Monday, December 27, 2010

What to eat for a week?

It happens every year without fail - Christmas rolls around and I start drooling over other blogger's Christmas meals. Growing up I spent Christmas Eve at my friend's home with their very Italian Christmas feast. The food never stopped coming. One thing I can say about Italians and Jews - no one goes hungry at a holiday meal.

And then I started to spend Christmas with Thatboy's family. In Thatboy's family EVERYONE goes hungry. They're equal opportunity starvers. I'm not joking when I tell you about the year everyone got a teaspoon of soup and single leaf of lettuce at TBIL's Christmas party. This year we tried to outsmart the crowd. When we realized that our typical 7 hour drive was going to be closer to 10, we called to let them know that we'd be grabbing dinner before TBIL's party. Of course, when we showed up, it was lucky we had stopped since there was no food to be found. And Thatboy had to seek out TBIL who didn't seem very interested in seeing us at all.

The rest of the trip was pretty much more of the same - we continued to make efforts to make it a nice family holiday and were rebuffed at every turn. Thatboy offered to make Christmas breakfast for everyone and was told not to because his father didn't want two big meals in the same day. (SEE - equal opportunity starvers) Christmas Dinner was so overdone as to be inedible and even though TFIL cooks for the same number of people every year, there's never enough food. I discovered part of the problem when I overheard him trying to convince TMIL that 9 potatoes would be enough for baked potatoes for 8 people AND mashed potatoes for 12 people.

But I'm willing to be my Christmas experience is unusual and most of you are stuffed to the gills with roasts and sweets. And even still, I know most of you are also looking forward to a fabulous New Years feast. Because there's no better way to kick off the year than my going all out with food, wine, and festivities. The problem becomes what to eat during the week in between these two heavy meals.

Well friends, I have the answer to all your problems. You know what you eat between Christmas and New Years? Something easy and loaded with veggies. Something like a stirfry! This one is a modified childhood favorite. And I know it's not just from my childhood. I've yet to meet a kid who didn't love sweet and sour something. Something about the sweet sticky sauce, the plump juicy pineapples. Thatboy grew up with sweet and sour pork, but we were sweet and sour chicken people in my family.

This recipe is far better for you than the classic dish because the chicken isn't battered and fried. (Although I'm sure that's another reason the dish is a sure fire kid pleaser.) Instead this is something you use as a bit of a detox before throwing yourself into the new year.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
1 cup white rice, cooked
1 cup pineapple chunks (I've been using the frozen pineapple tidbits from Trader Joes. LOVE)
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
1 boneless, skinless, chicken breast, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup sweet and sour sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce

1. Heat oil in skillet. Add veggies and cook until tender crisp. Remove veggies from skillet.
2. Cook chicken in skillet until cooked through.
3. Add veggies back into skillet with chicken, sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce, and pineapples. Heat through and serve over rice.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Recipe for a Cheering Up

A couple of weeks ago, Thatboy asked me out on a date. He does this from time to time, and gets really excited about it. Like a schoolboy almost. This time he wanted to go ice skating at the Hotel Del Coronado and look at lights. All week he would give me a goofy grin and ask if I was excited about Friday night. (Usually I would reply by giving him my most innocent look and asking what was going to happen Friday night.)

Friday about 3pm I got a text from Thatboy that he had fallen down some stairs at work and sprained his ankle. He was still up for dinner and lights, but skating was probably out. SERIOUSLY? I informed him there would be no dinner and no lights. He had one thing to look forward to that evening, and that was sitting on the couch with his leg elevated. Well, that and a trip to Urgent Care which was ever so fun.

Thatboy was understandably disappointed. And he's not great about just sitting and elevating. Worst patient ever. But you know what makes him happy? Chocolate. So in honor of Thatboy, I bring you three different recipes for chocolate cake (all from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, natch.)

The most important part of chocolate cake is obviously the chocolate. And all of these recipes call for melting chocolate at some stage of the baking process. I know I've told you about how to create your very own at home double broiler, but now you can see it for your very own self!

First, put your ingredients in a heatsafe bowl. You can use pyrex, I use stainless steel. Then you'll place this over a simmering saucepan of water. You want to make sure that the saucepan is smaller than the bowl, so the bowl sits in it without touching the water.

Then just heat and stir and voila, instant melted chocolate!

Now that you've mastered that technique, let's put it to good use, onward to chocolate cake!

This Huntington Chocolate Cake is one of the lightest I've had. The chocolate flavor is definitely not overwhelming which is perfect for me, not as good for Thatboy. He also didn't appreciate the Confectioners' sugar frosting but it's a great one to add to your repertoire as it makes a fantastic glaze.

If you want a more chocolatey cake, this chocolate buttermilk cake is going to be right up your alley. Chocolate cake with thick, creamy, chocolate frosting. Thatboy was definitely a bigger fan of this one.

And next is the Goldilocks of chocolate cake - this one is JUST right. I seriously love this cake and I don't even love chocolate. There's really something about devil's food cake. And it's rich enough, that you don't even miss the chocolate frosting. This confectioners' frosting is creamier than the other one, because of the addition of. . . wait for it. . . cream. This cake was so good I even froze a couple pieces to save for later.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2010: A Year in Races

My big New Year's running resolution, as you may remember, was to run a 15k. Looking back, it seems I had set my sights a little low. Because I hit that mark in March. So I had to change and review my goals. I created two branches of running goals.

The first was distance - with the 15k under my belt, I upped my goal to a half marathon, inspired mostly by H, who believed I could easily add 4 miles in 3 months.

The second branch had to do with frequency, a race a month. In 2010 I ran 14 races. And I learned a very valuable lesson - when you run a race every month, you're going to end up running some really awful races. You'll also get to learn about some really great races. I won't be repeating this goal next year, but it has definitely given me some insight into what races I'd like to work into my regular repertoire. (I already have my 2011 races mapped out.) I figured I'd share with you what I've learned in case you're looking for a Southern California race for 2011.

January - Resolution Run 5k: This one gets a big thumbs down. Maybe the most poorly organized of all the races I ran this year. I especially hated the finish line where it bottle necked and you came to a dead stop and then a shuffle. Luckily I wasn't running this one for time, because if I was, that would have bothered the heck out of me. AND there wasn't even a shirt!

February - Palm Springs Half Marathon/Relay/5k: This race gets a check. (Anyone else remember when your grades were minus, check, or plus? Things were easier then.) The course was nice and neighborhoody and flat. Long-sleeved shirt. I loved the idea of the relay if I had someone to run it with (who actually completed their part of the relay). The only downfall was no good expo/treats/goodie bag. I won't go out of my way to run this race again, but if you're ever in Palm Springs on Valentine's Day weekend I recommend it.

March - Spirit Run 15k: Every time I run a race in Newport Beach I swear it will be my last. This was no exception. It's just so repetitive to run circles around Fashion Island over and over and over again. Now that I've got a 15k under my belt, and am not running a race every month, I can legitimately avoid running here.

April - Carlsbad 5000: This race gets a HUGE plus in my book. I will definitely be doing this every year. First of all, the expo is great. Free stuff, great running supplies. Second, the course is nice and beachside. Third, the people running it are fun and great. Fourth, excellent beer garden. Better than most races because you get more than one beer and it's GOOD beer. I don't know that I ever would have taken part in this race without my "every month" goal, but I am so glad I discovered it.

May - Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon/10k/5k/1k: This is kind of a weird race. Especially because it's held the same day as the Orange County half marathon, which is arguably the largest race in the county. It's an out and back race, which isn't my favorite, and the course is kind of boring with nothing to look at but the people on the other side. I would recommend skipping this puppy too.

Del Mar Iron Girl: Honestly, I didn't even really want to run this race this year, but Thatmom really enjoyed herself last year. The problem with this race is poor organization. The course is fine, but really not designed to handle the number of people it brings in. And it gets worse every year. This year the expo ran out of everything before the race even started. Thatmom likes it because it's Mother's Day weekend. Although next year it's been moved to November, which means it might not have the same pull.

June - Villa Park 5k Progressive Marathon: I have to say, one of the reasons I like this race so much is because it's the only race I've placed in. It also suffers from poor organization in that there was WAY too much waiting before the race started and no expo whatsoever. I haven't added this one to my yearly calendar either, but this would be a great first time 5k for local residents.

July - Coronado Independence Day 15k/5k: What is it with poor organizations and races? I was really looking forward to this one since I love Coronado. But another out and back race without much room to run. And a surprising lack of post race festivities given the fact that it's one of the largest 4th celebrations in the county.

Coronado Sports Fiesta 10k: However, my moaning about the Independence Day race takes a back seat compared to this one. I did a lot of little races this year. Which is really great for training. And even pretty good for improving times. But you really have to be dedicated to run this race because it is freaking BORING. Since you run on base, you don't even get the lovely Coronado beach views. This is also a pass for next year.

August - America's Finest City Half Marathon: This race will always hold a special place in my heart as my first half marathon. And I think I'd like to run it every year, just to see how I improve. It's a tough race, especially the last 2 miles. But that makes it an even better achievement.

September - Disneyland 5k: Remember this one? The race with no pictures? This race also held high expectations that weren't met. What could be more fun than a race through Disneyland? Well, for starters a race through Disney that's not a PITA. A race where I don't have to come up a day early since you can't pick up your registration the day of. A race where they don't charge you a ridiculous amount to park. A race where they don't run out of medals. A race where there's some direction for people finishing the race so you can actually progress out of the park that you don't get a ticket to. Need I say more?

October - Walk on the Wild Side: This race gets to be less of a race every year, but I love it nonetheless. It seriously is great to walk through the park so early, and I love all the free stuff. It's the antithesis of a real race, but it's one of my favorite things to do in San Diego.

November - Race for the Cure 5k: I do this every year and don't see myself stopping any time soon. I love Balboa races. And it is such an amazing cause and an amazing group of runners. I used to cry every time I ran it. I don't anymore, but I still love it.

December - Jingle Bell 5k: You don't remember me writing about this one? That's because I just ran it yesterday. This is the first race I have ever run completely on my own. Normally Thatboy comes with me to cheer me on, but this weekend he was away on a surf trip to Mexico, so I headed out on my own.

Another Balboa Park race, this one attracts people of all ages. And it's a fun, seasonal race. I changed my running list to Christmas songs and tied some jingle bells to my shoes.

But I wasn't nearly as "in the spirit" as many of the other runners who went all out with their costumes.

I've never seen so many red hats!

And of course there were some celebrity appearances, like the fat man himself:

And is that Rudolph I see?

Of course, not everyone was dressed up for the season. Some people were decidedly.....well, let's just say they weren't wearing their holiday finest.

I didn't want to like this race. Mostly because there was NO information about it beforehand which I usually feel is a death knell for races. I knew nothing about the race, practically until I showed up. But it was a lot of fun. It was a different course through Balboa than I'm used to running, and I liked it. Less hills, and we got to run over the bridge twice! And I think I might have picked up a lifetime supply of Lara Bars following the race. I would definitely consider adding this to the 2011 race schedule. With some more festive attire, of course.

I have some new races to add in to my 2011 schedule, but you'll have to wait till next year to find out about them!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Before you start your New Year Diets

I always manage to surround myself with beautiful people who can eat whatever they want without gaining a fraction of a pound. I have never been that lucky. In fact, oftentimes if I am in the same room as a piece of cake, I gain 2 lbs by sheer calorie osmosis. (Although I guess it would be reverse osmosis since I definitely contain more calories than a piece of cake.)

But it's not just weight gain (or lack thereof) that astounds me when watching those who "can eat anything and do." It's also the ability to withstand the myriad of health concerns that accompany most of what these people consume. A week or so ago I found myself waiting an inordinate length of time for a manicure. By inordinate length of time, I mean I was granted the opportunity to watch three episodes of Man v. Food.

Have you seen this show? Because I hadn't. And watching it, the only thought that continued to cross my mind was:

As I watched the host consume 5 lbs of cheese in a sitting, massive amounts of fried buffalo wings, enough ice cream for an 6 year old's birthday party, and a sausage sandwich topped with a pork shoulder, I marveled that his arteries remained inside of his body instead of staging a walk out in protest.

Now I'm not saying that everything I put into my body is the picture of healthy living. Anyone remember that bean dip with bacon and cheese I posted just days ago? I can't imagine that's a part of any diet program. But you know what? That bean dip wasn't consumed in in a single sitting, or even by a single person. I fully support the occasional indulgence, but it's important to know your limits. You want some fried chicken? Be my guest. But if you feel the need to consume the entire chicken, you may be going a bit overboard.

I care about you, dear readers, and want you in your tip top shape for many years to come. So I'm going to share with you this recipe for nachos. Because they're delicious. And because UDubb loves nachos. And these nachos are incredibly indulgent. Topped with melted cheese and sour cream. ButI urge you to share them with a friend. It's better for your health, but also guaranteed to be better for your social life. Because wouldn't YOU want to be friends with someone who shared their nachos? I know I would.

It's Not New Years Yet Nachos
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 green onion, sliced
1. Preheat oven to 350. Brown meat in large skillet.
2. Add tomatoes, water, and seasonings. Cook 10 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 1/2 Tbsp sour cream.
4. Place a layer of chips in a baking dish. Cover chips with half of the meat mixture and half of the cheese.
5. Repeat layering chips, meat, cheese and bake 20 minutes.
6. Top with onions and sour cream.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A House Divided

Battle lines have been drawn and families have been divided over one particular food. You would think that something as innocuous as noodles would never inspire such passion.

I recently discovered the original introduction to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which was discarded on the cutting room floor for the version you are more familiar with.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
Sprang forth a grudge, a cry of mutiny,
Twixt parents, leaving lovers in between.
One house preferred their macaroni cooked
Atop a stove, and mixed with powdered cheese.
The other house used methods overlooked,
Real cheese and noodles baked with oven ease.
A feud beginning with protestation,
In which common sense never recovers,
This division over preparation
Served to separate two star-crossed lovers;
Th which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

If you're familiar with the published version, you'll not that Shakespeare decided to forgo describing the reason for the "ancient grudge." But rest assured, it definitely involved macaroni and cheese.

You cannot hope to bring up the topic of macaroni and cheese without releasing a diatribe over which version is "the best." Our household is no different than most. You see, Thatboy grew up with "the blue box," Kraft macaroni and cheese. I can't remember ever having it in the house. Macaroni and cheese meant one of two dishes when I was growing up. My mom's homemade version was a casserole of cheese and noodles baked in a pyrex dish and cut into thick, dense, cheesy squares. If we were going for speed and ease, we would get the froze Stouffer's mac and cheese, which is today definitely one of the first foods I think of when I think "comfort food." (Even though I don't think I've had it since elementary school.)

So when I make macaroni and cheese at home, my go-to method involves what I'm familiar with, baking noodles and cheese in the oven. And don't get me wrong, Thatboy has never turned down macaroni and cheese in any form. But earlier this year, when I was going out of town for a few days, I asked Thatboy if he wanted me to pick up anything at the supermarket for his dinner while I was away. "Will you please buy me some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese?" And the poor boy put on such a pitiful look, how on earth could I say no?

Unfortunately for Thatboy, he can enjoy his Kraft only when I am out of town, since there's just something about neon orange powder that seems wrong to me. In the spirit of compromise, however, I decided to see if I couldn't reach a happy medium. (Think about what this could have done for the ill fated Romeo and Juliet) Macaroni and cheese started on the stovetop and finished in the oven. And I added some kick. Because if you want something to be better, you have two choices - bacon or spice. This macaroni and cheese would have been equally as delicious with the addition of bacon, but this time around I wanted to add a little fire instead. And instead of a double suicide, our story has a happy ending!

Spicy Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups macaroni
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
tortilla chips

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a pyrex dish with baking spray. Cook macaroni and drain, returning to saucepan.
2. Add cheddar cheese, half of the pepper jack cheese, evaporated milk, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir until combined and pour into pyrex dish.
3. Sprinkle top with remaining pepper jack cheese and crumbled tortilla chips. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.
4. Uncover and bake 10 more minutes.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

How I spent my Thanksgiving Vacation

Most of us grownups work year-round. There are no Christmas vacations. There are no summer vacations. There are no "ski weeks." So Thanksgiving is truly a treat because we get not one, but two days off work in which to accomplish everything that has been piling up for weeks. And it couldn't come at a better time, since the holiday season is running at us full force this year. We're already on the fifth night of Chanukkah!

Wednesday: Inspired by a post on Hostess with the Mostess, I made pumpkin mojito cupcakes to bring in to our coworkers.

Both Thatboy and I got off work early so we could sit in horrendous traffic earlier in the day instead of late at night.

Thursday: Thursday was all about tradition. I got up and watched the Macy's Day Parade in my pajamas. Am I the only one who felt it wasn't as good as it usually was? Even the Broadway numbers, which I usually love, were uninspiring. And I honestly didn't recognize about 90% of the singers, which makes me feel incredibly old. After the parade, Thatdad and I would usually hit up the movies, but since he's no longer here to go with I went on a nice long run instead. Then the whole family showed up for drinking, eating, and general good times.

Friday: One of those days with way too many plans. It began with a "high school reunion" brunch. The quotes are because the only person there I went to high school with was the one throwing the brunch. The rest of the people were just his friends. Then Thatboy and I began our holiday shopping. As usual. We don't hit up black Friday like crazy people at dawn. Instead we go in the afternoon, when there are still sales, and the stores are practically empty. I got some new pj bottoms, a coat, and a new camera. You're going to love seeing the fancy new pictures!

We also saw the new Harry Potter movie. The movie was, in general, all that could be expected, but I do thank that it's difficult splitting the book into two movies. And there was about 30 minutes of "rock sitting" that could have been cut from the movie. Thatboy points out there was a lot of rock sitting in the book too, but I don't think the movie would have lost anything by removing it. Heck, I don't think the book would have lost anything either, and I really liked the book

After the movie I met Prez and Fish for shopping, girl talk, and dinner. Fish had just arrived home from India with loads of good stories. We stayed at the restaurant far past Prez and my bedtimes.

Saturday and Sunday was more shopping - but Thatboy and I have officially finished all our holiday shopping. Which is good, since we exchanged presents for Chanukkah with Thatmom, Thatbrother, and UDubb this weekend. We also set up our tree, which means the holiday season is officially upon us.

In honor of the Holiday season, I thought I would share with you a sure fire party pleaser. Because this is the season of holiday parties and "what do I bring-itis." (Almost as contagious as the flu). Next party you're invited to, bring some of this bean dip and watch how quickly you make it on to everyone's "nice" list. You may even find a few extra presents under the tree.

Bacon Bean Dip
4 slices bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled
1 can refried beans
4 oz cream cheese
3/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Combine beans, cream cheese, and salsa in skillet. Heat until cream cheese melts, stirring occasionally.
2. Pour mixture into bowl and top with cheese and bacon.