Feelin' Chalky

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Top Ten Time!

I often think about things that I can do now or will able to do in the near future - now that I am on the healthy and more "narrow" track.  ;) Some things I think about are driven by happy memories, some bad.  In any case, here are my top ten things (in no particular order) I look forward to as I approach my goal:

1. No more plus-sized stores or clothes!
2. Being able to ride roller coasters again!
3. Sitting in lawn chairs without fear of them breaking!
4. Swimming in a public pool without a cover-up!
5. Being in shape and able to keep up with the kids!
6. Running - any distance - without keeling over!
7. Being a positive role model for my kids and others!
8. Being able to hide behind a tree during a game of hide-and-seek and stay hidden!
9. A smaller "upper-body" size (for all of my "gifted" girlfriends - I know you understand)
10. Shorts, shorts, and more shorts!!!

Speaking of #10...I did purchase two pair of shorts in preparation for the race last weekend and I love them!  :)  It is quite liberating!  I never knew how much a couple feet of fabric could weigh you down.  I also swam the other day and ditched the cover-up.  There weren't very many people there, but it was still a major milestone in my journey.  Now, I know I'm no swim suit model, but I SHOULD be able to swim without donning a shirt and pants. HA!

Today was the last day of my "60 by August" challenge.  I am proud to say...I lost 4 pounds this week bringing my total loss to 61.8 pounds!!  :)  I just squeaked by, but I am so happy to have met my goal!!  I am looking forward to the next challenge...not sure yet what it will be, but I will share it as soon as I decide.  Thank you to everyone who encouraged and supported and cheered me on!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ninja Ice Cream!

Well, I made the "Black-eyed Bean (pea) Casserole" and the "Jicama-Apple Coleslaw" last night for supper.  I think both turned out great!  Even the kids enjoyed trying them.  My oldest son cleaned his plate - he is more adventurous than his older siblings when it comes to food.  I say that they are definitely two recipes I will make again.  Did any of you try a new recipe this week?

I'm pretty sure that most people would love to eat ice cream for breakfast, but we have such will-power that we refrain from doing so...or not...ha.  My family had ice cream for breakfast this morning...without the guilt.  Wanna know how??  It is SO easy that you won't even believe that it's worth the effort...trust me.

Breakfast Ice Cream

6 very ripe bananas, broken in half
That's it

Take your less than attractive, very ripe bananas.  Am I the only one with kids that won't eat a banana if it has any brown on it??  Break the bananas in half and chuck into a larger freezer bag.  Make sure you squeeze as much air out as possible.  Freeze the bananas overnight or for at least 10 hours so that they are good and solid.  Put your frozen bananas into your trusty blender, food processor/chopper, or heavy duty juicer (the kind that looks more like a meat grinder than a juicer).  My favorite appliance that fits the bill?  My $40 Ninja.  It really does turn ice into snow.  ;)  If you need something that really works and doesn't cost a fortune, check it out here: Euro-Pro Ninja Master Prep Blender and Food Processor

Pulse the bananas until they turn into a creamy, frozen treat!  Be patient - it might take a few minutes!  The kids love it and I love it too.  I think that it would be super with a little cinnamon in it and maybe some chocolate?  The sky is the limit!  You can customize it to your heart's content!  It also makes a great base for a frozen smoothie!

Here are the last of the recipes that I promised...

#1 Moroccan Rice w/ Saffron

2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into cubes
2 cups yellow onion, large dice
1 1/2 cups carrots, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups zucchini, cut into cubes
2 T extra-vrigin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 T Earth Balance butter
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp saffron threads (Meijer has it)
1 1/2 cups brown basmati rice (or whole wheat couscous)
2 scallions white and green parts, chopped 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Place the squash, onion, carrots, and zucchini on a large baking sheet and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, turning once with a spatula midway through. (this smells SO good as it roasts!)  While the veggies roast, bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan.  Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the butter, pepper, cumin, saffron, and salt to taste.  Cover the pan and steep for 15 minutes.  (At this point...if you are using a rice cooker...just dump your steeped broth in as your liquid and put your rinsed rice in and set to brown rice...once the rice is done, add the roasted veggies and green onion and serve right out of your rice cooker)  Here is where it gets a little sketchy...if you use couscous just combine your dry couscous with the veggies, pour the broth over the top, stir to combine and cover and let stand for 15 minutes.  If you use rice and don't have a rice cooker, use the broth to prepare your rice instead of water.  You may have to add a tad more liquid (either water or broth) to make sure it doesn't dry out.  Add your scallions and serve.  This is so good!!!  The spices are intoxicating and the combination of veggies really makes the dish.

#2 Polenta Casserole

1 1/2 cups polenta or cornmeal
1 medium-sized head cauliflower, cut into large pieces
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
Kernels from 2 ears of corn or 1 cup thawed frozen kernels
6 asparagus spears, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 tsp roasted sesame tahini
1/3 cup plain soy milk
1 1/2 T soy sauce, shoyu, or BRAGGs
2 tsp umeboshi vinegar (Sunspot has it)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Place the polenta in a large, heavy pot.  Add the cauliflower, peas (if using fresh), salt, and 5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer the polenta for 30 minutes.  **Polenta must be stirred frequently as it cooks to prevent it from sticking or becoming lumpy.**  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly oil an 8X8 casserole dish.  Layer the corn kernels and then the asparagus.  Remove the polenta from the heat and add the tahini, milk, soy sauce, and umeboshi vinegar and mash with a potato masher or fork (or use a stick blender) until the mixture resembles mashed potatoes.  Add the chopped parsley and peas (if using frozen) and mix well.  Spoon the mashed mixture into the casserole dish over the corn and asparagus and smooth the top.  Poke a few small holes in the surface and sprinkle it with a little more soy sauce (this makes the top brown and crispy).  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Let the casserole sit for 15 minutes to cool before cutting into squares.  Garnish with basil.  This is comfort food. Yum.

#3 Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill flour blend that is gluten-free)
1/3 cup maple sugar (Whole Foods)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 safflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup choc chips (they sell dairy-free chips at Sunspot)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the oats, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the syrup, oil, vanilla, and molasses.  Add the "wet" ingredients to the "dry" ingredients, and stir to combine.  Fold in the chocolate chips (I found that 1/4 cup was slightly too much so go slow and see what works best for you).  Roll tablespoon-sized scoops of dough into a ball.  Place the balls onto a cookie sheet and press down slightly to flatten the tops.  Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.  These cookies taste divine, but they are slightly crumbly so be careful when you transfer them to a cooling rack or plate.  :)


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oodles of Recipes

I knew it would happen, and it did...sigh.  After losing 7.2 pounds last week I gained 0.4 pounds this week.  I am pretty sure my body is going slightly haywire.  I don't think it knows what to do.  I really have to admit that this week I just felt bored with food.  I'm not sure why but I go through these "funky" spurts where nothing sounds good and where I just don't feel like cooking.  I think that's OK every once in a while but it leads to less satisfying meals and more snacking throughout the day.  I did eat my fruits and veggies this week but I slacked a bit on my whole grains - brown rice, quinoa, oats, etc.  I don't have an excuse...I have a rice cooker for goodness sake, but my goal this week is to really amp up the grains again.  They are so filling and so good!  I have one week left before August arrives and I am down 57.8 pounds.  I only have 2.2 pounds to lose this week to meet my goal of 60 pounds by August!  I can do it!!!

OK, just as promised, I will share with you some stellar recipes that I have tried and love, but first I want to share two recipes that I am going to make this week.  They are both from my daily e-mail from the SB girls.  They have such fun tips and tricks and recipes!  If you would like to check it out - here is a link: HB Daily Site

This recipe looks so good that I can hardly wait to make it:

Black-Eyed Bean Casserole

Serves: 4

1 2/3 cups black-eyed beans (aka black-eyed peas)
3 1/4 cups water
1 pound crushed tomatoes, with juices
1 medium Spanish red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/3 cup, plus 3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 small green pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 pound baby mushrooms, sliced
11 ounces corn kernels (so like a cup and 1/2 ish? - so weird)

Bring the beans and water to a boil in a heavy saucepan.  Remove from heat.  Soak for one hour.  Drain and rinse beans thoroughly.  Cover with water and bring to a boil, simmer 30 minutes and drain.  Bring beans, tomatoes, red onions, garlic, tomato paste, green peppers, and parsley to a boil in a heavy saucepan.  Reduce heat, cover pan, and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender.  Add basil, mushrooms, and corn and mix well.  Simmer for another 15 minutes.  Points value - 8 (for 1/4 of total dish) - I am guessing that you get a pretty hefty serving if this only makes 4 servings...can't wait to try this out!!

This recipe also looks yummy and I have a jicama in my fridge just waiting:

Jicama-Apple Coleslaw

Serves: 6

1/2 cup Vegenaise non-dairy mayonnaise (or you can use regular)
3 T rice wine vinegar
2 T lime juice
2 T agave (or raw cane sugar)
1 T cilantro, chopped 
3/4 t sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large jicama bulb peeled and cut into 3-inch matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch matchsticks
1 large granny smith apple, cut into 3-inch matchsticks (or any other tart apple)
1 cup red cabbage, chopped

In a large bowl, whisk together the Vegenaise, vinegar, lime juice, agave, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Set aside for dressing.  Cut the jicama, carrots, and apple into long, thick matchsticks.  Chop the cabbage and add all veggies to the bowl of dressing.  Toss to coat.

Are you hungry yet?  Here are a couple more to keep you drooling:

Cheesy, Oozy Guacamole Bean Dip

1 16 oz can vegetarian refried beans
3 large avocados
3 T fresh lime juice
2 8 oz containers nondairy sour cream (like Tofutti - Better Than Sour Cream)
1 packet taco seasoning
1/2 cup (4 oz can) diced mild green chiles, drained
1/2 cup sliced black olives (or more if you'd like!)
5 tomatoes, chopped (or a can of diced tomatoes, drained)
2 cups shredded vegan Cheddar cheese (try Veggie Shreds or Daiya)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread a layer of refried beans in the bottom of an 8X8 quart glass baking dish.  Pit and peel the avocados, and place into a bowl.  Mash the avocados together with the lime juice and spread on top of the refried beans.  (I also added red onion into the guac mix)  Stir together the "sour cream" and taco seasoning, and spread on top of the avocado.  Sprinkle the chiles over the sour cream, and top with a layer of black olives.  Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle with the cheese.  Heat the dip for 15-30 minutes or until heated through and the cheese is melted.  This is UN-believeably good.  Trust me.  And I think you could do regular cheese and sour cream, but the dairy-free stuff holds up to the heat better and really makes it divine!

Black-Eyed Pea Croquettes w/ Dijon Glaze

2 cups black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in water
2 T chopped, fresh parsley
1/2 t sea salt
1 T soy sauce, BRAGG liquid aminos, Shoyu, or Tamari
1 t ground cumin
2 cups safflower oil (for frying)

1/2 c barley malt syrup (Sunspot) or brown rice syrup
1 T Dijon mustard

Drain the soaked beans and transfer to a food processor.  Add the parsley, salt, soy, and cumin.  Blend until beans are chopped to fine shreds, but don't blend them to a pulp.  The mixture will be slightly wet but should hold together.  (we actually had to add a tablespoon or two of safflower oil to help it out) Form the bean mixture into small oblong (football shaped) croquettes in the palms of your hands.  Heat 1 inch of oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Place croquettes in the pan (a few at a time) and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until brown.  Place on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the excess oil.  Warm the syrup and mustard in a small saucepan until it bubbles and either drizzle over the croquettes or serve on the side as a dipping sauce.

OK.  I will post a few more tomorrow.  Right now, I need to get my kids packed for an evening with their grandparents.  Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's for breakfast? 7/19/10

So this morning I woke up with a dilemma...what WILL I have for breakfast today?!?  OK, so it wasn't really a life or death situation, but it was pretty important.  I have found that if I eat a good and filling breakfast it helps me keep from snacking my way through the day.  

During my breakfast brainstorm I remembered a blog post I read last week about a runner who made a smoothie (post-run) with cherries and chocolate almond milk.  She also added protein powder and all that jazz - which I don't need considering the only thing I will be lifting today are my 21, 26, 31, and 32 pound children and the only running I'll be doing is after my oldest son when he gets into, well, everything.  :)  Also, these last couple weeks the WW challenge has been to make sure you get your 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily - really a no-brainer for a vegetarian/vegan, but sometimes it's still hard.  This little number has 3 servings of fruit and one "dairy."

Chocolate Cherry Bomb Smoothie

1 cup fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1 medium-sized banana
1 cup light chocolate soy milk (or almond)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 T mini chocolate chips
1/2 T raw cacao powder (it is different than cocoa)

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth!  I think that if you are better than I am at planning ahead it would be even more delicious if you freeze the banana and/or cherries overnight first.  It will be more like a milkshake and nice and cold!  Like I said, the smoothie is 3 servings of fruit and one "dairy" (yes, soy milk counts as a dairy) and it makes a ton for 8 points!

I knew I needed a little something more to hold me over b/c I usually don't get to even think about lunch until the kids are asleep at naptime (which is about 1:00/1:30), so I also had an Everything Bagel Thin with 2T of Trader Joe's Mediterranean Hummus - 2 pts.  (thank you to my in-laws for stopping on their way home yesterday to get my precious hummus...I was starting to get the shakes after being without it for 2 weeks!)

I need your input!  I have a lot of recipes that I have tried lately and love.  I need to know which ones you would like to have!  Here are the options...pick your top 2!

Moroccan Rice with Saffron
Polenta Casserole
Cheesy, Oozy, Guacamole Bean Dip
Black-Eyed Pea Croquettes with Dijon Glaze
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

All recipes are free of dairy and sugar...and all but the oats in the oatmeal cookies are gluten-free as well.  :)

VOTE!!!  And definitely go get your breakfast on!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Prison Break

After being MIA for two weeks I am finally back in action and ready to once again purge the thoughts racing around in my head.

I do have to admit that last week's hiatus was partly due to the fact that it was the first week that I didn't lose any weight, in fact, I gained slightly.  I was too embarrassed to post it even though I know that there was nothing I did that was out of the ordinary (food-wise).  So, I am here to say - it happens - to everyone.  I know that I will have good weeks and bad weeks especially the closer I get to my goal.  Last week, I gained 0.8 pounds.  Oh well.  It did really frustrate me, but I had to either give up or press on and I chose to press on.  :) 

Before I tell you about this week's progress, I wanted to share another personal (non-weight) victory.  First of all, let me say that at Church we have been talking about all of the lies that satan feeds us that keep us sad and lonely and guilt-ridden and broken.  Basically when we believe the lies that he feeds us it makes us "less-than" what we really are.  We don't function the way God intended - we don't live the abundant life that we are promised through Christ.  Today we specifically discussed how satan convinces us that we can't change.  he (I refuse to capitalize "he" in this case even though it's the beginning of a sentence) whispers that little lie in our ears and we believe it and become imprisoned by our habits and behaviors.  It was so cool for me to listen to the sermon today from a fresh perspective - from the other side of that lie for once in my life.  What is the other side of that lie?  Well, it's the truth that I CAN do all things through Christ who gives me strength!  I feel like I am trying to combat that lie everyday and run toward the truth that God can change me and set me free!  

I used to believe that I was destined to be fat.  I just figured I was always going to be "big" and that there was not much I could do about it, after all, it was probably genetics, right?  I used to think that I was just someone who was always going to love greasy, fatty, sugary foods.  I bought the lie with everything I had and it crippled me for so long.  I am so incredibly blessed that even through that lie God reached His hand down and pulled me along - sometimes unwillingly to serve Him and use my gifts.  What I am referring to is specifically the gift of music.  I still don't know how I ever had the courage to step foot on the stage at Oakbrook for the first time.  I still don't know how I ever mustered up the confidence to sing "Children Go Where I Send Thee" for the first time - that was the first time most people (myself included) even realized I had any power to my voice!  I look back and I am sad at all of the opportunities I missed because I had locked myself in a prison of self-doubt.  I know it is impossible to go back, so all I can do is move forward and try to re-learn how to be the person God created me to be.  It is so hard to allow myself the freedom to be that person!  I am so used to the old self-conscious, backward, afraid to speak up and speak out, worry-filled me.  

This week I had an opportunity to take another step toward that new me.  I was given a chance to change and I am so proud that I took it!  I stepped out in faith and allowed myself the freedom to have fun and use the gifts God has given me - outside of the safety-net of my Church.  There was a little singing competition at the Howard county fair called "HOCOMUCO."  It stands for HOward COunty MUsic COntest.  Normally I wouldn't have even entertained the idea for fear of being judged or rejected or for fear of being made fun of or the biggest one - for fear of failure.  I have talked before about how much I worry about failure.  With a little encouraging my family and friends talked me into it and you know what??  I had fun!  Imagine that!  I didn't win the contest, but I still felt victorious.  I felt like I opened the door to a lot more opportunities that I can say YES to instead of no. That felt great!  By the way...I will be back next year for anyone who may be wondering!  ;)  I am a pretty competitive person under all these layers!  

OK, so how did I do this week?  After all, I was at the fair twice this week.  Believe it or not, I lost 7.2 pounds!  That brings my total to 58.2 pounds lost forever and ever!  I am 1.8 pounds away from my August goal of 60 pounds lost!!  Hopefully I will pull it off!

I tried a whole bunch of new recipes these past two weeks and I am hoping to have a separate post soon that contains most of them.  Keep an eye out!  Also, I am going to start blogging what I order when I go out to eat so that everyone can see that it truly is possible to eat healthfully when you eat out.  A lot of people ask me how I cope in restaurant situations.  It should be fun!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fitting In

I did it!  Another 3 miles under my belt!  I walked in first "official" race today for the Haynes Apperson Festival - number 673 - with my buddy by my side.  And can I just say that I love that girl?  She literally left a 12-hour shift at work and came straight to the race to walk with me and cheer her husband on.  That's serious stuff there...she's an example of a true cheerleader, friend, and selfless spirit.  I am so glad we're in this together, Jaim!  :)

My goal today was not to win the race, I really just wanted to continue to build on to the success I've had so far...and to continue on my journey to healthy living for life.  Plus I wanted my kids to see me doing something good for myself so that hopefully they will follow suit.  One of my fav people in the world, Dave Ramsey, always says something to this effect: if you want to be rich - do what rich people do - if poor people are making fun of your financial plan, then you are on the right track!  That's what I keep thinking through this process...if I want to be healthy, I should do what healthy people do.  Healthy people MOVE their butts.  They don't sit and watch TV all day.  They don't lay around and daydream.  They get up and get busy.  So...that's where I'm at!

This week I lost 4.8 pounds!!!  That puts me up over 50 pounds lost and gone forever.  My total loss is 51.8 pounds...just 8.2 away from my August goal!  :)

Since this is a holiday weekend and a lot of people are getting together with family and friends (and also because m my aunt gave me the great idea) I thought I would talk a little about how you can fit into the cookout/picnic picture as a WW member, dieter, health-nut, vegetarian/vegan, or someone who has special dietary needs.  On the other side of that, also, how you can be an accommodating hostess if one of your guests is in one of the categories above!

First of all - for both sides - it can be a real challenge when you live in a world of burgers, chips, potato salad, and pie.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with those things, believe me, I love them too, but when you are trying to do something better for yourself how can you cope without feeling completely isolated?  Here are my top 5 things to do as a guest when you have "special" dietary needs.

Research - Call your hostess and just simply ask what they are planning to have for dinner.  Don't feel embarrassed.  It's good to be informed.  Once you have the information, you can take action.  You can decide what exactly you will and won't eat AHEAD OF TIME and you can also plan your day/week around that event.

Offer - Offer to bring something that is fair game for you - something that you love and fits into your lifestyle...and preferably something that might appeal to others! ;)

Portion - Bring measuring cups, spoons, what-not or ask to use some.  Don't be shy!  You are doing something good for yourself by placing limits on your food intake.  That's a good and healthy thing.  So what if you look like a crazy-person?  If you don't want to go to that extreme, just err on the side of caution.  It's better to go small and  be safe than go crazy and hate yourself in the morning.

Indulge - Give yourself permission to really enjoy one specific thing...but again portion it out.  If there is potato salad, cole slaw, and macaroni salad - pick one and eat it, but be reasonable.  If your thing is dessert...either bring a healthy-fied version or pick one dessert and eat a small amount.

Ratio - remember math class?  Well, me neither, but try to stick with this kind of plan: 1/2 veggies and whole grains, 1/4 meat, 1/4 fruit/dessert or if you don't eat meat: 1/4 whole grains, 1/2 veggies, 1/4 fruit/dessert...that way most of your points are going to low-point and filling foods (about 3/4) and less to fatty foods with less nutritional value...or in the case of vegetarians/vegans...try to make 3/4 of your total intake whole foods and whole grains and skip the quick carbs like breads, white pastas, and white sugars.  Here is a good visual.  You know the little kid plates that have two small sections and one large section?  Try to put your veggies/grains in the big section and the meat and dessert/fruit in the small ones.  Make sense?

OK, that covers the bases if you are attending a get-together, but what about if you are hosting?  I think similar rules apply.  So here are my top things to do as a hostess if you are hosting someone with "special" dietary needs:

Research - Find out what your guests' needs are.  Does someone have a wheat or dairy issue, is someone counting calories or points, or does someone have a lifestyle that needs to be addressed when preparing the food?  Find out.  Don't assume you know.  Look up information about their needs.  Find out what a gluten-free diet is or what exactly being a vegan means.  Know your dinner guests.

Offer - Offer an alternative.  If you're having beef burgers and someone is trying to eat things lower in calories and saturated fat, also serve turkey burgers.  Ask your guest what they might like...chances are if there is something out of the ordinary that they need such as soy cheese or gluten/wheat-free hamburger buns or meat-free products (burgers, hot dogs, chik'n, riblets, Italian sausages - yes they make meat-free alternatives for all of these things) they will be more than willing to bring it.  Try to offer a neutral dish.  A great neutral dish that is always a crowd pleaser is the Haricots verts with garlic and mushrooms that I talked about a few posts back.  It's simple, cheap, and accommodates anyone - really.  Or you can just have a veggie tray and/or a fresh fruit platter...again...it accommodates everyone and you can get a great one at Sam's Club for like $10.  You can't beat that!

Relax - It's OK if your guest isn't babied or catered to.  Chances are they will be more than happy you even made an effort to please them.  Most people on specific diets are good at piecing together meals on their own and also are used to being the odd one out and bringing something familiar along.

Ratio - If 5 people you invite have typical dietary needs and only one person has specific dietary needs...go with the majority.  Again, offer alternatives when possible, but don't stress.  Ask the person to bring something (or two) that they love.  Salads, also, are very neutral and appeal to most everyone.  Put all of the "toppings" (like tomatoes, peppers, onions, sunflower seeds, berries, cheeses, croutons) on the side so that people can pick and choose what they want.

OK, that was only four, but I ran out of ideas!  :)  To top off this post, here are a couple of things I am exploding (tried to think of something that would go with the 4th) for this week:

Cilantro - you either love or hate it.  I love it!  I have been using it in quite a few recipes this week some of which I have already posted, some that I will post next week (hint: I am working on making Chipotle burritos at home).  It has such a distinct flavor and smell...a little goes a long way!

Homemade Guacamole - Great with chips, as a topper to a veggie burger (thanks, Jaim), or on a burrito.  So simple - 1 ripe avocado, red onion, garlic, lime juice and salt.  Smoosh it all together...voila!

Happy 4th to everyone!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Peanut (Butter) Gallery

Well, after surviving almost 2 weeks without any dairy I can officially say I am done with it.  I really thought that it would be harder than it has been, but since I have been slowly edging dairy out a step at a time -  first ice cream (because unlike the rest of my family, that was the easiest place to start - plus I found some amazing coconut milk and soy ice creams), second milk, third and final, cheese.  I do have to say...I still longingly think of cheese...but I also longingly think of sleeping more than 5 hours in one sitting...and we all know that's what dreams are for, right?

I am testing out some more new recipes - mainly ones that can utilize alternative protien sources like tofu, tempeh, and seitan.  It's nice to have some new "tools" in the cooking arsenal, but I still fix the fam ground turkey or chicken 1-2 times a week even though I don't partake.  I have also been doing some sort of bean and whole grain dish (rice, quinoa, etc.) everyday - so any kind of recipes that use them in a creative way have been on my list as well.

I have had several people ask for more recipes that use tofu because they want to learn to cook with it.  Let's start with the basics...what the heck is tofu (and all of its strange counterparts) anyway???

Tofu - basically it is by method a "cheese" of sorts.  I say this because it is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the curds into a block.  Sound familiar?  There are different types: silken/soft, firm, and extra-firm.  Silken tofu is great for desserts and smoothies whereas firm/extra-firm are more easily cooked - baked, fried, grilled.  It is very bland in flavor and has almost no odor which makes it take on the flavors of the foods/spices you put with it.  It originated in China.  For more on tofu, click here: Tofu

Tempeh - fermented, cooked, and hulled soybeans that are formed into a white "cake." It originated in Indonesia.  I think it is most similar in method to blue cheese.  Blue/Bleu cheese gets its flavor by the mold that grows on it - same deal here, only it is a different kind of mold: Rhizopus.  The flavor is more intense than tofu and kind of nutty - and the texture is dense and slightly chewy.  For more info on tempeh, click here: Tempeh

Seitan - not a soy product at all!  Seitan is wheat gluten - sometimes called, "wheat meat."  It has a similar look and texture to meat when cooked - which is where it gets its name.  Popular in restaurants as a mock meat.  Can also be made at home.  I have not tried this yet, but I am anxious to give it a whirl.  For more info on seitan, click here: Seitan

I wanted to include a recipe that I made last night using tempeh...it was everything and more than I expected.  My husband ate every last bite which is always a good indication of whether the recipe is a success or not!  The soup is similar to an African dish I made in a level 3 foods class I took in college as an elective called "Groundnut (peanut) Stew."  (by the way...such a fun class - loved it - should have just gone to culinary school!)  I found this recipe in a WW magazine I had lying around, and I am so glad I did.  It has a little bit of everything in it - give it a try - this is for you, Viv!

Spicy Tempeh-Peanut Soup

1 (8 oz) package three-grain tempeh, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. grated, peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb red potatoes, diced
1 (14 1/2-oz) can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes
1 (14 1/2-oz) can low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 1/2 c. water
1 large zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 c. raw, natural peanut butter (no sugar added)
2 Tbsp. chopped, fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley

1. Spray a non-stick skillet with olive oil and set over medium heat.  Add tempeh and cook, turning frequently, until browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to plate.

2. Spray a dutch oven or stock pot with olive oil and set over medium heat.  Add onion and bell peppers; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic, ginger, cayenne, and salt until blended.  Add potatoes, tomatoes, broth, and water; cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.  Stir in zucchini and tempeh and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes and zucchini are tender, about 10 minutes.  Stir in peanut butter until blended and smooth.

At this point, you can also let cool completely and then freeze the soup in an air-tight container for up to 2 months.  I served the soup over some brown basmati rice using my NEW (and wonderful) Aroma ARC-998 16-Cup Cool Touch Digital Rice Cooker, Stainless.  I love it.  :)  Back to the soup.  I garnished the top with cilantro and a few peanuts.  Here is what it looked like:

For those of you who think that a Vegan diet is bland and boring...you HAVE to try this soup...and for all the rest...you HAVE to try this soup!  The peanut butter is fantastic with the cayenne and garlic and ginger...and the cilantro really plays a beautiful part as well.  My kids were convinced that the tempeh was chicken and since I am not one to stifle the imagination, I didn't tell them any different! ;)

Meanwhile...I have been purging my pantry (finally) of all junk and processed crud-ola.  I am so proud of my accomplishment, that I had to share.  (mainly because there is nothing in my house that is organized) Here is my de-junked pantry (OK, I still have a few things in there that could qualify as junk):

And my de-funked and de-junked fridge:

Yes. There are hot dogs.  What can I say...my kids still like them...sigh.  BUT I did find one that they like that is sans Nitrates/Nitrites.  It is by Oscar Mayer and it's called Hardwood Smoked Turkey dogs.  That makes me feel a little better when I hit the pillow at night!  :)