Monthly Archives: February 2012

Learning to Love Salmon and Other Foods

There was a time in my life when I was an extremely picky eater. Until college, I ate mostly plain beige foods favoring mashed potatoes and gravy, pierogis, dumplings, bread and chicken. I wouldn’t touch a salad and if I ordered fajitas at a restaurant I’d only eat the meat and tortillas, pushing the colorful bell peppers and onions aside. I was a self proclaimed meat and potatoes kind of gal. After all, growing up in a Polish family that is what we ate.

This self image slowly began to unravel as I entered college. Unlike most college experiences which entail massive amounts of fast food, fried foods, pizza and beer, my experience was much different. I’d go out to lunch or dinner with friends and they’d choose ethnic restaurants or trendy little spots in the city with limited menus. I was outside of my comfort zone of beige foods. This coupled with my newfound passion of cooking (and landing a job at a new startup dot com – an ethnic food website) forced me to change my way of thinking.

I no longer liked going to restaurants and making special requests to exclude certain ingredients and didn’t like being invited to someone’s home for a meal and worrying that they might be putting onions (or other dreaded ingredients) in a dish. Yes, onions!

In an effort to push my culinary boundaries, to conquer my hatred for onions, green vegetables, fish and a laundry list of other ingredients, I started to force myself to eat those foods.

Something interesting happend, it worked! Sometimes it took a half dozen tries, but eventually I not only tolerated foods that I previously despised, but I LOVED them. Genuinely, 100% learned to love these foods. They became my new favorite foods and the bland, beige things that I enjoyed my whole life no longer seemed flavorful or interesting. It was amazing. I found such joy in food.

Greek Salad

Now I love salad, especially ones with lots of veggies and onions like the one above! Mr. Nine made a wonderful dinner this weekend, pairing two America’s Test Kitchen recipes. First was the Greek Salad. Perfect blend of flavors, and so colorful!

The second dish that he made was Cedar-Plank Salmon.

Cedar Plank Salmon

The whole house smelled like cedar! The cook time and temp was perfect!

Cedar Plank Salmon and Greek Salad

This meal was extra meaningful for me because it reiterated that we can change our mindset when it comes to food, and anything for that matter.

You see, although by now I have overcome almost all of my food aversions, a few always remained – salmon, oysters, caviar, liver, celery and blue cheese. Oysters, caviar and liver were easy to avoid as I don’t encounter these everyday. Celery is in a lot of dishes and although I don’t enjoy it (yet), it is tolerable. The other foods – blue cheese and salmon.

Luckily, Mr. Nine, who is not a picky eater at all has always shared my anti-salmon and anti-blue cheese sentiments. Until now.

All of this changed a few months ago when a friend invited me over for lunch and made this beautiful spread featuring Clean Eating’s Salmon Melts. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that salmon was on my small list of foods I won’t eat, so I ate it. The first few bites were rough, I’m not going to lie. Then my taste buds started to change over the course of the meal and a funny thing happened on that unseasonably warm, late fall afternoon. I learned to like salmon!

Since then I have been trying salmon more and more to get myself in the mindset to learn to go from mildly liking it to loving it. I’ve been experimenting with a few salmon recipes here and there and also ordering it at restaurants. As as result, Mr. Nine has been exposed to more salmon than he originally cared to, but now he is starting to like it as well. In fact, it was his idea to cook this cedar-plank salmon. We both enjoyed this meal very much.

I found an article by Daryo Pino, and I’d like to share a few of her points.

“…in reality, what joy is there in being a picky eater? …dedicating yourself to keep trying the rejected food until you find it prepared in a way you like.”

I believe this is very true. I dedicated myself to trying many rejected foods and learned to like them.

“Even if a certain food doesn’t end up on your favorites list, learning to at least enjoy it in a casual way will enrich your life and help you develop an appreciation for new and unique experiences.”

Again, this is important. Learning to enjoy foods WILL enrich your life. It changes more than your grocery list, it changes your viewpoint of things that go beyond food.

You can read her whole article here.

They say that kids need to try new food items 5-10 times before they learn to like it and I believe the same holds true for adults. In my case, some things have taken well over 10 times. 🙂

Are you (or were you) a picky eater? Have you tried to overcome it? Are there any foods that you love now that you hated before?

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Categories: Food | 8 Comments

Double Fit: LiveFit Turkey Muffins and FitMixer Amino

Double Fit, as in LiveFit and FitMixer!

First things first, I made another batch of LiveFit Turkey Muffins.

LiveFit Turkey Muffins

Ingredients: ground turkey, oats, onions, egg whites & spices (I left out the celery).

LiveFit Turkey Muffins Raw

In the raw, ready to go into a preheated 375°F oven. Just like mini meatloaf muffins, only a bit healthier.

LiveFit Turkey Muffins Cooked

Brought along a few for today’s lunch at work. I added some different spices this time, and while better, they are still missing something. Perhaps these would taste better drizzled with a little marinara sauce as they are a little very much bland for my palette. I also intended to add some spinach and red bell pepper in the mixture for color, but forgot.

I’m definitely going to use a sauce for the remainder 10 of these, for the very least to add some color.

Yesterday morning was Day 16 of the LiveFit Trainer plan, back & biceps, and today my arms are so sore that I feel my biceps when lifting my morning coffee mug! Wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Now that I am half-way through the first phase, the weight increases with less reps per set (from 12 reps down to 10). I like that I’m lifting more weight, and lifting with confidence, and can definitely feel the change.

In some ways I like the post-lifting soreness as it is a reminder of my efforts at the gym and thus keeps me on track, avoiding office junk food. However, working out back-to-back days, it is important to make sure your muscles have recovered. As a way to help speed up recovery, I started taking fitmixer amino.

FitMixer Amino

From the fitmixer website:

“fitmixer® amino™ supports you before, during, and after physical activity to help prepare, push, and repair your body no matter what your fitness level. The unique blend in fitmixer® amino™ fuels your body with the essential nutrients it needs to give you energy, support you during your workout, and achieve your fitness goals. Whether your goal is increased energy, muscle tone, strength, or endurance, fitmixer® amino™ is right for you.*fitmixer® amino™ uses Tri-Flow™, a patent-pending blend of ingredients university tested and clinically shown** to increase nitric oxide 300% more than leading fitness products.* Increased nitric oxide may have a variety of benefits including increased oxygen delivery throughout the body to reduce fatigue and improve muscle recovery.*”

My initial thoughts – this is Kool-Aid for grown-ups! I got the fruit punch flavor which was actually really tasty. It mixed easily in my BlenderBottle with no grittiness. fitmixer also sent me samples of their grape flavor, which was good, but I favor fruit punch.

I also loved their packaging design.

The thing I didn’t like about this product was, just like Kool-Aid, they use artificial dye Red #40 which can stain hands (a minor annoyance) to more serious issues such as being is linked to hyperactivity in children among other things. I’d prefer this product to be clear, or maybe just a light color (similar to Nuun). I don’t need my drink to be bright red just because it is flavored fruit punch. 😦

FitMixer Amino Mixed

I’ve been using this for almost two weeks and I cannot say that I notice any of the claimed changes. I’ve tried it before, during and after as they suggest, and have also tried it just after and just before workouts to see if there is a difference. I don’t feel that I am getting any increased energy or endurance.

As for muscle recovery? There is a slight benefit, but not as much as I was expecting. To be fair I’ve never tried a product like this one before, so I have nothing to compare it to.

fitmixer says that their product is “university tested”, but I do not have the data of their testing to know what variables were considered. It appears to be a fairly new product on the market.

Since this product tastes good, I’ll continue to take it and finish off the rest of the container, but may not purchase again if I don’t feel enough of a benefit. Instead, I’d like to try branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) for use as a post-workout recovery supplement, or just skip BCAAs altogether. Just like with all vitamins and supplements, it is hard to gauge if they really do anything for you or if it is just a placebo effect. Yes, I am very much a skeptic when it comes to vitamins or drugs. Belief is a powerful medicine, and the mind has an incredible impact on the body. In the end I just go with my gut instinct and the way my body feels.

Have you ever tried fitmixer or a BCAA supplement? Did it work for you? What do you do to speed up muscle recovery or to reduce soreness?

Categories: Fitness, Nutrition | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Weekend Away

Just got in from a busy, but super fun, little weekend getaway.

Before we embarked on our road trip to fun, we had appointments for an annual health event.

Health Event

The night before, we fasted for 12 hours for an accurate fasting blood draw. They checked blood glucose, LDL & HDL cholesterol & triglycerides. Blood pressure, weight, height, BMI & waist measurements are also checked at this event.

The latter info I can easily get on my own, but it is nice to have the cholesterol and blood glucose checked, as my regular doctor will not request those tests for me. I asked him before, but because I am under 40 (or was it 45?) and am healthy, show no signs of any illness, there is no need to test in his opinion. This may be true, but I still want to stay on top of my numbers to make sure they are good and keep them that way. It is silly to wait for there to be a problem and then get tested! Since this is a free event and only takes 30 minutes of my time, it is worth it to be proactive and take my health into my own hands. I’m not sure if they have these free health events in other cities, but it is definitely worth checking.

Numbers Event

My weight and BMI stayed the same, my blood pressure was slightly higher than last time but still well within the optimal range (less than 120/80 is optimal). I’ve always had low blood pressure, so I expected it to still be good.

The waist measurement came up at 2″ more than last time! It was still in the good range (over 35″ for women is a problem, 40″ for men) but was odd that there was that big of a difference, especially since I weigh the same. It could have been possible measurement error (not measuring in the exact same spot as last year) or I have been feeling a little bloated this week. She told me not to worry, that women’s bodies fluctuate and change with hormones and other things and that it was in a good range. Still, two inches?!

She also told me that they measure the waist by the traditional way, keeping your belly relaxed and not holding it in. She said that Dr. Oz has this new way of testing where you suck your belly in!

From Dr. Oz:

“Measure at your natural waistline, which is above your hipbone and below the ribcage – not where your belt lies or around your hips. Be mindful of your posture and suck in your stomach since the fat you’re measuring is deep inside the belly.”

I had never heard of this before, but I opted to do the non-sucked in version. She said a lot of other people coming through the event were sucking in, but whatever.

Waiting on the blood test results to find out the other numbers so I can fill in my card!

After our health clinic, we broke the fast with a quick breakfast at Panera. I mentioned this Egg White Sandwich in a post a few weeks back and remembered to take a picture this time.

Panera Egg White Breakfast Sandwich

It was still as good as I remembered, fresh baby spinach, and they gave a good amount of roasted tomatoes this time, maybe they listened to my last post. 😉 My gritty, ground-filled coffee was another story.

Then Mr. Nine and I hit the road for Mad City. We had a great lunch, a little shopping and then went to the Chazen Museum of Art. Wow, what a fantastic place! We put 2 hours on the meter and spent the entire duration there. 4 floors divided between two sides, and an impressive collection of art, all to view for free! There were so many highlights it would be enough to fill an entire blog post.

Faculty Exhibit

After the museum, we walked along Lake Mendota, made some other stops, checked into our hotel and then went to dinner. It was packed and service was uncomfortably slow, even for being busy. A guy sat down next to us and said service for “the rest of us” was bad because Barry was there. Barry? He looked stunned that we didn’t know who Barry was. “He was standing right next to you!” he exclaimed, “Barry Alvarez, local sports celebrity, blah, blah, blah!” (replace “blah” with sports stats I don’t know anything about).

I don’t watch football. I just wanted my steak and wine in a timely manner, but apparently the presence of the famed Barry took all the attention of the servers as they were making sure he was treated to perfection. Luckily dinner was FANTASTIC, or else I would have been more annoyed. I would have taken a photo of my meal, but it was insanely dark in the restaurant that the photo would have turned out grainy from the lowlight (and would require a very steady hand for the slow exposure, one I would not have had after wine) or have been a hideous photo taken with flash which would not have done the food justice. Besides, people would wonder why I was taking photos of food and not the famous Barry.

We had another glass of wine someplace else (someplace without any sports celebrities and within walking distance of our hotel, just to be safe and not drive) and then called it a night.

Sunday we slept in (hooray!) and started the day sharing an almond croissant and sipping on coffee.

Sunday at Barriques

Wow, that croissant went fast!

Next up was a little shopping, then brunch at Sardine. I’ve been wanting to go to Sardine for awhile, and it was worth the wait! I love the ambiance, white painted brick walls, high ceilings, beams, a view of the lake. Overall very charming, yet sophisticated.

Sardine Brunch

I had the crab, bacon and rock shrimp cakes with chipolte beurre blanc, poached eggs, and mixed greens salad with corn, green beans, and tomatoes.

Crab, Bacon & Shrimp Cakes

It was good, but I am not huge on crab cakes that have been breaded on the outside, I prefer the breading to be more intermixed, so you can see the crab and have it flake/fall apart. A crispy crust of fried panko keeps the fillings intact, but is not nearly as good. Mr. Nine had the steamed mussels.

Steamed Mussels

I really liked his muscles, I mean mussels. 🙂 The bread was perfect to soak up the broth. Indulgent. Sardine, we must meet again.

Brunch was followed by bike shop perusing, lakeside walking and architecture exploring. The lake was frozen and there were ice fishers, dog walkers & cyclists making their way across the frozen blindingly white surface.

Danger

Cyclists On Ice

Shoreline

Although the lake was frozen, it was actually very warm outside. We didn’t even need our coats!

Of course no visit to Madison is complete without picking up some bagels. They had the perfect base for our bagel pizzas tonight.

Pizza Bagels

It was a quick, easy and tasty dinner while we unpacked and unwound. Still unwinding as I type, reflecting on everything, way more than I could wrap up into a single blog post. Although the past few days were not a true vacation, this little getaway filled with food, art, nature and fun was the perfect way to spend a weekend.

Do you go on short day trips or staycations? What is your favorite local place to visit? Have you had your cholesterol and blood glucose tested before?

Categories: Food, Health, Travels | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

A Nostalgic Granola Day Off

Today was the start of a much anticipated 4-day weekend. It is such a good feeling to know that you have an extra long weekend to do things that you normally would not have time to squeeze into the standard 2 days.

I’ve been wanting to make granola bars for awhile now, and finally got a chance to make a batch. While I want to blend my own recipes, I am no expert at granola bar baking and decided it would be better to follow a recipe the first few times to get a hang of the dry vs. wet ratio. The first one I decided to try was Pastry Affair‘s Pumpkin Chocolate Granola Bars. I chose this one because I had most of the ingredients here, and although it is February, I am still hanging onto those autumn pumpkin flavors. 🙂

Pumpkin Chocolate Granola Bars

These granola bars have no butter or oil, which makes them a bit healthier. I really liked these bars! They were not too sweet, and I enjoyed the mixture of flavors. I’d definitely make these again, simply delicious.

We all know that the best way to enjoy granola bars is on a hike! I met up with my Mom this morning and while we didn’t go for a “hike”, we went for a nice walk in the park, doing a little over 3 miles.

The clouds gave way to beautiful clear blue skies.

Bird Nest

This little nest hung on all winter, despite being low to the ground and out in the open prairie. Possibly from a red-winged blackbird?

In my corner of the world, mother nature has not given us much snow this winter, leaving the earth naked. Can you spy another nest in this photo?

Bare Trees

Now is the awkward, in-between stage where the earth sheds her winter coat of white, but is not quite ready for the arrival of the emerald green that spring brings. Warm, 50 degree temperatures have melted any ice and now everything is soggy and muddy, perfumed with a soft scent of late winter decay. I like this phase of life, although not as robust and blooming as spring, this is the time of anticipation. It is in this moment that we reflect on the winter and look forward to the new growth of spring, both in nature and within ourselves.

Apartment

After our walk, we had a great lunch and explored our old neighborhood. It has been over 20 years since I’ve lived out there, but not much has changed. We even drove by our old apartment. The upstairs corner window was once my window to the world when I still played make believe. Back then, that room had green shag carpet which was perfect for a 6-year old. I pretended the thick green shag was grass, and everyday was a picnic or a campout. Although this was a drive-by photo op, a quick snap so nobody would think I was a weirdo taking a picture of their house, I was happy that a subtle lens flare developed right above my old window.

On our trip down memory lane, we went from healthy homemade granola bars to this.

Donuts

We had to stop at the old 24/7 donut shop, which hasn’t changed one bit. These donuts are not the kind of donut that I would rant and rave about, they hover right around being average. The reason I love these so much is that they remind me of being a kid – a familiar, friendly box filled with half a dozen memories. We all have memories tied to various food, usually the unhealthy kind, and this is one of those things. We stopped for a box, a box I will most likely not see again for maybe another decade, and knowing that is okay. I think if I had these any more often they would lose their specialness, and they would become just the average donuts that they are.

Do you have special foods tied to your childhood?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Sweet Arsenic

Today the news is buzzing with concerns that brown rice syrup, even the organic varieties, are tainted with what they are calling significantly high levels of arsenic. The study, “Arsenic, Organic Foods, and Brown Rice Syrup” was released in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This study by Brian P. Jackson, Vivien F. Taylor, Margaret R. Karagas, Tracy Punshon & Kathryn L. Cottingham was submitted last October and published online today. This is a concern for many Moms because brown rice syrup is an ingredient in some infant formula. Not a Mom or Dad? Don’t think this affects you? Think again.

Organic brown rice syrup is also an ingredient that many use in baking, including myself. This sticky-sweet “all natural” ingredient, available at health food stores like Whole Foods, is used to sweeten baked goods including granola bars and nut butter bites. Just take a look at any of the so-called healthy living blogs (HLBs) out there, and you’ll probably see a recipe or two with brown rice syrup listed as an ingredient.

Not limited to just homemade baked goodies, it is a popular ingredient in many natural granola bars, fruit & nut bars, energy bars, breakfast bars and rice milk. If you buy any gluten-free packaged goods, chances are brown rice syrup is in it.

Being a runner, when reading the recent news stories, Clif Shot Bloks immediately come to mind. Organic brown rice syrup is the first ingredient in these and many other energy gels. For the last few years I’ve enjoyed my share of these chewy, gummy blocks (or “bloks” as they call them). Margarita is my flavor of choice, the one that has enough salt and sour to make your mouth pucker just a bit. Knowing that these little bites of fuel that I take while running, an activity to be healthy, may not be healthy is unfortunate. To be fair to Clif Bar & Company, the article does not state which of the brands they tested had arsenic in them. To quote ABC News:

“Jackson and his colleagues also reported elevated arsenic levels in some brown rice-sweetened cereal bars, energy bars and energy “shots” consumed by endurance athletes, according to a study published today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.”

Several brands make energy “shots” so it could be any company, I mention Clif because that is a product that I consume, am familiar with and I know that it does contain organic brown rice syrup.

Although the results of this study are alarming, it comes as no surprise due to recent findings on arsenic in rice (and apple juice). And with more and more people developing (or being diagnosed with) an intolerance to gluten, they are turning to products made with rice in the form of rice flour or rice syrup. The increase of gluten-free, rice-based products on the market are even appealing to those who do not have a gluten intolerance, and we as Americans are consuming more and more of these products.

From the Chicago Tribune:

“The researchers studied 29 cereal bars and high energy bars and found 22 listed rice-based ingredients — including organic brown rice syrup, rice flour, rice grain or rice flakes – among the top five ingredients.”

Let’s keep in mind that arsenic is found in trace amounts in many foods, not limited to just rice. However, the products with rice or rice syrup as an ingredient happen to test higher than most. Interestingly enough, In the US, arsenic is regulated by the EPA in our water, and is even regulated in treated wood that we use for decking materials, but not regulated in the food we eat.

As a consumer, what do we do with this information? Do we eliminate or reduce all products made from brown rice syrup, or even rice, from our diets? Do we dig deeper into research, request additional testing to confirm the findings? Do we want to get the FDA involved in regulating arsenic levels in food? The FDA is a sticky subject with many, as sticky as the organic brown rice syrup in question.

For now, I’ll take the approach of educating myself more on the topic. It is all too easy to get wrapped up in the frenzy that the media creates. Everyday we are being told that something is bad for us, scared by the news outlets, I hate to make drastic changes on little information. After all, arsenic is a naturally occurring element, one that we most likely ingest through water (in much smaller amounts, hopefully) everyday. What I do know is that there are an increasing number of studies finding that rice and rice products have elevated levels of arsenic and I do know that I wish to become a more informed consumer. I would like to see the full data from the study, including products tested. I’m a factual person and like to know all the details before forming an opinion or lifestyle change.

In the meantime, here is some additional information on arsenic from the American Cancer Society to learn more about what arsenic is, and how it affects the body.

Does the news of arsenic in rice, juice and now rice syrup alarm you? Will you be checking ingredient lists and cutting back on your consumption until more information is found?

Categories: Food, Health | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Hot Sauce and Avocados

Today I started the morning with an Ezekiel english muffin topped with almond butter, apricot preserves and chia seeds, a Morningstar Farms veggie patty (we bought a huge box of these at Costco so they make a breakfast appearance quite often lately) and a sliced Kiku apple. I’ve never had a Kiku before, but the signage boasted of its sweetness & crunch and $2.49 / lb. was almost a buck cheaper than the Honeycrisp that I adore.

Friday Breakfast

The verdict? I would not bother buying this apple again. It was slightly mealy in texture and had almost no flavor. It did have crunch, I’ll give it that, but each bite tasted like diluted apple water.

Honeycrisp, you are still my BFF.

It was a busy day at work and lunch crept up on me, so I went the easy route and heated up a Kashi frozen meal. It has been awhile since I’ve had something from Kashi. If I’m going to go the quick & convenient frozen route I usually reach for an Amy’s. However these were on sale and they had a new flavor that was of interest – Chicken Enchilada.

Kashi Chicken Enchilada

The 7 whole grain and vegetable pilaf was just alright. It had a nice texture, but it did not wow me. The enchilada was pretty good though, with a nice subtle kick of spice. I try not to make a habit of frozen meals at lunch, but I’d get this one again.

Like with most frozen dinners, it did not fill me up. I still had a few LiveFit Turkey Muffins in the fridge from Monday, and that did the trick. Turkey Muffins are one of the recommended snacks in Jamie Easton’s LiveFit 12 Week Trainer plan that I started last week. I am not the type of person to just sit down and eat a big hunk of meat by itself, but they grew on me. These muffins are really filling as they contain ground turkey, egg whites & oats, but lack flavor and color. They are super easy to make, and came in handy when I wanted some healthy quick protein between meals. I’d like to try these again with my own seasonings and adding some spinach and bell peppers for extra color and nutrition.

Today I started Week 2 / Day 1 of the 12 Week Trainer so I wanted to quickly recap my experience so far. The plan at this stage is very doable as only requires 4 workouts during the week totaling about 30-40 minutes, giving me 3 glorious days off. Since there is no cardio (only lifting) it goes by quickly and I haven’t gotten bored. I enjoy weight lifting and am happy to be getting back into it and I am glad to have a “focus” when walking into the gym. Sometimes without a plan, I’d just aimlessly walk around the gym doing random exercises. This keeps me focused and I have found the exercises to be fun and effective, and I leave the gym feeling strong.

I will make it clear, although I made the turkey muffins, I am NOT following the eating plan. The plan would be fine for someone who wanted to walk the stage in a fitness competition, but for the every day person (especially someone who lives to eat, not eats to live) the plan is limited and repetitive. The focus is on clean eating, but they recommend egg whites for breakfast and turkey muffins and more egg whites for snacks. I like both, but not that much or that often! I do try to eat healthy for the most part, but don’t obsess about it at all, so I’m just continuing to eat as I normally do.

I stopped for a Skinny Mocha at Starbucks for a post-gym “snack”. Yeah, this was way better than another turkey muffin. 😉 And since it was snowing out, it made the coffee beverage even more enjoyable.

Since we had a later dinner, we shared some grocery store sushi.

Grocery Store Sushi

It is from a big-box grocery store so it wasn’t the greatest obviously, but it was still a nice little snack. I can’t wait until we go out for some GOOD sushi soon.

Tonight I wanted to do a taste test of the 3 popular hot sauces – Tabasco, Cholula & Tapatio. We buy all of these hot sauces (and some others) but is there really a difference? I learned there IS a flavor difference!

Hot Sauce Trio

I shook a few drops onto a plate and taste tested each by itself to get the true flavor.

  • Tabasco – Tasted like spicy vinegar, no depth of flavor. Watery consistency.
  • Cholula – Spicy, but also with a sweet tomato undertone. Beautiful orange color, good consistency.
  • Tapatio – Spicy, with a slight earthy smoky undertone. Darker red color, nice sauce consistency.

The winner was a tie! Cholula and Tapatio were hands down way better than the more popular Tabasco. Both had a nicer consistency which held up, nicer color and way better flavor. If I HAD to pick, it would be Tapatio. Not only did it score high with me on flavor and appearance, but it was the bargain of the bunch at 89¢ a bottle.

It was time to celebrate the victor with a special snack.

Avocados Sliced

I sliced up some beautiful avocados.

Avocado on Toast

And fanned them out on sliced triangles of toasted Ezekiel bread. Then they got a sprinkle of red sea salt, dried cilantro (of course use fresh if you have it! I didn’t, so this was better than nothing) and then a few drops of hot sauce. The coarse grains of the salt exploded in the mouth with a burst of flavor and the hot sauce added a nice heat to the smooth and mild avocado. The bread was the perfect foundation for these snacks.

Along with some pizza and beer, this meal was the perfect ending to the week.

Are you an avocado junkie? What is your favorite way to eat them? Which hot sauce do you prefer?

Categories: Fitness, Food | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Stupor Bowl Party Food

If you are a die-hard football fan, before you get too upset over the title of this post, it is tongue in cheek so don’t take it too seriously and get offended. Sure most of the people invited to this party could really care less about football, myself included, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the game. I appreciate the strength, speed, agility and strategy of the players and am happy that most of America revels in sport, but I’m not going to pretend to love football, but I do love food! A Stupor Bowl Party has all the good things about a regular Super Bowl Party, the food & friends, but lacks the emphasis on the football part.

This particular group of party-goers presents quite the challenge when it comes to choosing which foods to make. Most of the group is vegetarian, pescetarian or semi-vegetarian. I LOVE cooking veg-friendly food so this is no problem, I have a whole arsenal of tasty veggie meals up my sleeve. Things get interesting when you add lactose-free and gluten-free to the list of dietary restrictions. I thought of the great Greek Quinoa Salad that I made last week, then I remembered that the star ingredient in that vegetarian and gluten-free dish was feta. Scratch that idea off the list because it doesn’t meet the lactose-free requirement. Sure there are vegan cheese alternatives, but the choices where I live are limited and expensive, and let’s face it some things just taste better with the real deal. Back to the drawing board.

I secretly love the challenge of finding recipes that meet this limited criteria. It is like a game and you have to use creative thinking and problem-solving skills to come up with the right solution.

While thumbing through Whole Living at Barnes & Noble on Friday night, a recipe for Pistachio-Stuffed Dates with Coconut piqued my interest. I love simple, clean recipes with minimal ingredients and this one met that criteria.

The original recipe did not specify which kind of pistachios to use – raw or roasted. No problem, I was up for experimenting and tried both varieties. The two kinds I used were Wonderful Roasted & Salted Shelled Pistachios and Valued Naturals Raw Pistachio Kernels (found in the produce section of my grocer).

Closeup of Comparison

Raw Pistachio Nuts Go For a Spin in The Food Processor

My experiment produced two strikingly different results. The most noticeable difference was the color. Although both nuts looked fairly the same in their whole state (the roasted variety leaning towards a golden brown), once processed into a paste the roasted variety looked brown, far from the pistachio’s signature green color. Mr. Nine said it looked like poop. I thought it looked like a brown nut butter (similar to almond butter) with a tinge of green but I agree it was a little unappetizing just sitting in a pile on a plate. 🙂

Roasted & Raw Pistachio Nut Comparison

Roasted & Raw Pistachio Nut Comparison

The raw pistachios yielded a much brighter green color which I think is important when dealing with a dish where pistachios are a primary ingredient. Notice how shiny both are? This is how you want them to be so make sure you process a full 3-5 minutes, or until it releases oils and forms a paste-like nut butter consistency. I used a KitchenAid 7-Cup Food Processor that did a terrific job with this.

Pistachio Nuts 2

Closeup of Comparison

Comparing the taste of the two, the raw tasted slightly better. Final Score: Raw Nuts 1, Roasted Nuts 0.

Now that I had a winning nut butter/paste, I stuffed one of the dates and topped with shredded coconut like the recipe instructed. It was finally time for a quick taste test. The verdict? The flavor was good, but the texture left much to be desired. The texture of the date and pistachio butter were so similar and even though the coconut was toasted, it did little to provide overall texture variation. In the mouth it felt like a soft, squishy and sticky sweet glob. It was also very rich using the whole date. Sure you could take 2 bites, but let’s be realistic, most people would just pop the whole thing in their mouth and it was just too much of a sticky sweet glob to chew.

The recipe had potential but needed improvement. Mr. Nine suggested adding in some coarsely chopped pistachios. Back to the food processor, I pulsed some more of the raw pistachios until they were chopped small, yet not too fine. Next I added the crunchy chopped pistachios to the smooth creamy puréed ones.

Pistachio Nuts 4

Half Pistachio Nut Purée, Half Chopped Pistachios

Just a gentle stir to combine and now I think we are almost ready to assemble!

Pistachio Stuffed Dates 1

Ingredients Ready to Assemble

At this point I also decided to cut the dates in half around the circumference. The original recipe showed the date split open length-wise and filled like a stuffed baked potato but that was just too much date for one bite. Cutting them around the center provided two nice halves with perfectly hollowed-out centers. I used kitchen shears to cut around the date, but a small paring knife would work fine.

Stuffing each “mini date bowl” was quick and easy. Since the medjool dates are both flexible and sticky, you can smoosh them onto the plate and the bottoms will stick keeping them upright. Finally I topped them with toasted shredded coconut (to toast shredded coconut: place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes). I used sweetened shredded coconut because that is what I had, but the date is already very sweet so I’d recommend using unsweetened if you can find it (it is hard to find in stores here!). It will taste good either way, but it is always nice to exclude the extra sugar that comes from the sweetened variety and keep the recipe clean.

Pistachio Stuffed Dates 2

Closeup of Pistachio-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Another view to show size (a regular sized dinner plate is used here).

Pistachio Stuffed Dates 3

Ready for Party Munching - The Coconut is Edible Confetti

They are truly bite-sized sweet treats!

These would be fine to keep at room temp for a day, but if you plan on making a batch to munch on throughout the week, you’d want to refrigerate them in an air-tight container.

RECIPE

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Pistachio-Stuffed Medjool Dates
Adapted from Whole Living Magazine

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw shelled pistachios, divided
  • 12 medjool dates
  • 2 T shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted

Directions:

  1. In a food processor, puree 1/2 cup pistachios until it forms a thick paste. This should take between 3-5 minutes. At first the mixture will look like very fine crumbs, but let it continue to process. You’ll start to see a thick paste build up on the sides of the food processor’s container and you’ll see that the nuts are starting to release their oils. You know it is done when it is paste-consistency and has a slight glossy sheen. Scoop nut butter/paste into small bowl and set aside.
  2. Next, add the other 1/2 cup of pistachios to the food processor. Pulse several times until the nuts are chopped into small pieces.
  3. Fold the chopped pistachio nuts into the bowl with the pistachio nut paste until just combined. Set aside.
  4. Next you’ll pit the dates. Make a cut around the circumference of each date and then twist each end in opposite directions. The two ends should pull away from the pit. You’ll have two halves of the date with a nice hollow center.
  5. Fill each date half with the pistachio filling and top with toasted shredded coconut.

Yield: 24 date bites

Notes: Use raw pistachios (usually found in the produce or health food section, not the regular nut aisle) for best flavor and color. You may also use sweetened coconut, although I’d recommend unsweetened because it does not contain added sugar. Depending on big your dates are, there may be extra nut filling leftover.

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There you have it! A simple, healthy, naturally sweet treat made with just 3 ingredients.

In addition to the date bites, we also made fresh fruit skewers…

Fruit Kabobs

Fruit Skewers/Sticks/Kabobs

…and hazelnut torte.

Hazelnut Torte

Nutella-Drizzled Hazelnut Torte

The rest of the food at the party was even more delicious. We had a wonderful gluten-free chili mac (it had roasted cauliflower!), blueberry goat cheese (not dairy free, but very delicious!) and the dish that I got most excited about…

Grilled Avocados

Grilled Avocados by A & P

Grilled avocados! This picture does not do them justice. Okay, I am partial to loving avocados so it was natural that I got geeked about this, but they were truly delicious. Our friends who made these brushed the avocados with grape seed oil and grilled them for a few minutes until they got grill marks and were nice and warm throughout. After they had some grill love, they got a shower of fresh lime juice, salt and pepper. Next the centers were filled with salsa verde and topped with sour cream (optional). You eat these right out of the shells and they are creamy and warm with a little tang from the salsa.

It is nice to have such a great group of foodie friends who also appreciate and care about healthy and good made-from-scratch food. This Super Stupor Bowl party spread sure beat the typical buffalo wings and Rotel cheese dip (I can’t believe I use to eat that stuff). I mean what is Velveeta cheese made out of anyway? Heck, it is not even with the other cheese at the grocery store, it sits on a shelf in the canned food aisle. Hmmm… food for thought.

Did you go to a Super Bowl party? What was your favorite dish?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

ATK Easy Skillet Pasta Supper

It’s been a busy Saturday. The morning started with an awesome Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta Sandwich from Panera. I think this is the best breakfast sandwich I’ve had from a fast-food chain restaurant. It has fresh spinach & flavorful roasted tomatoes.  This sandwich has decent nutrition stats, too – 410 calories, 15 g fat, 25mg cholesterol (entirely from the slice of cheese), 3 g fiber & 21 g protein. If you ask to leave the cheese off, you could save all of the cholesterol and a hunk of the calories and fat. This sure is a lot healthier than the greasy bacon, egg & hashbrown skillets they serve at the breakfast house next door! Mr. Nine & I both agreed the only fault we found was that we wished there were just a few more pieces of the tomatoes. My sandwich only had 2 small tomato pieces and that is where all the flavor is! I would rather that they chop the tomatoes smaller so that there is more in each bite, or increase the quantity on that ingredient. Otherwise it is definitely 5 stars! I was so excited to dive in and eat that I forgot to take a picture. 🙂

Yesterday I saw that my tire was extremely low, the sidewall was touching the pavement so I filled it with air. I have an older car so it doesn’t have a fancy on-board tire sensor, it relies on old fashioned visual inspection or the use of an air gauge. Today on the way back from the market, I noticed a huge bulge on my tire! I have no idea how long my tire was low for (maybe a few days?) but driving on it that way caused severe damage so I had to go and get a new one today. $135 and a few hours later I have a brand new front tire. Just a reminder to check your tires often!

Since today was busy, I wanted an easy & quick dinner to throw together. I had a lot of baby spinach and decided to try this America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Skillet Penne and Sausage Supper.

Skillet Pasta

In the skillet!

Skillet Pasta 2

Wow, this was really good! I appreciate that it is a one pot skillet meal as that means less dishes to clean! The idea is simple: Brown sausage & onion in a little olive oil. Stir in garlic & diced sun-dried tomatoes. Add uncooked penne pasta. Pour chicken broth & milk over, place a lid on the skillet and cook until the pasta is al dente. Stir in spinach until wilted, and add in some grated parm. Dinner was done in a half hour.

This was flavorful and creamy, yet did not require heavy whipping cream or too much cheese. The whole dish (which makes 4 large servings) has only 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. Overall it did have too much meat for my taste, but I don’t care for a lot of meat in general.

I have to admit that I was skeptical because of the sun-dried tomatoes. I don’t generally like them, and feel that they are a food fad that burnt out in the 1990’s. Sometimes they still show up on pizzas or in sandwiches and I always feel they are chewy and pointless. That being said, I thought the sun-dried tomatoes were right at home in this dish, not chewy and the flavor was fine.

We used Dreamfields Penne which boasts a lower glycemic index than regular pasta. Mr. Nine’s Mom bought us this pasta, and it was my first time trying it and I have to say that I did not notice a difference in taste compared to regular pasta.

I’d recommend going with the spicy version of sausage because that added a lot of great flavor – we didn’t have to season with any additional spices (not even s&p!). I did buy the spicy italian pork sausage (instead of the turkey) and just drained the fat off before adding the sauce ingredients.

I like the concept of cooking the pasta right in the sauce instead of wasting water to boil it in a separate pot. I am inspired by this recipe and would like to create some variations on it.

What is your favorite one-dish meal? Have you ever tried the low-carb pasta options, or do you stick with whole wheat? What do you think about sun-dried tomatoes? And finally, what is your favorite quick breakfast (sandwich or otherwise) from a restaurant?

Categories: Food | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Starting Something New – LiveFit

I usually don’t take photos of everything I eat during the day, but today I decided to snap some pics.

Friday Breakfast

Breakfast was a slice of Ezekiel bread toasted and topped with almond butter & apricot preserves, 2 Morningstar Farms veggie breakfast patties & a blood orange.

Almond Butter

I LOVE almond butter very, very, very much. My favorite is MaraNatha, but it is so expensive. Then I discovered Costco, and they sell a large 26 oz. jar for $5.89! Sometimes the price fluctuates from $5.79-$5.99 but it is usually right around there. Just for size comparison, the jars that the regular grocery stores sell are typically 16 oz., so this is more than twice as much almond butter! The savings from buying my almond butter there compared to another grocery store, probably covers the cost of the $50 Costco yearly membership fee!

I usually have a mid-morning snack, but breakfast was late today so I jumped right into lunch.

Chili & Apple Lunch

Amy’s chili topped with diced bell peppers & a little feta with a side of sliced Honeycrisp apple (best apple in the world). Half-way through the chili I got tired of it, not because it tasted bad, but because it was a big bowl of chili! I heated up the whole can which was 2 servings. I decided to wrap up the rest and put it in the fridge for later.

I was still a little hungry and wanted more fuel before going to the gym. I saw that our spinach and eggs were about to go bad, so I made a quick 4-egg white scramble with baby spinach and a little mozzarella cheese stirred in.

Egg White Scramble

Perfect amount to hold me over for my new (more about that below) workout.

I received good & bad news about my knee. Good is that the x-rays came out negative – no fracture. I felt very confident it wasn’t, but the doctor really wanted to rule that out. Bad news is that the injury is still unknown. I am 90% sure it is IT Band Syndrome, although I am starting to second guess that because my knee hurts even when I am not doing physical activity. Yesterday for example, just sitting at my desk working on the computer and I lifted my leg up and it hurt. I walked to my car, and it hurt.

The doctor called and said an approval for physical therapy was approved. However, the referral is an actual piece of paper I have to go pick up, with the name and location of what doctor he wants me to go to. I seldom go to doctors, so I really don’t understand how the whole HMO healthcare system works, but it seems silly. I had to wait 5 days for my x-ray results, another 2 for the referral (which I guess was “fast”, they said it could take up to 5) and now I have to drive an hour (30 minutes each way) to go get the referral and then schedule an appointment to start PT. Hopefully they can get me in soon.

At least I am taking a step in the right direction, even if the whole process is frustrating.

I decided that I need to do something else since at this point I am not sure how much longer I’ll be off from running. I’ve tried other cardio, like cycling & elliptical, and while these do not bother me when I am doing them (unless I crank up the resistance), I do feel it the next day. Then I came across Jamie Eason’s LiveFit 12-Week Trainer program. What caught my eye was that the first phase (4 weeks) had no cardio. This plan seems to work well for where I am at right now.

Today seemed like a good day to start so I went to the gym for Phase 1 / Day 1 of the workout. Today’s workout was all lifting and it went by pretty quick.

  • Wide Pushups (okay)
  • Dumbbell Bench Press (love!)
  • Flat Bench Cable Flys (used machine for this because cable machine was too busy)
  • Narrow Pushups (I suck at these, couldn’t do all reps, even with girlie modification)
  • Standing Dumbbell Triceps Extensions (love!)
  • Triceps Pushdown (also used machine, cable machine way too busy today!)

So I think I did it pretty well. Sure I had to substitute a few, but worked the same muscles more or less. I am interested in her nutritional stack but don’t have it in the budget right now. I’ve never used any of those products and am curious if they would work. I do have hemp protein powder I can sub for the whey, and also take chia seeds or Udo’s oil.

For a post-workout snack, I had a cup of this wonderful tea that a good friend gave me, along with a new (to me) product that I picked up at the vitamin store last time I was there – Natur’s Biscotti.

Natur's Biscotti

I love regular biscotti and saw that this has 10 grams of protein & 8 grams of fiber. A healthier biscotti option? Sure! The packaging says it is Almond Cherry flavor and the ingredients also show both ingredients.

I could taste the almond, and even saw a few, but no cherries! I did not pick up on a cherry taste nor did I see any physical cherries in the biscotti.

Biscotti Closeup

A little bit disappointed as I wanted some chewy cherry bites, and a few more almond pieces but overall it was okay. I’d like to try some other flavors to compare and give it another chance.

I’m off to the salon to see my stylist with a Chocolate Cherry Bomb Shake (Smoothie) in hand…

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie

(one of my faves, thanks Kristen’s Raw!) …then tonight Mr. Nine is cooking dinner. I wonder what yummy goodness he’ll make?

Have you ever tried the LiveFit program? Do you take supplements like BCAA, protein or EFAs? How do they work for you?

Categories: Fitness, Food, Running | Tags: , | 5 Comments

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