Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dijon-Cilantro Tuna Salad

Dijon-Cilantro Tuna Salad

I’ve loved tuna salad for as long as I can remember. I was definitely that one weird kid in middle school to bring tuna salad kits (the ones with the mini can of tuna, packet of mayo and relish with some wheat crackers) for lunch. People moaned and groaned about the smell, but I didn’t care. Tuna was one of the few sandwiches I remember liking. I hated peanut butter back then, and I thought my sister's love of ham and margarine sandwiches was a little strange.

In college, I remember arguing with a boyfriend over how to make the perfect tuna salad. He insisted it wasn't tuna salad unless it had celery, and I whole-hearted disagreed. Sweet pickle relish and mayo was all that was required. Besides, I've never been a huge fan of raw celery.

But last month, I found this variation in Bon Appetit and I’ve been obsessed ever since. When I don’t have leftovers to pack, I make this tuna sandwich.

Plain fat free yogurt makes it healthier than using mayo, and it has the sweet relish I love, but also the celery my college boyfriend insisted on. Plus, red onion, cilantro and tangy mustard. Perfect.

The recipe calls for tomato, arugula and whole wheat bread, but this would be great on crackers alone. In fact, I might have the leftovers for snack tomorrow.

Because I liked the accountability of making my food journal public, I think I'll include it again today. If this isn't something you like reading, let me know. I love suggestions to make the blog better.

Breakfast: Ezekiel sprouted English muffin topped with a roma tomato and a slice of 2% natural sharp cheddar. I toasted the English muffin at home, but melted the cheese in the microwave at work. Didn't want to mess with the broiler on the toaster oven in the breakroom. Coworker commented that it looked good. On the side, glass of skim milk and 1 tbsp half and half in my coffee.

Lunch: Dijon Tuna salad on Great Harvest honey wheat bread, baby carrots and an apple

Snack: 2 oz. lean deli ham with 1 tbsp light cream cheese spread on it, rolled around about ¼ of a bell pepper, sliced. Apparently my mom used to make a similar appetizer but with olives rather than bell pepper. Interesting.

Dinner: An Asian noodle dish I might share share later this week, plus sautéed snow peas with chestnuts, and a steamed chicken dumpling I found at Aldi's. It doesn't come close to my favorite take-out steamed dumplings, but I guess it's OK in a pinch.

Dessert: A re-run of the vanilla yogurt with strawberries. Gosh, this is good. My grandma used to serve fresh fruit with vanilla yogurt for dessert. It's comfort in a bowl.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Kashi Pizza and a Day in the Life of Jen

Kashi Frozen Pizza

Sorry to be MIA. Last week I lost all motivation. My week started off great and I even managed to work out some. But by midweek the time I spent in the gym dwindled until by Saturday I had become a full-fledged couch potato.

I’m back at the whole exercise thing today, but not because I want to be.

I photographed some of my meals last week, fully intending to post them, but honestly, I rarely cooked. Unless you count heating up this Kashi frozen pizza as “cooking.” And by the way, this was *supposed* to be three servings, but I ate the whole thing. And the entire bunch of asparagus. Who knew roasted asparagus could become my new trigger food?

Today’s eats weren’t much better. They were, in general, lacking in nutrition and fresh produce, but I stayed within good calorie (or points) range. Plus, I’ve packed up tomorrow’s foods already, ensuring I actually eat some vegetables besides lettuce tomorrow.

So here’s a day in the life of Jen:

Breakfast: Running late. Threw leftovers for lunch in super cute lunch box, plus an apple and a cheese stick. Grabbed a packet of instant apple and cinnamon oats from my parents’ house. No time for coffee from home, had to drink disgusting office Folgers made with 10 scoops of coffee!?! (I kid, but seriously, it tasted awful) Tossed in two tubs of coffee mate (30 cals) to make it somewhat drinkable. Blech.

Lunch: Oops. Forgot going away lunch for our temp. Luckily, it was Max and Erma’s, so I had the hula bowl lunch portion with the breadstick. Remember when Wendy’s had these with their salads? I heart breadsticks.

Snack: Had the string cheese with a couple Kashi party crackers from my desk drawer.

Dinner: Reheated Chicken with Arugula Bread Salad. No picture. It didn't look good and it didn't really taste good, either, especially reheated.

Dessert: 6 oz. cup Yoplait light vanilla yogurt and about 1/2 cup fresh strawberries. I don't normally buy yogurt with fake sweeteners, but I had coupons, it was on sale, and I can stomach the Yoplait. Plus, fruit herbal tea — Celestial Seasonings Black Cherry Berry.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach

Brown Butter Gnocchi

Finally, a minute to myself. Last night I ran errands, ate a late dinner and headed to bed after catching up on Lost and American Idol. Today has been super busy, too.

I've been so tired that I've really slacked on workouts. I did squeeze in another Couch to 5K training session yesterday afternoon at my company's gym, but it was slow going and hard to get through for some reason. At least it helped me relax a bit, so I finally got a good night's rest.

I admit I haven't cooked much this week. Tuesday was bascially snacking through dinner. And it wasn't good at all. Popcorn, a cookie, a piece of fruit.. I'm sure there was more to it, but I honestly don't remember. I fell asleep on the couch by 8 p.m. again. I'm the life of the party, apparently.

I think Monday night was the only time I actually made dinner, and it was Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach. Basically, it was packaged gnocchi boiled, then spinach and garlic and pine nuts sauteed in butter.. then toss them all together. Anyone — even if you think you can't cook — can make this. Promise.

It was delicious, too. I heart gnocchi and spinach is easily my favorite green. The only thing that was missing was the parmesan because I was out. Great for a night where you still want something fresh but the thought of cooking is just too much to handle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Paprika Shrimp

Paprika Shrimp

I've been super busy lately. Super busy as in super busy sleeping. I slept an average of 10 hours a night over the weekend — and it felt great. Too bad I couldn't fall asleep last night until after 1 a.m.

Instead, I was up watching crappy reality TV on VH1. At some point I must've fallen asleep with the TV on, because all of my dreams had a soundtrack. I woke up dreaming I was singing bad pop songs around 4:30 a.m. In all, I had *maybe* 4.5 hours of sleep, but it probably wasn't quality. My brain can only take so many pop songs in a row.

Surprisingly, I wasn't dead tired today. And I suppose that's why I'm posting at 11:30 p.m.

Oh well. Truthfully, though, I was busy at work today and because I'll be in a virtual conference all day tomorrow I was rushing to some of tomorrow's tasks done as well.

Although I wasn't posting much, I was still cooking for the most part. Over the weekend I made this Paprika Shrimp from Eating Well. Overall, not bad, but I'm not sure I was a huge fan of the butter beans. Next time I'll leave them out. But I do love shrimp and green beans. Hard to go wrong there.

I have some better meals to share. Probably tomorrow when I'm hopefully better rested.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sauteed Chicken with Tomato Relish

Sauteed Chicken with Tomato Relish

Today was absolutely gorgeous. And even though I didn't get to workout this afternoon at work like I originally wanted to, I made up for it by working out outside. My first idea was to walk/jog to the grocery store to pick up capers, but turns out I bought some back when I was staying at my parents and never opened them. In fact, I left them behind. Always nice to know I don't have to spend money. Even if I paid for them to begin with, they were free to me today :)

Then I came home to make Sauteed Chicken with Tomato Relish. It was OK, but it would have been much better with fresh tomatoes. I made it mostly because I was curious about using canned diced tomatoes like this. I've never used them in a relish. And it was better than I was expecting. It helps to use decent diced tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil. I'm planning to plant tomatoes in pots and set them on my mom's deck where it's nice and sunny, so I'll probably try this recipe again this summer with grilled chicken rather than sauteed. Too bad I didn't think of it earlier!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

It's past my bed time. And I should really be in bed considering I was a doof and slept past my alarm today. Funny, though, I overslept by exactly one hour. Apparently, my body hasn't adjusted. It still thinks it was 6:30 when I woke up, but in reality, it was 7:30.

I'm a sound sleeper. Once, in college, my roommate came home late after I had already fallen asleep. She was trying not to wake me so she didn't turn on a light. Instead, she stumbled across our messy room, tripping on her hairdryer, which turned it on. While trying to turn the hairdryer off, she was apparently jumping around mumbling obscenities. I know all of this, though, only from second hand reports. I never actually woke up.

I sleep nowhere as sound as I did in college. Now, it's mostly my body revolting at having to get up early. I spent three wonderful years after I graduated working 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. At the time I had a commute that was 5 minutes or less, so I woke up at 8:15 every day. I was so spoiled.

Despite the rocky start, my day turned out pretty well. I got a ton accomplished. I finished up all the work I needed to get done at work and then some, came home, made dinner, worked out, and even packed my lunch for tomorrow. So at least if I oversleep tomorrow my morning routine will be shorter.

Tonight's dinner, by the way, was Tortilla Soup. It looks like a mess of random things in a bowl, but it was actually pretty good. My only complaint was that I'm not a fan of poached chicken. I think it would have been better to add cooked chicken leftover from a roast. And if I had homemade chicken stock it would have been even better. The other advice I have it to watch the tortilla strips like a hawk. I put the first batch in for 12 minutes and they burnt to a crisp, setting off the smoke detector. Oops.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ravioli with Peas and Shallots

Ravioli with Peas and Shallots

Last weekend my sister was home to look at places to have her wedding. She was over at my apartment for a bit while she was here and she saw How to Cook Everything Vegetarian on my counter.

"Are you a vegetarian now?" she asked.

The answer is no. But I understand why she might think that. Looking back on this blog for the past few weeks, I see I haven't eaten a lot of meat lately. I try to keep a tight budget so I'm saving a lot per month. I've heard some people claiming to the same grocery budget (maybe $20 more a week) for a family of four, and like me, they claim also includes laundry detergent, cleaners, shampoo, etc. But they have to be lying. Unless, of course, they're secretly eating nothing but rice and beans. Or, they're eating out several meals per week.

If people are eating a diet rich in whole grains, plenty of produce and lots of lean protein sources and their budgeted allotment for three meals a day, 7 days a week plus snacks and includes more than food and is within $20 of mine per week — I'd like to know how they do it. I'm single and cook for one. I eat a new dinner each night and eat leftovers for lunch the next day plus a bowl of oatmeal with fruit for breakfast and a couple of snacks (usually yogurt and/or fruit and a homemade cookie or something similar) per day and honestly, $60 a week is kind of hard. Maybe I'm a poor bargain hunter. I do use coupons for what I can, but most of the coupons for food items are for heavily-processed crap.

How much do you all spend per week, and does that include more than just food items?

Now on to dinner. Tonight's dinner, while not the most diet-friendly in the world, is budget-friendly and ready in practically 5 minutes. No joke. It doesn't get much simpler and easier than Ravioli with Peas and Shallots.

It says it's more than 600 calories, but I don't think my version was. I just find that hard to believe. I used whatever the bag said was one serving and that came out to 310 calories. So 1/2 tbsp of butter and 2.5 ounces of peas is more than 300 calories? That doesn't seem right. So this was probably at least a little healthier than the recipe claims. 1.5 pounds of ravioli for four people seems like a lot anyhow.

And this wasn't too bad. I don't think it was amazing or life changing. But it was quick and fairly tasty. I have to admit peas aren't my favorite vegetable, but alongside the ravioli they were tolerable. I would get a quality ravioli because with a recipe with so few ingredients all of them really need to be top-notch.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spinach Artichoke French Bread Pizza

Spinach Artichoke French Bread Pizza

By the time I made it home last night it was nearly dark because I decided to run errands after work. I stopped at the library, Great Harvest Bread and Costco and when I was done it was nearly 7 p.m., so I just didn't feel like fussing much with dinner.

Perfect time for me to indulge in a pizza craving, if you ask me.

I ended up making it with artichokes and spinach — inspired by a recipe I saw in a magazine. The recipe just seemed way too hard to make a healthier version and not ruin the overall flavor. I'm sure it can be done, but who wants to play around with the recipe when you're tired and hungry?

I ended up with a more traditional tomato sauce and went from there. The crust is a whole grain baguette I picked up at Costco while I was out running errands. I usually to keep a baguette in the freezer whenever the mood strikes me to make garlic bread or croutons.

OK, now I'm off to get some real work done. I hate bringing work home, but at least I can work on it while I watch Ugly Betty!

Spinach Artichoke French Bread Pizza
Serves 2 (11 points for a good-sized slice)

1/2 a whole grain baguette, split in half to form two crusts
1/2 cup tomato sauce (see link above for what I used)
1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella, divided
Artichokes canned in brine, chopped
1/2 a 10 ounce box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Top each slice of bread with 1/4 cup of sauce and a little bit of mozzarella. Top with artichokes (however many you want) and spinach. Sprinkle on the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until cheese melts and bread browns on the edges.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Eggplant Ravioli Soup

Eggplant Ravioli Soup

Today was beautiful. Mostly sunny and 75-ish. It was great to drive with the windows down and breathe in some fresh air for a change. I love the time of the year when it's either just starting to get warm or just starting to get cold. It signals the end of the frigid cold or the sweltering heat with 150% humidity.

And, of course, I was planning to have soup. I'm that crazy person who eats soup on a hot day and ice cream on the coldest day of the year. It's not that I consciously say, "oh good, it's getting warm out — time for soup." It's the crazy Ohio weather and my bad luck.

OK, so I did once make braised lamb shanks in June, but in my defense if my ex (then my boyfriend) would have actually made the lamb shanks for dinner like I begged him to instead of blowing me off forgetting, I would have eaten them on a blustery, cold day in February.

And if it weren't for my daylight savings haze, I would have stopped to pick up something grill-worthy tonight. Instead, I ate the Eggplant Ravioli Soup I had planned for dinner. I pretty much made this as the recipe dictated except that used dried basil and used less ravioli. I thought a pound of ravioli was overkill. I used two servings of ravioli — or about 18 ravioli according to the package. That's about 4 ravioli per bowl. And with all that eggplant, it really was enough. Plus, it made giant bowls of soup.

I think by the end of the bowl I actually got tired of eating all that eggplant, so maybe next time I'll add some zucchini in there for a different flavor. But overall, not a bad soup, even it felt like summer outside.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans

Man, oh man. Daylight savings time is killing me. It's just after 8 p.m. and I'm ready to fall asleep! So this will need to be super quick.

On the other hand.. look! My first natural light photo of the season. I love my new diy photo box, but seriously, there's no substitute for natural lighting. Very little editing necessary. And look at the steam. You can't Photoshop that in. Well, I suppose you could, if you knew how, which I don't.

Tonight was Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans. Overall, not my favorite gnocchi dish. It wasn't awful. I'm not sure I'm a fan of toasting the gnocchi in oil rather than boiling. It was a different texture. I liked the toasted flavor, though.

I used regular diced tomatoes and tossed in Italian seasonings.. and it was just OK. Maybe actually using a can of Italian tomatoes would be better. I didn't have them, though. And I would leave off the mozzarella and include more parm. The stringy mozzarella was just weird to say the least.

It was well-rated on Eating Well's website. So maybe the lack of sleep is just making me grump and disagreeable. And maybe, I was comparing it a similar gnocchi recipe that I like better.

I might make this again, but it'll probably be when I have the ingredients on hand and need to use them up. I don't think I'll go out of my way to make it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chicken Stir Fry

Chicken Stir Fry
Per usual, I intended to make a spicy chicken stir fry and didn't have even half of the right ingredients. All I had bothered to purchase were the snow peas and peanuts. I had the chicken and rice on hand. I was missing a jalapeno.. which being a spicy chicken stir fry, it kind of needed it.

So, I reached for my new favorite cookbook How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. I flipped through a couple of stir fry recipes and settled on a sauce, used whatever veggies I had on had, added chicken, and threw in some red pepper flakes and the peanuts for good measure.

And that's what I really appreciate about this cookbook as opposed to the others on my shelf. He includes different variations after some of the recipes and includes lists of ideas including pizza toppings, sandwich fillings, etc. There's recipes -- and lots of them at that -- but I think it also inspires you to play around with the ingredients and get more comfortable working outside of a recipe. And that's exactly what I'm hoping to work up to someday. Feeling confident enough to make something up and have it actually be edible.

Stir fries are easy to play around with, so I wasn't reinventing the wheel or anything. Feel free to use less oil if you want to. Or more, I suppose. I'm just including what I used.

Chicken Stir Fry
Serves 2

1 tbsp canola oil, divided
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1 medium onion
1 medium red bell pepper
1 cup snow peas
1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 tbsp dry sherry
3 tbsp chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup scallion, chopped

Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high heat.
Add the onions, stirring occasionally until they begin to soften. Add the peppers and the snow peas; continue to cook, stirring, until the vegetables are crisp tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

Add the other 1/2 tbsp oil to the pan and then the garlic and ginger.
Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown chicken until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Add the wine and broth to the pan, stirring, until about half of it evaporates.

Add the vegetables back to the pan and cook for a minute or so to reheat. Add the soy sauce and scallion, and cook until the scallion softens, about 30 seconds.

I garnished with red pepper flakes and unsalted, roasted peanuts and served over hot, brown rice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lemony Shrimp with White Beans and Couscous

Lemony Shrimp with White Beans and Couscous
Last night I came home from work tired and hungry. And, I forgot to put food out. I had just seen a recipe for the Lemony Shrimp and White Beans with Couscous in last month's Real Simple and decided to give it a try.

This was great. It used pantry ingredients — canned beans and whole wheat couscous. It also used up the rest of my frozen shrimp, a quick thawing and quick cooking protein I keep on hand for weeknight meals. It also used green onions, parsley and lemon — all of which I had.

Best yet, the entire meal came together in less than 15 minutes, and that's including the roasted asparagus on the side.

The only complaint I had was that it wasn't all that filling. I ended up eating the entire bunch of asparagus. Honestly, though, I probably could have eaten the whole bunch of asparagus whether I was truly hungry or not. I absolutely love roasted asparagus. Scratch that. I love all roasted veggies.

And there's worse things to eat an entire pan of, right? At least it wasn't a pan of brownies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheesy Mushroom Bread Pudding

Cheesy Mushroom Bread Pudding
The first time I made bread pudding was probably more than a year ago on Valentine's Day. Because my then-boyfriend was out of work and still trying to put himself through school, my gift to him was a dinner in, lovingly purchased and cooked by yours truly.

I can't remember what I made for dinner that night so it probably wasn't that memorable. But I do remember searching F-O-R-E-V-E-R for a dessert that neither made a giant dish of highly caloric or something with costly ingredients. And by the way he hated chocolate.

I'm still convinced he claimed to hate chocolate just to be difficult. I just can't believe there are people who won't eat chocolate. It's not real.

Anyhow. I finally found a lower-cal dessert with absolutely no chocolate. A cinnamon bread pudding with caramel sauce. It was perfect. Simple, delicious, and was molded into it's own muffin cup for portion control.

I haven't made another bread pudding until now. Instead of a sweet one, I opted to use the leftover bargain mushrooms in this savory version: Cheesy Mushroom Bread Pudding.

Now, don't let this photo fool you — especially the gooey cheese in the center. I like cheesy goodness as much as the next gal, but this really wasn't anything to write home about. It was just meh. Maybe it was because I didn't use whole milk. I admit, skim doesn't work in everything. But even if the texture was a bit watery, it was just missing something. Maybe salt, I don't know.

I do know, that even though I swapped in skim milk and used less Parmesan and less olive oil, it was 11 points. It was a pretty sizable serving, but still. And I'm not one of those people always looking for the lowest calorie option. I will eat make room for "regular" foods if they're worth it. This, unfortunately, was not one of those foods.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Mushroom Barley Risotto


Mushrooms were on special last week at the grocery store. Each 8-ounce package of organic cremini mushrooms were $1. Score.

I heart mushrooms. They seem to be one of those polarizing foods, though, that people either love or hate with a passion. I love them. My sister, on the other hand, hates them.

The first meal I made with the mushrooms was Mushroom Barley Risotto. In addition to the mushrooms being on sale, I was inspired by this thread on eGullet — cooking from your pantry with no grocery shopping. Now, I don't think I could ever actually do something like that. Mostly because as a single person cooking for one — I usually buy only the produce I need for the week and plan ahead carefully so I'm not wasting anything.

But I'll fully admit there's a random turkey sausage or chicken breast languishing in my freezer and lots of odds and ends of various whole grains chilling out in the pantry. Although I try to buy from the bulk bins so I only buy what I'll use, I still end up with more than I need for a single recipe.

I've had pearl barley in my pantry for a while, and although I love it in soups I rarely put it in anything else. That changed last week. What's better than barley and mushrooms and risotto? Um, not much!

Of course, I was missing any number of ingredients for every recipe I found, so I ended up blending a few together. Here's what I ended up with.

Mushroom Barley Risotto
Serves 3 to 4 (6 points if divided into 3 servings)

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp fresh sage, chopped
3/4 cup pearl barley
1/3 cup dry red wine
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

In a small saucepan, warm the chicken broth until simmering.

In an deep nonstick skillet, heat 1 1/2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sage and saute until the onion is soft. Add the barley and stir to coat in the oil. Add the wine, stirring until it's almost completely absorbed. Add the hot broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and adding 1/2 cup more of broth each time the previous addition is almost absorbed. This should take about 45 minutes. If the barley is not yet tender and all the broth is gone, add a little water and cook until it is tender.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. If the mushrooms begin to stick, you can remove them from the heat and spray them with olive oil spray.

When the barley is done, stir in the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and serve with Parmesan.