Monthly Archives: May 2015

May 29th: Weekly meal plan

Andy’s brother is getting married, so this week’s meal plan is a little light. Plus, my mom retired and we’re throwing her a birthday party, so you’ll notice a few odd items on the grocery list.

Lettuce from the garden is still going strong and the salads are light and refreshing. This is such a nice time of year for eating light. Especially when it’s as warm as it has been.

Have a great week!

– Broccoli pancakes with salad (see above)
Chorizo rice bowl
– Ultimate tuna salad
– BLT salad with avocado
– Spanish fritatta with salad
– Hodge Podge!

Garden 2015: The end is nigh

My cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower have been huge disappointments this year. Between the 3, I have only 9 plants currently doing their brassica thing in my garden. I was expecting 8-10 plants of each, so there are some pretty big holes that needed to be filled. Over the long weekend I decided to fill those holes with what I knew would grow–more lettuce, beets, and chard. I’m going to give the brassicas another try this fall, but for now go with what works, right?

In other news, I got my trellises built and set up this weekend! I’m very pleased with how they turned out, even if the supplies were ridiculously more expensive than I expected.

At this point in the season the updates will start tapering off until I start harvesting anything beyond lettuce. I’m relieved that everything is in and have extremely high hopes for the garden this year!

Recipe: Chicken, mushroom, zucchini skillet (with bacon!)

This dinner came about through delicious happenstance. I was interested in making a sausage and veggie gratin, but that felt a little too heavy for the warm(ish) weather we’ve been having lately. I decided to lighten it up with chicken and zucchini. The bacon and mushrooms add amazing flavor, and the leftovers taste even better than right out of the oven.

Look at all that melty cheese!
Look at all that melty cheese!

1 Tablespoon oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
4 small- to medium-sized zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
2+ chicken thighs, cooked and chopped*
4-6 ounces bacon, cooked and roughly chopped
4 ounces cheese, grated (optional)**
salt
pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Place a skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and saute the onions with a pinch of salt until translucent. Stir in mushrooms and cook until they begin to brown and let off some of their water. Add zucchini and another small pinch of salt (small being key. The bacon is pretty salty on its own, and you don’t want to over do it!). Give it a good stir and let it cook until the zucchini starts to soften just a bit.

Stir the chicken and bacon into the veggies, taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. Top with the cheese if you’re using it. Pop into the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melty and just starting to brown. Serve with a side salad if you feel you want an extra serving of veggies!

Recipe notes:
* I find that 2 chicken thighs is perfect for me and Andy. The bacon and all the veggies make this a complete meal without a huge amount of meat. If you’re serving more people, increase the chicken thighs by 1 per extra person.
** I don’t specify which type of cheese, because really melty cheese is melty cheese. I’ve made this with a hard English cheddar and it was just as good as when I used pepper jack. Check your fridge and use what you have on hand.

Confessions of a sugar addict

(That was my kitchen table the day before Easter with Andy’s family. Four different desserts, and I ended up with marshmallow on the ceiling.)

A while back I shared my tale of a sweet tooth. Today, I wanted to share a little bit more about my relationship with sugar.

First, it makes me very happy. Almost euphorically happy. I LOVE sugar!

Then it makes me unhappy. My blood sugar drops and I get angry. I HATE sugar (and just about everyone around me at the time).

If I’m strong enough to push through the sugar low without indulging in any more sweets, within a few hours (or up to a day or two later) my eczema will flare up. Phew, I’m feeling drained. And why do my hands itch so much? If I’m really on a bender, I may even develop a cold sore (mine are triggered by stress and sugar).

If I’m not strong enough to push through the sugar low and I go in for more, I start the cycle over again, my eczema gets even worse, and it takes even longer for the inflammation to go down. Nothing makes me feel more like a child than the inability to not scratch my hands when they break out.

Physical manifestations of sugar aside (the eczema is pretty awful), it’s the mental and emotional extremes that really take their toll. Not just on me, but on Andy. When my blood sugar drops, I get quiet. Like really really quiet. The “it’s always the quiet ones” quiet. You’ve probably heard the word “hangry”, well I embody that term.

When my blood sugar drops I say things that I wouldn’t normally say with very little care how the other person (usually Andy) might take them. This leads to a lot of hurt feelings, the occasional fight, and when my blood sugar finally returns to normal (this could take hours or even up to a day or two) a heaping pile of guilt for my words and actions. I’ve become very good at saying “I’m sorry.”

I’d like to say that at this point in our health journey I’ve learned my lesson. I’d like to say that broccoli and I are BFFs. But that’s not true. I still indulge on a somewhat regular basis. Definitely not as often as before Andy’s Type 2 Diagnosis, but definitely more than I should.

I don’t share my story out of guilt or shame, but more as a reminder to myself (and anyone else) that this health journey we’re on is just that–a journey. Some days are going to be a stroll. Others will be an easy jog. Still others will leave me gasping for air at the end of the day. Andy and I have both learned that forgiveness of self is one of the hardest things to do, and that every now and then an indulgent break is okay.

May 22nd: Weekly meal plan

Have you ever wondered what “Hodge Podge” night looks like at our house? Well, the picture above is basically it. A little roasted broccoli, a couple fried eggs, maybe some sauteed sweet potatoes and a dollop of chive yogurt sauce to round it all out. And believe me, it was ever so tasty!

Our first salad from the garden! Butter crunch lettuce, arugula, spinach, and radishes.
Our first salad from the garden! Butter crunch lettuce, arugula, spinach, and radishes.

This weekend officially kicks off grilling season, and even though the forecast is a bit gray, I’m still going to dust off our BBQ and make some grilled chicken skewers. You’ll also notice a couple salads this week. The garden has been giving up lots of salad greens for us to enjoy, and the radishes are starting to make an appearance.

Have a happy Memorial Day and here’s to the week ahead!

(I almost forgot the grocery list…)

– Potato saffron “omelets”
Chorizo cabbage skillet bake
Grilled chicken kebab bowl (with cauli-rice)
Broccoli pancakes with salad
– Ultimate tuna salad “salad”
Texy Mexy skillet
– Hodge Podge

Recipe: Cabbage skillet casserole

Growing up my family made up names for certain foods. On Thanksgiving and Christmas my youngest brother and I would fight over the “pink stuff” (to all you mid-westerners out there, I believe you call it Jello salad) a fluffy concoction of raspberry gelatin, Cool-Whip, canned pineapple, and cottage cheese. Totally gross. Totally delicious.

My brothers’ favorite meal was Yummy Boulet (rhymes with “Goulet”, as in Robert). To the best of my recollection Yummy Boulet consisted of ground beef, tomato sauce, and elbow macaroni. It wasn’t on my top 10 list, but the name stuck.

All this being said, I’ve carried on the tradition with my own cooking, and I want to share with you what Andy and I lovingly refer to as “cabbage meat thing”. It started out by trying a recipe for deconstructed cabbage roll casserole (for the life of me I can’t find the original recipe). Basically you chop and saute cabbage with traditional stuffed cabbage ingredients and bake it like a casserole. The second inspiration for this dish was the Garbage Stir fry from Nom Nom Paleo. At first glance neither the casserole nor the Garbage Stir fry seem like much, but they were so good! I found myself making them every other week or so.

This got me thinking, if Cabbage + Meat + Onion + Sauce was such a winning combination, maybe I could branch out into other flavors to shake things up. And that’s how cabbage meat thing was born. The flavor possibilities are limitless, it’s typically less than 5 ingredients (outside of the oil, salt, and pepper), and it can be made and baked in a single skillet. All of these add up to a winning weeknight meal for us.

Here are the basic components followed by some ideas for changing up the flavors. Enjoy!

1-2 Tablespoons oil
1 onion diced
1 pound ground meat (see below for recommendations)
1 medium head of green cabbage, chopped into 1 inch pieces
2-3 teaspoons seasoning (see below for recommendations)
1 -2 cups of crushed tomatoes or sauce of your choice (See below for recommendations)
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and cook till translucent. Add the meat with another pinch of salt and stir, breaking it apart, until brown and cooked through. Stir in your seasoning, and tomatoes or sauce if using.

In batches, add a handful or 2 of the chopped cabbage at a time, tossing everything carefully together. The cabbage will add a lot of “heft” to the dish initially, but it’ll cook down. Continue to add the cabbage and toss with the saucy meat until everything is incorporated.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the cabbage starts to look a little “crispy”. I like a little char. You may not. If you prefer your cabbage to be silky not crispy, start checking it at the 15 minute mark.

Recipe notes: Here are a few of our favorite flavor combinations. Use these as a jumping off point, and share if you come up with something brilliant!

– Italian: 1 pound bulk Italian sausage + dried oregano + 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
– Mexican: 1 pound ground beef (or turkey) + cumin + 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
– BBQ chorizo: 1 pound chorizo + 1 cup BBQ sauce (I typically use homemade so it’s not overly sweet. If you use bottled, you may want to cut it with some crushed tomatoes.)
– Enchilada: 1 pound cooked shredded chicken (or ground beef/turkey) + cumin + 14 ounces enchilada sauce (bought or homemade).

 

 

Grocery shopping 101: How we shop

If you’re anything like me, the thought of grocery shopping makes you think about the pleasures of a root canal. I hate grocery shopping. I hate the crowds; trying to find that last ingredient that was here last week, but has magically disappeared when you need it most; the lines to check out. The list goes on. Last week I talked about where we shop. This week I want to talk about how we shop.

Over the years, I’ve developed a system to help me get in and out of the grocery store as quickly as possible. When you prepare 95% of all the food you eat, shaving 15-20 minutes off a grocery trip can be a lifesaver.

Did you know that every store has the same basic layout? Your fresh food—produce, seafood, meat, dairy, baked goods—are all located along the perimeter of the store. The middle aisles contain all the canned, boxed, and bottled items—the “processed” food. Before I understood this, I would make one gigantic list and end up popping back and forth from dairy to produce to the bakery and back again—it took forever! Now, I organize my list by department and only occasionally forget something that requires me to sprint across the store and back. It’s such a time saver. It also helps Andy when he does the shopping for me–even though he might have to spend more time searching for things on the list, at least he’ll be in the right section.

You’ll notice I divide my weekly meal plan/grocery lists into the following categories:

Produce
Bulk (not technically “fresh”, but it’s on the perimeter right after produce)
Meat & Cheese
Dairy/Frozen
Household
Pantry

This takes me clockwise around the perimeter of the store, ending with the checkout lines. Getting out of the parking lot unharmed is another story.

All told my entire weekly grocery  experience typically lasts 1 1/2 to 2 hours total, but if you take into account that I make 6-7 stops that really isn’t too bad. I spend around 45 minutes at my primary grocery store, and all other stops (including the bank and gas) usually average 10-15 minutes each.

Do you have any grocery shopping tips? I’d love to hear them. I wouldn’t mind shaving another 3-4 minutes off my weekly visit!

 

 

 

May 15th: Weekly meal plan

I can’t believe how fast the year is moving! How is it already mid-May? This week officially kicks off our “eating home grown food from the garden”. We’ve got lettuce and greens that are ready to be eaten, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Except for the fact that my salad spinner broke suddenly this week. A minor inconvenience compared to the joy of eating salad I grew myself!

Andy requested a few favorites (picadillo and carnitas) and I’m trying a new to us Yotam Ottolenghi recipe (cauliflower cake) along with a repeat Ottolenghi dish (potato/saffron omelets). We’re eating pretty veggie heavy, which is why the produce section of the grocery list is a little extra long.

Have a great one!

– Carnitas with green cauli-rice
– Picadillo with green cauli-rice
Cauliflower cake (subbing almond flour for the all-purpose)
– Potato/saffron omelets (from the Plenty cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi)
– Chicken salad stuffed roma tomatoes
Broccoli pancakes with salad
– Hodge Podge

 

 

How I learned to cook

I am a rule follower. I can’t help it. Andy is not. Sometimes I joke that his philosophy on rules is: “I hear you giving me a rule. Now I will find a creative way to break it!” See that smirk in the image above? Yeah, that’s the look.

I’m also Type A, “technically creative” (I’ll explain my theory on creative people later), a list maker, and mentally–if not physically–organized.

When Andy and I were first married I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. We ate sandwiches. And take out. When I did cook, it was primarily some kind of pasta recipe I’d seen on a food blog. I wasn’t adventurous. I wasn’t creative. The food was “filling”, but not overly mind blowing. But, for the most part, Andy didn’t complain.

When I lost my first job, cooking took on a whole new meaning. I dove into food blogs and decided that if I wasn’t working I was going to cook. I started making from-scratch mac ‘n cheese, biscuits ‘n gravy, chicken ‘n dumplings (apparently I had a thing for food with an ‘n) and it was amazing. My trick to the excellent food was following the recipe. To a capital T. Chicken ‘n dumplings, in particular, was a several hours long process where you simmer a whole chicken for over an hour simultaneously creating stock and the chicken needed for the dish. Andy used to ask why I didn’t just get a rotisserie chicken and boxed stock. I told him because that’s not what the recipe called for. I didn’t cut corners.

After Andy’s Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis, and even more so after we went grain-free in 2012, I realized that unless we wanted to eat nothing but salad I needed to let go a little in the kitchen. I needed to cut corners, I needed to swap this ingredient for that. And you know what? It didn’t kill me. It wasn’t easy, but it did make me more confident in the kitchen. I started using recipes as inspiration rather than as gospel. If I didn’t have a certain ingredient–an issue that in years past would have resulted in a kitchen panic, or a speedy trip to the store–I looked in the fridge and used what I did have.

Becoming more confident in the kitchen also made cooking easier. I used to make big fancy meals from celebrity chef recipes because I didn’t think I could make good food without their help. The truth is Andy and I both prefer simpler food, and as good as that chicken ‘n dumplings was (seriously, so good!), we’re much happier with cauli-rice bowls.

Don’t get me wrong, I still troll food blogs and cookbooks for ideas. And I do still cook from recipes. But if I feel like the dish needs more cumin than originally called for, I’m going to add it. If I forgot to buy cilantro from the store this week, I leave it out. And it’s not the end of the world.

Here are a few of my “relax, it’s all cool” tips for chilling in the kitchen:

– Swap out one veggie for another. If you don’t have, or like, zucchini swap it for broccoli, cauliflower, or even bell peppers. Or vice versa. Cook with what you like and you’re more likely to like what you cook.
– Only have garlic powder? Use it!
– Don’t like a particular spice? Don’t use it, and add a little more of the spices you do like!
– Use ground turkey (or chicken) instead of ground beef.
– Like the idea of a potato saffron omelet, but haven’t quite nailed the omelet “flip”? Make potato saffron scrambled eggs.
– 2 words: Crock-Pot. (Okay, one hyphenated brand name, but you get the idea.)
– Make it a salad. BLT salad is amazing. You can turn practically any type of sandwich into a salad. Cheeseburger salad anyone?

Do you have any other tips for relaxing in the kitchen? I’d love to hear them!

Grocery shopping 101: Where we shop

Some people I know shop solely at New Seasons and Whole Foods, and I totally get it. Those places are great sources for healthy food. They have beautiful produce sections, solid meat and dairy, and let’s face it, bakeries to die for. I do the bulk of my shopping at Winco, with stops at New Seasons, Trader Joe’s, and Fred Meyer to supplement what Winco doesn’t have. Why don’t I do all my shopping at these other places? Because we have a grocery budget and the way we eat now isn’t cheap.

After Andy was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes the way we shopped for groceries changed, and our weekly grocery expenses went up. Sticking to a budget has always been important to me, and I didn’t want our budget to suffer because of our health (or vice versa) in order to afford an $8/lb. bunch of asparagus. I knew we wouldn’t always be able to afford organic produce (thankfully, we have a garden full or organic veggies), but incorporating more fruit and veggies into our meals was a necessity.

I don’t want to start a political discussion about the virtues of eating locally sourced food, but I wanted to share where and how we shop for groceries because I know how expensive it can be to start living a healthy lifestyle. Good-for-you food isn’t cheap—that’s another discussion for another time. I grew up in home that didn’t have a lot of money to spare. There were weeks when I know my mom had no idea how she was going to put food on the table for a family of five. We ate a lot of beans and rice.

In this economy, not everyone can afford to shop at the local high-end natural foods market. And that’s okay. Winco’s produce isn’t always the best around, but they do have a fairly new organic section, and if you buy what’s in season you’ll be okay. Plus, they have an amazing bulk section full of dried fruits, nuts, spices, and other goodies that I have on my list on a weekly basis.

If you’re just starting out on this lifestyle journey, don’t feel that you have to take out a second mortgage to put healthy food on the table. By making small changes where you can–swapping out that bag of chips for a new vegetable to experiment with in the kitchen–and adding in the freshest ingredients possible, you’re already making a step in the right direction.

Next week, I’m going to share how I navigate the grocery store, and give you some tips and tricks for making the process easier and healthier.