Farmer’s Market Sandwich (Again)

I’m kind of obsessed with this sandwich.  I made it for dinner Tuesday night, and then had it again for lunch Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

It’s good, ya’ll.  Even if you’re not a big fan of squash, you might like it this way.  Besides, what else are you going to do with all the extra squash your neighbor keeps giving you?

I made a video how-to of this last year, which I’ll post at the end.  But if you prefer the drool-worthy picture step-by-step, here you go.

You’ll need: squash or zucchini, olive oil or balsamic vinaigrette, pesto, basil and real mozzarella (the kind that comes in a ball). 

1. Preheat oven to 350. 

2. Cut your squash (and/or zucchini) into rounds that about as thick as a quarter. 

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(PS, that’s my cute sister in my kitchen!)

3. Lay the squash coins out flat on a cooking sheet.

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4. Drizzle with olive oil or… even better the balsamic vinegar recipe I gave you in my previous post!  Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash’s, or Italian Seasoning or good ol’ salt n pepper.

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5. Roast the coins in the oven at 350 for 20 minutes.  Check them half way through, and flip ‘em over.

6. Meanwhile, spread about 2 tsp of pesto on a slice of bread.

7. Lay two thin slices of mozzrella (abt 1 oz) on the bread.  Sprinkle a little pepper on, and microwave for 10 seconds just to get it a little melty.  This is about where you should be dying from the delicious aroma of pesto + melted cheese. 

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8. Cover the mozz with basil.  I really don’t believe in too much basil, but use your own discretion. 

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9. Once the squash is cooked, add it as the “meat” of your sandwich.

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10. Devour.  Repeat for the next four days in a row.

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Okay, if that wasn’t good enough for you, you can watch me make it here.  This is a lower-calorie version with a few swaps, but the steps are still the same. 

Farmer’s Market Bounty

I was just thinking to myself the other day that I wished we still operated in a world where “bartering” was common and people paid for services with fresh eggs and zucchini and green beans, cos I had a hankering for some farm fresh food and no space in my day to get to the Farmer’s Market!

Be careful what you wish for, right?  A day after thinking this thought, I was given a bag of green beans, a bag of zucchini and squash, THREE bags of basil (pesto), a whole heap of cucumbers and some heirloom tomatoes.  It was time to get cooking!

This is obviously the best time of year for fresh veggies, and if you’re lucky to live near a Farmer’s Market (or have clients who show their thanks in produce) then this is the time to take advantage of the Earth’s bounty.  But one of the challenges of eating from the market, is eating what’s in season… and that might sometimes be veggies that you aren’t familiar with.  If your usual veggie MO is to tear open the bag of romaine and pour some ranch dressing on, then let me introduce you to my favorite veggie prep method…. ROASTING!

Roasting is so absurdly easy it shouldn’t even be called a technique, but I think it is truly the most delicious way to prep a vegetable.  Really…. better than a Bloomin’ Onion.  Roasting brings out the natural sugars in vegetables and makes their flavors sweeter, more potent and diminishes the bitter flavor that turns many people off from veggies.

Almost any veggie can be roasted.  My favorites are zucchini and squash, green beans, asparagus and root vegetables (onions, potatoes, beets.)

Prep work:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  A nice toasty oven is the key to roasting.
2. Chop veggies into even sized pieces.  I like either “one bite” or “two bite” pieces.  (You know, a piece you can eat in either one bite or two bites.)

3. Put your veggies in a ziploc bag and add 1 T of olive oil.  You may have to adjust that depending on how many veggie pieces you have, but I find that’s enough to cover a whole cookie sheet of veggies.  Shake shake shake to coat all the pieces.
4. Lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.  If you’re not into messes, you could cover your cookie sheet with tinfoil and you’ll have the easiest clean up EVER.

5. Sprinkle with a little bit of rock salt, and pepper if you’d like.
6. Roast for 10 minutes.  Take out and move around (stir, flip, shuffle… just wiggle them around a little bit.)  10 more minutes, shuffle.  10 more minutes.
***Pay attention after the 2nd 10 minutes (20 minutes cook time.)  Some veggies will be done at this time.  You can taste or poke to be sure.
7. EAT!  )That’s my favorite step, of course.)

Alternative Options:
#1) Dress with balsamic vinaigrette for a little more flavor (works especially great on squash and zucchini.)
Shannon’s Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (makes a big batch)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 T dijon mustard
1 T sugar

In case you’re wondering, Shannon was the owner of the coffee/sandwich shop I worked in all through high school.  We kept this dressing on hand and put on just about every salad and sandwich we made.  I still keep a batch of it on hand at all times.

#2) Toss afterward with a homemade vinaigrette.  Here’s one of my favorites to toss on green beans.
3 T olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
2 t sugar
1 t dijon mustard
Any chopped herbs you might have (parsley, basil, dill) or a pinch of dried basil
Put in a glass jar with a lid and shake to emulsify, pour over hot green beans and serve!

Now, heat up that oven and get you some veggies!

Write It Down

Subtitle: “How I Earned an All Expense Paid Trip to the Dominican Republic”

There’s a well-known study in behavioral psychology about the 1953 graduating class of Yale University.  3% of that class, upon graduation, committed their goals down to paper.  20 years later, follow up on the alumni from this group found that those 3% had acquired more wealth than the other 97% graduates combined!  This study is frequently cited as a powerful testimony to the power of the written word.

Unfortunately, the study never happened.  Yup, just like many urban myths that proliferate through email forwards and websites, there’s not a parcel of truth to this study.

Or is there?

Both Yale and Harvard (who is sometimes listed as the graduating university in variations of the story) have both confirmed that this study never existed, despite the fact that consultants, coaches and business managers have been quoting it as a foundational principle for achievement and goal setting for years.  The persistence of this belief, to me, indicates that it is an idea that does still resonate with us, even despite the apparent lack of empirical data to support it.

I’ve always personally subscribed to the power of the written word, whether it’s using day to day logging (like food logging, or tracking exercise) or journaling for more long term goals and self-reflection.  Recently, I’ve been cleaning out a filing cabinet that contains at least four years worth of papers and documents.  In my paper shuffling, I came across some interesting pieces of evidence about the power of writing things down.

The first was a pretty heavy-duty piece of self-reflection that I had to complete as part of my coaching training, about 3 years ago.  The questionnaire was an exhaustive 20 pages, but of course, I couldn’t help but dive in to see what had changed in the time that had transpired.  One of the exercise involved evaluating how you spent your time vs. how you would like to spending your time, and as I read through exercise I saw that I had written that “I feel like I am living on adrenaline, constantly rushing from one thing on my to do list to the next and never feeling like I was actually present in the moment.  If the only thing that changed after coaching training was this feeling, it’d be worth every dollar I’m paying to be here.”

I re-read that statement three or four times before I realized that I had really written that, and felt that way.   I don’t feel like that at all anymore.  I can’t say that I consciously came up with a plan to put in to place to slow down my life, although I could probably attribute the change to regular gratitude journaling, somewhat regular meditation, and saying “no” more often.  I was amazed to see that while I had not consciously focused on creating that change, I had indeed created that change.  (Guess my coaching training WAS worth every dollar I paid for it.)

The next thing I found was a “wheel of wellness” that I had created a few years ago to use with clients.  It’s a wheel with various aspects of wellness (food choices, emotional eating, energy balance, etc) and the client rates their satisfaction on a scale of 1-10 in each wedge of the wheel.  It gives you a picture of how balanced their life is, and it also helps identify areas to start working on.  I had “tested it” on myself about 3 years, and had written on the back that the only area I was dissatisfied with was my food choices, in particular the amount of processed foods I used.  I had written that my primary goals would be to cut back on diet coke (which was an at least once a day addiction).   I shoved that paper into a drawer and never looked at it again.

But what happened?  A few months ago, my husband and I decided we would stop buying soda to keep in our house.  It’s still my ‘go to treat’ but now instead of having one every day for lunch, and sometimes again after work, I have 2-3 a week.  I didn’t consciously make that decision remembering the wheel, but nonetheless, my written down goal has come true, again without really a great deal of effort!

Okay, you want to know how I went on an all expensive paid trip to the Carribean don’t you?  The last piece a paper I found was entitled “BIG WIGS.”  WIG stands for “Wildly Improbable Goals,” and comes from Martha Beck’s book Finding Your Own North Star.  (A fantastic “soul-searching” book that I highly recommend.)  Beck’s premise is to write down goals that are SO wild, so improbable, so crazy that you can’t even imagine how they’d come true.  This gets you out of the “yeah, but….” self talk that tends to circle Somewhat Probable Goals (not very catchy, I know).  I won’t tell you what all my WIGs were (because the other ones are going to come true, I know now)… but I had written “All-expense paid trip to somewhere warm and tropical with my hubby.”

WELL.  I heard the Twilight Zone music start to play when I read this.  Last year, I was talking to a friend who told me about a program where Personal Trainers could go work a week at a number of different resorts in exchange for their and guest accommodations and food.  As I still had my personal training certification active, I signed us right up and last May, Matt and I lounged around in the Dominican Republic, all expenses paid, in exchange for 2 hours working as a personal trainer ever day.

Now, my WIG didn’t exactly mention I’d be working for 10 hours that week, but do yout hink I’m complaining?  NOPE!

The last piece of paper was what struck me the most, because at the time, when I wrote it, I couldn’t foresee any possible way that we’d be headed somewhere warm and tropical … and not pay a dime.  But that’s the magic… I couldn’t imagine it, so there was no doubt or anything to get in my way. There’s something powerful that happens when we write things down, and tuck them away.

Look, some goals need to be SMART goals.  They need specifics, they need plans, they need follow-up.  But some goals are either so big and too wild to tame (like my trip), or they’re a little fuzzy around the edges to create a how to plan (my “less adrenaline, please” goals.)  And some goals fall in the “would be nice” category – you’d like to make them happen, but maybe they lack a little bit of the urgency that creates an “okay, what’s next?!” kind of plan. These goals might not need the same kind of systemic, SMART style plan that clearly defined, specific, and time-oriented goals need.

Some goals need plans, and some goals need incubation.  The latter – the wild ones, the fuzzy ones and the non urgent ones, are the perfect types of goals to incubate.  To write down, to dream about, and then to put away to hatch.  I’m not promising that everything you write down on a piece of paper comes true, but I’m a firm believer that the actual act of committing your dreams or goals to paper is one of the very critical pieces in creation.  It’s an act of intention. Taking it out of the mind, putting it consciously on to paper.  Putting words to the dream.

Someone once said “a goal is just a wish until you write it down.”  It may not have been a Yale graduate who uttered those words, but it’s sage advice nonetheless.

You don’t have to know how to make a goal happen yet.  But writing it down is the first step towards committing your intention to making it happen.

I challenge you to write down 3 goals:

(1) one BIG WIG goal.  Fairly specific, but so wild you can’t even imagine how it would happen goal.

(2) a fuzzy goal – a feeling or experience or a state of being you’d like.  Again, you don’t have to know how it’ll happen.

(3) a non-urgent goal.  Something you’d like to do, but don’t feel stressed about.

Write it down in a journal.  Write in a piece of paper you fold up and tuck into the back of your filing cabinet.  Leave it in the comments.  Send it to me an email.  (If you do, I promise to email you in 2 years and see where you are!)

Just begin with the intentional act of committing your goals to the written word, and let the magic take hold.  Trust me, you’ve got nothing to lose and maybe a vacation to go on…. Endless pina coladas by the poolside?  Yes, please!

Pesto!

For Valentine’s Day, my husband gave me a plant.  It’s called a polka dot plant.  And it’s sitting on a pot behind my kitchen sink.  The fact that it’s actually alive, a whole five months after I have acquired it is a miracle in and of itself.  I’m not exactly known for my green thumb.

One of these days though, I’d like actually have a garden.  I’d like to experience putting seeds in the earth and getting my hands dirty and seeing the fruits (and veggies) of my labor sprout out months later.  In the meantime, though, I’ll have to be content with polka dot … and my friends sharing the excess production from their labors.

Last week we had a potluck party to celebrate a friend’s birthday and another friend leaving for Italy.  Our friends showed up with dinner dishes in hand, and a bonus – basil!  Three of my girlfriends – Jamie, Anne and Akanksha – all came with a Ziploc baggie full of basil.  I knew exactly what I had to do with all this fragrant delicious green stuff… make pesto!
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This recipe comes from my Aunt Jennifer.  It’s incredibly simple, but so flavorful.  I make it in my food processor, but for years – during college and grad school – I would actually make it in a blender.  (Meaning if you don’t have a food processor, don’t despair… you can still make this!)

Here’s the recipe:
2 cup packed basil leaves
½ cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup toasted pinenuts
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
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Throw in a blender or food processors.  Whirl.  Eat.
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Uses for pesto:
–          My Aunt Jennifer always cooks tortellini and chicken and tosses it in pesto.
–          I toss on roasted beets + potatoes for a little flavor.
–          Make a Caprese salad (sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and basil) and drizzle a little pesto over.
–          Slice a French baguette into thin slices, drizzle a little bit of pesto on each piece and add chopped tomatoes on top.  Broil for instant bruschetta!
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Pesto IS very calorically dense (cheese, olive oil, nuts….) – so remember, a little bit goes a long way.  But it’s a great way to use fresh basil from your garden, as well as heart healthy olive oil and nuts, and antioxidant-rich garlic.
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Other variations include swapping the pine nuts for walnuts, and swapping basil for other fragrant herbs like parsley or sage.  (See my parsley pesto here.)

The OMG Salad

I saw a picture of this salad on my friend Jenn’s Twitter stream the other day and thought “OMG.  I have to make that.”  Usually when I bookmark recipes, it’s a few weeks (months… years…) sometimes before I remember to get back to them.  Not this one.  I saw the picture Monday and made the salad Tuesday.  And ate again for lunch on Wednesday.  It is that good.  I like to give credit where it’s due, and from what I can tell, this is where the recipe originated.

I have since renamed it the OMG salad, because that was what I said immediately upon tasting it.  I know it’s just a salad but well… did I mention there was chocolate involved?  Ok, just go ahead and take a peek.  The recipe follows below, straight from Mindy’s blog.

Vinaigrette

  • 1 can (15oz) of Mandarin oranges (drained while saving 1/3 cup juice)
  • 1/3 cup Champagne Vinegar
  • 1/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

Salad

  • Spring Greens
  • 2 ½ cups strawberries- sliced
  • ½ cup mandarin oranges
  • ½ pint blueberries &/or blackberries
  • ¼ red onion sliced thin
  • ½ cup blue or goat or feta cheese (optional)
  • ½ cup slivered almonds or pecans toasted on the stove**

Mise en Place.

How To:

  1. Drain oranges and keep 1/3 cup of juice.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine Mandarin orange juice, vinegar, salt and sugar. Heat until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and add white chocolate pieces stirring frequently…once melted whisk in olive oil.
  4. Pour over salad.

**Don’t skip this step.  Roasting the almonds brings out a really unique flavor to them, and this can be your protein on the salad. 

Please note: The dressing will harden/separate as it cools. Don’t be afraid of this. Just remember to sit it out in the sun or pop it in the microwave for a few seconds and whisk/shake before serving.  I found this made enough dressing for me to have 4 salads, at 200 calories a serving.  Granted that’s high for a dressing, but there’s chocolate in it… so you sorta saw that coming right?  But this salad was so filling, it’s all I had for my meal (add another 200 for salad/fruit/2 T nuts/2T cheese) and it was enough.

Ok, stop reading this and go make your salad now.

Summer Pasta Salad

One of my favorite things about cooking in the summertime is that a meals that are simple and light are what naturally appeals to me, anyways.  This is a dish I threw together to basically use up some ingredients in my pantry and fridge and it ended up being SO yummy. 

What you’ll need: whole wheat pasta, asparagus, shrimp, garlic a crumbly cheese like feta or goat, white wine and olive oil.  You could probably sub in chicken for the shrimp if you don’t like seafood or can’t eat it.  Optional: green onion.

Cook the pasta per directions, using 2 oz per person.  (If you don’t have a small scale you can keep on the counter, I highly recommend getting one like this!  You can buy a fancier one if you want to, but you don’t need to.)  Make sure it’s whole wheat pasta – the sugar rush you get from white pasta just isn’t worth it.  I made enough for four servings in the instructions/photos below.

While the pasta is boiling, cook the asparagus in a little bit of olive oil and minced garlic – you want them to still be crunchy, so aim for al dente.  Once they’re almost done (5 minutes?), add the shrimp and any other extras – I added green onions just because I had them on hand.

Once the shrimp turns pink, it’s time to get sauce-y.  Scoop the shrimp + asparagus mixture out of the pan, and set aside.  Turn the heat down to a low simmer and add 1/2 cup of a dry white wine to the pan, scraping the pan as you go.  Let this simmer for just a few minutes to thicken.

Remember, always cook with a wine that you’d drink!  No pouring the cheapo bad stuff in – you’ll taste the difference.  (If you’re planning on having a wine with dinner, even better if you cook with that wine – perfect compliment.)  **If you don’t want to cook with wine, you should read another blog… you could try chicken stock or a little bit of apple juice spiked with lemon juice to cut the sweetness.  Although, I have honestly no idea what that will taste like… let me know if you try it!

I used Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc from my Sonoma County trip… a favorite!

Once the sauce has simmered, toss together with cooked veggies + shrimp, then sprinkle on cheese.

This meal pretty much begs to be eaten outside a pretty spring (or summer) evening.  And that is exactly what I did!  Also, you can eat this hot or cold.  I actually liked it better the next day when I had it for lunch and ate it cold.  The sauce settles in a little more, and it’s yummy and refreshing!

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Oh you want the stats, eh?  Well, here they are to the best of my knowledge.  I’ve tried to reconstruct how much I used of each item, and entered that into the calorie counter here
For four servings: 400 calories per serving, 11g fat, 5g fiber, 455mg sodium, 23g protein.
8 oz whole wheat pasta
8 oz shrimp
1 T olive oil
1/2 bunch asparagus (or as much as you’d like)
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 cup white wine
4 oz feta

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One Small Step

One small step.

That’s all it seemed like I was doing – one small step after another.  I’m not sure what I was doing could be considered running, but somehow I was still moving.  Rather than look at the far away crest of the hill, I looked down at my feet.  One small step.  Another small step.  “Am I shuffling or running?” I thought to myself.  I continued on in this manner, one small step at a time.

You know where this is going, right?  I made it to the top of the hill.  This wouldn’t be a very motivating post if I didn’t, would it? 

I didn’t use to be a “runner,” even though it seemed my entire family was born with sneakers laced up.  My Dad has been doing races for as long as I can remember.  My sister joined him and did her first 5k at 7 years old.  My brother ran cross-country in high school.  Growing up, the only running I ever did was when I got in trouble for running my mouth at cheerleading practice and was sent to jog the quarter mile track, huffing and puffing and praying no one on the football team could tell it was me.

When I graduated from high school, I decided I better find something to replace the cheerleading and dance to ward off the infamous freshmen fifteen I had been warned of.  So, I decided I wanted to be a runner.  I called my friend, Mariel and asked her “how do you run?”  After catching her breath through her laughter, she gave me a few helpful tips and wished me good luck.

I can remember the first day I went for a run.  It was a warm May day in upstate New York.  (Fortunately, humidity wassn’t something I’d have to contend with until a few months later, when I relocated to North Carolina.)  I had my brand new running clothes on, and a fresh pair of running sneakers.  I headed out the door, head held high, sneakers pounding the pavement proudly…. and made it to the end of the street before I was bent over, side stitch impaling me, run finished.

For curiosity sake, I just looked up what the distance was from the front door of my house to the end of my street.  0.3 miles.  This means I was probably moving for about 3-and-a-half or four minutes.  Well… you gotta start somewhere right?

Many, many small steps later, running has become a regular part of my life.  I’ve run 26.2 miles once, 13.1 miles twice and 3.2 miles more times than I can count.  I’ve run to shake writer’s block, I’ve run to stay awake after (a few) all nighters, I’ve run to push away a heartache, I’ve run to prove to someone that I can. I’ve run to train, I’ve run to burn calories, I’ve run to lose weight.  But mostly, these days, I run just to run.  It still sort of amuses me that those who’ve met me in the last decade consider me a runner, because so often in my head, I’m still that girl in the brand new sneakers gasping for breath at the stop sign of Guilford and Cranston. 

There are many, many small steps between that girl standing at a street corner, embarassed and defeated, and the girl who trudged up a hill today, in North Carolina humidity.  I still rarely find that running is “easy”, but today, I know I can do it.  As miserable as that hill was today, I knew I’d make it.  It might be ugly, it might be slow, and it might not even be a motion that would constitute was “running” but, one small step at a time, I knew I would finish it. 

The one step at a time is the only way I know to approach a goal that feels monumental.  To me, running 3 miles was monumental.  And then running 6 was, and then running 13 was.  Today, when I train for a half marathon, I start at the bare minimum of my comfort zone and push about 10% more than.  Each time, a few more small steps than what I know I can do.  This year, after a long winter hiatus, I started with a mile.  I’ll be honest, it’s going to take a long time to get to 13.  But I know I will get there – one small step at a time.

What marathon are you putting off training for?  Is it the overwhelming clutter that’s taking over your house, keeping you from being able to relax and find peace in your home?  Is it the monumental number on the scale that you’d have to peel off to be at a healthy weight?  Is it going back to school or beginning the process of a major career change?  Is it getting your finances organized or paying down massive credit? 

Most of us have hills that look incredibly intimidating when we’re standing at the bottom.  We can imagine how glorious it would feel to be coasting down the other side, but the actual journey of getting to the top?  We can only think about how hard it will be, how uncomfortable, maybe even painful it will be, and how long it will take.  Or maybe you’re like me, and part of what’s holding you back is the image you have of yourself – or, as I like to say, the story you’re telling yourself.  If I clung desperately to the idea that I really was that girl who couldn’t get past that first stop sign, I’d still be there.  Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t somehow morphed into Paula Radcliffe in the last ten years – but I’m moving.  One small step at a time. 

What’s your marathon?  Do you have a story about yourself that’s holding you back?  Is the pain of trudging up the hill really worse than standing at the bottom of it, looking up?  If you’re holding back because your goal is going to take a long time, think of it this way: a year is going to pass, one way or another.  Five years are going to pass.  Ten years are going to pass.  They can either pass with you still standing at the stop sign, gasping for breath, or you can be moving with them.  Maybe shuffling along sometimes, but moving still – one small step at a time. 
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Just One Thing

A few years ago, we were hosting an old friend and her new boyfriend for dinner.  Her boyfriend was asking me about my line of work, and asked me if I had to give just one recommendation or one tip to someone who wanted to make a drastic lifestyle change what would it be.  Wow.  I racked my brain to try and think of what one and only tip I would recommend to someone.  I know I didn’t come up with an impressive answer then, but today, with a few more years and having worked with a few hundred more people, I think I know what the answer is.  Are you ready?

Cook.

Yup!  That’s my one word answer: cook.  Obviously, there list of lifestyle changes people could make to improve their health or achieve wellness goals is a long one (and I already have issues with brevity, as you may have noticed from many posts), and of course there are many ways to cook that are, well, less than healthy.  But I can tell you with certainty, that every meal you eat away from your home impacts your health. 

And no, I’m not just talking about fast food.  Yes, you get major kudos if you haven’t driven through a drive-thru in decades.  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because a menu offers a “Guiltless Gourmet” or has a white tablecloth that it’s a good for you choice.  (It may be a better for you choice, but not necessarily a good for you choice.  An important distinction.)

Before you start thinking I’m here to ruin all your fun, I’ll be the first to confess I love a good meal out.  I love it when someone else does the dishes and the cooking, and I love the socializing with friends and family over a delicious meal.  But I try to recognize that even the grilled chicken salad at my favorite local restaurant is going to be a more indulgent choice than most anything I’d make at home. 

For starters, portion sizes are way too big.  That’s easily contended with: split your entree in half, and bring the rest home.

But the trickier part is all the extras that are served up with our meals, most notably sodium.  Even some of the “guiltless” choices on a menu will have a day and half’s worth of sodium, and some restaurant salads contain more calories than a burger and fries.  Having calorie information on menus (by 2014) is going to go a long way in helping us make better restaurant choices, but until then, sometimes it’s a complete guessing game!

This brings me back to cooking.  If you value your health, you need to know what goes into the preparation of your meal and with the exception of very few resaurants, there’s no way to be sure of that except to cook at home.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.  To keep it both simple and quick, keep your meal simple.  I love to cook and use new recipes, but on busy nights I use this formula: one protein, two veggies, one starch.  Planning what we’ll have at the beginning of the week ensures I have ingredients on hand, and using short cuts like frozen vegetables and qiuck cooking rice puts dinner on the table quickly.

I started this particular section of my blog because I really wanted to demonsrate that healthy eating didn’t have to be boring, nor did it have to be difficult.  I’m fortunate that I enjoy cooking, but really what drove me to learn how to do it was simply wanting to be healthier.  When I come across a recipe with a cooking technique I don’t know, I go search youtube videos to find someone to show me how to do it.  I’ve learned everything from roasting a chicken to searing tuna from youtube. 

I also understand that if you live by yourself, it often feels like more of a hassle to cook and clean up for one than it’s worth.  I understand that – my husband works a lot of night shifts as a emergency medicine intern and I can tell you exactly what I feel like having for dinner when he’s not home:

Cereal!  The dinner of champions.  And hey, sometimes I do.  You know what?  I’ve even had popcorn for dinner before. 

But I notice that when I don’t have a “real meal” I’m more inclined to graze thoughout the rest of the night.  And besides, I finally realized if I value my husband enough to cook him a healthy meal (most) nights, then I should probably extend the same courtesy to myself.

So I thought I’d demonstrate a little experiment here.  How much time and how much effort does it take to make a home-cooked meal for one?

Cooking Start Time: 5:57 PM.  Meal plan: brussel sprouts w/ 1 piece of bacon, cooked carrots, grilled tilapia + grilled pineapple.

Time completed: 6:07 PM.  Ten minutes!  Let’s Eat!

Ok, I know that brussel sprouts won’t be the first thing many of you are inclined to cook…   Not bad for ten minutes worth of work. 
(If you’re counting, that entire meal is 400 calories, 375 mg sodium, 12g fat, 25g protein.)

And, just for “extra-credit” I thought I’d check how long it took me to clean up (since honestly that is MY number #1 reason to want to go out to eat!)  I set my timer for ten minutes…

And it only took seven!  (Dishes in dishwasher, wash pans, wipe off counter tops + clean stove, put away ingredients.)

Start small, and make gradual changes.  If you’re currently eating every meal out, aim for cooking just one or two nights at home.  If you’re eating every every meal out, start with breakfast or lunch – much easier than dinner, especially if you make ahead.  Lifestyle change sounds daunting, but it’s really all about small gradual changes.  Take small steps towards regular at home meals and your health will reap the benefits.

Cooking With Wine: Steak and Couscous Salad

What could possibly be better than going on a tour of wine country with four of your best friends?  How about if those four friends also have to be phenomenal cooks?

I just got back from a trip to Sonoma with my college girlfriends, and while vineyards were certainly the high point of our trip, one of my other favorite parts of the trip was gathering with my friends in a beautiful kitchen every night and taking turns cooking and sharing our joy of food with each other.

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We were there for 3 nights, so we shared cooking duties – each of taking on appetizers, side dishes, main entrees, and of course, dessert.  Many of the meals were as healthy as they were delicious, so I thought I’d share them here.

Our first night there, Jess was in charge of the main entree.  Her meal was a variation of a recipe she’d come across in Real Simple, and it was exactly that – but very delicious too!  She grilled both London broil and chicken (catering to our various preferences) and cooked couscous on the stove.

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She also caramelized onions, tossed with peanuts.  The onions/pine nuts were tossed with spinach, and an olive oil / balsamic mix and then the steak and couscous were placed on top.

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Simple, but delicious, and we all loved it.  (Paired with the Friends Red from Preston Vineyards.)

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A few notes about couscous if you’ve never tried it… it’s definitely a love/hate kind of food.  It’s fluffy, and a little bit like orzo or rice.  It’s a whole grain, which means it’s a great source of fiber, b vitamins, niacin and selenium.  It’s about calorically equivalent to rice.

(Picture does not represent the following… my portions were a little larger today!  But here are some stats: 3 oz steak, ¼ cup cooked couscous, 1 cup spinach with a 1T:1T oil/vinegar mix = 345 cals, 33g protein, 17g fat (3.5 sat), 10 g carbs.  Lots of yum.)

Quiero Fajitas.

Fajitas!  Fajitas fajitas fajitas.  How have I been going on and on about my food for so long and not talked about fajitas yet?  This is an every few weeks standard in our house because: 1) it’s easy. 2) it’s fast. 3) it’s healthy.  Win, win, win.  Also, living in North Carolina, you really can’t escape falling in love with Mexican food.  When you make Mexican at home though, you don’t have to do battle with the chips basket!

You can do any combination of protein and veggies that you want, and it’s basically just a matter of chopping and heating.  I’ll give you the run down of what I made the other night, but honestly, you could open your fridge and make these tonight with what you have on hand.

(I’ll show you the sauce I made too, but you can just use olive oil, some chili powder and garlic to flavor it.)

Okay, enough talk.  Let’s HEAT!

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Here’s the cast and crew.  Some protein (chicken in this case), and veggies (peppers) and tortilla shells.

For the sauce: limes (or lime juice), Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco *Chipotle* sauce.  This a combo my friend Kate suggested a long time ago, and I’ve used it ever since to give my fajitas a smoky taste.

For those of you who like precision in the kitchen: the juice from 2 limes (~1/4 cup), 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and 1 Tbsp of the Chipotle sauce, depending on how much heat you want.

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Chop veggies up into 2-bite pieces.  I usually use peppers and onions.

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Kitchen hint!  To make clean up easier, I put a plastic grocery bag inside a bowl.  Throw all your cuttings in there, and when you’re done, just scoop up the bag and throw it out.  This will save you from having LOTS of clean up when you’re all done.  (Obviously you could compost it, too… I’m not there yet, but maybe YOU are!)

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Onwards!

Put your cut-up veggies off to the side, and get your protein out.  You will cook this first, but cutting it second prevents you from having to get a second cutting board out.  (Another kitchen tip, free from me to you!)

Cut the chicken (for whatever protein you are using) into 2-bite pieces as well.  Do ya’ll know what I mean by 2-bite pieces?  Hopefully that’s self-explanatory, but you know, a piece you could eat in… 2 bites!  (This makes it easier to eat AND cook.)

Add some olive oil to a medium-heat pan.  For fajitas for 2, I use 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Add the chicken to the pan, and cook it to almost finished.

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Add the vegetables, and cook to the texture you want.  (I like ‘em crispy.)

By the way, you probably want a bigger pan than what I used here.

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Add the sauce that you mixed up earlier.

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While the sauce simmers with the fajita mixings, put tortillas on a plate with paper towels and a little sprinkle of water.  Microwave for 30 seconds.

Scoop the fajita mixings into a bowl.  Serve with sour cream, salsa or whatever you want!

And then… it’s time to EAT!  “Vamos a comer!”

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(Directions for homemade tortilla chips to be forthcoming!)