Monday, June 6, 2011

::mastering the grill, a new frontier::

Summer is here, and yes, so is our grill. Lovingly donated by my Grandmother in my Grandfather's absence, the summer heat is a little more bearable now that we have this wonderful piece of equipment. Though I feel as if I have developed experienced sea legs in my own kitchen, the grill is somewhat of a new territory for me. There is something deliciously primal about food cooking over an open flame. My husband has taken to it like a duck to water, but tonight was my first attempt at using it by myself. The pizza was less than spectacular, but holds a world of potential. I look forward to trying again. This is what I learned:

1. I stretched my dough too thin. I like crispy crust, but the flame ate a hole in part of my crust.... not good.

2. The grill should be on medium-low to medium to give the toppings a chance to melt before the underneath side burns to a crisp. I made it way too hot...

3. After you flip the dough, everything happens really fast. Have everything ready. You have to get the sauce, cheese and toppings on really quickly, then shut the lid.

4. Have a COOL cookie sheet ready to slide the pizza onto when it is done. Mine was sitting next to the grill and got really hot. It was difficult to hold on to.... ow!

I have a difficult time dealing with things that don't turn out perfectly the first try. But in reality, it happens to us all now and then. The pizza still tasted good, but could have been better. The point is, we can never be afraid of failure in the kitchen (or in life). We often learn more from failure than from success. So, raise your glass, and toast to second tries. Se la vie!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

::hello broiler, pleasure to meet you::

OK, so you've made your resolution to get healthy. Now what? You may be thinking to yourself "How on earth am I going to keep this up? I have a full time job, husband and two kids." eating healthy requires cooking (at the end of a tiring day at work), which can often result in a huge sink full of dirty dishes. It seems much easier to just pick up some takeout on the way home. Cooking low-fat, healthy, and delicious meals can be just as fast and easy as takeout, as long as you have a plan of action.
Your broiler is about to become your new best friend. It is basically an upside-down indoor grill. Broiling is fast, healthy and requires almost no cleanup. Cooking chicken, fish and vegetables is so easy using this method.

Healthy Marinated Chicken Breast and Asparagus

*2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
*your favorite marinade
*large freezer bag
*Parmesan cheese

In the morning, before you leave for work, place chicken breasts in a large freezer bag. Pour in marinade to cover chicken, squeeze out extra air in the bag and seal. Allow to sit in the fridge until you come home (sometimes I even put frozen chicken breasts in the bag, and let them thaw in the marinade) If your chicken breasts are rather thick, you can pound them out while they are inside the bag, being careful not to break open the seal. Preheat broiler. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and place asparagus (with the ends trimmed) on one side of the pan. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. With a second piece of foil, create sort of a "boat" for your chicken and place on the other side of the pan (see picture below). Using tongs or a fork, remove chicken breasts from the bag, shaking off any excess marinade. Place in foil "boat". Broil for 6 minutes, remove from oven and flip chicken breasts over. Broil for about another 6 minutes or until browned and juices run clear. (Broiling sometimes causes smoke so make sure your hood fan is on)

Serve with a crusty loaf of bread, rice, couscous, or mashed potatoes. For a really fast side, Country Crock mashed potatoes from the refrigerated section of your grocery store are heated in the microwave in 4 minutes. (That's what I used!) They taste great and make for even easier cleanup. Any leftovers can be used the next day in a variety of ways. We had some leftover asparagus, so I saved it to make a delicious omelette the next morning.

I hope this recipe will help make life a little easier and healthier after a long day. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Monday, December 27, 2010

::new life resolution::

Its almost the new year, and I'm almost half way to my goal weight. I am not as far along as I had predicted in August, but I am proud none the less. 20 lbs in 4 months is pretty reasonable, and a healthy amount. The last few weeks of school made it almost impossible to exercise since I was working on a project or writing a paper nearly every night. I was also sick for two weeks before finals. Through this, however, I managed to somehow lose weight despite lack of exercise. I think I was eating much less due to being so busy. The holidays set me back a few lbs, but I am back on track, and determined to lose another 20-30 lbs by Rosie's wedding date.

I have found that exercise is the key to weight loss. Anyone who ever told you you could safely lose 50 lbs and keep it off by dieting alone is lying. I try to do intense exercise at least 5 days a week. I am not on a super strict diet. I eat as healthy as I can during the week, and usually splurge a little on the weekend. If I want a bite of something sweet, I have it (just not the entire tub of ice cream...). If I were more strict I might lose weight more quickly, but its all about balance in order to be happy and enjoy life. If you haven't yet made the commitment to get healthy, 2011 is the perfect opportunity. But don't wait til after new years. Start today! Seriously. You only have one body. Even if you don't need to lose weight, its important to make sure that your heart is in good shape. Here are ten tips I have learned, that will hopefully help you as well:

1)Go buy an exercise DVD! I cant afford a gym membership, as I'm sure many of you can't either. Many workout DVDs cost $10-$15 at Walmart. Don't feel like you have to complete the entire workout right off the bat. Do as much as you can without stopping, even if it is only 10 minutes to start with. You will build endurance over time.

2)Exercise at least 5 days a week! Also, make sure that the exercise you are doing is cardio. You should be sweating a lot by the end of your workout! Strength training is important, but cardio burns fat and strengthens your heart. (Jillian Michaels usually incorporates both into her workouts)

3)Measure your food and caloric intake for the first two weeks. This will give you an idea of how much you are actually consuming as opposed to how much you need to eat. Remember, to burn one pound of fat per week, you need a deficit of 3,500 calories per week.

500 calorie daily deficit x 7 days = 3,500 calories (1 lb lost)

Don't know how much your body naturally burns each day? Try this calculator: Take the number it gives you, then subtract 500 calories. This is about how much you should consume per day in order to lose weight at a healthy rate. After a while, you'll be able to eyeball food portions better (besides, measuring food becomes a pain in the ass after two weeks...)

4)After you work out, eat a small amount of protein to help your muscles recover. I usually have a low fat cheese stick or protein shake. Also, drink lots of water!! (the more water you drink, the less you retain. Hence, the less you weigh)

5)Eat small healthy snacks between breakfast and lunch each day to keep your metabolism going. Your metabolism slows in the afternoon and evening, however, so try not to snack after lunch. A cup of black coffee or unsweetened tea in the afternoon can help suppress your appetite.

6)Remember that your body weight will fluctuate due to many things such as water retention and muscle gain. The first several lbs will come off quickly, then the weight loss will slow down. Don't get frustrated if you hit a plateau, or you gain a pound or two back. This is normal. Just keep at it. Weigh yourself often (and naked for your true weight) to keep an eye on any fluctuation. Its a lot easier to take off an extra 2 lbs that you gained back than an extra 10.

7)If you hit a plateau, don't panic or give up! You just need to slightly alter what you are eating and/or your exercise routine. I would recommend extending the time you work out. If you are able to exercise for 20 minutes without stopping, add an extra 5-10 minutes. This will help kick start your body again.

8)Do not reward weight loss goals with food! This is a slippery slope and is often counter productive. Instead, do something else for yourself, such as a manicure, a new clothing item, a long bubble bath with candles, etc.

9)Document your progress in a journal to help you stay on track. It is always rewarding to look back and see how far you have come! Taking pictures along the way can help you see progress made.

10)Ask yourself why you want to lose weight and keep this reason in mind. It's OK to want to lose weight to look good in a bikini, but there are a lot of other really important reasons to keep in mind:

*more energy
*lower blood pressure
*reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease
*exercise stimulates the release of serotonin, which can help depression and anxiety
*longer, fuller life to spend with the ones you love

Remember, you only have this one body. It is your responsibility to take care of it. It isn't always easy or fun, but the rewards are many! If you love your body, it will love you back. Make 2011 the best year of your life so far. Your time is now. What are you waiting for??

Sunday, December 12, 2010

::olive my love::

The weather is getting colder. That means heaters, blustery winds, and extremely dry skin and hair. There are many deep conditioners and moisturizers on the market, but you can save money by using something you may have in your pantry already. Olive oil is a great way to fight winter dryness, leaving your hair shiny and your skin soft and supple. I know it sounds crazy - I tend to have oily skin and hair, but often times the reason for too much oil production is dryness. You can care for your skin with olive oil for deep hydration during the winter months.

Hot Rosemary Olive Oil Hair and Facial Treatment

- about 1/2 cup of olive oil
- one sprig of fresh rosemary
- a tea strainer
- a shower cap or plastic walmart sack
- a towel

In the bottom of a measuring cup, crush rosemary leaves with the end of a spoon to release fragrance. pour in 1/2 cup of olive oil. Heat in the microwave for about 1 minute. Let steep for about 5 min. Pour through tea strainter to catch all of the roasemary leaves. (You can now transfer into a squirt bottle for easy application, but this is optional. I dont always have one lying around...) Test the oil on your hand to make sure it isnt too hot! Lean your head over the sink or the bathtub and pour the oil a little at a time onto your hair, massaging the scalp. Make sure you get the ends. When your hair is saturated from root to tip, cover with a shower cap or plastic bag, then wrap your head in a towel. You can now use the oil from your hands to massage your face. Gently work in small circles, massaging out and away from the center of your face. After about 5 minutes, rinse your face with warm water and pat dry. You will want to leave the olive oil in your hair for at least 20 minutes. This will allow for full penetration. After the 20 minutes is up, shower as usual. You will probably need to wash your hair twice to make sure you remove all of the excess oil.

Make sure that if you apply the oil in the bathtub, you spray your shower with a degreaser!!! The tub will be VERY slippery after the application as well as after you shower!!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

::challah at ya boy::

I know it has been a while since my last post. Life has kept me away from the computer, but thankfully, not the kitchen! My newest obsession is baking bread. I try to do it every weekend now. There is just something about the smell of yeast that takes me back to my childhood. Today I baked a huge loaf of challah (HAH-lah, חלה)to take over to my in-laws. It is a Jewish bread made with eggs, similar to a brioche. This lovely six braided loaf rose so much it barely fit on my baking stone! I don't have a stand mixer so I did all of the mixing and kneading by hand this time - slightly labor intensive... but worth it! There is another method, though, that
I often use when making bread that works out really well. I turn to my food processor. Yes, you can use the food processor to bring bread dough together! Sounds crazy, but works like a charm and is extremely easy to do. Making homemade bread is such a comforting thing to do on a cold fall weekend. Try this easy recipe and let me know what you think! Happy baking!

Basic White Bread

-½ cup warm water (not too hot!)
-¾ cup cool water
-4½ tsp yeast
-2 tbsp sugar
-2 tsp salt
-¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
-4 cups flour (plus a little extra for a quick kneading)

Stir together sugar, yeast and warm water, set aside to bloom (about 5 min or so). In food processor add flour, salt and melted butter. Pulse a few times. On a low speed, pour in a steady stream of the yeast mixture. Next pour in a steady stream of the cool water. After the dough forms a ball, let processor run for about 30-45 more seconds. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead just a few times, adding a little four if it's too sticky. Heavy kneading is not necessary; just a few turns to make sure the dough is the right consistency. Let rise in a large greased bowl that is covered in plastic until doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch down, and reshape into a greased and floured loaf pan. Loosely cover with plastic. Let rise again until doubled in size. (about 1 hour) Bake at 350° for about 30-40 min. (should be light golden brown and sound somewhat hollow when tapped)

*Rising times can vary. On the counter top, it should take about an hour to double. Sometimes, though, I am in a bit of a hurry. You can speed up the process by using warmth from your oven. Set your oven to the lowest setting for a few minutes to warm it up a little then turn it off. (it shouldn't be so hot that you can't touch the rack inside) Place the bowl of dough or loaf pan in the oven. The warmth will help the yeast get excited and you can cut your rising time in half!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

::muffin me crazy::

I love muffins for breakfast or as an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee, but they are usually extremely fattening. I wanted to create a low fat muffin that still tasted delicious. These definitely hit the mark!

Jessica's Low Fat Banana Oat Muffins

=Preheat to 350º=
*1 cup oats, lightly crushed (you can do this in the food processor, or put them in a freezer bag and roll a rolling pin over them)

*1 cup all-purpose flour

*1 tsp baking soda

*1 tsp baking powder

*1/4 tsp cinnamon

*1/8 tsp nutmeg

*1/2 tsp salt

*1/3 cup sliced almonds (you could also used chopped pecans or walnuts)

*1/2 cup white sugar

*1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

*1/2 stick of butter, room temperature

*2 large eggs

*1 tsp vanilla

*2 large overripe bananas, smashed

*1/2 cup plain Greek non-fat yogurt

*2 tbsp milk

Combine dry ingredients: oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, Cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and nuts. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together butter and sugars. Add eggs. Whisk until well combined, making sure you work out any lumps of brown sugar. Stir in vanilla, yogurt, mashed bananas and milk until smooth. Pour in dry ingredients. Gently fold into wet batter with a spatula until just mixed. DO NOT OVERMIX! (That's right, just walk away...) Batter should be lumpy. Spoon into paper-lined muffin tins. Fill each cup almost all the way up. Bake at 350º for 25-30 min, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from tins immediately and allow to cool on a rack (your counter top also works if you don't have one).

This recipe yields about one dozen muffins. I had a little extra batter, but I think my tins are a little smaller than standard. They tend not to rise much, so its OK to fill the cups pretty full. You could also add dried cranberries or chocolate chips to this if you wanted. I personally like my muffins to be a little less sweet, so next time I might omit the 1/2 cup of white sugar. You could probably bake this batter in a loafpan as well, just increase the cooking time and do the toothpick test. I encourage you to try my recipe and let me know what you think! Happy baking!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

::cast iron 101::

My most prized cooking vessel is hands down, my 100+ year-old cast iron skillet. It was passed down to me from my grandmother, who received it from her father, who received it from his father. Not only is it a piece of family history, it makes magic in the kitchen. Cast iron heats quickly and evenly, and stays hot for a very long time. It can go from stove top to oven, no problem. Its slick non-stick surface makes it perfect for cooking just about everything. There are, however, rules about proper care that you must know in order to achieve a super slick surface and to keep it from rusting or cracking. This step by step guide will give you everything you need to start your very own cast iron love affair.

1)If you want a really good pan, go to an antique shop. Megamarts sell cast iron these days that have been preseasoned. I personally prefer to season the pans myself. And besides it's pretty neat to have something with a bit of history behind it.

2) Once you have your pan, its time to prepare it for seasoning. If it is an antique, chances are it will be dirty and possibly have some rust. Take a scouring pad and scrub the pan in warm mild soapy water. After you have given it a good scrub, immediately dry.

3) Now its time to season your pan. This creates a slick non-stick surface and keeps the pan from rusting. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. Coat the inside of the pan with shortening, lard or bacon grease. Make sure you get the sides, but there is no need to cover the back side of the pan, just the surface you will be cooking in. Bake for one hour. Remove pan and wipe with a cloth or paper towel to redistribute the fat. Return to oven and bake for another hour. Remove from oven and wipe out any excess fat. This process can be repeated several times to create a stronger bond. Allow to cool completely before storing in a cool dry place.

4) Cleanup is simple but crucial to maintaining your skillet. NEVER, I REPEAT, NEVER put your pan in the dishwasher!!!!!!! (Ladies, make sure your husband/boyfriend knows this too in case he wants to try and be sweet by doing the dishes for you, and ends up ruining your pan...or your expensive wood cutting you baby ;-D )This will remove the seasoning bond, and possibly rust out your pan. Some people say to rinse with warm water, but resist the urge to get the pan wet at all. To correctly clean your pan, remove as much food as possible. Then heat on the stove over medium-low, add a small amount of shortening or cooking oil and a good amount of salt. Take some paper towels or a dry washcloth and scrub the salt around to remove the rest of the food bits and create a super slick surface. Heating the pan will open the pores of the metal and help it clean easier. discard salt and wipe the pan out one final time. Allow to cool before storing.

5)Cooking Dos and Don'ts:

*Cast iron is great for frying, searing, sautéing and baking.

*Try to avoid cooking things in it that have a high acidity level, such as tomato sauce and lemon juice. This can break down the pan and possibly cause it to rust.

*Never put really cold liquid in a really hot pan. Not only could it splash up and burn you, but it could put a crack in your beautiful skillet.

*When baking things like cornbread or biscuits, always melt a little butter in the bottom first to make sure it slides out easily. It also makes a yummy crust on the bottom!

*Do not store leftovers in your pan. This can compromise the seasoning

*If possible, try to clean immediately after use. The longer you let a dirty pan sit, the harder it is to clean later! It can also weaken the seasoning

6) A few ideas for using your skillet:

*frying bacon (make sure to place bacon in a cold skillet with no oil to start!)

*baking biscuits


*searing steak

*searing a roast (before cooking it in a crock pot or dutch oven)

*fried fish

*southern fried chicken


*home fries

*Cinnamon rolls



I hope I have encouraged you to adopt and enjoy your very own cast iron skillet! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment. :-)