Day 12: Red, Red Wine

Still a day behind in my blogging, but I’m keeping up to date with my cooking and jogging (hey, that rhymes). Last night, a few friends and I had one of our favorite traditions — Top Chef Potluck. Every week or two weeks, we gather to watch Top Chef together, and each bring a dish for a potluck. We started with country themed potlucks (Cuba, Italy, etc) and progressed to fancier themes (colors of the rainbow — I had blue — and miniature foods). In honor of New Year’s resolutions, last night’s theme was foods under 150 calories per serving!

Daily Achievement
I went to several fitness magazine websites (Women’s Health, Self, etc) to look at their “healthy party foods” recipes. I ended up finding this recipe for Sweet Potato-Coconut Fritters, which looked delicious! I’ve recently discovered how tasty sweet potatoes can be, and coconut never goes wrong.

I cooked up the fritters last night after work. I thought they’d be quick, but it ended up taking longer, due to a few disasters. First, I was pulling out the ingredients for the recipe and realized I needed an egg yolk. Unfortunately, I had eaten my last 2 eggs that morning. I stood at the fridge for a while, debating whether I had time to dash out and get eggs, and googling “egg replacements” on my phone. I then realized that I was also out of minced garlic. At that point, I started looking around my kitchen to see if I could make anything else that would be tasty and healthy, but I didn’t think my friends would appreciate a bowl of pretzels accompanied by string cheese. Finally, I figured “Screw it” and decided to use vegetable oil in place of the egg yolk and garlic powder in place of the minced garlic.

I dumped everything into a food processor, plugged it in…. and the food processor didn’t work (it was a hand-me-down that I hadn’t tried out yet). Cursing to myself, I scraped everything out of the food processor and into my beloved Magic Bullet, slopping chunks of sweet potato all over the place. The Bullet did the job, and I assembled the fritters and stuck them in the oven.

The recipe said they’d be done when the coconut turned brown, but my fritters still seemed really wet and doughy, instead of nice and crunchy. But I didn’t want the coconut to burn, so I just took them out anyway. I offered Jim a fritter, and he took a bite, pulled a face and said, “Is this supposed to taste like this?” Not exactly a resounding endorsement… I may have overdone it with the garlic powder. I think my friends enjoyed the fritters anyway, but they definitely weren’t one of my better potluck contributions! At least the red wine I brought tasted good. 😀

Song of the Day
UB40 – Red Red Wine. Man, I love this song. I think everyone can relate to the lyrics at some point, right? “Red red wine you make me feel so sad, Any time I see you go it makes me feel bad…” Plus, watching the video cracks me up to see all those ’80s yuppies grooving to the reggae.


Day 10: I’d be Sad and Blue if Not for You

Brr, it’s really cold in DC today. I’m hoping for snow tomorrow since it’s just not winter to me without a blanket of snow. Since it’s so cold and wintery today, I thought it was only appropriate to make a delicious, icy smoothie for breakfast. Okay, maybe not the best weather for it, but I really do love smoothies in the morning. They’re really quick, and I can drink them in the car on my way to work. I use the Magic Bullet to make my smoothies. I know it seems cheesy and “seen on tv,”, but I honestly love the Bullet. It’s easy to make one serving at a time and I can throw the cup into the dishwasher afterwards instead of having to deal with washing out an entire blender. Plus, some of the cups have handles!

Daily Achievement

For this smoothie, I threw in the following ingredients: soy milk (regular milk is fine too, I just happened to have this instead); Greek yogurt (richer and creamier than regular yogurt); protein powder (I have to make sure to mix this up really well w/ the milk before blending; otherwise, the powder is a gross texture); frozen berries (I had a mix of blueberries and raspberries on hand); baby spinach; agave honey (for sweetening). The inclusion of the spinach may sound weird, but I promise you can’t taste the spinach once it’s been blended, and it’s an easy way to get a serving of veggies. It does turn the smoothie an ugly color, though (as shown in the picture above). Next time, I’ll probably add some peanut butter or almond butter for a kick of fat, because the smoothie didn’t really keep me satisfied as long as I would have liked.

Song of the Day
George Harrison – If Not For You (Live at Bobfest). My dad sent me this clip today, and I thought it was cool! It’s George Harrison performing at a 30th anniversary celebration of Bob Dylan’s music in 1992. His purple jacket is kind of insane, but check out all the talent he has performing behind him, including some of the band members from The Blues Brothers. George may not have gotten as much attention/credit as John and Paul did, but he was definitely a great talent in his own right and a lot of his solo stuff is worth a checkout.

Day 7: Let the Rhythm Move You

Many thanks to Cutter and Dan for being the first donors to my fundraising campaign!! I’ll be bringing some awesome baked goods to kickball next week for these guys. It’s been a long week around here in Slow Cooker Country… so glad it’s the weekend. Tonight was the first night I didn’t cook dinner all week — I had Thai food, and it was delicious. I still cooked a meal from scratch today, though!

Daily Achievement
To change things up a bit, I’m featuring a breakfast. I’ve been making my own breakfasts all week, but they haven’t really been worth talking about. Monday’s frittata was a disaster (I forgot to put the ricotta in so it wasn’t fluffy at all), and Wednesday’s scrambled eggs were kind of gross because I didn’t cook the mushrooms long enough. Eggs are hard, you guys. Maybe I should just stick to hard boiling them. This morning’s egg dish was awesome, though.

One of my favorite meals is the turkey bacon and egg white sandwich from Starbucks, so I decided to make a modified version. In a small tupperware container, I stirred up two eggs, some Lawry’s seasoned salt, and shredded cheese, and then microwaved the whole shebang. Microwaving eggs may sound odd, but it works really well for egg sandwiches. The eggs turn into a omelet, and if you use a round tupperware container, they’re the perfect size and shape to put on top of an English muffin. I’ve also done a version where I add chopped veggies to the egg mixture and eat it alone as a mini omelet. So I had a toasted English muffin, the eggs, and a slice of deli turkey. Super tasty, and even quicker than going to Starbucks.

Song of the Day
C + C Dance Factory – Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now). This weekend, my kickball league is having their kickoff party, and the theme is the 90s, so I’ll be featuring 90s songs all weekend. I didn’t really get into current music until the late 90s when I started watching MTV and listening to the radio, but since those days, I’ve listened to a lot of early 90s hits, and there’s some good stuff there. This song in particular is one of my favorites… how can anyone sit still while listening to it?

Day 5: Once You’ve Had It, You’re in an Awful Fix

I had the first real test of my commitment to my goals (cooking more things from scratch and avoiding fast food/packaged food) tonight. I had “chicken/eggplant parmesan” on my meal plan for tonight, but I wasn’t able to find any eggplant; Harris Teeter’s eggplants looked gross and wrinkly, and Trader Joe’s just didn’t have any. And then on my way home, Jim asked me to grab some McDonald’s for him. He’s sick, so I guess chicken mcnuggets take the place of chicken soup for him. I reallllly wanted some fries and a double cheeseburger. “But then what will I blog about?!” I asked myself. I suppose I could have taken a page from Fancy Fast Food and tried to turn fries into some sort of masterpiece, but it’s a little early in the year to start cheating.

So I resisted the siren call of processed chicken, and while Jim enjoyed his McNuggets, I made an actual chicken dinner for myself.

Daily Achievement
I scrapped the parmesan idea and decided to just throw the chicken into some sauce and serve it over whole wheat spaghetti. I sauteed chicken, mushrooms, red onion, red pepper flakes, and olive oil in a pan, and then mixed it into a jar of Trader Joe’s garlic marinara sauce (which is totally awesome and has a nice short ingredient list, so it’s the next best thing to making my own tomato sauce).

The chicken was a little bland (I probably needed more red pepper flakes), but everything else tasted pretty great. Spaghetti is really one of those things that’s hard to mess up… it’s such a comfort food. Jim ended up being jealous of my meal. 🙂

Song of the Day
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – Love is Strange. Such an odd, yet delightful duet. Jim and I started watching The Wire tonight, and the Mickey & Sylvia version of this song was playing on the radio in in the 2nd episode. It immediately stuck in my head, but I prefer the Kenny & Dolly version. Dolly is just awesome in general, and how can you not like Kenny Rogers, who started up a fried chicken chain named after himself?

On a side note, who’s seen the Wire? I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it (I’m not really into police shows and crime stuff), but it’s really gripping so far. I hope it continues to be good, since I bought the entire series on sale from Amazon!

Day 3: Now You Want My Soul

Today was definitely a resounding success for the meal plan. I actually ate breakfast for once, made my coworkers jealous of my leftover pork chop for lunch, and then cooked a pretty awesome dinner for myself.

Daily Achievement
For dinner, I made Sausage, Kale and Lentils. This is a meal Jillian Michaels supposedly created for (I’m so sure she had time to sit down and write out a bunch of recipes in between advertising weight loss pills and making people cry). Kale and lentils are both new to me. I wasn’t even totally sure what kale looked like. When I went to the grocery store, all the lettuces/leafy greens were in one section, but they weren’t labeled very well. I actually had to look kale up on my phone in the store to make sure I was getting the right thing, instead of something like red cabbage (ew) or collard greens (double ew).

I was pleasantly surprised by this meal! It was really easy (just sauteeing everything together in a pan and I managed not to smoke out the kitchen this time), and the flavors were really good. The kale had a nice sort of crunchy texture with a slightly peppery taste. I’m typically not a big fan of the cruciferous greens, but I would actually eat kale again. I think the red pepper flakes and olive oil I cooked it in helped, though! And the lentils and turkey sausage went really well with it. It was a pretty big, filling meal that honestly didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to do (ok, 20 if you count the time it took me to chop up the sausage and kale).

I did cheat in one area, though. I picked up a bag of dried lentils on my grocery store trip, and then realized I don’t know how to prepare the lentils. I didn’t really want to fiddle w/ 2-4 hours of soaking them, so I stopped at Trader Joe’s on my way home from work and grabbed their pre-cooked lentils. Maybe I’ll graduate to preparing my own lentils next time I make this dish?

Verdict: Jillian (or her recipe ghostwriter) knows her stuff. You win this round, Michaels, but I still think the fact you hawk diet pills is lame.

Song of the Day
The Bird and the Bee – I Can’t Go For That. I don’t even remember how I discovered this song… I think it might have been through Pandora. I’d never heard of the Bird and the Bee, and I’m not sure why they decided to do an album of nothing but Hall and Oates covers, but this song wormed its way into my heart. It’s an awesome electro-pop cover of the original. You won’t even miss John Oates’ crazy mustache.

Day 2: I Guess the Change in my Pocket Wasn’t Enough

In order to facilitate my new plan of cooking as often as possible and avoiding too many processed foods, for Day 2 I decided to make a meal plan. My meal plan usually goes something like this:
1. In burst of inspiration, buy tons of veggies at grocery store with no real plan
2. Admire the veggies in the fridge, but realize I’m hungry immediately and don’t want to cook
3. Order take-out Thai
4. Repeat steps 2-3.
5. A week later, sadly throw out rotting veggies; vow to do better next time.

You get the point. So I figured maybe if I actually wrote out what I want to cook every day, get the ingredients for that, and stick to the plan, I can avoid wasting food/money and not fall into the Thai trap. I busted out a couple cookbooks, wrote it all down in a notebook, and hit the grocery store to get everything for the week… to the tune of $150. Ugh. Is that normal for a week’s worth of food? It does include stuff like chicken breasts to freeze for a later week, though, and this overly expensive curry powder which had better be worth it.

Daily Achievement
So my first meal on the meal plan was last night’s dinner — balsamic pork chops with roasted asparagus. I have to confess something: the only meat I feel comfortable cooking is chicken and ground beef. I’ve tried beef tenderloin in the past, and it never comes out well, and I’ve never even attempted fish or pork. Cooking a pork chop was a total first for me. At first, it seemed like it was going to be a disaster — I cooked the pork on the stovetop in a pan, and almost immediately the kitchen started filling with smoke. The pork was getting blacker and blacker on the outside and still staying pink on the inside. Finally at the very end, it magically became white in the middle. I made a sauce in the same pan which was super easy, luckily — a mix of balsamic vinegar and chicken broth. Once I covered the pork in enough sauce, it was actually pretty good. It wasn’t too dry and had a really nice flavor from the sauce. Maybe I just need to use lower heat next time so the pork doesn’t get quite so black on the outside?

The asparagus was awesome. I just stuck it on a cookie sheet, drizzled it in olive oil, sprinkled on some garlic/onion/herb medley thing Jim had sitting around, and roasted it for 10 minutes. It was really good in the balsamic sauce too. Mmm… asparagus.

Pork chop and asparagus

Overall, I’d count the meal as a win. I cooked pork for the first time and it wasn’t terrible! On the downside, my apartment still smells like slightly burnt pork. The cats are going nuts.

Song of the Day
For some reason, I had this song stuck in my head while cooking. It’s super catchy, and Gweyneth Paltrow surprisingly didn’t butcher it too badly on Glee. So my song of the day is F**k You by Cee-Lo. I dig the retro vibe and the “oooh-ooohs”.

Day 1: Now That I’m On My Way

2011… the year I’m going to stop eating all my meals from the microwave, and the year I’m going to successfully complete a half marathon in under 2 hrs and 30 minutes. In order to complete these goals, I’ve challenged myself to cook at least one thing from scratch and/or go for a run every day in 2011. I’ll be blogging about these activities to keep myself accountable, and hopefully have some fun while doing it!

I’m a fairly mediocre cook. I’m just not very experienced since I cook so rarely. I can follow a recipe, but take me off-recipe and I’m hopeless to make changes. I’m also lazy, and the last thing I usually want to do when I get home from work is take the time to put something together that I’m not sure will even be tasty. So, I tend to live off of frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, or get take-out.

My go-to meal, much to my chagrin, is Go-Go Taquitos from 7-11. It got to the point where the clerk actually handed me my preferred flavor (taco and cheese, if you must know) before I can open my mouth. Trader Joe’s frozen meals aren’t too bad for me, but I’m definitely a little concerned about all the sodium and preservatives I must be getting in my system. Plus, I just need to eat more veggies. So I’m going to make an attempt to start cooking more often, working off of some sort of plan so that groceries don’t go to waste. Hopefully my skills will improve as the year goes on.

Happily, I’m a pretty good baker (although it’s really hard to go wrong with enough sugar, butter and chocolate). I also have an interest in cocktails. So for the purposes of my goals, I’ll allow baking and cocktail shaking to count as “cooking something from scratch.” I just can’t let too many cocktails lead me back to the Taquito siren song…

I have a fairly short running history. I had a short-lived and unmemorable stint on the indoor track team in middle school and didn’t lace up running shoes again until 2007. I signed up for the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon with a few friends, and then stupidly didn’t train at all. I managed to finish the race, but with a time of 3:09 and had sore legs for days. I figured running just wasn’t for me. Then last year, I signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, and made a commitment to train for it. I used the Couch to 5K plan and then the Hal Higdon 10 miler plan, and finished the race in 1:46! I was incredibly proud of myself, but once my goal had been achieved, I promptly quit running again.

This year, I’m signed up for the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler again. But more importantly, I also signed up for a half marathon! I decided to run the National Half Marathon, and better yet, I’m doing it through Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run is a pretty cool program that helps elementary school girls (3rd through 8th grade) train for a 5k, mixed with healthy living programs. It’s supposed to build self esteem, teach them healthy habits, and all that good stuff. In exchange for having my entry fee to the half marathon paid for, I’ve commited to raising at least $262 for Girls on the Run leading up to the half marathon… if I don’t manage to raise it, it’ll be coming out of my own bank account, so I’m definitely motivated! If you would like to donate to my cause, I invite you to check out my Fundraising Page. I promise to bake something for every contributer (and then I can count that as cooking from scratch… 2 birds with 1 stone, here!)

Daily Achievement
So, what have I done today besides watch the “Worst Cooks in America” marathon on Food Network (at least I’m not as bad as those guys, even if it’s probably played up for television) and set up this blog? I cooked something from scratch!

Macaroni and Cheese

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese! Hey, what do you expect from me? I had an extremely late night and I’m not exactly firing on all cylinders today. My mom makes a great homemade mac and cheese, but the stuff from the blue box is one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s actually one of the first things I ever learned to make myself. Back in the day, when my father was in charge of me and my brother for meals, he’d usually take us to McDonald’s, or make us mac and cheese. Once I got old enough to boil water, he had me start doing it myself. (This is not a knock on my dad’s cooking skills — he makes a mean PB&J sandwich!) I actually made a small tweak to the classic recipe today — I’m out of milk so I used half & half that happened to be in the fridge. I felt totally wild and crazy… and it tasted darn good, too.

Song of the Day
Toby Keith – How Do You Like Me Now? I know, I know. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure song. Country music isn’t my favorite genre, but I actually saw Toby Keith in concert this past summer w/ some friends, and it was an interesting experience. He’s sponsored by Ford, so there was a giant honkin’ Ford on stage that he actually popped out of… it was pretty ridiculous. However, he’s a good showman, I had fun hanging out on the lawn with my friends, and this song was my favorite out of the bunch. Plus, I kinda like singing “How do you like me now? now that I’m on my waaaay” in my head to psych myself up on the treadmill. I promise that future songs of the day will be edgier (ok, to be honest, they probably won’t).