Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Larabars and Baked Ziti (not together though)

Part of eating a healthy diet for me is controlling my hunger, never getting to the point where I am ravenously hungry. As part of the I Diet I added two snacks a day into my meal planning; for this most part this has meant some nuts and a piece of fruit in the morning and some veggies or string cheese in the afternoon, and sometimes yogurt. I'm not quite so regimented with them anymore, but they really do help carry me through the day and stop me from aimlessly munching on junk so I have at least one snack, and sometimes two, each day. Now that it's really embedded in my habits I wanted to find some new ideas.

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a blog called Sometimes I "Veg", a "self-identified flexitarian" food blogger from Southern New Hampshire who writes mostly about Vegan cooking. I'm not vegetarian or vegan, but she has some really great posts and recipes.

Including a couple of recipes for homemade Larabars, which I made over the weekend. Mine didn't come out nearly as pretty as hers but they are quite tasty and super easy to make. I brought the bars into work, and have enjoyed them as my morning snack this week. I've got more cashews, dates, and dried blueberries at home so I can whip up some more.

Homemade Blueberry Larabars
After I finished with the Larabars, I made some baked ziti (seemed like a good comfort choice during a Hurricane turned Tropical Storm). Putting together a quick marinara with plain tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, and a healthy amount of garlic, basil, rosemary, and a dash of hot sauce for some zip.I'm not a huge ricotta fan so I used fresh grated Parmesan and Romano and a pound of fresh mozzarella.
Pretty Things Beer's Jack D'Or
helped make dinner

Look at all that mozzarella. Yum.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Greek Salad with chickpeas

As I said in yesterdays post, my salad yesterday tasted really good. So I thought today I'd share a picture of it (because it's also pretty) and the recipe.

Because my plan for this salad is to make a big bowl and eat it for lunch or with dinner for several days I keep some parts separate so that my lettuce doesn't wilt and the salad stays fresh longer. My roommate insisted awhile back that we have a lettuce spinner, I really didn't believe that it would make a difference but it seriously does help keep the lettuce from wilting when we make big salads like this. She also insists that we keep old glass jars ("in case we need them"), which I am finding to be quiet helpful as I was able to make a batch of the dressing ahead of time and store it in one of those glass jars.

The Salad Part - this part I make in a big bowl
1 head of Romaine lettuce, washed, spun dry, and torn/chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped

The Dressing
8 tablespoons EVOO
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Ground black pepper to taste

Putting It All Together - this part I do either in the morning or right before I'm going to eat the salad
2 cups Salad Mix 
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chickpeas, washed and drained
1.5 tablespoons dressing

Simple, fresh, delicious, and healthy. The chickpeas and feta add not only texture but also protein and fiber to the salad making it so I don't end up hungry soon after eating.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting back on track

Though my weight has mostly maintained this summer (give or take a couple pounds), I've been slipping into many of my old bad habits.

My cravings for salty or sugary foods have been creeping back up more often again because I have been indulging myself more often. While I was on the I Diet I had cut out all of my salty snacks (potato chips, chips & salsa, tortilla chips with hot sauce) and limited my sweet snacks to strawberries dipped in a small amount of high quality chocolate, and I stopped drinking soda. At first I just didn't reintroduce these things again for fear that I wouldn't have any self-control. But as I slowly added them back, I realized that I can control it. I can only drink one can or one glass of soda without then wanting to drink more and more every day. And the same for other snacky foods like ice cream, potato chips, and whatever else I decide to indulge in. However in the last few weeks I've started to revert back to my "If I want it, I will have it" ways; though to my credit I have at the very least been able to control the portions in a way I never have before.

I've also gotten pretty out of whack with my grocery shopping, which means I have found myself without the makings of lunches or dinners and therefore eating out or getting take-out more often than I should. One of the things that the I Diet focused on was limiting the variety of bad foods and increasing the variety of good foods. One of my problems has always been that I am not very good at making the right decisions (grilled rather than fried chicken for example) about food, particularly when eating out. So although I have been doing better than I once did, I still haven't always been making the best decisions as far as my restaurant choices go.

One thing the I Diet taught me was that, for me, eating well isn't hard when I make a meal plan and stick to my grocery shopping schedule. So I'm working on getting back into my schedule, and planning my meals so that when I do decide to eat at a restaurant I won't have to worry quite so much about making the healthiest choice. I think if I can really plan for breakfast, snacks, lunch, and most of my dinners during the week I will feel like I'm back on track.

So for this week, I made sure I have some cereal at home for breakfasts, bought baby carrots and fruit, and made a delicious Greek salad with chickpeas for lunch. I'll have BLTs and pasta with veggies for dinners. I feel confident that I can get back on track (another thing that the I Diet helped with- don't feel guilty, just pick up where you left off and get on track). And I'll be trying to cut back on those extra salty and sugary snacks, like a sugar detox.

My salad was really good at lunch and I'm definitely looking forward to a BLT with some corn on the cob tonight for dinner.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Oh my Banh Mi

Last summer I discovered how delicious Vietnamese Banh Mi are. Working next to Chinatown gave me the opportunity to explore lots of great inexpensive lunch options, the $3 Banh Mi being one of the best finds.

These Vietnamese sandwiches originated with the French colonization in Vietnam and is made on a baguette. The meat of the sandwich can vary; cold cuts, pate, or head cheese being the most common traditional ingredients, as well as chicken, beef, roast or bbq pork, and sometimes tofu. The sandwich also contains pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers, a little soy sauce and mayo.

When I order them I usually get chicken, beef, or pork. The pickled vegetables give the sandwich it's crunch factor as well as a sweet and tangy taste, the cilantro brings a very fresh flavor, while the chili peppers give the sandwich a kick.

So this week for my lunches, I decided to make my own. How hard can it be? Baguette, cold cuts, pickled veggies, cucumber, cilantro, chili's, soy sauce, and mayo. I figured I'd make a slightly modified version of a real Banh Mi. I planned to use a crusty grinder roll, low-sodium turkey and ham, pickled cucumber & red onion, cilantro, a small amount of cole slaw mix seasoned with some soy sauce, mayo, and sirracha sauce.

I decided that I'd make my own pickled veggies and found a recipe on the Whole Foods website that sounded like it would do the trick. It called for rice vinegar, sugar, salt, 2 Thai Bird or Serrano peppers (I could only find habanero's so I used just one), finely chopped ginger, cucumber, red onion. I decided to add some garlic too. The recipe said they'd be ready in several hours. I packed them in a glass far and popped them in the fridge.

They were ok. Mostly they tasted like cucumbers and onions soaked in vinegar with some habanero. The ginger and garlic flavors seemed to be lost and over powered by the pepper. I definitely need to find a better recipe for these.

Now the sandwich itself was pretty successful, minus the fact that on the first day I made it in the morning and it was kind of soggy by the time lunch rolled around. In the future, I'll try a different pickling recipe and add some carrots to the mix. It won't beat going to Chinatown, it won't beat Momogoose (the food truck that parks in Dewey Square 3 days a week), but it'll do. And maybe eventually I'll perfect these delicious sandwiches so that when I don't work right next to Chinatown I can still enjoy them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I am a salsa snob

I have pretty much always loved salsa. When I was in college my friends and I ate tons of it all the time. Sometimes chips and salsa constituted whole meals. I pretty much always bought Tostitos Brand.... that is until I decided a couple summers ago to make my own salsa. It was all over after that. I quickly became a salsa snob. Now it's fresh salsa or bust (ok ok if jarred salsa is offered to me I won't turn it down; but you won't find it in my fridge).

I'm not sure what prompted me to make my own, but the flavors and textures in fresh salsa cannot be touched by any of the jarred salsas out there (believe me, I've since tried many different brands looking for the best salsa).

Fresh salsa is so easy to make, is a great snack, the perfect taco or quesadilla topping, and when put on top of a garden salad makes one of my favorite low-cal dressings. There are a billion and two salsa recipes out there each with their own twists and suggestions for the perfect balance of flavors, but I use a really simple, slightly altered, Betty Crocker recipe combined with my eyes and my taste buds.

  • 3-5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, pressed or chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Serrano or habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped (for medium; more for spicier salsa)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
Placed in a bowl and mixed.

If you happen to have small tomatoes, you might want to add more. If you like it spicier or less spicy, you may want to add more or use less of the hot peppers.
It's such a basic recipe that it can be altered to suit your personal preferences.
*Note: be careful with the Serrano or habanero peppers, and also the jalapenos, as their oils can burn your skin and eyes.

Simple, right? I often make a double batch because we eat this so quickly in my apartment. I do the chopping by hand, but a food processor would do the job too.

In my apartment we've tried a lot of the store bought fresh salsas, some we will buy in a pinch or when we're lazy and some just haven't been very good. Some store bought salsas worth trying: Wholly Salsa is a great brand, their salsa is very addicting but lacks the fresh chunks we like; the Stop & Shop Wild Harvest Brand has nice fresh chunks but lacks some of the pop out flavors in homemade salsa; and Whole Foods in-store made salsa is  good but expensive.

This spring and summer while I have been eating a lot of salads for lunches I've tried to get a little creative so I'm not eating the same tossed salad every week. One of my favorites to date uses fresh salsa as the dressing.

I mix pinto beans with a little bit of EVOO and some taco seasoning. Adding those and fresh salsa to the top of my salad (lettuce, cucumber, onions, celery, tomatoes). It's flavorful, filling, and very fresh.

Hm. Now that I mention that... I think I might just have that this week for my lunches.