Monday, December 8, 2014

This Year's Thanksgiving Turkey (And the Deliciousness Its Leftovers Spawned)

As usual, my busy life means I'm a day (or ten) late and a dollar short when it comes to posts like this, but I wanted to record this year's adventures in turkey roasting for posterity nevertheless. I'm so proud of the wonderful Thanksgiving feast we enjoyed, especially since we didn't just completely throw caution to the calorie-conscious wind the way we usually do this time of year. If there's anything the past few months have taught us, it's that being calorie-conscious and enjoying our meals to the same extent we always have are not mutually exclusive things.

Weirdly enough, it's actually easier to stick to the program during the holidays than usual. To begin with, big meals on special occasions -- like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's -- tend to involve more homemade options. Roasted meats or fowl, roasted veggies, low-fat options. We don't use nearly as much butter, grease, or fat in our own cooking as we'd probably encounter eating out or at other people's homes. That said, it all boils down to portions usually, as well as choices. 

We're into adding flavor in other ways. For instance, behold our go-to way for infusing our bird's flash with fantastic flavor for the past two years now. Yes, we still believe in not stuffing our bird to help preserve it's moisture and inherent goodness. I also still put herbs and some butter under the skin to keep it moist and fantastic during cooking as I've detailed in another post I made a couple of years ago about how to roast the perfect turkey.

However, I also have been taking full advantage of the hypodermic needles my nurse mother has access to via the flu clinics she sometimes works out during the fall and winter. They're excellent for infusing your turkey's meat with wine, broth, butter, the bird's own cooking juices, or anything else you think would make your turkey taste fantastic. Don't have access to real hypodermic needles? Your local kitchen supply store probably sells turkey syringes that can be used to do nearly the same thing.

We also did an excellent job at making sure our leftovers were put to good use. Case in point, our Thanksgiving leftover pizza pictured above. I made one of our easy crusts like I have in regards to homemade pizzas past. Then I substituted gravy for the usual more traditional sauce options. Leftover roast turkey, red onion, cheese, and chopped parsley were then added for the toppings. 

People on Facebook went nuts over that pizza, which kind of surprised me. Nothing about it was difficult to do. We came up with it after a little creative thinking combined with our endless love for all things pizza. We've done Thanksgiving leftover quesadillas and other such concoctions that were just as good in the past. 

We also made a few oven turkey melts this year, as we've been really into low-fat soups with some toast or sandwiches for dipping. The above picture is of an oven-baked grilled cheese on sourdough filled with queso cheese, turkey, and gravy. It was served alongside a low-calorie can of New England clam chowder and it was awesome. Really, leftover anything can be successfully turned into just about anything you enjoy eating -- pizza, tacos, burgers, grilled cheese, etc. Just get creative and be adventurous. If you think something would taste good, the chances are excellent that it really will. 

We've already secured a duck to roast for Christmas and I'm already looking forward to not only the dinner itself, but all the things we'll be doing with the leftovers. Leftovers are never a drag in our house. They're always simply a jumping off point for equally epic meals!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sweet Potato Garlic Fries with Scallions and Smoked Paprika

For those of you that don't know, we live in Central California, so naturally we're Giants fans. That said, we're also big fans of San Francisco garlic fries, the must-have fare at AT&T Park. I had the privilege of attending an actual Giants game there years ago and I absolutely fell in love with those amazing fries at the time. Seth and I have also made our own at home to have during the World Series for years alongside a hot dog or two. However, this year, we were interested in figuring out how we could make a lower calorie version to help us maintain our weight loss. 

This sweet potato version is what we came up with and they were absolutely delicious. Plenty of seasoning, fresh chopped garlic, and a few fresh scallions really took these to the next level. Feel free to try them yourself while you're enjoying the last couple of games of the World Series or any time, for that matter. I would absolutely eat these again alongside hamburgers, hot dogs, or sandwiches in a heartbeat. You'll need:
  • 8-10 medium-sized sweet potatoes 
  • 8-10 cloves of fresh, peeled garlic
  • 5-6 fresh green scallions
  • Cooking spray
  • Salt and pepper
  • Smoked paprika

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees while you cut your sweet potatoes into fries or wedges. Finely chop both the garlic and the scallions and set aside. Spray a standard size baking sheet liberally with cooking spray and arrange the sweet potatoes evenly on top of it. Spray the sweet potatoes with the cooking spray as well and season generously with the salt, pepper, and paprika. 

Bake until crisp and cooked through, turning the fries over halfway through cooking so they're crispy all over. You may or may not want to add more seasoning and/or cooking spray when you take the fries out to turn them, but I usually will. Sprinkle garlic and scallions over the top of the fries and continue baking for an additional 5-10 minutes or until toppings are done to your liking. Some people prefer their garlic almost raw, while others would rather it cook a big. It's up to you.

As I touched on above, these go fantastically with anything you'd normally serve with fries, including hot dogs, hamburgers, or grilled meats. They're also awesome sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese and/or dipped in some Sriracha. Enjoy!

Friday, October 3, 2014

No Tricks, No Gimmicks: Just Real People Getting This Weight Loss Shit Done

Sourdough Taco Toast
Seth and I are getting to the point where people are really starting to marvel at the amount of weight we've lost over the past few months, especially collectively -- 50 pounds for me and 30 for Seth. People that follow us online, especially on Facebook, really just don't get it and it's mostly because they don't really see the difference in the foods we're eating. They still look tasty and like something you'd want to eat. We still clearly enjoy making and eating our meals. The only difference is they're lower in calories and our portions are better.

It's really making me realize that most people really do think that food can't be delicious looking, but also low in calories. They don't think it's possible to lose weight and eat foods that you're excited about to the point that you still consider the experience to be worth photographing or writing about. I'm here to tell you that that is the dumbest lie the dieting industry has ever told you. They need you to believe this is something you can't do by yourself so that you pay out the ass for expensive gym memberships, and special diet foods, and miracle pills. They're out of a job if you ever figure out that you can do this on your own.

At the end of the day, if you're solely focused on trying to lose weight, all that matters is calories in versus calories out. If you burn more calories than you take in, you'll lose. Period. Technically speaking, you could live on nothing but chocolate cake... if you keep your calorie intake in check. (Don't actually try that, because gross... but yeah.) Of course, there are genetic and health-related factors that might mean you burn fewer calories than someone else might... or more calories. You'll have periods where your metabolism decides to stall for a little while as well, but the basic equation remains the same no matter what. Just stick with it and don't get discouraged.

A Bit of What We're Doing Differently

I thought it might be helpful if I recorded some more details as to how we're actually doing this. You can do differently, so long as the total equation adds up to more calories burned than consumed.
  • We don't like to exercise, so we're taking in very few calories a day -- a total of around 1000 calories or so. On an average day, we have one full meal (usually dinner). We might also have a very small, low-calorie snack either after dinner or for lunch. We also like wine and such, so we leave room in our calorie budget for a couple of glasses each day.
  • We do most of our calorie-cutting by scaling way, way back on carby sides like pasta or potatoes. We also are very restrictive when it comes to cheese. Butter and oil quite simply don't go on our foods at all anymore. However, we cut back whenever and wherever we can. If I don't feel a half of slice of cheese would improve that tuna wrap I'm having for dinner, it doesn't go in there at all.
  • We keep careful records of every calorie we consume, so we know for sure how much we've consumed on a given day. Pour a glass of wine? Record it. Snagged a few Saltines for a snack? Record it. Decided to take seconds of that homemade chili. Record it. Then make future decisions throughout the day accordingly. 
Days when we do let ourselves off the leash a little -- like we did when we went to the fair and such -- you can bet that it was because we exercised for a damn change. Seth and I do not own a car, so we walked to and from the fair all three days we went. That helped us justify eating super cheesy pizza with pepperoni, corn dogs, fried fish, and all that other good stuff. By walking for such a long distance, we actually burned off the great majority of the extra calories we consumed... but after the fair, we were right back on the wagon again with our side salads and our baked fish, no matter how fun it sounded to just continue eating pepperoni pizza and bacon cheeseburgers instead.

English Muffin with Red Peppers and Cheese
Having Fun with What You're Doing

I don't know about you, but I personally can't stick with anything that isn't enjoyable. I'm not a terribly disciplined person, especially when it comes to depriving myself of things I enjoy... like tasty food. That said, you really need to work on finding foods to eat that aren't just low in calories and relatively healthy, but that you actually enjoy eating. You can't just decide to exercise. You need to find something active to do that you actually look forward to.

We are able to let go of some foods altogether, but not others. For instance, we don't really need gloppy, high-calorie condiments like ranch dressing or butter in order to enjoy our food, so we don't eat them. However, you will pry our wine and whiskey from our cold dead hands. That's exactly why we cut out the condiments, the extra cheese, and the heaping portions of pasta but not the alcohol (although we did cut way back on the amounts). 

We also will never be people that don't eat pizza, or burgers, or hot dogs... but we really watch the calories as far as the components now (no more bacon or extra cheese as a rule). We also no longer pair those things with piles of fries or macaroni and cheese. It's all about side salads and steamed vegetables these days. Either way though, we still get that great burger or pizza feeling that we love, just without all the fat and calories. 

Most importantly of all, we still make our food with love and care. We take the time to season it well, make sure it's cooked just right, and make it look beautiful on the plate. The pictures in this post are of snacks anyone could make with what they have in their house right now, probably. It's just store-bought English muffins or bread toasted really nicely. Then we just add half a slice of cheese, some seasoning, and some leftovers. The top toast has a spoonful of leftover taco meat, while the English muffin has a little bit of sliced pepper we had around. That's it! Both are under 200 calories. The sourdough toast is well under at roughly 110 or so.

We just did what we could to make an event out of them, like we do with all of our mealtimes. We don't buy into the lie that low-calorie meals don't taste good or that you can't be "on a diet" and eat hamburgers or pizza. No, you can't eat the same foods you did the way you did, but you can have things that you like and want for sure. Just do the math with your calories, be honest with yourself about what you're eating... and for fuck's sake, have some fun. The more you like the way you're living, the easier it will be for you to stick with your new habits.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Vegetarian Potato and Bean Chili with Bourbon and Red Wine

Seth had a birthday this past Saturday and I made him the most delicious chili, even if I do say so myself. We're still very much on the wagon when it comes to monitoring calories. We also have Ember Days coming up this week and will need to go meatless over more than just our usual Friday. That said, we decided to make a vegetarian chili so that we could eat the leftovers throughout the week without breaking our abstinence. My photo really doesn't do this dish justice. Really, it was very good and even better as leftovers the next day. Any chili lover would like this. 

We really tend to fly by the seat of our pants when it comes to deciding what a given dish is going to consist of. As I've mentioned in the past, I really don't follow recipes per se and neither does Seth, We both enjoy mixing things up and trying new flavor combinations. When it comes to something like chili, what goes in it is totally going to depend on what looks good at the grocery store. This time, we liked the looks of the red jalapenos and the red bell peppers. There were also these really cute tri-colored potatoes that Seth wanted to try, so they went in there, too.

  • 1 bag dried black beans
  • 1 bag dried red kidney beans
  • 2 large carrots 
  • 1 small bag tri-colored baby potatoes
  • 2 medium-sized red onions
  • 2 red jalapenos
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 jar tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup Jim Beam bourbon
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 1 packet chili seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian herbs
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
I don't soak my beans first, but you can if you want to. You can also add or subtract any ingredients you want. As I said, the above list was a combination of things we already had around and things that just looked good at the store. That really is how we do things! Just combine all of these ingredients in a large roasting pan with a lid or a Dutch oven. Add water or broth until the ingredients are covered. Put the lid on and let it simmer away in the oven for a while. Start it at about 425 and then turn the temperature down to 325 or so once it's bubbling. I reduced the temp on mine after the first hour or so.

Ours took about four hours or so. Every hour, we pulled the pot out, stirred it, and added more water if necessary. Once it got to a certain point, we started tasting it to see what else (if anything) it needed. Always taste your food, people. Always! Especially when it comes to something with lots of different ingredients like chili. 

Since it was a birthday, we decided we'd have some burgers with our chili. These were grass-fed beef ones on English muffins. As usual, we chose ingredients with care and portioned out the meal properly. If memory serves, this cheeseburger and a small bowl of the chili was only 450 calories or so. Really can't beat that! We wound up eating the same thing for dinner as kind of an encore the next night because it was so good and reasonable calorie-wise. I still wound up getting on the scale this morning and discovering I lost another two pounds.

In some ways, I almost feel bad that losing weight over the last three months was the cake walk that it was. I can definitely tell you from personal experience that the diet and fitness industries are telling you a pack of lies when they say that successful, low-calorie eating means eating food that doesn't taste good or fill you up (unless you buy their branded, over-priced specialty products, that is). 

Don't buy into those silly gimmicks. You can do it all by yourself. You don't have to spend a lot of money you don't really have and you can absolutely still have your chilis and your cheeseburgers, but wind up losing weight anyway. Just get real with yourself about how many calories are in different options and choose wisely. Cooking at home for yourself so that you know what is and isn't in your food is a big help! That's honestly all we've done and it's been a great experience. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Low-Calorie Late Night Cheese Toasts

I'm really starting to embrace this whole low-calorie eating thing in a big way. I mean... I've gone on diets before and lost many, many pounds before. It's certainly no secret that I adore anything cheesy, or meaty, or carby. (Don't even get me started on wine or liquor.) However, I always relish the sense of accomplishment that comes along with discovering healthier ways to enjoy the things I truly like to eat. 

I've lost really close to 50 damn pounds in a little under three months at this point and I'm really excited about that. Especially considering the fact that I don't really feel like I've been working that hard. I've been enjoying every last one of my meals just like before. I've been continuing to try new things and eat things I like. I've even splurged modestly here and there. However, cutting back on the portions in general and keeping track of the final tally for the day using something like S Health seriously does help. 

This isn't a diet... but it is something I not only really like, but feel I can stick with into the future. I love that I'm actually seeing really good results doing this, despite the fact that I'm not really exercising all that much. It really is all about calories in versus calories out and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

We're mostly focused on weight loss at this point, so we're all about calorie count when it comes to our choices. Nevertheless, I've been astounded with what can be accomplished with a relatively minimal number of calories. Seth and I are night owls, so every so often, we've got to have our midnight snacks. We've been doing these little cheesy oven toasts when that urge arises.

  • 1 slice of whole grain bread (60 calories)
  • 1 slice (40 calories)
  • 2 slices of dry salami (18 calories)
Toast your bread at 425 degrees for about five minutes. Spray with zero-calorie cooking spray on both sides to ensure that it gets nice and toasty. Then add your toppings. I usually just do the above combination finished with a little cracked pepper or other seasonings. On abstinent Fridays, I will eliminate the salami and just do cheese. Seth likes to add a tablespoon or so of low-cal marinara and some peppers. Bake for five or six more minutes or until toasted to your liking. Tastes so much more decadent and cheesy than it actually is. 

This 90-calorie version is even better if you're trying to keep your calorie intake low. It's half an English muffin with half a slice of cheese and two slices of salami. Seriously... really very good! Just like smaller, healthier versions of pizza. These even kind of give you that pizza feeling that is oh so precious to those of us that love to eat. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Girl with a Healthy Appetite

Scarlett and Her Suitors at the Twelve Oaks Barbecue in Gone with the Wind
I'm a Gone with the Wind fan in general, but I've always been especially fond of the scene at the Twelve Oaks barbecue when Scarlett is surrounded by her many suitors. The teenage version of me always kind of wanted to be her a little bit. However, it wasn't because she was the choice of every single man there or the way they were all competing against each other for the chance to be near her.

It's because not only is Scarlett actually eating a big, full plate of delicious barbecue fare in public, but men that are sexually interested in her consider it to be the highest privilege to bring Scarlett her plate and share a hearty meal with her. They're not shocked and disgusted by the fact that Scarlett is actually eating when the other girls are most likely picking at their food the way their mammies have no doubt suggested. In fact, they seem to prefer her for it. Men preferred Scarlett because she was different, as opposed to in spite of it and I suppose I've always loved that the first way this was really shown in a big way was through food.

Actually food is used throughout the movie to show abundance, lack, loss and rebellion as Scarlett experienced them over the course of the story line. Even when Scarlett is famously swearing to God that she's going to bring herself and her family back from the brink of poverty, she says: "I'll never be hungry again." And then later on once she's married to Rhett and preparing for a life lived in lap of luxury, she's shown hungrily devouring everything on her plate on her honeymoon in New Orleans and asking for more. She's never going to be hungry again and she intends to take full advantage of it.

Scarlett and Rhett on Honeymoon in New Orleans
I used to watch scenes like these and think: "That's me." And it was and still is. Like Scarlett and like all women, I've received a multitude of social signals over the years designed to make me feel shame about loving food the way I do. When people see a woman -- especially a relatively slender woman -- choosing pizza or burgers over salad or yogurt, they feel the need to comment on it and sometimes even to point out how unfeminine they think it is. They ask where you put it all or -- if they're assholes -- they may even not-so-subtly imply that you must be bulimic. I've even had a perfect stranger in a restaurant think nothing of stopping, staring, and commenting on the size of a burger I was eating. 

This is pretty much your life if you're a woman that likes to eat. You'll always be surrounded by haters that don't think a woman should be that way. She's supposed to be dainty in front of other people and especially in front of men, picking at a salad or a tiny piece of steamed chicken and claiming that she's not hungry. The only acceptable calorie splurges are sweets -- like chocolate, cupcakes, and ice cream -- because it's considered more feminine to love nothing more than a decadent, sweet dessert when it's time to treat yourself. Only men are supposed to crave big hunks of meat or big slices of pizza glistening with melted cheese and pepperoni grease. Too bad for me that I love pizza but could seriously take or leave chocolate.

However, like Scarlett and me both, you will also very likely find others out there that see your attitude toward food as incredibly refreshing. For every guy that found my healthy appetite disgusting or unfeminine, there were probably ten that considered it to be among the things they liked most about me. In fact, most of those guys have expressed to me how absolutely annoying it is when women pretend they're not hungry or that they don't eat as much as they probably do. 

Trust me, a pretty, funny girl that will actually split a pizza and a pitcher of beer with a guy once in a while is worth her weight in gold, as she's the best of both worlds. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I am very proud to be such a girl myself. I'm grateful for characters like Scarlett that taught me at an early age that there's absolutely nothing wrong with being that way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fried Alligator, Pepperoni Pizza, Corn Dogs, and Other Delights at the Monterey County Fair

Pepperoni Pizza
This year Seth and I not only got to go back to the Monterey County Fair, but we were also able to attend as official members of the local press for the very first time. Seth got us press passes so that we could cover it as a team for his Examiner column and we were able to come and go at will as many times as we wanted. That said, we had more money to justify spending on food over the course of the three days we were there and we definitely took advantage of that. 

Of course, we are watching our calories and focusing on weight loss right now. We're also still very much into our abstinent Fridays for religious reasons. However, we were totally up for the challenge of keeping those things in mind while also enjoying a few tasty and indulgent treats. We definitely let ourselves off the leash a bit and gave ourselves permission to eat what we wanted, but we also walked to and from the fair each of the days we went, so we burned off most of the extra calories we ate (and drank). I feel like we really experienced the food to the fullest and I'm thrilled about that.

The pizza above was probably one of the most delicious pieces of pepperoni pizza I've ever had in my life and we wound up having it almost by accident. We'd already fallen in love with the midway corn dogs earlier in the week and wanted more. However, the lines were just crazy long that night and we didn't want to miss the Journey Revisited concert that was about to begin, so we went for the pizza and a side of nachos to share instead. That slice of pizza was huge. It was also cheesy and spicy with a chewy crust, as well as that slight hint of greasiness that really good fairground pizza ought to have. And it was just what the doctor ordered, especially to enjoy alongside a couple of beers.

Fish and Garlic Fries with Tapatio Sauce
Since the War concert we wanted to catch fell on a Friday, we needed to find something tasty to enjoy that would still be Friday appropriate, so we went for the fish and chips. The people at the booth were nice enough to serve our fish over garlic fries instead of normal chips at our request, as you can see. I'm sure you can also see that we soaked ours in the delicious Tapatio hot sauce they had on the condiment table this year. 

This was another really fantastic pick that wound up exceeding my expectations and this is coming from someone that probably considers fish and chips to be her favorite meal. The fish was light and flaky, coated with a really nice cornbread-like batter. Steaming hot, juicy, and flavorful. It went perfectly with both the fries and the hot sauce. So well in fact, that we wound up buying another order to share later and savoring every bite.

Midway Corn Dog
The corn dogs from the midway were perhaps my favorite thing that I ate this year at the fair and I'm actually surprised. I mean... I really like corn dogs. However, I've mostly only had them at cafeterias or from the freezer section at the grocery store. I'll tell you right now that type of corn dog is not the same thing as what I ate at the fair this year.

To be fair, I actually can't really recall ever having had an authentic, properly deep-fried, piping hot corn dog at a festival booth or amusement park before. I've, of course, had people tell me that midway corn dogs are not to be missed under any circumstances, but I never really took them seriously before. I just figured a corn dog was a corn dog and that's it. Well... I get it now. These were so good, Seth and I wound up sharing several of them over both the Thursday and the Saturday we were there. Even in the face of a ton of different options to choose from.

Fried Alligator With Dirty Rice
We also got a chance to try alligator for the very first time in both our lives. It was deep-fried (of course) and served with the most incredible Cajun dirty rice. I've heard people say "tastes like chicken" a lot in regards to alligator and I definitely understand why now that I've had it. It's juicy, mild, lean, and white just like chicken breast or chicken tenders. However... it's also completely unlike chicken at the same time. The best way I can think to describe is as a cross between a chicken tender and a piece of a meatier fish like tuna. It was excellent and I would jump at the chance to have it again.

I didn't expect to care much about the rice it came with, but it was actually just as delicious as the alligator. Spicy, light, fluffy, and bursting with flavor. Little pieces of sausage and veggies were interspersed throughout and gave it a really pleasant texture and added some wonderful layers to the flavor as well. I didn't eat the remoulade it came with, as I'm pretty phobic of anything even sort of resembling mayonnaise, but Seth had it and said it was deliciously spicy and creamy.

Firestone Walker Pale Ales
We tried a few of the beers as well, of course. This one was an India Pale Ale from Firestone Walker Brewing Company, a local brewery out of Paso Robles. It was just the right choice to enjoy after a concert as the weather begins to transition from summer warm to pre-autumn crisp. It was rich and light at the same time, as well as herbacious and earthy. It also went perfectly with all of the deep-fried, indulgent wonders we'd been enjoying that day. I'd love to try some other beers from this brewery, actually. Fall time is always the time of year I most like trying new beers and ales anyway. 

All in all, we had an amazing time at the fair and the food was at the center of the experience where it belongs. As usual, I'm so glad that we went and I definitely loved attending with Seth as a member of the press. The food and music were both exceptional and I really enjoyed the fresh air to boot. So much to see and to do. The whole experience really made my little Labor Day vacation everything a vacation should be.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Getting Healthy for the Summer

Low-Cal Tuna Wrap with Mexican Rice and Grilled Corn
Not that long ago, Seth and I upgraded our phones to those slick new Galaxy S5 phones that everyone's so keen about and let me tell you. They're truly awesome. To begin with, they're equipped with excellent cameras that have allowed us to take even better pictures of our food. I've been working on my photographer's eye a little and even if I do say so myself, I think I've made some real progress for someone that doesn't consider themselves to be much of a photographer.

The phones also came with a fantastic app called S Health. After letting it stare us in the face unused every day for a couple of months on end, we finally decided to bite the bullet and do something about it. We know we could both stand to be healthier and to lose a few pounds. We both want to feel better. What we hadn't done yet was get started, but I'm proud to say that that's no longer the case. At this point, we've been using S Health for about a week -- since last Monday -- to create and track data related to our weights, our calorie intakes, and our calorie expenditures. 

Baked Red Potato with Veggies and Soy Sauce
We've both also lost weight so far. I've lost a little over six pounds and Seth's lost seven. We feel extremely proud of ourselves and each other. We're also really looking forward to getting closer to our fighting weights by the time Labor Day rolls around. The fair will be in town and we'd like to take pictures without feeling like we look bloated and fat in them. Then a couple of months later, my 20-year high school reunion will be in full effect. I'm still not sure if I want to attend, as the tickets are really quite expensive for two people on a tight budget, but let's just say that I'd like to at least have the option. I know I won't want to be there if I have to show up looking heavier than I'd like.

As you can see, we've still been our creative selves in the kitchen. We've just been cutting the calories considerably and making some smarter choices when it comes to what we eat. When we want to lose weight, we go really heavy on the veggies and really light on the carbs and the fats. Veggies are a great way to make yourself feel full without adding a ton of unnecessary calories. We also watch our portions really carefully. All of the dishes you see here on this post were under 500 calories each. The potato and the pizza were well under, actually. It really is amazing what you can come up with when you do your homework and put your mind to it.

Flatbread Pizza with Grilled Sausage and Veggies
On Food Network Star, the mentors are always telling the contestants that they need to find their culinary point of view. I've never been sure what mine would be if I were an actual contestant on that show in some alternate universe where I actually do things like enter competitions. I like everything. Plus, I don't come from a distinct cultural heritage or favor any one particular type of cooking. However, the more I think about it, the more I think my culinary point of view would be wanting to show people that making really inexpensive or really healthy food that still looks and tastes great is easier than they think it's going to be.

Thousands of businesses make millions of dollars every day convincing people that they can't do things on their own. "Cooking at home is hard and time-consuming. Just order take-out or swoop through a drive-thru on your way home." "You can't lose weight unless you buy our special diet foods or purchase one of our expensive gym memberships." "There's no way to make healthy food taste good. Plus, it's too expensive for people on a budget to afford." Honestly, that's all bullshit, but so many people don't seem to ever stop and question it.

I've personally always been a curious person and one that doesn't like to be told "no" at that, so I've always found it fun to find my own ways around obstacles real and imagined. Seth is the same way and we've found that that's something we like doing together in regards to the foods we make and eat. We also love sharing the process with our friends and loved ones. We do that quite a lot on Facebook in particular, as well as Twitter and Instagram already, but I'd like to start posting more about our thoughts and adventures in that arena for those interested as well.

That said, in upcoming posts for the near future, I'd like to showcase some of our favorite healthy eating hacks. I'd like to talk more about ways we like to elevate ingredients and make meal times special as well. We have so much fun with our meals and I'd like to show more people how they can do the same, even if they're busy or don't have a lot of extra money to spend.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Homemade Rodeo Burgers

You'd think two people that love burgers as much as we do would actually make more of an effort to hit the fast food joints now and again, especially when one of them comes up with something that we desperately want to try. There's a even a Burger King a block away from where we live, so it's not even like our transportation woes are any real excuse.

Lately, we've been positively salivating over the idea of their new rodeo burgers. However, we haven't quite been in the mood to actually hit the restaurant and snag a real one yet, so Seth decided to pick up some supplies from the store and whip up a homemade version recently. He is really becoming quite the burger chef. I tell you, it was pretty fantastic finishing up after a long day of writing web content for clients and getting to sit down to one of these.

He used grass-fed beef for the patties and added a combination of aged cheddar and Havarti cheeses. There were also three deliciously crispy onion rings on each patty. They were served on soft butter buns with tangy barbecue sauce and a side of curly fries -- perfection on a plate, basically. Honestly, I'm sure the real rodeo burger is pretty good, but this was most certainly an upgrade as homemade version often are. I've been reminiscing about eating this ever since.

In other news, we'll be celebrating Lent this year and Ash Wednesday is March 5th. Our official Lenten sacrifice is going to pizza in all its glorious forms. However, we're also going to be using Lent as a reason to cut back and be less indulgent food wise in general. Smaller portions, less alcohol, fewer unnecessary treats, and so forth. Probably even a fast here or there. You know the drill!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Easy Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Jalapenos

This is one of those recipes that I keep meaning to write down and post for people because it's just so delicious and easy. We certainly get multiple request for it every time a picture of these floats through Facebook or Instagram. I originally started making these for Seth and I to munch on during the Oscars, but we liked them so much that they've become a finger food staple for holidays or other special occasions. They're certainly a crowd pleaser, because jalapenos!!  And bacon, too, naturally.

As far as what you need, it's the following:

  • Whole fresh jalapenos (each jalapeno yields two of these little poppers)
  • Enough bacon to provide one strip per jalapeno half
  • Stove Top stuffing
  • Velveeta cheese
  • Shredded cheddar (or other cheese of your choice)
  • Sausage or ground beef
I usually work with about eight of the largest jalapenos we can find, maybe half a pound of sausage, and one box of Stove Top stuffing, but you can make as many of these as you like. If you wind up with extra filling, don't sweat it. It's great as a side dish all by itself.

Start by sauteeing your sausage or ground beef until cooked through. Drain any excess grease. We often have link sausages around the house, so sometimes instead of using ground beef, I'll mince a couple of whatever I happen to have on hand instead. Or you can completely forgo the sausage altogether. Or sautee it along with a little minced onion or garlic. It's up to you.

Now you're going to start building your stuffing on top of your sausage according to the directions on the package. As you'll know if you're familiar with making boxed stuffings, you need to bring the water to a boil first... so do that. Then, before adding the actual stuffing mix, add a few slices of Velveeta to the water and stir it until it dissolves completely. This makes your stuffing nice and cheesy with a minimum of fuss.

At this point, fold in the stuffing as directed along with a few generous handfuls of your shredded cheddar and let stand until it's finished. 

You can either prep the peppers ahead of time or do it while your sausage is sauteeing. (I'm not a big planner, so it's usually the latter for me, but you can do whatever you want.) Rinse the peppers thoroughly, slice them in half (stem and all), and then use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and veins.This makes the heat level tolerable, as well as creates a hollow for your filling. Arrange them on a cookie sheet.

Once your stuffing is cool, start dividing it up among your jalapeno halves. (You can preheat your oven to 375 degrees while you're doing this.) Each should have a generous helping just like the picture. Then wrap a slice of bacon around each one before returning it to the cookie sheet. Now pop your finished jalapenos in the oven to bake until crispy and golden brown -- about 30-45 minutes, but cooking times can vary.

I'm a big fan of flexible recipes that leave a lot of room for experimentation and these definitely fit the bill in that regard. Instant bread stuffing is easy to work with and it's also something inexpensive you're likely to have on hand at any given time, but you can use just about anything you think would taste good. I've stuffed these with cous cous before. I've done them with Mexican rice. I've made vegan versions for my mother that involved filling the jalapenos with soy crumbles and topping them with vegan cheese. 

I've even mixed it up when it came to the peppers I used. Seth and I like to live dangerously, so we usually will do a couple of halved and stuffed habaneros along with the jalapenos (just use half a bacon slice, since they're small). We've also done Anaheims and other alternatives if the store happened to be out of jalapenos or something. Really, what you do with these is totally up to you. This is a difficult recipe to screw up and it's affordable to make on a budget for sure, but it's a real crowd pleaser -- perfect for the Oscars, a party, or the Super Bowl

Most recently we had these for New Year's Eve at Seth's insistence. I made a nice big tray of those (along with a couple of stuffed habaneros to mix things up). I also made ground pork sliders with cheese and red onions on mini-ciabatta rolls. The combination of the two is a house staple around here and we look forward to special events that give us an excuse to indulge. We've already made plans to break these out again when Super Bowl rolls around!