doing may be healthy - I honestly have no idea.  We haven't done research on what combinations of food we should be eating.  We haven't done research on any side effects of soy (have you heard about this whole Round-up Ready Soybean?!?!).  We don't know if we are ingesting enough protein.  We have no idea what else might be happening by an instant removal of meat from our bodies.  None of this is really that smart.  Most mainstream or commercial diets will advise you not to begin any kind of diet before consulting a doctor.  We also haven't done that.

What have we done, you ask?  We've completely stopped eating all mammals and fowl.  Fish?  Yes, we are still eating fish and crustaceans and seafood in general.  Why?  I'm not really sure.  Maybe because it makes transition a little less harsh and a bit easier to manage.  Maybe because we really like sushi.  We've also stopped eating out, not entirely, but pretty close.  We previously would eat out 2-3 times a week.  Sometimes a sit-down dinner, sometimes to the local fast food joint (which is about a stone's throw from our house), sometimes take-out, sometimes pizza....  but for the past month, I've been cooking.  Not every day, but I've been trying to make sure we've had something for dinner.  This has required a lot of planning and learning and experimenting and effort!

I am disappointed that I have seen any decreases. A little here and there but not as notable as I had hoped.  Not a real big decrease in weight.  Not a significant decrease in the monthly grocery / food costs.  Not sure if I have lost any inches - didn't think to measure myself.  Maybe next month.

I'll end my rambling and continue to move forward.  This weekend, to help possibly reduce the food costs a bit more, I am going to do my best to try make homemade Clif Bars.  I found a recipe for them and am really looking forward to trying it out.  By the way, flexitarian is a term that was discovered at the Enlightened Cooking website... the same place where I found the homemade Clif Bar recipe.  I'll of course let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tofu Crumbles Tacos

It was new meat-alternative product night at our house tonight!  I was on the hunt for some taco type items as I had some left over corn tortillas from Bean & Cheese Enchiladas that I previously made that I wanted to use up, so decided on a less formal taco night for this week.  I saw the Marjon Original Tofu Crumbles at the grocer the other day and figured, what the heck, might as well give it a try.  I knew that I had already purchased a can of Vegetarian Refried Beans so if this product failed, I still had some girth to put into the tortillas.

First impression was the same as when I introduced us to Gimme Lean Ground 'Sausage' in that it sort of looked like cat food in the vacuum sealed package (We actually fed our cats some wet cat food just before this and I will have to say the cat food looked a little more appetizing).  I immediately regreted my decision to spend the $3.99 or whatever it cost.  Again, I forged ahead.  Can't learn unless we make mistakes right?  I think I just gave away that this didn't go over to well.... read on....

So I looked over the packing for the instructions and surprise, surprise, none were available.  I don't understand why these meat alternative products don't include any type of instructions.  The product did contain some simple recipes on the side and back.

After review, I came to the conclusion that I just needed to heat it up. So I moved forward with handling the same way I would for ground beef and slapped in a skillet. I was pretty impressed that once I got it in the pan, it was pretty darn close to looking like ground beef.

The best way for me to explain the results is that this product was unnecessary.  It wasn't bad.  It wasn't good.  It was nothing; just kind of there.  I think that if I was a person that heavily relied on or expected texture to certain foods, then maybe this product would help me with meeting my need for a meat-type feel.  But really, I would have been happy with just the beans that I had for my tacos.  I believe Dan felt the same way.  We tried to spice it up with some chili powder, cumin and other spices and, while it added a little flavor, it didn't do much at all.  I would like to give it another try in maybe a simple spaghetti night and through it in with a jar of sauce.  I could see the texture doing a little good in that type of situation.  Conclusively, I won't count it out as an option; I would like to try it again in a different medium (as mentioned); I wouldn't rush out to buy it again.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

If you need more, try some vanity.

I came across this article the other day: Study: Can a Veggie-Rich Diet Make You More Beautiful? from Time Magazine.  When I first saw the headline, I instantly thought "Excellent, I'll get to learn more about how vegetables are helping with my completion or hair or muscle tone."  Once I glanced over the article I was at first kind of angry about it, but then realized that the writer was kind enough to actually state right in the beginning of the piece that yes, in fact, this was about vanity.  The results are interesting and perception is a funny thing.  There are a few other stories within that one that Time has linked for additionally health related information, so that is a bonus. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shrimp Stir-Fry

I don't recall how we got on the topic late Friday night, but we decided on some stir-fry for the weekend.  Then the idea of shrimp entered the ring and it was on!  The best part about living in the 'Low Country' is that we have a pretty short distance to travel to get fresh seafood.  Our little area is home to the Bluffton Oyster Company who offers a selection of all sorts of seafood and is our favorite place to get shrimp.  I stopped by Saturday afternoon after some other errands and picked up just under a pound (0.80 lb to be exact) of peel-on, fresh jumbo shrimp.

Earlier in the day, while shopping for the weekly basics, I had picked up some sugar-snap peas and some sliced button mushrooms as well to go in the big stir-fry plan.  That was as far as I had got in the plan.  I knew I had rice at home and soy sauce and was just going to fry up the veggies and shrimp and mix it all up.  But something better happened....

When we got married, one of the gifts I, ok, we, received was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Bridal Edition and I have to honestly say that if I could only have one cookbook in my house, it would be this one.  It has recipes for all the basics as well as some interesting alternatives.  The thing I love about this cookbook is that it includes lots of tips recipes for random things like rice (yes, plain rice!), deviled eggs, and other simple classics - things that you might not really need a recipe for, but are glad you have something to reference in case you aren't sure (this can't be just me, right?).  Since I didn't have a recipe for the stir-fry, I turned right to my trusty BHG Cook Book and found one... for Shrimp Stir-fry too!  The recipe I based our meal on was for shrimp and broccoli stir-fry, but I switched it up with the sugar-snap peas.  Once I found this recipe I was SO happy that I had picked up the mushrooms.  I was at the store wandering around trying to figure out what else to put into a stir-fry (this is why I can't go grocery shopping unprepared).

We served the shrimp stir-fry over plain white, long grain rice and it was delicious.  We've already planned to use this same basic recipe to make a pepper stir-fry later this week (Bell peppers were on sale this week at the store, so I bought several).  Also, because I have limited grasp of how much cooked rice is yielded from two cups of uncooked, I'll be using the extra rice to make a fried rice dish too.  All-in-all, this worked out great.  Additionally, we've learned, well, further learned, that we don't need to have any special, fancy vegetarian, pescetarian or vegan cookbooks to eat a pescetarian diet.

Get Ready for Meatless Monday!

Its a movement.  For real.   Check it out here.  Maybe even try it out for yourself.  It doesn't have to be Monday, but one day a week, try to go meat-free.  Who doesn't like a good old personal challenge?  They offer some really cool information kits on their website to help get you started and explain some of the benefits, for you and the world, of cutting back on meat consumption.

And no, I'm not preaching, just sharing.  Check out some info tonight, find a recipe that you might be interested in trying (If you need a suggestion, I like lots of the ones at Simply Recipes), stop at the grocery tomorrow after work, come home and make great meat-free dinner!  Hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weight Loss

I came across this post a few days ago from Steph at The Coexist Cafe: The Coexist Cafe: Vegetarians and Weight Loss.  Because one of the main reason that Dan (yes this was all Dan's idea) was interested in us trying a vegetarian / pescetarian diet was for health reason and mainly weight loss, I found Steph's post to be a great help to me.  Therefore, wanted to share it so it may help others that might also be interested in trying to change things up a bit.

Thus far, I haven't lost any weight (I was down three, then up two, then down one and back and forth for the last 3 weeks), but Steph provides some great information that will hopefully help me get a better grasp on what we need to do to create not only meat-free meals, but also healthy and figure friendly.  The main thing I have noticed in our first 21 or so days as pescetarians is that I feel better. That's it.. I just feel physically improved.  I'm not talking muscles or weight or tone or joints, just over-all.  How else can I explain it?... hmmmm....  You know how when you eat a big meal and you've probably eaten just a little more than you should have and you start feeling like sh*t kind of instantly?  The ones where you just want to lay down, or least undo your pants?  Yeah - I don't have that.  I'm still eating well and I am full (probably too full), but I don't feel bad.  I don't know.. maybe its just me.

So anyway, wanted to share Steph's post (yes, partly so I could easily refer to it myself).  Thank you Steph.  I've just stumbled upon your site recently and enjoy it greatly.  I've already leaned a lot from you in the past few weeks and look forward to more!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Polenta Experiment

I've seen on various cooking shows where they use polenta and fry it or grill it and serve it with various toppings or garnishes, so I thought I would try it out.  I've never made polenta so this was another new ingredient for me as well as another good example of me 'winging it.'   I like to think that I have good ideas to make various dishes, but I might just have to come to terms with the fact that I'm a cook and not a chef.  I can follow the directions, but not really sure if I can make them up.  Its kind of like paint by number... I can fill in the appropriate spaces with color, but I can't make my own painting.

Hence, we have the polenta experiment.  My plan, which was actually executed, was to grab a 'tube' of polenta, slice, fry, top with cheese and sauce.  So I purchased the polenta tube (pre-cooked) pictured below, but did not realize until after I had brought it home and was slicing it open that it was 'flavored' and not just straight up polenta. 

So I did as planned.  I sliced, fried in a little olive oil, plated, topped with some shredded mozzarella and some jarred pizza sauce and finished it off with some fresh basil pieces.  Sounds kick ass, right?  Wrong.  Unfortunately, sun dried tomato &  garlic flavored polenta is not as awesome as it sounds.  This might have worked if it was plain polenta, but with the flavored kind, it was not so great.  Don't get me wrong, I ate it and I kind of liked it.  Without the toppings, the polenta was horrible and I would have to say that this was the first time that I had ever seen my husband spit out the food that I had cooked.  Yup, spit it right out.  Once I put the sauce and the cheese on top, and really when I kicked it up with the basil, it turned out not so bad.  I ate it for dinner and then took the left-overs for lunch the following day (not waste!!).  Dan wouldn't touch it; would not even try it for a second time with the toppings.

Looks nice, huh?  To quantify this a few other ways:  I didn't hate it.  I won't make it again with this flavored polenta.  If I ordered it at a restaurant I probably would have sent it back and ordered something else.  So, the polenta experiment.. fail.  Not sure how long it will take us to try it again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tempeh Tomato Soup

Tonight was another night of what I like to call 'winging it.'   My plan was and I started off with a recipe from the Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook (that I had mentioned I bought last week) for a Tempeh and Tarragon Stew (so awesome that this recipe is available online for you to try too!).  Unfortunately, I did not have all the ingredients of the meal that I had planned to make.  The stew called for tomatoes, garbanzo beans, onion, carrot, Swiss chard, vegetable broth, tempeh and a few other things.  I only had a couple of those items but decided to run with it.  Before I explain exactly what I whipped up, lets talk about tempeh.

Wikipedia explains that "Like tofu, tempeh is made from soybeans, but tempeh is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It has a firm texture and strong flavor." So what is this mean?  Its like tofu but different.  I bought the below pictured product (Three Grain tempeh) to use in the stew... wrong!  As I was preparing this post, I did a little more research and found that there are many different styles and flavors available of tempeh and you can actually make tempeh at home!  Crazy, I know.  Next time, research first, and excitement over trying new product second.  I'll may also have to travel a bit more to get some more options as this was the only tempeh product available to me at our local grocer.

So as mentioned, I only had a handful of the ingredients that I needed to actually make the desired recipe and I decided to press on and do it.  I knew I had enough that I could actually make a soup/stew and decided that since we needed to eat, we were going to eat.  I started by cracking open the tempeh and cubing it as the recipe states.  Oh, still not sure how this stuff tastes, huh?  Well, by looking at the picture below, you may be reminded of something, the same thing that I thought of... yup, suet.  This stuff completely looks like bird seed and lard.  Even when I picked it up at the store, it was the first thing that I thought.  I explained this product to a friend who had asked about the texture and it took me a moment, but was able to describe the texture as similar to a Snicker's candy bar, but without the awesomeness (no chocolate, nougat or peanuts!).  Its firm, yet squishy and soft... if that made any sense at all.  The taste?  It was a little nutty but really it was nothing... just boring and weird; again, sort of like tofu.

So here is how we went along with whipping up what I'm now calling Tempeh Tomato Soup (don't laugh... its worse then some dorm room concoctions):
  • Cube one packaged of tempeh and brown over med-high heat in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until brown.
  • Remove from pan and season with salt & pepper
  • Dice two stalks of celery and add to pan - Cook until softened
  • Add salt, pepper, dried onions (approx 1 tablespoon), dried tarragon (approx 1 tablespoon) and fresh thyme (leaves from approx 4 sprigs) and saute all for about a minute
  • Add cooked tempeh back to pan
  • Add 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • Add 1 can of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)
  • Stir and cook for approx 8 minutes
  • Add 4 cups of broth (I had some chicken broth left over in the pantry so we used that up (no waste) but to keep veggie, use vegetarian vegetable broth)
  • Simmer all over low heat for approx 20 mins

I served this up with a half a pita for dipping.  It was actually a hit in the house, so that means Dan and I ate it.  I took the leftovers for lunch today and it was really good.  The downside?  You guessed it, the tempeh.  The soup was great without it and it didn't seem to really add anything besides volume.   Dan said that he would have preferred the soup with just a little more chickpeas and no tempeh at all.  So I've got another package of tempeh (yes this same three grain kind) in the fridge and might try something else this weekend.  The Lightlife website actually has recipes, so maybe we'll try one of those and see if we have better results.  Oh, and I'll make sure I have all the required ingredients, too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dining Out - A Learning Experience

I found out this weekend that dining out on a restricted diet isn't always easy, and definitely is not as fun.  A friend and I traveled from our home in Bluffton, SC up to Charleston, SC for a bit of a 'girl's weekend', well a girl's overnighter.  We drove up Friday afternoon just after lunch time and came back again Saturday.

So Friday night, after we checked into our lodging, we walked to the restaurant next-door to just grab a quick dinner before we headed to our planned event in Downtown Charleston.  The restaurant that was next to our hotel was Sticky Fingers which happens to be a BBQ-themed chain restaurant. My friend had asked me before we decided on this place to eat if there would be anything on the menu that I would be able to order that did not contain meat.  I assured her that I would find something and was actually very much in the mood for salad (rare).  I have been to this restaurant previously but was not completely aware of what meat-free or fish options they might have available.

To my surprise, the pickings seemed to be slim - well no, they seemed to be slimmer than I expected.  When I look back on it, really, why would the BBQ restaurant try to cater at all for a vegetarian?  All of the main dishes included some type of pork, chicken or beef and there were no available fish dishes.  My original plan was to get some potato skins without the bacon, but they also came with some other type of meat and I wasn't in the mood to pay that much for potatoes and cheese.  Ultimately, I decided on a house salad with balsamic vinaigrette and an order of spinach & artichoke dip (Savannah Dip it was called).  Not the best choices, but it worked.

Saturday, we decided on lunch at a local place in downtown Charleston called Poogan's Porch. My traveling companion had previously visited this restaurant and suggested it be a great place for breakfast.  We ended up there for brunch.  I had previewed the menu and before our arrival I had decided on the French Toast, but once we arrived and I reviewed the menu again, went with the below pictured Carolina Crabcake Benedict. It was excellent and an easy decision. 

The difference between these two dining out experiences made me really think of how difficult it must be for people on restricted diets to dine out.  I'm not just talking about vegetarians or vegans, but also people with food allergies (which I forgot to mention - my friend is allergic to shellfish so dining in the Low Country gets tricky), or health issues that keep them away from certain foods, etc.  I realized that in order to continue to stay on track with our vegetarianism/pescetarianism and enjoy eating out, there will have to be some real pre-planning.  No more BBQ restaurants and no more steakhouses.

So today was Dan's birthday and we decided to have a nice evening out at our favorite sushi spot in town (to be honest, we tried to go to a new place, but it is apparently closed until next month - the downfalls of living in a seasonal tourist area).  I'm very glad that we have decided to keep fish, shellfish and crustaceans in our diet.  I enjoyed a nice bowl of miso soup, a few sushi rolls and a couple tamago sashimi,  Dan had an assortment of things including the below Double Tuna Roll.

So now that I have bored you with the longest post ever!  Just want to wrap it up with:
Two weeks in and no meat so far.  Three days with fish (or similar) dishes, still learning as we are going and still very much looking forward to continuing our meat-free adventure.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two Potato and Mascarpone Gratin

I came across this recipe when I was working on my Christmas dinner menu a few weeks ago.  I was very interested in making it then, but decided to go with a potato dish that was lighter (in case you are interested, I went with a Martha Stewart recipe for Christmas).  So when looking for dishes for this week, this was near the top of my recipe stash and I decided to go with it.  I had initially planned to serve this with fish, but we had the fish yesterday and honestly, neither Dan or I were that interested in a full meal tonight (it is a downfall of ours... we need to work on full balanced meals).

So I stuck to this recipe almost to a tee.  This was the first time I had worked with mascarpone and I'm always excited to try new things.  Mascarpone is softer than cream cheese, but the same sort of medium.  The flavor is like cream cheese but, a bit boring.  I was able to spread it on the layers kind of like butter-cream frosting on a cake.  The only change that I made is that I ran out of scallions during Tuesday's dinner, so I added a little fresh thyme to the bread crumb topping.

Dish came out really well.  The mascarpone got all melty and kind of like a cheesy gravy (but not gross like it sounds).  Topping was lovely and browned and added the perfect crunch, but not too much.  Balance between the sweet potatoes and the red potatoes was nice; although the top layer of the sweet potatoes didn't cook as well as I would have liked so they still had a little bite to them.  Overall great dish, definitely not a full meal.  Funny thing is that while I was enjoying it, I thought to myself that it would be a great dish for a holiday, and it was then that i realized that this actually came from a holiday issue of Rachael Ray's magazine.

I'm out of town tomorrow night on an overnight adventure with a friend, so Dan will be enjoying left-overs.  Not sure what my dinner plans are yet, but of course will be meat-free, but will more than likely include fish or crustaceans since I will be in Charleston, SC.  We'll see what we can find!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Roasted Ratatouille & Baked Tilapia

Tonight's dinner was the first that we have included fish.  Nothing too outrageous or risky, but really good.
Again, I started off with a Every Day with Rachael Ray recipe for Grilled Ratatouille but, oh no, we don't have a grill.  I know this is a crime to some people, but its a luxury that we have not yet indulged in since we bought our house two years ago.  Lucky for me, the magazine page for the recipe (as well as the online version linked above), has the following tip:
Roast the vegetables in a 500° oven for 25 minutes instead of grilling them.  Worked out great.  Back to the rest...
I followed the recipe except for the tomatoes and vinegar.  After the Hot & Sour Soup from last week and the over-vinegar flavor, I decided to cut down on it in this recipe and just used a little sprinkle as opposed to two whole tablespoons (Dan appreciated it).  As for the tomatoes, I may have mentioned that I am not a big fan of raw tomatoes, so I decided instead of buying whole tomatoes, I would use a few of the cherry or plum tomatoes that Dan has already in the fridge.  I also used cheater garlic.  Another sin to some, but I am a huge fan of the diced garlic that is available in the jar all ready to go.  Saves me from stinky garlic hands and a bunch of extra work.

Here's how the veggies turned out after the roasting:
I think this dish would also work well for meat-eaters.  Serve with, or even, toss in, a little boneless skinless chicken and you're good to go for a meaty alternative.   I think this would also be great with a steak or even a pork chop.  Ok, the veggie dish is all around great and can go with anything. Leave out the olives and vinegar if you would like too (Dan didn't care for the olives; he thought it broke up the awesome flavors of the vegetables).

As for the fish, these were frozen tilapia fillets that I had picked up at Sam's Club a couple weeks ago and we had in the freezer.  Let them thaw overnight, drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with lemon pepper.  Baked at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes and that was it.  I need to work on some other options for future fish.  These tilapia fillets are great because they aren't too expensive and they are easy to cook up quick - oven or stove-top.

I did come across a little surprise tonight in one of the bell peppers.  Some interesting little internal, conjoined, double twins.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Sausage' & Pepper Frittata

Tonight was a new adventure for us.  With a vast variety of meat-replacement products that are in the market right now, I decided it may be a good idea to start trying some of these items early on in our vegetarian / pescetarian diet plan so we can get an idea of how they taste, how they work and how we like them.  The thought being that once we find items we enjoy and work well with our lifestyle (ie. easy to prepare, store, handle, and understand), the easier it will be to integrate these items into our daily diet.

I started off with a recipe from Every Day with Rachael Ray Magazine for a Sausage-and-Pepper Frittata, which I have prepared before based on the specifics of the recipe.  Well, on Sunday's shopping trip, I decided to pick up a package of Gimme Lean Ground "Sausage", which is soy-based, with the idea to try it and this recipe in mind.

When I first opened the "sausage", I was a little nervous.  I've seen cat food that looks better than that tube of goo did; but I forged ahead with positive (and hopeful) thoughts for the best.  I followed the packaged directions, oh wait, there really wasn't any besides 'good in your favorite recipes', so I decided to just plop it into the frying pan and cook it up just like I would with ground sausage.  The product did not break and crumble the same way the sausage would so it was actually a little more work physically.  I did notice right away that there was no oil or fat coming off as the browning process progressed as you would experience with real sausage, so I added a little bit of olive oil (maybe a teaspoon, it that) just to ensure it didn't burn up on the bottom on my skillet.  So the Gimme Lean browned up nice and, after a little work, it broke up into little pseudo-sausage bits and ya know what? It tasted just like sausage!  Win! 

Once the browning was done, I continued the recipe as listed with just three slight changes made.  I used green onions (scallions) because I still had two left in the refrigerator that were getting close to their time (no waste!).  Using scallions works well for us because Dan isn't the biggest fan of onions and this seems to be an OK medium between our tastes.  Next change I made was to add a little more olive oil to the skillet as the peppers and onions cooked up.  The recipe calls for the veggies to cook in the left over sausage drippings, but since there were none, I needed a little bit of oil in there to get things moving.  Last change made was to use shredded cheddar instead of goat cheese.  This is purely a taste and financial decision.  I don't think I've ever tried goat cheese and I wasn't sure if I would like it, and I wasn't interested in spending an extra $7-$10 to purchase it when I knew I already had some shredded cheddar at home.

The result:  awesome!  I think this came out better than the first time I made it with actual sausage.  I am super impressed with the Gimme Lean sausage and will definitely be trying it, and maybe other Gimme Lean products again.  I also found this review with pretty much the same thoughts as me (but with a lot more experience behind it).  Overall, success!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Cookbook!

Today was left-overs day at our house.  Neither myself or my husband were really feeling up to cooking and we still had some left overs in the house that we decided to eat up.  So instead of a meal, I'll give you a little info about the new cookbook I picked-up over the weekend and the week ahead.

On a quick trip for essentials at a major retailer, I came across Kim Barnouin's Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook.  I had previously heard of the Skinny Bitch line of books, but  I never looked into them or really have had any idea what they were about or, well, I had no clue, just knew it was something to do with diet.  When I picked up the cookbook and thumbed through it, I noticed right away that there seemed to me a very limited number of dishes with meat. Upon further discovery, I couldn't find any dishes with meat and then noticed that there were several recipes that included meat alternative items such as tofu and tempeh.  So I decided to roll with it and pick it up.

Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook: Crazy Delicious Recipes that Are Good to the Earth and Great for Your BodWhile standing in line at the checkout counter, I began scanning the back of the dustcover and reading through the praises of the cookbook; it wasn't until then that the actual word vegan popped up and then I was really excited about it.  While my husband and I have decided to adopt a vegetarian/pescetarian diet (I'm not sure if I'm ready to go with lifestyle), I didn't think that I would be so quickly interested in further diet restrictions such as full vegetarianism or even a vegan lifestyle.  I don't know if we will move forward (we're only on week 2), but the fact that the thought even crossed my mind is interesting, and surprising, to even me.  So yes, this is a fully vegan cookbook.

The following day, Sunday, yesterday, I sat down with the cookbook and skimmed through the recipes looking for some options during my weekly meal planning task.  I was a bit disappointed that nothing jumped out at me right away as something that sounded amazing or something easy enough to whip up quick.  But then I decided to read the introduction where Barnouin explains a bit about why she adopted a vegetarian and then vegan diet as well as clean eating as a whole.  It was then that I felt a connection.  It seemed to me that Barnouin was just a regular gal, like me, that was looking for a better way of life and eating.  She was looking to stop polluting her body with chemicals and other unnatural items and again, excited!

I've chose only one recipe from Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook for this week's menu but its one that includes tempeh, which is an ingredient that I have never used before - and didn't even know about until last week - so I'm looking forward to the challenge and seeing how this goes.  Also for this week, I've got some soy based "sausage" to include in a frittata recipe - another first for us.  It ought to be an interesting, and maybe challenging, week.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Chocolate 'Mousse'

Here's a quick and easy dessert or treat for you.
Add together 2 tablespoons of Cool Whip Free and a single serving cup of sugar-free pudding (I use Jello Brand but it would be fine with any brand).  Mix well until completely combined.  Viola! Chocolate Mousse at 75 calories and only 1.5 grams of fat.  You can use a little more Cool Whip if you would like... try it out until you find a combo that works for you.

Now I know this isn't the most organic or healthy snack since both pre-packaged pudding and Cool whip are loaded with chemicals and preservatives, but it is a good, quick, low calorie snack in case you are super craving chocolate or sweets and trying to cut down on calories and sugar.

Noodles with Spinach Cream sauce

Tonight's dinner was quick and easy and another one that I've made my own with a little inspiration.  It may sound silly, but I've always been one that has heavily relied on recipes.  My mom is the same way; we both need a recipe to make rice.  Therefore, when I can make something good without a recipe (or even a little mixing it up on my own), I get a little proud of myself.
I started with this recipe from Rachael Ray which I have made before.  The first time I tried it, my husband wasn't a very big fan of the gnocchi (which I will admit I didn't actually make according to the recipe; I used store-bought potato gnocchi) and the dish came out a little heavy for both of us.  I was interested in making this again, mainly because I had spinach left over from last week's Zesty Ravioli Skillet and I didn't want waste anything (another goal of the year.. less waste!) so I decided to go with egg noodles.  I had just enough half & half left over, well, no, I only had 1 1/2 cups so I made up the rest with a little water.  This cut down on the cream part and did make the sauce a little thinner, but it still came out excellent.

So, here's the run down:
  • Cook noodles as per packaged directions (I used the dumpling size - about 1/2 of the 12 oz package)
  • Follow RR recipe (link above) for sauce:
    • " a large, ovenproof skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon flour and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add the half-and-half and simmer, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Working in batches, stir in the spinach and cook over low heat until just wilted, 3 to 5 minutes."
  • Combine noodles into skillet with sauce. 
  • Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and stir until combined.
This made just enough for about 3 servings.  Next time I would probably use the full 2 cups of half & half  and all, or at least more noodles so I can have a little left over for lunches.  The two of us ate this up (mainly me! - also working on portion control.. slowly!)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Zucchini Fritters and Stuffed Mushrooms

Oh my goodness... I never thought this meal would turn out so tasty.

I started with Zucchini Fritters recipe from Simply Recipes.  I made the recipe almost completely as listed.  Used a little more zucchini than suggested (1.38 lbs - two medium and one small), so I used two eggs and I added approximately a 1/2 cup of julienned carrots too (because they were in the refrigerator and I decided this needed a little color).  We left out the side of sour cream or yogurt.  These fritters were excellent. 

Also whipped up a batch of stuffed mushrooms, or stuffing stuffed mushrooms to be exact.  I don't remember when I came across the idea, but I saw it somewhere to make stuffed mushrooms with Stove Top stuffing.  So that is exactly what I did.  I used regular button mushrooms (16 oz package), Savory Herb flavored Stove Top and a little shredded mozzarella.
  • Preheat oven to 375
  • Prepare Stove Top as per package
  • Clean and remove stems of mushrooms (just snap off the stems, no need to cut; clean tops with a damp towel)
  • Toss mushrooms in olive oil
  • Stuff each mushroom top with finished stuffing
  • Top each with a bit of cheese (I used mozzarella, but Parmesan would be good too).
  • Bake mushrooms for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is slightly browned
The meal made plenty for my husband and I.  We both probably ate well move than a serving and there is plenty left for lunch tomorrow!  And we still have soup from yesterday.

I started working on next week's menu and picked up a new cookbook.  More info to follow.

    Friday, January 07, 2011

    Hot & Sour Soup

    Friday night's dinner was Hot & Sour Soup based on a Pampered Chef Recipe.
    I know I've bombarded you with PC Recipes all week, but so far this is the only Vegetarian cookbook I have so that is how I set up our first week.

    This soup was very tasty but a little too much vinegar for us.  I added some extra veggie stock to the left overs and will test it out tomorrow for lunch to see if that toned down the sour part at all.  I used only 1 tsp of the recommend 1-2 tsps of Red Curry paste, since, as mentioned yesterday, I'm not a big spicy fan.  I do love vinegar though and after i finished my bowl, I polished off the rest of Dan's too.  We enjoyed the soup with some store bought Spring Rolls from Fresh Market and the combo made for a great meal.

    I'm excited to start working on next weeks menu.  So far so good!  Tomorrow, I'll be searching and researching recipes for next week so I can hit the grocery store Sunday and get stocked up.  Planning on a 'recipe free' meal of zucchini (probably roasted) and stuffed mushrooms.

    [EDIT] After adding the extra (2 cups) of veggie stock to the left overs, it really helped to cut the vinegar and it was excellent left-overs for lunch!![/EDIT]

    Thursday, January 06, 2011

    Take-out: Veggie Burrito

    Amigo's in Bluffton.

    This veggie burrito from a local Mexican restaurant was super tasty.  It was HUGE!  Loaded with rice, beans, cheese, peppers, zucchini and probably more.  Next time I might ask for some more veggies and less rice.  I was really surprised, and I don't know if this is based on the way the cook the rice or beans, but it actually tasted meaty.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2011

    Zesty Ravioli Skillet

    Tuesday - January 4, 2010
    Zesty Ravioli Skillet
    Pampered Chef

    This dish was super easy and very yummy.  I left out the jalapenos as I am not a very big fan of spicy foods.  I also used plain diced tomatoes and added fresh, thinly slice onions to the pan with the garlic.  
    Up and Downside:  This made a ton!  For the two of us we ended up with 4 or 5 meals out of it.  Good for the wallet but boring for the pallet.

    Monday, January 03, 2011

    Cheese & Bean Enchiladas

    Monday - January 3, 2010

    I started with this recipe but really didn't do anything close to this.
    Basics are the same but, here's what I did:
    • Pan friend each corn tortilla for a few mins in a small skillet (used Pam instead of oil)
    • Added small amount of onions and then Queso Fresco to each tortilla and rolled.  Did half with veggie refried beans, cheese and onions
    • Placed fold down in baking dish (that was drizzled with olive oil)
    • Repeated until baking dish was filled.
    • Covered with one can of enchilada sauce
    • sprinkled with grated monterery jack cheese.
    • Baked, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until cheese melted and heated through
    Simple, quick and easy.  Another one that made a ton so we had enough for dinner and lunch each.

    Sunday, January 02, 2011

    Tofu Parmigiana with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes

    Dinner from Sunday - January 2, 2010

    The above meal is from Pampered Chef.
    Recipe TBA


    Welcome to our first day of vegetarianism... well no, after some research, I've learned that since we have decided to continue to include fish in our diet that we are actually practicing Pescetarianism.   My husband decided that we should try something new for health reasons (we've both been adding lots of pounds lately) so here we are in the new year with a new diet.  I've done a bit of menu planning and been pretty good so far this week.  No meat at all.  No fish either.  So, since I feel the need to keep track of new ventures, figured I'd try to turn this is into a bit of a photo blog of dinners (and maybe some impressive breakfasts or lunches once I get there (so far just leftovers)). 

    My goal on the blog:  Post a photo and the corresponding recipe (if available online or if I take the time to type it) and then provide yay or nay comments or changes made, etc.  There may be some other random posts in between too.  We'll roll with it as we go along.

    So enjoy...
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