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Monthly Archives: January 2011

let’s grit it on

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I have this thing.  (No good conversations start like this, but this is good, I promise.)  I love food.  That’s a given.  But I also have….dreams about food?  Maybe not even so much dreams as I just wake up, thinking about food.  One day it was strawberries.  Another, sour cream.  Last week, I shot up in bed, with one very delicious, very specific dish in mind:  shrimp and grits.  But not just any grits.

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I have a bag of polenta that’s just been begging to be used, so it was decided that I had to make shrimp and polenta, ASAP.

And what do you know?  I had everything I needed!

  • 6 oz medium shrimp (I used frozen)
  • 1/2 c polenta
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 oz reduced fat cheese, separated
  • 3 strips bacon (I used turkey bacon)
  • parsley (I used dried, but fresh would be best)
  • lemon juice

Here’s how it all went down. (Disclaimer: It’s ridiculously simple.)  Boil the water, and then pour in the polenta.

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Bring back down to a simmer, and cook around 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in butter.

Spray a large non-stick skillet (I used my Misto!) and then heating it over medium heat.  Place the bacon in the pan and cook until crisp, flipping as needed.

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Remove the bacon, and leave it on a paper towel to drain excess grease.

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Toss (thawed) shrimp into the same pain you cooked the bacon in, spritzing with oil if necessary.  Add in about two tsp of lemon juice and some parsley.

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Cook the shrimp until heated through.

Turn your attention back to the grits.  Slowly heat back up and add one ounce of the cheese.  Divide the grits between two bowls, top with remaining cheese, crumbled bacon and shrimp.  Maybe even a shake or two of parsley for good measure.  Oh, and chopped green onions.

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This was so awesome!  Just what I was imagining.  Fun fact:  When my cousin was married, she and her husband had a simple reception with just a few foods they really loved—including a shrimp and grits “bar.”  There were plastic martini glasses waiting to be filled with grits and topped with all the fixings.  It was a nice personal touch.  She’s from Georgia and her husband, South Carolina, so it suited them very well.

Do you ever get food visions?  Is there a regional dish that’s special to your area?  Most people outside of the South had never even heard of grits, let alone eat them (think My Cousin Vinny). Oddly enough, even though I grew up here, I’ve not always been down with the grits; I just started eating them within the last few years.

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back to school, back to school…

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Ah, college.

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That was fun, wasn’t it?

Sometimes I feel like I didn’t have quite the same college experience as everyone else.  I went to a small (less than 10,000 students) , non-SEC (though our football team DID beat Ole Miss this past year) school that was largely made up of non-traditional students.  I commuted for two years, driving 35 minutes each way, every day.

But it all changed 2 years later—I moved to Jacksonville in summer of 2005.

n156803730_30269303_2971 And while I may not have had the same experiences as other people at bigger schools, I definitely think I got my fill.  Lived in bars, danced on tables…oh yeah, I did all of that.

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And oh—I’m well aware of that blazing grammatical error above our heads.  I pointed it out to someone behind the bar once and received a very hearty “fuck off”,” in so many words.

Why am I telling you all of this?  Jonathan and go back to Jville every once in a while, for homecoming or to see friends.  But mostly, it’s for events relating to his fraternity.  This week, we headed to town for a dinner with his brothers.  As I enjoyed my one and only glass of wine, I took the time to observe.  And I came to this conclusion:

College girls are ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I did embarrassing things.n156803730_30611745_1589n156803730_30269280_1390

But as I watched girl after girl slosh down beer and sangria, grinding up on both male suitors and sequined gal pals, I felt sorry for them.  It’s one thing to go out and have a good time, but these girls just screamed insecurity to me.  As I walked from the bathroom to the dining area, I passed a younger girl yakking into a phone about how “Lindsey (maybe that was her name??) is puking in the bathroom!  She’s, like, totally freaked out.”  I also can’t tell you how many times I saw people snapping photos and saying loudly, “I’ll totally put this on Facebook.”  Ah, technology.

Not all the girls were drunk and disorderly.  I have to give some of them credit.  But the rest of them?  I saw people walking around barefoot, even outside on the wet ground, where it was, oh, I don’t know, 30 degrees?  Not too mention that walking around sans shoes at a fraternity house (where the party later made its way to) is just tetanus waiting to happen.  Girls were vomiting in the bathroom of the freaking Hampton Inn, falling down on the dance floor much to the delight boys itching for a sneak peek.  Not to mention most were wearing dresses that made me feel like a grandma.  My claims of ridiculousness were further substantiated by the empty bottle of apple-flavored vodka I found in the bathroom.

I enjoyed college, I really, really did.  We didn’t really do the whole fraternity house thing, we mostly hung out in karaoke bars.

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Eh what are you gonna to do?

As I looked on at the kiddies college girls and boys having a good time, I felt a little wistful.  I made the best friends at JSU, and I had some of the best stories from my four years there.  But then, after watching a girl wearing what I can only describe as a hand towel spill her fruit-garnished beverage all down her scanty dress as she busted her ass on the fluid-covered floor, I chuckled to myself in my old age.

Children.

I do miss that time in my life.  I would do it all again in a heartbeat, ups and downs included.  And while I didn’t join a sorority or spend my days living it up Greek-style with a solo cup glued to my hand, I still ended up with a frat boy.

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Who woulda thought?  At least he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

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Can you believe that Jonathan and I were at the same school, in the same department, for 4 years and we never met?  It was the spring before we both did internships in Birmingham that we were formally introduced—at a bar, no less.

Do you ever miss college?  What’s your favorite memory?  And most importantly—would you do it all over again?

living on the veg

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I didn’t always like vegetables.  My tastes have definitely changed in the last several years.  Some of my favorites—peppers, squash, mushrooms—those would have never passed my lips back in the day.  But when I discovered, hey, I actually like veggies, it was like a new world had opened to me.  And thank God, because without them, this life-changing sandwich wouldn’t exist.DSC07912

Ok, maybe it’s not life-changing, but it’s pretty damn good.  And even better—on Weight Watchers, it’s about 8 points!  I had a ton of broccoli on the side and was even able to have a small glass of a delicious dark beer.

This whole sandwich came to be when I discovered these foccacia rolls at Sam’s Club for a really good price.  They make up the bulk of this sandwich as far as points go, but the bread is really amazing.  In addition to some sort of roll, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Zucchini
  • Squash
  • Sliced mushrooms
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Goat cheese
  • Pesto

You can really use any veggies of your choosing, but this is a combination I find to work pretty well.  As for the cheese, you can also use feta, but goat cheese is pretty spreadable so it tends to hold together a little better.

I start by slice the squash and zucchini on the bias, making them all about the same size.  Toss them together with the balsamic vinegar (about a quarter to a half cup?  It depends on how many sandwiches you were making; we had one each for the three of us).  Spray a large skillet and heat over med-high heat.  Pour the veggies and the vinegar in and cook until al dente—you want them to have a little bit of a bite—adding the mushrooms right at the end.

Spread about 1/8 cup (1/2 ounce) of goat cheese over the top half of a sliced roll, then layer on about 1/2-1 tbsp pesto on top.  Layer the marinated veggies on the bottom half of the roll, topping with jarred roasted red peppers (like in the top picture).  Carefully close the sandwich.

I used a George Foreman grill for the next part, but you could easy smush the sandwich by toasting it in a large pan, weighting it down with a cast-iron skillet.

And then you’re done!  Cut the sandwich on a diagonal and enjoy!DSC07921

I had half a glass of this rich and delicious treat:

DSC07920Do you make homemade panini?  What’s your favorite combination?  Up next, I want to do a tomato/mozzarella like they have at Panera Bread—my favorite!

watching and weighting.

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As you may know, Weight Watchers is rolling out a brand-new program called Points Plus.  The idea of assigning point values isn’t new—WW has been doing it for over a decade.  I first tried it when I was in high school, hoping to lose some weight and fit into my snug prom dress.  I’d seen my mom have success with the program, and I was anxious to try it, too.  It worked!

I tried Points again in college when I’d gained the Freshman 15 times two.  Again, it worked.  I think I did the program two more times in the last several years.  I finally lost a good bit of weight by doing old-fashioned calorie-counting.  I signed up for Sparkpeople after hearing so many good things on the Internet.

Weight Watchers began to make me angry due to the emphasis on processed snack bars and 100-calorie packs.  I was paying attention to all the ingredients in food, including sodium and sucralose—interestingly enough, those were found in high contents in WW-approved Progresso soups and Dannon Light & Fit yogurts, respectively.  Why would someone eat a banana when they could have a 100-calorie pack of “Oreos” for the same amount of points?  It didn’t make sense.

When they first announced the new system, I was intrigued.  Jennifer Hudson seduced me with her sassy commercials and slimmed-down curves.   (FTR:  I think she looks too little in some of the magazines.)  My mom had become familiarized with the new program at her meetings and excitedly told me that fruits and most vegetables were free—no points!  I was a little unsure of how it would work, but I wasn’t alone.

I’ve heard that this new plan has met a lot of criticism from people who are stubborn and don’t want to leave the old program.  Others question how you could make a all fruits and most veggies free and still lose weight.  My favorite response?  “Well, none of us are at Weight Watchers because we ate too many fruits and vegetables.”  True!

I know that a lot of healthy living bloggers have criticized WW because they think you’re eating too few calories.  This past, week, I tried a little experiment:  I decided to track my points while tracking my calories on Sparkpeople.  I was surprised at what I found.

I normally eat breakfast in the AM, with a snack at 10am, lunch around noon, snack at 3pm, then dinner at night.  And I usually eat a snack before dinner, maybe a treat after.  Long story short, I have problems with portion control and learning how to listen to my body and what it’s telling me regarding satiety; I eat a lot of times because I feel like I’m supposed, or because it’s routine.  Or because I’m bored, or restless, or sad, or happy…the list goes on.  (Which is why I’m attacking food journaling in a different way in 2011.)  My friend Mandy and her roommate are also using WW to regain portion control.

When I lost weight last year, I was eating between 1200-1600 calories a day, with a little more added in for exercise-heavy days.  This is what I was shooting for.  (Also, please do not judge my calorie intake.  It’s my business, it works for me, and I have discussed my needs with my doctor.)  I used my food journal and points calculator to keep up with my points throughout the day.  Here’s a sample of what I ate in a day last week:

Morning:  Multi-grain Cheerios with almond milk and sliced banana
(was super full all morning and made it to lunch time with no problem)

Lunch:  Wendy’s with my Dad, small hamburger and chili

Afternoon snack:  honey crisp apple
Post-work snack:  two small oranges

Dinner:  pasta with tons of veggies, pesto, Parmesan and some bread, along with a glass of wine

The result, of this day and most of the week?  Right on target with not only my calories, but also my goals (according to Sparkpeople) for protein, fat and carbs.  Not to mention I’m eating even more fruits and veggies than I have in the past.

On one day, I was getting hungry in the afternoon, but I really wanted to save some points for dinner so I could have a beer with my friends.  I solved that problem by eating some red pepper strips with hummus and a banana after work.  I found myself turning to zero-point fruits and veggies to satisfy my hunger and not just because I know I need to eat them.

Another good thing from last week:  I rediscovered how good it feels to plan.  I would often have my whole day planned out, knowing what calories would come from where and when.  And you know what else feels good?  Losing weight:  Afer weighing myself this morning, I’ve lost 4 pounds since starting the plan.  (I typically weigh myself on Fridays, but this I just wanted to see how my little one week experiment went.)

So overall, I feel pretty good about the new Weight Watchers plan.  Check out Mandy’s blog for some good recipes—she makes the most delicious food!  Also check out Beth’s blog, as she writes a lot about her experiences with WW and has some yummy recipes. (Her bf is a chef!  And that rhymes!)  Also, consider joining Sparkpeople.com for not only calorie-tracking (if that’s your thing) but also for an amazing support circle.

Have you ever done any sort of organized weight-loss plan with success?  Have you ever tried Weight Watchers?  Thoughts?  Comments?

baby’s got sauce

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This weekend, I’m heading back to mine and J’s college town for a special dinner/get-together, but I really wanted to share a delicious lunch that I had this week:  Buffalo “Chicken” Pita.  It was super easy to make, and it featured a really interesting addition—homemade “Ranch.”DSC07877

I hate mayonnaise.  I make no excuses about this, nor do I attempt to cover it up.  I stray away from a lot of things.  But recently, I’ve discovered how to get around using mayo:  Greek yogurt.  The last time I made something with buffalo sauce, I was wishing I had something like Ranch dressing to add to it.  I mixed up a little sauce that was pretty good, but I made some tweaks this week that really made the flavor work.

To start, I used half of a Publix brand vegetarian chicken patty that I’d covered in buffalo sauce and let sit in the fridge overnight.  I cut it up into chunks, then stuffed those into half of a pita loaf I’d toasted lightly, to make it sturdier.  Also into the pita went about 1/2 an ounce of reduced-fat cheese, sliced and cut into tiny pieces, and some more buffalo sauce.

For the Ranch:  I started with 2 tbsp 2% Greek yogurt and 1 tbsp lemon juice.  I mixed and mixed until it was all blended and there were no chunks.  I then added garlic, parsley, a little S & P and some paprika.  I drizzled the sauce into the pita and toasted it till the outside was crispy.

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Yum!  Are there any recipes that you’ve made while finding your way around a tricky ingredient?  For me, it’s mayo:  I make spinach artichoke dip, potato salad, tuna salad and now Ranch, all without mayo.

whole lotta enchilada

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I love the way certain words sit in my mouth and roll off my tongue.  Like enchilada.  So many fun words end with “-ada” or “-ata.”  Pina colada.  Pinata.  Fermata.  Eric Estrada.

Go ahead, say it.  It’s perfectly natural.

Fun fact:  I took Advanced Grammar in college, which was basically an Intro to Linguistics.  We had to learn the Phontetic Alphabet, learn how sounds are made, etc.  During tests, the girl who say behind me would sound everything out.  I’d be minding my own biz, and I would hear, “NNG!  OOH!  AAH!  LLLL!”  It was enough for me to get my diphthong all in a twist.

Ok, I’m back.

You know what else I like in my mouth?  Food.  And I have a hunch you do, too.  Lucky for us both, I have an awesome recipe that you won’t have to worry about rolling off your tongue because you’ll be too busy trying to shovel as much as you can into your mouth and consequently, your belly.

It’s that good.

I made a big batch of black beans earlier this week.  My plan was to have freeze some and have some during the week.  I was going to make black beans and pineapple over brown rice one night, when the wheels started turning.  How about…black bean and pineapple…enchiladas?!?!

Google, true to form, did not disappoint.  I came up with this recipe from Pillsbury, which I tweaked a little.

I was feeling a little rushed trying to get everything ready for Reagan, Mandy, and Jen, so I didn’t really take any pictures during.  Here’s how it all went down:

To start, I heated 2 tsp of olive oil in a non-stick skillet over med-high heat.  I sautéed 1 cup onion and 1 cup chopped red bell pepper until softened.  Then I added in about 1.5 cups of my black beans, a small can of green chiles and the pineapple.

Oh, the pineapple.

I first thought I’d just use the fresh pineapple I had on my counter.  Then I realized that I needed pineapple juice, and I couldn’t find just the juice, so I bought a can.  Once home, I realized that I’d bought crushed pineapple, which is basically just pulverized pineapple mush.  I asked Mandy to pick up a can of tidbits, what I meant to get.  She came with chunks.  “Isn’t this the same thing?”  she asked.  I opened the can to find huge…well, for lack of a better word, chunks.  Which I ended up chopping up anyway.  Sigh.  It wasn’t a big deal, but seriously, who would’ve thought there were so many different kinds of pineapple?

So.  Where were we?

Oh, before adding the pineapple, drain it and reserve 1/3 cup of the juice.  Removing the skillet from the heat, I skipped the added salt and mixed in the cilantro and one cup of reduced-fat cheese instead of the recommended 2 cups. 

The recipe also calls for flour tortillas, but they typically have so many added ingredients, and I’ve always heard that corn tortillas are better for you anyway.  To make them easier to work with, I took four tortillas at a time, wrapped them in a damp paper towel, and microwaved them for about 15 seconds.  Also, I used 12 instead of 8.

Spoon a tablespoon of enchilada sauce onto a tortilla and spread.  I scooped about 1/4-1/2 cup of the filling into each tortilla (I had extra, too), then rolled it up, placing it seam-side down into a baking dish I’d sprayed with olive oil.  Once that’s down, you mix the remaining sauce with 1/3 cup of the reserved pineapple juice and pour it over the whole thing.  Top with another cup of reduced-fat cheese.

I let these bake for about 30ish minutes, let the cheese melt and the tortillas get a little crispy.

DSC07891 Yes, some of the tortillas split open, but it was still oh. so. good.

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The filling was nice mix of sweet and savory, especially with the pineapple and the red peppers.  I loved it! 

I definitely think I’ll tweak this recipe a little next time I make it, since I had too much filling.  But hands-down, I will make this again—amazing.

My sister hates sweet foods unless they’re desserts.  She says, “Dinner should not be sweet.”  I also have a friend, Erin, who despises “hot fruit,” mostly in pie form.  What about you?  Do you like sweet and savory combinations?  I myself love teriyaki with pineapple and breakfast sausage with syrup and such.

bless your hearts.

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First of all, thanks so much for everyone’s support on my last post regarding my jacked-up feet.  I just want to feel better.  I’ve found that a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory meds and Law and Order:  SVU really helps take the edge off.  Oh, and wine.

Tonight I brought a chair into the kitchen so that I could watch my dinner cooking.  I made lentil sloppy joes, with a new addition:  diced carrots!  It was nice to sneak some more veggies in, and I think the flavor was great.  Another thing I did differently this time was that I didn’t cook the lentils first; I let them soak up the water while they were simmering with everything else.

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I had some red potato wedges on the side.  This was comforting, filling, and it really it the spot!

Some friends were heading over to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner, so I headed over to meet them for a drink.

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Hooray, beer!

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The damages.

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Oh, friends.  Reagan, Craig, Jonathan and Joy, who just moved back to town!  Good times.

For tomorrow:  I’ve been following the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus program for the past few days, and I have some interesting insight for you.  Just wait and see!

Fun fact:  I never used to eat chicken off the bone.  It creeped me out.  Now I’m totally sold on wings!  What about you?  Are you weirded out by chicken wings like me, or is there another food that gives you the willies?