Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year

I must apologize for my absence!  I could give a myriad of excuses dealing with school, traveling, and overall holiday craziness, but let's not get into it!

Instead, let's review the holiday season.  Mr. PT and I were able to spend time with friends here in town and travel to see old yet familiar faces.  And we ate a lot of great food!  You can imagine how this time of year can be a setback for people trying to stay healthy and fit.  However, with an optimistic mindset and some self control, I guarantee anyone can overcome being an outright glutton.

Some tips from a personal trainer to prevent holiday over-eating:

-Eat will prevent you from overeating later!

-When available, eat fruit and plain vegetables...if this means you have to stop at a grocery store and keep some bananas, apples and oranges in your car, do it!

-When at a restaurant, split a meal with your spouse or friend.

-Limit yourself to 1-2 "dessert" items a day and STOP when you reach your limit!

-Exercise...traveling can make this difficult, but Mr. PT and I still managed to get a few runs, walks and even a swim in!  Ask friends and family if they have a free pass to their gym, walk the family dog, run to a nearby playground and do some strength training.

-Drink drink drink water water water...alcohol may be flowing every night but that doesn't mean you have to be a sot!  Have 1 glass of wine or beer and drink water the rest of the night.  Allow yourself 1-2 nights of tipsiness, after all, it is the holiday season!

-Do not get discouraged...if you have a rough day for eating, tell yourself you'll do better tomorrow.  If you get down on yourself your poor eating habits will continue!

I realize this list is coming a little late to some, but the next holiday is right around the corner.  Or maybe you can read this list and think, wow, I actually did pretty well this year! Or perhaps you can use this as a starting point for some new year resolutions.

Either way, I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and I hope this new year of 2012 brings everyone joy, peace, and good health.  To life!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Season for Soup: Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup

If you have not noticed already, Mr. PT are big soup eaters in these colder months.  They are comforting, easy to make, and long lasting.  The perfect winter meal.

Here is another squash variety to try!  This one includes carrots, giving it an extra healthy boost.

You will need:
-3 cups peeled, diced butternut squash (about 1 small squash)
-2 cups thinly sliced carrot (4 medium)
-3/4 cup thinly sliced leek or chopped onion
-1 tbs butter or margarine
-2 14 oz cans reduced sodium chicken broth
-1/4 tsp ground white pepper (I used black and it was fine)
-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
-1/4 cup light cream or milk

In a large covered saucepan cook squash, carrot, and leek in hot butter over medium heat about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add broth.  Bring to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer covered for 25-25 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender.  Cool slightly.

Place 1/3 of the squash mixture in a food processor or blender.  Cover and process or blend until almost smooth.  Repeat with remaining squash mixture.  Return all of mixture to saucepan.  Add white pepper and nutmeg; bring just to boiling.  Add light cream or milk, heat through.  Garish with pumpkin seeds and/or tarragon.  Serve with a nice, crusty bread.  Curl up next to the fire, turn on that football game and enjoy!

Combine with a day off...if you are an avid exerciser it's very important to give your muscles a day to recuperate.  Allowing your body the chance to rest will result in better workouts and a better functioning you.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Baker's Biscotti

Whether you like it or not, the holidays are here!  For me, that means spending more time with family and friends, filling the house with familiar decorations and smells, and enjoying the warmth of the season.

That is, when I'm not lying in bed sick with a nasty cold.  Unfortunately, along with the holidays comes the winter season which means cold and flu bugs are abundant.

Anyway, before I got this nasty virus, I was able to make one of my favorite Christmas treats, biscotti!  I got this amazing recipe from my Aunt Claudette who has quite the Italian background.  Mr. PT, who is not a moca drinker, loves this recipe because it produces a cookie that is soft and can be eaten on its own...dipping these biscotti into coffee is encouraged, but not necessary.

You will need:
-3 cups flour
-1 1/4 tsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp salt
-3 eggs
-1 cup sugar
-1/4 cup butter
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-1 tsp almond extract
-1 tsp vanilla
-1/4 tsp lemon zest
-1 cup almond slivers or your favorite nut
-1 cup dried fruit, optional (I use dried cranberries or cherries)

Grease your cookie sheet or cover in parchment paper.  Melt butter and let cool.  Combine flour, baking powder, salt.  Set aside.  Whisk eggs, sugar, butter, oil, vanilla, almond extract and lemon zest.  Gradually stir in dry ingredients.  Stir in nuts.

Form one large or four small logs from dough.  I make 3-4 small logs and flatten into a square.  Bake 30 minutes at 325 degrees.

Let cool, then cut on the diagonal into slices.  Toast each side in the oven for 10 minutes to give it a little crisp.

You can wrap these up and freeze them for the holidays, drizzle them with icing to make them fancy, or snack on them straight from the oven!  They have  a wonderful flavor and are not too sweet.  Enjoy!  And remember, everything in moderation, even Christmas cookies!

Combine with some Pilates!  Find a class at your local gym or get yourself a video to follow at home.  You might re-discover your abdominal muscles!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Night Off

Mr. PT gave me the night off from the kitchen last week and I must admit, it was nice!  I love spending time in the kitchen, but sometimes it is wonderful to come home from a long day of work and have someone else cook up a hot meal for you.  Wow, I took that for granted as a kid!

We enjoyed some pasta tossed with rosemary seasoned salad shrimp, Parmesan cheese, a touch of olive oil, and freshly steamed broccoli.  Simply made with just a few ingredients, but very tasty.

Combine with some yoga.  The mix of stretching and centering is a great way to end your work day!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hail the Kale!

Okay, if kale chips were not your cup of tea, here is another way to enjoy the big leafy green you are seeing in abundance at your local farmer's markets.  I found this recipe on Ruth Reichl's blog (check it out here).  She is a critically acclaimed food critic, the editor-in-chief of the former magazine "Gourmet," and a best selling author!  If you have not read her series of books about growing up and enjoying food, they are wonderful reads that will make you want to drop everything and go to culinary school.  Or maybe just become a food critic!

I had to alter the recipe just a little.  Mr. PT is not a fan of anchovies (I admit, they are not my favorite either).  So instead, I used a small amount of low-fat sausage to give the dish some extra flavor.  You can use bacon, turkey bacon, prosciutto...whatever you want!  I also cut the recipe in half and it still turned out fine.

You will need:
3 bunches kale (tear the leaves away from the stalk and rinse)
3 tablespoons olive oil
anchovies, sausage...whatever you prefer
3/4 teaspoon red chili/pepper flakes
2 medium onions diced
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
 4 garlic cloves
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup toasted breadcrumbs (cook breadcrumbs on a greased baking sheet for 5-10 minutes at 350)

Start out with some fresh, leafy kale.

Bring a pot of water and the salt to a boil.  Cook the kale leaves for about one minute, then strain and run cold water over them.

In a skillet heat your olive oil (unless you are using sausage...I did not need any extra oil).  Saute the onion with the red and black pepper and a pinch of salt until soft. Throw in the cooked kale and garlic.  Cook for about 10 minutes or until the ingredients mesh together.  Remove from heat and toss with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

You can eat this as a side, but Mr. PT and I ate it as a main dish.  It was very filling and extremely flavorful.  Just another way to enjoy those leafy greens!

Combine with some fresh air and a rake!  Raking leaves is a great way to strengthen your core, shoulders, and back.  If your yard doesn't have leaves, find a neighbor or friend who could use the help!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Breakfast Ahead

If you are the kind of person that likes the "instant breakfast" routine, then you will want to try this recipe.  I confess, I spend a lot of my mornings in the kitchen pouring a bowl of dry cereal or toasting up some bread.  So this dish is perfect!  It took some prep time on the weekend, but it was definitely worth it.  Thank you Columbus Dispatch recipe page!

You will need:
-2 tbs butter
-3 cups milk
-1/2 cup brown sugar (you could probably get by on 1/4 or 1/3 cup)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
-1/2 tsp ground ginger
-1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
-1 medium apple peeled, cored, chopped
-1 1/2 cups oats
-1/3 cup dried cherries
-1/3 cup toasted chopped walnuts
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350.  Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.  Combine butter, milk, brown sugar and spices in a heavy medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer.  Stir in oats, apple, cherries, walnuts, vanilla and salt.  Pour mixture into prepared dish. 

Bake 30 minutes or until thick and bubbly around the edges.

This morning I scooped up two servings of this for Mr. PT and I, zapped it in the microwave with some 1% milk and enjoyed the wee hours of the morning.  I have to tell you, it was SO good.  No more individually wrapped bags of oatmeal for this lady!

Combine with 30 minutes of calisthenics...find an abandoned jungle gym and playground and do 10 minutes of cardio (run, shuffle, high-knees, grapevine, etc), 10 minutes of arms and abs (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, resistance bands, etc) and 10 minutes of legs (squats, forward, backward, and side lunges, etc).  It will be the quickest 30 minutes you'll ever spend!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Savor Saturday Night

Mr. PT and I enjoyed a quiet Saturday night at home with a wood burning fire, music, a few good books, and of course, a delicious home-cooked meal.  This one looks familiar, but it was too delicious not to repeat.

Acorn Squash Soup...with a little less milk and a few more onions you'll get a thicker, more savory soup.  Dip into it with fresh, cinnamon raisin bread

See the recipe here.

Looking for a change in your workout routine?  Let yourself catch up on sleep on the weekends, but instead of lounging around in your pajamas, get yourself out of bed and on the move.  Hit up an exercise class at your gym.  Go on a morning run or walk.  Visit your favorite Yoga studio.  When I work out in the morning on the weekends, I find myself feeling more energized and productive throughout the day.  Give it a try!

*What do you think of the new look?  New posts are in the top left corner, or, you can sort the posts by clicking on the "date" tab at the top.  Let me know what you think!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Meal of Oats

If breakfast cereals and pop-tarts are getting you down, try a fresher approach to your morning.  Cook up a bowl of oatmeal and top it with brown sugar, bananas, and walnuts.  Make it creamy with some low-fat milk and you will feel ready to tackle your day.

Combine with consistent exercise.  However you decide to move, do it regularly!  If you want to feel better and see a difference you have to commit.  You can do it!

*What do you think of the new look?  New posts are in the top left corner, or, you can sort the posts by clicking on the "date" tab at the top.  Let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enchiladas...and soup!

Enchiladas...warm, spicy, creamy and delicious.  Who wouldn't want to come home to hot plate of cooked tortillas with chicken and cheese, drowning in a spicy sauce?  This is another recipe from my childhood that is perfect when stockpiling your freezer.  I have gotten 4 meals (not to mention a few packed lunches with leftovers) out of this recipe, and I still have some waiting in the freezer!  This is not the quickest dish to prepare, but you spend most of your time waiting for the chicken to cook.  Trust me, it's worth it.

Start out with some skinless chicken if you prefer.  Throw them in a crockpot with with some low fat, low sodium chicken broth, your favorite salsa, cilantro, green/red pepper, a dash of salt and pepper and more spice if you want it.  All of these flavors cook into the chicken, making it a nice, spicy filling for you tortillas!

I know the chicken is a weird color...but it's because of the salsa!

Shred the chicken.

Place some chicken and cheese inside a corn (or flour, if you out for trans fat!) tortilla.

Roll these up as best you can and place either in your baking container (spray it first) or in a storage container for the freezer.

Now it's time for the sauce.  You will need:
-1 can of low fat cream of mushroom soup
-1 can full of milk
-3/4 cup salsa
-can/jar of enchilada sauce (it's tricky, but try to find a brand that isn't skyrocketing in sodium or contains trans fat/high fructose corn syrup)

Mix these ingredients together in a blender until smooth.  Depending on how saucy you like your enchiladas, pour the appropriate amount on top of the chicken-cheese tortillas.  Sprinkle with some cheese and crumbled tortilla chips if you like.

Cover and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake for 15 more minutes.

Yum!  This is such a tasty dish!  And if you keep your portions in control and hand-pick healthy choices for your ingredients, it's pretty healthy too.

I had quite a bit of enchilada sauce leftover, so a few nights later, I threw that in the crockpot with another can of mushroom soup, the chicken broth left over from cooking the chicken before, tossed some tortilla chips on top and called it tortilla soup!

It's fun to get creative with these recipes and add ingredients that you like.  Enjoy!

Combine with movement breaks. If you find yourself sitting for the majority of your day set yourself a timer for thirty minutes.  When the timer goes off, stand up and walk around for 5 minutes.  Go get a drink, walk a flight of stairs, check your mailbox...something that will get the blood flowing!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Your Favorite Kind of Cake...


Who says pancakes can't be healthy?  If you eat them in a restaurant, they are usually full of butter and drenched in syrup...the epitome of fat and sugar!  But if you stay in your robe and slippers and make them at home, you might be surprised how light and fluffy you feel afterwards!

I use Hodgson Mill Buckwheat pancake mix and follow the directions on the box.  And then I add about a cup of oatmeal!  

The oatmeal adds a little heartiness to the cakes, and creates a great texture.

Top with some vanilla yogurt, fruit, and a touch of maple syrup if you just can't live without it.  Or make them your own and add whatever you want! Enjoy!

Combine with a long, leisurely walk taking a good look at the changing leaves.  It only comes once a year!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

After School Munchies

After a long, crazy day at work, coming home feels like heaven.  I kick my work shoes off, throw my purse aside, and slowly feel myself unwind from the day.  Sometimes I have the urge to lace up my running shoes and run a few miles around the neighborhood.  Other days I manage to get myself back in the car with my yoga mat and spend some time at the local YMCA.  But sometimes, I just need to postpone exercise and relax.  These are usually the days I feel like I got enough exercise running around at school chasing kids!

No matter what my agenda is after school, I'm always in the mood for a snack.  Stress has a tricky way of making us crave salty, sugary, fatty foods.  My solution?  Don't buy them!  Instead, try to fill your pantry with foods that will satiate your palate without going on a total binge of potato chips and chocolate cookies.

As an example, here is an after school snack that includes a little fat, a little salt, and a little sugar.  In addition, it includes fresh items that pack in a lot of great vitamins, minerals, and protein.

sliced apples with homemade peanut butter and blueberry vanilla granola

See how to make your own peanut butter HERE.

So before you let your stress craving control you, take a deep breath and spend some time with your after school snack.  I promise it will be worth it.

Combine with...GROUP EXERCISE!  My gym puts on a great PUMP class that is about 45 minutes and targets arms, back, legs, and abs.  Sometimes working out with a group is what you need to get yourself moving!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Apples!

If you still have a bag of apples sitting in your kitchen, it's time to make apple soup!  This is a very easy recipe that is simple, wholesome, and delicious. 

You will need:
-7-9 apples, any variety
-1 sweet onion
-2 tbs. canola oil
-1 cup milk/cream

Chop the onion into medium sized pieces and cook on medium low in a big pot with the canola oil.  Peel and slice the apples and add them to the pot.  Slowly add water to allow the onions and apples to steam and cook down.  Turn the heat to medium.  When the onions and apples are soft (about 30 minutes), remove from heat and pour into a blender.  Blend until liquified.  Return the mixture to the pot and heat on low.  Add milk, cinnamon and cloves.  Add more or less spice as you see fit...I only added about 1/2 tsp of cloves and 1 tsp of cinnamon to keep the flavor of the onions intact.

Serve with some crunchy bread and enjoy!

Combine with a 30 minute walk (pushing it!) and a 15 minute strength session...even if it's just alternating between push-ups and lunges.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Try a Chicken Pot Pie

Growing up, I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who was a fantastic cook.  She receives this coveted label not only for the healthy, tasty dishes she prepared, but also because she planned her meals and cooked every night.  I remember her sitting down at the kitchen table with coupons spread out in front of her, carefully making a list of meals we would enjoy in the next 5-7 days and creating a detailed corresponding grocery list.  She would sometimes ask us, the kids, for suggestions.  Oftentimes, one of us would blurt out "chicken pot pie!!"  A warm gooey, chicken and vegetable filling inside a buttery, flaky crust...who wouldn't want to come home from school and smell a chicken pot pie in the oven?

Talk about the ultimate comfort food! 

So I will share this delicious recipe with you and hope that it brings you as much comfort as it always does for me.

You will need:
-3-4 cooked chicken breasts (cook them however you want, boiled, baked...)
-1/2 box low fat/low sodium chicken broth
-5 red potatoes
-parsley (other spices you want, ex. pepper)
-1/2 sweet onion
-1-2 stalks celery
-1-2 big carrots or 7-8 small carrots
-3/4 cup corn
-any other veggies you like (mushrooms, broccoli, peppers, peas)
-3 tbs butter
-3 tbs flour

Cook chicken and set aside.
Cut veggies and boil in water with a pinch of salt until tender (about 5 minutes).  Add corn and drain.  Cook butter, flour, parsley, and other spices on low-medium heat until mixed thoroughly.  Add veggies and stir, slowly adding chicken broth until veggies are in a nice gravy.  Add more flour and butter if you need to.  Test for flavor!
Remove from stove.  Cut the chicken into small pieces, add to veggie mixture and mix.
Spray a pie pan with non-stick oil and line with a pie crust.  Scoop chicken mixture into the crust, filling to the top.  Cover with second pie crust and pinch shut.  Stab with a knife 2-3 times.
Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then 350 for 35-40 minutes.
You might want to put a pan underneath the pie in case it bubbles and drips out.  Inside of pie should be bubbling!

*I need some more practice with pie crusts from scratch, so I'll give you that recipe later!

Thanks Mom, for so many delicious pot pies over the years!

Combine with some competitive sport playing!  Dig out that old tennis racquet or basketball and head to a park.  Even if you are not good, it doesn't matter!  It's fun, you will work a whole new set of muscles, and who knows, you might be better than you thought!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Apples Apples Everywhere!

Tis the season for apple picking!  Find a local orchard, grab a friend or two and pick a peck or bushel for a good time and delicious dishes to follow.  Mr. PT and I found a great orchard nearby with several different varieties of apples and picked 1/2 bushel.  So far we have enjoyed apple tarts, apple sauce, and apple muffins!  Hopefully this entry will inspire you to channel your inner Johnny Appleseed.

French Apple Tart

I actually borrowed this recipe from Ina Garten...that woman knows what she's doing!  It was quite simple to make and the final product was beautiful and delicious!  

I actually made this tart instead of cake for Mr. PT's birthday.  It was a nice change!

Next, Mr. PT helped me peel apples for apple sauce.  This is a very simple recipe to follow and a great way to use a bunch of apples if you have them!

Fill the bottom of a big pot with about 1/4 inch of water.  Peel and slice as many apples as you can fit in your pot and let them simmer and steam until they are mushy and at your desired consistency (either more lumpy or smooth).  I added 2 cinnamon sticks, cloves, vanilla, and a little honey.  That's it!  I plan on taking this to school for lunch, eating it on pancakes, and freezing it for later! Yum!

Now it's time for apple cinnamon muffins.  This is a recipe I got from my sister's mother-in-law when Mr. PT and I tied the knot (thanks Bobbi!).  They are an easy muffin to make and not overly sweet.

You will need:
-3 cups flour
-2 cups sugar
-1 tbs baking powder
-1 stick butter melted

Mix all together and set aside a heaping cup of above mixture for muffin topping later.  To remaining mixture add:
-2 eggs
-1 cup milk
-1 tsp vanilla
-1 tbs cinnamon
-1 cup apples (chopped into small pieces)

Mix these and pour into muffin pans with cupcake paper liners.  Fill papers 3/4 full saving room for crumble topping.

To the cup of mixture set aside earlier add:
-2 tbs melted butter
-1 tsp cinnamon

Mix all. Sprinkle on top of batter in pans. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes.  Test with toothpick insert.  Makes 20-22 muffins!

After all this, I still have a serious amount of apples left, so stay tuned for more yummy apple ideas!

Combine with an orchard hike, followed by a steady bike ride on your favorite path.  Enjoy this autumn weather while it lasts!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Squash Soup

Acorn squash is a food item you see everywhere this time of year.  They are hanging out with the pumpkins as decoration or being cooked up into a mushy substance you sprinkle with nutmeg.  To be honest, I have always been a little intimidated by the idea of cooking an acorn squash and eating it.  It just seemed too....jack-o-lantern-y.  But I recently attended a cooking demonstration where I got to watch firsthand an experienced chef cut up an acorn squash and turn it into a delicious soup with only a few other ingredients!  My confidence was boosted so I had to try this at home. 

The hardest part of this soup is peeling and cutting the squash themselves.  They are pretty tough and require a good, sharp knife.  I might consider baking or boiling the squash before cutting them next time to make this process easier.  Any suggestions from experienced squash cookers?

Anyway, I found out that one squash fills about one bowl of soup, so if you are cooking for a lot of people you might want to make this ahead of time!  My proportions serve two people.

You will need:
-1 big sweet onion
-2 acorn squash
-1/2 cup cream (more or less as needed)
-1/4 cup brown sugar

Start out by chopping your onion into small-medium pieces.  Throw these in a pot with some canola oil and let them simmer.  Once the oil has been "soaked up," add water and continue to add water to create a broth and allow the veggies to steam.  While the onions are cooking, use your sharp knife to chop off the top of the acorn squash to give yourself a flat surface.  Starting at the top and moving your knife down, peel away the tough exterior.  This may take a while, as you will want to get the entire peel off.  Repeat for both squash.

Scoop out the innards of the squash then cut the squash into cubes.  Throw the cubes into the pot with the onions and water.  Again, continue to add water to allow the veggies to steam.  Season with a pinch of salt.

Once the squash is cooked and soft, pull out your blender!  Transfer the squash, onion and liquid mix into your blender and liquify.  Add your cream and blend some more!

Transfer the blended mix back into your pot and cook over medium heat as you add your nutmeg, brown sugar, and vanilla.  I added some cloves as well!  Season more or less as you like.  It is very important to taste this soup as you go!

Mmm...this soup was so delicious!  I loved the way the nutmeg really brought out the taste of the squash.  It was a perfect autumn dish.

Combine with a brisk walk or run combined with a solid 15-20 minutes of stretching.  Your muscles will be warm from the cardio exercise and your body will love you for the time you take to get limber!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Up With the Chickens

Pre-scrambled eggs with chopped red pepper, fresh basil, and pepper

Slow Spaghetti

If you have never made your own spaghetti sauce, now is the time to learn!  If you have a parent or grandparent with the classic family recipe, call them and get it NOW.  Or better yet, schedule a day to spend time with that person in their kitchen and learn first-hand how to pass the recipe down to your children.

If you are looking for a basic, nutritious sauce, try this one.  This is a mix of my mother's sauce with a few of my own twists.

Start with a medium to large pot heated with some canola or olive oil.  Throw in some chopped onions, green/red peppers, zucchini, and Italian spices.  If you want a meaty sauce, brown off some ground beef with your veggies and drain the fat if you like.  To your veggies and meat, add 3-4 small cans of tomato sauce and 1 larger can of diced tomatoes (skip the diced tomatoes if you don't like chunky tomatoes in your sauce).  I always use the "no salt added" variety...I prefer to be in charge of how much sodium my dishes have!

Put this mixture in the crockpot or let it simmer on the stove for an hour or so, so all the flavors can slowly mesh into each other.  Play around with spices and add more garlic if you like.

Mr. PT and I piled this warm, soupy sauce on top of whole wheat pasta with mozzarella cheese and dipped it with bread toasted with margarine and garlic powder. 

See how easy that is?  No more pre-made spaghetti sauces for you!

Since it was Friday, Mr. PT and I splurged on an espresso brownie from our natural foods co-op store here in Roanoke.  It was oh so worth the splurge.

Combine with...stop making excuses!  If there is a chance of rain, chance it and get out on that bike.  Mr. PT and I got caught in a torrential downpour yesterday and after the initial shock of being completely soaked, we felt surprisingly refreshed and were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow!  (Ok, if there is a chance of lightning, maybe put it off for an hour).

Eat Green!

Looking for a way to eat less without...eating less?  Try to eat more green!

What I mean is, instead of eating a big, heavy meal every day at lunch and/or suppertime, fill a plate with mostly green foods and pair them with a small serving of something heavier.  Try to do this 2-3 (or more) days a week.

A good example is a dinner Mr. PT and I had the other night.  I was tired and craving a serious comfort food of mine...fried potatoes.  But I knew I would feel MORE tired and sluggish if I ate a plateful of starch.  So, I piled my plate with a salad (lettuce, carrots, raisins, nuts, olive oil/balsamic dressing, and a sprinkle of cheese) and threw on a fist-size pile of diced red potatoes made crispy with olive oil and seasoned with rosemary, pepper, onions, and mushrooms.

If you find yourself eating too many heavy foods, reduce!  Don't eliminate!  Eat a third of what you normally eat and replace the other 2/3 with something green (salad, broccoli, asparagus...etc).

And FYI, Mr. PT and I shared those 3 pieces of bread. ;)

Combine with a run or fast paced walk on a bike path or greenway of some sort.  Hopefully you have one nearby!  This is a great way to get off the busy streets and into nature.  You will strengthen your body and enjoy the tranquility of the outdoors all at the same time.

Peppers and Potatoes!

Although summer is wrapping up and the fall vegetables are beginning to take over, my basil plant is still cooking and I am still tempted to fill my fridge with those wonderful bell peppers.  But I am getting a little burnt out on pesto (hard to believe!).  So I made a different kind of pesto-sauce the other night that was delicious!  I wish it had lasted longer!  If you are looking for a fun appetizer dish or something different to snack on with a glass of wine, this is something you should try.

First I roasted a red pepper, 2-3 mushrooms, and a few big slices of onion in the broiler by lightly coating them in olive oil and let them thoroughly cook (the mushrooms and onions take about half the time of the pepper).  When the pepper was charred on all sides, I removed it from the oven, put it in a covered bowl and let it steam for about 10 minutes.  This process makes the pepper nice and soft.  Run it under cold water and the skin will peel right off!

I removed the seeds and blended the roasted red pepper in my food processor with the mushrooms and onions, basil leaves (about a handful?), Parmesan cheese (1/4 cup), olive oil (a few tablespoons) and black/red pepper.   I dipped slices of baguette, but you could also dip pita chips or crackers.  It had a great, fresh flavor that was a little more complex than regular pesto.

Mr. PT and I turned this into a meal by cooking up some sweet potato fries as well.  I know I have covered these in a previous entry, but in case you missed it, these are incredibly easy and delicious!  Just cut the sweet potatoes into slices, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper (or brown sugar if you prefer them to be sweet) and cook them in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until soft on the inside, crispy on the outside!

Sweet Potato Fries


Combine with a fat burning, stress relieving kick-boxing class.  Do not be intimidated!  The instructor is usually good about giving you different options of intensity so you can go at your own pace.  After a long and stressful day at school, this class was exactly what I needed!

When in Doubt, Put it in a Taco

The great thing about tacos is that you can pretty much stuff them with anything.  So you know that surplus crop of zucchini and eggplant you have?  Stick them in a taco!  Of course, it might help to share the space with some fried rice, corn, and other yummy spices.  Mix in some guacamole and/or salsa and you will have a meal to do the Mexican Hat Dance over.

Fried rice with onions, peppers and corn

Eggplant and zucchini tacos on corn tortillas

Combine with exercise at work...if you run around all day at your job like I do, good for you!  If not, walk with a buddy (or your mp3 player) during your lunch hour, do some stretches every 2 hours, or swap that swivel chair for an exercise ball.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steam Up Some Fiber

Looking for a new way to get fiber into your diet?  Try a steamer!

It might be that extra "something" that will convince you to eat more vegetables.  Instead of cooking veggies like broccoli, carrots, and green beans in boiling water (causing them to get "water logged" as Mr. PT says), boil a small amount of water in a pot, place the steamer in the pot (which conforms to your pot size), place the veggies in and let them cook!  This is also a healthier option because it keeps all the nutrients in those delicious greens instead of allowing them to leak out into the hot water.

Mr. PT and I enjoyed some deliciously steamed broccoli with butter and a touch of salt alongside a yummy cheese dip.  I have to admit, I took this recipe from another food blog and tweaked it...I couldn't resist!

For the cheese spread, you will need:
-1/3 cup of goat cheese
-1/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves
-1 clove garlic
-1 tbs olive oil
-1 red pepper, roasted
-red/black pepper
-touch of salt

Roast the red pepper by lightly coating it in olive oil and grilling it on high heat or cooking it in a broiler, turning it so all sides are cooked (it's okay if the skin gets a little charred).  When it's done cooking, put the pepper in a bowl and cover it for 5-10 minutes (this steams the insides).  Remove from the bowl and peel the skin off.  Remove seeds.

In a food processor, mix basil, garlic, olive oil, red/black pepper and salt.  Add roasted red pepper and blend.  Spread goat cheese on a plate or in the bottom of a bowl and top with red pepper mix.  Dip with crackers or bread.  Enjoy!

Combine with house chores!  Functionally work all those muscles by running the sweeper, scrubbing your floors, washing the car, mowing the lawn, and sweeping the porch.  Even I was a little sore after all this!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chicken Juggling

For those of us in the Midwest and on the East Coast, it has been quite the year for weather.  Between extreme heat, earthquakes, and hurricanes, we have certainly been on the edge of our seats.  After a dry summer here in Roanoke, we have spent the past few days positively drenched with rain.  And with the rain came the cooler weather.  Mr. PT and I were craving some warmer meals, so I pulled my frozen chicken breasts out of the freezer and thought about how I could create some healthy, warm meals that would last more than 1-2 nights.

First, I defrosted the 2 chicken breasts by placing them in warm water and letting them sit for 45 minutes to an hour.  After they were basically defrosted, I took one chicken breast and cut it into chunks.  I browned these chunks off in a skillet with olive oil and my favorite seasonings.

While that chicken breast was cooking, I took the other chicken breast and put it into a large pot with water, chopped up celery, carrots, onion, and spices (pepper, parsley, other Italian-type seasonings).  I let that cook in boiling water for about 30 minutes, or until my meat thermometer read above 165.

I filled another smaller pot with water and cooked up about 1 1/4 cups of cous cous (very easy, takes all of 10 minutes).  

I returned to my skillet and removed the browned chicken pieces, wrapped them in foil, and placed them in a warm oven for safe keeping (also to ensure they were thoroughly cooked).  In my skillet that was nice and oily, I added 3 tsp butter, 3-4 tsp of flour, and 2-3 tsp of lemon juice.  I whisked that around with more spices and gradually added the chicken flavored water that had cooked up my other chicken breast.  I probably ended up adding 2-3 cups of chicken "broth."  While that was whisking into a nice roux (a thick sauce) I added small broccoli heads, chopped celery, and chopped onions.  Once that was a nice consistency, I added about 2 cups of cooked cous cous (add more or less if you desire).  Finally, I stirred in my cooked chicken pieces and topped it with feta cheese.  Dinner was served!

Lighting in the kitchen wasn't great, but the dinner sure was!

We even had leftovers for lunch the next day.  Fantastic, right?  But wait!  It's not over yet!  I still had that whole pot filled with chicken brothy water, cooked veggies, and a whole chicken breast.  I transferred these ingredients to a crock-pot container, covered it, and placed it in the fridge.  The next day, I shredded the chicken breast, returned it to the liquid and veggies, and placed it in the crock pot heater.  As I let that heat up on the "high" setting, I boiled some pasta and potatoes.  I added these to the crock pot concoction, along with 4 cubes of chicken bouillon (the crock pot was filled to the brim!).  I let that simmer for about an hour and a half and....voila!

Homemade Chicken Soup

This will keep Mr. PT and I warm and fed for several days!  My overall cooking time for both nights was probably about an hour and a half, which may seem long.  However, if you think about how many meals we got out of it, it seems like time well spent.

Plus, these are healthy, low sodium meals that give you energy and sustenance.
(A variation of the chicken bouillon is to cook the chicken breast in low or no sodium chicken broth.)

I also think it goes without saying that these meals are EXTREMELY cost effective!  

Combine with a visit to the gym.  Pick your favorite cardio machine (bike, treadmill, step machine, etc) and do a 5 minute warm up...followed by 5 minutes of the HARDEST you can go.  You should be sweating, panting, and unable to hold a conversation with your neighbor.  Do 5 minutes of recovery, followed by 5 minutes hard...etc. for 30-40 minutes.  This type of interval training will really burn calories and improve your cardiovascular system.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saving up for Winter

I love food in the wintertime...warm soups, hot casseroles, steamy tea.  However, during those frigid months, I often look back and miss the carefree days of summer and their abundance of fresh produce.  Eating peaches and tomatoes in January is not quite the same as eating them in July.

So this year I will try to plan ahead.  My goal is to stock my freezer the best I can with seasonal fruits and veggies that will taste like summer in the coming colder months.  It's pretty easy, just buy the food in bulk at your farmer's market (their seasonal produce tends to be the yummiest), chop it up appropriately, secure it in a freezer-safe bag, and stuff it in your freezer.  How easy is that?

How delicious will this sweet corn taste 5 months from now??

Combine with 30 minutes of swimming...if you are not a lap swimmer, see if your gym has water aerobics.  Or, use a water belt (most pools provide them) and "water jog" back and forth.  OR, use that belt and just tread water for 30 minutes!  If you think you'll get bored, bring a friend!  I cannot stress enough how good swimming can be for exercise, especially if exercise is not your favorite thing.  It's refreshing, fun, and extremely beneficial.  No pools nearby?  See if your local high school or university has a lap pool...they usually advertise open swim times.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Pizza and Patties

It's that time of year again, when the leaves barely start to change color and the kids and teachers return to their classrooms.  This means I must return to my day job as a speech language pathologist, so I apologize for my lack of entries the past couple of weeks!  Life has been extra busy and while I have still been cooking, my blogging has been lacking.

So I will catch you up!  My first dish is an oldy with a twist...homemade pizza with broccoli!  Here is another way to simply slip more veggies into your diet.  I encourage you to be experimental in all that you can put on top of pizza, because really, everything tastes better when it's on a pizza.

Since we're on the subject of pizza, here's a healthy little tip to use when eating out at a restaurant.  I am sure most of us have heard the rule of ordering a dish, splitting it in half, and taking the rest home.  That way you eat 1/2 of what they serve you (which is usually WAY too much).  Well, when you go out for pizza, it can be hard to split your meal in half when all you see is slice after slice disappearing before your eyes.  Before you know it, you've lost count of how many slices you've eaten and you feel positively stuffed.  If you need some motivation to prevent this, eat your two pieces (what I consider to be average), drink a tall glass of water, and then decide whether you are still hungry.  You most likely will not be (unless you did some pretty hard core calorie burning that day).  Now, take some pizza home and serve it up alongside a nice big salad with cottage cheese and fresh fruit for lunch the next day!

Who said take-out can't be healthy?

Speaking of pairing delicious foods with salads, why not do it more often?

   Salmon Patties with Green Salad, Fresh Bread, and smoky cheddar cheese

Which choice do you think is not only healthier, but more satisfying?  Eating three salmon patties alone, or eating one salmon patty amid a variety of other food groups?  If you picked the former, wow, you must really like salmon patties.  If you picked the latter, Mr. PT would say you are correct!  Variety can be a good thing, giving you lots of essential vitamins and minerals. Variety can also help you feel more satisfied throughout the meal and less likely to overeat.

So, wash up your favorite lettuce, sprinkle it with feta cheese and fresh tomatoes, tear off a hunk of some fresh bread from a local bakery, and treat yourself to a "favorite flavor" (for this dish, I paired my patty with a slice of apple-smoked cheddar cheese...yum).  Now, combine all that with a delicious salmon've got yourself quite the meal!

You will need:
-1 can salmon
-1-2 tbs fresh parsley
-2-3 tbs chopped red onion (more or less if desired)
-ground black pepper, to taste
-2 eggs, or 1 egg and 1 egg white
-1-1/2 cup bread crumbs
-other spices you like (I added paprika, thyme, cracked rosemary, garlic and chipotle powder)

Mix ingredients together and form into patties.  Brown off in a skillet with olive oil.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes (depending on how brown you like them).

Sometimes, eating healthier is not just about eating more or less, it's about eating smarter.  

Combine with a 40 minute strength workout, whether using weights and body weight at home or machines at the gym.  Do 3 sets of 10 reps for each big muscle group.  If you want to push yourself towards bigger results, do 15 reps on the last set for each muscle group.  FEEL THE BURN!