Weekend recap: It’s August?

With temperatures in the 70s all weekend and a tan that is starting to fade, it’s hard to believe that it is August. Aren’t we supposed to be in the dog days of summer?

Knowing that we had back to back to back activities lined up for Saturday, I took advantage of Friday night by doing some grocery shopping and spending time at the garden. I picked a bunch of kale, fennel, carrots and cherry tomatoes. My cherry tomatoes are growing like crazy. They are all over the plant in giant clusters like I am growing grapes.

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The fennel smells wonderful. I can’t wait to cook it up and possibly use the fronds in a savory bread.

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Saturday started bright and early with a double yolk egg(those are good luck, right?) then off to help a friend with a yard sale.

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The weather was  perfect and it nice to sit outside for a few hours. When the yard sale wrapped up, we high-tailed it across the city to do the cake tasting for our wedding.

So many design options.

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We felt the presentation of the cake flavor options was a little odd, but that didn’t stop us from eating cake. In the end, we decided on a non-traditional flavor combination that we are both very excited about.

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We needed a mid-afternoon boost and stopped at Starbucks before heading to try on wedding bands for Brian. He tried the new Valencia Orange refresher. I thought it tasted just like Tang!(gross)

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After that we headed to a party at Challenger’s Comics to celebrate it winning an Eisner award. We had a ton of fun.

Sunday morning came far too quickly after Saturday’s busy day and late night. Despite the chilly 70 degree weather, I headed to water aerobics with a friend for some much-needed exercise. The water felt frigid at first but we forgot all about it once we started moving and chatting. I continued the outdoor theme for the day as I walked to the grocery store to pick up the last few things I needed to get food ready for the week. The weather was just too gorgeous to be inside. Then I piddled around in the back yard trimming my potted plants. I had a red bell pepper and a tiny San Marzano tomato ready for picking!

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After putting away the groceries, I used up some zucchini to make a batch of delicious chocolate zucchini muffins.

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It was a lazy Sunday dinner of salad, fruit and a take and bake pizza.

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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.

Splurge Saturday

Today started off with a breakfast of banana, almond butter and flax waffles with some 5 minute espresso brownie crumbled on top. With two mugs of coffee.

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So I had a healthy lunch of yellow squash, spinach, chicken breast and marinara on low calorie yam flour noodles. It looked nice and summery with the green and yellow. See previous post about being cranky due to crappy weather and wanting sunshine.

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Then there was another afternoon splurge of Dairy Queen. The blizzard of the month is a chocolate covered pretzel with peanut butter blizzard. Could there be a better combination in the world? Especially when you have a buy one get one free coupon? So, we indulged in a blizzard in honor of Brian’s birthday this week.

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After our treat, we took a long walk to Target. There, I saw this month’s Food Network magazine where they gave cover space and two pages on 50 things to put a fried egg on top of. Brian makes fun of me all the time because he claims my motto is that any food becomes breakfast food if you just “put an egg on it.” Has the Food Network been stalking me?

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After all those rich indulgences today I had a light supper of zucchini and egg whites. But man, I’ll be dreaming about that blizzard tonight.

Oven baked veggie chips: multiple varieties

A few years ago…okay maybe five years ago I made some homemade vegetable chips. I think I did beet, parsnip, sweet potato and white potato. They were good, a lot of work and just plain easier to buy.

Thinking that my thoughts on the subject may have been misremembered, I decided to make some again. Well, it was again, time-consuming without a lot of reward. Here they are anyway.

This time I made sweet and white potato, beets and zucchini chips. The zucchini chips were my favorite. I ate them all in one sitting. Don’t judge that last sentence until you see photos of the product.

I preheated my oven to 350F. Then I mandolin-ed my little heart out. Slice. Slice. Slice.

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Then, I tossed the slices with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I arranged the slices on to cooling racks placed on baking sheets(to help with air circulation) and baked for about 20 minutes.

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The veggies shrank a lot in size and reminded me a lot of shinky dinks from my childhood.

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After spending time baking all those chips, I had very little finished product to show. And quite honestly, they didn’t bake very evenly. Half of a chip would be burnt and the other half would be soggy. The ones that turned out the best were the zucchini. This is the amount of chip I got from 2 medium zucchini:

chips5Yes, two zucchini fit in the palm of my hand. This is the size of one zucchini chip:

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So, from now on, I will be buying my chips.

Hunker down vegetable soup

With Sunday’s pending ice storm, I decided that a big batch of piping hot soup was in order. I had been drooling over blog posts of vegetable soups all week, so I decided to clean out the crisper drawer in the fridge and transform it to soup. What a good decision.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, sliced or diced
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 2 zucchini, cut in quarters then sliced
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes(preferably fire-roasted)
  • 1 15oz can of beans of choice(I used butter beans)
  • 8 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon parsley
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • fresh ground pepper

Heat oil in dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes until glassy. Then stir in garlic and cook for about another minute.

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Then add in carrots and celery. Cook another 5 minutes until celery and carrots start to soften.

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Stir in zucchini, oregano, parsley and basil. Cook another 3 minutes.

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Add in can of tomatoes, beans and broth.

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Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes. Add pepper to taste. You can add salt, too, but I didn’t think it needed any.

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This soup is so good, filling and hearty. A huge dose of vegetables in every bowl! I absolutely love it!

Italian roasted vegetable quinoa

Quinoa is a staple in our house. I had a slight panic when I went to the pantry to grab some the other day and we were out. How had I used the last of it and not replaced it?

This called for a trip to the store.

An emergency trip fueled by a Trenta Iced Green Tea from Starbucks. While I am not a big fan of Starbucks coffee, I do love their iced green tea.

Fueled with a little caffeine and a lot of antioxidants surging through my veins, I headed home to make some quinoa salad that is delicious hot or cold.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of quinoa, dry
  • 1 vegetable broth cube
  • 2 medium zucchini, halved and  sliced
  • 1 small onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 portabella mushroom caps, cut in 1 inch pieces
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • Italian seasoning
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 425

Cook quinoa according to directions, except add one cube vegetable broth into the water…or cook it in liquid vegetable broth instead of water. This will help to give the quinoa more flavor.

Cut all vegetables into similar sized slices/chunks so they all roast evenly. Place on foil covered pan.

Toss with about 2 tablespoons olive oil and a little less than a tablespoon balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and Italian seasoning.

Roast for 20 minutes or until starting to brown. Toss once about 1/2 way through. I wanted my veggies al dente incase I decided to eat the final product up later so they wouldn’t get too mushy. But who am I to tell you how to cook your vegetables. You just cook them how ever long your want.

Take roasted veggies and cooked quinoa and combine. It’s perfect for a full meal or a side dish and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Easy pasta salad

Summer isn’t complete without eating some cold pasta salad. I’m a fan of tangy, not creamy pasta salad. I use a very simple recipe that satisfies my need for some pasta salad.

I start off my boiling half a box of noodles of choice. Boil until al dente. I had a box of high fiber elbow noodles on hand, so that is what I used.

While the noodles are cooking, finely chop up what ever vegetables you want in your pasta. I used a combination of zucchini, summer squash, yellow bell pepper, celery and carrots. Sometimes, I’ll add in olives and tomatoes as well. I like a high ratio of veggies to noodles.

When you noodles are al dente, put them in a strainer and continuously run under cold water until noodles cool. Drain excess water out. Pour into big bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil over noodles, 10 tables spoons fat-free caesar italian dressing, and veggies. Stir to combine. I like the caesar italian dressing because it has a lot of good flavors and herbs in it, including a nice flavor of parmesan cheese. Flavor with salt and pepper if you like.

I like to let it sit for at least 30 minutes to really let the flavors marry.

This recipe made seven 1-cup servings at 4 weight watchers points plus per serving.