Friday, October 30, 2009

French Toast with Fried Apples


This was the view from my window this afternoon. Much better than a beige cubicle wall. It's not the brilliant red it was a few days ago and the leaves are thinning, but it's still pretty.

The only thing about working from home? I feel like such a slug. I haven't left all day. How do people do this day in an out? If I maybe had a significant other it might not be so bad because someone would be at least around at some point, but I definitely don't think I could do this every day. But every once and a while (especially on a Friday) it's nice to work outside of the office.

The temperature was a lot easier to deal with, that's for sure. We're having an Indian summer kind of day.. near 80 degrees. I had the apartment all opened up it. It was beautiful. This is exactly why fall is my favorite season.

Unfortunately, my dinner plans didn't work out. I intended to make a slow cooker beef stew, with the warmer temps it didn't sound good at all. Time for plan B.

Breakfast for dinner.

A few days ago or so I came across this recipe for fried apples. The pictures were drool-worthy and I knew I had to make these as soon as humanly possible.

I was tossing around the idea of making French toast with the last of the 12-grain bread from Nature's Pride that Foodbuzz sent me.

12 grain

This was softer and nuttier than the whole grain, but has less fiber. Usually I buy bread that has at least 3 grams of fiber per slice, but this was probably tastier than the whole grain. And it made a really great French toast. The nuttiness was perfect. Especially topped with these amazingly good apples. I love apple pie and these are basically the filling of the pie (i.e., the best part). There's not even maple syrup on these.. just the delicious syrupy apples. Perfection.

See for yourself:

French Toast with Fried Apples

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Butternut Squash Quesadillas

Butternut Squash Quesadilla

Tomorrow I'm working in my pajamas. It's a work from home day. I'm so ridiculously excited I can't even describe.

But let me attempt. Reasons I love working from home:

  • I can actually "make" lunch — not just reheat. I did this all the time when I lived 2 miles from work and I miss it.
  • I can be comfortable. Hello sofa and fuzzy slippers.
  • No commute. I'm up at 7 a.m. so I can be done earlier than normal. YESSS!
  • I don't have to risk getting my coworkers' germs. The dude in the cube across the aisle was out most of the week with the flu, but he was back today — hacking up a lung. (Hand sanitizer and extra disinfectant wipes for my cube are definitely on my grocery list this week!)

The day should be uneventful, even quieter than today. I'm so glad my job isn't stressful every day of the week. It may not always be this way, though, so I should definitely enjoy it while I can. My boss is super laid back and isn't so bad to work for, so hopefully even though they're reorganizing my area I'll still be working for him. In two jobs, I haven't ever worked for a micro-manager, and I don't think I want to.

Tonight's dinner was, um, lazy. And junk food. So I won't talk about that. Just know that I'm not perfect and while I generally tend to think natural = better, sometimes chemical-laden pre-packed convienient junk food is really, really good. I just can't help myself.

So, instead of taking a photo of something not picture-worthy, I'll share a meal from a couple of weeks ago: Squash Quesadillas. Truthfully, I'm not sure I like squash. I want to like it, but sometimes I just don't.

I've heard you should introduce your kids to a new food at least 10 times before you give up. I guess it could take that long for them to develop at taste for it? Anyhow, I fully subscribe to that. There's all kinds of things I wouldn't eat as a kid: raw tomatoes, broccoli, peanut butter!?!, and the list goes on. Point is, I eat all of these things now because I didn't give up. I kept trying them until I found a way I like them.

Butternut squash is no different. I've tried:

And now, in Squash Quesdillas. I won't lie, I was unsure about this recipe. It didn't get fantastic reviews and it was really simple.. maybe too simple. But I had tons of leftover squash and I had to do something with it.

I was completely surprised. These were deliciousness. It now makes three squash recipes I like. Five more recipes to go before I can "official" decide if I like squash.

Now it's your turn to 'fess up. What's your favorite "junk" food?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In praise of frozen dinners

Meat Sauce

This doesn't look like a frozen dinner does it? Well it is. A homemade one.

A few weeks ago I attempted to make a slow cooker meatball dish that went awry. It dried out majorly, the meatballs fell apart and it ended up a thick meat sauce that wasn't even that good.

I had a ton of it so I froze it anyway. It was a good idea because it became dinner tonight.

After another long day at work I stumbled in hungry and not wanting to cook. Buca was giving away a pound of dried pasta with some special deal on Monday and my coworker didn't want it, so I decided to quickly defrost and heat the meat sauce to go with it.

I thought it was dry before I froze it and it was even drier after defrosting. To make it more saucy I threw in a can of diced tomatoes.

Meat Sauce

Not the best meat sauce, but it worked well tonight given my mood. And sometimes that's the most important.

What frozen dinners do you have in your freezer?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Adobo-Glazed Mini Meat Loaves

Adobo-Glazed Turkey Meat Loaves

Today was a challenging day. From 2 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. when I finally left everything that could probably go wrong did. And when I left there were still people working on things.

Then I came home to find my cat left me a few upchucked surprises. Awesome.

Luckily, my dinner was pretty much made for me. Just assemble, heat and eat.

This week I tried Self's Cook Once Eat All Week feature. I started off the week with these Adobo-Glazed Mini Meat Loaves, turned them into the Sweet Potato Shepard's Pie last night and finished up the "building blocks" with the Cheesy Shrimp Enchilada Bake tonight.

It was definitely nice to mostly assemble and throw the casserole in the oven. I try to reuse ingredients through the week so everything gets used up, but these recipes took that a step further.

First, the good about these recipes:
  • The adobo glaze - REALLY delicious and unique.. an improvement from the usual ketchup-based glaze.
  • The enchilada bake - by far the best recipe of the three. You can't go wrong with cheese!
Now for the bad. The meat loaves were just a bit weird. I couldn't get behind the peas. As far as meat loaf goes I prefer a lean beef to a lean turkey. I used all lean (93/7) turkey rather than a fattier/super lean mix. I have a favorite meat loaf muffin recipe that I think I'll stick with. You could definitely use some southwestern seasoning in the meat mix and use the adobo glaze. That might be a better alternative in my opinion.

I think because I didn't really care much for the meat loaf, the shepard's pie was also not my favorite. It was also super ugly. Gross, actually. I decided to spare you. You'll just have to trust me.

Lastly, one change I'd make with enchilada bake: cooked chicken instead of shrimp. The shrimp got super dried out and tough in a 400-degree oven, but cooked rotiserrie chicken would probably work out much better. You can still toss it with lime juice and cilantro. I also made one change to boost flavor. Instead of regular diced tomatoes try fire roasted. It added a little extra oomph. You know?

So overall, repurposed leftovers for much of the week has been fun and maybe I'll something I'll look to do more of. Unfortunately, the recipes fell a little short and needed a little tinkering to make them better.

Are you someone who cooks once and eats all week? What do you make?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Saturday Shopping and Pearl Couscous Tagine

Shopping 10/24

Wow this week was busy. I hardly posted any meals at all! In reality, I hardly even cooked.

Saturday I restocked under my weekly budget for the second week in a row. I'm really proud of myself. It's rare I'm able to be UNDER budget two weeks in a row. The total came to about $42.

I bought: Shredded parm, chickpeas, canned chipotles chilis in adobo, a few cans of diced tomatoes, organic refried black beans, skim milk, flavored sparkling water, a bottle of Shiraz, lean ground turkey, raw frozen shrimp, organic mixed greens, pepper jack and 2% cheddar, broccoli, cremini mushrooms, corn tortillas, green beans, cilantro, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, zucchini, lemon, lime, red pepper and roma tomatoes... oh and a frozen pizza hiding behind there because I couldn't help myself. Sometimes I like the junk food, too.

For dinner, I used the chickpeas, diced tomatoes and zucchini in a Pearl Couscous Tagine. It was incredibly good and chockful of veggies. It needed a touch more spice, like some red pepper, but otherwise it was super tasty.

Pearl Couscous Tagine

I love pearl couscous.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roasted Pork with Root Vegetables

Roast Pork with Root Vegetables

Busy busy day. I got back into the gym for the first time in like two weeks. Work has been so busy I haven't had a chance to work out in the afternoon. It was a tough run today.. funny how two weeks off seem to really make a difference.

I also did a ton of cooking. I made meatballs and marinara to throw in the slow cooker tomorrow morning, made pumpkin ice cream and even roasted pork and root vegetables for dinner. I started with the recipe but changed it up some. I used parsnips, carrots, potatoes and garlic for the vegetables, for one. And, the vegetables could really go 30-40 minutes in my opinion. Mine went close-ish to 30 and they were quite done. Next time I may start the veg when I brown the meat, and then throw the meat in the pan with the vegetables. After 20 minutes or so I'd take the meat out, whenever it gets to about 155 in the center, and let it rest while the vegetables keep cooking.

Breakfast was a little less successful. I tried to make the stuffed french toast with toaster waffles. BIG FAIL. I used pumpkin butter in between two waffles and soaked in a egg mixture of 2 egg whites and an egg with cinnamon and vanilla soy milk. Definitely works better with cinnamon bread like I used a while back. The pumpkin butter on waffles was good, though. Just a little too soggy with the egg.

Waffle French Toast

Almost looked good. Oh well, can't win every time, right?

What did you all cook this weekend?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Shopping

Groceries 10/17

Today has been a really lazy day, except for my weekly grocery shopping trip. I kept the entire week's meals under $50, including snacks. There's even some pantry stock-up items I had coupons for. The only things not show are the millet and dried apricots I plan to buy tomorrow from the bulk bins.

Today's haul included chicken broth, Stonyfield yogurt (including the pumpkin pie!), apples, heavy cream and whole milk for ice cream, mixed greens, generic WW giant fudge bars (a guilty pleasure), stuffing mix, carrots, fresh cranberries, cauliflower, eggs, 93/7 ground beef, pork tenderloin, green peppers, fresh tortellini, parsnips, zucchini and garlic.

Other than shopping I did some laundry and that's about it. Just what I needed -- a relaxing day.

I started off with overeasy eggs, a slice of toast with TJ's pumpkin butter and french press coffee:

Eggs and Toast with Pumpkin Butter

After shopping I warmed up with some mac and cheese and broccoli and a cup of herbal tea:

macaroni and cheese with broccoli

I sat down on the couch to catch up some of my DVR'd TV shows while the laundry was going, but I ended up falling asleep with Bella on the couch, waking up just in time to make a big pot of Tortellini Soup for dinner with a side of homemade garlic bread. Yum. I love this soup.. even if it takes a long time to make.

Tortellini Soup

And now I think I'll put in a movie :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sliced Chicken with Chunky Mushroom Gravy

Sliced Chicken with Chunky Mushroom Gravy

Happy Friday!

So glad it's almost the weekend again. With my sister's shower and bachelorette on Saturday then being awesomely hungover all day on Sunday, last weekend didn't feel much like a weekend.

Allison and I
My sister and I being cheesy.. (I'm on the right)

We went to four bars that night and seems like everyone had a good time. But as a result, I've just been a little "off" this week. I'll be glad to have a weekend to recharge.

Last night's dinner was even a bit of a disappointment. I made a sliced chicken with chunky mushroom gravy that was super simple and sounded pretty tasty. It was good, but maybe not as delicious as I was hoping. The original recipe called to put the chicken and gravy over toast and top with arugula, but I ended up putting it over whole wheat egg noodles and garnishing with parsley. Close enough, I say.

I loved the combo of mushrooms with the balsamic vinegar and rosemary. But, it reminded me of the Chicken with Wild Mushroom Balsamic Cream Sauce I made more than a year ago that I actually think was better. And not just because I ate it with mashed potatoes. You could use rosemary instead of thyme and you'd have a slightly better version of what I made last night.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Quesdilla Casserole

Quesdailla Casserole

The older I get, the more I realize how much I'm like my parents. I guess you can't help it. You have the same genetic make up and whether you'll admit it or not, you look up to them when you're a child. At the very least, you learn from their example.

It's obvious from the get-go that I've inherited my mom's appetite and love of food and my dad's ability to eat just about anything. I'll try just about anything once.

What's maybe not so obvious, are the parts of my personality I've inherited. My worrying, for example. My grandpa apparently was a worrier, my mom is a worrier, and the apple didn't fall from the tree with me. And like my dad, I get the extra bonus of completely losing my appetite when I'm stressed or worried about something.

I'm the exact opposite of an emotional eater, which I guess can be considered either a positive or a negative depending how you want to look at it.

Bad part of losing my appetite? Nothing sounds good. I could debate what to make for dinner for hours and come up with nothing. Or, I make a dish that sounded good when I started but by the time I'm done the smell is off-putting.

Yesterday's food intake ended up being a bottle of gatorade and a cup of coffee, leftover broccoli beef stirfry over a cup of whole wheat noodles, a tall decaf soy latte and a small pumpkin cupcake. I didn't total up the calories, but it couldn't have been much. Last week was similar. I guess it's been the stress of the bridal shower/bachelorette and a few other things I'm not ready to talk about here.

I also haven't even been working out because I'm afraid of falling over on the treadmill — similar to that Biggest Loser contestant last night. Eat too little, exercise too hard and down you go.

The upside is that I don't snack much if at all, so when I can choose whatever I want, pretty much. And because I eat so little, the more caloric probably the better. I still strive to get my veggies in and make it calories from healthy fats, etc. I drink plenty of water and wait it out until my appetite comes back.

In the meantime, a dish like this quesadilla casserole occaisonally sneaks in. An entire block of cheese for four people? Yikes. But I made it anyway and left the entire block in. I did only use three tortillas and they were fajita-sized whole wheat ones at that. I also cut way back on the oil. In the end, mine looked like a mess of corn and beans that could serve six people with sides, easily.

It wasn't the most inspired recipe and it wasn't anything that stood out. It was just.. ordinary.

But, sometimes, ordinary is exactly what I'm looking for.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Walnuts and Cinnamon

Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant

I made a mistake tonight. I took the time to pet the possibly stray cat that hangs out near my apartment. Who knew it would follow me? It followed me up the stairs and right to my door. It must've smelled Bella because it sniffed the door and laid down on the doormat.

I felt so mean, but I had to keep sprinkling water on it to get it to leave my doorway. I tried to shoo it away so I could get through the door, but it wouldn't budge. For the health and safety of my own cat, I had to do it. I felt awful shooing it away, but I was afraid it would get in my apartment and introduce disease to my cat or worse -- physically hurt her. I felt so awful. Even once I got through the door it laid on my doormat for a while. Bella could totally tell. She wouldn't leave the front door alone.

Oh well.

I distracted myself by making dinner. My theme this week is apparently walnuts and cinnamon because these ingredients made it in not one, but two dinners.

First, the one I liked. Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant. Oh man, this was good. Maybe it's because I was starving or because I had a glass of white wine on an empty stomach while I cooked. But this was really, really good. Possibly my new favorite way to eat eggplant.. second only to traditional eggplant Parmesan. The eggplant was super creamy and the tomato softened up, too. And the crunchy toasted walnuts = heaven. The cinnamon wasn't overpowering, either. It was just subtly in the background. It's a meatless meal where I swear you won't miss the meat. It was a bit fussy for a weeknight, but in the end it was really worth it.

Cranberry Chicken with Walnuts

The chicken dish I made last night, though, was a dish where the cinnamon was a bit overpowering. I used less oil and walnuts and swapped pomegranate-cranberry juice for just cranberry juice. It was just OK and I doubt following the recipe to the letter would have helped. It was a little better today as leftovers, but still just average. Especially compared to stuffed eggplant tonight.

I think I'll be looking forward to lunch tomorrow!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Creamy Tomato Soup and Breaded Pork Chops

Creamy Tomato Soup

This weekend has been pretty busy. Besides my normal chores and grocery shopping I did some bridal shower prep. I can't believe my sister's shower is this coming weekend. I'm having it at my mom's and she's already stressing.

On Friday I did manage to pull together some tomato soup. I grew up hating cream of tomato soup from the can, but this was really good. Not too tomato-y. I used a little less cream and two pounds of fresh tomatoes instead of canned, but it was pretty close the the recipe I linked to. On the side was grilled cheese made with the Nature's Pride 100% Whole Wheat sent to me from Foodbuzz.

Nature's Pride 100% Whole Wheat

The ingredients list, although natural is pretty long and probably isn't as natural as the Great Harvest breads I normally buy. But it's not bad for commercial bread. It's softer than most 100% whole wheat breads, which I really liked. It makes a great grilled cheese sandwich and would probably be good as french toast. Obviously I like it considering the loaf is almost gone!

Tonight's dinner isn't health food. Not even close, but sometimes I just crave a breaded pork chop. Ya know? This one was a simple one and could be made maybe a little healthier by using egg white instead of a whole egg. On the side was sauteed broccoli. I put a little oil in a pan over medium-high heat, added the florets, garlic and a little water. Covered it, and let it cook until tender.. a little under 5 minutes. It was exactly what I was craving.

Breaded Pork and broccoli

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sausage and White Bean Casserole and Two Buck Chuck to the Rescue

Sausage and Bean Casserole

What a week. So glad it's almost over. Yesterday was a rough one. By the end of the day I found myself at Trader Joe's, Two Buck Chuck in hand, blankly staring at the freezer case looking for something heat and eat.

I chose the Mandarin Orange Chicken because I knew I had some rice and broccoli at home to make it a complete meal without much effort. I also picked up roasted red peppers and pumpkin butter - my TJ's staples. Oh, and peanut butter pretzels because, in a moment of weakness, salty crunchy goodness sounded like a fantastic idea.

"You've bought five of our most popular products," register dude informed me.

"Oh, I did?" I asked.

"Yeah, people actually buy 10 bags of the Mandarin Orange Chicken at a time. It's really good," he promised.

At that point in my day I didn't really care what it tasted like, I just wanted hot food that didn't take much effort. But I was glad others liked it. Always a bonus if it tastes good.

By the time I actually heated it up and ate it, I realized I'm nothing like "most people." It just didn't rock my world. It was just fried nuggets of chicken with some thin, somewhat flavored sauce. Not my most favorite by a mile, and certainly not good enough to buy TEN bags.

But it certainly passed the hot food that didn't take much effort test. If anything, that's a reason to keep some around. The Two-Buck Chuck on the other hand — oh how I love thee. And the pb pretzels? You were the salty crunchy goodness I craved. If I was feeling more gluttonous I would have slathered extra peanut butter on you.

Has anyone else tried this Mandarin chicken from TJs? What didja think? The reviewers on this site mostly raved. I tend to think they've just never had good Chinese takeout.

Anyhow, even though yesterday wasn't exactly my finest nutritional moment, Wednesday I made this Sausage and White Bean Casserole dish that was really just beans and greens with a turkey sausage link. Yum, yum, yum.

It was hearty, fallish and tasty — exactly what I've been craving this entire gloom-tastic week. Next time, though, I might remove the sausage from the casing and cook it, crumbling as I go, then add in the beans and such.. and simmer it down with a little chicken stock on the stove top rather than throwing it in the oven.

I kept wishing the beans had just a hint more of sausage flavor. The other way to accomplish more sausage flavor would be to use a regular sausage that would let off more fat when you brown them up. But that's not exactly the healthy route. Crumbling the sausage would also allow you to use less if you're so inclined. (I'm not.)

Don't have swiss chard or just scared of it in general? Use spinach or any other green for that matter. I used the chard, though, because they had some good-looking organic rainbow chard at the store this week.

Today's another nasty weather day, so I'm thinking tomato soup and grilled cheese for dinner tonight.

Do you have a favorite rainy day meal?