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 patty...you'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!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Party On!

I recently had some family in town and I was in charge of preparing a nice spread for lunch.  I purchased some fresh fruits and veggies at the farmer's market the day before, so I wanted to share some of the goods.  It was a pretty light lunch, but I got compliments all around!  So if you are feeling overwhelmed with hungry guests, here are some fresh, light ideas to top your table with.

 Fresh hummus served with pita bread and veggies

 Watermelon and cucumber salad with feta cheese, mint and basil
(this one was hit or miss...if you are questionable, stick with JUST watermelon and cucumber)

Bruschetta with tri-color cherry tomatoes

For this simple dish, just dice your tomatoes and stir with basil, olive oil, a touch of balsamic vinegar, and a dash of pepper and garlic...serve on top of toasted bread with mozzarella

Everyone enjoyed the lunch and I was proud to serve my guests all the yummy, local foods I had scavenged.

Combine with a bike ride to the gym, a pilates/fitness class, and a bike ride home.  If you can't ride to your gym, do a bike ride and some stretching and abdominal work after a hot shower.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dress it Yourself

Have you ever gone to the grocery store for salad dressing and felt completely overwhelmed by the plethora of bottles stocking the shelves? Creamy, cheesy, tangy, greasy...less is more!  So I have started making my own salad dressings.  It saves money, it's usually healthier, and you can rest assured knowing you are aware of every ingredient you are dripping over your lettuce.

Most of the time I stick with a simple recipe for balsamic vinaigrette.  All you do is mix olive oil and balsamic vinegar and go!  Sometimes I feel fancy and throw in some chopped garlic or basil, or do a mix of balsamic and red wine vinegar.  You can use a screw top jar to mix your ingredients (put them in, secure the top, and shake), or, you can get one these nifty dressing mixers Mr. PT got as a Christmas gift last year.

You can get these at a kitchen specialty store, like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma.

I made a salad this past week that called for an intriguing dressing concocted with lemon juice and herbs.  It was really delicious and I liked that it was less oil-based than other dressings I have made.  So if you are a salad person, you will definitely want to try this dish.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad

You will need:

1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tbs snipped mint
2 tbs snipped basil
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs honey
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
5 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups cut up chicken
2 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans (or hummus)
2 tbs crumbled feta cheese

Mix the lemon juice, herbs, oil, honey and pepper together in a jar or dressing mixer.  Prepare lettuce.  Cook chicken as you like, either boiling, broiling, slow cooking, grilling, etc.  Top lettuce with chicken, tomatoes, garbanzo beans (or hummus), and feta cheese.  Drizzle with prepared dressing. Enjoy!

I loved the way the dressing gave the salad a tangy, minty flavor.  And to me, nothing is better than hot chicken on cool salad.  You can also top your salad with black olives if you like.  I will definitely be using citrus and herbs in future dressings.

Combine with a 30-40 minute fast paced (not running) walk through your neighborhood with yourself, your honey or your friend.  Do 3 sets of 50 crunches before bed time.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hangin With the Locals

Mr. PT and I, being in a new city and all, continue to explore our fair city of Roanoke.  Roanoke has a lot to offer in the way of organic foods, local foods, and delicious foods.  I promise we have done more than eat since we've moved here, but food has played an integral role in our explorations.

For two Saturdays now, we have hopped on our bikes and ridden the arduous (I kid) two mile trek to downtown Roanoke.  Every Saturday, the "City Market" is bustling with local vendors offering a multitude of fresh fruits, veggies, and other fun stuff.  They even have live music!  Riding our bikes in this area is a breeze because we are heavily respected by drivers and we do not have to deal with parking.

The only downside is that we cannot bring home fresh watermelon.  Oh well.

So this morning, we made the rounds and picked out some fresh peaches, tomatoes, and peppers.  It is so neat to go around and see all the beautiful shapes, sizes and colors of fruits and veggies that were not mass-produced.  They are seriously homegrown.  I wish grocery stores offered produce like this but, alas, America tends to emphasize quantity not quality.

We also stopped by our new favorite bread store appropriately named "On the Rise."  The last time we stopped by we picked up a giant French batard which we used to make mozzarella-tomato-basil open sandwiches.


Today we got a big roll of sourdough and I made gourmet grilled cheese with slightly roasted green peppers, onion, and fresh tomatoes.  This was not the healthiest recipe I've ever created, however, the sandwiches were delicious and contained a nice sample of our farmers market goodies.

To re-create this familiar sandwich, slice up some green pepper and onions.  Soften them in a skillet with a tablespoon of butter (I use unsalted).  Slice 2 pieces of sourdough bread and layer sharp cheddar cheese on one slice.  Remove the peppers and onions from the skillet and arrange on top of the cheese, along with 2 tomato slices (seeds removed).  Transfer the entire thing on the greasy skillet and let it simmer.  Meanwhile, lightly butter the other slice of bread and sprinkle with garlic powder. (I stole this flavoring trick from my brother-in-law Adam.)  Close the sandwich on the skillet and continue to flip until you reach a desired crispiness.  I like mine to be ever so slightly burnt.  You will bite into a crunchy bready sandwich filled with gooey cheese and fresh veggies that will put Texas Toast to shame.

So Mr. PT and I have now experienced two successful trips to the Roanoke City Market.  And in case you were thinking I was acting un-American before by criticizing the produce in grocery stores, I will now redeem myself by admitting that Mr. PT and I enjoyed an American staple for lunch.  Apparently, this particular stand was a Roanoke relic, so how could we resist?

I know I am probably repeating myself, but eating healthy and staying well is not about denying yourself.  It is about making good food choices 80% of the time and letting yourself LIVE the other 20%.  Mr. PT and I shared this tray of deliciousness and left feeling happy and content that we had officially experienced The Roanoke Weiner Stand.

In summary, I encourage you to get out and explore what your city has to offer in terms of local, homegrown food.  You will be helping the farmers that need our support and become more in touch with your food and where it comes from.  You might even learn something new about your area and make some new friends.  Either way, it's a good time.

Combine with an easy bike ride to your destination (to avoid overly sweating) and a more challenging ride home, filled with hills and sprints, all while hauling your valuables in a satchel on your back.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

One to Please the Family

Who can resist the delicious blend of tomato sauce, pasta, and cheese?  The answer...almost no one!  Unfortunately, what often comes with this mix is a bunch of salt, fat, and extra calories.  However, there IS a way to mix these wonderful flavors and be able to face your personal trainer (or yourself) with confidence the next day.

I pulled out an old cookbook my mom gave me and found her recipe for lasagna.  Apparently, she has been making the low fat version her whole life!  The only component I changed was the sauce, using a more tomato and vegetable based sauce rather than meat.  If you want to add ground meat, go for it!  But give the veggies a try as well.

For the cheese filling, you will mix the following:
-1/2 cup non-fat yogurt (I used Greek for extra creaminess)
-small container of low or no fat ricotta or cottage cheese
-low fat Italian shredded cheese (I used a mix of 1/2 cup parmesan and 3/4 bag of mozzarella)
-1 egg white
-Italian spices (basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, pepper, garlic)

For the sauce, I mixed the following and simmered over medium heat for 30 min:
-2 small cans of tomato sauce, no salt added
-2 cans diced tomatoes, no salt added, 1/2 liquid drained
-2 chopped mushrooms
-1/8 chopped onion
-1/2 sliced zucchini
-pepper, Italian spices

Cook lasagna noodles as directed.  Coat your dish with non-stick spray.  Cover the bottom of the dish with sauce.

Next, put a layer of noodles, then spread some of the cheese mixture on top of the noodles.

Continue layering with noodles, sauce, cheese, etc. until the dish is full.  Make sauce your last layer.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Cover and bake at 350 for about an hour or until bubbling (if you make it beforehand and refrigerate it, it will need more than an hour).  Uncover and bake for 15-20 more minutes, or until it reaches your desired crispiness.  If you want to keep your oven clean, put a pan on the rack underneath to catch any drips.

Homemade Lasagna! Yum!

You can use this same recipe to make stuffed Jumbo shells too.  Just cook the shell pasta, stuff them with the cheese, put them in a dish with the sauce and bake.  

Now, if you are looking at that sauce and thinking, "there is NO WAY my kids/husband are going to eat a big mushroom or a chunk of zucchini."  Well, maybe you're right.  So my solution is to get sneaky.  Put your favorite veggies in a blender first, then add them to the sauce.  Or blend everything together.  And if they are extra picky, add your veggie paste to their favorite store bought brand of sauce (just check the ingredients for high fructose corn syrup or trans fats!).  You may find they like vegetables after all!

*UPDATE* As he ate leftover lasagna, Mr. PT continued to comment on how light this particular dish was, considering how lasagna is often quite heavy and overly-salty.  So if this is your style of Italian, go for it, but realize it will not taste exactly like something you get at Olive Garden.

Combine with 55 minutes of a mix of Pilates and stretching.  Or go on a 2-3 mile run/brisk walk. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Birthday Berries

I am very happy with the career I have chosen.  The idea of helping children learn, communicate, and socialize with their peers is a great motivation to get up for work every day.  However, if a backup profession is needed, you will find me back in school learning the skills to become a pastry chef.  I cannot imagine a better way to spend my days than in a kitchen turning flour, sugar and butter into delicious works of art.

In the meantime,  I will take full advantage of my opportunities to bake, especially birthdays.  There is nothing more special then turning off the lights, presenting a flaming platter of cake, and of course, eating it!  My friend Meghan had a birthday this past weekend, and we definitely lived it up.

I like to keep things light in the summertime, so this birthday cake recipe is a favorite.  Especially if you have fresh strawberries.  It is very easy to make and will definitely impress your guests with its sweet, but not too sweet flavors.

Strawberry Swirl Cake

You will need:
-1 pkg (2 layer size) white cake mix
-1 pkg (4 serving size) Jell-O Brand strawberry flavor gelatin
-2/3 cup light sour cream
-1 tub (8 oz) light Cool Whip whipped topping, thawed
-1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease 2 (8 or 9 inch) round cake pans; set aside.  Prepare cake batter as directed on package.  Pour half of the batter into medium bowl.  Add dry gelatin mix (I only add half of the powder...it still turns plenty pink and has a strawberry flavor); stir until well blended.

Spoon half of the white batter and half of the pink batter, side by side, into each prepared pan (I pour them at the same time...this requires some hand-eye coordination, so if you want you can use a helper to pour one side while you pour the other).  Swirl batters together lightly using a teaspoon (do not overswirl, or the color of the cake will be all pink and not marbled).  Bake 30 min.  Cool 30 min in pans.  Remove to wire racks; cool completely.  Mix sour cream and powdered sugar in a medium bowl until well blended.  Gently stir in whipped topping.  Place one of the cake layers on serving plate; spread top with 1 cup of the whipped topping mixture.  Top with 1 cup of the strawberries.  Top with the remaining cake layer.  Spread top and side of cake with remaining whipped topping mixture.  Top with remaining 1/2 cup strawberries just before serving.  Store leftover cake in refrigerator.  Makes 16 servings, 1 slice each.

Combine with laughing, singing, smiling, and time well spent with loved ones!