The Do It Or Die Plan…or I Really Miss Salt

Monday morning I awoke with the realization that I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of making excuses, of continuing to watch the scale move upward, to continue doing things the way that I have been. I’ve had enough of settling for the me that I have been.  I’m lucky enough to have a fitness extraordinaire sister to whom I could reach out for help, and reach I did. What any trainer or fitness mogul worth their salt will tell is this: The gym is only a small percentage of weight loss. What happens in the kitchen is key. So, knowing my sister (she who shall go by the moniker FES for Fitness Extraordinaire Sister), I got in touch with her Monday morning as I was spooning yogurt and strawberries into my face and asked her for a meal plan. I knew I wasn’t going to like it. I knew it was probably going to make me hangry and yearn for taste: for salt, for chocolate, for alcohol, for sandwiches, for chips, for everything that I routinely put into my body. But, I reminded myself yet again: ENOUGH. Enough of doing things your way, Lex.

My sister put me on a meal plan for the week. It’s Wednesday and I can tell you that I miss salt with everything in my soul. Salt and coffee. As an avid coffee drinker, I generally start my day with a big ol’ mug o’ mud, with lots of milk or creamer and a tablespoon or two of sugar. No longer. Nope. These days, I begin my day with a protein smoothie. In my most recent trip to Houston, my sister lovingly prepared me a protein shake to gulp down one morning. My response to the taste of this was, simply put, “Feh!” I actually don’t mind the smoothies though. I use chocolate protein powder (or as I like to think of it, powdered chicken), a banana, a very scant amount of non-fat vanilla Greek yogurt and ice. Tuesday morning was the first morning I made this concoction and I must admit, it took me a while to choke it down. I’m not used to drinking my breakfast, so I think the combination of that and the flavor took some time to adapt to. But this morning? That smoothie was the best tasting damn thing I put in my body since yesterday morning!

Snacks and the other two meals of the day aren’t my favorites, but they’ll suffice for this week. My mantra is ‘I can do anything for a week’. There is one recipe my FES gave me that is absolutely aaahmazing, though. Quinoa & turkey stuffed peppers: simple, good for you, and since I made them over the weekend, super easy to heat for a good, filling lunch. Now, dinner is another story. I love vegetables. Or rather, I love vegetables with salt. Dinner consists of veggies sautéed in coconut oil – no salt, damnit – and 4 ounces of a protein. Also, no salt. As anyone who has ever used Mrs. Dash will tell you, this is no substituted for salt. But, it’ll do. For now.

My FES also told me that running in my current state is not a good idea. Short bursts of jogging are alright, but no running for any kind of distance. This advice kind of made me laugh, because I can’t run for any kind of distance. But, I digress. I’ve been instructed to do some kind of cardio for 30 minutes a day. If it’s walking outside with short little bursts of jogging interspersed or walking on the treadmill with intervals on an incline, or using the elliptical at the gym – do it: 30 minutes and leave. Even I can follow those instructions; I mean, 30 minutes? I can make room for 30 minutes of moving five days a week.

I’m midway through the week and so far I’m down almost three pounds from Monday! I’ll take weight loss over salt any day. Doing things another person’s way is always a challenge. It makes you change your way of thinking and reassess the current situation and biggest of all, it means admitting to yourself that your way isn’t necessarily the best way. That one is tough for me, and always has been. But, seeing results this quickly has motivated me to continue on with a positive outlook and hopes for change and results a lot faster than I could garner if I were still doing things my way. I think I’ll stick with my FES’s plan, or what I call it: the Do It or Die Plan. My sister is one tough cookie and I know if I slack off on this plan, I’ll have to answer to her, and to myself. So, I’ll continue on doing what I’m supposed to do and see what the end of the week brings. Here is to new beginnings, change, and the Do It or Die Plan.

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Big Ass (Meatless) Burritos…or It’s Been a Rough Week, Let’s Cook

This week has been rough. Not just rough…ROUGH. My ability to make exceedingly bad decisions never fails to amaze me. Anyway, after a couple of rough days, a peek at a friend’s cooking blog (Vegan Mostly) and a stroll through my garden (that is in the early stages of busting open), I decided to do something that always makes me happy: take over the kitchen and create something AH-mazingly tasty.

the fixin's

the fixin’s

A couple of days ago after being inspired by Vegan Mostly, I bought a bag of meatless crumbles. Believe me, I’m as skeptical of meatless alternatives as many are…I mean, how do you imitate meat? Or rather, how to do you make a palatable fake meat product? In an effort to be creative and healthy, I broke out the bag of frozen meatless crumbles along with a few mini sweet peppers, a can of red kidney beans and a medium white onion. Big ass burritos were just the ticket for tonight.
Not really knowing how to cook with fake meat, I went about it in the same way that you’d start a taco/burrito mixture: throw it in a hot skillet (I sprayed it first since I wasn’t sure if the soy product would stick if I “browned” it). While this “browned”, I drizzled chopped sweet peppers and onions with a small amount of olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and popped them into the oven under the broiler to soften slightly.

IMG_1585

Next, I rinsed and added the red kidney beans to the crumbles and after several minutes, remove the peppers and onions from the under the broiler and add to your beans and crumbles mixture. Then, I added a packet of taco seasoning (…if you’re feeling decidedly less lazy than I was, you can take the time to combine all of the seasonings that make up taco seasoning). I stirred the mixture together and the kitchen started smelling delish!  While all of the flavors melded, I wrapped flour tortillas in tin foil and tossed them in the oven on low heat.
Once they were warm and I couldn’t stand the aromas coming from the stove, I created my Big Ass Meatless Burrito.
Simple, easy, quick, nutritious and delicious. To be honest, I think I like this recipe even better than I like it made with ground beef! Nothing is better than a tasty new favorite, and a full belly at the end of Hump Day! Things are lookin’ up.  Here’s to a good finish to a ROUGH week!

big ass (meatless) burrito

big ass (meatless) burrito

I Haven’t Written in a While…Let’s Spice it Up, Shall We?

So, for any of you that have been following my writing adventure, you know that I haven’t written in a while. My sincerest appologies to you. I haven’t written since September. I know…September! I really have no excuses to offer to you other than life has been pretty bland. I’m blaming my trip to Colorado. Yep, my trip to Colorado made my real life feel bland, white bread, dull, tedious, uninteresting…you get the picture.

Back in October (I feel so ashamed…) I decided to shake it up a bit in the kitchen; maybe use a little spice and everything nice and make something I normally wouldn’t make. Or eat for that matter (at least if I were in my right mind).

The inspiration struck me as I was strolling down the spice aisle in the grocery store after work. I’d already picked up some chicken, but what to do with it? Fajitas? Nah. While delicious, I wanted something different. I didn’t have enough time to marinate it for grilling and I really didn’t want to bake or grill it with a dry rub. Then it hit me. I spotted a jar of curry. Chicken curry.

I pulled out my phone, typed “chicken curry” into the search engine and voila! There was my recipe.  I used one that I found on allrecipes.com entitled Indian Chicken Curry II (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/indian-chicken-curry-ii/ (evidently, there is an Indian Chicken Curry I).

As an aside, I was a little afraid because of all of the spices that this dish requires. But mostly, I was afraid of this recipe because of the curry. Curry terrifies me. I’m white. Incredibly white. I have a very low tolerance for spicy food and thus, my taste buds have been deprived of many a dish. I’ve tried curries before and we did not get along.  I digress, I decided to swallow my fear, grab a bottle of curry powder and see what happens.

The process of making this dish is actually surprisingly simple. The most time consuming part is waiting as everything simmers and makes your house smell amazing.

Here is a list of ingredients for Indian Chicken Curry (Part Deux)

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger root
  • ½ teaspoon white sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 Cup plain yogurt
  • ¾ Cup coconut milk
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

The Fixin’s

Step 1:

Measure out all of your spices and put into separate bowls or in separate tiny spice piles on a plate . I found that pre-measuring everything before starting helps the entire process flow more smoothly.

Aromatic Spice Plate

Cut your chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

Chop your small onion.

Step 2:

Pour olive oil into a skillet and heat. Add onion and sauté until lightly browned. I sauted the onion & garlic together (which you aren’t supposed to do, but it didn’t seem to have any negative effects on the flavor). If you’re not a scofflaw like me, brown your onion first and then add:

Garlic

Curry powder

Cinnamon

Paprika

1 Bay Leaf

Ginger (I was out of fresh ginger, so I used ground, dried ginger)

Sugar

Salt

Speecy Spicy

The recipe on allrecipes.com states you should “continue stirring for 2 minutes”, however, I found that with the olive oil absorbed all of the spices above so there really wasn’t anything to “stir”.

Step 3:

Add chicken, tomato paste (which I didn’t have, so I didn’t use it. It works without that layer of flavor), yogurt and coconut milk. Stir together and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

Bubblin’ Goodness

This was the hardest part for me. The waiting. This dish is so aromatic that all I wanted to do was eat.

I put on a pot of jasmine rice to cook while the yummy curry was simmering. You should do the same. And pour yourself a very large glass of wine. It’s also a good time to wash up the very few items you use to create this dish, that is, if you want to be a responsible adult. Otherwise, it can just wait ‘til morning.

After about 23 minutes, I could take it no longer, so I juiced half a lemon and added the cayenne peper and stirred, setting the timer for another 5 minutes so the two new flavors could meld with the rest.

At this point, the scents of curry and cinnamon were so intense that I couldn’t help but dress a plate with jasmine rice and ladle chicken curry on top. I was so excited! I took a deep breath and a bite. Holy hell it was spicey!

There are so many layers of flavors  in this dish. First off, you’ll savor the rich texture of the sauce from the yogurt and coconut milk.  Then, you notice the smoky richness of the curry and paprika, a subtle sweetness from the cinnamon, then you’ll get the tang of the lemon. Swallow your bite, and the heat sets in.  The cayenne pepper is the finishing bit of heat that lingers on your tongue and in the back of the throat. Jasmine rice is the perfect accompaniment for this dish.  The slight sweetness and smell lend itself very well to the curry and helps cut the heat slightly.

All in all, if I were to make this dish again,   I’d cut the amount of cayenne by half and probably increase the salt a bit.

If you have a very low tolerance for spicy food like me, and thus have avoided several food styles out of fear of your tongue will catch on fire, burn and completely fall out of your mouth, trust me when I say this: it won’t. Just keep a glass of milk nearby to cut the heat.

My venture into Curry Land definitely spiced up my life, if only for that night. But, I found that I actually kind of dig the smokiness of the curry…something that used to scare me.   One of the ways I tend to cope with life is though food…I know, its terrible. But in this case,  what’s a better way to shake things up than by creating something out of your comfort zone?

There Aren’t Enough Orange Foods: The Making of Pumpkin Soup

I’ve been one hell of a Betty Crocker this weekend! It used to be that I did the majority of my most creative cooking when I was upset; it seems that I’ve turned a page and now can try some creative stuff just when I feel curious. Not only did I can seven more jars of hot pepper jelly (leaving seeds in this time around to make a jelly with more kick as requested by a couple of people), I also baked two loaves of zucchini bread (a first for me, made with a huge garden grown zucchini) and made a soup that harks to the coming of fall.

Ain’t that a purdy punkin’?

We grew a large pumpkin in the garden, so I asked a very creative culinary friend of mine the burning question: What can I make with pumpkin? The looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and said very simply, “Pumpkin soup.” Being as I’ve never had pumpkin soup, or butternut squash soup for that matter, I found this both intriguing and a bit of a challenge. I asked how one goes about making such a soup; he told me to roast the pumpkin with olive oil and salt and when finished, purée it to prep it.  I figured this would be a long process, but once I had cut and removed all of the pumpkin’s guts, it was very simple: drizzle and roast. The roasted pumpkin came out of the oven sizzling with an earthy aroma and a rich orange color.

Pumpkin Drizzled with Olive Oil and Sprinkled with Salt Prior to Roasting

I allowed it to cool a few minutes and scooped the soft pumpkin flesh (ew, flesh) with a spoon into a bowl, leaving only the skin to dispose of.  Then, I scooped the soft, roasted pumpkin into a food processor and blended until it was puréed.

Pureed Pumpkin

I turned the pumpkin soup experiment into a two-day event because I waited until fairly late Saturday night to roast and after my second glass of Perrin Nature Cotes Du Rhone I was in no frame of mind to finish making soup.  Today, my mind clear and unaffected by copious amounts of deliciously rich Cotes Du Rhone, I completed the task.

After scooping the puréed pumpkin into a big, cast iron dutch oven I added half a cup of water and about two cups of chicken broth, stirring to dilute the pumpkin.  My friend had said all I really needed for this to work was chicken stock or broth, cream and spices, so I figured even if this experiment went awry, I could say I’d made the attempt.  I relied heavily on my taste buds and after adding cream ( I have no idea how much, because I just poured until the consistency was smooth and somewhat thin), I added cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, salt and sugar (again, I failed to measure) and stirred until all spices were well mixed.

Addin’ the Flavor

I chose to thinly slice a few baby carrots and finely dice a medium sized white onion from the garden and saute with a large pad of butter and chicken broth until the carrots were soft to the touch and the onions were translucent, and then added both to the pumpkin and spices. I remembered a friend making and incredible tomato bisque for me, and him using a blender to combine herbs and spices thoroughly while giving the soup a tremendously smooth texture, so I employed the same technique to introduce my sautéed vegetables. After tasting, I was thrilled at the outcome! It was rich and smooth and the blended carrots and onions added a fantastic earthy flavor to the hearty soup.

The Finished Product

After this experiment, I fully intend to try my hand at more soups this fall and winter and now I know that while soup making is slightly labor intensive, it’s totally worth it.

Since I seem to be turning into a regular culinary queen, there will be more to come!

Adding to My Goddess List: I’m A Jelly Makin’ Fool

jelly makin’ fool

This Saturday, I took the opportunity to add something new to my “Goddess List” (the list of all of my abilities and talents and named affectionately by a very sweet friend of mine who continually reminds me that I am indeed a goddess and deserve only the best).  Because the garden has been so very fruitful this season we have a plethora of jalapeno peppers; the fridge is overflowing and the peppers have been slowly but surely wilting. My dad and I were discussing what we should do with the harvest one day and it dawned on me: hot pepper jelly.

This condiment is something my family enjoys with unabashed joy during the Christmas season. For some reason, there is nothing better than spicy green jelly and cream cheese spread on a cracker when it’s cold outside.  I should interject here that while I’ve made a good many dishes and experimented in the kitchen, I have never, I repeat NEVER tried my hand at canning. And never before have had I had the urge.

I planned on joining my Aunt Mary, a seasoned canner, for a lesson, but plans fell through.  Being as I’m hard headed and had canning on my schedule for the day, I decided that I would try it out myself. After all, how hard could it be? I took to the web for a recipe and got some tips over the phone.  Forty dollars, two dozen jars and lids, two boxes of pectin and several sweet peppers later, I was ready!

cannin’ supplies

I was excited! I had a recipe and decided I’d follow it to a T and go from there. Washing the jars, lids and rims and putting everything into pots to boil on the stove to sanitize was annoying and tedious. After I finished that chore, I began to doubt the decision to delve into this venture alone.

big ol’ steamy pot of jars

Chopping up a cup and a half of sweet green peppers was easy. Chopping a quarter of a cup of jalapeno peppers, however, was an ordeal and experience in and of itself. By the time I even got to this part, I was sweaty and nervous as I glanced to a huge pot filled with steamy water to sanitize my jars and a separate sauce pan bubbling over and sizzling on the stove to sanitize the lids and rims. Then, things got a whole lot worse: I think I inhaled a seed because all of a sudden my nose started burning, my eyes started watering, I started coughing uncontrollably like something was caught in my throat and I began sneezing like a son of a bitch.  At this point, I cursed the peppers (I mean really REALLY cursed them), nibbled on some bread and threw the chopped sweet peppers and chopped and seeded jalapenos into the food processor to turn them into tiny slivers.  Then, I dumped both kinds of peppers into a big pot, added six and a half cups of sugar, a cup and a half of vinegar, stirred it all up so it looked a little like this:

jelly fixins’

And read the recipe. I was supposed to wait for things to boil for three minutes. It was weird to see this gloopy mess come to a rolling boil and thin out, creating a thin green film around the perimeter of the pot.  The timer sounded and it was time to squeeze in two pouches of thick, sticky pectin.  The liquid slowed its boil and strangely morphed into a sticky boiling mess. I stirred the concoction, set the timer for minute and waited. I’d reached the last part of the recipe that I’d been waiting for! I removed the heavy, cast iron Dutch oven from the burner and set it aside to cool for five minutes, and skimmed the pot, removing a thick gooey layer.  Beneath that disgusting layer lay a lovely green shade of sweet, sticky jelly! Made with my own to hands! I was so excited and broke out my canning funnel and sanitized jars, lids and rims and set to fill them all up. Sadly, I was introduced to one of the “joys” of canning: lots of work and sweat with a very little bit of product; my batch filled only six and a half jars.  No matter, I thought. This wasn’t so bad; I’ll do it again and fill the rest of them!  And then I realized how hot, sweaty and sticky everything was and had second thoughts.   I decided six and a half jars were good enough for a Saturday afternoon.

spicy, homemade yumminess

Today is Monday and the more I think back to the hassle that canning is, I really do get why people do it.  It harks back to the days when people were resourceful and used what they had in everyday life. Not to mention, anything homemade always tastes about a million times better than anything you’d get from a store, it’s much healthier and it’s not packed with preservatives and chemicals.  I’m really excited that I’m developing a new skill and would like to try my hand at other forms of canning.  I’m hoping that round two of jelly making’ is as successful as round one! I wonder what’ll be the next addition to my Goddess List?