Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beef (Soup): It's what's for dinner.

As you will quickly learn, I am a huge advocate of my crockpot.  I have gotten to the point that I use it at least about twice per week now.  Being the neat-freak I am, I am somewhat ashamed to admit that it has earned a permanent spot on my kitchen counter. If I can, I chop and prepare what I need to the night before and throw it all in the crockpot before I leave for work in the morning.  By the time I get home, there is a delicious ready-made meal awaiting my arrival.

Today I can smell the savory aroma of a lesser-known winter favorite- Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup.  Last night, I chopped up a bag of carrots and an onion and threw them in a container in the fridge.  I bought beef chuck that was on sale, and it was already cubed so that was one less worry.  The rest was cake.  Or should I say beef?

I threw the following ingredients in my crockpot this morning:

  •  2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion- chopped (Prepared the night before) 
  • 2 teaspoons of minced garlic (I used the stuff out of a jar.) 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped (I simply chopped up a bag of those mini carrots.) 
  • 1 cup of uncooked pearl barley 
  • 1 small bag of frozen peas
  • 1small bag of frozen green beans
  • 1 can of corn (You could also use frozen.  This is just what I had at home.) 
  • 2 cartons of (32 ounces) beef flavored broth. 

Set the crockpot to low and then cook 6-8 hours.  Dinner is ready to go, and I will enjoy some soup for lunch over the next couple of days as well!  Now I just have to wait until I get home from Yoga to actually enjoy it....

Monday, January 30, 2012

It's all Greek to Me...

This recipe is something easy and yummy I whipped up tonight.  The truth is that I meant to prepare it yesterday, but I just ran out of time. Imagine that.  Luckily, this did not take me long.  After a comment left on one of my prior posts, The Bag Lady, about prepping and packaging breakfasts and lunch, my sister Julie was kind enough to leave a comment with another tasty suggestion: red pepper hummus and pita chips.  Thanks, Julie! I love when people leave comments so I can get your feedback, but even better when you leave suggestions with great snack and recipe ideas we can all share.

Anyway.. got to get back to the Greek.  I love Greek food.  Actually, I just love a simple Greek salad and some sort of tasty bread drenched in olive oil and garlic to go on the side.  Or maybe I like salad with my bread.  Yes, the latter is much more likely.  Well, in an effort to stay healthier, I chose to take my sister's pita chip suggestion. I am not really into hummus (I have textures issues I need to deal with. The truth is I had planned on buying it, but then chickened out while at the store.)  Instead, I decided to go for the fresh veggie route. As an alternative to a salad, I simply concocted my own "Americanized" mixture of vegetables that sounded tasty to me and it had a "Greek" twist.

I chopped up 2 fresh cucumbers, 3 roma tomatoes, 1 red onion, and drained and rinsed 1 can of black olives.  Kalamata would have been delightful, but I am trying to save money and this is what I had in the pantry. I mixed them altogether in a large bowl.

Next, I divided the large salad up into smaller plastic and glass containers that fit easily into my lunch bag.  I then poured 2 Tablespoons of some leftover lowfat Greek dressing over each one and then sprinkled some Romano cheese on top.  This is where I would easily substituted feta of I had it, but again this was on sale and sounded good at the time. Then landed a spot in my fridge.

Now for the pitas.  This took me less than 5 minutes to prepare and then only 13 to cook!  Simply set your oven to 375 degrees. I used whole wheat pitas and sliced them into 6-8 pieces each.  I then mixed 4 tablespoons of olive oil with some garlic salt, and freshly ground salt and pepper.  I placed all of the pita triangles on a cookie sheet and brushed them with the olive oil mixture.

Bake for 12-15 minutes.  I put mine in for 13:30 and they were a little but more brown than I would have liked.

Next I placed them in individual bags and they are ready to go.  These will make a great compliment to my Greek veggies!  Now I have lunch for several days this week prepared and ready to go. Simple, yet yummy!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mini Egg Frittatas

So I think it is due time for a recipe.  I came across these on Pinterest awhile back and gave them a try.  Hubby seems to like them, as they are steadily disappearing from my freezer. I usually make them on the weekend and then freeze individually. It is a great way to get a protein-rich breakfast on the go.  I have made a couple different varieties and you can pretty much fill them with whatever veggies, meats, and cheeses you desire! 

*Makes approximately 12-16 Mini Frittatas

8 eggs
1/2 cup of skim milk
teaspoon salt
(I used dashes of pepper and garlic salt too.)
1 cup shredded cheese (You pick what kind!) 
Assorted mix-ins such as chopped veggies or meats

The first time I made these I simply used what I had in the fridge: leftover sliced cold-cut ham, chopped broccoli florets, sliced carrots, chopped onions, and shredded Swiss cheese.  

The second time I made them I used shredded pepper jack cheese, chopped onions, chopped green pepper, 1 small can of diced green chilies, and 1 can of Rotel tomatoes.  (This batch turned out much more moist and then resulted in "wetter" eggs when defrosted.) 

 Heat your oven to 350º F. 

Chop any veggies or meat that you plan to add to your frittatas. I chose to sautee the vegetables lightly, however you could add them fresh.  It is your choice. 

Either coat a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray, or I would recommend using the metal muffin-cup liners, as the frittatas would be much easier to remove.  *However, this means you would have to remove the metal liner before reheating in the microwave when ready to eat. 

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and any other desired seasonings in a medium bowl, then evenly distribute the egg mixture among the muffin cups.

Add about 2 tablespoons of mix-ins to each cup.  Then add cheese to each cup.

Bake the frittatas until they are puffy and the edges are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. (If necessary, run a butter knife around the edge of each one to loosen them before removing them from the pan.)

I then allow them to cool. I must add that the frittatas do "deflate" slightly after taking them out of the oven so they end up being much smaller servings than you think.  I have found that two makes an ample breakfast for one.  If you can find one of those pans that make the giant cupcakes this might work beautifully for the perfect-sized frittata. 

After cooling, place frittatas one-by-one in a sandwich bag.  I stash them in the freezer.  To reheat, I simply remove the metal liner if necessary, place it in a bowl, and microwave anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes.  I then like to mush mine up with a fork!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Bag Lady

Rather than starting with a recipe, I thought I would use this post to discuss something that I just started doing in the past couple weeks.  It is probably not a new concept to some, but for me, it was game-changing.  I have become the "bag lady".  After some reflection, I have decided that I tend to make the wrong choices about food when I do not plan ahead.  I get hungry, and I need a quick fix so I go for the nearest and most convenient option, and it is usually unhealthy. For me this would occur when I woke up and rushed to get to work in the morning and during lunch at work. To remedy this I started planning out meals (at least breakfast and lunch- I'll get to dinners in a later post) for the upcoming week in advance.  Here is how this works:

1) Think of about 2 -3 simple, lowfat "snack" items for breakfast and 3-4 for lunch that are easy to pack in a bag or small container. (See examples below.)
2)  I make a list of items I need from the store to make these meals/snacks and enter it onto a free list app on my phone so I don't forget it.  I always was forgetting my "Post-it" grocery lists..!
3) I go to the grocery store and only buy what is on my list. I prefer to go on either Friday or Saturday to leave my Sunday open for prepping, but that works with my schedule, so do what works best for you.
4) On my prepping day, I gather all said items together that I plan to eat that week for breakfast and lunch and prepare everything in advance.  I prepare as many items as I can simultaneously.  Depending on what items I choose, it has taken me anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.  For example, I boil the eggs while I chop red peppers.
5) Individually portion out items (You can portion by count, calories, or weight, but I am not usually this detailed about it.) and store in sandwich bags in either the fridge or a cabinet.  Let me add that this is not incredibly environmental-friendly, but it could be if you used reusable containers rather than sandwich bags.
6) Now in the morning I simply grab whatever prepackaged snacks/meals I feel like having that day, throw them in my lunch bag (or the kids' lunch box!) and go.  I try to alternate what I have every other day so I don't get too tired of one item.  

No fuss on busy workday/school mornings.  And it keeps me honest. Of course this does take a time investment up front, and it assumes that you will have a decent chunk of time on the weekend or on a weeknight to prepare, but if you can block out a time, I find this really works well for me.  I am not flustered in the morning, I am not stopping for fast food throughout my day, and I am eating healthy, mostly-unprocessed foods in appropriate portions.

So here is an example of what I bought, prepped, and "prepackaged" this month for my husband and I.  Each week's prepped meals lasted us about a week to two weeks.

Shopping trip 1:
Hard-boiled eggs (1 per bag x 12)
Apples (no need to prepackage)
Part-skim mozzerella String Cheese (already prepackaged)
Red pepper slices and carrots (handful per bag x 10)
Mini egg frittatas (Recipe coming soon!)- (1 x 12 bags and frozen) 

Prep note: I hard-boiled eggs while I chopped red peppers. Packaged peppers and carrots while egg frittitas cooked and cooled.

Shopping trip 2:
1 batch of low-fat homemade chicken salad and Orowheat 12-grain bread (*I made the chicken salad in advance and you can prepackage it into bags or containers to grab separately from the 2 slices of bread in the morning.)
Bananas (no need to prepackage)
Oranges (no need to prepackage)
Chopped broccoli florets (handful in each bag x 8)
Low-fat yogurt (already prepackaged)

Prep Note: Chopped and bagged broccoli and then made chicken salad and portioned it out.  Done.

Shopping trip 3:
Mini egg frittatas ( a new flavor) - (1 x 18 bags and frozen)
Large container of favorite tossed salad (*placed either in large covered bowl to eat from all week or in individual containers for lunches)
Snap peas and carrots (handful in each bag x 10)
Red seedless grapes (handful in each bag x 10)
Sliced cheddar and colby cheese w/ crackers (6 small slices of cheese from a block and 4 crackers x 6 bags)
(*I would now advise not to go ahead and put the crackers in, as they did get soggy.)
Trail Mix (almonds, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate chips) (3 Tablespoons x 15 bags)

Prep Note: Cleaned and bagged veggies, grapes, and cheese while frittatas cooked. Then made trail mix while I waited for frittatas to cool. Then bagged and threw frittatas in the freezer.

We have been following the above plan for a little less than a month and eating a "normal" home-cooked dinner (but being conscious of portions) in the evenings.  On the weekends, we have eaten one hot breakfast, went out to eat once, and still managed to have a beer or two!  By being prepared, I have managed to lose 11 pounds this month!

I challenge you to give this a try for one week.  Obviously tweak it to fit your family's needs.  You may need to buy/prep more, the more people in your family. And buy healthy choices that you enjoy!  If you give it a try, let me know how it goes.  Happy eating!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

So why the blog?

So here it goes.....  I have had this itch to start writing a blog for a year or two now, but unfortunately I guess I had a massive case of writer's cramp.  I loved the idea of combining an old love of mine, writing, with a new-found knack for technology.  And there you have it. The blog.

However, I felt that I had nothing interesting to say.  There was nothing earth-shattering that a million people didn't already blog about, so I guess I didn't see the point. My husband and I do not have kids yet so no cute kid photos.  I go to work, I workout (more so recently), I snuggle on my dogs, I have a little "me time" in the evenings, and then I go to bed.  Exciting huh?  I know some people are drooling as I write this and cursing me for the obvious lack of insanity currently in my life.  Don't get me wrong. I recognize that, and I also know that someday that will be different.  But for now, I will relish in the fact that I can have time to sit down to type an uninterrupted blog post and give thanks for it.  I give a much-deserved shout out to all my mommy-friends who work their butts off night and day, and I hope that these ideas will provide some respite in the weeks (and hopefully months or years!) to come.

As many of you know, my husband and I recently moved from Colorado to Iowa.  This has been an easy transition in some ways and a challenging one in other ways.  We moved from an area we loved with lots of entertainment, secure jobs, wonderful friends, and lots of free time.  However we really missed having family within 822 miles.  It was a great choice.  However, we simply struggle with missing the breath-taking mountain scenery and sometimes I basically think that we have traded friends for family. There is somewhat of a disconnect at times, as we just do not have many people our age to hang out with. Our new jobs are great, but they seem to be much more time-consuming due to "starting over" at a new place of employment.  I find that when I get home from work, clean the house, pay the bills, workout, take the dogs out, grade papers, or simply get done with the daily grind, I have no energy to cook.  Or it is 9:00 pm.

I have also managed to let myself go quite a bit in the last two years and gained unwanted weight out of indulgence and convenience. I know no balance.  I am either on or off.  Fat or skinny. I need to establish some sort of healthy balance. I realized that I needed to find a system that worked for me so that I would have healthy (or at least wholesome) food on hand- ready to go when I most needed it- so I would continue to make wise choices. I also plan to save myself time.  And hopefully money.  Follow me on this journey of establishing a healthier lifestyle and better time efficiency. I hope to share with you some of my ideas and recipes for both fresh and frozen make-ahead meals that you can take back to your own family. Stay posted!