Holiday weekend

Maybe it wasn’t technically a holiday weekend, but with the 4th falling so close to the weekend, it seemed like one. Thursday we had a few people over to grill out and enjoy the back yard. There was a ton of food and festivities(maybe a little too much for some of us).

We now have oodles of left overs that I have been trying to recreate into other dishes so that we aren’t eating burger after brat after burger.

Saturday I woke up at 5:15am and couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I headed up and did some work in the garden and headed to water aerobics, only to learn that it started at 11am, not 10am. I didn’t want to wait around so I headed home and started creating some calzone dough. I made two different fillings, one being ground taco meat, corn and black beans with cheddar cheese and the other of chicken, pesto, tomatoes and swiss. I thought they turned out pretty tasty.

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Saturday afternoon I spend relaxing and watching a Law and Order: SVU marathon. Delightful. It’s amazing how crimes can be wrapped up neatly in a one hour TV segment. Saturday night I headed to Michael’s craft store and browsed their clearance. I got some fun glitter paint and goods to make some bracelets. A wonderful little night at home.

I had recently heard in a podcast that if you want really fluffy eggs for omelettes to put them in the blender. It will also make your eggs go farther, needing you to use less. So, after making a batch of almond milk, I cleaned out the blender and threw in one egg and 3 egg whites. I also threw in a few handfuls of spinach(who not???). It made my eggs super fluffy and green! I had a 12 inch skillet full of eggs. I topped them with marinara. Delicious and colorful.

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Once my food settled, I headed to meet some friends for an aquatic exercise class. Get a tan and exercise? Yes, please! Lunch consisted of BBQ chicken salads and fruit. I topped the salad with grilled corn, black beans, carrots, cucumber and some crushed tortilla chips.

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After realizing that yesterday was National Chocolate Day and being a little tired of eating meat at every meal, I decided that we would have chocolate chunk waffles for dinner. Well, Brian would. I had half of a waffle, veggie patty and some fruit. I don’t care for sweet breakfast foods all that much and I would have been really cranky later if I didn’t eat some protein.

Brian:

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Me:

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I hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend as I did. So happy it finally felt like summer!

Fun and fantastic

This past weekend was awesome. The weather was great and Brian and I ended up doing some spontaneous things and really taking advantage of the city. Something I need to do more often. That’s why I live here, right?

Brian took me out to dinner on Friday night because our fridge was bare! We hadn’t really gone grocery shopping in 2 weeks and we had been squeaking by on pantry staples and freezer meals all week. The upside to this was that, our fridge was bare. How is that an upside? It was the perfect opportunity to pull everything out and wipe down the shelves. A task that was long over due! Look at its glowing beauty afterwards:

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After my speed cleaning fridge session, I headed out the door to walk to meet Brian for dinner. The weather was perfect for eating dinner outside and this place had a patio(no coincidence). We started off our meal with the bone marrow appetizer which came with a great arugula salad and pickled cherry. It was the perfect flavor combination.

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I had a delicious and dark beer made with 3 different types of coffee beans:

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And was only able to eat half of my Legend’s of the Daal wrap(very tasty):

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The place is mostly known for their burgers. Brian got Elvis’ Last Supper with house made peanut butter and bacon. Surprisingly delicious.

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On the way home, we decided to walk through Ribfest, which was happening right down the block. There was this sign:

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To which, Brian reacted like this to the thought of a deep fried Snickers:

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We continued walking, until we saw this sign:

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To which the possibility of deep-fried Oreos was too much for Brian to resist. We headed over to the ticket line and within 10 minutes had a tub of fried Oreos. To which, the man next to us in line got a deep-fried Snickers and insisted I take his picture.

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Because deep-frying candy and cookies isn’t enough, they top them off with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar:

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I tried one of the Oreos. It was actually pretty tasty. Like a funnel cake married and Oreo and made tiny funnel cake Oreo babies. Brian was in heaven.

A Friday night of indulgence meant a healthy breakfast and exercise Saturday morning.

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Followed by a trip to the garden. A very exciting trip where I would learn that all of my radishes had matured and were ready to be picked. I also got a few handfuls of kale and spinach and a lone strawberry. I think I’ve gotten more produce from my community garden plot in one month this year than I did all last summer!

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After lots of errand running we grabbed lunch and then hit up Margie’s for a scoop of ice cream. They were switching out containers on Brian’s chocolate peanut butter and he got a mega scoop. That got all over his beard and mustache, but loos at those abundant ribbons of peanut butter. I had some serious ice cream envy and Brian happily shared with me.

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Saturday we ate mostly vegetable for dinner. I grilled a ton of them for us to devour and a little chicken. I also made a delicious salad with the kale and spinach from the garden with a vinaigrette, hemp and sunflower seeds and blueberries.

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Sunday was to be filled with rain, but we were surprised by a sunny day instead.

I had a breakfast taco to start the day. The eggs ended up overwhelming the tortilla, but it was delicious!

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I slow cooked brisket in a marinade all day to make some delicious barbacoa for our tostadas for dinner.

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While that was cooking and making the house smell wonderful, I got to work on a big batch of pumpkin and chocolate chip waffles to use as breakfasts in the upcoming days:

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Made a tasty batch of tarragon chicken salad(can’t wait to share the recipe) that was the perfect meal of protein to sustain us on our 12 mile bike ride by the lake.

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I don’t think we could have packed much more into our weekend. It was a great one! Hope everyone had as much fun as I did.

Best shish kabob marinade

Summer had officially arrived, then another cold front with lots of rain moved in, just as I was really getting into grilling. With hopes of good weather, I decided that shish kabobs were in order!

This marinade is delicious. I think I might start using it for most of my vegetables on the grill and it adds great flavor to meat.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 vegetable oil(or oil of choice)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • Meat(optional)
  • vegetables for grilling

Mix everything but meat and vegetables in a bowl/container. Not the prettiest picture, but you can see what the marinade looks like:

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Place meat, if using, in a container for marinating. Place vegetables in a separate container for marinating. I always marinate the meat and vegetables separately.

Pour half of the marinade over the meat(I used a thin cut sirloin). Half over the vegetables. For vegetables, I used portabella mushroom, onions, bell pepper, canned potatoes, tomato and zucchini. Mix/toss to coat well.

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Let marinate for 4-24 hours. Stir/toss every few hours to make sure everything is soaking in the good flavors.  I like mine marinated closer to the 24 hour mark.

Shish kabob preparation station:

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You can see that I added some pineapple into the mix. I would have marinated it with the vegetables, but didn’t pick it up from the store until right before I made the kebobs. If using bamboo skewers, make sure you soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before putting the meat and vegetables on them. Next, put the meat and veggies on skewers. Leave a little space between things to allow air to flow while cooking.

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Unfortunately, it was raining, so I had to broil these in the oven instead of grilling. I was sad to have to do this, but they turned out almost as well. When grilling I usually do 5-7 minutes on once side, then flip to the other side for 5-7 minutes. When broiling I did about 10 minutes on one side, pulled them out of the oven and 10 on the other side. They don’t get the pretty grill marks, but the marinade is super flavorful. Here are the kabobs being pulled out to be turned.

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Be careful not to burn yourself.

And the finished product:

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YUM! And as always, make a few extra to pack for lunches later in the week:

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Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

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First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

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Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

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I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

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Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

Sunday: the rest of the story

All last summer I had wanted a grill. So, with my upcoming birthday, Brian asked me what I wanted. He happened to ask me on our walk home from brunch last Saturday. I told him I was thinking about asking my parents for a small grill. He immediately looked a little uncomfortable and told me not to do that. I immediately became suspicious and started firing off questions. He had already ordered one for me! And it was to be delivered that day! In my excitement, I insisted that we stop and buy steaks to grill that night. Steaks bought. Lo and behold, we get home, check the tracking and it wasn’t going to be delivered until Tuesday. With rain and cold all week, I finally got to grill tonight. I love my new grill.

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Look at all that healthy food for the week.

Something a little less healthy happened in my kitchen thus afternoon. Momofuku’s compost cookies. Their tastiness is setting up in the fridge right now to be baked tomorrow night for Tuesday’s work potluck.

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So how do I do all this cooking and baking and not weigh 600 pounds? I exercise, usually 5-6 days a week. And most days of the week I eat 1200-1500 calories a day. The weekends are usually higher, but I also get more exercise on the weekend, so I let myself splurge a little more. I spent my Friday night at the gym, walked 6 miles yesterday and 7 miles today. All these treats are not without sacrifice.

Memorial feast

This is the type of meal we eat when I’m allowed to roam free in Whole Foods on a hot day.

New York strip steaks were on sale for $12.99/lb. We bought a steak that was a little over a half pound and split it.

I also had some shrimp at home. I marinated them in garlic, avocado oil and crushed red pepper.  I put them on the cast iron grill pan after the steak had finished and was resting. They had awesome flavor.

Surf and turf.

I used my cast iron grill pan to cook some asparagus and corn while I roasted some fingerlings in the oven.

I topped the fingerlings with some soy-based Cesar dressing we had gotten at City Farms. So delicious.

Washed it all down with some strawberry lemonade that I had left over from making popsicles.

Not a bad meal, if you ask me.

So while it was an excellent and complete meal, it gives you a glimpse of how I tend to cook in the summer. Much more simply. There is so much wonderful fresh produce that often needs little done to it. It’s also the direction I am trying to take my cooking. I am attempting to eliminate processed foods and products as much as possible.

Grass-fed meatballs

There is something amazing about meatball sandwiches. So amazing.

Here’s the thing. I’ve never made meatballs before(I made taco meatballs, but they don’t count). I grew up not liking meatballs. So, as an adult, I would occasionally get a meatball sandwich at a deli or buy pre-made meatballs at the store and cook them for a meatball sandwich at home. But that’s all fake.

So, I decided to put my big girl pants on and make meatballs. Who knew they were so easy(recipe adapted)? What was I afraid of all this time?

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds grass-fed ground beef
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 2 teaspoons A1 steak sauce
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.

Put all ingredients into a big bowl and combine with hands until just mixed. The original recipe did not call for onion, but I added it in as I didn’t want the grass-fed beef to get dry.

Roll into golf ball sized balls. Place on a baking sheet.

Bake 10-12 minutes until no longer pink.

Eat plain, on top of spaghetti, or in a sandwich or wrap.

I made a sandwich for Brian and brown rice tortilla wrap for me. Unfortunately, we only had a loaf of bread at home, so Brian’s wasn’t on a giant hunk of crusty bread that would be so good. I did add a little earth balance, garlic bread sprinkle, and soy mozzarella and Parmesan cheese to the bread and tortilla first and broiled for a few minutes to up the delicious factor.

Weekend pot roast

What’s perfect for a Sunday evening dinner? Meat and potatoes that cooked in the crock pot all day. Tender meat, warm and filling potatoes and vegetable with minimal work. Perfect. So do yourself a favor: stop at the grocery store on the way home tonight and pick up the stuff to make this easy roast so you can have a relaxing Sunday.

Salt, pepper, and rub herbs(thyme, rosemary and oregano) into a 2-3 pound beef pot roast. Place pot roast into bottom of crock pot.

Cover roast with assorted vegetables. I used 3 medium red potatoes and 2 purple potatoes cut into chunks. Two stalks of celery cut into 3 in pieces. A handful of baby carrots and a yellow onion cut into wedges. Pour vegetables over meat.

In a large bowl, stir together 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup, 1/2 package of dry onion soup mix and 3/4 cup water. Pour mixture over vegetables. This will make a gravy for the meat as it cooks.

Set crock pot to low and let cook for 8 hours. I did take off the lid after about 6 hours to stir the vegetables. After 8 hours, you will have an extremely tender roast in its own gravy with a side of vegetables.

Next time I will add more seasonings as it was a little bland, but nothing a little salt and pepper couldn’t take care of.

Taco meatballs

 

These are awesome! What’s better than a flavored ball of meat that oozes cheese in the middle? Not much.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lean ground sirloin
  • 2/3 package low sodium taco seasoning
  • 1 green onion finely diced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 block reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes

Preheat the oven to 425F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except cheese.

Once mixed, take a tablespoon amount of meat and divide it in two. Place a cube of cheese in between the two pieces of meat and form around the cheese in a ball form. Try to fully conceal the meat inside for minimal cheese leakage when cook. The recipe called for an entire block of cheese. I used large cubes of cheese and still only used about 1/3 of the block of cheese and the balls were sufficiently cheesy.

Once formed into a ball, place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 7-10 minutes.

These would make excellent party appetizers, in a wrap, a taco meatball sub or on a salad…as I ate a few of them(with some of my mom’s homemade salsa).

Bleu cheese crusted filet and roasted Brussels sprouts

Remember when Brian and I celebrated our one year anniversary and I posted about sweet potato biscuits(to die for)? Well, I’m finally getting around to posting about more of the meal.

The biscuits weren’t substantial enough to cut it as a whole meal, so I decided we could eat some steak, too. The bleu cheese crusted filet I made was so simple.

Start by turning the broiler on in your oven.

Topping per steak: In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of bleu cheese, 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoned bread crumbs, a little freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 tsp of olive oil. Set aside.

You will take your two filets(mine were 6oz each) and sear them for 2 minutes on each side on the stove top. You may want to blot the meat before you do this to help it form that nice crust. As you all know, that’s what Julia Child tells us to do.

Then, transfer your steaks to a baking sheet if you don’t have a pan that can go from stove top to oven. Put topping on top of steak. Proportion it out if making more than one steak. It wouldn’t be nice to put the entire bowl of topping on one steak and none on the other.

Place under broiler for 4 minutes for a med-rare steak.

Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Now, it wouldn’t be very healthy to only eat carbs and steak, so I insisted that I make some of one of my favorite vegetables. Roasted Brussels sprouts.

Buy fresh.

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut off dry nub on bottom and slice in half. Place on pan. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. I jazzed this batch up with a few cardamom seeds.

Roast for 35-40 minutes until browned and tender. Dish them up for a great side for almost any meal.