Better Choices, Better Results

Life has been a bit crazy.  I won’t go into details other than to say I am working very hard with my job and my garden.  Canning season has arrived, and so has Zucchini Season!  What was I thinking when I planted 6 zucchini plants in my garden and 4 in one of the flower beds?

Today I made 2 1/2 gallons of zucchini soup (zucchini, onion, butter, garlic, milk, cream, chicken broth, salt and pepper) and several jars of zucchini jam (zucchini, sugar, pineapple, lemon juice and strawberry Jell-O).  I’ve done a few batches of dehydrated zuchini chips and I have plans to make zucchini lasagna, sugar-free zucchini bread, canned zucchini in tomato puree, etc., etc., ETC.!

We’ve harvested the first batch of beans and got 39 quarts out of it.  I have both frozen and dehydrated some cabbages.  The potatoes came early this year, and I dug those yesterday.  Now I’m waiting for the tomatoes and corn to get ready.

I just love a good harvest, don’t you?

I’m Back!

I haven’t forgotten about you!  A lot has been going on in my world, and I haven’t been making time to write about it.  I feel bad that I haven’t kept up, but I’m back, and ready to roll!

Cooking!

I have been experimenting with several recipes and will share my creations with you.  I’ll write about Muffin Pucks and Freezer Cooking and Recreating Fast Food Favorites, among other topics.

Exercise!

I still have the goal of running a 5K.  It will happen, and I’m gearing back up to start training again.  I’m getting a treadmill at home!

My Garden (Version 2012) is in the process of being planted.  I have purchased my own tiller, and this year, I’m on my own!  Right now I’ve got my potatoes and onions planted; everything else will be planted very soon.

Pudgy Puppy; my dog, Daisy Mae, is still a little too pudgy to be healthy.  We are walking her more and giving her far fewer treats.  She probably hates us right now, especially since she has a new baby sister: Molly Mae.  Molly joined us about a month ago.

More Nature, Fewer Chemicals

I am still waging my own personal war against chemicals, and I take many opportunities to throw out commercially-produced products for something more natural.

Stress

Doesn’t everyone seem to be carrying a lot of stress these days?  The economy seems to be the main source of stress in my life.  I am always on a quest to find ways to help de-stress my life and the lives of those I love.

I’ll be back in a couple of days with a new post!

I have this desire to recreate some of the recipes that my grandmother made years ago, when she was raising her family.  Since she didn’t leave many recipes behind, it’s been a little difficult to do at times.

Unfortunately, by the time I came along, she wasn’t cooking like she did when my mom and her siblings were kids, so there aren’t many things that I remember specifically about her cooking.  I did remember her making an apple stack cake one time.  Oh, how I loved that cake!  Her Apple Betty was to die for.  I remember that she used to scorch her green beans a little bit.  I’d actually forgotten about that and a couple Thanksgivings ago, while at my aunt and uncle’s house, my aunt accidentally scorched her beans.  As soon as I took a bite, the memory came back and I started crying because, even after 15 years, I still miss my mammaw.

Two years ago, my mom’s sisters threw her a surprise 60th birthday party.  I decided that, as a thank you, I’d make each of her near-by siblings their favorite dessert from mammaw’s repertoire. 

At first, I tackled her apple stack cake.  Let me tell you, it’s a day-long process to make one of those (and I made 4 that day).  It’s made from dried apples that have been cooked in apple juice and spices to create a dark, flavorful, chucky apple mush.  The mush is spread between layers of  dense cake seasoned with molasses and spices and cooked in an iron skillet.  Then it needs to sit for a few days to allow the apple mush to seep into the cake layers.

I hunted for weeks to find a recipe.  I finally found one that mom thought looked like what mammaw would have used.  I made the apple mush, and my mom and I developed a mini assembly-line approach to making the cake layers.  I made the dough, which is so stiff it has to be patted into the skillets by hand.  We used 2 little iron skillets and we had our oven working overtime that day.  I think each cake had 8 layers.

Anyway, the cakes were delicious!  My mom’s oldest sister said it was pretty close to mammaw’s  – it just needed a little more molasses in the cake mix.  I called it a success, because there weren’t any crumbs left after a few days.

Next, I made Mammaw’s Apple Betty for my uncle.  This one was super-easy, because I had the actual recipe that mammaw used.  I think I made it even better, because I used my own home-canned apple sauce for the filling.  Let me tell you… if I were stranded on an island, that Apple Betty just might be what I’d want to take with me!

Finally! I was going to make Lemon Meringue Pie!

My other aunt’s favorite was Lemon Meringue Pie.  I put this one off for awhile, because I was scared of tackling a pie crust, a pie filling that is supposed to set up like a gel, AND a meringue.  Finally, I had to bite the bullet and just do it.

My other issue was that somewhere between the Apple Stack Cake and the Lemon Meringue Pie, I started eating healthier so I would become healthier!  Good grief.  How was I going to handle this problem?

I researched sugar-free versions of lemon pie and decided that I was either uncomfortable with using a large amount of artificial sweeteners, or I didn’t want to spend a lot of money purchasing other sweetening agents like erythritol and xylitol (which is toxic to dogs).

I just figured I’d make an old-fashioned, full-of-sugar pie….and try to not eat any of it!

Right.  That’s going to happen.

While I was gathering the ingredients for the pie (and yes, I cheated on the crust by buying frozen), I remembered that I have some little crème brulee ramekins.  Those would be a perfect solution to my problem!  A ramekin eliminates the need for a crust, which contributes about 1/3 of the fat and calories to the pie.  A small ramekin also provides built-in portion control!

I made two regular pies to share with my mom’s siblings and made 4 little mini-pies for us.  They were just about perfect.

Tiny little dishes of heavenly delight!

They were sweet.

They were tart.

The meringue was really good, although the next time, I’ll beat the egg whites a little longer so that it’s a bit stiffer.

They were the perfect size for someone who’s eating healthier, but still wants a little sweetness occasionally.

Think about buying some ramekins for your kitchen.  Make sure they are oven-safe and small enough to create the right portion-control for your needs.

Oh, by the way, the pie wasn’t just like mammaw’s, but it was good.  I’ll just have to keep trying…and really, I don’t mind!

Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh!  I am overweight!

Oh, I can just hear the people who know me saying, “No!  Really?”, with mocking sarcasm in their voices.   

This is AMAZING to me!  Being Overweight means that I am no longer Obese!

When I started this weight loss journey, my BMI was 39.6.  I was only four-tenths of one point away from being morbidly obese.  I was one step into that category and terrified of how my body was starting to react to the extra weight.

I was so close to being Morbidly Obese! Two more pounds would have dropped me into that category.

Now, after 15 months of healthier eating, portion control and more movement (even though I’m not doing as much as I could or should), my BMI is 29.8.  I’m in the Overweight category. 

Gone are the days of Severe Obesity for me.  Gone are the days of Obesity.  Gone are the days of being out of breath from one flight of stairs.  Gone are the days of just feeling miserable….for no other reason than I was just unhealthy

I have 30 more pounds to lose in order to reach my goal. I WILL make that happen!

I know that I have a way to go to get to my goal, and I know that once I reach my goal weight, a whole new set of issues will arise.  I’ll have to be diligent about healthy portions and foods.  I’ll have to remember that this is a life-long battle, unfortunately.  But – it’s a battle worth fighting for, because I feel great! 

‘Do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel
like it or not.’
Thomas Huxley

My Evil Plan…..

Bwa –Ha-Ha-Ha!  My evil plan to make the world eat better is slowly gaining momentum!

I was talking to my cousin last night about the Salad in a Jar-thing that I do, and she said, “What?  You put lettuce in a jar and it lasts HOW long?  Every time I make a big salad, no one will eat it after the next day.” 

Then she ADMITTED that she doesn’t read my blog on a regular basis.

 Shame, shame, cousin-o-mine.

But it’s OK.  I forgive her.  And I’m more than willing to show her the magic.  Her husband loves salad, and doesn’t get to eat it as often as he would like because it just goes bad so quickly!

Here’s the secret, which I learned at this blog.  Cut, wash, spin-dry and store your lettuce in quart jars.  You must seal them with a vacuum sealer.   I use a Food-Saver with the jar attachment; I’ve heard that some of the smaller hand-held sealers will work, too.

The lettuce will stay fresh, crunchy and ready-to-eat for up to 14 days, depending on how fresh it was when it was placed in the jar.  I have had it last for 2-weeks, I’m not kidding. 

To make my salads even more convenient, I’ll spend 30 – 60 minutes one night cutting up carrots, peppers, onions, cucumbers, cauliflower, etc., to place into baggies.  I’ll measure out things like grapes, mandarin oranges, and beans into bag for toppings.  Cheeses, meats and dressings are also pre-measured and placed into single serving containers.

Every day that I want to have salad, all I have to do is go to my salad drawer and play mix-n-match.

Today, I had this:

 

Romain and Iceburg Lettuce, Carrots, Onions, Ham, Cheese, Grapes and Chickpeas! Delicious!

 

 

Go on!  Create your own Salad Drawer!

Cajun Chicken Pasta

Doesn't this look wonderful?

I found this recipe on SkinnyTaste.com.  Gina is a master at turning not-so-healthy dishes into delicious meals that you’d never guess were actually good for you!  If you haven’t already, please visit her blog at http://www.skinnytaste.com/.

This dish includes many of my favorite things: veggies, pasta, chicken, spice and cream cheese.  It’s made in one large skillet and the recipe makes about 10 cups, which was more than enough for supper last night and 3 additional lunches.

I think you could probably make substitutions based on your needs: more or less veggies, turkey or shrimp for the chicken, whole grain or high-protein pasta in place of regular pasta.

Here’s the recipe and the photos I took while preparing it:

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked linguine (I used penne pasta)
  • 1 pound chicken breast strips
  • 1-2 tsp Cajun seasoning (or to taste)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil  (I used 1 tsp)
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup skim milk
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp light cream cheese
  • fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 scallions, chopped  (I omitted)
  • salt to taste

First, you’ll want to cut up your veggies, cook your pasta and prepare your chicken.

Be sure to keep the mushrooms and tomatoes separate from your peppers and onions. They go into the dish at different times.

 

Cut your chicken into chunks and season with cajun seasoning and garlic powder.

I'll be honest - I didn't measure out my seasonings. I sprinkled it on and then reseasoned to taste towards the end of cooking time.

Spray your skillet with cooking spray and cook the chicken.

While your chicken is cooking, make a slurry of the milk, flour and cream cheese by putting it in a small blender.  I used my Magic Bullet.  Tip: Did you know that the blade mechanism on many standard blenders will fit onto a regular-mouth mason jar?  You could make your slurry in a half-pint jar and not dirty up that big-ol’ blender!

When your chicken is completely cooked, you’ll remove it from your skillet and save it for later.  Add your oil to the skillet, then pop in your peppers and onions.  
 
 
Add Veggies!

Let those cook about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms and tomatoes.

Nothing like a skillet full of healthy vegetables!

Let those cook down for about another 4 – 5 minutes, then add the chicken broth and the slurry.

The slurry adds flavor and thickens the sauce.

Bring this to a boil and stir until you notice the sauce starting to thicken.  Then you’ll add your chicken and pasta back into the skillet.

Mix it all together and heat until everything is hot. Be sure to taste and reseason if necessary.

By now, your largest skillet should be full, and hopefully, your family is ready to eat.  This recipe made 10 cups; enough to:

...fill up our largest meat platter......or make 5 large servings.

I enjoyed mine right away.
 
So good!
Just to make you even hungrier, here’s another shot:
My mouth is watering!
Enjoy!

More Freezer Love…

I’ve been at it again!  I have so much fun finding recipes that I think will be nutritious and filling and will freeze well for work-week lunches.   As you know, it’s important to me to know what’s in my food.  I do pretty well on most days because most of what we eat comes out of our own kitchen.  Often, the food has been grown in my garden or by local farmers, which makes it even better.

Today, while Googling “make your own frozen lunches”, I found a recipe for a tuna burger.  Since I’d never made tuna burgers (patties) before, I thought it might be a great lunchtime project for me.  Here’s the recipe that I used:

 

Simple Ingredients - and I had everything on hand!

 

Tuna Burgers from Spark People

2 cans chunk light tuna (I used 4 – 2.5 oz. pouches)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp horseradish
1 clove garlic, minced

This was just like mixing a meatloaf; I got in there with my hands!

The original recipe called for the burgers (patties) to be fried in olive oil and then baked.  I decided to just put them on the Foreman Grill to avoid adding extra fats.  They turned out just fine.

I really should pull out this grill more often!

I decided to pair the patties with some homemade mac & cheese, broccoli and tomato wedges.  The recipe made 4 patties, so I put two of them in lunch containers and will freeze them.  I suspect they will reheat nicely.

In addition to what we ate for lunch, I had enough to make up two frozen lunches.

It was really good!  Definitely a keeper!  The lemon and horseradish gave the patties a little kick that was unexpected.  The mac & cheese added comfort and the veggies – well they are just good for you!

This meal was so good and very filling!

 

My next project is a Cajun Chicken & Pasta!  I will be back with a report and recipe, of course!

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