Thursday, March 15, 2012

Survival Secrets

So to say my summer was cut short is an understatement.  This school year has been pretty rough so far, in that it's been a transition with moving to a new position and working overtime and pushing myself into overdrive as far as being in graduate school full's been...rough.  Rough=stress eating.  Somehow, after some mini-breakdowns, I've made it to Spring Break and I'm back to my pre-holiday weight.  Unfortunately, I've had so little time to prepare my favorite kinds of foods (ie: healthy, home-made, all-fresh, low-processed foods).  To survive I've had to find some creative shortcuts and plan friendly snacks to help me survive.  Here are some of my new-found faves:

5 Minute Sweet and Spicy Chicken
When I'm in a hurry (everyday with my ridiculous schedule) I've got to find ways to make some quick and healthy options.  This one is a shortcut I created that can be ready in five minutes.  To help myself out during the week I have a pot of brown rice (I used to buy the minute rice brown rice bowls, but it gets pricey and it's easy to make on a Sunday afternoon while catching up on homework...)
-1/2 cup cooked brown rice
-Canned pineapple chunks
Throwing together a few pre-planned
 ingredients saves so much time.  
-3 oz. Chicken (I am in love with Simply Smart Perdue Chicken Chunks)
-Frozen Stir Fry Vegetables (My favorite blend is the Bird's Eye Stir Fry, but Costco has a cheaper blend)
-Annie Chung's Sweet and Spicy Sauce
-Chopped Scallions (optional)

I'm shocked at how good these are
and super low points!
On a day I'm running late, I can just throw all of these in a tupperware container and microwave it at work, but for best results, mix up the vegetables/pineapple and rice with some Sweet and Spicy sauce first for about 3 minutes in the microwave.  I'll stir it all up and then put the chicken on top and microwave for another minute and a half.  Then top it with sriracha and chopped scallions.  Enjoy!
Yum! :-)
Hummus Wraps
Most days I have to take both lunch and dinner with me because I have class at night.  This wrap is so filling, and takes a couple of minutes to assemble.  I love to wrap it in wax paper (parchment is too stiff) and cut diagonally and feel like I have a fancy dinner from takeout :-).

1 large tortilla, like La Tortilla Factory Whole Wheat that Costco has in a double pack
2 Tablespoons Hummus, I like Sabra Supremely Spicy
Alfalfa or Broccoli Sprouts, just a good handful
Mixed Greens, a handful
Kalamata Olives, about 4
Cucumbers, about a 1/4, chopped
Sliced Scallions, a couple stalks

Spread hummus evenly on the tortilla and add the other ingredients on one third of the tortilla.  Roll it up in wax paper, shifting the ingredients to stay in the tortilla as it's rolled.  Cut down the center at a slight angle and carefully transfer to a container or plate.  If you are going to travel with this, be careful not to add watery ingredients, like tomatoes because they will make everything too soggy.

Some snacks that have been saving graces for me have been:

Fage and Oikos Greek Yogurt-I love the strawberry flavors and they are not only sweetly satisfying, they are packed with protein for long-lasting fullness.

34 Degrees Crispbreads-these crackers are like thin wafers that can be used for sweet or savory snacks.  I like to spread 9 of them with 1 tablespoon of almond butter and sprinkle some chocolate chips over them and slip them in the microwave for just under a minute.  They are also amazing topped with...

Cabot Reduced Fat Cheese-there is a party platter from Costco that lasts for a really long time with each slice being one point.  I like to crumble one of the garlic and herb slices over some canned French Onion soup.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Please Help

I know it's been a while, but I'm getting ready to walk in a fundraiser to help fund research for Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that threatens the life of my little niece.  Please, if you can, follow this link to donate to our cause.  Thank you!

donate to my cause

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Roast Veggies and Chicken

Roast vegetables and chicken
Alas, it was a semi-short summer for me as I was back to work on Monday which meant little time to update the blog, although I was cooking up a storm at home.  So I am now T-minus 48 hours to cruise and was getting impatient with the scale, so I decided to go hardcore this week and do what old-time weight watchers like myself call Core.  It just means instead of counting points you eat small portions of a list of foods that are allowed.  Its a little tough at first, but it always pushes me through a weight loss plateau, and it keeps me creative in my cooking, because I have to create big flavors without some of the carby, fatty cheats.  One life-saving treat that I discovered on core was the magic of roasting vegetables.  Roasting caramelizes vegetables so that they are so brown they almost look burned, but they are actually bringing out the natural sugars in them and softening them into a delectable consistency.  This is also another great way to empty out your fridge if you have an assortment of veggies that are about to go bad.  You can even use some frozen veggies if that's all you have, but be very cautious of how much water is in them, because water is the enemy of this process.  It's also important to make sure the vegetables are cut into pretty much the same size, so everything cooks evenly.  I made a version of this recipe with the vegetables I had at home (which is what you see in the picture), but I'll give you my favorite combination of vegetables in the recipe below.  Here it is: 
For the vegetables: 
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 large, red onion, cut into large chunks
1 head read cabbage, sliced
1 head garlic, peel on
3 large carrots, chunked (I always have baby carrots, so I just take a few handfuls and cut them in half)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/2 Tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the chicken: 
1 pound chicken
1 lemon, quartered
3 large cloves of garlic, coursely chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon oregano
1/2 Tablespoon thyme
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


Lay veggies out on a sheet in a single layer.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Begin by laying all vegetables out on a baking sheet  in a single layer (or on a roasting pan if you have one--mine only gets dirty on Thanksgiving) and tossing with oil and spices.  Place into oven and do not disturb for at least 25 minutes.  I have a convection setting, and mine can be done in about half an hour, but total cooking time will vary.  Vegetables will get very dark and might look a little burnt.  Taste something hard, like a carrot or piece of cauliflower and if it is tender, it is done. 
Meanwhile, while vegetables are in the oven, place the chicken and all other ingredients to marinade quickly in a gallon sized Ziploc bag, juicing the lemon and leaving the whole lemon in the bag in the process.  Let the air out of the bag and seal.  Rub the marinating liquid all over the meat and let it sit while the vegetables are roasting.  When the vegetables are done, transfer to a platter or large bowl and dump out the entire contents of your Ziploc bag onto the same baking sheet, lemons, juice and all.  Lower the oven to 400 degrees and cook the chicken about 15 minutes, or until juices run clear when cut.  Place the chicken pieces over the vegetables and pour the lemony-oil sauce that remains in the pan on top.  It is amazing!  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Phase One

View from the door

So update on the office situation:  I managed to unload my classroom from my car, but as you will note, the issues in my office are varied and unique.  First of all, I have now two bookshelves that have no wall space (the one in the picture and the other that I unloaded from the car). 

Car View--Before
Car View--After
Next, my desk is adorable and fun, but hardly functional, as there is very little storage and even less work space. As you can see, my office has become where Rubbermaid containers go to die, so while I have the organizational supplies, putting them together in an aesthetic way is causing what feels like an aneurysm to form. Any suggestions would be awesome...I'll keep you posted.

Drunken Chicken Pasta

Drunken Chicken Pasta
Few things offend me as much as paying for food that I could have made better at home.  Most major offenders are in the form of pasta dishes, which, in addition to being very economical to make at home, should always be simple and have tons of flavor.  If I never have another bite of chicken alfredo that tastes like cardboard only to learn it had 1500+ calories, it will be too soon.  Pasta is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and it can be healthy if combined with lean proteins and lots of veggies.  The major thing is to make sure you control your portion size, which I've done in this recipe by only cooking up a half pound of pasta rather than a whole, so that when it is divided into four portions, everyone gets the correct amount of pasta (2 oz. v. 4 oz.).  Here we go-

1 cup thinly sliced onions
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes-well drained (you can use fresh if you have come into some small fortune)
1 pound chicken (I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs)
1/3 cup flour (omit this if you are using a chicken with skin, just saute your chicken skin side down first)
1 cup red wine (I used a cabernet-sauvignon)
1 cup water (use less if you don't like a saucy pasta sauce)
1 Tablespoon oil
1/2 pound pasta (I used rigatone)
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Place water in a pot to boil.  Cook pasta according to directions on box. 
Brown chicken in batches.
Heat some oil in a large skillet.  Meanwhile, if using skinless chicken, lightly dust the chicken in flour and set on a large plate without the pieces overlapping.  Make sure the oil is very hot and place chicken in a single layer (you may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your pan) and brown the chicken.  *The goal here is not to cook the chicken through, but just to get it brown.  You will put it back into the sauce later, so don't worry about cooking it all the way.*  You will notice brown bits that stick to the pan.  This is good, do not try to remove this.  When all chicken is brown, set on a plate and season the hot chicken with all the spices.  Keeping the pan hot (and adding a little more oil, if needed), toss in the onions and allow to soften for at least two minutes (should be more) until they start turning brown.  Add tomatoes and note that as the tomatoes start to give off moisture, the brown bits will start to come off the pan naturally.  This process is called deglazing, and it is delicious as it returns more flavor to your food.  Add the mushrooms and futher deglaze the pan with the wine and water.  
The tomatoes deglaze the pan.
Add the chicken back to the pan and allow sauce to come up to a boil.  Do not cover it.  When boiling, reduce the heat to low, and allow to simmer for about five minutes while you drain your pasta. 

Add chicken back to pan to finish cooking.
 Once the sauce has reduced, add the pasta and stir carefully so that the sauce combines but does not tear the pasta.  Taste your wine sauce and make sure you have added enough seasoning.  If your pasta was a bit bland, it may affect the dish.  Add more salt and oregano if the flavor is not strong enough.  Place on a serving dish and enjoy!  This one is one of my favorite things to make and the leftovers are amazing!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Set back.

So I woke up early-ish this morning prepared to start the day right with a run.  I sat down for a second and woke up three and a half hours later.  Fail.  I am feeling so exhausted today, it's ridiculous.  I work so incredibly hard during the school year that I usually spend my vacations sick.  I think my body was running off adrenaline for a bit, but the tension of the last few weeks of school is really catching up to me.  Sigh.  Domestic projects definitely cheer me up, but sometimes the idea of tackling a big task gets a little overwhelming.  So I'm going to tackle the huge project that is our office.  I actually did a pretty good job of organizing this office over Spring Break, only to box everything up because we put in new flooring.  Add to that my entire classroom full of materials that is currently residing in my car.  Next year I will be the reading coach at my school, so I won't actually have a I need to figure out what I will need permanently and what I should just give away or even try to sell. 
Here arises a slight problem.  As a teacher (and even as a student) I have issues with getting rid of school supplies/teaching materials because I never know when I will need them.  I have absolutely no problem getting rid of everything else--to the point where my closet starts looking sparse and I have a carful of things to give to Goodwill every few months.  So I will be taking some before pictures and making up a pretty tight schedule, since I have to be back to work Monday to help with planning for next year.  So wish me luck and let me know any tips/ideas you might have.  On a positive note, I'm sure all this moving/organizing can count as a workout...

Sidenote:  I've gotten so many messages telling me that people cannot post.  I'm seeing this firsthand.  If you cannot post a comment as anonymous, just keep sending it to me and I'll take note.  Thanks for trying!

Things to look forward to:  I'm experimenting with a pain au chocolate recipe (it's taking forever) and roast vegetables are happening sometime this week.  Check back soon!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Poached Chicken and Spinach Risotto

Poached Chicken and Spinach Risotto
The decision of what to make for dinner was won by risotto for two reasons. One, the creaminess of risotto is so comforting it is almost impossible to resist. Second, combining risotto with a poached chicken used up more of my pantry ingredients and made some chicken broth to use in the risotto. Plus it is amazing. You take non-creamy things and it just comes together as creamy goodness. Brilliant.
One thing to note about making risotto is that it is more about the process versus the exact measurement of and including the right ingredients (which is pretty much the opposite of baking).
You really only need two things to make risotto: rice and liquid. And patience. Anything over and above that is for pretty. Here is what I did--
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chopped white onion
1 Tablespoon butter
5-6 cups warm chicken broth
1 pound poached chicken, shredded
1/2 pound frozen cut leaf spinach, thawed and drained
2/3 cup parmesan cheese
First, start out with a high quality arborio rice. I used an organic version I found. You toast the rice with a tablespoon of butter and 1 cup of diced onions over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup of white wine and stir constantly. CONSTANTLY. No joke. If your risotto dries out, game over. Stick with your risotto and watch for the rice to absorb the liquid. As the rice starts to puff up and the liquid becomes less visible, add ladelfuls of warm broth, continuing to stir constantly. Do not drown your rice with liquid; one ladelful at a time is enough.  As Alton says, "Your patience will be rewarded. "
Keep adding liquid and stirring as soon as you start to see the bottom of the pan dry out, like below:
Cooking time will vary, today it took about 45 minutes of stirring. The best way to know if it is done is to simply taste it. It should taste like a creamy rice, not al dente pasta. If it is tough, keep adding liquid and stirring. When your rice is the right consistency, add the shredded chicken, spinach and parmesan cheese. If this causes your rice to dry out, simply add another ladelful of broth.
This is a fun dish to make with another person there and some extra wine to sample, which I did. Drinking on a weeknight is another benefit of summer:-).