Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hit the Gym

What are you supposed to do after eating four abnormally large meals in three days (that would be two Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, dinner at my mom's on Friday, and an Italian-inspired Thanksgiving with my dad's family on Saturday)? I guess the only thing to do at this point is hit the gym. I love the holidays, and love all the great food that comes with them, so I don't regret any of my indulgences. Thanksgiving may be over, but Christmas will be here faster than I think, and I foresee many cookies and holiday treats in my future between now and then. I don't have any excuses, because I'm sure that I'll be making most of the cookies and cakes, but I love dessert, and this is the time of year to have it!

So I plan to hit the gym a lot this month and try to eat as cleanly as possible (when not stuffing cookies in my face). On Sunday, after sleeping in later than I have in months, I got up to go to the gym with Pat. It was shoulders and legs day (one of my favorites) and we finally brought squats back (for some reason I love squats, but Pat hates them, so we've been on a squats hiatus). I thought it'd be a good idea to start right back up with the weight I was doing a few months ago, so I did 3 sets of squats at 95 pounds. All I can say is ouch. Two days later and I'm still in pain going up and down the stairs (or simply walking down the hallway ha).

I lost my headphones a couple months ago, but didn't really think anything of it because I mostly run outside, and don't listen to music. Now that its getting colder and I'm trying to expand my workouts to include some things other than running, I needed some headphones for the gym. Isn't one of the nice things about doing cardio in the gym that you get to watch trashy TV and not be judged?? On the way to the gym I picked up these fun headphones. I love pink, and figured a bright color might pump me up (if not, at least Pat won't confuse them for his!).

I did 50 minutes on the elliptical while watching E! News, then Pat joined me for back and bis strength training. After a very sweaty session we went home, exhausted.

For dinner I tried a new ravioli from Trader Joe's that caught my eye...artichoke and cheese! I love anything with artichokes (but prefer to eat them steamed and plain) so I had to try these. 

I boiled these and steamed some broccoli for a fast and yummy dinner.

I had these plain because I didn't want sauce to mask the flavor of the ravioli. Overall I thought they were very good and would definitely buy them again. I might try making a butternut squash and risotto sauce for them next time (because I'm obsessed with squash and risotto and believe they belong with everything).

I also tried a new snack from Trader Joe's...and for the first time wasn't a big fan. You can see from the pictures that I didn't wait to leave the parking lot before trying them (where has my self control gone?).

I like seaweed (in my sushi, and seaweed salad) but this tasted extra fishy. I tried a few pieces, but I didn't really enjoy it. Perhaps it would be better crushed and sprinkled on some soup or mashed potatoes?

On a yummier note, I baked 3 sweet potatoes last night to have on hand for healthful snacks for the week (just pierce the potatoes with a fork or knife, microwave for 3 minutes, and then bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes). These are so delicious, and only need some salt and pepper or a dusting of cinnamon to make a nice treat (I like them both hot and cold).

Any tips on staying healthy during the holidays? Or alternatively, what are your favorite holiday treats?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black Friday

I don't do the whole Black Friday shopping thing. Yes, I love to shop, and given a Friday off of work, I'd probably be shopping at some point during the day, but not on Black Friday. I'm against this for two reasons. First, I hate crowded shopping areas. I find that crowded shopping areas almost always contain rude people that will push, elbow and generally disregard all others in search of the coveted item. The second (and more important) reason I don't believe in shopping on Black Friday is that its the day after Thanksgiving! I think it should be spent with family and friends, not in a dark parking lot waiting for the mall to open. Now that you know where I stand on Black Friday, I have a little confession to make. This year I made a tiny appearance at a couple stores on Friday morning.

My camera broke back in August, and since then I've missed a few weddings, get togethers, and parties that I would have otherwise documented with loads of pictures. I figured that it was about time to replace my camera, and Black Friday was probably the best time to do it, since I am trying to save my money to spend on others instead of myself! I researched the camera I wanted, looked up prices at a couple places, and decided that I'd go to BJ's first thing on Friday morning. The BJ's in Nashua is about a mile from the mall, and Best Buy is closer to the mall (and a Black Friday hot spot) and Target is attached to the mall, so I figured BJ's would be my safest bet for getting in and getting out quickly. And instead of driving (I wasn't sure how full the parking lot would be) I ran there. What better way to burn off some of my two dinners? After all the mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie, I'd certainly carbo-loaded enough for a marathon or two!

Friday morning was very cold and rainy, so I bundled up and set out on my mission. Just as I got to the top of the hill that BJ's sits on, I heard a car slowing down next to me. It was Pat! He had woken up and realized how cold and rainy it was and didn't think I should run in that weather! So sweet of him, although he should know that I'm tougher than that! He came into BJ's with me, and I picked out my camera. I was only going to buy the camera, since I'd be able to fit it in my small backpack for the run home. Now that Pat was here with a car, however, I started looking around. I loaded up on more canned pumpkin (6 jumbo cans!), got the SATC2 movie, and also bought 5 small poinsettias (originally $2.97 each but on sale for $0.99 at Lowe's, next to BJ's)! 
After shopping in my cold, wet clothes, I decided to take Pat up on the offer for a ride home. So I only ran 3.5 miles instead of 7, but once we got home I changed into dry work out clothes, fueled up with some oatmeal, and Pat and I went to the gym for a long chest and tri session. 

Back from the gym, I got to my baking. Friday night was my mom's Thanksgiving, and I was bringing cranberry muffins. I found this recipe in the Hannaford November/December recipe catalog. 

Cranberry Surprise Muffins (by Jane Dornbusch)

The "surprise" is a rich vein of lime-scented cream cheese filling inside (I had lemon, so my surprise was lemon-scented cream cheese filling!). It will melt a bit into the baking batter, making these the moistest muffins ever. Tart cranberries provide a zesty burst of flavor.

Dry ingredients plus butter:

Butter mixed in:

Eggs whisked:

Sugar beat into the cream cheese until fluffy:

Add one egg and lemon zest to the cream cheese:

Mix it all together:

Batter. After doing chest and tris at the gym this was quite painful to beat!

Add in some cranberries (I forgot to chop mine!):

Mix in the cranberries:

Fill each cup 1/3 way with the cranberry batter.

Then evenly distribute all of the cream cheese filling between the muffin cups.

Pour all remaining cranberry batter into muffin cups and top with Sugar In The Raw.

After baking for twenty minutes, they were done!

Alright, these are not the most beautiful muffins I've ever seen (I think I should have made about 15 muffins instead of 12 so these didn't overflow so much) but they are some of the tastiest muffins I've ever had! 

Cream Cheese Filling:

  • 6 oz. 1/3-less fat cream cheese, at room temperature (I used 1/2 fat cream cheese)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp grated lime zest (I used lemon)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp turbinado sugar for sprinkling (optional) - I used Sugar In The Raw

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray. (I would recommend either using a bigger muffin tin or making this recipe into about 15 muffins instead of 12).
  2. Prepare cream cheese filling. In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer on medium-high speed to beat the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and lime zest and beat until smooth. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, gently whisk the eggs, being careful that they don't get too foamy. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. Pour into the flour-butter mixture and stir by hand just until incorporated. Stir in the cranberries.
  4. Fill each muffin cup 1/3 of the way with the cranberry batter. Top each with some of the cream cheese filling, dividing it among the 12 muffins. Top with remaining cranberry batter. The muffins should be about 3/4 full. If desired, sprinkle each muffin with about 1/4 tsp turbinado sugar.
  5. Bake muffins until light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then remove from tins. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Notes about these muffins - once I started making them I wished I had an electric mixer (partly because I just got back from the gym and my muscles were still sore, but also because this is just a whole lot of mixing if you don't have one!). Pat said that some recipes you just need a mixer for...but I'm stubborn and said that I could do this by hand, and I did! These muffins were so good! Pat's least favorite word in the world is moist, but that's the only word he could come up with to describe these. You definitely won't need any butter or jam to liven up these muffins! I'd like to try making these with some other citrus flavors (perhaps grapefruit or orange) and also substituting some of the butter for applesauce to make these a little bit lighter.

Friday night was my mom's Thanksgiving, though she spared us another turkey meal and instead made a fall stew! Jim got creative with the snacks...

 Jim and Kristi made some meat pies (with ground beef and pine nuts):

And my mom's stew was a big hit!

The stew was made of kielbasa, kale, sweet potatoes, and white kidney beans. My mom had planned on cooking it in this giant pumpkin, but after removing the seeds and scraping the insides she found a crack in the bottom. So she cooked it in a pot and then displayed it in the pumpkin!

Accompanied by her famous corn bread...

A delicious fall-inspired dinner!

For dessert we had apple pie made by my Aunt Mary and my cranberry muffins.

I had some tea with my pie and muffin.

What a wonderful few days with family!

Mom's Birthday and Thanksgiving

My mom requested something low key for her birthday dinner, so I thought a fall pizza and some salad would fit the bill. I roasted a butternut squash at home the night before her birthday, and after work on Wednesday I planned to stop at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to get the rest of the ingredients for dinner. I was in the birthday mindset, and had totally forgotten that it was also Thanksgiving Eve! Both the Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in Fresh Pond were absolutely packed with people finishing their holiday meal shopping. The hardest decision for me came when I had to choose some desserts. Whole Foods has the most amazing desserts!

My brother and I made Butternut Squash, Spinach, Onion and Ricotta Pizza (the same kind I made back in September). I love trying new things, but sometimes you need to have an old favorite. Here's the pizza before being cooked:

We also made a salad with organic mixed greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, and apple. We drizzled a little bit of olive oil on top and added some Parmesan cheese. Lots of vegetables in this birthday dinner!

For dessert we sampled bites from the four desserts I selected at Whole Foods:

(Clockwise the desserts are: fruit and custard tart, espresso tiramisu, pumpkin spice roll, and flourless chocolate cake). 

Thursday was Thanksgiving...Pat and I got up early to head down to the south shore to see his family. The first stop was at his mom's house, where we helped finish preparing the meal. She made turkey (covered in bacon to keep the bird moist and infuse some extra flavor), mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, pearl onions, butternut squash, and cranberry sauce. It was delicious! Unfortunately afterwards we pulled the typical "chew and screw" and rushed over to Pat's dad's house for our second Thanksgiving meal, which consisted of the same dishes, except he made carrots instead of onions. Everything was prepared a little bit differently, but it all tasted amazing. Pat's family certainly knows how to cook! And if you can believe it, after my two Thanksgiving dinners (in a two hour time span) I still had room for pie. Pat's dad made a squash pie totally from scratch using a family recipe, which was so good. I've had pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie, but never squash. This is definitely a new favorite! Pat took down the recipe for the crust and filling so we can make it at home. Of course I forgot to take pictures of my wonderful Thanksgiving feasts, I think I was a little bit too absorbed in eating them. It was a great holiday, and I hope everyone enjoyed theirs as well!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Power Me Up Protein Pumpkin

For those of you who know me well (or who have had a five minute conversation with me) know that I'm obsessed with everything and anything pumpkin. And I don't get sick of it. Ever. Sadly, pumpkin season is but a few short months, so I always try to cram in as much pumpkin as possible.

I came across a recipe for a pumpkin pie smoothie on Angela's blog (which is a beautiful blog full of delicious and creative vegan cooking) and had to try it. I made one for breakfast on Monday morning, and have had one each morning since (that's three this week!). Those who know me will also know that I am crazy about my morning oatmeal, so skipping it three mornings in a row is a pretty significant indicator that this smoothie is something special. 

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 heaping teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 serving vanilla protein powder
  • 3 or 4 ice cubes

Note: Angela's recipe calls for just 1/2 serving of protein powder. I've been using a full serving because  protein helps keep you full and morning is the most important time of day to take in protein. You can make this smoothie with or without the protein, and you can also swap out the almond milk for skim milk, and that would add about 6 grams of protein. Play around with this! The nutrition stats for this smoothie as (I prepared it) are 220 calories, 20 grams protein, 2.5 grams fat and LOADS of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants!

I used this new 100% whey protein I bought at Trader Joe's:

While you're at Trader Joe's you should pick up some Pumpkin Pie Spice - its $1.99 there for a regular sized bottle, and my small bottle cost $5.49 at my local grocer!

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Pour into a large beer stein (or glass of choice) and enjoy!

I've also started adding a couple ice cubes to my glass before pouring in the smoothie, which helps keep it extra cold while I drink it. Does anyone else have favorite smoothie recipes they love?

And finally, a shout out to my wonderful mom...

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Can't wait to see you later for your birthday dinner!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pistachio Panko Crusted Trout with Sauteed Heirloom Tomatoes (and more pita chips!)

I think I may have created a monster. Every since my first batch of baked pita chips, all I can think about is eating more. It did not help that on my way home from work last night Chrissy emailed me about them. So my fate was sealed...I had to make more.

Each batch I make gets a little bit better (and I've had a lot of practice in the past few days!) - these were not an exception.

This time the chips were one layer (I separated the pita before cutting) which I think made them crunchier (reduce bake time to about 9 minutes, flipping halfway through, at 350 degrees). These were salt and pepper flavored, and instead of using oil or melted butter, I just used Pam Olive Oil Cooking Spray. So spray the baking sheet, put down the pita pieces, spray each piece, and top with salt and pepper. When I flipped the chips halfway I did not add more spray or seasoning. I'm sure these would be great with a variety of dips, but I enjoyed them plain. I want another batch just thinking about them! I used 1 1/2 small pitas, so all of these chips were just 120 calories.

I knew I needed a more substantial dinner than just more chips, so I defrosted a piece of frozen trout. Trout and tilapia freeze very well, but other fish like salmon and swordfish need to be fresh (in my opinion). I looked in my cupboards and fridge and came up with the following for dinner:

Pistachio Panko Crusted Trout with Sauteed Heirloom Tomatoes

  • 1 piece trout
  • 1/2 lemon
  • handful heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 10 pistachios, shelled and crushed
  • panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp olive oil

First I heated about 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a pan over medium, and added the garlic. Saute for a few minutes until slightly browned. Then add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes until heated through and a little bit soft. 

Put garlic and tomatoes on dinner plate, and use same pan to cook fish. First squeeze lemon juice on both sides of fish to moisten (this was my swap out for mayonnaise).

Then cover both sides in pistachio/panko mixture (I used a couple tablespoons of panko crumbs and about 10 crushed pistachios).

Spray the pan with cooking spray and squeeze more lemon into pan. Cook fish for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through, until white and flaky.

In the last couple minutes, add the tomatoes back to the pan to reheat. Transfer all food to dinner plate and enjoy!

Even though this was just thrown together with ingredients I happened to have on hand, the combinations of flavors were so great. Who knew pistachios would taste so good with fish? And the sauteed garlicky tomatoes were delicious both on their own and with the fish. The only problem I encountered in making this was that the pistachios and panko did not stick very well when flipping the fish, which was okay because I just added all of the cooked topping to the fish when done. Another way to do this might be to cook the fish instead of saute so you don't have to flip it. All in all, I was very satisfied with my dinner!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dinner Guests, Chips, and a Chick Flick!

Where did the weekend go? On Friday I raced home from work to shower, clean my place, and begin cooking for our dinner guests, Steve and Krissy.  Its been a really busy fall and we've barely seen a lot of our friends, AND Krissy is five months pregnant, so every time we see her there are big changes happening. 

For an appetizer, I made some baked pita chips. This was very easy, and its nice because you choose what seasonings to add!

I used two whole wheat pita pockets, cut them into triangles and brushed them with my oil/spice mixture (I used a couple tablespoons olive oil mixed with some red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and a little bit of salt and pepper). Bake these at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

I served these spicy pita chips with some roasted red pepper hummus.

I also served some organic baby carrots with lemon hummus.

For dinner Pat and I made Baked Rice and a chicken dish we once had at his aunt's house, I'll call it Cheesy Baked Chicken with Stuffing. In my showering/cleaning/cooking whirlwind, I failed to take many pictures of the dishes in progress, but both recipes are very easy to follow.

Baked Rice

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 stick margarine 
  • 1 can beef consomme (I didn't know what this was and neither did anyone at the grocery store, so instead I used about 10 ounces fat free low sodium chicken broth)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put all ingredients in a dutch oven.
  2. Cook at 350 degrees for one hour, stirring halfway through.
I told you this was easy!!

Ingredients before:

Our dutch oven:

And the finished product:

The rice was done before the chicken, so we just let it sit (with cover on) until chicken was cooked. The dutch oven kept the rice hot for a half hour before serving.

Cheesy Baked Chicken with Stuffing

  • 6 chicken breasts, filleted.
  • 1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken soup (I used the low fat, low sodium version)
  • 1 can Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup (I used the low fat, low sodium version)
  • Sliced Swiss cheese (about 1/4 pound)
  • 1/2 can skim milk
  • 1 canister Stouffer's stuffing
  • Less than 1/4 cup canola oil

  1. Fillet chicken breasts and put on bottom of oven pan (this amount of chicken ended up making enough to fill a lasagna pan and a 9 by 9 pan).
  2. Place Swiss cheese slices on top of the chicken breasts.
  3. Mix together both cans of Campbell's soup and 1/2 can of milk. Pour on top of chicken and cheese.
  4. Mix stuffing with oil (use just enough to make moist) and distribute evenly in pan(s).
  5. Cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour (until cooked through). Remove tin foil for last 10-15 minutes of cooking so stuffing gets crunchy.
Dinner is served:

The baked rice was so delicious (there is something about butter and slow-cooked onions that makes everything taste amazing) and the cheesy baked chicken with stuffing was wonderful too! This is the perfect meal for a cold fall evening, and can be thrown into the oven in 10 minutes. For a vegetable we had organic mixed greens with heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and red pepper.

For dessert Krissy made pumpkin pie bars, which were so great! I don't have a picture of them, but she did give me the recipe, so I'm hoping to make them sometime in the next week.

On Saturday I got up nice and early, did some things around the house, hit the gym, and got ready for my lunch and movie date with Steph. After the gym I wanted a light snack to hold me over until lunch, so I made a little whole wheat pita sandwich using the roasted red pepper hummus and salad fixings from the night before.

Yum! I also made some more baked pita chips to bring to the movies, and this time I opted for sweet instead of spicy. I swapped out the olive oil and spices for some melted butter and cinnamon and sugar.

Before being cooked:

Flip them halfway:

And packaged for our purses!

These were very good, so much better than anything you can buy at the movies! We saw Morning Glory, which I'd been wanting to see because I love Rachel McAdams and Harrison Ford. The movie ended up being more of a predictable chick flick then I'd hoped it would be, but it was definitely still enjoyable.