Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Popcorn as the Main Course

Last night I had popcorn for dinner. How sad and single is that? (I'm home alone) It was the perfect snow day. I was hunkered down under a blanket with my knitting (see other blog) and some good DVDs. I had taken out Light Salmon Carbonara (I'm in a "carbonara" phase). But by 9 pm I still wasn't hungry so I decided to skip it. By 10 pm I was hungry for a snack. Popcorn won! I had a late lunch of a veggie quesadilla so I did have something healthy. What is it about popcorn that makes it seem like a suitable meal alternative? Okay, it's low fat and has some fiber.... but I'm not sure it meets any one's standards for a healthy, well balanced meal. Is it because it makes you feel like your being naughty without really being that naughty? I don't know but today, nothing but healthy eating. Yeah right. We'll see. I'm still pretty much house bound as we have a freezing rain warning in effect. So that makes it a pseudo snow day. Sigh, that just sounds like trouble....

Monday, January 28, 2008

Portion Control

I've talked before about my weakness for Lipton's Creamy Bacon Carbonara. I'm not perfect, I eat naughty things from time to time...
Last night I ate a whole package myself. It was sooooo good. I had some fresh parmesan on it. I did have a nice big salad beforehand. But still - the whole package! I don't even want to think about the calorie count.

This brings me back to my freezer. Another nice thing about putting meals in your freezer is that you can control the portions. When you dish up dinner you can divide the portions out and fill your freezer containers at the same time. Pop those in the freezer and the next time you need a meal you can take out a sensible serving size. You can't eat what you don't take out so - there you have it! - portion control!

Hmmm, what to have for dinner tonight...?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quick Creole Jambalaya

Here is an old recipe I dug out. It's super quick, got rave reviews when I made it this past week, cheap, freezable and healthy. Only 5 points per serving!
Jambalaya is just a Louisiana version of the Spanish Paella. You can add whatever meat you want. I used ground Pork but you can use ground chicken or turkey, boneless turkey, pork or chicken. I will add in a diced chorizo sausage, just one adds a nice flavour. You can add seafood like shrimp or scallops at the end to make it more authentic. But it's awesome just as the recipe says below. Authentic versions from Louisiana might have alligator, turtle or boar in it... Yeah, I dare ya.... tastes like chicken I hear.

  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 lb lean ground pork
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 ½ tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ red pepper, chopped
  • 28 oz/796ml can diced no salt added tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked long grain rice
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp Tabasco sauce (optional)

  1. Heat oil in a nonstick pan over medium high heat.
  2. Brown the pork and onions
  3. Add the garlic, curry, thyme, Cajun seasoning and peppers and brown.
  4. Mix in the tomatoes, rice and broth
  5. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes
  6. Taste and add Tabasco sauce if a hotter dish is desired.
I used cooked rice since I make a big batch at once and freeze it in 1 -2 cup containers. But you can use raw rice and simmer it in the pan with the rest of the ingredients. Just add equal amounts of broth and rice (about 1 ½ cup each), simmer it for as long as the rice package instructions say and keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Add more broth if needed.

Nutrition Information based on 6 servings:
Calories 262, Calories from Fat 54; Total Fat 6g, Saturated Fat 2g, Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 46mg; Sodium 120mg; Carbohydrates 32g; Fiber 3g; Sugars 5g; Protein 20g; 5 Points.

The Good
This food is low in Sodium. It is also a good source of Niacin, Vitamin B6, Manganese and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein, Vitamin C and Thiamin.

The Bad
There is nothing bad to report!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Gravol and Rare Meat

If this doesn't make any sense, forgive me, I'm whacked out on Gravol. For those of you south of the border, Gravol is this wonderful over the counter drug for nausea. It can cause drowsiness which means it knocks me out. Oddly enough, it never touched me when I used to fly international and wanted to be knocked out for the journey in cattle class... Go figure.

Why did I take Gravol you ask? Well I think I may have gotten a bit of food poisoning. See I'm not so delusional to think it's a "touch of the stomach flu" because true stomach flu is rare. Speaking of 'rare', I think that's how I got sick. Food poisoning or ingesting food bacteria results in symptoms very flu like. I have had a headache, abdominal discomfort, body aches and of course, nausea. There was also cheap homemade wine involved, which always does somethng funky to my digestive system, and potato chips, something I never eat so my system is seriously revolting. Let me tell you about the rare meat.

I brought home a beautiful, inexpensive, lean roast of beef Friday from the grocery store.

This is how I get steaks. I trim the fat (the dogs enjoyed the treat of beef fat - dogs don't have issues with cholesterol).
Then I cut the roast into pieces that become steaks. We had the 2 large piece on the left for dinner Friday night. They were 7 oz each which is actually a huge serving of beef. The ones on the right area proper serving size and what I would normally serve. But I was having a craving and had been eating healthy all week so we had the big ones. The odd shaped piece in back will go into a stir fry at a later date.
When cooking such lean steaks it is vital not to overcook them or they will be tough. I go by touch to make sure the steaks are done. You poke the steak with you finger and see how spongy it is. You want it to stay fairly spongy so you don't end up with a well done steak. I cooked these for about 4 minutes a side then took them off the heat, covered them in foil and let them rest for 15 minutes.

The problem was that the sides showed a ring of red, uncooked meat. These were so thick that I should have seared around all the sides. And the meat inside was blue rare which is a little rare for my liking but I ate it anyway. I'm not sure I really got food poisoning off of it or if it is just the combination of bad eating, bad wine and a complete lack of healthly foods but a couple of times over the last couple of days I've felt like I was seriously going to toss my cookies, hence the Gravol. Moral of the story - sear your meat, any that is exposed to air can carry bacteria. Also, don't eat crap all weekend when you are used to eating healthy. Lastly, even professionals can screw up. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten food poisoning in restaurants. I'd say I'm pretty luck this time because when I get a good solid case of food poisoning, Gravol isn't going to stop the food from making a repeat performance. Maybe it's just stress... Either way, I think I'll stay away from red meat, red wine and chips for a while. Something green might be good.

I also bought a piece of salmon at the grocery store.

And divided it into 4 servings of about 4 oz each. I love my scale. If you find you are carrying a few extra pounds get a scale and you'll see how large your portions really are.

Note the different cutting board. I change boards whenever I change meat or fish to avoid any cross contamination. I also wash them immediately and then I put them through the dishwasher for a final cleaning. Better safe than sorry.

Now if you'll excuse me I must go lie down.

Friday, January 18, 2008

To Shop, or Not to Shop.. Actually, where to shop is the question.

Today is grocery day. Somehow just knowing I get to go to the grocery store perks me right up when I open my eyes in the morning. It's a sickness. The odd part is that once I am at the grocery store, I'll be totally impatient and frustrated. It's a love/hate relationship really. I love the smells and sights at the grocery store but I hate the slow shoppers. And god forbid there is an empty space where there is suppose to be something I need! That makes me crazy. You only go to the store once a week or less (hopeful, or else you are like my mom who goes about every other day in which case I can direct you to the proper support group) so if you need something and it's not there what are you going to do?! Come back tomorrow? I think not! I will go get my item at another grocery store, that's what I'll do. And I won't go back to that one for a while.

This is my big dilemma. Which of our two major grocery stores to go to today. They each have their charms. One has a great health food section which has lots of low sodium products but it has seasoned pork which means added sodium to all their pork. And I need to buy pork today but I also need canned chickpeas and tomatoes and I really want all if it with no added salt. The other grocery store has great pork but it's hard to find no salt added canned goods. They do have nice frozen spinach that done up as chunks in a bag versus one block in a package. It's great to add a chunk or two of spinach to sauces, casseroles or soups without having to add a whole package. Choices, choices

The other thing that tends to suck some of the fun out of grocery shopping for me is the cost. I stick to a budget, tallying in my head as I go along. It can be frustrating to see something interesting and know that you shouldn't buy it. I always allow myself one or two items that aren't on my list just to keep me from completely tossing the list and just going whilly, nilly through the aisles. I'm not sure what kind of income one would have to have to be able to just trot through the store grabbing whatever they wanted from the shelves.... And the tough part is, it's a football playoff weekend so we have to have snacks.... I'm trying to make a list, a short list of healthy snacks. Ha, ha, ha. I think "healthily snacks" is an oxymoron. There really is no such thing. I do have recipe for onion rings I came across. Oooo, must try this one this weekend. Here it is:

  • 1 large white, red or yellow sweet onion for every 2 people you are feeding (okay, go more if you want, I won't tell)
  • flour
  • garlic powder
  • dry mustard powder
  • salt or Ms. Dash
  • Buttermilk
  • Bread Crumbs (I may add some spiciness here like a dash of chili powder or cayenne pepper)

  1. Preheat the oven to 400. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray or drizzle and shmear olive oil over the foil.
  2. Cut the Onion into rings. Mix the flour, garlic, mustard and salt/Ms.Dash in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk in another bowl, put the bread crumbs in a third bowl.
  3. Toss the onion rings in the flour bowl, then dip them in the buttermilk bowl, then toss them in the bread crumb bowl. Lay in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet
  4. Bake at 400 for 35 minutes.
Serve with your favorite dipping sauces like ketchup, different mustard and ranch dressing!
Enjoy the playoffs or a good movie! Go Green Bay and San Diego!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Inspirational Reading

I was watching TV last night, waiting patiently for the new episode of "The Rick Mercer Report" to start when I picked up a recipe magazine to thumb through. I've been working on my cookbook and I am 3 weeks ahead on menus so I wasn't really looking for menu ideas but low and behold, I ended up with a ton. The recipes for this cookbook all have to be reasonably simple, healthy and appealing to the average family, not too gourmet, too complicated or full of heavy ingredients. I love cooking in winter. The soups, the stews, the casseroles.... yum! It all lends itself quite well to cooking ahead with leftovers to fill the freezer. It feels so good to be this inspired!

So let's see if I can get you inspired too. One of my favorite inspirational magazines is free! Yes, you don't even have to pay for a subscription to get Kraft's seasonal mailing. Just go to kraftcanada.com . It's a great site and all the ingredients can be found easily at your local grocery store. Watch for the healthy recipes. Not all of them are tagged "healthy", you have to look for the sunshine symbol. Of course the site pushes the kraft product line so you'll have to use your judgement, sometimes opt for cheaper products and watch the sodium levels but you should leave the site feeling inspired to get into that kitchen and shake out the cupboards. Did I mention it's free!? The magazine comes out 4 times a year, once per season. Last night I was reminded of chicken pot pie, sheppards pie, fajitas, easy stir-fry dishes, some great chicken dishes.... mmmmmm.

I have another favorite. I recommend this magazine for the health conscious foodie. The recipes are a step up from average in skill and taste. But they are all pretty healthy and a lot of fun. Check out their site at www.cookinglight.com

Cooking Light also has a regular exercise article. There is also information about healthy trips and great destinations. They also do a yearly feature on a 'fit' house, a house that is healthy. The last issue had a whole section on Chocolate (which I feel is a necessity during these dark days of winter!) including a recipe for Chili with Chipotle and Chocolate. I'm dying to try that one! You can get this mag on your newsstands to try it before you decide whether or not to subscribe to it. It does have a lot of recipes though, you may get overwhelmed. I do. I end up tearing out recipes and piling them up to try throughout the month. I never get through the pile but, again, it's great to get inspired once a month! And Cooking Light does an annual cookbook each year. You can always get last years annual on the website. I have "The Best of Cooking Light" and it is one of my favorite cookbooks.

I have one more recommendation. www.finecooking.com

This magazine has some nicely gourmet type recipes that aren't typically low fat or low sodium but the nutritional information is included for every recipe so adaptations can be made. While the magazine isn't packed full of recipes, it does focuses thoroughly on a couple of key ingredients or cooking styles in each issue. So you will learn quickly and easily how to do whatever it is the magazine is showcasing in that issue. This is a great magazine for those who love to cook and know a bit about nutrition so they can adapt the recipes and make them a little more healthy. They also do product reviews. I have never made anything out of this magazine that didn't turn out perfect. The magazine only comes out once every 2 months so it's great for the occasional chef-wanna-be. And yes, it leaves me inspired. Because of this magazine I've made my own Creme Brulee, I've ventured into the world of "sunday gravy" in the form of Ragu, and I've braised just about anything that will stand still. The end results seem complicated but this magazine shows you how to make great food quite easily.

Now after all the inspiration I'm not even cooking tonight! Nope, instead I'm eating out of my freezer. I'm in the middle of test running the first chapter's menu from my cookbook. Tonight it's Coconut Curry Shrimp and Veggies.

All I have to do is make rice or noodles to go with it. Luckily, after all the inspirational reading, I took the lid off this container and the yummy smells smacked me hard. I can't wait for dinner!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Swiss Steak and Tomatoes

I have to share this recipe. I came across it while searching my archive for cookbook menu ideas. It is such a great recipe, a great do-ahead, freezes well, cheap, healthy and nice enough for company. And it's one of my favs. What more could a recipe be?!

Normally I cook it in a roasting pan but mine was too small. So I had to use the other style of roasting pan. But then I said the heck with it and put it in my crock pot. I'll be serving this with some dirty mashed potatoes (unpeeled potatoes, cut into chunks, boiled with some roasted garlic that I have in the freezer and mashed)

Serves 6-8
6 Points per serving based on 8 servings

  • 2 lbs/900g Round Steak
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ½ tsp salt (optional if on a low-sodium diet)
  • 1 tsp Ms. Dash Grilling Blends - Beef
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 red pepper, cut into strips
  • 28 oz/796ml can of stewed or no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 4 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups low sodium beef broth (only use 1 cup if cooking this dish in the crock pot)


  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat.
  3. Cut the meat into bite size pieces
  4. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in either a bowl or a bag
  5. Toss the meat in the flour mixture
  6. Brown in the pan in a single layer, you will probably have to do 2 batches
  7. Prep the vegetables **I like to brown the onions and peppers in a saute pan before adding them in, it's optional but it gives more flavour especially if you are using your crock pot**
  8. Put the meat in a roasting pan or casserole dish (2+quart size) **or the crock pot
  9. Add in the rest of the ingredients into the roasting pan or crock pot. Mix well.
  10. Bake for 1 ½ hours in a 350 oven or for 6-8 hours on low in the crock pot.
  11. Serve with noodles, mashed potatoes or rice

Edit Note: Try roasted peppers if you are going to freeze this dish. I found that the skin from the fresh peppers really separate from the flesh when frozen. Roasted peppers already have the skin removed. Also, if peppers bother your stomach it may be from the skin, try the bottled roasted red peppers to see if they are more agreeable to you

Add mushrooms, celery and carrots if you don’t like peppers. Or in addition to the peppers if you want to cut down on the meat.

Make it vegetarian by leaving out the meat and adding all the veggies listed above and in the recipe. I also would include a can of beans, red kidney beans would work, to up the protein.

Nutrition Information based on 8 servings:
Calories 284, Calories from Fat 43; Total Fat 5g, Saturated Fat 2 g, Trans Fat 0g; Cholesterol 101 mg; Sodium 494 mg; Carbohydrates 14 g; Fiber 2g; Sugars 6 g; Protein 44 g

The Good This food is a good source of Vitamin B12, Phosphorus, Zinc and Selenium, and a very good source of Protein and Vitamin C.

The Bad This food is high in Cholesterol. Reduce this by only using half the meat and adding more veggies.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mac and Cheese - Breakin' It Down

I'm here, I'm here. No, the holiday's didn't suck me into a vortex of blabbering idiocy. They were actually quite relaxing. I hung out, continued knitting Christmas gifts (finished my last one 2 nights ago) and watched obscene amounts of hockey and football. I kept the cooking simple. Probably the most difficult thing I did was try to make pizza with my pizza stone and a pizza with waaaay toooo much cheese on it (think 14 year old boy with a serious cheese addiction). Aside from taking days to scrap the burn cheese and crust bits off my pizza stone, I pretty much took it easy in the kitchen. I thoroughly enjoyed my freezer. After the big meals Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day,.... well lets just say it was time to relax! Now I have to think about restocking the freezer a bit.

This brings me to last night's meal. I made Mac and Cheese. A true perennial favorite. It freezes so beautifully that I only make it once a year and end up with enough in the freezer to keep us happily in this fav comfort food until spring. And you can do so much with it. What do I mean, you ask?! Well lets start with the pasta, you don't have to use macaroni. You can use any similarly sized pasta. Bowties, fusilli, wagon wheels. Okay, I used macaroni but it was only because I actually had whole wheat macaroni in the house which is quite rare. I like the whole wheat but if you or your family is picky, try using half whole wheat and half regular. It's a great fiber boost.

Next lets move on to the cheese. I used gouda in mine because that is what I had on hand. Everyone has had mac and cheese with cheddar but why not try some Jarlsberg, or emmenthal or gruyere. Just think of a cheese that will melt well. I would stay away from any of the blue cheeses unless you want to do a sprinkling of them tossed in. They can be strong and rich for the main cheese of the dish. Mix and match. I've seem recipes for smoked gouda and gruyere. Or fontina and parmesan. Just remember to go lightly on the cheeses. You can always add more but once you make your cheese sauce too rich, it's hard to un-rich it.

Now lets talk about other additives. I like to add veggies to make my mac and cheese a complete meal. Last night I added arugula and butternut squash. The squash was from a package of frozen so I just tossed it in with the macaroni and then mixed it all with the sauce. The arugula was fresh so I wilted it down in the sauce before adding in the macaroni and squash. The flavour had a nice gourmet flare. But you can add any veggies. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, brussel sprouts (cut up), tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, any greens like kale or swiss chard. Use frozen when you can, it then bakes nicely with the sauce and you don't have to take the extra time to cook the veggies first. You are only limited by your own imagination. Or your kids tastes. The great thing about making mac and cheese is that you can keep the kids version fairly basic, dish theirs out, then kick it up for the adults. I might make a plain cheddar sauce for the kid and add only broccoli and cauliflower to his macaroni. Mix some of that sauce with the macaroni mix and put it in a baking dish. Then I might add another cheese to the sauce and some more adventurous veggies for us adults. Wheeee!

I have a secret ingredient I add to my mac and cheese. Ketchup! Yup, just a tablespoon or 2 and it really adds another dimension to the mac and cheese. Try it, I'm not kidding.

When freezing your mac and cheese keep one thing in mind. It is easier to defrost a serving or two instead of a big casserole. And you aren't committed to eating up a big casserole of mac and cheese within the next 5 days. I use small casserole dishes and aluminium pans to freeze one or two serving sizes. And when the kid is here, I can just grab a single serving of his kid-friendly version when Dad and I are eating something more gourmet. So easy.