Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Baking!

Well, after all of my bitchin' and moanin' about my cold, I actually started feeling a lot better yesterday afternoon. On the downside though, I gave Doug my germs. Sigh. Oh well. I think I made a good selection of treats to make up for it.

First, I started out with something basic. I've never made yeast-based bread at home before and caught an episode of Chuck's Day Off where he made a couple of loaves of No Knead Bread. It sounded easy enough, so I gave it a shot:


Dough doubled over.

Two loaves.

Done (and brushed with butter).

They didn't turn out super tall like I was hoping for, but I guess that's because of the lack of kneading? The bread itself wasn't dense either though; it had a nice texture relative to its size. I was pleased with the taste too; I skipped sprinkling sugar or steak seasoning like Chuck did and just enjoyed it plain. Great hearty flavor, thanks to the wheat flour!

I also made a batch of the World's Easiest Christmas Candy, thanks to Money Saving Mom. I didn't bother taking any pictures though because my batch looked exactly like the original's. Doug was skeptical at first, but enjoyed it in the end. The salt from the crackers makes for a great salty & sweet fix. Plus, it really was super-easy.

Next, I made Butter Mints with a recipe from Bake It Pretty. I didn't have any cute candy molds though and decided to make plain round shapes by hand.

The dough...

Almost 2 hours later...

Of course, after I was done, Doug suggested a few different ways I could have rolled the dough out and cut it into small pieces instead of doing each one by hand. Well derpy derp DER. Oh well. Not sure I'll be motivated to make these again, but they turned out nice. Sweet, creamy and minty.

Today, it was on to cookies. I made more of the Green Tea Cookies, along with a more festive option:

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip cookies with Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses. These were pretty damn easy since I cut corners and used a box mix for the cookies. I love the combination of peppermint with chocolate, so I'm glad my inner fat kid brought this idea to my attention. Not the prettiest things on earth, but still tasty and fun to make.

Phew!  I used to avoid baking like the plague, but I've really come to enjoy it more these days. After busting out all of these recipes in less than 24 hours though, I think I'm done baking for a while.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You had me at "pudding."

I'm trying really hard to come up with an enticing, witty intro to this post, but my head cold just won't allow it. I must warn that said cold demands strong cold medicine, so I won't be holding myself responsible for any weird, wacky nonsense that makes its way into this post. Just so ya know. Moving right along to the tasty bits, eh?

Let me first say that Real Simple is changing my life. I can't help it. I just started getting their magazine and was sucked in immediately. I've been browsing their recipes online for a while now and had a bit of a food porn moment when their Butternut Squash Bread Pudding recipe landed in my inbox the other day.

I have a special place in my heart for bread pudding. And butternut squash. And cheese. And eggs. In fact, I'd like to think that it's because of all the special things taking up space in my heart that I have trouble shopping for button-up shirts. Yeah, yeah, that's the reason...

Anywho, I had the intention of making this dish myself, but Doug felt it would be better if he made it so I could rest on the couch and continue my battle of the mucus.

He scaled the recipe down a bit so we wouldn't end up with 8 servings. And 1% milk was used instead of whole. Aaaand dried sage instead of fresh. Other than that, no other substitutions were made.

All mixed and ready to be baked.

One (seemingly l-o-n-g) hour later.

Hubba, hubba. This dish was so flavorful that I was still able to taste everything, despite my cold. We both agreed that adding some kind of smokey meat like ham or bacon would have been the cherry on top. In fact, I confirmed this theory by adding bits of ham to my leftovers this morning. And yes, it was even more awesome than the night before. This recipe is great for dinner, but would also make a great holiday side dish or brunch item as well.

That's all for today. I have all sorts of baking plans lined up, but they may/may not come through thanks to these damn germs taking over my upper body. Ah well. Hope everyone has a safe and restful holiday, filled with lots of good food and booze. Seriously. Drink to the Holiday Spirit! Drink to [forget about] the annoying relatives! Drink in my memory! That's all I ask of you, dear readers. That's all I ask. Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Taste the rainbow.

This past weekend saw some colorful highlights in the Land of Food. Starting with Friday:

Raw ground beef? Not quite... Beet, Carrot, Onion & Potato Latkes!

I saw this dish on a holiday episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate and since we had the ingredients on hand, I decided we should give it a shot. I wouldn't say it was the best thing I ever ate, but it was okay.

I liked my latkes with applesauce the most. We also tried sour cream and horseradish. Doug liked a mix of both horseradish and applesauce the best. A fun experiment, but in retrospect, it was a lot of work for not necessarily the best result. We still want to try making traditional potato-only latkes though. I've come to love beets, but I just wasn't feeling them in this particular application.

Saturday ended up being a baking day. We were invited to a holiday party that evening and wanted to share some sweet bites:

I made Green Tea Sweets. I bought some matcha powder a couple of weeks ago and while I love drinking it, I thought it would be fun to try cooking with it too. I didn't have a leaf-shaped cookie cutter, so I improvised with a palm-tree cutter instead.

These turned out pretty good! They weren't overly sweet and there was just enough sugar in the mix to cut through the bitterness of the tea leaves. They seemed to be a hit at the party, so I think a repeat batch is in order.

Doug also did some baking and made some Snowball cookies:

He jazzed up the recipe by adding vanilla extract and orange zest. Great additions, especially the orange flavor!

After partying a little too hardy Saturday night, Sunday morning demanded a good hangover breakfast:

Diner-style, but made at home. Two corn tortillas, Doug's hashbrowns, scrambled egg whites plus one whole egg, one chopped up turkey sausage patty, fat-free shredded cheddar and some green chile sauce that Doug threw together.


So, so delicious. And way healthier and cheaper than going out to breakfast.

That concludes our weekend in food. Hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fryday Night Lights.

After non-stop craziness the past couple of weeks due to the holidays and a slew of social outings, last night's dinner demanded no cooking and a little bit of dirty greasiness to help celebrate a weekend of doing mostly nothing. Eating veggies and running sprints is cool and all, but I still value my lazy evenings in front of the TV with salty, cheesy, bacon-y goodness. Wendy's to the rescue!

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I was given some Wendy's gift cards to try their new Natural-Cut French Fries.

I must admit, prior to being offered to try these new fries, I hadn't been to Wendy's in ages. I do remember always liking their burgers ok, but their fries were never particularly great and the quality was inconsistent.

The new natural-cut fries are quite an improvement! I always leave the skins on the potatoes when I bake fries at home, so it was nice to see that feature at a fast-food joint. As for the sea salt, this was a great touch as well. My experience with fast food fries has been that they are either too salty, not salty enough, undercooked and/or overcooked. That said, I completely realize that all of that is dependent on restaurant locations and the person in charge of french fry duty at that point in time... Anywho.

Perhaps I got lucky, but I couldn't find anything wrong with the batch of fries I had last night! Doug thought they weren't salty enough, but I thought they were just right, so obviously personal preferences came into play. I enjoyed the texture a bit more too because the skin of the potato crisped up nicely.

I haven't had a burger fix in quite some time either, so I went ahead and ordered a Bacon Deluxe Single to top things off.

Tomatoes TOTALLY created a healthy balance, heh heh.

As with most fast food menu items, it certainly didn't look like the advertised picture at all, but it was still pretty darn good. All of the burger components tasted fresh, the bun was soft and the bacon was nice and crunchy.

Excluding Subway, I only hit up fast-food joints for dirty greasiness a few times a year, so I was glad that Wendy's didn't disappoint. Next time you need a french fry fix, give them a try!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hows and Whats.

Hello, dear readers! Time for another rendition of my current Hows and Whats.

How I'm Sweating:

I canceled my gym membership last month to save some money. I thought I might regret the decision, but it's actually been a blessing in disguise because it's forced me to change up my routines week-to-week. I've been reconnecting with my old Tae-Bo roots by busting out some of the advanced VHS tapes. I don't care much for most of the recent Tae-Bo DVDs because the routines are too complicated with inconsistent levels of intensity. The old tapes (the first Advanced tape in the series and the advanced 'Get Ripped' tapes) are loaded with the basic kicks and punches I first fell in love with all of those years ago. Great cardio option, obviously.

But I haven't been stuck in the 90s this whole time; I've also fallen in love with this little gem:

Cathe Friedrich's STS Shock Cardio: HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)

My feedback on this DVD is a little premature because it has 3 different workouts (30/30, 40/20 and Double Wave Pyramid) and so far I've only tried one (the 30/30 routine; 30 seconds on, 30 seconds rest). But oh my goodness, tough, touGH, TOUGH!. Definitely for intermediate/advanced users. There really isn't anything 'beginner' about this DVD. Each routine is around 30 minutes, including the warm-up and cool down.

From what I've gathered on the Amazon reviews, two of the workouts use The Step and The High Step. Only one of the routines is equipment-free. I own both of these types of steps, but if you don't, this is obviously a big downfall. For the moves that do use a step, Cathe doesn't provide any non-step modifications. That's not to suggest that you couldn't try making up your own, but I would imagine it would be a bit tricky and might not be as intense.

LOTS of plyometrics involved. Plyo-jacks, squat thrust jumps (think burpees) and high-knees. There are also some kicking/punching moves and 180 squat jumps using the step. There is little-to-no instruction on the moves, so having prior knowledge of them (by way of Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred and Banish Fat/Boost Metabolism DVDs, for example) and being a quick learner is a great help.

My only prior experience with HIIT routines was primarily at the gym, doing sprint intervals on the treadmill, elliptical or stair master. Relying on your own body (and occasionally, The Step) is a different beast entirely. I start sweating instantly, my heart rate is super high (but not omg-I'm-having-a-heart-attack-and-might-die high), I'm out of breath and my nose even starts running. Kinda lame that I have to have some tissues nearby when I do this workout, but that's just the way it is, haha. Although this DVD is ridiculously challenging to get through, I feel incredible afterward. Probably one of the best endorphin rushes I've experienced in my history of exercising!

This is my first Cathe Friedrich video, but it certainly won't be the last. She's motivating, straightforward and experienced, all of which make for a great instructor. Plus, she has a wide selection of DVDs that use The Step, so her workouts will be a nice change from my Jari Love routines (which I still love, by the way).

What I'm Currently Listening To:

I don't always have my finger on the pulse of who's "the next big thing" in music, be it Top 40 or indie, but in any case, Cloud Nothings is one of a few bands rocking my world this month.

How I'm Shopping for Fitness DVDs:

I may be behind the times on this one, but one of my new favorite sites is Collage Video. This is pretty much the best site ever when looking for new fitness DVDs. You can filter results by trainer, level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), and even type of equipment used. It's so, so beautiful, especially now that I'm gym-free and will be working out at home more.

The big selling point for me was being able to search by level of intensity. I was able to see how some of the DVDs I already own are rated, in terms of being beginner, advanced, etc., so picking new challenging DVDs is much easier than just winging it on Amazon. The prices on Collage on higher though, so I simply use their site to search and then buy new choices for much less on Amazon. I love the Internet.

I'm skipping the "What I'm Currently Eating" section today because there's not anything terribly exciting I'm eating everyday. But, I have some pretty cool food-related experiments coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for some new recipes! Hope everyone's week is going well!