Monday, November 30, 2009

Turkey Sausage Ragu

Tonight marks the second time I've made this recipe from the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Clean Eating Magazine, and when I looked back at the page for the recipe, I noticed that I first made it exactly one month ago, on 10-30-09. Tasty tradition! My substitutions are in parentheses.

Turkey Sausage Ragu
Serves 4 (generously!)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (1 tsp dried)
8oz spicy Italian turkey sausage, casings discarded (I used 3 links, Jennie-O brand)
1/4 tsp chile flakes (I omitted this)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine (Pinot Noir leftover from the weekend)
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, torn (1 tsp dried)
1 large bunch kale, cleaned and trimmed, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
8oz whole wheat pappardelle, fettucine, or tagliatelle pasta (9oz Trader Joe's brown rice fusilli)
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, for garnish (omitted)
Parmigiano Reggiano, for garnish (Parmesan)


1. (Set a pot of salted water over medium heat to begin boiling for the pasta while you prep the rest) Add 1Tbsp oil, onion, and thyme to a separate large pot over medium heat. Stir well, cover, and cook until onion is softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Uncover pot, add sausage, chile flakes, and garlic. Continue cooking 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Off the heat, deglaze the pan by adding the wine. Return to heat and allow to reduce for 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, oregano, and kale. Stir well (this was difficult for me at this point, so I didn't really bother), cover, and cook 5 minutes. Remove cover and continue cooking 10 minutes, or until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened. Stir in additional 2Tbsp oil and the balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

3. When the sauce is almost finished (when 10min remain), add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain well and toss with sausage mixture. Serve topped with a drizzle of olive oil (I omitted), a sprinkling of parslely, and freshly grated cheese.

I love this meal. It's very hearty and has an awesome, well-rounded flavor, even without adding salt, pepper, parsley, or the additional oil at the end. Using kale gives it a nice crunch, though you could substitute spinach if kale is not your thing. When I made this last month, my son couldn't get enough--he actually licked the plate--but tonight he didn't want anything to do with it. I think he liked the sauce better last time; I added 1/2 cup leftover tomato puree so it coated the pasta with more of a thick sauce than the recipe made tonight. Either way, The H and I were very happy with how it turned out.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Meal Plan Sunday

Sunday (lunch): Chicken apple sausage salad with goat cheese and toasted walnuts

Sunday (dinner): Shepherd's pie made with ground turkey and topped with tri-colored potatoes

Monday: Turkey sausage ragu with kale from Clean Eating Magazine

Tuesday: Running group's Christmas party; I'm making some gluten-free appetizers and the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I make every year

Wednesday: Black bean chicken inspired by Branny's Creamchiladas over brown rice or quinoa

Thursday: Leftovers after running (chicken barley stew, lentil soup, pumpkin black bean soup, turkey sausage pasta from Monday... lots of options!)

Friday: Marinated chicken with roasted potatoes and vanilla bean buttercup squash

And that's all I have so far. I'm having fun working this month's co-op goodies (kale, sweet potatoes, apples, squash) into our meals!

Yummy breakfast shake

Today I felt like shaking it up a little and having a protein shake for breakfast. Haven't done that in a while. Rather than just protein powder + milk, I wanted a little more substance. I ended up blending 1/2 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon ground flax seed, 1 cup low-fat milk, and a scoop of chocolate protein powder with 2 ice cubes. It turned out perfectly! Sweet, but not overpowering, cold and creamy with a little bit of oomph from the flax.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Here's a confession: some days I crave vegetables. The really hearty, filling, warm and steamy, make-your-house-smell-divine roasted kind. Today was one of those days, so that's what I made for dinner tonight to go along with our leftover CrockPot lentil soup. Since co-op pickup was earlier in the week, I had plenty of fresh, local root veggies at my disposal. There was no recipe to follow (by now, you should be used to that from me) but here's the gist of it:

1 large red potato
1 Yukon Gold potato
1 large carrot
1 sweet potato
1/2 red onion
1 small yellow onion
4 cloves garlic (yes, the kitchen was rather pungent...)
Olive oil
White balsamic vinegar
Sea salt, black pepper, dried rosemary, dried thyme

Preheat oven to 450* and spray a roasting pan/jelly-roll pan with olive oil cooking spray. Wash all the veggies and peel the onions. Slice potatoes and onions in half lengthwise, then in fairly even slices so they cook evenly. Cut the carrot on an angle without cutting it in half first. Mince the garlic. Toss all veggies and garlic in a large bowl with a few swirls of olive oil, some salt and pepper, and small amounts of the herbs, to taste. Pour out onto pan. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, and roast another 20 minutes. Add a sprinkling of cheddar (or other cheese) during the last 5-10 minutes if you feel like it. Serve hot.

This was a colorful, tasty addition to our leftover soup (see here for the original recipe; I made it as stated, including adding potatoes and tomatoes).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Will I *ever* learn?

I think I'm in the midst of another carb hangover. Ugh.

Dinner last night, while simply delicious (at a local place that uses local food and turns out heavenly local dishes), I shared a plate of "raw fries" with The H and baby--white potatoes, fried until *just* shy of crispy, then doused with white balsamic vinegar and salt. Lick-the-plate yummy. Then I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, something I haven't had in ages, because my sister who hates grilled cheese couldn't stop raving about it. Bread + cheese + caramelized onions + other goodies I can't remember. It was good. And THEN (cover your eyes if you know where this is headed, or send me a virtual head-smack) I ORDERED DESSERT. And not fruit-with-granola kind of dessert. The thickest, densest, ooey-gooiest chocolate Mississippi Mud Pie kind of dessert. No, I did not finish it. I hardly at three bites before I gave up and waddled back to the car.

Breakfast today was quick; I didn't feel like making toast or reheating oats (can we say lazy?), so I had some of The H's Trader Joe's Honey Nut Os with half a sliced banana, and coffee with half and half. Morning snack was nonexistent, since we were at church, and then lunch was pumpkin black bean soup. Yummy, and my one saving grace for the day... because my afternoon snack was a piece of sprouted grain toast with more coffee, and my sis (the grilled cheese recommender) had me and baby over for dinner, where we ate pizza (Jiffy crust; she's not gluten-free) and buttery parmesan breadsticks... WITH COFFEE CAKE FOR DESSERT.

Seriously. I need to print this out and tape it over the refrigerator. I feel foggy, tired, droopy, and semi-sick. I just keep drinking water hoping to flush some of this through before I crash into bed. My son is down for the night, and I'm about to follow--yes, at 9:15. Thus ends my weekend carb-loaded eat-a-palooza.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One year ago...

I started taking measurements and doing weekly weigh-ins on November 25, 2008. My son was 5 months old and I was "fluffy" to say the least. My weight was up due to bad eating habits, steroid medication for Crohn's disease, and lackluster running routine. My sister's wedding nearly one month prior left me struggling to fit into a Size L (roughly equivalent to a 12) bridesmaids' dress. But things can change. And I'm so grateful for that!

Thanksgiving 2008

My latest weigh-in showed me at my all-time lowest healthy adult weight: 28 pounds lighter than I was one year ago (thanks to Sparkpeople for keeping track). From November 2008 to June 2009 I lost 6 pounds, and I attribute that to getting off the steroids. Know what helped make up the remaining 22 pound deficit? CLEAN EATING! My eating habits changed for the better this past summer.

My best-fitting pants now are Size 4, and I recently had to buy new underwear (the things you don't think about...) because mine would literally fall off when I'd run. Underneath my Size S pants, no less. Hilarious! I've lost 6 inches off my hips, an inch-and-a-half off my neck, and 6 inches from around my waist. My core has gotten stronger, which helps my running, thanks to some core moves I found online and in Runner's World magazine.

November 2009

My running speed has increased... my 5K time dropped from 40:09 to 27:25 and my energy level is greater than ever. At my last gastroenterologist appointment, my doctor couldn't believe how healthy I was; at that time, all of his Crohn's patients in the past month had been in various states of disease flare-up. I've was able to stop taking one of the medications that I'd been on since elementary school, when I was first diagnosed. What a welcome change!

I'm so thankful that I have been given this body that can do (and overcome) so many things, and I intend to keep it as healthy as I can for as long as possible. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta

Tonight's dinner was inspired by posts like this from Cara's Cravings and this from Proceed With Caution. I made a few substitutions based on what I had in the fridge; my version follows below. While it could have been lower in fat (check the links for how!), I doubt it could have been tastier. The H said it smelled like pumpkin pie, which you may know by now I don't care for. This dish was well-received by nearly* the entire household, however. It was creamy, warm, and very filling, not to mention festively colored. The kale lends a good bite to an otherwise-soft meal. Adding a good dose of fresh ground black pepper at the end helped keep it from being too pie-like.

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta
Makes 4 servings

8 oz short pasta shape (Trader Joe's brown rice fusilli)
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
3 links chicken sausage (Trader Joe's sweet apple chicken sausage)
1/2 cup plain yogurt (Stoneyfield Farm organic whole-milk)
1 cup pumpkin puree (Trader Joe's organic)
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp low-fat Neufchatel cheese (like I said--what I had in the fridge!)
Sea salt
Black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
1 medium bunch kale, tough stalks removed

1. Salt a large pot of water for the pasta and turn it on med-high heat.

2. Lightly steam the kale (I did this in a covered skillet) for several minutes until wilted but not discolored. Meanwhile...

3. Heat olive oil in large skillet over med-low heat. Add the sliced onions and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until softened and lightly browned. Stir in the minced garlic, rubbed sage, and sliced chicken sausage.

4. Cook pasta in boiling water according to package directions (be careful not to overcook or the whole thing will turn out too mushy).

5. In a blender, combine pumpkin, yogurt, cream cheese, and milk. Blend until smooth. Pour into pan with sausage-onion mixture and continue cooking over low heat. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg.

6. Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Gently stir in the sausage-onion-sauce mixture and the steamed kale; mix well.

We paired this with a semi-dry local(ish) white wine. A drier choice would have been better. As always, I do not claim to be a food photographer. Consider yourself lucky that I chose to post this picture rather than the ones that showed up Crayola-orange.

* My son actually refused to swallow a bite until we let him dip each piece of pasta into his blueberry applesauce first. After dinner he looked like this (and then promptly got a bath):

Oatmeal overhaul

I just couldn't do it. I could not start another day with reheated steel-cut oats. Around 8am I had sprouted grain toast with peanut butter and honey and a glass of milk, instead. Then I grabbed my coffee and got to work (love those daycare Fridays).

With a few hours separating me from breakfast, I was ready for a snack and decided to face those oats after all. But mixing them up with cherries, nuts, and agave was just not doing it for me... thus, the overhaul.

Hiding in the back of the fridge was a dish of leftover canned pumpkin from last week, thankfully not yet fuzzy. To my oats I added about 1/4 cup of the pumpkin, 1/2 tablespoon ground flax seed, 2 tablespoons chopped almonds (walnuts would have been better, but I'd already chopped the almonds, and the walnuts were allllll the way downstairs in the basement pantry), a shake of cinnamon, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and a healthy drizzle of real maple syrup. For someone who doesn't like pumpkin pie (yes, really) the combination was delicious, hearty, and a very welcome change.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A disappointing day

Today was a day of leftover-round-up in my house. Everyone's favorite, right? Blah. I can think of fewer food-related things more disappointing than a day of reheated food. I hate leftovers. At least, I hate the IDEA of leftovers. There are so many other things in the world (heck, in my pantry) to eat, why would I want to eat something I've recently had? Well, here's why:

Yesterday I made a massive batch of steel-cut oats, so it would only make sense that I chip away at them for breakfast. That was the intent, after all. So I had that with dried cherries, flax seed, chopped almonds, and agave nectar. Yum. Then I rinsed the black beans I'd soaked overnight, and got them into the CrockPot to simmer all day.

Shortly afterwards, my son tripped on something (pajama foot? toy? I couldn't say) and face-planted onto the hardwood floor. When I noticed the blood on my shirt after snuggling him, we made a trip to the pediatrician's office, where he was diagnosed with an (untreatable) lacerated frenulum--he bit through that hangy-down ridge inside the upper lip, between the teeth. Ouch. His morning snack was ice cream, and mine was ... nonexistent.

After his quiet time while I did some work, we shared (or tried to) a bowl of chicken barley stew. It must have been too hot or peppery for his split lip, because he cried at every bite until I just gave him plain whole-milk yogurt and blueberry applesauce. Because of his picky temper, I ate half of my not-so-hot bowl of soup very quickly before admitting it was not very satisfying. The dog lucked out this afternoon.

Once baby was down for a nap, I toasted a piece of 7-grain sprouted bread and topped it with the rest of my tuna from yesterday. I forgot to smear the bread with Dijon, so it was too dry to really be enjoyable. Argh. At this point I realized I had also not been drinking enough due to the day's events, so I had a few glasses of water and a vanilla protein shake while I ran the dishwasher and mopped the kitchen floor and living room.

Tonight The H was going to have pizza with the little guy while I went for my girls' run, and then the girls and I would order or make something for our dinner, but a change in plans (read: nobody showed up) left me dinner-less and running with my boys instead of girls. Enter a frozen portion of Clean Eating Magazine's sloppy joes (stay tuned for a recipe post) and a whole wheat Trader Joe's hamburger bun. I guess there is something to be said for a well-stocked freezer. I could have had chili from yesterday, or more chicken stew, but the small portion of the sloppy joe in a plastic baggie lent itself to quick thawing.

The H fed baby a slice of reheated pizza (also from my amazing freezer) and some green peas while I topped H's leftover gluten-free pizza crust with a few things and thawed my sloppy joe filling. Once baby was in bed, we sat down to eat. And then just because I was sick of seeing them in my house, I ate the last fun-size bag of peanut M&Ms. So there.

Here's to a fresh start (even though it will begin with more leftover steel-cut oats) tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A typical Wednesday

Just a peek into what I'm up to mid-week...

8am - Glass of water, sprouted grain toast with honey and natural peanut butter, cup of coffee with half and half while baby played in the kitchen. Started soaking the black beans I meant to do yesterday.

9:30am - Short run through the neighborhood with my son in the jogging stroller, followed by core work and more coffee while baby played in the living room. He loved doing "stretches" on the yoga mat with me. I showered while he had his quiet time with Little Einsteins and his lovey.

11am - Steel-cut oats with flax seed, dried cherries, chopped raw almonds, agave nectar, MORE coffee (mental note: need more water) while Einsteins was wrapping up. By now it's close to noon and lunchtime for the little guy. Oh, I also had to get him dressed. Keeping him in the sleeper for our (cold and windy) run kept him warm without having to pile on too many blankets, which he hates. It wasn't pure laziness, I promise.

1:30pm - Baby was down for a nap by 1:20, time for my lunch: Whole-grain tortilla with 1/2 can albacore tuna mixed with 1 wedge French Onion Laughing Cow, Dijon mustard, and two small chopped dill pickles; 2 or 3 glasses of water. Three small squared Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate. Started some laundry and the dishwasher and did a little paid work before my son woke up.

3:45pm - 1/2 D'Anjou pear with mild cheddar cheese, water. Baby and I had a floor picnic, which he thought was a hoot.

5:45pm - Turkey chili (turkey, white and red kidney beans, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, onion, red bell pepper, cumin, chili powder, and black pepper) two squares of gluten-free cornbread (corn meal, rice flour, egg, milk, oil, baking soda, baking powder, salt, maple syrup). This was one of the best cornbreads I've made from scratch, GF or otherwise; also one of the best pots of chili I can recall. 1 Reese's peanut butter cup (darn that leftover Halloween candy!), more water. Trip to Target at 6:30.

8:30 pm - Baby is finally in bed after procrastinating with the best of 'em. Time for coffee (decaf!) and one little fun-size bag of peanut M&Ms. I need to watch myself and stop eating sugary junk after every meal, which always makes me break out and feel gross. The coffee was supposed to stand in its place, but I caved. Time to do a little paid work and maybe some reading for a bit before bed. I'll finish my coffee and have some water.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brussels Sprouts with Chicken Apple Sausage

Brussels sprouts make me happy. I taught myself to like them, probably over the course of a year and various preparation attempts, and they gradually turned into something I crave. So sad that The H doesn't feel the same, but oh well. More for me. The ones I used for this recipe were from the farmers' market last week, so they were fresh and local. Perfect! I will actually eat this twice today. I made it for lunch, figuring I'd have more time to play with a new recipe in the afternoon (gotta love working from home) and I'll have the leftovers for dinner, after baby is in bed.

The recipe comes from Cara's Cravings, a blog I get a lot of ideas from.

Makes 2 servings

3/4 lb butternut squash, diced
4 tsp olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 links smoked apple and Chardonnay chicken sausage (Trader Joe's brand is great), sliced
3/4 lb Brussels sprouts
Dash of nutmeg and smoked paprika, to taste
1/2 oz toasted pinenuts

1. Wash, peel, and cube the squash, and microwave in a covered glass dish for 5 minutes on high. (Mine took 4 minutes on 70% power, but I have a NASA-quality nuker, I think.)

2. Meanwhile, wash, trim, and slice the Brussels sprouts into ribbons.

3. Heat half of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the squash cubes with a dash of salt. Cook a few minutes until nicely browned. Add the chicken sausage and cook another 1-2 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds (this part smells sooo good!). Remove from pan and keep warm.

4. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil to the skillet, turn the heat to medium-high, and add the shredded Brussels sprouts. Season to taste with more salt, nutmeg, and paprika. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until nicely browned (I added a bit of water to keep the pan from charring; I may have had the heat a bit high). Add squash mixture and toasted nuts, heat through, and serve.

Cara's blog shows the nutritional info for this recipe, so if that interests you click the recipe name above and take a peek.

OK, so remember how I don't like squash? This recipe did its best to change that. It was delicious! I did make a few substitutions based on what I had: a small golden acorn squash instead of butternut, sweet apple sausage instead of smoked apple Chardonnay, and walnuts instead of pinenuts.

The creaminess of the squash surprised me; it really tied the other flavors into a cohesive, comforting fall dish. Nutmeg (not usually a flavor I care for) was a perfect complement to the sweet sausage and other ingredients. I truly cleaned my plate. Next time I might increase the garlic a bit, or add a chopped green onion. It smelled fantastic when it hit the hot pan, but I didn't taste much of that aromatic bite in the finished dish. I'm interested to know if the flavor develops more as it sits in the fridge. Stay tuned for an update (I know, you're on the edge of your seat). I ended my meal with a few squares of extra-dark chocolate.

UPDATE: It was not as drool-worthy as leftovers. The nutmeg was still comforting and the smoky paprika came through better, but the squash was overly squashy and the sprouts were a tad on the wilty side. Plus, I ran out of chicken sausage about halfway through, so that was a bummer. Definitely try to eat this one fresh.

Weekly Meal Plan

Here's what I have on the menu this week:

Sunday - Gluten-free pizza with Trader Joe's sauce (no time to make my own), TJ's nitrate-free pepperoni, black olives, red bell pepper (this was lunch). For dinner, we went out with the the in-laws to On The Border; I got grilled mahi mahi tacos in soft corn tortillas with black beans and roasted vegetables and drank water with lemon.

Monday - Brussels sprouts with squash and chicken sausage (The H won't be home for dinner, or I'd never get away with this). This is from a starred post from Cara's Cravings in my Google Reader. Baby will likely eat leftover pizza so he can have a bath and get to bed soon after he gets home from daycare. Mondays are exhausting for the little guy! I'll saute my sprouts and squash when he's down for the night so I'll make sure to have a good, filling afternoon snack. After dinner I will start soaking some black beans for use later in the week.

Tuesday - CrockPot day! Turkey chili (using 10oz Jennie-O turkey) with two kinds of beans, gluten-free corn muffins with apple butter.

Wednesday - Clean Eating Magazine's Ultimate Turkey Burgers, using the remaining 10oz of turkey from yesterday and the last gigantic red pepper from the grocery store last week. I'll probably roast the last few co-op fingerling potatoes to go along with them.

Thursday - Girls' run night; The H will be on his own. He'll probably make a GF pizza with the extra crust from Sunday.

Friday - Pumpkin penne with the rest of the chicken sausage links from Monday. This is from Proceed With Caution, another star in my Google Reader. I'll use the kale I bought at the farmer's market last week.

Saturday - Pumpkin black bean soup, using some of the beans I cooked earlier this week, and the rest of the pumpkin from Friday. If I get really ambitious, I'll make a fresh loaf of gluten-free cheese bread to go with it.

Sunday - I'm out of ideas... if I come up with something great, I'll let you know.

What will you be making?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A tale of two loaves

Once upon a time, as you may have read, I received a bread maker as a gift. Immediately, I set to work crafting my first mechanically-assisted gluten-free loaf. The recipe I chose was from the bread machine's instruction booklet: a simple white bread that I made GF by substituting Bob's Red Mill GF flour in place of the white flour called for. That this machine was not designed to handle gluten-less baked goods did not bother me. I figured I would simply add some xanthan gum to the mix and call it good. Alas, it was not good. It was really, truly, not good.

The bread never rose. It looked exactly the same after 3 hours as it did after the kneading cycles. It was dense and had kind of a salty flavor. When right-side up, it resembled a skull.

Unbeknownst to me, a standard bread machine kneads the bread three times... a process that is detrimental to finicky GF products. So I packed it up and set out for Bed Bath & Beyond, where I exchanged it for a machine with a specific gluten-free setting.

After stopping by the health food store for a few GF-specific baking products (something I could have done with the first machine, though I doubt it would have made a difference) I was ready to embark upon my second adventure.

Just as I did with the first loaf, I selected the most simple recipe in the booklet (a cheese bread, specifically written for the GF baker) and went to town. What a difference!

This one turned out moist, airy, and delightful in every way. The crust was crunchy but not burnt, and there were no funky aftertastes or odd textures to contend with. It wasn't overly cheesy (in fact, I couldn't taste it at all) and it did not fall after cooling.

The H said this was probably the best gluten-free bread he's tasted. What a compliment! It really was delicious bread, gluten-free or not. I have another loaf (different recipe) in the bread machine right now, this time a simple sandwich bread. I can't wait to try making French toast and clean(ish) BLTs. The specialty ingredients were a bit of an investment, but I can get all of it online for a lot less once we decide what our favorite recipes/ingredients are. Regardless of the price, it will taste WAY better than store-bought stuff! Totally worth it.

And we'll all eat happily ever after.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CrockPot Stuffed Peppers

Today is Tuesday. In this house, Tuesday = CrockPot Day because our running group meets at 6pm and it's easiest to have dinner immediately ready for us when we are done. My original plan was Chicken Barley Stew from Clean Eating Magazine, which we've had once before, but then I saw red peppers on sale at the grocery store. Not local, but huge, sweet, and delicious! And a great price. So I bought 8. And tonight they became "Quinoa-Stuffed CrockPot Peppers." This was my first attempt at stuffed peppers in a slow cooker. The H commented that no matter how many times we have the same recipe, it's never really the *same* recipe. That's just how I roll! By now you should know that I don't really measure anything so here is how I made them; feel free to substitute your favorite fillings and flavors.

Quinoa-Stuffed CrockPot Peppers

4 large bell peppers
3 green onions, chopped
Cooked quinoa
1 can kidney beans (black would've been delightful, too), drained and rinsed
1 cup canned or frozen corn
1 cup diced, chopped, or crushed canned tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Taco seasoning (I used two teaspoons, plus the 1 that I cooked the quinoa in)
Cheddar cheese, divided, optional
1 cup water

1. Wash peppers and cut the tops off. Clean out the seeds and ribs, toss the stem, set the peppers aside, and chop the remaining lid pieces. Place diced tops in a large bowl.
2. Add onions, quinoa, beans, corn, and tomatoes. Stir well to combine.
3. Season mixture to taste with salt, pepper, and taco seasoning. Mix in half of the cheese.
4. Fill hollowed peppers with quinoa mixture and set into large (6 quart) slow cooker that has been sprayed or lightly oiled. Pour up to 1 cup water around bottoms of peppers (to prevent scorching of any filling that falls out; I might have omitted this if I had been home to keep an eye on them). Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.
5. Just before serving, top peppers with remaining cheese. Turn off slow cooker. Cover until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

The peppers turned pretty soft, which The H and I don't *really* love, but they were good. Next time I might cook on high for 2 hours and low for 2 to have kind of a little crunch left. If I hadn't been making this with my son in mind as well, I might have bumped up the taco seasoning a little. The kind we have is a special blend from my spice guy (his "medium" blend) and it's got some kick to it. Having the quinoa cooked ahead of time made me a little nervous because I didn't want it to become completely mushy. It was soft, but not overdone.

One of the most appealing parts of using this method for stuffed peppers is that it only took 4 hours, when most slow cooker recipes are all-day affairs. Using my rice cooker for the quinoa was another winner. I didn't have to worry about it burning or boiling over while I got everything else put together. Overall, this was a great choice for a busy day. I didn't get it into the CrockPot until after 3:30, and we were sitting down to it almost exactly 4 hours later.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Well, here goes nothin' ...

My first attempt at homemade bread-machine bread is kneading as I type. It's more of an experiment than anything else; I fully expect to laugh at the result and toss it out after a taste test. Gluten-free breads are tricky when you're *not* trying a new machine at the same time!

The manual was very specific about the temperature of the water and how to add ingredients, and I felt like a sweaty-palmed 7th grader in the chemistry lab for the first time. (What will happen if I DO let water come in contact with the yeast? What if said water is 116 degrees instead of 115*? Are there charred eyebrows and fried textbooks in my future?) Following the instructions on the bag of my GF flour blend, I added some xanthan gum to the mix. The bag also said that yeast breads can be finicky (not a direct quote) and that eggs, vinegar, and even more liquid than the recipe calls for may be required. Well, shoot. How am I supposed to know?! Trial and error, my friends. No doubt many, many errors, in various states of edibility. I am not what one might call "a baker." Cooking has always been more sensory than scientific for me. I love to stir, smell, taste, add and poke when I cook, and last I knew, breads did not take kindly to such involvement.

As I left the kitchen, the little kneading arm was spinning its heart out, and my lumpy lump of dough was being dutifully tossed about. Given the appearance of some flour clods stuck to the sides of the bread pan, I likely will not be photographing the end result... or maybe I will. Laughter is good for the soul.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Don't forget to drink.

One of the clean-eating principles, informally stated, is to drink a LOT of water. That's easier to do in the summer, when it's hot, or when I'm working and just continuously refill the water bottle that sits on my desk. But it's not always a priority when the weather turns cool, and that can lead to some not-so-pleasant side effects.

This morning I woke up at 7 and had a glass of water, as usual, then cut myself off. We were running a 5K and I didn't want to be water-logged and have to use the bathroom halfway through. After running (now several hours after waking, around 10:30am) I had 8oz of water and proceeded to fill the rest of my tank with coffee and post-run goodies. At 1pm as I went to shower, I realized I had a splitting headache. I thought my brain was going to simply beat down the walls of my head and come marching out my ears, it hurt so bad. What the heck? I'd eaten plenty of protein, had my daily caffeine, and... oh, wait. I HADN'T been hydrating. At all. I quickly chugged a few Dixie cups' worth of H2O in the bathroom and came to the kitchen to fill a glass (sitting next to me now). After downing the first glass and getting a refill, it's beginning to back off.

Spare yourself similar agony and keep your glass or bottle filled. You might have snow on the ground already (and please keep it there if you do) or it might be sunny and balmy in your backyard. Either way, drink drink drink! It's too easy to forget.

It's co-op shopping day!

Today is the first day of shopping on my second-ever co-op cycle. Supposedly November is a big month for the co-op, as I imagine people are planning holiday meals, so I wanted to jump online and start ordering ASAP. Some things have already sold out! Good thing I didn't plan to make leek soup this month, and I snagged a bag of baby carrots before they were (virtually) gone.

I'm gradually working towards making one big co-op shopping order, one trip to Trader Joe's (Friday!), and a few small grocery-store stops for milk and non-local necessities every month. My grocery spending tends to get out of control and I am hoping that shopping with a purpose in mind helps reign that in.

Other things on our list this month include kale (ah, kale...), a couple kinds of squash, red and yellow onions, a few varieties of potatoes, a bag of hydroponic greens, apples, beef stew meat, frozen blueberries (for baking and chilly-day oatmeal breakfasts!), and eggs. I hope The H is available to assist with the heavy lifting.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A bread machine!

My parents just gave me and The H our belated anniversary present - a bread maker! I'm so looking forward to trying it out. Buying gluten-free bread in the store is expensive. Our options lately have been the frozen bricks from the grocery store at $6 per loaf, or the delicious, light, airy, never-guess-it-was-GF varieties from the local specialty (organic! gluten-free!) bakery at $8 a pop. Rather limiting! I'll be sure to update on the successes and (inevitable) failures with my new toy, as I figure out just how to make it work for us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The grass is not always cleaner

We're on the road... again. I know! Seems like we're always going someplace. This time it's a short trip with The H to the east side of the state. (Go Blue!) I tried something new this time and did not go grocery shopping when we first arrived. The hotel fridge is as empty as I've ever seen it. Just a sad little yogurt, cream cheese container, baby's juice cup, and a box of leftovers adorn its shiny shelves. We've been eating hotel breakfast and going out for lunch and dinner. Yes, I feel bloated and my face is extremely broken out. Now, about those leftovers...

Dinner last night was at a steak-and-ribs joint, the west-side locations of which have long been closed. We were looking forward to enjoying their food again, and I was determined to live it up. (Please note the title of this post...) I ordered a pork BBQ sandwich, which turned out to be as big as my face, and crispy onions. Yikes, right? Big yikes. I couldn't even pick up the sandwich at all until I'd eaten a Piglet-sized serving off the top, and when I finally did start mowing through with BBQ sauce up to my ears, The H made the observation that "it seems like you've been eating forever and haven't really gotten anywhere." So very, very true. I put down the sandwich, shuffled through the onions, and decided a to-go box was in order... not for myself, though. My often-vegetarian son decided he actually liked the taste of overly-sauced oinker, so I brought the rest of the meat home for him. And then I went for a run.

This morning I knew I had to start getting back on track or people will think I'm a 15-year-old boy (pizza face, anyone?), so I hauled out the container of steel-cut oats I brought with me and stirred up a batch with dried cherries (also brought) and pecans (thanks, Marriott). Double batch = some for tomorrow! I've also got another run planned for tomorrow, and then a 5K to look forward to on Saturday. Hopefully that gives me something to focus on when the siren song of a glossy menu is calling to me the rest of the week. I think I've decided that no matter how short our hotel stays will be, from now on I want to at least stock the fridge with eggs, wheat bread, my own natural pb, and some good fresh fruit. Live and learn.