Cook For Days
#17daydiet - Day 3 - Getting the Hang of it.

Here we are on Day 3 and I feel like I’m starting to get the hang of this.  By dinner last night I was hungry but didn’t feel like I needed to eat a house to be satisfied.  I made some eggplant “steaks” and finished off my tomato sauce and felt pretty good.  I’m trying to hard not to weigh myself every day because I know that often the scale doesn’t show you the results you want after just a few days.  I’m going to wait until Monday, which will be one week. 

I mean, in terms of feeling better I don’t really.  I tend to keep my diet pretty healthy, which is maybe why I don’t suddenly have mountains of energy.  I know that if I eat too many carbs or not enough protein in the middle of the day I’ll have a little crash.  I guess I haven’t been crashing the last few days, which is good.  In general though, I think carbs are a really important part of my life and I would miss them if they were gone forever (which they’re not, just 13 more days!)

Breakfast:

Water with lemon

Blueberry Greek Yogurt with Raspberries (this was not so exciting, I was hungry almost immediately after.  Back to egg whites tomorrow!)

Green tea

Snack: white peach

Lunch:

Left over eggplant steaks with tomato sauce. 

Green tea

Snack: light ‘n’ fit yogurt (I forget the flavor).

Dinner: This is going to be a challenge.  I have a work event so I’m hoping to be able to piece together some kind of crudité and grilled chicken skewer situation. We shall see… My green tea will probably come from starbucks.

#17daydiet - Day 2 - I Miss Bread…

It’s interesting the things we crave.  I did not know how much I loved bread (and carbs in general) until last night at about 9pm.  I started thinking about how I would love a turkey sandwich for lunch.  Nothing fancy, just a little bit of lean meat between two slices of whole wheat bread.  Unfortunately there was no turkey sandwich for me today.  I mean, my salad was pretty amazing, but getting over the hump of no bread is proving to be a bit more challenging than I anticipated. 

Also, this morning I had ridiculous heart burn! It was really horrendous and didn’t really go away until after I ate lunch.  I feel better now, but it really ruined my morning and I’m not really sure what caused it.

Breakfast:

Hot water with lemon

3 egg whites, scrambled with salsa (quickly becoming my favorite thing ever).

3 sugar plums

Green tea

Iced Coffee

Snack: White Peach

Lunch:

4-5 oz can of salmon (looks and tastes strangely like tuna. I smell a scam.)

Spinach and mesclun greens

Red and orange bell peppers

Golden tomatoes (I’ve decided that from this point forward I will only eat tomatoes that aren’t red.)

1 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar (I’m so sick of balsamic!)

Green Tea

Snack: Peach Greek Yogurt and also some vegetables since I know I’m going to get home pretty late from this work event.  I will avoid the chips, dip, and guacamole and salsa. I will. I swear. (tune in tomorrow to see how that goes!)

Dinner:

Eggplant steaks marinated in mustard, garlic, olive oil, cumin, and red wine vinegar.

Heirloom tomato sauce with zucchini and yellow squash

Vanilla yogurt

Green Tea

#17daydiet - Day 1 - Read About my Day So Far

My aunt recently went through the 17-Day Diet by Mike Moreno.  We didn’t talk about it, because in my family any conversation about weight or diet is met with a barrage of opinions that I don’t have the patience for.  The bottom line is, she lost a lot of weight, and quickly.  I’ve been looking for something like this to try because I would like to lose about 10 pounds but I don’t feel like taking 2 months to do this, like I know it would on weight watchers.  I’m looking for a faster fix (that is still healthy and not a juice cleanse).  Also, 17 days seems like a totally reasonable amount of time that I can stick to something.

The diet is based on eating mostly lean protein and vegetables with 2 servings of fruit and 2 servings of “probiotics” (yogurt) thrown in with basically no carbs.  There is an emphasis on fresh and local produce and cooking for yourself, which obviously I’m a huge fan of.  I usually eat more fruit and less yogurt than is required in this diet and I really enjoy my HUGE bowl of cereal in the morning so those are the areas that I think will be most challenging.

Day 1:  Its almost 4pm and I’m feeling the way I usually do on the first day of a new diet: a little hungry, a little off kilter, and completely unsatisfied (thankfully not irritable!).  I know that things will get better from here and I can see the end of the tunnel already.  I also know that tomorrow and the next day I’ll probably feel amazing, so I look forward to that.

Breakfast:

Tall glass of warm water with lemon (as required)

3 egg whites with salsa

3 sugar plums (fruit serving 1)

Mug of green tea (I’ve chosen pomegranate raspberry green tea)

Iced Coffee (which I’m considering giving up, we’ll see…)

Snack: Peach (fruit serving 2)

Lunch:

Mesclun greens and baby spinach

Red and orange bell pepper

Golden tomatoes

Can of tuna

1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (I’m so freakin’ sick of balsamic!)

Mug of green tea

Snack: Mango Greek Yogurt (probiotic 1)

Dinner:

Grilled Chicken marinated in olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and paprika

Tomato sauce with zucchini and yellow squash (homemade last night)

Blueberry light ‘n’ fit yogurt (probiotic 2)

Mug of Green Tea.

I also will have drunk 2 liters of water, plus the glass I had first thing this morning.

Hopefully hitting a Zumba class tonight!

Starting weight: 138.1 (::cringe::)

Not quite #Chopped, but in the basket I had @chef_aaron and @sierramist

I am by no means a trained chef, but I definitely have a basic knowledge of food and cooking technique.  I am not at all embarrassed to tell you that my knowledge comes from the show Chopped.  If you are not watching Chopped on the Food Network, set your DVR for Tuesdays at 10 (or just set the DVR and watch it ALL THE TIME).  Chopped is like Iron Chef and Top Chef had a baby.  It is a competition show that is self contained, so in each episode four chefs set out to make a 3-course meal, appetizer (in 20 minutes), entrée (in 30 minutes), and dessert (in 30 minutes) using mystery (ridiculous!) ingredients in different baskets.   After each course one chef is chopped.  It’s genius.  I had no choice but to start watching the show after my friend Erin started critiquing all of our meals as if she was a judge.  The judges are amazing! They are all New York based chefs who are super successful and talented in their own rite and take no prisoners.   Here’s a classic quote from Alex Guarneschelli, chef at Butter: When tasting a contestant’s prune dessert soup, Alex remarked, “I do find the prunes large.  I do think if I were just given a spoon and no instruction I would be wrestling with these prunes a bit.” She needs instructions to eat dessert soup!  Never mind the fact that the soup was made in 30 minutes or that it is probably accompanied by chili-bacon biscotti dipped in melted down cinnamon candies.  I’m telling you, this show is amazing!

So when the same friend who introduced me to this phenomenon invited me to a Sierra Mist cooking demo hosted by non other than AARON SANCHEZ, I jumped at the chance.  And this Chopped judge (and All-Star winner!) did not disappoint.  He is charismatic and charming and speaks spanish to his staff just like you dream he would.  And he cooked for us! And fed us amazing food at Centrico, a restaurant I hope to visit again soon.  Chef Aaron started by serving us his signature guacamole.  This was not like any guacamole I had never tasted.  My tablemates and I were convinced he must have added a “cream element” to the avocado.  But no! How dare we accuse Aaron Sanchez of cheating on Mexican food! Here is what he said about guacamole.  He uses Mexican avocados (which I assume are different than our crappy, non creamy, California avocados) and never garlic.  He adds chile serrano, lime, salt, cilantro, tomato, and mexican oregano.  Another guacamole tip: leave it outside, don’t refrigerate it because then you can’t really taste it.  Like if wine is too cold, you can’t really taste it (of course, if my wine is too cold, I drink it anyway, so…)

While we were fed this guacamole, Chef Aaron showed us how to use Sierra Mist Natural to flavor and tenderize our chicken thighs in a slow cooker.  The recipe is at the end of this post, but I really appreciated that Sierra Mist is all-natural and, in this case, is a great substitute for the citrus in this Chipotle Chicken recipe.  Who knew, right?

After the demonstration, Chef Aaron took questions and berated us for thinking he cheated at guacamole (I’m Sorry!!).  He stood up for his fellow Chopped judges who come off as, shall we say, less than friendly? (Yes, I’m looking at you, Scott Conant! Mr. I-don’t-eat-red-onion-and-if-you-undercook-your-pasta-I-will-glare-at-you).  Also, he pointed out that someone like Alex Guarneschelli, who probably has the worst reputation (see prune soup comment above), has really had to work hard to get to where she is today.  Being a professional chef as a woman apparently requires that you have “cajones” twice the size of your male counterparts.  He gave me a new found respect for Alex and Amanda Freitag (Oh, who am I kidding? I love Amanda! She called herself a “pantry person” on Chopped: All Stars and after you watch a week’s worth of reruns you will understand how brilliant that is!)

And then he fed us.  Oh, the food! Beyond the amazing guac, a papaya ceviche with plantain chips (it might have been mango? I couldn’t hear over the crunch of my chips), a chicken thigh with a spicy chipotle sauce and green rice I wanted to bathe in.  Topped off by an amazing chile-chocolate lava cake with corn ice cream.  Honestly everything was amazing and I will definitely go back to Centrico, but, Chef Aaron, if you’re reading this, and want to send your grandma’s green rice recipe my way (cookfordays@gmail.com), I promise to make it with love and care in my own kitchen.

Overall, what a fantastic event! Huge thanks to Sierra Mist for a great time (and the autographed Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook)! What a great opportunity to learn from a master (who literally chopped an onion without even looking at it! WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING!) who happens to be on one of my favorite television shows.

Here are my favorite take-aways from the event (and the Chipotle Chicken Recipe):

·      The bubbles in Sierra Mist help to tenderize meat in a slow cooker.  Science is Magic.

·      “Let the food speak for itself.  Treat it with respect and honor” – Aaron Sanchez.  He is really big on loving your food and allowing it to bring your family together. 

·      “Eat with your hands: bring people together”

·      “If I can cook 50% as good as my grandmother, I’m doing okay!” Another great thing he said about grandmothers and why their food is so good, is that grandmothers are not in a rush! They will let something sit on the stove all-day and let all of the flavors develop.  Note to self: Don’t feel like you have to constantly stir whatever happens to be on your stovetop.

And the recipe:

Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken

2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 large white onion, thinly sliced (The Sierra Mist recipe says yellow, but Aaron said to use white since they are milder in flavor.)

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 chipotle peppers in adobo, finely chopped (These apparently come from Vera Cruz in Mexico, just like Selma Hayak.)

1 teaspoon ground cumin (Chef Aaron warns to use this in moderation as it can be very assertive)

1 12 oz can Sierra Mist Natural (Aaron says that this is the only soda he allows in his house because it is made with all natural sugar.)

1 15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes

1.  Put the chicken in the bottom of a 4 or 6 quart slow cooker and scatter the onions, garlic, chipotle and cumin.  Pour the tomatoes and Sierra Mist natural over and cover.

2.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours (Aaron said low for 6 hours)

This is a basic shredded chicken recipe that you can serve in tacos, tortillas or quesadillas with your favorite fixings.  I personally plan to make some guacamole!

Thanks to Sierra Mist and Aaron Sanchez

Pretty much my first stop in Philly!

Pretty much my first stop in Philly!

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies - Those are healthy, right?

There are few things in the world I enjoy more than 2 homemade cookies after my lunch.  The last few weeks I’ve made a lot of chocolate chip and oatmeal, but this week I wanted something new.  Like Carrot Cake.

So I found these on tastespotting my favorite food-porn destination.

I’ve adapted the recipe here based on my (and my mom’s) opinions about spices and how to make them pop a little bit more (I added raisins and more cinnamon).  Otherwise, you could consider them healthy since I made each cookie a bit smaller and also they only have one stick of butter and no white sugar.

Enjoy!

Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 30 cookies

Ingredients

1 stick butter (½ cup), softened
¾ brown sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup carrots, finely shredded
½ cup coconut
½ cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup white chocolate chips

1/2 cup raisins
1 cup flour
1 cup oats
½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt

Directions

Cream together softened butter and brown sugar. Add egg and vanilla, beat with an electric mixer until fluffy (approximately 1-2 minutes).

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in separate bowl. Mix together with a wire whisk. Add to the butter, brown sugar, egg mixture. Stir until just combined.

Add oats, coconut, white chocolate chips, walnuts, carrots. When everything is well-integrated into the batter, refrigerate for approximately 30 minutes. Batter will be sticky.

While refrigerating, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spoon out “small golf ball-size” scoops onto a cookie sheet and bake for 12 – 15 minutes depending on temperature of oven and how cool the dough is from the fridge. They will be golden brown on top when done. If they appear moist in the middle they aren’t quite there yet! Cool completely on a wire rack before enjoying.

Chicken Saagwala… I tip-toe into indian food.

For years I have been saying, I don’t like Indian Food.  This is a lie.  I love curry chicken, I love chicken tikka masala (LOVE!) and I love this Chicken Saagwala recipe that I found on weightwatchers.com.

There are few recipes that I come back to.  I like to experiment in the kitchen and make new things as much as possible.  This recipe is quick, easy, tasty, and all around awesome.

You need some brown rice with it though, otherwise you just can’t make this last for 4 servings.

Here’s the recipe, and the link:

Ingredients


2 Tbsp olive oil, divided   
4 tsp curry powder, mild variety   
1 tsp ground coriander   
1/2 tsp Durkee ground cumin, or other brand   
2 Tbsp ginger root, fresh, finely chopped   
2 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s), finely chopped      1 pound(s) uncooked boneless skinless chicken breast(s), cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes      2 large fresh tomato(es), ripe, seeded and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces      10 oz fresh spinach, baby leaves   
1/2 tsp sea salt   
1/4 cup(s) water   

2 Tbsp cilantro, fresh, chopped   

Instructions

  • Place 1 tablespoon of oil, curry powder, coriander, cumin, ginger and garlic in a large nonstick skillet; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.

  • Add remaining tablespoon of oil and chicken to skillet; stir to coat with spiced oil.

  • Add tomatoes to skillet; cover skillet and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover skillet and stir to combine.

  • Add spinach to skillet; cover and cook for 5 minutes more. Uncover skillet and stir to combine.

  • Add salt, water and cilantro to skillet; simmer for 1 minute. Yields about 1 1/2 heaping cups per serving.

Notes

  • Round out this classic Indian dish with a simple yet flavorful rice recipe: Cook brown basmati rice with 1/2 a diced onion, a small piece of a cinnamon stick and 1/2 a bay leaf. Just remove the spices before serving.
Eggplant Parmesan Rigatoni - A Healthy Alternative

I want to start this post by saying that I at Eggplant Parmesan Rigatoni for the last 3 days.  I made it Tuesday night, then ate it for lunch wednesday and thursday.  What made it so great was the fact that the sauce was such a great mix of eggplant and tomato and then the cheese melted in with the toasted bread crumbs for crunch.  I could not have been more pleased with this recipe.  I love things that I can cook once and eat for days after.  Though this recipe was supposed to be four servings, my fiance and I got more like 7 out of it.  Great meal to take to work and put in the microwave :-)

Here you go, courtesy of Big Girls, Small Kitchen

Eggplant Parmesan Rigatoni
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 Vidalia or Spanish onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups marinara sauce or tomato puree*
1 plum tomato, seeded and diced
1 pound rigatoni (I used meze)
10 basil leaves, torn
½ pound perlinis (or chopped fresh mozzarella)
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

In the meantime, set a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, about 2 tablespoons. Add the eggplant, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the eggplant is tender, but not falling apart. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook until fragrant, about 2 more minutes.

Pour the tomato sauce and chopped tomatoes over the eggplant mixture and stir to combine. Simmer gently until the acidity of the tomatoes has burned off, and the eggplant is soft and falling apart, about 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as necessary.

In a small non-stick pan, toast the breadcrumbs with a little bit of olive oil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and add to the pan with the pasta sauce. Add the basil leaves (reserving one or two for garnish) and the perlinis (or chopped mozzarella) and toss to combine.

Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and top each with a tablespoon of breadcrumbs and Parmesan. Garnish with torn basil leaves, and serve immediately.

Making biscotti is the most fun I’ve ever had in the kitchen

As you read my blog, you will see that I have a small obsession with Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen and pretty much every recipe that she posts on that blog.  I love that the recipes are real, the descriptions are practical and friendly, and the pictures are beautiful.  I spend at least 45 minutes a day clicking on the Surprise Me button on the site just reading old posts.  I love everything about her blog.

So today my cousin ran the Marathon which is an amazing accomplishment that I will almost definitely never reach.  I wanted to make something for her after party which was kind of a coffee/tea/dessert/appetizer party.  I searched and searched for the perfect recipe and decided to make Deb’s Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti.  I read and reread the recipe, taking note of Deb’s warning to flour the rolling surface and my hands well to combat the sticky dough.  I also read the comments which suggested incorporating extra cocoa powder into the flour to make the cookies less white and powdery and more chocolatey.  Best suggestion ever.  I am always excited when my cooking looks like the pictures and this batter and preparation looked perfect.  These cookies came out great and the rolling and covering myself in flour and cocoa powder was so much fun. I felt like I was really accomplishing something in the kitchen and I was just so proud of myself when I took these biscotti out of the oven for the second time.

Deb, for the first, and definitely not the last, time, I thank you for your awesome recipe and suggestions and for making me feel successful in the kitchen!

Here’s the recipe and a link to Smitten Kitchen:

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti
Adapted from The New York Times, 12/12/93

This New York Times recipe is as old as time. I wish I could tell you how many recipes for biscotti I dug through before finding a couple that didn’t have butter in them, but I’m not sure I can even count that high. Suffice it to say, it took me to an article from 1993, a year that biscotti were all the rage but probably not for me as I was in … high school. (Sob.)

They are mildly sweet and chocolaty–they’re the exact opposite of a molten chocolate cake on the indulgent chocolate obsession sliding scale. They’re also quite easy to put together if you promise to watch out for one thing: this is the stickiest dough I have ever worked with and you cannot have too much flour down on your surface.

Total time: 1 hour
Makes about 60 biscotti

1 cup whole hazelnuts, preferably blanched
2 1/2 cups flour, plus flour for work surface
1/2 cup Dutch-style cocoa powder
1 tablespoon espresso powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread hazelnuts on baking sheet and toast about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. If hazelnuts are not blanched, toast them until the skins begin to crack, then remove them from oven and wrap them in clean linen or cotton towel (not terrycloth). Rub hot nuts to remove most of the skin. Set toasted nuts aside.

2. Sift the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder together and set aside.

3. Beat eggs lightly, just until blended, in mixing bowl with whisk or in electric mixer. Remove two tablespoons of egg mixture to small dish and set aside. Beat sugar into remaining eggs until blended. Stir in flour mixture to form soft dough.

4. Divide the dough in half and place one portion on a well-floured work surface. (She is not kidding about this.) With floured hands, pat it into a six-inch square. Scatter half the hazelnuts on the dough and press them into the surface. Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and 12 to 15 inches long. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and place the roll of dough on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Brush the tops of both rolls with the reserved egg.

5. Place in the oven and bake about 15 minutes, until firm to the touch. (This took me until 20 to 25 minutes.) Transfer to a cutting board and cut on an angle into slices one-half-inch thick. (I found that letting them cool for five minutes made this easier, as well as a sharp knife with a tight serrate.) Return the slices to the baking sheet, laying them on their cut sides, and return them to the oven. Bake another 20 minutes, until they are crisp and dry. Allow to cool completely before storing or serving.

potato ricer

This recipe for Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter makes me want to own a potato ricer.  I think i’ll get one this weekend!