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.