Monday, June 4, 2012

I'm baaaaack....

I haven't posted since last November and it's what now, June? Okay, I know. I am a slacker but the holidays came and I had an emergency appendectomy... so many things happened and my little blog took a hit and stayed forlornly on the sidelines. But I found myself needing a recipe today and realized that the only place I had recorded it was here on my blog! I started reading all the back postings. I have come so far since I started recording my progress back in April of 2011.

 I have lost 85 lbs. Yeah. Isn't that fabulous? And I did it all by myself... no more surgeries or fancy diets or buying food weekly from a third party or fads or any other means, just me. Well, just me, my supportive husband, my daughter, my family, my friends and my personal trainer... and me. At the end of it all, it all comes down to ourselves. We are the masters of our own domains!

 It got crazy around here for a while: my husband was working a very weird shift, I was working long hours, our daughter had Taekwondo classes and play dates. There just isn't enough time in one day but things are better now, more normal, so I promise to post more often. I am re-discovering cooking. I haven't lost any significant weight in a month now and I think it is because I am straying too far from my mission: eat less processed food and more vegetables. More recipes will be posted... and on that note...

 I am going to post a recipe that includes some processed items!

 There is a method to my madness (sort of, I think). This meal is easy, easy and easily modified to satisfy both the low-carb eater (me) and the eaters of carbs (my family). It is also fast. Many times I'll use the slow cooker but if I don't get around to starting something early, I have to start it late which means I need something that cooks up quickly. We love Mexican-ish food around here so I made this recipe up, modified from a recipe of my sister, Chris. Her recipe uses pork, it is all made from scratch and takes hours. Mine used chicken, uses some processed ingredients and takes 45 minutes in total.

 Chicken Salsa Verde Tacos (or Salad)

 Serves 4

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts - cut into 1" chunks
1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
1 14 oz. can green enchilada sauce
1 8oz. can whole tomatillos
Taco sized flour or corn tortillas
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Pickled jalapenos
Shredded cheddar
Low-fat sour cream

 Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, spray with cooking spray. Saute the chicken chunks (lightly salted) until the chunks get brown on the edges. Set aside.

 Add a little more cooking spray to the hot pan. Add the chopped onion and saute until they, too, are getting just a tiny bit brown. Add the garlic and toss around for 30 seconds.

 Pour in the enchilada sauce. Open the can of tomatillos and using your hands, squish them one at a time into the sauce mixture. Stir well to combine. Add the chicken back to the pan. Stir. Turn the heat down to medium low and simmer about 20 minutes until the chicken is nicely flavored and the sauce has thickened.

For those eating tacos, wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave them for about 25 seconds. Place chicken chunks and a little sauce in each tortilla and some condiments, like lettuce, sour cream and or jalapenos. For those eating a salad, spread the lettuce or cabbage on a large plate. Spoon over the chicken and sauce then add the condiments to your taste.  Serve.


 Fast and easy and for the salad people, very low-carb.

 I'm satisfied. I'm also back. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving thanks...

I know, it has been a whole month but I've been busy, man. Life has a way of intruding into my blogging. What with my daughter's Taekwondo and my tri-weekly workouts, I am a busy gal.

My exercise is going great! I still feel like I am going to die after every workout but it is a kinder, gentler death. I tried a boot camp class and a cardio boxing class, too. The boot camp class is more my style but it was fun trying something different. As I get into better shape perhaps the boxing class will appeal to me more.

Anyway, this past weekend was Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving, it is my top favorite holiday. The extreme commercialism has not yet affected it so it is just filled with the best stuff... family, friends, football and food.

The most difficult thing I struggle with is portion control. Everything looks and smells so good I just want to pile heaping mounds onto my plate. Well, that is my downfall at almost every meal. This year was different. I allowed myself to have a little of everything... the operative term being a LITTLE, like, a heaping tablespoon and that's it. I was amazed at how full and satisfied I was but not so that I wished I wasn't wearing pants.

Another way to combat the bursting pants is to modify recipes slightly in order to make them more healthy and less fat/calorie/carb laden. I made the cranberry sauce with maple syrup instead of refined sugar. Maple syrup is lower in calories than refined, white sugar and maple syrup is filled with antioxidents. I also made apple sauce using Stevia instead of sugar. Stevia is a natural product (unlike Splenda), has no carbs or calories and tastes every bit as good as more conventional sweetners.

And this year, I made the sweet potatoes. Back in the cloudy depths of my childhood lingers the memory of butter laden sweet potatoes covered by a thick layer of slightly scorched marshmallows. Those sweet potatoes need to stay in the past. The new, NEW sweet potato is wearing a much better outfit. With the sweet potato's natural sweetness, no added sugar or anything is needed, if anything, the sweetness needs to be toned down a tad with something salty. Without further ado, these are the sweet potatoes I contributed to our family dinner.

Thanksgiving Sweet Potatoes
Serves 8-10

4 large yellow/white fleshed sweet potatoes
4 large garnet/red fleshed sweet potatoes
1 TB dried Italian herb mix (rosemary, oregano, thyme, marjoram)
2 TB finely chopped fresh herbs
2 TB olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
6 oz pancetta (cured but unsmoked Italian bacon)

Preheat the oven to 350F, placing the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the overn. Line 2 half-sheet trays with parchment paper. Peel the potatoes and chop into 3/4" chunks and put into a big bowl. Pour the olive oil over the potatoes and mix until the oil is evenly distributed. Sprinkle on the herbs and salt and pepper. Mix again until the herbs and spices are well distributed. Divide the potatoes evenly between the 2 sheet pans.

Chop the pancetta into 1/2" chunks then sprinkle the chunks over the two sheet pans with the potatoes.

Roast the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes. Take the pans out of the oven and toss the potatoes. Place the pans back into the oven having switched their places (top to bottom and vice-versa). Roast another 10 minutes, toss potatoes. Roast a final 10 minutes then remove the pans from the oven.

The potatoes can be served immediately or they can be cooled, transfered to a 9x13" pan, covered and chilled. If you chill them, to serve, let them come to room temperature then put them back into a 350F oven, uncovered for 20 minutes until the potatoes are heated through.

The saltiness of the pancetta helps to even out the sweetness of the roasted potatoes. Everyone at our house pronounced them delicious. Who needs marshmallows?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Of sweating and slow cookers...

Since my last post I have been too sore to type. I have visited my personal trainer twice now. I hate him exponentially more every time so that by the time this 3 month session is up, I should be looking in the Yellow Pages for contract killers. I jest! Sort of.

Anyway, my new exercise regimen poses an unforseen problem. I work out twice a week and it has to be in the late afternoon. Twice a week, I take my daughter to Taekwondo class. So, there are a few days in there when I get home too late to fix a proper dinner. Enter the slow cooker.

I have always been a slow cooker fan. I make pork with salsa verde, chili and short ribs in mine. I do corned beef and cabbage. Delicious! However, since I will be using my slow cooker a lot more often I need to branch out. Me and my friend, the internet, have been searching for interesting and innovative recipes that I can tweak for my low carb life. One of my favorite sites is this:

A Year of Slow Cooking

Stephanie O'Dea essentially made something in her slow cooker every day for a year (and then some). Her recipes are almost tailor made for the low carb lifestyle as she is gluten intolerant. She has to be very careful about wheat or other gluten containing ingredients. The only problem is that she is not sugar intolerant so some of her recipes have to be tweaked a little.

Today's recipe is Chinese Lemon Chicken. Her original recipe is here:
Chinese Lemon Chicken

Her recipe is slightly problematic for me as one of the main ingredients is a half can of thawed lemonade frozen concentrate. Unfortunately, just that half can is 103 carbs. The recipe also calls for sugar. The recipe I came up with after fiddling around with it is pretty tasty. It is more sour than sweet but I like it that way... my husband likes it better that way, too. By making my substitutions I took it from approximately 48 carbs per serving to 12.75 carbs per serving. Of course, to beef it up (enhance it), add vitamins and more flavor I chopped up some vegetables which will add a few carbs but all in all, I am very pleased with the results. You can serve it over cauliflower rice.

Slow Cooker Citrus Chicken
Serves 4-6

6 chicken thighs; boneless/skinless/trimmed of excess fat
1/4 cup flour
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup orange juice, no extra sugar added
Juice of 2 lemons
1 TB balsamic vinegar
3 TB ketchup (or low-sugar ketchup)
1 onion, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into strips
3 celery stalks, sliced into half moons
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" coins
Olive oil for browning chicken

Cut the chicken thighs into large-ish bite sized chunks. Put the flour and the salt into a large zip-top bag. Dump the chicken into the bag and shake until the chicken bits are coated. (This step is optional. I use it because maybe only an 1/8 of a cup ends up on the actual chicken and it thickens the sauce). Heat a large, non-stick saute pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add 2 tsp of olive oil and swirl, coating the bottom. Using a large, slotted spoon, lift the chicken from the bag, shaking off the excess and drop the chicken chunks into the hot oil. Don't necessarily cook the chicken all the way, just give it a little color and get the flour to stick to it. Dump the browned chicken into the bowl of your slow cooker. Add the cut vegetables and stir to incorporate.

Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Pour it over the chicken in the slow cooker. Don't worry if it doesn't seem like a lot of liquid. There will be plenty of liquid by the time you are done.

Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-7 hours.

It tasted very much like the lemon chicken you'd get in a Chinese-American restaurant... without hardly any of the fat or MSG or CARBS!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Going over to the dark side...

I have always loathed exercise in almost any form. There, I said it. It is now out there in the cosmos just floating around waiting for anyone to absorb it. Today, I go over to the dark side... to exercise.

I have finally come to the realization that just losing weight is not enough. And anyway, weight is not the primary consideration here. Health is my prime focus. There are so many things I want to do, besides just fitting into smaller pants. I want to go hiking... I want to be able to walk around New York City all day noticing everything but not obsessing over my aching back and feet. It is not just about building muscles but strengthening my core. I am tired of muscle spasms.

So today, I go in for my first personal training session. Its pricey but it is important that I learn to do this right. I signed up for 3 months, mano a womano, 2 times a week. I am looking forward to lots of ibuprofen and sore muscles... but also a sense of satisfaction. I am going to stick this out. I am going to show my daughter that fitness is something better accomplished early but I won't let a little thing like age stop me.

And better late than never... wish me luck!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fall has fell...

Yay!  I don't need to pretend any more!  Fall is here!  Living where I do (Tacoma/Seattle area) many years we need to pretend it is summer.  We gamely wear our shorts and shortsleeved shirts while secretly freezing and wishing we could put on a purple and gold Husky Sweatshirt (University of Washington, for the uninitiated).  We bear the rain and use the grill while someone holds up a golf unbrella.  But it is September now so I don't need to tell myself it is warm enough to wear my capri pants.  I can hide my flabby arms under long sleeves.  Yay!

And with fall comes my favorite time of year to cook.  The fall vegetables are in, like squashes of every kind and the end of the corn season.  Eggplants and tomatoes and zucchini and garlic... oh yes.  I can make soups and stews and cook them a long time in my slow cooker.  My idea of fall food is spicy and warm, filling and satisfying.

My first instinct is to serve a lot of these stews and fricasees and whatnot over rice.  I always like to have something to soak up all the good juices.  Bread is important, too, excellent for dipping and sopping up extra sauce.  So I am in a quandry.  I eat neither rice nor bread.  I took a bunch of different ideas and devised my own recipe for short ribs which develops an amazing sauce.  Do I serve it in a bowl or just let the juice spread out all over the plate?  Do I lift the plate and slurp it that way?  No, it would end up all down the front of me, not to mention, it would be a terrible example for my daughter.  What to do?

I was saved by my sister.  We were talking about that very thing last weekend.  She has gone on a Paleo type eating regimen that disallows most carbs and dairy so she is in the same boat.  She found a recipe for "cauliflower rice."  Basically, you chop up cauliflower really fine then saute it in a pan with a little olive oil.  It is a blank canvas.  You could add all kinds of flavors: sesame oil for Asian, curry powder, parmesan cheese.  It could be a foil for all your stew or braise type recipes.  My daughter sucked it up without any prompting (amazing) but my husband was freaked out by the texture.  That's okay though... more for us!

Short Ribs
Serves 4

2.5 lbs short ribs (not flanken cut)
Olive oil
Olive oil spray
1 large onion, chopped into 1" chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled
3 TB red wine vinegar
1 cup dry, red wine
1 14oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
Cauliflower "Rice"

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a tsp or two of olive oil in a oven-proof dutch oven over medium high heat.  Sear all 3 meat sides of the short ribs until they are crusty and brown.  Remove the ribs to a plate.  Pour off all the fat from the dutch oven, leaving nothing but some brown bits in the bottom.  Spray some olive oil spray onto the bottom to grease it up just a little bit before dumping in the chopped onion.  Toss those around until they turn translucent.  Dump in the carrots, garlic and herbs.  Continue to toss them around until the carrots are just barely starting to soften and the brown bits have come up off the bottom of the pan.

Pour in the vinegar.  Toss around until all the vegetables are covered and the vinegar is almost evaporated.  Pour in the red wine.  Simmer for 5 minutes until the wine reduces a little  Pour in the tomatoes, incorporating all the ingredients.  Put the short ribs and accumulated juices back into the dutch oven.  Cover and place in the oven.  Check it after 2 hours.  The meat should be meltingly tender and falling off the bones.

This part is optional.  I made the short ribs early in the day.  After it was done in the oven I left it to cool.  After it got to almost room temperature, I lifted the meat and vegetables into a bowl, covered and refrigerated it.  I poured the sauce into a separate bowl and refrigerated that, too.  Before reheating, I was able to lift the fat from the top of the sauce, as short ribs are pretty fatty.  I find it hard to lift the fat off when it is still hot.  If you are worried about extra fat, you might consider this method.

Serve over cauliflower "rice."

Caufiflower Rice
Recipe from Paleo Plan
Serves 4 (I also used half the oil than in the original recipe)

1 head cauliflower
1 Tbs coconut or olive oil
Sea salt, garlic, ginger, coconut aminos, curry, garlic or freshly ground black pepper(optional seasonings)

Place the cauliflower into a food processor and pulse until it has a grainy rice-like consistency. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Saute the cauliflower in a medium hot saute pan with oil and any additional seasonings desired (sea salt, garlic, ginger, coconut aminos, curry, or just freshly ground black pepper).

Couldn't be easier, more delicious or make a better base for my fall food!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mama Moira's Kitchen...

Just to set the record straight, like it matters, is that I am neither Italian nor Jewish. I must admit, I steal from their heritage kitchens all the time.

There is nothing more therapeutic than a good chicken soup. One of these days, when I can consider eating even a modest amount of carbs again, I would like to learn to make matzo balls. There is something so soulful about the combination of a rich chicken stock combined with bits of chicken and sauteed vegetables. I also love, love Italian food. Pasta is right out for me, of course, but I can still enjoy that mind numbing joy of tomatoes, garlic, onions, fennel combined in a slowly simmered sauce... Huh? Oh wait. Where was I?

When I was in the airport in Atlanta not long ago I bought a mess of cooking magazines (including one of my top favorites, Saveur) to read on the plane. Since we are all poor during this recession I hardly ever buy cooking magazines any more (even though I used to be addicted and had subscriptions to at least three of them). I can look at them online but it isn't the same. I love the glossy pages and lovely, professional pictures of foods I will most likely never make.

Some of my favorite recipes are for foods with which I am not familiar; like, I love the recipes for Italian Christmas Eve dinner with all the myriad seafood dishes but the one that caught my eye this time was the recipes for Sukkot, the Jewish holiday of celebration and thanksgiving. The recipe in Saveur calls for some traditional ingredients like raisins and honey, rice... and a couple of other things I can't have because a) I am a low carb kind of girl and b) if I put fruit in a meat dish I think my husband might divorce me. I compromised by making it more Sephardic (which for me is just a fancy way of saying I substituted a bunch of ingredients to make it more Italian and less fruity). My kitchen is now filled with intoxicating scents and I am about to float away on them.

Holishkes (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ala Cathy)
Based on a recipe found in Saveur
Serves 4

1 large head of cabbage, cored
Olive oil
2 small onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 TB fennel seed
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup red chard, sliced into thin ribbons then chopped crosswise
1 32oz can pureed tomatoes
1 lb ground lean ground chuck (or ground lamb would be delicious, too)
3 TB beef stock
1/3 cup shredded carrots
1 tsp paprika or smoked paprika (my personal favorite)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper

Bring a large, deep pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, add the head of cabbage using a giant fork and cook, pulling off each leaf as it cook with some tongs, about 2 minutes per leaf until you get 9-10 leaves. Let drain and cool on some paper towels.

Heat a tsp or two of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add onions and celery. Saute but do not caramelize. Add the fennel seeds, garlic, chard and the pepper flakes. Continue to saute until both the onions and celery are translucent and your kitchen is fragrant. Add the tomato paste and stir until incorporated. Add the tomato puree. Stir then simmer until the sauce starts to reduce, thicken and again become very fragrant, about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ground beef, beef stock, carrots, paprika, egg and salt and pepper. Don't over-mix or the stuffing will be tough. Lightly stir using only your fingertips until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Lay out your cabbage leaves like little green dishes. Divide the filling between all the leaves. Fold the leaves up one by one by folding in the sides, then rolling the other way into a tidy ball. Place the rolls into an 8"x8" (or 9"x9") baking dish that you've sprayed with non-stick spray. Once all the rolls are in there, cover with the tomato sauce. Bake until the filling is cooked through, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

If you don't care much about being Kosher, you could sprinkle the top with feta cheese or Parmesan as an added touch. I don't use cheese as there is so much flavor already I don't think it needs it.

Mazel tov, amore!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vegetables on the brain...

I have vegetables on the brain. It's weird... since starting this low-carb lifestyle I have learned to love and even crave vegetables. I eat them all the time. I saute them in the morning and add eggs to make a frittata, I pile them in a bowl with protein of some sort to make a salad for lunch. I was never a big vegetable girl but now I just can't seem to get enough.

I made Costco salmon patties for dinner last night. Mmm, they are so easy and delicious and they don’t have a lot of crap in them besides salmon. I was trying to think of what I should serve with them. I am bored with zucchini and asparagus right now. I wanted something different.

I usually put low-sodium soy sauce on my salmon patties which gave me an idea. I made something up on the fly and it ended up tasting like spring roll innards or something. Delicious. Both my husband AND my daughter ate it up, yum.

There are usually bags of shredded vegetables that I get at the grocery store in my refrigerator. They come in very handy for my lunch salads. If you get the vegetables pre-shredded this dish is a snap.

Spring Rolls without the Roll

½ tsp sesame oil
1 big handful of shredded cabbage
1 big handful of shredded broccoli slaw mix
1 big handful of shredded carrot
½ large onion, slivered
Low-sodium soy sauce
Toasted sesame seeds

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Throw in all the vegetables. Boil for 3-5 minutes then drain really well. Heat a non-stick pan coated with olive oil spray over medium high heat. Add sesame oil and roll it around to get good coverage. Once the pan is good and hot, throw in the drained vegetables. Stir fry until heated through. Splash with soy sauce to taste and sprinkle on sesame seeds. Toss around another minute then serve.

My daughter actually told me it was delicious and ate every bit I gave her without argument.

A miracle.