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

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Weight Watchers is a Bitch…Or, I Really, Really Miss Cooking (and Butter)

During my little hiatus from writing, I decided that enough was enough:  I decided I was tired of my pants fitting tight, feeling uncomfortable in my own skin and that the path to happiness was named Weight Watchers. I had repeatedly seen the new WW commercials on t.v. and though “I should do that again”.  I’ve done Weight Watchers before, many years ago (when I was in my early twenties) and had success; I lost about 50 pounds over the course of several months. And then, when I stopped following the plan because I got fed up, I gained it all back (and then some).    weight loss

Anyway,  I started this new weight loss venture toward the middle of February and I started out strong. I believed I could do it! If only I follow the plan to a perfect T, eat only the minimum number of points per diem that the plan allotted and come up with an arsenal of WW friendly meals and snacks, I could do this!

hangry

hangry

Guess what? That enthusiasm wore of quickly.  In fact, I became “hangry” more often than not.  Hangry is a term that I’ve adopted from a co-worker of mine; it’s a mix between hungry and angry. And it fits my mental state about 70% of the time.

For any of you that have been readers of my writing endeavor, you know that I love cooking. I not only do I love cooking, I savor cooking. It’s an experience that becomes richer the more you do it, the more spices you add, the more items you have to chop, the more you add to the pot, bowl or pan.  I. Love. Cooking. And thanks to go ol’ Weight Watchers, I haven’t really cooked much (with the exception of simple chicken, tomato, garlic one-pot dinners) over the past six weeks or so. And that just makes me angry. I feel like something that I love has been taken away from me. I love to cook; it brings me happiness to make food that other people can enjoy.  You want roast chicken, you say? Leave it to me: give me some butter and herbs and an oven and I’ll make you a roast chicken so delectable you’ll want to lick your plate.  You want some mashed potatoes? No worries, I’ll whip up the fluffiest, buttery dream that you’ll ever taste.  Beef stew is your thang? I got it; I’ll add the herbs, wine and browned beef that’ll make your mouth water as it simmers.  As I’m writing this, I’m getting hangry.  I’m getting angry because  during this venture into weight loss, I’ve lived primarily on Healthy Choice meals, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, a never ending supply of bananas, apples and strawberries and no butter.

Hello, my name is Alexis and I like butter. And bread. Oh my holy hell, how I love bread. And guess what? With the new Points Plus system of Weight Watchers, all foods are designated points based on their fat content, carbohydrate count, protein and fiber values. Breads are essentially what I would deem a “waste of points”.  I mean, I can eat a Hawaiin sweet roll for 3 WW points, or I can eat an entire Healthy Choice meal for about 6 WW points.  Which should I go for?

As you can see, this entire process of weighing my options and missing out on things that I love (Italian food, Mexican food, the occasional cheeseburger) can drive one to want to drink. And that brings me to another point: booze has such high WW point values that it makes you think twice before pouring a half a glass of wine that you will sip on and down 4 WW points. Grrr. Hate. It. Hateitsomuch!

The upside to my angst is that thus far, the plan is working. I’ve lost approximately 12 pounds in about 6 weeks. All while depriving myself of my joy of cooking (and butter). I know, I know that there are “Weight Watcher friendly” recipes out there. Believe me, I’ve tried them.  I made the most tasteless Weight Watchers friendly Tex-Mex Chicken Salad that you’ll ever taste (…or not taste) a couple of weeks ago that contained (and I say this with disdain) fat free mayo and fat free sour cream. I tasted the finished product, looked at my mom and said, “It’s missing something but I can’t tell what.” Do you know what my wise mother said in reply? She said, “Fat.” Dang right! That’s exactly what it was missing! No fat, no flavor!

Now, I definitely don’t subscribe to the theory that every dish has to be laden with butter or oil or mayo or sour cream to have flavor. Absolutely not.  But to use fat free versions of something that is meant to have fat just seems wrong to me.

I had a little melt down just last week when I calculated my points and decided I had enough to have dinner out with my best friend (and occasional hiking partner) Christina.  I’d chosen the restaurant, I’d looked up point values, I’d decided what I was going to have. And then it happened: at the last minute,  Christina’s daughter (my neice) decided that she didn’t want to go where I had decided to go. She wanted to go to Chilis. That was when it happened. I was so irritated that I actually had to expend more energy on figuring out what I “could eat” to fit into my little (very) calculated plan that I probably had smoke and steam coming out of both of my ears and my nose.  Christina, being the good friend that she is told me to calm the hell down, it wasn’t that big a deal, and that I could find something.  After I took a big, deep, hangry breath I looked at her and the steam and smoke stopped billowing from my head. And then she asked a very important question that I am still pondering to this day: Are you going to keep doing this for the next five years of your life?

My answer flew out of my mouth faster than I thought it could. It was a resounding NO. Or rather, I believe that I said “God, no.” And then I questioned myself: How was I going to keep off the weight that I’ve dropped or would drop as long as I continue doing this plan, once I stopped being “on the plan”? Would this be another failed attempt? One where I would feel all at the same time noble and hangry for a short period of time until I threw in the towel with a very loud exclamation of “fuck this!” I believe that is what happened the last time, or something very close to that happened last time.

 

 

I know that people who have never experienced issues with weight or self image may have a hard time having any sympathy for myplight or will understand the woes described above when they read this.  I truly believe that anyone who has had issues with weight or self image who read this may want to tell me to suck it up and keep on keepin’ on.  And both ends of the spectrum are ok.

Because you see, I know exactly what I “should” be doing. I “should” try to eat healthy and allow myself the goodie here or there that satisfies me so that I won’t binge on a bag of cookies or an entire pizza (yep, I’m guilty. I’ve done both. And I hope I gain some points from you for the simple fact that it’s humiliating to put that fact out there for all to read.) But I have an issue with moderation.

Moderation (I know) is the key to happiness.  And is the key to a long-lasting healthy relationship with food. Deprivation only leads to that hangry feeling and makes you want to bight anyone who comes into your path.  Some of you who do Weight Watchers will probably think, “But with WW, you can have anything you want! In moderation.” And to that logic I call bullshit.  Sure, you can have it, but when you only get 30 points a day are you really going to blow 3 of those points on a roll? I think not. Are you going to cash in 4 of those points to have half a cup of carefully measured wine? Not me.  This leads me to believe that I need to try something different.  I need to be able to continue to practice what I love: cooking and still incorporate health eating habits. I believe that I can do this; I also believe that it’ll be hard to do this, but I think it’ll be worth the fight to eat homemade non-processed foods that I enjoy in moderation. And to cook with butter again.

Now all I have to do is not buy into the Weight Watchers, NutriSystem and MediFast commercials when they come on t.v.

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?

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?