Monday, November 17, 2014

Catching up... In the Kitchen!

They say home is where the heart is, I've been living the truth of that. Since my show training ended, I've been in pretty much 1 of 3 places at any given time: home, grocery store, and gym. And loving it. I've been cooking up a storm, and in the process I have become fairly certain that my oven runs hot. In fact, I finally just ordered a cheapy oven thermometer today to find out once and for all.

In addition to cooking, I've been feathering the nest, so to speak. Here's what I've been working on...

Ready for Thanksgiving! :-)

Wiring in for the lights! Woot! So I finally got to decorate it!

Candles, books, movies... my knick-knacks of choice ;-)

Little fun touches here and there

More fun little things, and there's my sassy girl
holding my aprons!

I still haven't done my window seat cushion yet, but in the meantime
it's all ready for Fall!
And back to cooking... I started a new pinterest board called Tried it, where I'm pinning the ones I've tested and my results.
Follow Chelle Stafford's board Tried It, and here are the results... on Pinterest.
Over the weekend, we threw a little dinner party where my friends graciously let me test recipes on them. ;-) Thankfully, each one was a winner! From the appetizers to the main dish to the dessert. Yay! You read about the dessert here, and can view the recipe. If you decide to try out the other recipes (on the board above), be sure to note my comments on the pins to see the changes I made.

Today I tried the Chorizo Stuffed Plantains... and again, my oven ran hot. Even with the slightly overcooked plantains (lol) the flavors were fabulous! I use my own chorizo (recipe here), and the dish was awesome! Next up with plantains is a cuban lasagna, but don't know when I'll get to it.

Right now, in my crockpot is yet another batch of the slow-cooker Chicken Marsala (also in the pinterest board above), with a couple more tweaks to the original recipe. The smell - I wish I could share that with you because it's just magical! And I'm fine-tuning the next round of my battle to create a clean, low sodium, tasty bacon-bean soup. That should happen this week.
Chicken Marsala

Apart from all this cooking, I'm also sculpting my menu for thanksgiving. Can't believe it's nearly here! We'll do the traditional turkey (oh crap! I better buy one!) that's brined (hopefully I'll win this year - you know it's been 50/50 in years past in my battle with the bird - darn brine bucket!), plus mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls... it's all pretty much, well, traditional. Our family doesn't permit much tinkering with the main components, but I do get to have a free hand with stuff like appetizers and desserts. One day, I swear, I'll do something other than a turkey, stuffing, etc. One day (I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!). My day will come. ;-)   All that to say, this year's desserts I'm planning on doing minis... bite-size pies, cakes, etc. That way, we can all enjoy a little bit of everything without going into a sugar coma.

What do you do for Thanksgiving dinner? Do you get to choose the menu or are you bound my family tradition? Which traditional foods are your favorite? Your least? Use the comment section below to tell me!

I Tried Plated, and here's how it went...

What's cookin' in your kitchen this season? Are you planning out your holiday menus? Any great recipes you've tried recently? I've been busy at work in my kitchen - testing existing recipes, tweaking, creating new ones... it's so much fun that I have to pinch myself sometimes - this really is my job! Lol! I'll share more about what I've been cooking soon, but today wanted to talk about Plated. NOTE: No one paid me to do this review - I bought my box with my own money, no compensation, period. And now, let's carry on...

One of the "tests" I've done is that I recently tried out Plated. Have you seen them? I first became aware of them awhile back, and have watched as they've grown. Recently, we were watching Shark Tank (one of our favorite shows), and there they were! Mark Cuban invested in them, and now they're a national company. The whole time, I'm pointing at the screen telling Bill, "That's the company I was telling you about!!" Lol!

It's a pretty cool service - basically, you subscribe (read the fine print, know what you're committing to), and each week, or every other week, you get a shipment. You can login and choose your meals (plates), or you can let them surprise you. I'm not one for surprises, especially where food is concerned, so I went with picking my own. I placed my order, and on Saturday my box arrived.

Inside the insulated box, were my recipe "cards"... full step by step instructions with photos. Handy! And each meal was packaged in it's own group, with the ingredients pre-portioned and ready to go.

Pretty cool! Now, one of the factors that made me try them out was that Monkfish was on the menu... Have you ever seen monkfish? I've seen it made on a multitude of reality cooking shows, and I've always been fascinated by it... but terrified to try it on my own. It's hard to find monkfish, so there's the hunting it down, then getting the right amount - and what if I mess it up? It's also not cheap, when you can find it. So when I saw it available - with a recipe and all the necessary ingredients, for just $12 - I had to try it.

And I did.
My plate looks just like the photo... so far so good!

Results? Well, I think after this last week, that my oven must run really hot - none of the cooking times in recipes I've tried have been right - way too long! So... my pancetta brussel sprouts burned, booo! But... the potatoes were fine, and the monkfish was good - to be honest, it tasted like a fishstick. You know, the ones you grew up with that you toss on a cookie sheet and bake? Like that. The fish wasn't breaded, and seasoned only with sea-salt and pepper - but it tasted just like a fishstick. Odd, but there you have it.

Curious about what monkfish looks like? here you go...
Monkfish: One ugly bugger! Lol!
Bottom line is that I'm glad I got to try it, but it didn't wow me. I still have two more dinners to make from my Plated order - one is a shrimp with spaghetti squash, and the other is a chicken with parsnips & carrots. I'll let you know how those go.

Why I like Plated: it's great for folks who are busy, but enjoy cooking. Everything is in the box, all I had to do was clean, chop, and cook. No grocery shopping. The recipes are visually appealing, and the instructions are super easy to follow. The service also allows the home cook to be more adventurous than they might be otherwise - ie my Monkfish fear. Additionally, they're "green". Meats have no antibiotics or added hormones; seafood is domestic and sustainable sourced; and produce is fresh, seasonal, and hand picked. The box itself is 100% recyclable and biodegradable. 

What I didn't like: the seasoning is very bland and simple. That's great in that you can put your own twist on it, but for someone who is more comfortable following direction than innovating, they'll end up with a dish seasoned only with salt & pepper. For me, the monkfish recipe didn't have enough flavor as written.

What's the pricing like? It runs about $12/plate - and a plate is 1 serving. That said, minimum order is 2 plates per recipe. So if you want to try the Delicata Squash recipe, you have to order 2 plates of it.  That's a drawback, in my opinion, but that's how they do it. Compared to dining out, $12 is about right per plate, but you get the added benefit of cooking it yourself - controlling things like fats, sodium, and contaminates (if you have allergies or sensitivities). 

Will I use it again? First thing I did after my box arrived is set my account to skip the next week's delivery, then cancelled my membership. I signed up to give it a try, not get my bank account drained ;-) Their subscription is pretty intricate and you really have to read the fine print to know when they charge you, and what for. I'm not interested in getting charged and building on-site "credit", lol. That said, I don't see myself ordering again, but I'm very comfortable in the kitchen and developing recipes, testing and tweaking - that's my job, so for me, the service isn't a solid fit. And now with that said, I can, and do, recommend it to busy folks who like to cook but not shop for ingredients.

And there you have my unsolicited, non-compensated, and totally honest review of Plated. ;-) Have you tried it? What did you think?

New Recipe! Gluten Free Peach Pie with Streusel Topping

I've had my eye on several peach desserts lately... We love peach pie, but rarely do dessert, so I wanted to be sure whatever I came up with was awesome. ;-) And it was. Which was handy, as I was serving it to guests. Lol.

I collected 30 recipes (that's actually the number I whittled it down to), and analyzed each one for the best features... crust, topping, filling, cooking method... Hours of research went into the development of this yummy treat - and in the end, you know what happened? I had to wing it. My container of old fashioned oats was missing. Totally MIA. Where the heck did it go??? By the way, still haven't found it. Weird.

I had just been complaining to my hubby that the pantry was overflowing with food we don't eat - leftover from Shiloh's brief move back home while her hubby was deployed. Well, boy was I glad I hadn't cleaned it out yet, because my pie was saved by 2 packets of her Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal. Lol! Now, ya'll know me... I'm all about the natural, clean foods - so yes, the packets were clean (no junk in them), they're just not something anyone else but Shi eats.

In building this recipe, one challenge I faced is that we just went out of peach season and I couldn't find fresh ones anywhere! I don't care for canned peaches (really, really don't care for the sugar they're packed in), so I went with frozen (single ingredient: peaches). Then, in my kitchen-genius, I decided to thaw them first. #fail. Don't try it. Bad idea. Bleh! Back to the store for more frozen peaches.

Another challenge was that I wanted to keep this recipe "clean", but still stay true to the traditional peach treat - and NOT use any fancy ingredients that are a) hard to find, and b) expensive. Clean eating doesn't have to be pricey, and it sure as s**t doesn't have to be about fad ingredients. I ain't got time for that. ;-) So... while I do have a recipe to share, I also include tips for tweaks that can make it easier, cheaper, or just different.

The cooking method... I really love my cast iron, so that's what I used. But, you can use a pie plate or pyrex baking dish if you prefer. The pie doesn't need any babysitting, so once it's in the oven, go enjoy a cup of coffee or whatnot, it'll be ready when the timer goes off. Easy peasy.

Sweetener... there's a lot of different viewpoints on sweeteners in the clean eating lifestyle. Here's my perspective... the body treats sugar as sugar - no matter where it comes from, and sugar in the North American lifestyle is largely pure destruction. We eat way too much, in too many forms. That said, there is a place for it, in moderation, and with deliberation. I did not set out to make a "sugar free" pie because first, what's the point? and second - yuck. We can, and should, enjoy treats - just be mindful about it, and keep portions in check, then enjoy and savor each bite.

All that said... I went with the following: brown sugar (real brown sugar, full of it's natural molasses, not white sugar with added molasses), honey (raw), and pure maple syrup. The amount used depends on the sweetness of the peaches. Because mine were frozen, they were a bit tart, so I adjusted my sweetener accordingly.

Crust... I wanted a bottom crust, and a thick, crunchy streusel topping, but I didn't want to use wheat. For the crust, I went with a blend of coconut flour and gluten-free gingersnaps, and for the streusel... well, that's where everything went sideways, lol. However, it all worked out pretty darn well. I reduced the brown sugar I'd planned to use, since the oatmeal already had some in it, and while the flavors worked great, I didn't get that beautiful streusel I wanted - no one cared but me, as it tasted phenomenal, but I'll give you directions both ways below.

Fat... Pies are notorious for harboring fat. Butter, butter everywhere! Know what? I used butter. Yep. Real unsalted butter. I didn't use the multiple sticks of butter most recipes call for, but I used enough to get the results I needed. The other source of fat in the recipe is the coconut flour. We've talked about the fat from coconuts before - it's all good, plus hello-fiber! ;-) Fat does have a place in the clean eating lifestyle - again, it's about moderation and mindfulness.

So... now that I've talked your ears off ;-) Let's make pie!
Gluten Free Peach Pie with Streusel  Topping

Gluten Free Peach Pie with Streusel Topping

There's nothing like a hot bubbling piece of peach pie and this one delivers! Plus, no one will know it's gluten-free!
Preparation Time: 20 minutes Baking time: 30 minutes
By , November 17, 2014
Serves 8

For the Filling:
2 lbs frozen peaches
the juice of 1/2 an orange (about 2 Tbsp),
2 Tbsp unsalted butter,
1/4 cup raw honey,
1/4 cup pure maple syrup,
1/2 tsp vanilla (I used vanilla bean paste, you can use either),
1 tsp cinnamon,
1/4 tsp nutmeg,
1/4 tsp cardamom,
1/4 tsp ginger,
2 Tbsp arrowroot powder,
For the Crust:
1/2 cup coconut flour
20 gingersnaps,
5 Tbsp unsalted butter,
For the Topping:
1/2 cup dark brown sugar,
2 packets instant maple & brown sugar oatmeal (can replace this with 1 cup old fashioned oats plus 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup),
1 tsp cinnamon,
4 Tbsp unsalted butter,

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large skillet or pot, melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium-high heat, add peaches and cook until softened.
In a small bowl, combine cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. Set aside.
In a food processor, blend gingersnaps until they resemble chunky flour. Add the coconut flour and mix well.
Dice cold butter (5 Tbsp), and add to the food processor, then blend until butter is mostly incorporated and you can easily pinch off a ball of "dough" and squish it (I know, real technical, right? You want it to be able to squish down into the skillet/pie plate and hold shape, rather than be mostly crumb you can blow away).
Spread crust batter into the bottom of a 10" cast iron skillet (or an 8x8 pyrex or pie plate). It will only cover the bottom and about 1/4 inch up the sides.
Bake in oven 10-15 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove and set aside.
In food processor, combine oatmeal packets, 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 4 Tbsp cold butter, diced. Pulse until you see small chunks (not as small as you did for the crust, just a bit bigger)
In a small bowl, combine honey, maple syrup, and vanilla, mixing until fully incorporated. Set aside.
When peaches have reached desired softness (you should be able to cut them easily), remove from heat and add the bowl of sweetener, stirring to combine well.
Add the spices, and mix well.
Pour mixture on top of crust, spreading it out evenly.
Sprinkle topping over the peaches.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until streusel is golden and peaches are bubbling.
Remove to cool on hot pads or wire rack.

Nutrition facts per serving: 439 calories | 3 grams protein | 65 grams carbs | 20 grams fat | 6 grams fiber | 43 grams. 71 mg.

You might also be interested in our other Dessert recipes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Relax, Refocus, Refeed...

First off - let me tell you how much I appreciate you guys!!! I've gotten a ton of supportive messages from you via the blog, facebook, and email, and each one touches my heart, and each one brings just a little more healing to the process... THANK YOU!

I've spent the week using a great big stick on my I'm-not-in-the-gym-and-eating-fish guilt ;-) Yes, I'm still in the gym, yes I still eat fish, but neither consumes nor epitomizes my life these days. I've done no cardio since I stopped my show journey - partly to help get rid of my chest cold, and partly to just freakin' rest. My workouts - I've got three workouts a week (two weights, one pilates), and I'm just fine with that, right now. I'll bump that up within the next couple weeks, as well as add back in my cardio ('cuz part of me is going out of my mind without it, lol). While my strength is increasing, I still start to feel that exhausted-burn in my legs after just a few minutes. No bueno. Kayla thinks I'm not high enough in calories, and she's probably spot on. Silly nutritionist - not eating enough. ;-)

I reverse dieted - meaning simply that I kept my calories right around where they were during prep the first 4 days off of prep, then increased to 1300, then 1400, with the plan to be up to 1800 by now. Then I went on my soup kick, lol, and lived on my Turkey Taco Zucchini Noodle soup and nothing else. Great for comfort food when you're not feeling well, not so good for calorie increasing, haha. Oops. ;-)

Funny sidenote about the reverse dieting. There's a trainer at my gym who was also planning to compete at the November 14/15 show - she pulled out the week before me. The week after I made my decision, she chatted with me, telling me all about the joys of no longer being in prep mode... then said she was really surprised by how quick her abs went away. I must have had a funky face, because she went on to explain that within just a few days of going back to a "normal, eat what I want" diet, her abs disappeared.  "Huh," I said, "I haven't experienced that. I've still got mine." I got quite the dirty look, lol, but all I could think was, Really??? You're 20 years younger than me! BOOM, beyotch!! Hahahaha! Yes, I have a very snarky side. And I might have done my happy-snarky dance in the car when I was driving home. ;-)

So what am I doing with all the time I'm not spending in the gym? :-)  I've gone on a recipe testing & development binge. Hehehe! LOVE IT! I've finished up 4 new recipes this week, with several more still under-construction. I even (now sit down and hold on to something) made apple fritters... fried apple fritters... with the gooey drizzled icing. Yep. And... the sky did not fall! I can assure you, though (are you still breathing?), that these will NOT be a regular in the kitchen rotation. Lol. Wow, that's a lot of sweet - and oil, but oddly addicting. Yes, I have never had an apple fritter before so it was quite the experience. I also don't fry things, pretty much ever, so working with hot oil was a painful reminder that I don't want to fry things, hahaha.

Other recipes we've enjoyed, that I'll be sharing soon with you... breakfast stromboli, beef & broccoli in the slowcooker served with faux fried rice (made with cauliflower) - the hubby knew there was no rice, and was quite cautious with this until he took his first bite - LOVED it! Woot! We also had a killer stuffed spaghetti squash - OMG so incredibly good! And last night, we had Bethy and CJ over (with their new puppy) and I did buttermilk brined game hens with oven roasted mushrooms, asparagus, and the previously mentioned fritters for dessert.

The game hens and mushrooms still need work. Not impressed. Everyone else loved the hens (the shrooms were just an all around "meh"), but I didn't care for the herb blend. Shucks, guess I'll have to make them again ;-) I've also done a roasted chicken... and we just won't talk about that. #kitchenfail. And another big batch of (surprise!) Taco Turkey Zucchini Noodle Soup! ;-)

On the horizon - healthy & low sodium, but crazy good, bean and bacon soup; chicken turnovers; homemade GF egg noodles and chicken soup; more breakfast muffins; chorizo stuffed plantains; cuban lasagna; and a starbucks inspired pumpkin spice frappuccino. All that said, let's go back to the bean and bacon soup....

If anyone has a favorite recipe, I'd love you to send it to me! Doesn't have to be healthy, or low sodium - just your favorite. I'll take care of the rest ;-) The hubby has challenged me to develop this one, so I want to blow his socks off!

As much as I'm enjoying my time in the kitchen (it's like coming home after a long, long trip!), I still have to kind of pace myself as I get really tired, really fast. I feel good, I feel like I'm getting rest and certainly getting quality refeed, but my energy levels are just not where I'd like them to be yet. I'll probably go get a B-12 shot today, and plan beef for dinner. We've got some travel ahead this weekend, so that boost may help significantly.

In other news, I have a whole boat-load of CEU's to get done, lol. So I'm studying quite a bit these days, too. We've got some major changes coming our way in the new year, so prepping, researching, due diligence and all that... it's pretty busy between normal home life, study, cooking, and the upcoming projects. Plus, we're finally "moving in" to our house - putting stuff on the walls, decorating... things I haven't made time for before this. I'm loving watching the house come alive, and everyday I'm reminded that my parents built this for me - there isn't a room or surface in the house that they didn't work on. What an amazing thing!! I'm so grateful and blessed, and it's beyond time for me to do the things that make this place shine.

We're also coming up on Sadie's One Year Forever-versary!! Woooohooo!!! She's come so far, and is so darn sweet that I just can't imagine life without her. I type that as I am icing my black eye. Lol. Those paws of hers are lethal! She now officially outweighs me by 55 lbs. ;-) As you can see in the pic, she doesn't much care to have her photo taken, but she'll put up with it if she can get a snuggle. Hahaha!

So... that's my update... I'm off now to study and work on those recipes.  And switch to a fresh ice pack. ;-)

Don't forget to check out the latest workout and cardio playlist! November's list is up and quite fun, if I do say so myself ;-) You can find it here, and previous lists here.

Here's a peek at some of my projects (thank goodness for pinterest!)
This sassy gal is now at home in my kitchen, holding my apron. 

Aren't they adorable??? Love my pinup bookends! 

I can claim ZERO creativity in this one... I bought the display
at Hobby Lobby. LOL! 

Just another opportunity to freak out my kids ;-)

Welcome Fall!! :-) I'll have to take a new pic, since I replaced the
"treat" sign with a couple more scarecrows. ;-)