Friday, January 30, 2015

Cauliflower Crazy

We've never cooked much with cauliflower before. We tried this roasted recipe a few years ago & really liked it, but at our old house it cost about $4 for one head, and there were so many other cheaper veggies. Now that we live next to an awesome farmer's market I realized I can get it for half that price (or even lower), so it was time to give it another try! I grabbed a head and made an extra small batch of several of the recipes I'd marked on Pinterest lately.

First up was Creamy Cauliflower Sauce, rumored to taste like Alfredo. I wasn't expecting much from this one, but the reviews praised it so much I had to give it a try. And they were right!! This stuff is delicious. It tastes like it's loaded with cheese & cream, but really only uses skim milk and a little bit of butter. You can toss it with pasta or rice, but now I want to make a big batch & try replacing the cream sauce in some of our favorite recipes.

Creamy Cauliflower Sauce, Pinch of Yum

I was planning on trying some cauliflower rice that same night, but needed to find a recipe & ran out of time. And wouldn't you know it, my favorite recipe blog Our Best Bites posted one the next day! It turned out pretty good, but I agree with one of the commenters that it has more of a couscous texture. It also had a bit of a crunch, which I think you could remove with a little steaming or boiling if you wanted to. My kids devour white rice, so I'd like to try to mix a little of this in to make it a little healthier. We'll see how it goes!

Cauliflower Rice, Our Best Bites

I ended up with 1/4 a head left, and figured I might as well make a little Sweet & Spicy Korean Caulifower. The cauliflower is cut thin & roasted here (so you know it's going to be good!), then tossed with a Korean sauce normally used for fried chicken. I didn't notice much of a sweet flavor, but itt was savory, tangy, spicy, and delicious! We'll definitely be making this as a side dish in the future, but I'll lower the heat a little for me & the kids.

Sweet & Spicy Korean Cauliflower, Blossom to Stem

All three of these recipes were big winners & I can't wait to make them again. The first two were also kid & husband approved, and the third one didn't last long enough for them to try it. ;)

What's your favorite way to make cauliflower?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chicken, Mushroom, & Veggie Stir-fry (200 calories)

Dinner for our first 5:2 week was a pretty simple stir-fry ~

Chicken, Mushroom, Veggie Stir-fry (200 calories)

Here's a quick recipe ~

1) In a small bowl or cup, stir together 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. oyster sauce, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic. Set aside.

2) Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add an 8 oz. can of bamboo shoots, 8 oz. can of water chestnuts, and 1 cup cut green beans and toss together. Cover the pan and let the veggies steam for a few minutes.

3) Uncover, add 8 oz. chicken (cut into bite-sized pieces), and cook until the outside has browned, stirring frequently. Add 8oz. fresh mushrooms and the sauce and stir-fry until chicken has cooked all the way through.

Calories for 1/3 - 200 (Total, 602)

This ended up being very tasty & filling. I'd like to tweak the sauce a little next time, but I've got several other stir-fry sauces I want to try, so it may be a while! I had planned on the kids splitting the other third (with rice), but like most dinners they barely touched it, even though they can pack away restaurant Chinese! So I packed up the leftovers and had them for lunch later ~ no complaints!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Chicken, Lentil, & Veggie Soup (194 calories)

I started off my first meal of 5:2 with a giant bowl of soup for lunch. This is nearly 4 cups worth of soup for less than 200 calories! Gotta love the veggies. I planned it out on paper and was pleased at how tasty it turned out. It didn't even need any extra spices! These directions make a single bowl, but the lentils need so long to cook, you might want to make a double or triple batch.

Chicken, Lentil, & Veggie Soup (under 200 calories)

1) In a small pot, add 2 cups of water, 1/4 cup dried lentils, and 1 Tbsp. tomato paste. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour (until lentils are tender).

2) Chop up 1/2 cup carrots and add to the soup. Chop & add 1/2 cup celery (about 1 stalk). While the soup simmers, skim off the red foam with a spoon or strainer for a cleaner soup (optional).

3) In the last 10 minutes, add 1/2 cup cooked, shredded/chopped chicken. Serves 1.

Calories - 194

You can also substitute black eyed peas for the lentils (+40 calories) or sub the chicken with 8 oz. fresh mushrooms (-18 calories). This makes such a large bowl you could easily split it in half for 2 super-low lunches!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Skimming Soup Scum

I've been cooking soup for years, but I never gave much thought to the foam that forms on the surface until I saw Just One Cookbook refer to it as "scum". Ewwww. I followed the directions for skimming it off and have been doing it with all of my soups ever since. Before I share another soup recipe I wanted to teach you how and show the difference it can make.

Early on the soup doesn't look too bad...

Skimming Soup Scum, 1

But after a while, it can get pretty scummy! Some soups are worse than others.

Skimming Soup Scum, 2

All you need to get rid of that scummy layer is a spoon and a cup of water! (You could also use a small strainer like the link above, but I didn't find it any easier than a spoon) While the soup is simmering, run your spoon along the top of the soup, trying to scoop up just the foam. Dip the spoon in the cup of water to clean it off, and scoop out some more. Make sure to run around the edges as well.

Skimming Soup Scum, 3

This is a little harder to do if your soup has a lot of small floaties, like herbs, minced garlic, sesame oil, etc. Just try to avoid them, and you aren't going to lose a lot of flavor if you scoop up a little bit.

After a minute or two your soup will be looking a lot cleaner!

Skimming Soup Scum, 4

It doesn't take a lot of time or effort, and since you are sitting around waiting for the soup to finish cooking at that point, I'd say it's definitely worth the extra step! Anyway, who wants to eat "scum"?

Skimming  Soup Scum, 5

Friday, January 23, 2015

5:2 - 1st Week Update

Our first week on 5:2 went well!

We did our two low-calorie fast days on Tuesday & Thursday, but Justin voted to do Monday & Thursday in the future. Since you start after dinner the night before, that meant we weren't getting one full day off in between, and Justin likes his after dinner snack! Seems like those two days are the most popular choices with others as well.

Tuesday ~

The only time I was hungry the first day was around breakfast. Justin & I had a debate about how hungry we would be (I was optimistic), and so all morning my mind kept annoyingly wandering back to it & thinking, "Am I hungry?" So then I would realize that yes, I was a little bit. Whenever I was busy I didn't feel hungry at all of course!

I saw many people mention that they had a lot of energy on a fast day, and that whole morning I felt like doing jumping jacks! I did a cardio workout in the morning and before long it was time to start making my giant bowl of veggie soup for lunch. (Followed by a 10 calorie Jell-o cup.)

Chicken, Lentil, & Veggie Soup (under 200 calories)

Right around 2:00 I started feeling a little hungry again & then remembered that was the halfway mark between meals when I was planning on eating anyway! I made a green bean & egg pancake (omelet) and was planning on making another but I had to run out the door to pick my son up from school. For dinner we had a big stir-fry, and I accidentally added twice the amount of chicken ~ oops! ~ but that just took me to the 600 calorie mark anyway so it wasn't a problem. Before bed I wasn't necessarily hungry, but I did want a yummy snack! (normal)

Thursday ~

This morning I didn't have any hunger problems at breakfast time. I ate the same things as Tuesday for lunch, snack, & dinner ~ recipes coming soon! We decided to pick up some diet sodas for the fast days & I had those instead of my normal soda. (A few months ago I switched from diet drinks to regular because of the negative studies that have been coming out, but also gained 5 lbs. in the process. I'm not sure where I stand on the issue, but for now it makes sense to drink diet on the fast days at least.) I could have stopped after dinner with 500 calories, but I was desperate for some chocolate, so I savored a 100 calorie chewy chocolate chip granola bar (while hiding from the kids. You know what I'm talking about, moms.).

1st week ~

I don't feel like I was any hungrier or prone to overindulging (more than normal) on the off days. I did about 3 workouts this week and the scale is going down, but I'm not sure how much right now. Let's just say it's a certain time of the month when I normally weigh a little more, so I didn't bother doing an 'official' weigh-in this week (I'd already eaten a little that morning).

Don't worry ~ I don't plan on giving thorough updates about every fast day like this, but thought you might be curious about the first week. I will let you know about new low calorie recipes I create or discover, good online workouts I find, and the vast amounts of weight I'm losing. Now it's time to start typing up some of those recipes!

Monday, January 19, 2015

5:2, Would you?

Last week my husband mentioned hearing about an interesting diet on NPR, and a few days later my cousin posted the article on Facebook ~ Minifasting: How Occasionally Skipping Meals May Boost Health.

I was very intrigued & started doing some more research. There is one diet that follows the guidelines of "16:8", which means you go for 16 hours without eating and then eat within a 8 hour period. This sounds bad at first, but it basically means you don't have a snack after dinner, sleep all night, and skip breakfast. After this long stretch, your body has used up all the energy from your food and starts burning up a little bit of fat. Some people do this every day, but personally I know I've gone periods in my life where I was too busy to eat breakfast and I didn't notice any change, so I don't think it would work for me.

Then there is "5:2" (or the "fast diet") - 5 days of the week you eat normally, and then for 2 days you eat within that 8 hour window, but those days you also cut your calories down to 1/4 and only eat about 500-600 calories for the day ("fast" days). If 16:8 sounded bad, this seems horribly crazy! But I also know back when I was regularly counting calories (aiming for 1,200-1,500 calories a day), I had many lunches that were about 200 calories, like this yummy Faux Sizzling Rice Soup ~

Faux Sizzling Rice Soup

Or there are some large dinners portions that could be reduced a little. Use half the peanuts and divide by 6 (instead of 5), and this Ginger Chicken with Peanuts stir-fry is only 250 calories! (skip the rice, of course)

Ginger Chicken with Peanuts

Most vegetables are crazy low in calories, so if you make sure to throw in some good protein to help you feel full, you really can eat a lot of good food for 600 calories! You just need to plan ahead and squeeze as much as you can into those mini meals. SparkRecipes is a great, free site where you can calculate nutritional info for a meal and make adjustments until it is in the range you want.

I've gone months in the past counting calories every day, and I've grown to really hate it! This actually sounds much more do-able to me because I can just spend a little time planning out some meals that I can eat those days, and then there is not much to worry about or track after that. And if nothing else, you feel like, 'it's only for one day! I can eat normal tomorrow'. (You might assume that you would really overindulge on the off days, but from what I've read on forums, most people aren't hungry on the "fast" days and even feel less ravenous on the normal days.)

After researching & planning last week, my husband asked if we were starting this week. I kind of panicked, feeling like I needed more time to put together meal ideas, but then I realized I only need 2 days worth, and then I'll have all of this week to work on more ideas for the future. So I'm kicking aside my anxiety and we are starting tomorrow! (yikes) We will have dinner tonight around 5:00 & not eat anything after 6:00. Tomorrow I will eat between 10am-6pm and plan on doing three 200 calorie meals. And then the next day will start like normal at 6am and I can eat breakfast whenever I want. (Our days run pretty early, so bump this schedule back to fit your day.)

Although I do plan to cheat a little. For one thing, men are supposed to get 600 calories while women only get 500. But since I originally read "600" calories, that just seems cruel to knock it down further, haha. I am also adjusting the meals to get them close to something like 150, 200, 250, etc., and just ignoring it if they go 10 calories over or under. The worst that could happen is that I eat three meals I really rounded down and accidentally eat 50 extra calories, but for the sake of ease I think it is totally worth it.

So what do you think ~ crazy fad diet, or something you could see yourself trying? I will report back to tell you how it is going and to share meal & workout ideas.
(*Note - This diet is not intended for pregnant women, diabetics, children or teens, or people with a history of eating disorders.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Clip-on Bangs (Quick Pics)

On my birthday round-up post I mentioned some fun clip-on bangs that I bought, and today I have some pics to share! The night they arrived I rushed to the mirror to play with them & trim them. I wanted to share the before & after, so I took pictures along the way, even though my hair had been in a ponytail all day & needed a shower. Forgive the messy hair!

Here is my normal hair, up in a ponytail ~

No bangs, up

And a quick snap later, you have bangs!

Clip-on bangs, up

The bangs are a shade darker than my hair, but they have long pieces on the sides to help them blend in so it's not very noticeable. (I have tucked behind my ears here.) The long pieces bowed out a bit when new, but I found you can straighten them! I used my straightener while it was warming up to make sure the heat was very low & it worked great.

Here is my hair down ~

No bangs, down

And with the bangs ~

Clip-on bangs, down

Oh my, I think I had this exact cut in early high school!

While the bangs would look great on many girls as-is, this is not really my style, so I grabbed my straightener & took some scissors to them...

Trimmed clip-on bangs, down

(I look pretty irritated, but that was my best hair-down pic, haha)

I like my bangs cut on an angle & very straight. This is very similar to a haircut I had a few years ago.

Trimmed clip-on bangs, up

Trimmed clip-on bangs, up 2

My husband was pretty skeptical of the whole thing until he saw them cut & styled, then he broke into a smile.

I'll admit, I've only worn them out in public once so far, because I get shy about things like this that make me look very different for some reason. Like I'm worried someone will say, "Wait, didn't you have bangs yesterday?"... but isn't that the point?! I think these would be awesome for those times when you need to run a quick errand & at the last minute you notice your hairline is a little greasy. Either way, these are super fun and only about $5!

You can find the set I bought here, but there are a ton of listings on eBay and Amazon if you do a searc. I would recommend buying from a US seller (like the link) if you don't want to wait a month+ for them to arrive though! You can also find other styles, like 'oblique' bangs, which are long & go to the side. Happy clipping!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Dining Room Lamp

After Christmas the house took another tiny step forward. Previously our dining room had a fake-candle chandelier light...

New house, 19

Here's a better picture of the old light. It wasn't hideous, but somehow those disks under the lightbulbs blocked all light from shining downward. So while the rest of the room was pretty well lit, the dining table sat in a giant shadow. Personally I'd like to be able to see my food, please!

Old dining room lamp

I wanted to replace the chandelier with a nice, big modern pendant lamp. I'd been eying the lovely & cheap Knappa lamp from Ikea for a while and stuck it on my Christmas list, but did not expect anyone to get it. It turns out it was no longer available in our store or online, but my husband found it for about $10 extra on eBay (only about $35 total)!

New lamp, 1

We still need to buy a new plate to cover the wires, but it already makes such a *huge* difference in the dining room. The table practically glows now! The lamp actually came as a bunch of flat pieces & it was really fun to snap everything together. It's too bright to see above, but here's a better picture of the way the light shines through all of the layers. Beautiful!!

New lamp, 2

Monday, January 5, 2015

Holiday Foods

Happy 2015 everyone!

I'm really looking forward to this new year, because the end of 2014 has been kicking my butt! This October &  December everyone in our family has been sick 4-5 times (definitely not the norm). There have been three terrible colds/flu, fevers, lost voices, and a stomach bug. I'm nearing the end of the latest illness & just so sick of being sick!

The flu ate up our nice 2 week Christmas break as well, and all of those nice productive plans went straight out the window as we suffered on the couch. We even had to cancel a visit from some friends that live out of state who we only see about once a year! Luckily everyone was OK on Christmas day, the kids had a blast, and everything went well enough to mark the holiday a 'success', so I am very thankful for that.

Christmas Eve spread

Is spite of the sickness, I have done a ton of cooking this break! My parents came over Christmas Eve and we had a fun snack night, working on a puzzle while watching White Christmas. You can see our spread above. The only recipe we *have* to make every Christmas are Martha's delicious Ginger Scented Pecans (top left & bottom right). It is one of those recipes where people will hunt you down at a party to tell you how incredible they are!

Then at the center left you can barely make out the Choclate Oatmeal No-Bake Cookies Justin & Orson made. In the very center are the Chicken & Bacon Pastry Pockets, which were probably too much work for that night, but I was craving them! Then we filled out the rest of the tray with pomegranate seeds (right), Christmas themed Goldfish (top & bottom), tacquitos, and a veggie & dip tray on the side.

Christmas Day I made a Thai Rice Chopped Salad (with Peanut Ginger Dressing) for my mom's side that I'll share on here soon. My dad's side is a very meat-and-potatoes group, so we tried to play it safe with Gooey Peanut Butter Brownies, but there were a million people there, and twenty deserts stacked on top of one another, so it did not even get opened by the time we left. Oh well!

New Year's 2014 sushi, mine

For New Year's we had a couple over for gaming and we finally did the 'roll your own sushi' night we'd been meaning to do. I went a little overboard with fillings and laid out cooked shrimp, popcorn shrimp (leftover from the kid's dinner), cooked crab mixed with mayo, *bacon*, cream cheese, celery, carrots, avacado, green onions, asparagus, and cucumbers. I couldn't find the pre-cooked tempura bits I was hoping for, so we decided to experiment with pork rinds for crunch. American style! There was also eel sauce & spicy mayo to drizzle on top.

I showed them the steps for making a roll and everyone (including my husband) was able to easily roll up their own sushi! You can see my roll above, and my first student's roll below.

New Year's 2014 sushi, Sarah's

I thought it would be fun to have circle-themed food since they are a symbol for New Year's, and made Datemaki, a traditional Japanese New Year's food made of a sweet, rolled omelet (with a little fish). The flavor reminded me of sweet imitation crab. They were OK, and a fun experiment, but I doubt I'll make them again.


Our friends brought sausage balls, tacquitos, and Angel food cake. There was *way* too much food ~ I never ended up cooking the egg rolls I had, we didn't make it to the cake, and were barely able to experiment with the sushi combinations we wanted to try! I've learned next time we have a sushi night we can have friends bring drinks or some of the fillers, but we definitely don't need a lot of extra nibbles!

Did you cook up anything fun for the holiday?