Monthly Archives: December 2011

Tuscan Tomato Soup

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The one thing about the holidays is there is never a dull moment. It seems like one endless string of holiday parties, food, office parties, more food, family get-to-gethers, and — you guessed it — even more food. I think I’ve made dinner twice in the past week, certainly no time to film a video of me cooking when I don’t even have time to cook.

And so it is that I am reaching back into my vault and pulling out one of my favorite dishes. I love this soup because it’s so easy but so incredibly good. I can’t eat canned tomato soup anymore because my tastebuds simply go into revolt and my lips clamp shut in striking solidarity as I try to raise the soup spoon to my mouth. “Why would you subject us to that when you can make your own that is so much better?” Yes, I can hear them shouting at me.

I think what I like best about this is that the warmth of the soup, the deep ruby red of the tomatoes, and the subtle heat of the chili pepper flakes all make me think of the bright Tuscan sun, hovering over gently sloping hills covered in rippling vineyards. And this scene is so reminiscent of the Northern California area, specifically the Napa valley, which is exactly where I am heading this fine Christmas Eve. So as I slurp my soup, savoring the complexity of all of the subtle flavors, I look forward to tilting my sun-starved face up to that glowing orb in the sky, sipping a glass of wine, and most especially enjoying the warmth and love of my wonderful, incomparable family. There is nothing quite like gathering with your loved ones over a great meal, that is where the best memories are made. I certainly have a store of them and can’t wait to make many more this week.

And so my dear fellow friends and foodies, whatever your faith, my deepest wishes for a very happy holiday and joyous new year from my kitchen to yours!

Tuscan Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 2 carrots peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I recommend an Italian wine like a Chianti, Valpolicella, or Barbera)
  • 1 large can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can cannellini beans drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
  • 4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for a vegan version)
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions:
Heat butter in a stock pot over medium heat until melted and slightly foamy. Add onion, carrots, and garlic. Stir in coarse sea salt. Let cook for about 5 minutes until the onions begin to brown and the carrots are tender. Add the wine and continue cooking until the wine has reduced down by about half. Add crushed tomatoes, cannellini beans, red chili pepper flakes and chicken or vegetable broth. Stir to combine well. Add the sprig of rosemary and bay leaf, submerge in the liquid then cover the pot, reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes. Note that I have let this simmer for much longer (about 2.5 hours in fact while I was at a movie), in fact you could even move it to a slow cooker at this point and have it be ready for you when you get home from work, but at a minimum let it simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked through, ladle the soup into a blender – do not fill more than half way full – and puree until smooth. Continue blending until the entire pot has been pureed. Serve immediately – if it has cooled too much in the blending process, reheat on the stove. This recipe serves 6 people but leftovers freeze really well for future lunches or dinners.

(Nutritional Information: Calories 138.9, Total Fat 4.3 g, Cholesterol 10.4 mg, Sodium 995.0 mg, Total Carbs 21.4 g, Dietary Fiber 4.8 g, Protein 5.0 g)


This webisode was only my fourth — I am up to webisode 50 now! I hope you’ll notice that my quality has improved and my size has reduced in that time! 🙂
And lastly my tip of the week
Don’t sweat the small stuff. It is so hard to be good this time of year when there are sweet temptations at every turn. I find it so easy load up my plate and have a good old-fashioned pigout. Then I find myself feeling guilty the next day, punishing my body at the gym and adamantly swearing off sugar. Reality is we will always be faced with temptation and it’s okay to give in to temptation, but you should also be smart about it. If you want a piece of candy, have one — but just one. If you want to try all the dishes at the office potluck, go ahead and do so — but take just a little of each one. Eat it slowly, nibble at it, really savor the flavor. Allow yourself a little pleasure, and banish the guilt. Remember that a healthy lifestyle is about moderation and that means sweets as well. It’s okay to have a sweet, just don’t overdo it. And of course make sure you’re still finding opportunities for regular activity. Don’t punish yourself at the gym; the energy, stress relief, health benefits, and endorphins you get from working out should be a reward, not a punishment.

Pan Roasted Orange Chicken and Parsleyed Potatoes and Green Beans

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There was a point this week where I wondered if this week would ever end. It seems like it has been one long test of my patience and fortitude. Why you ask? Let’s just say that I am the parent of a 17 year old son. Yep, that pretty much explains it. ‘Nuff said, right?
This week did have its brief moments of wonder too. Moments when I looked at the man-boy creature in front of me and wondered what happened to my sweet little boy and where this demon spawn suddenly came from. I found myself doing the unthinkable as a parent and looking forward to that moment when I will be an empty nester, then immediately feeling guilty — what kind of horrible mother am I? Then the demon spawn reemerges and I am counting down the days until he turns 18 (53!) and I can legally kick his butt to the curb.
*sigh*
I guess no one ever said parenting is easy, right? That must be why there are endless rows of books on parenting advice filling the shelves at Powells. Luckily, I can immerse myself in the refuge of my kitchen where creating a wonderful meal is not so complicated as raising a child. This week I present to you my easy Pan-Roasted Orange Chicken with a side of Parsleyed Potatoes and Green Beans.
Pan-Roasted Orange Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 orange
  • 4 chicken thighs — with skin and bone-in
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch (1/4 tsp) coarse sea salt
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 sprig rosemary, chopped
Directions:
Preheat oven to 450.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, coated with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.

Trim the ends of the orange off and slice the orange into rounds then cut in half to create “half-moons”. Gently separate the skin from each chicken thigh, creating a sort of pocket. Tuck 2 orange half-moons into each pocket.

Sear the chicken thighs, orange side down, in the pan until golden brown. Turn and sear the other side.

While the chicken thighs are searing, prepare your sauce by whisking together the olive oil, sea salt, fennel seed and rosemary. Take 2 of the orange pieces and squeeze tightly in your palm, letting the juice run out into the oil mixture but retaining the pulp and seeds in your hand. Discard the orange. Whisk the mixture together.

Layer the remaining orange pieces across the bottom of a small baking dish. Remove the seared chicken thighs from the pan and lay them on top of the oranges. Drizzle the oil – orange juice mixture over the top of the chicken thighs. Cover the dish and bake for 20-25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the orange segments from under the chicken skin before serving.

Serving Size: Makes 4 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 203.4, Total Fat 13.8g, Cholesterol 57.7mg, Sodium 160.4mg, Total Carbs 3.1g, Dietary Fiber 0.8g, Protein 16.3g
Parseleyed Potatoes and Green Beans

Ingredients:

  • 10.5 oz. (300g) yukon gold potatoes, cubed
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch (1/4 tsp) sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Directions:
Use the same pan and fat drippings that you seared my Pan Roasted Orange Chicken in. Heat over medium heat. Add the potatoes, green beans, garlic, salt and pepper and saute until the potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Serve immediately.

Serving Size: Makes 2 servings

Nutritional Information: Calories 144.9, Total Fat 0.1g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 230.1mg, Total Carbs 36.4g, Dietary Fiber 7.0g, Protein 6.4g

(Note that the calorie and fat content is lower here because it’s cooked in the fat from the seared chicken thighs which is already accounted for in the nutritional value of the Pan Roasted Orange Chicken. If you prepare this separately, I recommend using 1 tbsp of olive oil or butter as base for the saute mixture. In that case you would need to adjust the nutritional values up accordingly.)

And last but not least, here’s my tip of the week:  go big and go home. Yes, you read that right. I have seen so many people — and been guilty of this myself in my past — start a diet by going big. That is, I would go from being a self-indulgent, couch potato to eating rabbit food and working out 6 days/week literally over night. Not only is this not healthy, but it’s not sustainable. It’s too big of a shock on your body, and you’re not giving yourself enough time to adopt new healthy habits. Small steps can lead to big rewards. So instead of suddenly hitting the gym for an hour a day, 6 days per week, start by just exercising 5 minutes a day. For example, when you’re watching TV at night, get up and walk around or march in place during the commercials. Then make it a goal to increase your exercise time by 10% each week — when you start at 5 minutes that’s just 30 seconds! You might be starting small, but you are getting your body used to physical movement and developing new habits at the same time.

Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup

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It has been supremely cold in the Pacific Northwest this week. Like crawl-under-your-down-comforter-and-never-emerge cold. I love to be outside and these days make it difficult for me, yes even more difficult than the perpetual liquid sunshine we get here. A run on my favorite trail in this chill makes my lungs hurt; I find myself suddenly wheezing with the almost forgotten asthma of my childhood. And so I resign myself to the noisy whirring of the treadmill and the pungent odor of sweat that seems to permeate the gym.
Luckily, I have my kitchen to keep me cozy and contented in these dark days of winter. I love hot, creamy soups when it’s cold like this. As it slides down my throat, it warms me from the inside and I feel brave enough to toss aside the down comforter. Well, at least until the bowl is empty. Of course, soup is never complete without some hot, crusty bread to dunk in it.
This week, I have for you my Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup. Low in calories, full of good-for-you nutrients, and easily made vegetarian — it’s warm winter goodness in a bowl. Try it with some crusty baguette spread with a little warm camembert cheese.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 large onion, diced (I recommend a yellow sweet onion like a Walla Walla, Vidalia or Hermiston Sweet) 
  • 2 pounds carrots, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds 
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine 
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped ginger 
  • 4 cups homemade, salt free chicken broth (or sub vegetable broth to make this vegetarian) 
  • 1 cup skim milk 
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oil in a stockpot; add the onion and saute until translucent and just beginning to caramelize, about 7-10 minutes.

Add carrots and stir to coat. Cook, partially covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add white wine and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender.

Add chopped ginger. Using a food processor or blender, puree the carrot mixture, adding chicken broth as needed, until smooth. Return to stockpot, add remaining chicken broth and milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Number of Servings: 6

Nutritional Information: Calories 150.7, Total Fat 5.1g, Cholesterol 0.8mg, Sodium 127.9mg, Total Carbs 19.8g, Dietary Fiber 4.7g, Protein 5.2g
Tooting my own horn with my accomplishment of the week: I have been running for a little over a year now, going at it in intervals for a total of 4 miles, 3 times a week. I start with a brisk 1/4 mile walk to warmup then I alternate running and walking intervals. This week I ran for a full 3 miles! This was a huge improvement over my record of 2 miles. Yay me!
And lastly my tip of the week for you — because if I can do it you can too! This may sound basic, but any weight loss journey should start with setting realistic goals. You should have both short-term goals and long-term goals. So think about where you want to be at the end of the journey, then think about where you want to be at the end of the week. And a number on a scale is not a realistic weight loss goal. That number is going to vary every day depending on hormones, water intake, the muscles you’re building, stress you might be experiencing, and much, much more. So think about how you want to feel. I will tell you that when I started my end goal was to be able to wear a women’s clothing size 12 — I was at a 26W and that was a huge leap for me to make. My first weekly goal? To not eat any candy out of the office candy bowl. That sounds simple, and it is. It’s also completely achievable. When you complete your first goal, set another, and when you achieve that one… you got it — set another! All these baby steps will lead you to your larger, final goal sooner than you think.

Welcome to my new blog!

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I am finally branching out from Facebook and trying a more traditional medium for my cooking blog. Don’t worry, you will still find the same information on my Facebook page, I am just hoping to find a wider audience here as I continue my quest to show people how easy it is to eat great food and still lose weight, just like I have.

The holidays are especially difficult for anyone trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I have a tradition of making candy for my friends and family as a holiday present, and as the cook I have to do quality checks of my product, right? I just have to remind myself that I must enjoy it in moderation — so one truffle is plenty, no need for two. And of course I make sure that I am sticking to my exercise routine: 3 days out of the week I get 60 minutes of cardio and circuit training in, and 3 days a week I jog 4 miles for a total of 12 miles per week.

By sticking to my principles, I can enjoy the holiday food season without lingering guilt.

How do you manage through the holiday season?