Wednesday, August 1, 2012

One Year Down!

Today marks the one-year anniversary of My Great Big Recipe Challenge. Can I have a woot woot?

In all seriousness, this is the perfect opportunity to do a little reflecting on the challenge and lessons learned. Get on your reading glasses - here we go with a super fun list!
  1. My love of cooking and baking mostly healthy fare for my family and friends has not diminished, nor has my obsession with recipes. As you may remember, I was already cooking dinner 4-5 nights a week when schedules allow because I think it is important to do the whole healthy eating/family meal thing, and my commitment to clean/healthy family food has not and will not waver.
  2. The course of the challenge has introduced us to several new foods and some new cooking techniques.
  3. That being said - I still tend to gravitate towards the same kinds of recipes. If I had more motivation, I'd actually go through and count how many versions of chicken fingers, stir fries and sloppy joes I've made during the past year.
  4. I started this blog as an accompaniment to the challenge as I wanted to use it as a learning mechanism for professional development (ugh -really with that sentence?!). After doing this for a year, I completely appreciate now more than ever the time and effort a truly successful blog takes, and I also completely realize that I have zero desire to create a truly successful blog. It's totally OK by me for my readership to mainly consist of my family and friends when they remember to read it (i.e., I tell them to check the blog).  
  5. I seriously want to kick people who compare this effort to Julie & Julia. Not. Even. Close.
  6. I love kale and have been eating it 4-5x/week for the past several months.
  7. I am pretty much the worst food photographer in the world.
Now that I've reached the year point, I have some decisions to make re: the blog and the challenge. That means you get another list - this time in an extra-fun Q&A style.

Q: Am I going to continue with the challenge?
A: After discussing it with the boys tonight, we decided that I will continue with the challenge, but will allow for exceptions/favorites. For example, the kid has been begging for a specific meatball recipe since I last made it (around Thanksgiving), and there are a couple of dishes I love that I would like to add back into the rotation. We all like the spirit of the challenge, and since my recipe collecting obsession is not slowing down, I will continue to try my best to select new recipes each week to try.

Q: Am I going to continue the blog?
A: To be honest, I don't know. The blog has been a bit of a challenge because I find it to be a little repetitive and often times the last thing I want to do after long days that usually start at 4:30a or earlier. If I keep it going, I don't want to half-ass it, but I just don't know that it's really worth it. So, I will give it some more thought. I bet you won't sleep until I make this all-important decision.

Q: Will my obsession with The Beatles ever end?
A: No. It's been 24 years and I'm still going strong.

Amazing. I have nothing more to add. Listen to the guitar riffs. And listen then listen to it again and again and again like I do.

As for the food: With tonight being the one-year anniversary, I took a look at the first recipe I made for the challenge - Buttermilk Pecan Chicken from Health magazine - and went for something similar - Spicy Pecan Popcorn Chicken with Creamy Buttermilk Ranch Dip from EatingWell. I am not typing it out because this blog is already way too long and I don't feel like it, but the boys gave it a gold medal.

Thanks for the support...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Orange You Glad?

I am lacking in energy and inspiration tonight, and still have some other non-blogging things to do before I lose myself in the Olympics, so lets get right to it.

Orange Chicken Stir-Fry
Source: The Carb Lovers Diet Cookbook by Ellen Kunes and Frances Largeman-Roth

  • 2 navel oranges, cut into segments (1 c.) and squeezed to make 1/4 c. juice
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, grated (used minced)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 2 scallions, sliced, whites and greens separated
  • 2 6-oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 c. brown rice
  • 2 tsp vegetable oil (used canola)
  • 1/4 c. sliced almonds
  • 2 bundles watercress (used broccoli instead)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Whisk together OJ, vinegar, ginger, garlic, crushed red pepper and scallion whites in a large shallow bowl. Add chicken and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.
  • Cook rice.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken from marinade and transfer to hot skillet. Cook about 3 mins or until partially cooked through; stir in almonds and watercress. Cook, stirring until watercress is wilted and chicken is cooked. Gently toss orange segments and sesame oil into stir-fry, serve over rice.
Yield: 4 servings (4oz chicken mix; 1/2 c. cooked rice)
Per serving: 378 cals; 10.1g fat (1.3g sat, 3.9g mono, 3.6g poly); 54mg chol; 26g protein; 47g carbs; 135mg sodium; 6g fiber

Eh. The intro graph for this recipe promises a taste similar to Chinese takeout. I haven't had real Chinese takeout in years (seriously - it is so, so unhealthy I can't justify it on my worst days) - but I can tell you that this didn't fill that void. It was uber-healthy, so that's a plus. The hubs picked out the broccoli and oranges, and the kid discarded his oranges, so that was a minus. The orange taste itself didn't come through - I mostly tasted the sesame oil. One other positive? Super easy for a weeknight.

Gratuitous swimming picture of the day: Matt Grevers. I won't ruin the results for you, like CNN does for me

Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Olympic Effort

Olympic fever has hit our house, with the hubs reporting on and watching almost every event possible. I have to admit, even when the hubs isn't around to lord over the TV (and he was gone doing his Man Weekend thing most of this weekend), I switch on the channels to try and get a glimpse of my boy Lochte or listen to some of the inspiring stories that inevitably make me get a little choked up every time. I'm a total softy at the core. Just don't tell anyone.

While tonight's feast would certainly not make for a carb-loading pre-race choice, it was a major effort in prep work. Once all of the chopping was complete, the sprint to the finish was almost as fast as Lolo Jones. (See how I did that?!)

Rosemary-Scented Turkey Quesadillas
Source: Clean Eating, November/December 2011

  • 8 stalks celery, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 4 oz fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped (thaw if frozen)
  • 1 large green pear, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • juice 1 orange
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp evoo
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 10oz ground turkey
  • 8 corn tortillas (6-inch)
  • 2 oz shredded mozzarella
  • Make salsa: Combine 2 stalks celery, half onion, cranberries, pear, 1 clove garlic and OJ. Add 1/4 tsp sea salt. Set aside.
  • In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil on med for 1 min. Add remaining celery and onion and saute for 3 mins. Stir in rosemary, remaining garlic and 1/4 tsp sea salt and saute for 2 mins. Add turkey and cook for 5 mins. Drain turkey mix and transfer to a large bowl.
  • Wipe out skillet and return to med heat. Working in batches, add tortillas to skillet (I could do 3 at a time). Top each with 1/4 c. turkey mix and 1 tbsp cheese and cook for 3 mins. Gently fold 1 side of each tortilla over to make half circles and cook for one more minute, lightly pressing the top of the tortillas down. Repeat with remaining tortillas, etc. Serve with salsa.
Yield: 4 servings (2 quesadillas and 1/2 c. salsa)
Per serving: 345 cals; 10g fat (4g sat, 1g mono, 1g poly); 42g carbs; 7g fiber; 23g protein; 523mg sodium; 65mg chol.

Ugh - the prep on this was annoying. I could have bought pre-minced celery and onions, but I decided to chop away. Regardless, once it was done, it was super fast to cook. I am not a big fan of cooking food in batches because we eat as a family (sans baby, who for now goes to bed way too early), and I always try hard to make sure the food I serve is very hot and fresh. As far as taste - I was kind of expecting the boys to turn their noses up at this one, due to the carefully chopped fruit - but I was pleasantly surprised as the hubs really liked the salsa. The kid? Not so much. Me? Not worth the effort, but it made the entire meal very fresh tasting. The quesadillas were good - despite the batch annoyance, I liked the overall effect once they were done.

Silver (Get it? Going with the medal ranking this week). Good taste, major effort.

PHOTO: Ryan Lochte reacts after finishing first in the men's 400-meter individual medley swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Saturday, July 28, 2012.
Nothing silver about this performance! Lochte Nation!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Fruity Foil

Continuing on with my clean eating efforts, I decided to try a very new dish from one of my fave cookbooks, Clean Eating Classic Comfort Foods. Of course, since it is summer and just a teeny bit warm out, most comfort foods aren't necessarily the best choice for a dinner, but I thought I'd go with it anyway.

So, the meal for tonight - Chicken & Fruit Tangine - includes three ingredients that I have never, ever cooked with: Olives, apricots and prunes. I know for a fact that I do not like olives, so I omitted them immediately. Prunes and dried apricots? I don't know that I've really ever eaten either dried delicacy. In fact, whenever I think of dried apricots, I am reminded of my father calling them "little ears" whenever my mother had them around. You are welcome for that visual.

I wasn't totally sure how any of us would react to this, so rather than typing out the recipe (which I don't feel like doing anyway), I will instead provide you with a snapshot of our reactions. The recipe is very saucy, so I thought the boys wouldn't notice - or might actually like - the prunes and apricots. Plus, I cut them up into little pieces in hoping that they wouldn't be too intrusive.

Me: Yum! Easy to make, delish sauce. Seems like a huge portion for not a lot of calories (429 cals for 1.25 c. chicken mix and 1 c. couscous).

Hubs: Sauce is tasty. I don't do texture or fruit (i.e., he ate only the chicken and couscous).

Kid: Chicken is great! I picked around every single other thing. How many times do I have to tell you I don't like couscous?

In summary, I was the only one who really liked this meal in its entirety. Because peeps, in my book, picking out the prunes and dried apricots and eating the chicken doesn't really count as "liking the food."

Two Forks - ONLY because of the boys. Up to me? Four forks. Yum!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Not-So-Meatless Monday

When I cook several nights in a week, as I am hoping to do this week, I typically try to throw in a Meatless Monday. First, I like the challenge of finding a meatless recipe that the boys will eat, and two, there are a ton of studies out there proclaiming the health benefits of going meatless for a day. I totally subscribe to that theory, and think the whole Meatless Monday movement is a good thing.

However, tonight was not one of those meatless nights. When I was meal planning, I basically picked the first several recipes that jumped out at me, mostly because we had just gotten home from vacation and I didn't have the patience to find something meatless that would appeal to the boys. Plus, this particular recipe has been calling my name for a while, but I never got around to cooking it until tonight. And it has loads of mushrooms!

Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes
Source: Cooking Light, June 2011

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 12-oz ground sirloin
  • 2 (8-oz) packages pre-sliced crimini or button mushrooms
  • 1 c. pre-chopped onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 c. no-salt added tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp minced fresh oregano (didn't use fresh)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 tsp salt (skip)
  • 3/4 tsp pepper (skip)
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • Buns
  • Heat a large nonstick skillet over med-high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Add beef, cook for 4 mins or until browned, stirring to crumble.
  • While beef cooks, finely chop 'shrooms in a food processor. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic to pan; cook for 3 mins or until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to pan; cook 5 mins or until mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Stir in pepper and hot sauce.
Yield: 4 servings (1 c. beef mix/1 bun)
Per serving: 439 cals; 14.7g fat (4.6g sat; 6.8g mono; 1.9g poly); 27.3g protein; 49.7g carb; 4g fiber; 55mg chol; 618mg sodium

The kid devoured his sammy and asked for seconds. Methinks he did not notice the mushrooms, because he is not typically a fan of the fungi. I, on the other hand, pretty much love all things mushroom, so the taste was kind of lost on me. The hubs grunted his approval as he shoveled in the food. Overall, this was a good dish, but I didn't find it to be that different from other sloppy joe/jane dishes we've had in the past. One note: Cooking Light did include this in its 20-minute "Super Fast" section, and it took exactly that amount of time - and I even chopped my own onion!

Three Forks

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Back to Reality

Well peeps, vacation has officially come to a close. After stops in the historic burgs of Fredricksburg, Jamestown, Williamsburg and Norfolk, we hit the Outer Banks and did a significant amount of beaching and family-ing (YES, I know that is not an official word, but it is in my world). And now we're back home.

My mood re: vacation being over matches this song. Plus I tend to dress in black.

Some quick notes for you re: the vacation. I heart Fredricksburg and Williamsburg. Way different than I expected - lots of shopping and super quaint. In Norfolk, we hit two spots from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Get Fresh Cafe at the Five Points Community Farm Market for dinner and Doumar's to taste ice cream from the place that originated the ice cream cone. The kid is mildly obsessed with "Triple D" and has decided to email the show to suggest Guy visit the amazing Duck Donuts.

On to the recipes. Whilst on vacation, I volunteered to make dinner two of the nights. I like to cook, so this really wasn't a problem or burden, and, as I've mentioned, my family is always over-enthusiastic about my cooking abilities, so who wouldn't like that little ego boost? To keep things simple, I selected the recipes in advance, and made No-Boil Lasagna and Turkey Enchiladas, both from "500 Low-Sodium Recipes" by Dick Logue. I also made Oreo & Fudge Ice Cream Cake from Kraft Food & Family (Summer 2007). All of the recipes required few ingredients and all received standing ovations from the crowd (I kid, I kid).

As we are just returning from vacation, I felt like our meals needed a clean kick-start this week, since we did some minor indulging (although I did manage to squeeze in a few morning walks and runs!). So tonight we had Chicken Rotini from The Eat-Clean Diet Cookbook, by Tosca Reno. I don't feel like typing in all of the ingredients, but let's just say that it involved fresh chopped tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion, basil, sweet potato, and more.

The kid was not a fan. He liked the chicken (plain) and that's about it. The sauce "wasn't his thing." Despite all of the offending veggies, the hubs liked the meal, as did I. The hardest thing with this one was the chopping, but otherwise it was pretty easy. I feel cleaner already.

Three Forks

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Turkey Tuesday

Last week we had Taco Tuesday, so today we're going with Turkey Tuesday. Color me creative.

Today we could also go with Tired Tuesday as I am feeling a little spent.

Luckily, tomorrow is my last day in the office for about a week and a half, as we are heading to the beach with the fam. I'm not sure if I am going to blog while I'm being lulled to sleep by the ocean, but I do have a couple of meals planned and will catch you up on my exciting (non) adventures upon our return. So yes, peeps, this is probably your last blog for a while.

Road trip!

Turkey Tenders
Source: Cooking Light, March 2011

  • 1 pound turkey tenderloin
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 c. panko
  • 2 tbsp grated parm
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt (used garlic powder)
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cut tenderloin in half lengthwise; cut into 20 (2-inch) pieces.
  • Place flour in a shallow dish. Place egg substitute in another. Combine panko, cheese, garlic, salt in another dish. Dredge turkey in flour; dip in egg, and dredge in breadcrumb mix.
  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high, swirling to coat. Add turkey pieces to pan; cook 2 mins on each side. Place turkey pieces on a broiler pan. Bake for 5 mins, then turn over and bake 5 more mins or until golden brown.
Yield: 4 servings (5 pieces/serving - I assumed 4oz)
Per serving: 227 calories; 6.1g fat (1.2g sat, 2.7g mono, 1.3g poly); 32.9g protein; 11g carb; 47mg chol; 237mg sodium

We also had:
Lemon-Herb Rice
Source: 500 Low Sodium Recipes, by Dick Logue

  • 2 c. cooked rice (used brown)
  • 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth (used no-salt added)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/3 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley (skip - didn't have)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper (skip - don't like)
  • Stir all ingredients together in a saucepan and heat through. Eat.
Yield: 4 servings (I assumed 1/2 c./serving)
Per serving: 105 cals; 2 g protein; 0g fat; 9mg sodium; 0mg chol.

I changed up the turkey recipe a smidge. Because I am not the most adept at pan searing, and I don't like smelling my my kitchen after I do it, and I was being lazy (please refer to song selection "A" above), I instead just put all of the tenderloins on a baking sheet and sprayed them with cooking spray, then flipped after 10 mins and sprayed again. I think the result worked. I also think these are like pretty much every other tenderloin/finger/nugget recipe I have - nothing special, but tasted good. The rice was also nothing special - a nice little switch-up from plain brown rice, but it did not garner any oohs or aahs from the crowd.

Turkey: Three forks
Rice: Two forks

See you in a few!