So two years is an acceptable amount of time to not cook anything interesting, apparently.
Truth be told, we have fallen into some really bad habits of eating terribly and also eating out WAY too much. Recently Justin and I decided enough was enough. We went on an insane crash  totally normal and nutritionally balanced diet, lost a good amount of weight and decided we couldn't go back to our old ways. The purpose of the diet was to lose weight, of course, but also to break us of terrible habits like soda and fast food multiple times a week. So now it's been about a week of getting back to eating normally and I find that it's not as tough as I thought, I simply am not craving all the bad stuff as much anymore. The main thing has been simply eating less during meals and less snacking throughout the day. The second step was picking up some good recipes that incorporated not only stuff that was low calorie but also maybe...good for us?

I picked up Mark Bittman's Food Matters  and that gave me a great jumping off point. Understanding why certain foods are bad (or good, for that matter) has helped inform a lot of the decisions I have made about cooking and eating. The main thing is that it took off an enormous amount of pressure to have a meat or protein with each meal. I have been stuck in a rut of protein and carbs for each meal and this opens up so many doors for experimenting with different ideas. I am hoping this good streak of eating well and avoiding junk will stick around. I also find that knowing that we're eating well most of the time will make splurging so much more enjoyable!

Here's one of the recipes I started with, adapted from Food Matters:

Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing

2-3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
Salt and pepper
1/4 C Olive Oil
2-3 slices of bacon
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1 bag fresh spinach (I did not have spinach so I used one head of romaine, chopped. I think spinach would be better but it tasted fine)
1-2 TBSP red wine vinegar

Toss the potatoes in olive oil and salt/pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until crisp, turning as needed (mine were not perfectly crisp, didn't matter)
In a skillet, cook the bacon, drain on a paper towel. Crumble or chop.
Put the shallots/onion in the skillet and brown for about 10 minutes or so
Add the red wine vinegar and whisk (there was not much to whisk for me, but it was enough to incorporate the flavor) Add the bacon back into the skillet.

Add the spinach or whatever green you're using to a large bowl. Once the potatoes are done toss them on top of the salad. Pour the bacon/dressing over the salad and toss. Add pepper is desired.

This recipe is very adaptable. The original calls for bell peppers, ginger, and orange juice, none of which I had on hand and omitted. The combo of sweet potato and bacon is amazing. If you wanted to go even healthier you could leave out the bacon and use a simple vinaigrette in its place. I don't think the addition of 2 slices of  bacon is a deal breaker, however.


Trimming and Cutting a Beef Tenderloin

People, this has changed my life. I watched this episode of Alton Brown back in a time long ago when I still watched The Food Network. I was intrigued but never actually did this until last summer when Teresa and I wanted to make steaks for a crowd. This is by far the best way to get a great steak for a very reasonable price (about $45 at a warehouse club). And not only will you get ONE steak, you'll get at least ten PLUS A ROAST. Consider how many meals you're getting for this price! You can freeze the steaks and have them any time you want a great meal.
Watch part one and two to get the details. It takes roughly 20 minutes to trim the loin (it's easy and fun too, if you consider cutting giant cuts of meat fun, which I kind of do...) and you will be shocked how good this tastes.

Part 1:

Part 2:


Grilled Pizza

So look, you have no excuse for not grilling your pizza. Way better than lame-o oven baked, much faster and no messy pizza pan to scrape out later.
If you have a grill you can do this, no matter if it's charcoal or gas. I prefer charcoal regardless, but that's just me. If you got fancy you could even fire up some wood in your charcoal grill. I'm just sayin...
So here we go. The ingredients are just pizza dough, olive oil and your toppings. The process is simple but it might take one or two tries to get the hang of it. This recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated by way of my mother-in-law.

I'm telling you how to go about this from a charcoal grilling perspective, as this is my experience. If you're a gas griller you can figure it out I'm sure!

Stack your coals so one side is higher and thus hotter. Take your dough (rolled out into small mini pizzas) and slather on some oil. Put it oil side down on the coals for a few minutes until it starts to bubble up. Pull it off the grill and onto a cookie sheet or whatever you are using. Turn it over so that the cooked side is facing up. Brush on a little more oil and then your sauce, toppings, cheese, etc.

This time put the pizza (toppings side up, of course) on the cooler side where your coals are stacked lower. Cover the grill and let it sit for a few minutes. Usually by the time the cheese is melted it's time to pull it off. I usually pop them in the oven on 200 until they are all done to keep them warm, but you can certainly pass them off for eating as soon as they ar done. This is great for parties and summer grilling. Enjoy!


Holla for Challah!

My mother-in-law buys challah pretty regularly from Central Market for Sunday dinners. She pronounces it "halla," which sounds hilariously ghetto coming from her (I keep waiting for her to say something at the table like, "Pass that HOLLA back, girl!" but have the feeling I'll probably be waiting for a long time). I think that "halla" is probably the most accurate way to pronounce it. I say "Calla," just because the dictionary says it's OK. Enough about pronunciation...

This recipe is adapted from Baking with Julia, which admittedly, has been sitting on my bookshelf until recently, when I watched Julie and Julia. I picked out the challah recipe because my husband loves the stuff, and unlike Central Market, I will make it with love, which always makes everything taste better, right? (ha!) It makes 2 gorgeous, billowy, golden-brown loaves.

2 tablespoons (approximately) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup tepid water (80 - 90 degrees)
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon mild honey
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups (approximately) high-gluten flour, bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour

Brush a large mixing bowl with some of the melted butter. Reserve the rest for coating the top of the dough.

Whisk the yeast into the water, adding a pinch of sugar. Let it rest until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut up the butter into little pieces and combine with milk in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until butter is melted. After the butter is melted, add sugar, salt, and honey and combine well. Wait until the mixture is no hotter than 110 degrees and add yeast. Mix well with a wooden spoon, then add 5 cups of flour. Mix for 3 minutes before adding additional flour. You want to add enough flour to be able to handle the dough, or until it pulls cleanly away from the bowl, if you're using a stand mixer with a dough hook. A word of caution about stand mixers: I have the typical Kitchenaid stand mixer and it couldn't handle the volume of this dough without the dough creeping up over the hook. I mixed it in the mixer until I could handle it, then kneaded it by hand. Knead for about 10 minutes, form the dough into a ball, and plop into your buttered bowl. Cover with a buttered piece of plastic wrap, then cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until doubled.

Punch down, and let rise again 45 minutes to an hour, until doubled.

Punch down and shape into 2 loaves. You can leave them round, or separate each dough piece into 3 or 4 pieces, roll into long pieces, and braid *, which is what I do - FANCY, I know!

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and transfer your shaped loaf to one of the baking sheets. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Cover with a towel (a cotton tea towel would be good - something that's not covered with lint) and let rise at room temperature for about 40 minutes until soft, puffy, and almost doubled.

Position the oven racks to divide the overn into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees. Whisk together 1 large egg, 1 egg yolk, and 1 tablespoon of water or heavy cream, and mix really well. The recipe says to whisk it until it's broken up and then push the glaze through a sieve, but I'm not doing that. Brush the tops and sides with glaze; let set for 5 minutes and brush again. Reserve the leftover glaze for brushing the loaves during baking. If you're topping the loaves with anything (sesame, poppy, caraway seeds, etc.), dust them with the topping. Sprinkle coarse salt over the loaves.

Bake for 20 minutes. The loaves will expand and expose some of the inner dough, so brush the newly exposed dough with the reserved glaze. Bake 15 - 20 minutes longer, or until loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. If they start browning too quickly, cover with foil. Cool before slicing.

* You can do a three-strand braid, which is like braiding hair, or a cool four-strand braid. Here's how:

Strand A Strand B Strand C Strand D

You may want to anchor the strands at the end with something heavy, like a coffee cup. Start with Strand D, bring it to the left over Strand C (it's the new Strand C), then bring Strand B all the way to the right, over Strands C and D (it becomes the new Strand D). Now, you'll repeat on the opposite side. Bring Strand A over Strand B (becoming the new Strand B), then bring Strand C all the way to the left, over Strands A and B (becoming the new Strand A). Then repeat the process. Sometimes, especially when I repeated the process, it seemed like it wasn't going to work, like something didn't get crossed correctly. I've determined that it's because I've spent my whole life making three-stranded braids, so my brain just gets a little wonky. Just stay the course - it will work out!


Creamy Chicken Enchiladas

These enchiladas are made almost weekly in my home. They are easy, relatively healthy and delicious. The recipe is from the AHA's Low-Salt Cookbook but I've adjusted it to bring back the flavor and fat (although I still wing it with the salt). You can substitute reduced-fat cheese, fat free milk and take the salt out of everything (including the chili powder) and still have a very good meal but, come on, why punish yourself if you don't have to.

1 C milk
1/2 C chicken broth
2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 C Monty Jack cheese (Cheddar is also good)
1 tsp lime juice
1 pinch salt or to taste

8 6-in corn tortillas
2 C cubed, cooked chicken (about 10 oz cooked)
1/4 C thinly sliced green onions (regular onions work too)
1-2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
1-2 pinches salt or to taste
1/2 C Monty Jack cheese (again, Cheddar is just fine)
2-3 Tbs canned chopped mild green chiles (I use an entire 4 oz can)

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly spray a 13x9x2-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, broth, flour, pepper and salt. Bring to a simmer over med-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture thickens slightly, whisking occasionally.

Whisk in the 1/2 C cheese and lime juice. Remove from the heat. Set aside.

To soften the tortillas, wrap in aluminum foil and warm in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the chicken, green onions, garlic, cumin, chili powder and 1-2 pinches of salt.

To assemble, place the tortillas on a flat surface. Spread 1/4 C chicken mixture and 1 Tbs cheese in the center of each. Roll up jelly-roll style and place with the seam side down in the baking dish. Pour the sauce over the enchiladas. Sprinkle (or spoon over) with the chiles.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the filling is warmed through.


Meat Free Recipes?

Post your Lenten favorites! If you're not a contributor to this blog and would like to add something, email me at kathryn.lemieux@gmail.com and I will gladly make you an author or post your recipe.



Hungarian Goulash (Slow Cooker!)

Ok, don't let the name scare you off, this is delicious. It's just been sitting here in my trusty old America's Test Kitchen book for the last 4 years and I tried it for the first time tonight. After trying Goulash for the first time on my 10-day in Germany, I have at least had it in my mind that this was something worth trying again because it was amazing there. Why it has taken me so long I don't know. I also figured I needed to get in as many hearty winter meals as possible before it gets to a normal Texas temperature around here.

In a new commitment to not eating out I have been using my crock pot roughly 5 times a week. Mine tends to cook extremely fast so I cooked this on low for about 6 hours and it was perfect. A word of warning: if you are prone to heartburn or indigestion this may not be the dish for you as it is chock full of red peppery goodness.

You will need:
1 boneless beef roast cut into 1 inch pieces (or pre cut stew meat, which is what I used- the recipe says 5 lbs but that is WAY more than what I used and it was fine
5 TBSP sweet paprika (make sure on this or have a nice spicy surprise for dinner)
2 TBSP oil
3 onions, roughly chopped
2 red bell peppers, roughly chopped (stemmed and seeded, obvs.)
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 TBSP tomato paste
1/2 cup flour
1/2 sour cream
3 TBSP red wine vinegar
1/4 parsley, minced (I left this out)

Brown the meat (or don't if you want to save time) and remove from pan
Add peppers, onions, 1.4 tsp of salt and paprika. Cook about 5-10 min until veggies are soft
Stir in garlic until fragrant and add tomato paste and broth
Bring to simmer and add to slow cooker
n.b. I think you could omit all of this prep and put it directly in the slow cooker- ATK seems to think differently but hey, not all of us have endless amount of prep time

Cover and cook on high for 6-7 hours (depending on your crock pot) until meat is tender
About 20 minutes before serving mix water, broth and sour cream together and add to pot. Let it cook until the sauce starts to thicken, about 20 minutes longer. Add vinegar before serving (I gave it another 5 minutes after adding to let the flavor mix in)

I served this over egg noodles per the recipe's suggestion.