Monday, February 28, 2011

Size DOES matter

Welcome to Eat. Live. Be. For a Better 2011, week 8. The topic this week is portions size, which is definitely one of my fave things to expound upon and what I think is the key to a healthy lifestyle.

Thatboy and I grew up in very different households. He grew up in a household where he would come home from school, his father and he would each take a pint of ice cream, sit on the couch and eat it.

I grew up in a household where all our cookies and boxes of chocolates had slivers cut out of them so everyone could have "just a bite."

One of the first habits I had to break was teaching Thatboy to not eat out of a package - cracker boxes, ice cream pints, the list goes on. Which brings me to my first tip of portion control:

1) Measure out your portions ahead of time. It's easy to finish an entire bag of chips if you're mindless reaching into the bag while watching television. But chances are, you'll be less tempted to overindulge if you measure out your serving of chips, and remove the bag from eyesight. This is how we've gotten a box of wheat thins to last a whole week in Thathouse.

2) Load up on the healthy stuff. If you follow rule #1, you'll notice that a serving of chips isn't really all that much, and not necessarily very satisfying. However, a serving of grapes will get you a lot farther in terms of filling you up. Pile on the lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables and even with larger portions, you'll still be consuming less calories.

And the rule that comes directly from the slivers of cookies and chocolates in my house growing up:

3) It's okay to have something naughty every now and again, but keep your portions of these smaller than an actual "portion size." It's okay to have a brownie, you don't need to beat yourself up. But it's not okay to eat an entire pan of brownies. Split that dessert with a friend, everyone gets a taste, but do you really NEED all of it? Giving yourself a little bit makes you less tempted to go out and eat an entire cheesecake.

And now a recipe that puts portion control into action. Sandwiches are great for portion control because they have everything you want in a compact, hand held, mouthwatering vehicle. This one is filled with lean turkey and loads of dark green spinach. Of course there's some garlic goat cheese in there, which I much prefer to mayonnaise. Instead of fries, I serve our sandwiches with a salad, because it's filling without the heaviness. It's a meal you can feel good about. Even if you eat the whole thing!

Turkey and Goat Cheese Baguette
2 oz garlic goat cheese
1 baguette, cut in half and sliced
8 slices of turkey
baby spinach

1. Spread 1 oz of garlic goat cheese on each of the baguette halves.
2. Top cheese with four slices of turkey per baguette half.
3. Top turkey with as much spinach as you can and still close your sandwich.

Next week we're going to recommend books and resources that help on the healthy journey.

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Have it Your Way

Lately it has been all about me in Thathouse. And I'm telling you, a girl could get used to this. You see, last weekend Thatboy headed out to the store to pick up a movie, and came back with "How to Train Your Dragon." This is a big deal, because normally when Thatboy goes to pick up a movie, it's usually a movie you've never heard of, and 9 times out of 10, it's in another language. Yep, foreign Indie films are his favorite.

I felt pretty lucky to be able to see a movie I wanted to see without having to threaten dismemberment or refusal to cook another meal. I figured it was a one time deal.

Then this morning as we were lazily lying in bed trying to figure out what to do (can you remember the last time you had no plans whatsoever?) when I suggested going to a movie. Usually that would involve Thatboy popping open his computer and checking to see what's playing - naming only movies I've never heard anything about. Which of course, prompts the question: "What's that about?" and the inevitable answer: "I don't know, let me check." He pretty much assumes if he hasn't heard of it, it must be a fantastic movie. So you can imagine my surprise when he told me to check and see what was playing. Which means I got to screen the movie choices before and purposely not tell him the movies who had names I couldn't pronounce. I gave him a list of several options, and he told me to go ahead and pick whatever I wanted to see. I stared at him in disbelief. "You don't even want to rule one or two of them out?" He didn't. And that, my friends, is how we got to see "Cedar Rapids" today. And we spent the entire time bent over in laughter. We both find John C. Reilly hilarious, especially when he's Dr. Steve Brule. And how can you not find a place in your heart for doofy, affable, Ed Helms. He's just got such an "aw shucks" quality about him.

On the way home, we stopped to return "How to Train Your Dragon" and pick up a new movie. And this is where things got suspicious, because Thatboy let me get "Toy Story 3." (Can you tell my taste in movies is a bit different than him?) I cornered him in the car, asking what gives. I thought maybe he had heard I only had a couple days to live, or something similar. Nope. Turns out, he's been feeling bad that it's been all about him with movies for almost the entire last year, and this was my turn to cash in. (I knew going to all those Twilight movies with him would eventually pay off for me.)

Dinner was one of my favorite "company meals" - Steak au poivre. Just say it, it even sounds fancy, which is why it's such a great company meal. But like any great company meal, it is much easier to make than it sounds. Because when you have company over, the last thing you want to do is spend forever in the kitchen worrying about dinner.

There are various recipes for steak au poivre, but they all bear one thing in common - coating the steak with crushed peppercorn. (That's the au poivre part) A lot of recipes use a cream sauce, but I don't think you need it. A simple gravy made with just enough bourbon to deglaze the pan has always been my go-to.

Now to add the finishing touch and really impress your guests, dress up your rice dish. Thatboy grew up with his "fancy rice" as Uncle Ben's wild rice mix. You don't need a mix though to make easy, delicious rice. And in Thathouse, unless it's Thatboy's birthday, we usually stay away from rice mixes. Instead, stir in your own spices. Add some rice and toasted almond, and you'll be amazed at the silence that fills your room as your guests fill their mouths.

Steak au Poivre
4 steaks (filets are the typical cut of choice, but I also like thin guys because they cook so quickly)
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp peppercorns, coarsely crushed (I give 'em a good whack with the meat tenderizer)
3 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp oil
4 Tbsp bourbon

1. Rub the steaks with salt. Sprinkle them with half the peppercorns. Now, remember that meat tenderizer you used to crush the peppercorn? Use it again to pound the pepper into the steak. Flip the steak over and do the same thing on the other side.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a skillet and saute the steaks, 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan.
3. Add the bourbon and 2 Tbsp water to the still hot pan. Cook, scraping the browned bits off the the bottom of the pan. Boil for one minute, and pour over the steaks.

Turkish Pilaf (From the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)
6 Tbsp butter
1 cup rice
1 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 bay leaf, crumbled
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 cups chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Melt the butter in a skillet and stir in the rice. Cook over low heat a couple minutes till the rice is shiny.
2. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they are soft.
3. Pour the skillet contents into casserole. Add the salt, bay leaf, cinnamon, raisins, and almonds.
4. Heat the chicken broth until it's boiling and mix with the rest of the ingredients. Cover and bake 45 minutes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How I got my husband to hate ham

This is a post about Thatboy and his intense hatred of ham. He didn't always hate ham, in fact I caused this severe aversion.

I went through a period last year where I made a LOT of ham. It started innocently enough, Thatdad used to make ham and it had been years since I had it. I had a hankering for it. So I bought a ham, and basted and cooked it. The first night was heaven. I had forgotten that glorious taste of roasted ham. But there was a bunch more left over. Have you ever made ham for just 2 people? We ate ham for a long time after that. Long enough that Thatboy began to dread dinner. If he had more friends I would imagine he would have started inventing dinners, or late nights at work, or maybe a food allergy.

Since that time, he's been a little shy of ham. For the most part, I've been great about not serving him what he so intensely dislikes. Call it a guilty conscious. When I do use ham, I try to mix it in with something else. It's less about hiding the taste, and more about making it new! and exciting! And it works.

Ham croquettes have the classic ham and mustard flavor, but also a creaminess that directly contrasts with the crisp golden outer shell. I make these to pop into our lunches, since they're so easy to heat and eat without making a mess. And even Thatboy hasn't complained about them.

Ham Croquettes
3 tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup hot milk
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups ham, ground
1/2 Tbsp parsley
1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp onion, minced
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
canola oil

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir int he flour and cook about 2 minutes.
2. Add the milk, stirring as sauce thickens. Bring to a boil
3. Add salt and pepper to taste, lower heat and simmer 2-3 minutes.
4. Combine with ham, parsley, mustard, onion in a bowl and blend well.
5. Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish and the egg in a shallow bowl (pie plates work great for this)
6. Beat 1 Tbsp water in with the egg.
7. Shape the ham mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls. Roll them in the crumbs, dip in the egg, and do another roll in the crumbs. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
8. Fill a skillet with oil and heat to about 360. Fry the croquettes in the oil a couple at a time until golden. (Turn them as necessary)
9. Drain on paper towels.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Anyone low on iron?

We've been eating a lot of red meat lately. Maybe you've noticed. Maybe your arteries have noticed. Thatboy thinks I'm trying to kill him off. Silly boy, he doesn't have near enough life insurance yet to make that worthwhile.

In high school, my friend Suo used to say that women should eat red meat around "that time of the month" to boost their iron because of all the blood loss. I don't honestly think there's any correlation, since that's extra blood we're losing, but the concept stuck with me.

Especially a couple years later when I self diagnosed myself with anemia. I don't know if I'm actually anemic, but I went through a period of time where I was really tired, all the time. There was no real reason for my fatigue, I had the same levels of stress, work, and physical activity that I always had. I decided to play with my iron a little, upping my intake of foods high in iron. Voila, fatigue disappeared. I'm a scientist at heart, and therefore I treated this little test as conclusive proof of my anemia. Plus, I go along with the "if it ain't broke" philosophy. If upping my iron intake helps me be less tired, it doesn't really matter if I'm really anemic or not.

So whenever I go through periods of being especially tired and worn out - even if I can trace the cause back to having some very long days as of late - I include a little extra red meat in our diets. And some dark leafy vegetables like spinach.

This steak is prepared stovetop, I believe Alton Brown calls the method "Pittsburgh Style." Coming from Pittsburg, I don't recognize this as being a local dish. I do love the gorgeous crust it creates on the steak. Brown and near glazed on the outside, warm and tender on the inside. It's my preferred menu of making something like filet mignon, although I have also been known to start the meat in the pan and transfer to the oven after that crust develops.

A cast iron pan is a must for this though. As much as I love a nonstick pan, it just doesn't work for a nice pan steak, because you need a little stick to brown it right. And cleaning becomes a breeze when you deglaze the pan with wine. It gives you a sauce and loosens up all the little stuck on pieces. It's easy enough and delicious enough to try even if you haven't diagnosed yourself with any sort of blood disorder.

Pan Steak
steak (1/2 lb per serving)
1 Tbsp oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup red wine

1. Dip a paper towel in the oil and rub over a cast iron pan. Heat the pan until it is searing hot.
2. Add the steak. Cook on one side until brown (about 5 minutes).
3. Turn and cook the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and season with salt and pepper.
4. Add the wine to the pan, scraping up the browned bits to incorporate them into the sauce. Reduce the sauce for a minute or so and pour over the steaks.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cheesecake for dinner

When I grew up in Pennsylvania we were worlds removed from a Jewish community. There was one other Jewish person in my school, and the Jewish population of my town could fit in a single room.

However, a mere hour and a half away lied our closest ties to Jewish civilization. An area in Pittsburgh known as "Squirrel Hill." And every year at Passover, this is where we would venture to stock up on Pesach friendly food. Of course, the trip would always include a stop at the bakery and the deli for our last feast before the week long ritual.

One of our trips t0 Squirrel Hill was not for Passover-stocking, but to dine with a Lebovitch family. I have no idea how my parents met them, or why we were driving an hour and a half for a dinner, but the dinner was completely memorable to me. First, because it was my first experience with Orthodox Jews. Like any other religion, Judaism separates out into various levels of orthodoxy, with Orthodox being the most conservative/strict/adherent. Our congregation was "reform" which leaned more on the "conservative" side. So visiting these people was a bit of an eye opener in terms of culture.

The Lebovitch family we dined with kept Kosher, which was a second reason the trip was memorable. I'd never met anyone who actually kept Kosher, the idea being akin to a unicorn or other mythical being. But this Kosher thing was going to work to my advantage in another way.

You see, when we arrived, Mrs. L told us she had picked up some kind of world famous cheesecake. The best ever. I can't remember where she got it, that's not the important part of the story. The important part is that Mrs. L wanted us to try this phenomenal cheesecake. But you, see there was a problem.

One of the tenants of keeping Kosher is that you do not mix meat and dairy. I had always assumed that meant no cheeseburgers, but it goes farther than that. You see, after eating meat, you can't have dairy products for about 6 hours. Which would mean, that to enjoy the cheesecake, we'd have to wait until after midnight. So the Ls told us their solution. Eat the cheesecake FIRST. That's right, you only have to wait an hour after eating dairy to consume meat.

Something about adults telling you to eat cheesecake first was life changing for me. Think about it, eat your dessert before dinner. It's brilliant on so many levels. Mostly because as a kid you don't really want dinner anyway, it's just a pathway to dessert. I can't tell you a single thing about whether that cheesecake was any good or not. But I do know that being able to eat it first, left a lasting impression on me.

So I'm going to share this cheesecake recipe with you and recommend you go ahead and skip dinner. Just eat this. For dinner. Or breakfast. Or any meal you'd like. Because I've been told by a reputable source that it's okay to eat cheesecake first.

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 6 ounces)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp cold water
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 egg
1/4 tsp almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 350. Mix the graham crackers with 1/4 cup sugar and melted butter and press into bottom and sides of 9 inch pie pan. Chill while preparing filling.

2. Combine raspberries, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp cornstarch, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

3. Boil for 1-2 minutes, until thick.

4. Combine cream cheese, egg, remaining sugar, remaining corn starch, and almond extract in an electric mixer until smooth.

5. Pour cheesecake into the crust.

6. Pour the raspberry sauce over the cheesecake and swirl using a knife. Bake for 30-35 minutes until cheesecake is set.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Something Nice Steak

Thatboy has been especially sweet to me lately. Mostly it's in the things he says, like when he offered to stop by Target and pick me up some twizzlers because lately at night I want something sweet that's not chocolate. But sometimes his actions are equally as sweet. I don't always sleep well at night. Part of the problem is Thatboy gets up 2-3 times a night to hit the bathroom. Sometimes I can sleep through it, sometimes I can't. In my lightened sleep state last night, I vaguely became aware someone was standing over me, tucking me in. This morning, I confronted Thatboy.

Me: Did you tuck me in this morning?
TB: Yeah, I was going to the bathroom and I noticed you didn't have any sheets. I didn't want you to get cold.
Me: Yeah, I remember not being able to get any sheets a little before that, because you had taken them all. You did that this weekend too.
TB: Yeah, I felt bad.

I wanted to do something nice for him too. You would think that I would go all out and make a fabulous dinner right? Well, check your calendar. It's still a weeknight, and there's still a trial going on. So I had to make something quick, and something easy, but still something fancy. Thatboy is typical of most men, in that he's not one to turn down a nice steak. I swear yesterday the cooking board I frequent had a ton of london broil requests, which reminded me it has been forever since I've made london broil. Since all you're doing is broiling a steak, it's one of the fastest ways cook. I do love broiling for a nice quick meal. Traditionally, London Broil is made with flank steak. Thatboy HATES flank steak, so I tend to use sirloin instead. Save the salt and pepper for after cooking, to really let the flavor come through.

London Broil
1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 lb sirloin
1 Tbsp canola oil
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the broiler. Rub the garlic halves on both sides of the steak.
2. Rub the steak with the canola oil, using some to coat the broiler pan.
3. Place steak on a broiler pan and cook 4-5 minutes each side.
4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cut along the diagonal so it's nice and tender.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Best Laid Plans

There's a saying that if you want to make G-d smile, tell him your plans. Today, G-d was having a big ole laugh on my behalf.

It started with lunch. A couple weeks back I got an email at work. There was going to be an art exhibit outside my office during the month of February. I forwarded the email to Thatboy and asked if he wanted to make a lunch date out of it. He agreed, and today was the day we were supposed to go.

We planned to meet at the post office, because Thatboy had to mail the anniversary gift for his parents that I spent all weekend working on. That was the first laugh. I convinced Thatboy the post office would have a box big enough for the gift. I was wrong. Which had us then running to the supermarket to pick up some brown paper bags to wrap the gift in. Except the supermarket no longer carries brown paper bags. Sooooo that was a bust.

We headed back to look a the exhibit, and it was GONE. G-O-N-E. With no explanation (I even looked at the email again when I got back to my office and it definitely says it would be up until February 28 - laugh 3, if you're keeping track.)

My next plan involved leaving work at a reasonable time. Even I should have known better than this one. I was going to stop off at the store and grab a duck, roast it while I hit the gym with Thatboy. I got home about 2 hours later than that plan. Too late to stop for ducks. Too late for roasts. Too late for the gym.

And I got cranky on my way home, thinking of how the day had gone so far from planned. I didn't want to deal with anything, least of all dinner. I wanted something easy and comforting. I kept thinking about baked pasta - even though we had had pasta for lunch. When Thatboy called to see if he could do anything to help with dinner (because he was already home from the gym) I asked if he could cook up some rice. He is a fantastic rice cooker.

Thinking of the rice and cheese from the other night, I figured I'd play with that. Adding some parsley and onion for a little more flavor than just cheese (although there is nothing wrong with cheese). Using an egg gives it a rich silkiness and also helps it puff up a bit. And for something completely unplanned, it came out pretty damn good!

Cheesy Baked Rice
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1 cup milk
4 Tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup swiss cheese, grated
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup parsley, chiffonade
1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a casserole dish with baking spray. Combine all the ingredients.
2. Pour into casserole and bake 40 minutes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Do you know the muffin man?

There's a good chance if you were to happen in on our house on any given day of the week you would see a basket of muffins atop our kitchen counter.

You see, I'm a firm believer in "breakfast is the most important meal of the day." It gives you some energy to get through the day, jump starts your metabolism, and if you have a sensitive stomach like Thatboy, it helps fight off acid buildup.

The problem is, Thatboy is not really good at eating breakfast. He likes to sleep as long as humanly possible in the mornings, giving him just enough time to shower and jump in a suit before grabbing his briefcase and rushing out the door. Back when he took the train in, I would heat up some instant oatmeal for him to eat on the train. But his current position means he has to drive in most mornings, and he says he can't eat oatmeal while he drives. He's not much of a multitasker.

So on the weekends, I usually make a batch of muffins for him to grab on his way out the door in the morning. Which is perfectly fitting since this week on Eat.Live.Be., the topic is healthy snacks you can grab on your way out the door.

While muffins may not necessarily qualify as "snacks" per se, especially because I've already told you they're breakfast, the point is well taken. It's something healthy you can grab while you're on your way out the door so you don't have to worry about skipping breakfast.

Besides, I don't do a lot of cooking when it comes to my healthy snacks. I tend to use a mix of carbs and protein like:

pretzels and hummus
almond butter and apples
cheese and grapes
turkey on crackers
carrots and balsamic vinaigrette

So if it wasn't for my muffins, I wouldn't have very much to share with you!

Next week we're going to talk about portions - my favorite topic ever!

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

Corn Muffins (makes 12 muffins)
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp melted shortening

1. Preheat oven to 425. Spray a muffin pan with baking spray. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
2. Add the wet ingredients and blend well.
3. Pour the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes.

(For a twist, this week I added some dried cranberries to the batter. Thatboy loved it. You can experiment with some of your favorite dried fruit, or even fresh fruit. Corn blueberry muffins sound like something I could get behind.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What a dfference a year makes

Today marks 2 years since Thatdad's death. Last weekend Thatmom and I were talking about this anniversary. She asked if I had any feelings related to the date. I didn't. I told her that it could have been any day, I didn't tie any significance to February 20.

And then I looked back to my entry related to last year. I was a mess. The entire month of February I was a mess, all the days leading up to the actual anniversary. And I wrote about how grief wasn't linear, and it doesn't get better with time passing.

But to compare my feelings this year, with my feelings from last year, is like reading the thoughts of two entirely different people. It's hard to have perspective when you're knee deep in grief, but being able to look back, you can see the change.

And although Thatmom still has her rough days, I think she has also come a far way from last year too. This year she chose to spend the day alone, at home, which is unusual since she normally wants to be surrounded by family on these harder days. And I know it's been a hard month for her in general. I'm expecting it to be a hard couple of months, given that her birthday and anniversary are next month. February and March are reminders of loss.

But for us, life has returned to near normal. I don't know that it will ever really be "normal" normal, but it has become the new normal. There are still moments I want to settle a debate by asking the only person I know will KNOW the answer. I reach for the phone thinking "Thatdad will know who sings the song" only to remember it doesn't work that way anymore. The past few months have brought a lot of times when I've thought about things Thatdad is missing out on. But in general, I'm able to live a life without him.

We spent the day doing very normal things - breakfast in bed, a trip to the outlets, lunch at a taco shop, and then home for a nap. I know you're jealous of how productive we were. I couldn't even be bothered with a very complicated dinner, which means I let my oven do all the work. To be fair, that lazy bum sat around all day doing nothing.

Tenderloin is easy, be it pork or beef. It's obviously the very best part of the animal since you don't have to worry about pesky bones or a thick layer of fat, but it's still incredibly tender (which is probably why it's called the tenderloin). It roasts beautifully, with only a little bit of oil or butter needed. Because of the size it's also a great thing to serve to company.

Roast Beef Tenderloin
1 tenderloin (allow about 1/3 lb per serving)

1. Preheat oven to 450. Place the roast in a shallow pan (if it has a narrow tip, tuck it underneath so the roast is the same thickness throughout the pan.)
2. Dot the roast with butter. Roast 30-35 minutes for medium rare. Obviously cook it longer for a more well done roast. Just a note- you're going to let it sit for a bit, during which time it will continue to cook, so you may want to pull it out before it gets to complete doneness.
3. Place the tenderloin on a warm platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A day of goods and bads

The good: I got to sleep in this morning all the way till 9. I never get to do that.

The bad: Because I slept in, I didn't have time for a run or the farmer's market before my lunch date with H.

The good: Lunch with H. One of my favorite people. And the perfect day to split a grilled cheese and tomato soup.

The bad: It started raining again, which meant my outside run was canceled and I had to run on the treadmill at the gym.

The good: At least I got a run in. And I got to watch Spongebob while I ran. Interesting fact, for some reason, Spongebob is always on when I'm on the treadmill. It's like, fate.

Also good is that I was able to get a lot accomplished today, including picking up an anniversary gift for TFIL and TMIL and I'm warming up our whole place with some heavy duty oven work. I started with dessert, because - well, a nice warm dessert is always nice on a rainy weekend evening. And then I moved on to dinner. Something warm and baked was definitely in order.

Usually this would be a mac and cheese kind of night. But we wanted something a little bit different. That, and I was all out of elbow macaroni. And Thatboy gets weird when I try to throw in a different noodle. Of course, I can do anything I want if I don't bother telling him he's getting mac and cheese. "Just wait till you try this new dish!" I tell him. "Cheesy rice! It's got rice, it's got cheese, it's baked and warm, you're going to love it!" He didn't even know what hit him. And neither will you!

Rice and Cheese
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup crackers, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray a baking dish with baking spray. Spread half of the rice in the dish and sprinkle with half of the cheese.
2. Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top and a pinch of salt. Dot with 1 Tbsp butter.
3. Create another layer of rice, cheese, cayenne, salt, and butter.
4. Pour milk over all, and sprinkle with crushed crackers. Bake for 30 minutes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Oh I love a rainy night

The rain has returned to Southern California. Oh sure, we had a break for a couple of weeks - but only enough to act as a tease.

It snuck in on Wednesday night, pattering and tapping on our roof and windows. But by Wednesday afternoon, it was gone. Was it just my imagination? My wet boots told me it wasn't. Thursday held the threat of rain all day, just waiting for an errant move. We held our breath. But nothing.

So today, I shouldn't have been disappointed when I looked out my window to see the umbrellas, scurrying beneath me. But I was. Except, then I realized. It was Friday. As long as I could make it home okay, it could rain rain away. There's something I love about curling up on the couch on a rainy night, fire roaring, tv blaring, and it's even better knowing I don't have to get up and go out in it tomorrow morning.

Rainy winter weather makes me crave polar opposites. On the one hand, I want warm dishes like soups, stews, and chilis. But somehow, all that wet cold weather also makes me want fruit. I know, crazy, right? Maybe it's wishful thinking, wanting sun ripened fruit when the outside is so very un-sun-ripened.

But as I said earlier this week, fruit is something I never feel guilty indulging in. Bring it on! Big beautiful, highly unseasonable berries, except, berries are a plenty at the farmer's market. I can't fully explain it, but they are. So at least Southern California produce is as crazy as I am.

Berry Yogurt Parfait
1 cup blackberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup raspberries
2 6 oz containers strawberry yogurt
your favorite granola

1. Divide berries between 2 glasses, layering them on top of each other.
2. Top each glass of berries with one of the strawberry yogurts.
3. Sprinkle granola on top.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Please Sir, May I have some Moor

I’ve always been a strange reader – strange in that I never read what most of my peers were reading. I had read the entire Shakespearean Comedy Canon by the time I was in 6th grade, at which point I decided I should challenge myself by reading the Illiad and the Oddessy.

I was never into Sweet Valley High, although I had an unnatural love for anything R.L.Stine or what we called the “Point Books” – some sub-publication which specialized in pre-teen horror, which quickly led to my obsession with nonfiction reports of psychology and serial killers. (It wasn’t until I met Magski that I realized this might be a phase many young girls go through)

And then I got to high school, where all of a sudden, I was reading what everyone else was – even though they were reading it because it was assigned. This was my English Lit phase. Bronte, Austen, Bronte, Hardy, Donne. I much preferred the pastoral setting to the city life portrayed by Dickens and Shelley. I pictured myself out on the moors, my hair flowing behind me in the wind as the tall grass swayed. (This is probably about as romantic as I get)

And then, in 11th grade, I actually got to go! To the moors! And they were fantastic – everything I had dreamed about. Complete with frolicking sheep. Which led to my first real issue – how on earth was I going to enjoy that lamb dinner after I had just watched those sweet guileless sheep make their way along the moors, their sheep hair flowing in the wind as the tall grass swayed. The second issue? That tall grass, is actually a plant known as rape. And how not-poetic does that sound? “Their sheep hair flowing in the wind as the rape swayed.” I guess it still is poetic if you’re some sort of sheep fetishist.

York was my absolute favorite part of England. I loved the moors, and I loved the city so much more than London. I loved the walls, I loved the Viking Museum – complete with authentic smells, I loved the church that allowed you to peer down and see ancient Roman ruins beneath Norman ruins.

And Yorkshire food is exactly what you would expect, hearty and warm. Focusing on rich, flavorful meats that are sure to keep you happy through a long Yorkshire winter. In fact, many of you may be familiar with one of the most famous of Yorkshire dishes – Yorkshire pudding.

In general, pudding in England doesn’t refer to the J-E-L-L-O type of dessert, but any dessert. However, Yorkshire pudding is a doughy lovechild of a pancake and a popover. Traditionally the batter was placed under a roasting lamb, so that the fat from the meat would drip in as the lamb cooked. The airfilled dough was often served as a course on its own.

Yorkshire pudding has a way of working with almost any cut of lamb or beef. It’s light enough to complement the meal without stealing the show, although you may be tempted to forgo the meat entirely after a couple bites. And without worrying about yeast, it’s also one of the easiest starchy sides to make.

Yorkshire Pudding (from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook)

  • 4 Tbsp pan drippings from beef or lamb
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
1. Turn up oven to 450. Pour the pan drippings into a 9x9 pan. Put the pan in the oven to keep sizzling while you prepare the batter.
2. Combine the eggs, milk, flour, and salt and beat until well blended.
3. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes.

Standing Rib Roast
1 standing rib roast
3/4 cup red wine
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 325. Place the meat, fat side up in a shallow pan and allow to come to room temperature while the oven preheats.
2. Roast for 20 minutes per pound. Remove roast from the oven and set on the carving board.
3. Drain off the fat and put the roasting pan on a burner, stovetop over low heat.
4. Add the wine and stir, scraping the meaty pieces off the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 2 minutes. Spoon this sauce over the carved meat.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Something About Ranch

Growing up, we never had ranch dressing in the house. Lots of vinaigrettes, some lowfat/nofat Caesar, and sometimes blue cheese, but not ranch.

When I got to college, it was like a whole world opened up to me. I know, it sounds silly to rave about a dressing, but that's what it felt like. I think it began with french fries. Have you dipped french fries in ranch? It's almost as delicious as dipping them in soft serve - another trick I picked up in college.

And then of course, came the discovery of ranch and bbq sauce. Used to top several salads in the area, it wasn't long before we began doing it ourselves at the cafeteria dining hall.

And from salads it was easy to transition to bbq ranch chicken pizza, or even just bbq ranch chicken on its own. But I'm a grownup, and it's time to branch out a little from bbq and ranch. So I veered to ranch's natural buddy in the "dipping" department - honey mustard.

Honey mustard and ranch, why have I never thought of this before? They natural complement each other in the same way that bbq sauce works. Both add a sweetness to the tangy ranch like they were meant to be together. You do know I love contrast, right?

Honey Mustard Ranch Chicken
1/3 cup ranch dressing
2.5 Tbsp honey mustard
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1. Mix dressing and honey mustard.
2. Heat oil in pan. Saute chicken about 5 minutes per side, until browned.
3. Stir in the ranch/mustard mix. Cook an additional 3 minutes until the sauce is warmed through.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A return to normal

Did y'all have a wonderful Valentine's Day? We did here in Thathouse. I know many people write off going out to dinner for Valentine's Day, but it's a tradition here. Mostly because I cook almost every other night of the year. And we've never run into issues eating out. I've heard complaints about expensive fixed menus, poor service, awful food - but it all boils down to research.

Nine times out of ten Thatboy and I will venture to a place that doesn't accept reservations. Places people avoid because they fear they will never be sat (there's safety in reservations.) Thatboy and I were immediately sat last night. Otherwise, we make reservations well in advance, and make sure the place isn't doing a fixed menu. Eating out on Valentine's Day is like everything else - you have to set yourself up for success.

Now that Valentine's Day is over, we're back to our old traditions of quick weeknight dinners. Especially because there's another trial this week, throwing my office into all kinds of tizzy.

Which also means I'm using shrimp whenever I can, because those little suckers cook really quickly. We had Italian last night, and this little sucker loves the garlicky goodness of Italian food. So cooking the shrimp with garlic and olive oil just seemed like a really good decision. I served this shrimp with some leftover salad, but serving it over pasta or rice can help trap some of that delicious garlicky sauce. The same effect could be had by serving it over some warm crusty bread.

Broiled Shrimp
1 lb shrimp
1/4 cup olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp oregano
1 Tbsp parsley, chopped

1. Remove shell from shrimp, leaving the tail on. Devein the shrimp.
2. Mix the olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and parsley in a large bowl.
3. Add the shrimp and marinate at least an hour.
4. Preheat the broiler. Place the shrimp in broiler pan with the marinade. Broil 3-4 minutes each side.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tips from a Pro

Yesterday Thatmom gave a lecture at the synagogue. The topic was "Heart Health" something that holds special meaning both because of Valentine's Day, but also because this week marks the anniversary of my father's death.

As Thatmom explained, she approached the topic from two separate angles: the first, as a health care professional, and the second as the wife of a cardiac patient. She noted the interplay between what the professionals say, and finding balance between what you are physically able to accomplish given your own lifestyle.

Since this week's topic of Eat.Live.Be. is tips from the experts, I thought I would include some of Thatmom's lecture. While Thatmom specifically spoke about guidelines from the American Heart Association, most of these tips really apply to living a healthy lifestyle in general. The American Heart Association calls these factors "Life's Simple 7" and Thatmom added a bonus tip.

  • Get Active - The AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.
  • Eat Better
- Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, they have a higher water content, filling you up and they're low in calories and relatively low in sugar.
- avoid foods with high fat contents
- eat whole grain carbohydrates, they take your body longer to break down, giving more sustained energy AND they have more nutrients! Win/win!
- eat mindfully: choose carefully when eating out and watch your portion size.
  • Lose Weight - The AHA goes by the calories in/calories out philosophy. But if you're eating better and getting active, this should naturally follow.
  • Stop Smoking - I don't think I need to explain this one at all.
  • Control Cholesterol - You can control your cholesterol with diet and exercise. Being overweight can increase your LDLs (the bad cholesterol) and exercise can lower these LDLs.
  • Manage Blood Pressure - Know your numbers and keep them under control with diet and exercise. Watch both your salt and alcohol intake.
  • Reduce Blood Sugar- Be aware of hidden sugar in foods!
  • Reduce Stress - build in "me time," understand your priorities, and practice some stress reducing activities.

When Thatmom began talking about diet and blood sugar, the audience seemed floored. People had a million questions, and frankly, I thought her points were fairly obvious. But people really don't understand the difference between produce and processed foods. There were questions about eating too much fruit, because, you know, fruit has sugar.

Let me break this down a little. Yes - fruit does have sugar. But fruit has less sugar than fruit juice. And fruit has less sugar than cookies. The point is, no matter how much fruit you're eating, if you're choosing it instead of cookies, you probably don't need to worry too much about sugars.

There were also concerns about veggies. And yes, believe it or not, some veggies are higher in sugar than others. Think about how sweet summer corn is. Someone in the audience asked about sweet potatoes. And sweet potatoes DO have more sugar in them than dark leafy spinach or kale. But again, if these are your only sources of sugar, it's really not something you need to worry about. Watching your sugar intake and diet is much more about reading the nutritional ingredients on packaged foods.

Thatmom and I were talking. She noted that she used to be doubtful when she heard the phrase "No one ever got fat from eating fruits and vegetables." But we discussed that the fact that the people who eat a ton of fruits and vegetables tend to be people who aren't eating the other crap. And you really can indulge in fruits and veggies without feeling guilty after. So go ahead and make yourself a giant salad. Throw as many veggies as you can handle on top. Be mindful of your dressing choice, because that's one of those processed foods you DO need to be concerned with. You can of course pick something terrible for you - like blue cheese dressing, just make sure to watch how much you use! See people, it's always about choices.

Heart Healthy Salad
1 large carrot
1 head of Bibb lettuce
1/2 cup frisee lettuce
2 cups romaine lettuce
6 radishes, sliced thin
2 oz blue cheese crumbles

1. Divide salad greens between two plates.
2. Use a veggie peeler to peel carrots into strips and place on top of greens with sliced radishes.
3. Sprinkle salad with blue cheese crumbles and top with dressing of choice.

Next week's topic is all about healthy snacks you can grab on your way out the door.

And here are a list of the other bloggers participating:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spicing up your morning

Earlier this month, my friend Kira posted some amazing looking Jalapeno Cheese Bread. I haven't made it yet, but I really should. Because we certainly do love our Jalapeno Cheese Bread around here.

For some reason, I especially love using it for breakfast. I love my spicy breakfasts. I think that's my main reason for seeking out chorizo in omelets, or salsa topped huevos rancheros. There's no better way to get the day started. (And I have no information about this, but I'd like to believe it jumpstarts your metabolism.)

I haven't tried the jalapeno cheese bread as a french toast, although I love it as regular toast with some apple garlic jelly. My favorite breakfast use of jalapeno cheese bread is in a strata - layers of cheese, egg, bread, spicy sausage, and some extra jalapenos, just because.

Jalapeno Strata
8 oz crumbled spicy sausage (chorizo or hot Italian)
6 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
1/4 cup diced jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp cumin
3 slices of jalapeno cheddar bread

1. Preheat oven to 350. Brown sausage and drain. Add jalapeno, cheese, garlic, and cumin.
2. Beat eggs and cream in a bowl and add salt and pepper.
3. Place 1/3 of the egg into an 8x8 baking dish. Place a slice of bread on top of the egg.
4. Place 1/3 of the sausage mixture on the bread. Pour another 1/3 of the egg over the sausage.
5. Top with another slice of bread, another 1/3 of the sausage mixture and and the last 1/3 of the egg.
6. Place last slice of bread over the egg and top with the remaining sausage mixture. Bake for 15 minutes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sweets for my sweets

There's something about February that gets the sweet tooth going. Maybe it's all the candy and chocolate we've sworn off since January 1. Whatever the reason, I'm sure you've noticed that in terms of Valentine's Day, most of the recipes tend to feature dessert.

And why not? I mean it is a day celebrating love - something very sweet. And if you're like me, you're much more apt to share a dessert with your loved one than you are a nice bowl of pasta.

Then again, maybe you're not a good dessert sharer. I know Thatboy is lucky to be with someone who usually only wants a bite of whatever we share. Thatdad on the other hand, was known to tell Thatmom that she should get her own. He didn't share nicely with others.

If you're not a good sharer, this dessert is for you. Also, inevitably after next week, you're going to wish you hadn't eaten quite so much candy and chocolate because it won't be long before bathing suits start popping up in stores. You're not going to want a giant cheesecake sitting in your fridge. These little cheesecake tarts are great for a single serving. Sweet, small, and gone in an instant. Tell your loved one how important they are to you. Then tell them to get their own.

Cheesecake Tartlettes
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Mix graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 1/4 cup sugar in a bowl. Press into the bottom of tartlette pans. Refrigerate.
2. Combine the cream cheese, remaining sugar, salt, eggs, and vanilla in a bowl of an electric mixture and mix for 5 minutes. Pour into tartlette pans.
3. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Refrigerate overnight before serving.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dressing up the Basics

I go through phases with both yogurt and cottage cheese. Phases where I just can't get enough of them, and phases where they are the last thing I want to eat. It always boils down to texture. During my no-cottage-cheese-phases I also have a hard time stomaching oatmeal.

Right now, I'm not so in to yogurt. Which is a shame, because our fridge is usually nice and stocked. It makes a fabulous breakfast whether eaten at home, in the car, or at my desk.

So what's a girl to do with a fridge full of perishable dairy? Dress it up enough so that it's virtually unrecognizable as yogurt. Chocolate? Fruit? Why, this isn't yogurt - it's a DESSERT!

Layers of chocolate and strawberries (a great way to use up some leftover strawberries from yesterday's salad) sound so decadent, but when it's really **sshhhhhhh**** whispers "yogurt" then you don't have to feel guilty about it. (But of course, if you want to feel guilty, you can always use the leftover wafer cookies to make ice cream sandwiches. Which is obviously what I'm going to do)

Chocolate Strawberry Not-Yogurt
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 chopped banana
crumbled chocolate wafer cookies
2 6 oz cups of strawberry yogurt

1. Place half of yogurt on bottom of each cup.
2. Top yogurt with half of strawberries and all of the bananas.
3. Top with a layer of crumbled cookie.
4. Place remaining yogurt on top of crumbled cookie.
5. Top with remaining strawberries.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Garden of Love

On past Valentines Days I have blogged about creating meals with aphrodisiac ingredients. It seems fitting, right? Well it turns out I'm not the only one. Mele Cotte has been hosting the "Kitchen of Love" for the past 3 years on Valentine's Day, highlighting aphrodisiac foods.

Some foods are just given aphrodisiacs, Melle Cotte lists many of them on her blog. And then there are some foods that are aphrodisiacs particular to a specific person. In the middle of winter, there is something about crisp greens that turns me on like nothing else. Lettuce can have that effect on some people. It has also been known to cause uncontrollable laughter attacks in my family, which is usually a far cry from sexy, so proceed with caution.

There have been some gorgeous salads on the interwebs this past week, and I had to join in. I picked up a bag of mixed greens from the farmers' market. And this is a good time of year for greens. I couldn't find any other colors this week other than some beautiful oranges, which as usual, I am going through in mass quantities. So let's throw some of them on there too. And of course, nothing says Valentine's Day to me quite like lush strawberries. I can't think of a sexier fruit.

Topped with a creamy dressing, could this salad get any more seductive? Yes, just toss some almonds on top. Almonds have been considered a fertility symbol throughout the ages, purported to arouse passion in females.

I know most of you don't consider salad to be your ultimate turn on food, but trust me on this one - a bite of this and you'll never think of salad the same way again!

Valentine's Salad
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 tsp poppy seeds
  • 1 boneless, skinless, chicken breast
  • Mixed greens
  • 1 orange, sliced (if you don't know how to cut an orange, check out branny's tutorial)
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1. Make the dressing. Combine sugar, vinegar, salt, and mustard. Gradually and slowly, pour in the canola oil, whisking to emulsify. Add in the poppy seeds.
2. Grill the chicken, occasionally brushing with a little of the dressing. Slice chicken.
3. Place greens on plate and top with chicken, orange slices, and strawberries.
4. Sprinkle with almonds and top with dressing.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

An advertiser's dream

I'll admit it. Every now and then I get sucked in to television commercials. I don't mean the ones offering pet hair clean up, or egg separators, but the ones for the latest and greatest fast-food item.

The problem is, once one place comes up with an idea, every other fast food franchise comes up with something similar and so you get bombarded with the same idea over and over again.

Right now? Fried chicken. Everyone has a chicken sandwich right now, and they are also advertising their chicken tenders. And while normally I could give or take fried chicken, seeing it on television every 15 minutes and hearing it on every other commercial on the radio makes me think maybe perhaps fried chicken should be put on the menu.

But fried chicken can be a little tricky and time consuming. Definitely a weekend meal. On a weeknight like tonight, especially one in which I am running a gazillion errands after work, I need something quicker - but still fried, obviously.

Nothing cooks as quickly as shrimp, and even though some of you may be sick of shrimp recipes, I had to give in again. Because fried shrimp is JUST as good as fried chicken, and so much easier.

Fried Shrimp
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1 egg white
canola oil
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1. Combine flour, salt, egg white, sugar, 1 Tbsp canola oil and 1/2 cup ice water in a bowl.
2. Heat 3 inches of canola oil in heavy pot or skillet.
3. Dip each shrimp into the batter and drop into the hot oil. Fry for about 1 minute or until golden.