Thursday, January 27, 2011

For Cho'.

Last night, Doug was in class late so I started to brainstorm some dinner-for-one ideas. It started with pasta and spinach and just grew from there.

  • Small butternut squash, cooked in the microwave for about 6 minutes
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced (I'm really digging the fork method these days for garlic mincing)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan
  • about 2 cups frozen spinach
  • about 1 cup of chicken broth
  • 6 oz of uncooked penne pasta
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • dash of ground nutmeg
  • about 1/4 cup 1% milk
  • 1 individual cup of plain Greek yogurt

Judging by the amounts of my main ingredients, I ended up going for 3 servings instead of just one.

Boiled the pasta and got started on my "sauce." Heated the olive oil and added the frozen spinach. Once the spinach was thawed, I added the garlic, squash, salt and pepper. I started to mash the squash with a spoon and added the chicken broth in 1/4 cup increments (since I was wingin' this, I wasn't sure how much broth I would need at the time). I also stirred in the milk.

Since I wasn't getting the desired creaminess at this point, I searched the fridge and snagged a cup of this:

Stirred it in, along with the parmesan and nutmeg. Desired creaminess achieved! (And added some extra protein too.)

Final result:

The verdict? Success. It's pretty rare that a) I make up a meal on the fly, b) It doesn't take long to prepare and c) Tastes damn good. I'm not sure what happened to the penne; somehow, the shape was annihilated. But it wasn't overcooked, so whatevs.

The sauce ended up turning out exactly how I wanted- a bit chunky, but still thin enough to coat the pasta when stirred together. The dash of nutmeg came through too; not overbearing, but just the right amount of subtle warmth.

I was so excited with how well the dish turned out that I decided to celebrate with a glass of this:

A while back, I got a good Groupon deal for Barclay's Wine and this Riesling was in the mix. Quite good! I tend to opt for drier wines, but the slight sweetness of this variety complemented the slight sweetness of the squash.

Another slam dunk, á la Tam.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meatless Monday.

Yesterday's Meatless Monday dish was full of excitement and experimentation. Why was I so excited? Because I won a special, special jar of peanut butter from my favorite folks at Peanut Butter & Co.!

Why was it so special? Because The Heat Is On is the only PB&Co. flavor that I can't seem to find in local stores. The spicy nuttiness demanded a kitchen experiment:

(crappy camera phone shot)

Tofu & Veggie Stir-Fry with Quinoa and Spicy Peanut Sauce.

For the Stir-Fry:
  • 1 block firm tofu
  • Broccoli
  • carrots
  • oyster mushrooms
  • minced garlic
For the tofu: Marinated in soy sauce, a bit of teriyaki and garlic powder. Drizzled with canola oil and then baked at 400˚F for about 40 minutes, flipping about halfway through.

I sauteéd the veggies together with the garlic, canola oil, some salt & pepper and a bit of soy sauce.

For the sauce:
  • About 2 or 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. The Heat Is On peanut butter
  • about 2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • about 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 tsp. minced ginger
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • about 2 tbsp. pineapple tidbits w/ juice (I would have definitely used more pineapple, but I was finishing off what we had left in the fridge.)
  • 2 tsp. honey
I whisked all of the sauce ingredients together. Added it to the veggies, threw in the baked tofu and stirred until evenly coated. Serve over quinoa (or rice) and you're all set!

This meal yielded 4 servings and was super-filling. I sampled the sauce before adding it to the stir-fry and had mixed feelings, but after tasting it with the the quinoa, tofu & veggies, it really came together quite well. And even though it took longer to bake, I was really pleased with how the tofu turned out; I liked the drier texture and it seemed to hold the flavors from the marinade a lot better.

I LOVE this flavor of PB. It's plenty spicy on its own, so I didn't need to add any other heat to the sauce. It's also pretty good with carrots, celery and even bananas! There's no sweetness in this particular variety, so it lends itself to both savory and sweet/spicy applications.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cooking With the Stars.

Yesterday, I came home early to complete Day 1 of the Yoga Journal 21 Day Challenge. I decided it would be good to twist, stretch and relax before taking on dinner, most of which was inspired by Jamie Oliver and Bobby Flay:

Diced pork with Famous Dave's Rich & Sassy BBQ sauce, Jamie Oliver's Perfect Roast Potatoes (I did the olive oil/rosemary option) and Bobby Flay's Sauteéd Kale.

As usual, I used less oil than the recipes called for, but I wouldn't skimp too much on the potatoes because it really boosts the flavor and increases the crunchy edges. I didn't peel the potatoes or cut them into same-size pieces like Jamie instructed, but will be sure to do so next time. Well, I'll cut them into equal sizes anyway; it's really hard for me to take the skin off of potatoes because I love the texture so much. Despite my lack of peeling and uniform chopping, these were still pretty much the best-tasting roasted potatoes I've ever made. Rich flavor, excellent crunch factor, soft interior. Love, love, love. And although they take a while to prepare, I think I prefer them over my usual baked fries now.

Since I already went a bit overboard with garlic cloves in the potatoes, I used only 1 clove for the kale and used the last bit of red onion we had. Still a really great flavor. And adding the splash of red wine vinegar at the end really seemed to cut through any remaining bitterness of the kale, while also adding some brightness.

I haven't bothered to buy kale since my failed attempt at kale chips, but I'm glad I decided to give it another shot. I definitely dig it sauteéd and look forward to adding it to soups as well.

Doug approved, which made me happy. He's kind of my at-home version of an Iron Chef America judge, heh.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Salad and Salutations.

Sundays tend to be a bit lazy around our household. Yesterday was no exception. Aside from some laundry, I found myself on the couch most of the day, bouncing back and forth between Food Network and Cooking Channel. By some miracle, I managed to slowly change into workout clothes around 5:30 pm and did a quick workout. I told Doug we could just do whatever for dinner (sandwiches, soup, cereal, etc.), but while I was sweatin' it out, he came through with a delightful salad:

On a bed of green leaf lettuce, he poured over a white bean & bacon bit salad (included diced tomatoes, red onion and an orange vinaigrette dressing made with orange zest, orange juice, some of the bacon fat, some oil, salt, pepper, cayenne aaand garlic?). So good! But then it got a little better:

Grilled diced chicken breast on top. He added sage, salt and pepper before grilling.

It was light, refreshing and had a great mix of textures. Perfect recovery meal after my workout!

Aside from great Sunday salads, I'm looking forward to starting the 21 Day Challange from Yoga Journal Magazine.

Join me, if you'd like!

While I've always been able to do various workouts on my own without following a specific plan, yoga has always been one of those areas that I just can't seem to stick with on a regular basis, despite how great I feel afterward. I recently subscribed to Yoga Journal and when they revealed this challenge, I knew I needed to give it a try. Today is Day 1, so I plan on doing the first workout when I get home from work.

I read on Lifehacker recently that it takes 21 days to help build a good habit, so it was hard to turn down a 21 day yoga challenge! Plus, I was looking ahead at the lengths of the daily workouts and most of them are short enough to be combined with my regular exercise schedule (which has still been a mix of Nike Training Club workouts and running).

Anyone else trying new workouts or challenges this year?

Hope everyone's easing back into the work week!

Monday, January 3, 2011

iPadding my way to a better body.

I must've been a good girl in 2010 because Santa (a.k.a, Mom), got me a friggin' iPad for Christmas. I won't go into details about how great I think it is and how much [more] of an Apple geek I've become in the last week, but I do have to point out pretty much the best [FREE] app of all time: Nike Women's Nike Training Club (NTC).

I came across the app in a Lifehacker post and downloaded it for kicks because it was free. Then, I actually started using it. So. Damn. Awesome.

(NOTE: If you don't use mobile apps, you can still view some of the exercise video clips on Nike Women's YouTube Channel. You could just as easily create your own custom routine, using those videos as a guide. Each move lasts 1 or 2 minutes and there are a few recovery breaks mixed in.)

It's basically loaded with dozens of total body workouts, with different options for beginner, intermediate and advanced users. There are photos & video demos to show you how to perform the moves, but you essentially do the workout on your own; you don't follow along to an instructor the whole time, like you would with a standard workout DVD. There is a woman's voice to give you a few verbal cues and advice, but it's all you, baby. Oh, there's a timer on the screen too so you can decide whether or not you can bust out 10 more seconds of squat jumps.

And the best part? The workouts are effective! I actually started with some of the intermediate routines before jumping into advanced and I'm glad I did- the intermediate routines are pretty damn tough! The moves presented in each workout depend on which "goal" you choose:

Get Lean is mostly cardio (lots of plyometrics), but also includes some resistance and ab training. Get Toned still includes some cardio, but focuses more on resistance with weights, abs and balance. I've yet to actually try Get Strong, but I know that it focuses primarily on weight lifting. Get Focused just allows you to focus on certain areas with shorter workouts.

I wasn't sure how challenging the workouts would be, but it wasn't long before I found out. I was huffing, puffing, dripping and of course, keeping my heart rate steady. I wore my heart rate monitor because I was curious how hard I was working. I must've been keeping up pretty well; my first 45 minute Get Lean workout burned almost 500 calories. The 45 minute Get Toned workout burned 400. Good to know!

As I browsed the different types of workouts, I noticed that a medicine ball makes a regular appearance. I've thought about buying one before, but usually managed to find substitutions. This time around though, I thought it would be good to have one. I browsed Wal-Mart and wasn't impressed with the selection or the prices. Doug recommended just making my own with a cheap basketball, as per the Internet.

Done! It was pretty easy. I cut a hole in the ball, big enough for a funnel to fit and funneled in some kitty litter. We don't have a cat, but the people who lived in our house before us did and left a huge bag of litter in the garage, making the process even more cost effective! Filled it up until I made it to 10 lbs. and then stuffed in a bunch of plastic grocery bags to make it a bit more full without adding more kitty litter. Taped with duct tape and I was good to go! I tried it this morning and it worked pretty well. Cost of the basketball was only $5, which beats a $20-$30 medicine ball any day.

So those have been my recent adventures in fitness. Technology-aided workouts and homemade equipment. Fun stuff! I hope to have some new DVD reviews in the near future, but there may be a delay on those since I'm currently obsessed with NTC. Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and have a great week!