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.