Thursday, January 23, 2014

Take My Spouse.... Please!

I have both good news and bad news on this week’s food selections.

The good news: the Char Siu pork came out very well. It was succulent, it was moist, it was breaking apart into beautiful shreds all by itself before the cooking time was done.

I would, in the future, change a few things, both from the recipe and during cooking. There was a slightly bitter aftertaste, which we didn't care for. Also, because my crockpot is on the larger side, the marinade wasn’t enough to cover the roast during the cooking process, so I was turning the roast every 90 minutes to make sure the top side didn't dry out.

Finally, my crock pot cooked it in less time than the 8 hours the recipe specified – it was supposed to take 8 hours, and it was done in 6 on low. I made sure the roast matched what was in the recipe, so I’m thinking that maybe I have an Industrial Strength crock pot that just cooks things Gangnam Style.

Link to Char Siu pork recipe:

Mine came out identical to the picture. I served it complimented by a vegetable fried rice created by combining a bag of frozen stir fry veggies and brown rice in the skillet in with some oil and soy sauce. Daughter was not a fan of the pork roast, but Husband (of all people! Mr. Anti Pork) and I enjoyed it – and we used the leftovers to make pulled pork sandwiches for lunch during the week. I think I will make it again, and reduce the ginger to try and ferret out the bitterness in the aftertaste.

Now for the bad news: Fish night. I know I mentioned in my last post that my husband is digging in his heels pretty firmly and complaining quite vociferously about the fish in our diet. I made the salmon burgers for dinner last night:

And it was a Disaster, for many reasons.

1) I didn't read the recipe through in advance, and only realized my food processor is still sitting in storage AFTER I started to make the recipe. So I got to finely shred salmon with a knife as best I could.

2) The salmon wouldn't stick together properly after I had chopped it to within inches of its life, so I ended up adding an egg to it in order to get the stuff to adhere to the mix-ins and resemble burger meat.

3) It was very onion-y, due to the shallots, which overpowered the meat. Daughter called me on that one, too, because she can spot an onion a mile away.

4) The Whining of the Spouse. To summarize:

“First, you ruined my tacos, and now you are making me eat THIS! And it’s not a burger, it smells like FISH! It’s FISH! Why are you trying to get me to eat FISH after the day I had?!”
Anyone envisioning a toddler here? – Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh but I don’t liiiiiike fiiiiiishhhhh…..and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME EAT IT!

And he proceeded to drown it in ketchup, mustard, sliced cheese, and Parmesan cheese! Oh, the humanity! Only then would he deign to try it, and only because, "Now it's more like a burger and I can hardly taste the fish."

So I guess it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be making salmon burgers again anytime soon. At least the arugula salad and oven fries harmonized nicely with them, and both Daughter and I enjoyed them (other than the shallots).

I’ll let you know about the remainder of the week when I get another chance to write some more. First gourmet cooking class tonight, (I signed up for 6 weeks' worth of lessons at the local college) and I’m very excited to go. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Weekly Update

I will start out this entry by telling you that this week was Hell Week at work, both for me and husband. That's not an excuse, but we were completely wiped out by the time we walked in the front door.

I caved - for one night this week. Here is my justification:

Wednesday night, I pick up Daughter from the after school program. It is at that point she notifies me that she has a Chorus concert on Thursday night and her music teacher is insisting that they all wear a "formal" outfit. If you know my Goth/Grunge child, you will know that her wardrobe consists almost exclusively of t-shirts, flannel shirts, jeans, boots with chunky heels, and items from Hot Topic containing Invader Zim and GIR.

My head exploded. After the day I had at work, going shopping for a formal outfit at 6PM was not the way that I wanted to roll. I just wanted to come home, eat, collapse and twitch for awhile. Luckily for me, we found a really nice outfit that we could agree on at the first store we visited, so we were done within 20 minutes and I was able to cook our meal as normal without hitting the drive through - a minor victory.

However, Thursday night was the night of the concert, and the concert started at 6:30PM. Thanks a lot, Daughter's School, for giving me NO TIME to leave work, sit in traffic, pick her up and sit in more traffic, get her home and dressed and over to the venue for the concert in time. So unfortunately, Thursday night was McDonald's Drive Through night. We scarfed down our dinner in the car - and that's not the way anyone should eat.

But I still maintain that we did well - and I'm really loving the pre-chopping. I can't recommend it enough. It's a small investment of time on the weekend that pays off so much during those stressful weeknights for me. If I could recommend one tip to people who want to try and cook at home more often, this is it. Followed by number two: get buy-in from your family by letting them each choose a weeknight meal.

This week, we ate:

Monday - Turkey Tacos
Tuesday - Shrimp Fettucine
Wednesday - Breakfast for dinner (so we all had cereal - which wasn't unhealthy)
Thursday - McDonald's drive through
Friday - Homemade pizza night

Because we were "off" for two nights, I'm doing the char siu pork roast in the crock pot for this evening, and the pasta puttanesca tomorrow night.

This week's meal plan consists of:

Spinach ravioli
Black beans & rice (Daughter's request)
Salmon cakes with red beans and vegetable medley
Salmon burgers with arugula and oven fries
Pizza (Husband's request) - I make my dough in the bread machine, so I control the ingredients and make it half whole-wheat flour crust so he can't tell.... shhhhh.....

The husband has requested lentils for next week. I haven't made those yet, so I'm going to research the cookbooks to see if I can find any recipes. I'm sure his mother made them some special way that I don't know about, so I may ask her, too.

The hit this week? Shrimp fettucine. Husband will disagree with this, as he is now having an aversion to shrimp. I will also note here that my plan to incorporate fish in husband-friendly ways is not working, as he saw the menu planner on the fridge and said, "You are ruining all of my favorite types of food by making them with fish. First, tacos, now BURGERS?"

I swear to all things holy, it's like going through the phase I went through when my daughter was 4 or 5 and she refused to eat anything other than Cheerios or mac n' cheese. However, she passed through this phase. I don't think my husband ever will. He's going to be a permanent toddler when it comes to eating fish.

I guess I can't force someone to like something they don't like - but honestly, I am choosing the least fishy fish I can find and making sure it's firm and not mushy. He did actually enjoy the tilapia I made with the tacos, because he took the leftover fish to work for lunch this week, so maybe it's not too-too bad.

Anyway, if anyone would like to try the shrimp fettucine, it's super easy. Use a vegetable or whole wheat pasta for the fettucine, and the dish is loaded with spinach. We (Daughter and I) LOVE it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fish tacos and next week

Quick update on the fish tacos -

Super easy to make with very little investment of cooking time.
Actually got hubby to eat fish and lick the plate.

The fish wasn't salty enough for me - it was kind of bland, to be honest.
I didn't much care for the sauce that was with the recipe either - it was just bleh.
The fish cost $11.00 to feed the three of us, which is usually twice what I spend on meat for a meal.

However, daughter wants me to definitely make them again, and husband liked them well enough to give it a thumbs up so while not my personal favorite, we can use the recipe  in a pinch.

Link to the recipe follows, for anyone who wants to give them a shot. Please add more salt than what the recipe calls for - double it (seriously) in the seasoning on the fish when you go to pan fry.

Also, wanted to post the lineup for this week, and I'm tired so this blog entry will be short & sweet. We all got to pick one favorite this week, so that all of us are represented in the menu. Remember, any day can be any meal, although I am leaning toward making the char siu for Friday.

Spinach Ravioli
Shrimp Fettucine (daughter's pick) - fish #1
Turkey taco night (hubby's pick)
Pizza night (my pick - and I'm making the dough in the bread machine, yay)
Pasta Puttanesca (fish #2 from cooking light cookbook)
Char Siu pork roast from the cooking light crockpot book. I plan on making that with some brown rice cooked in chicken stock and then sauteed in some light oil with stir fry veggies and soy sauce. Should be delish.

Since the words are looking blurry and I keep making typos, that's it for tonight. I'll update more when I start cooking this week's meals.

I also made a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread today, and a gingerbread cake, which is one of my favorites.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How did we do this week?

You may ask this question, if you are keeping up with the blog - and -

It was a tough week, I'll be honest. But we made it! And although I was sorely tempted to hit that drive through, I am happy to report that I didn't do it all week long and we ate at home every single night this week.

The lineup ended up being:

Monday: Black beans & rice
Tuesday: Sauerbraten
Wednesday: Tuna pasta salad
Thursday: Turkey meat sloppy joes & corn
Friday: Blackened baja fish tacos (which I am making for dinner tonight)

Stress at work has been driving me insane. By Wednesday, I was ready to cave, plus my car had a seizure (NO OIL due to a leaky oil filter... thanks, Fram, for almost totalling my beautiful truck) so the stress levels were high on both me and my husband. And the additional $300 it cost to get my car towed and fixed isn't helping anything this month. Hubby would have fixed, but this apartment doesn't have much of a garage, so it was off to the mechanic.

I can say that the pre-chopping really saved me, as all I had to do was come home and just throw stuff in a pan and we had dinners within 20 minutes. Which was amazing. And not only healthier for us, but better on our budget.

While the blackened fish tacos are still an unknown quantity, I can say that the sauerbraten is a recipe we won't be trying again any time soon. While no one in the family HATED it, no one loved it, either. And it's very weird to me to eat a roast that is sweet - thanks to the ginger snaps in the marinade/gravy.  Although they both consumed it and said it was OK, I was the one that ended up eating sauerbraten for lunch for the rest of this week. And I'm pretty much over it for quite some time.

The big stars this week were the black beans & rice (which I posted earlier) and the sloppy joes. They want me to make these more often. So this is the recipe I am posting for your enjoyment. The total cook time is only 20 minutes, and you can serve them on whole wheat buns, add cheese, or even serve them over baked potatoes. I will admit, it was really quite good and another nice warm comforting meal to come home to when it's 1 degree outside and the wind chills are 30 below zero, as happened to us this week.

I already did the meal planning and food shopping for next week, and I'll post that lineup later on.

In the meantime, here is the sloppy joe recipe (serves 4)

1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced vidalia onion
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp white vinegar
 8 ounces tomato sauce (I like to use Classico tomato & basil)
and buns, of course!

Combine the meat, peppers, and onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown and drain fat. Add remainder of ingredients. Cover, and reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

That's it - pretty darn easy recipe and very, very tasty.

And now, I'm off to twitch for awhile while I watch my guilty pleasure show, Mob Wives. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

This Week and the Plan

So in the true spirit of eating meals at home and incorporating two fish meals into our diet this week, I sat down this weekend and pre-planned the meals. This week's dinners are:

Spinach ravioli (low fat cheese ravioli in a spinach-tomato sauce)
Black beans and rice (Cuban style, over brown rice)
Ground turkey sloppy joes with corn
Slow cooker sauerbraten with spaetzle and green beans
Tuna noodle casserole (at DH's request)
Blackened Tilapia Baja tacos

The tuna casserole is to ease DH into fish this week. He requested it, so I figured if I could keep him happy by making him something he wanted, then I could get him to eat the fish tacos later on ....

I like pre-planning the meals this way and making the grocery list with the cookbooks on hand, so we don't buy anything extra, and I don't have it planned by day by day, so I can still make what I feel like making when I get home, as long as I stick with the overall meal plan for the week. Flexible, yet planned. I love it!

Another thing that I think will help immensely is that I did all the prep on Sunday afternoon. I previewed the recipes and pre-chopped everything ahead of time and stored them all in the fridge, so now when I get home I can just grab the ingredients and cook. The prospect of having to chop when I get home at 6PM is off-putting and sends me to the drive through more often than not. Now, this required about an hour of my weekend time, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

I had a huge "derp" moment, though - I was going to do the sauerbraten in the crock pot while I was at work today, but it didn't dawn on me that it only needed to cook for 5 hours on low setting. I pre-read the recipe, and noticed that the meat had to marinate for 24 hours and I took care of that, but why the 5 hours cooking time did not compute, I couldn't say. I leave for bus stop drops/commute to work at 7:15AM, and I don't get home much before 6PM, and I was not comfortable leaving the crock pot on and unattended for that long. Plus, the roast is just going to dry out if it sits there for 11 hours, even on "keep warm" setting.

So, change of plan: I'm doing the sauerbraten tonight in the slow cooker for tomorrow night's dinner, and all I will need to do is reheat it and cook the spaetzle when I get home.

This evening's dinner, by request from DD, was black beans and rice. The pre-chopped ingredients worked like a charm, and I'll let you in on a little secret: I use homemade chicken stock when I cook the brown rice to give it a flavor boost. Here is the recipe, which was given to me by my mother in law and which I tweaked, just a bit:

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp oregano
1 packet Goya Sazon
1 tbsp wine (white or zinfandel works best, and if you don't have wine, it's OK to use a wine vinegar)
4 slices turkey bacon, pre-cooked and chopped
16 ounces (2 cups) chicken stock

Cook in a separate pot:
Brown rice (I use Minute Rice and make around 2 cups yield, using chicken stock in place of water)

Heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the onions and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent. Add seasonings, wine, and bacon, then black beans. Stir in chicken stock last. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat and let mixture reduce until liquid is absorbed (about 30 minutes or so).  Serve over separately cooked brown rice (about 1/2 cup rice to about 1/2 cup black bean mixture). This recipe serves 4.

I'll let you know how the sauerbraten is, tomorrow evening. They are forecasting temps at 15 below zero for tomorrow so I think that's a good warm choice for dinner.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 12 Healthy Habits Challenge

A new year, yet another New Year's resolution to get fit, lose weight, and move on with my life.
I have been on so many diets over the course of my life I really should be writing a book on them. Lord knows, I've tried them all: NutriSystem, Opti Fast, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and all sorts of fad diets that I've found in Cosmo and women's magazines. When all is said and done, one year after I start the diet, I end up 30 pounds heavier and hundreds of dollars poorer. Because all of those different "programs" never teach me how to eat or change what I'm doing. Scratch that - Weight Watchers does - to a point. But ever since they changed the plan into the points system, I find it very hard to follow. And I already have enough going on in my life without having to sit down and perform calculus on every morsel I put into my mouth.

It should be simple - you need to burn more calories than you take in. Yeah, yeah, I get it. Putting it into practice with emotional eating is another kettle of fish, so to speak. But I really do get it. I swear.

So this year, I'm trying to look at things differently. I'm going to be monitoring my activity on the Bodymedia FIT that DH kindly bought me for Christmas, and I'm going to be following the Cooking Light Food Lover's Healthy Habits challenge. I have been wearing the Bodymedia FIT band for the past two days to get a baseline on where I am and what's going on with me, and I can already see that I need to bump up the workouts, and cut the high calorie dinners and snacks.

I like the Healthy Habits challenge, because it's not a "plan", per se - but a guideline to make real life changes that you can incorporate into your daily existence and get them to "stick" -  into habits.

For January's Healthy Habits, I've decided to tackle two:

  • Cook at least 3 more meals at home each week
  • Eat more fish (make fish the centerpiece of at least 2 meals per week)
I chose the above, because they are the most glaringly obvious changes we need to make. If I can plan right and make it work, these will benefit my entire family immensely.

Because I'm working and I get stuck in traffic after I pick DD up from the after school program, by the time I get home at night I'm starving and just too worn out to deal with figuring out what to put on the table. We resort to fast food far too often. And the only fast food place that is local to us is McDonald's - the Fat, Calorie, and Sodium fest. Which isn't good for any of us. And DH's schedule is just so hellish I never know what time he's going to get home at night, so the meal planning is entirely in my hands.

The fish piece should be a particular challenge for us, because as you know if you've been reading this blog, my spouse is of the Picky persuasion. And I'm certain that the bitching and beefing will be heard as far as California, even though we currently reside in New Jersey.

However, I am hoping I can get him on board by making less fishy fish, and putting it into foods he already loves - just need to add fish as the meat component - so things like fish tacos, salmon burgers, and mixing it with pasta and tomato sauce. And I need to stay away from the "slimy" fish like oysters and clams. I may be able to get him to eat scallops, but I'm not sure. The good thing is, he agreed to do this to help me and to help lower his cholesterol.

DD will not be a problem at all, as she loves anything that swims, as do I.

Tomorrow, I'll be doing the meal planning for the next week, and I will post the results of the recipes I find on here, as well as review our progress in incorporating the habits into our daily routine.

And if I didn't mention this before, I am starting a gourmet cooking class on January 21, so I am hoping that it will help me bump up some good options for us going forward, and help me hone my skills.

Wish me luck - and Happy New Year!