Clean Eating Challenge, Days 8, 9, 10 & 11

I hate to admit it, but for the past 3 days, my clean eating challenge had to go out the window. But it was for good reason.

Archery Rough Creek 2014zipline rough creek 2014The amazing owners of the company where I work decided to take us on a three-day retreat to work on the business, and it was at this gorgeous ranch in the middle of Texas. Though they were somewhat accommodating to a gluten-free lifestyle, the other restrictions of the clean-eating challenge were much harder to follow and accommodate. I would have been eating nothing for three days. The bright side, is that the chef was a high class chef who made everything in house. I’m pretty sure they even slaughtered their own beef somewhere. Meaning there wasn’t anything processed. And they were bound and determined that we would NOT go hungry. Not that I minded. We ate these elaborate, delicious three course meals with bottomless glasses of whatever we chose, and more food than we could ever finish. The other plus side was that we were active the entire time we were there – walking, running, shooting, climbing, you name it – we did it. Except maybe swimming – that might be the one exception. To be honest, I’m sure that something that I’ve eliminated from my lifestyle is for the better, because there was more than once that my stomach was not pleased with me. I just don’t know if it was potatoes or dairy.

Back to “reality” today, day 11. It’s been 11 days since I’ve had coffee or soda. Eleven days that I’ve avoided fast food and refined sugar, and for the most part, processed anything. I’m pretty proud of myself, but still find that I’m craving junk. I still don’t think that I’m drinking enough water, and the smell of coffee makes my mouth water. I could always be doing better using my Arbonne products and really sticking to a strict intake of food and output of calories. Today I found that I was tired and worn down, and I’m not sure if it was from the trip and the related catch-up at work, or if it was because of what I did and didn’t eat while we were out.

broccoli-pesto-chicken-pastaDinner tonight was simple, but tasty. I made a broccoli walnut pesto, and mixed it with George-Foreman-grilled chicken and brown rice pasta. The pesto was, frankly, frustrating. It didn’t want to blend just right and I’m not sure what I was doing wrong. But once it finally (kind-of) came together, it was really good.

I worry that overall I’m doing something wrong, because in the mornings and afternoons, the shakes are enough to fill me up for a reasonable amount of time. Maybe it has something to do with not working out enough? I want to get up in the mornings and workout, but I also really like getting a full eight hours of sleep and feel like that might be a crucial step I’ve been missing in the past. Sleep is so important to a healthy lifestyle.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

Clean Eating Challenge, Day 4

Day 4, I got my products! It was very exciting to see that huge box on my doorstep! I’m super excited to try it out. I did add some fiber boost to the dinner I made last night, and it really is tasteless and odorless, and the best part, in my opinion, is it doesn’t change anything in your dish – it’s not a thickener, it doesn’t make it runny, anything like that. So it’s not going to affect the dish if you add it.

I did have two shakes yesterday – one for breakfast and one for lunch, and I didn’t seem to have any problems with being starving. At least, not more than normal. It took a few hours, and it was dinner time, and then I was hungry. But I’ve been doing really well with spacing out my meals and snacks throughout the day. It’s almost becoming a second nature. Now I just need to work on drinking more water. Baby steps!

cauliflower-pastaYesterday was (unfortunately) one of those days. And with my emotional eating, all I wanted to do was drive over to Wayne’s, get a burger and a cherry limeade, and eat my feelings. Instead, I went to the grocery store and bought healthy, gluten free ingredients for dinner. Except that one I had to send my hubby for later.

roasted-vegetableDinner last night was a completely different one than I’ve ever tried before, but it was comfort food all the same, and that’s what I needed. Completely vegan and gluten free too! I made a cauliflower “alfredo” sauce, rice pasta, and roasted veggies. The cauliflower alfredo took some toying with – so I’ll post a recipe for that one later. The pasta, though it was rice pasta instead of wheat pasta, was really good! Neither of us could tell the difference and my hubby even went back for seconds – which means it must have tasted good.

Farmer’s Market Finds

DSC_0353This weekend we went to the Clarksville Downtown Market, and got to experience a completely different type of farmer’s market than what we had experienced before. This one was smaller, calmer and much more friendly. There were fewer merchants, but they were all different, rather than a monopoly on veggies like we tend to see in Nashville. There were also a lot more artisans of handcrafted goods, which was very cool.

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We got a huge bushel of apples that I turned into apple butter and apple pie apple sauce. We also got some heirloom carrots and tomatoes, beautiful, fat zucchini, a huge basket of green beans and a wonderfully colored acorn squash.

DSC_0363I used some of the veggies in a stir fry as a complement to some frozen veggies and leftover rotisserie chicken. I then created a cheesy pasta primavera with whole wheat pasta. There were 8 different types of vegetables that were lightly steamed and delicious and a lighter mozzarella sauce that blended everything together. Recipe below!

By the way, I’m in love with my new camera, and it has a “food” setting on it that helps to bring out some of the beautiful colors. Hence the silly amount of pictures today!

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Pasta Primavera with Market Veggies

Market fresh vegetables, cleaned and chopped to approximately the same size. I used: 1 large zucchini, 1 eggplant, 4 heirloom carrots, a handful of cherry tomatoes, 3 sweet peppers, a head of broccoli, a handful of green beans

3 cloves of garlic, diced

olive oil

2 tbsp white wine of your choice

whole wheat linguine, about a quarter to half of a box

Fresh basil, 1 large bunch, julienned

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

Approx 1/4 cup fresh parmesan or three cheese blend

1/4 – 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

approx 1/2 cup milk (you can substitute soy or almond milk – I did!)

Approx 2 tbsp each: ground sage, ground thyme, dried dill, black pepper

Approx 1 tbsp each: paprika, ground oregano

Approx 1/2 tbsp dried cardamom

Salt to taste

  • Prepare all the veggies, cleaning and chopping. Put all but the garlic in a large bowl. Warm a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil – once around the pan. Then add in the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • While the pan is warming and the garlic cooking, prepare your pasta pot with water and set to boil. Once  boiling, add in a handful of sea salt and olive oil to add additional flavor to the pasta itself. Then add in the pasta and cook until al dente.
  • Once the garlic is fragrant, dump the bowl of veggies into the pan and toss well. Add another round of olive oil and continue to toss to coat. Top with sage, thyme, dill, and oregano, as well as 1 tbsp black pepper and a pinch of salt. Toss well to coat and cover pan, cooking on medium for 2-3 minutes. After this time, add in the wine, and stir. Then re-cover, and let cook on medium low heat while pasta cooks, stirring occasionally.
  • To make the sauce, first melt the butter in a pot. Once melted, add in the flour, stirring vigorously. Once that creates a paste, add in about 1/2 the milk, continuing to stir. Add in the parmesan and the mozzarella, continuing to stir. Add the rest of the milk, the paprika, 1 tbsp of black pepper and the cardamom. The sauce should be creamy as it melts, and if needed, add a little more milk to increase the creaminess. Continue to stir to evenly incorporate the heat and melt the cheese, as well as preventing burnt cheese on the bottom.
  • At this point, the pasta should be done. Taste test for texture. Drain, and return to the pot. Add 3/4 of the basil to the veggies and stir, cooking just long enough to wilt. Once wilted, add to the pasta, top with the cheese sauce and toss well to coat. Serve with fresh basil on top.

Chorizo and Kale Pasta

Dinner last night was something I’ve never tried before. Pasta! Just kidding. Well, not really. It was pasta, it was just pasta with chorizo and kale…and tomatoes, onion, garlic and cheese. It was pretty good. Though I’m not sure it’s something I’ll do again. It was kind of bland. And unfortunately because of my lack of experience with kale, I wasn’t sure how to make it better.

I had made baked kale chips the other night and they were delicious – like I ate half of what I made in one sitting before realizing I wanted a couple for lunch the next day. And that was just oil and salt. I wonder if the baking did something to them that the cooking in a pan did not? The chips were a little sweet, had a really good flavor and the salt brought out the flavor even more. The kale from my pasta didn’t have a whole lot of flavor. I kind of felt like Thumper trudging through the greens to get to the chorizo and cheese. Sad day. Oh well, it was edible, and everyone has to screw up sometimes!

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Oh yeah, and I’ve become a fan of Instagram. You can follow me at jennmontgomery.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta

When I first saw this recipe on Pinterest, I was a little unsure about it. I repinned it to revisit later. What I wasn’t sure about was how the bacon and the ranch would taste with pasta and cheddar cheese. Well, in my house, it was a hit. My hunny LOVED it. I know this because he went back for seconds. And then told me he would eat leftovers (Shock and amazement abounds)! What I really like about this recipe is that it used a majority of the remainder of the rotisserie chicken that I had bought in hopes of putting it on salads all week. Obviously my plan didn’t quite work out. And it’s a one pot meal!

Oh yes, the other thing that i really enjoyed about this pasta is that it was cheap. I’m all about the low cost meals these days. Rachel Ray could totally feature this on thirty minute meals. So final thought, yay for a Pinterest meal turning out awesome!

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Ingredients:
2 cups chicken, chopped -leftover rotisserie is great
5-7 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 tbsps ranch seasoning mix – works out to be about 1/2 a packet (for those of you who have never used this before, you can find it in the dressing aisle, NOT with the onion soup mix.)
Pasta of your choice, about half a pound, which is half a box – I would suggest using a pasta like penne rigate that has ridges for the sauce to stick to
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 tbsps flour
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese – or more if you’re a cheese hound like me.

Directions:
1. Prep your ingredients, aka chop the chicken and cook the bacon. And yes, you can cook the bacon in the microwave, I totally did. Thats the prep. Awesome, right?
2. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water. Once it’s cooked, drain and set aside.
3. In that pot you cooked the water in, add the butter and melt. Then add 1 tbsp of the flour. Whisk… for you more experienced cooks, you’re making a roux here. Once everything is in a dough-y consistency, slowly add in your milk, whisking in to your doughy stuff. Make sure you break up all the clumps, that is what makes the sauce thicker. And here is where that other half a tbsp of flour comes in to play. The original recipe called for only 1 tbsp but I found that wasnt enough. Add it here and whisk. Let this cook for a few minutes on medium heat until it thickens a little bit… probably about 5 minutes.
4. Once you have a sauce coming together, add in the ranch seasoning, and the cheese. Stir it all together. You will find that you have a fantastically thick sauce now. Once the cheese is mostly melted, add in your chicken and bacon and toss to coat. Let this cook a couple minutes to heat up the chicken.
5. Add in your pasta, coat it with the delicious sauce, and let it warm back up for about 2 minutes. Serve with garlic bread and a salad to help balance out the meal.

Final thoughts: this isn’t the healthiest meal we have ever had. But it is delicious, and everything in moderation, right? Sometimes you have to jump off the health food bandwagon for some good comfort food. And I’m betting this would be really good with some chopped broccoli added in.

Chicken and Apple Sausage with Primavera Pasta

Last night was a little crazy, and fitting dinner in to an already full night didn’t help matters. But I did, with much help from my hunny. A few weeks ago, I had a bought a chicken and apple sausage from Sam’s Club that looked absolutely scrumptious and I needed a way to use it. There was a picture… somewhere… that I saw that had sausage mixed with pasta with broccoli. Inspiration turned on the little lightbulb above my head.

So dinner was born: Chicken and Apple Sausage with Pasta Primavera. Here’s the ingredient list (I didn’t include a lot of measurements because it adjustable to how much of each item you like.):

  • Chicken and Apple Sausage (duh.)
  • Pasta – I used penne rigate because of the ridges, I needed it to hold as much flavor as possible.
  • Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half
  • Broccoli, cut in to just smaller than bite size pieces
  • Mushrooms, sliced
  • Spinach leaves
  • 1/4 White Onion, sliced in to ribbons. Would also be good with red onion.
  • 1 can Artichoke hearts, quartered
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt / Pepper
  • Dried herbs, including: Dill, Sage, Garlic Powder and Thyme
  • Feta Cheese

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put your sausage on a sheet tray and cover loosely with foil. Once the oven is preheated, put the sausage in and cook for 10 minutes – the sausage is already fully cooked, you’re just warming it up.

Get your water boiling for the pasta, and when it’s a rolling boil, add sea salt and olive oil. You can’t really skip this step because this pasta doesn’t have a sauce, and this will add flavor to the noodles themselves.

While this is boiling, get the onions with some salt going in a pan with olive oil. Cook for about 3 minutes and add broccoli. Season with your spices – I went heaviest on salt and dill, and then the sage and garlic powder, and light on the thyme and pepper. Remember, there are a lot components, so don’t be afraid to season! Cook this for about 5 minutes until the broccoli starts getting soft.

Add in mushrooms and cook down a little longer – about two minutes. Then add in tomatoes and spinach leaves. Cook until the spinach leaves start to wilt. Add in feta cheese and stir around to incorporate and get melting.

By this time, your pasta should be ready. Drain it, but not entirely, leave about a tablespoon of cooking water. If you use penne rigate, a lot of that cooking water will be inside the pasta anyway. Add in your veggie mixture. I hope you used a large pot because there are a lot of ingredients here! Mix together to further melt the cheese. Serve with your heated sausage sliced up and some crusty buttered French bread.

Marinated Veggie and Tomato Chicken

I was bored. That’s a dangerous thing around dinner time in my kitchen. I was not only bored and hungry, but I was also bored with what I’ve been eating lately. Therefore, experimentation gets to running rampant.

We have a marinated olive and vegetable mixture that we got from our honeymoon, and I’ve been itching to try and find another way to use it. I took my vegetable mixture and threw it in my food processor. Then I did the same thing with a can of stewed tomatoes.

For the rest of the meal, I sauted garlic in olive oil just until it was fragrant, and then put in some cubed chicken thighs. To balance out the tangy flavors of the vegetables, I made the chicken a little on the spicy side. I added in chili powder, red pepper flakes, onion powder, basil, salt, pepper and just a pinch of cinnamon to balance it out. Once that was mostly cooked through (it doesn’t take long), I added in the veggies and most of the tomatoes – I tried to avoid using the liquid and mostly used the meat of the tomatoes. Let that all work together, and I also threw in some frozen corn to, again, help balance out the flavors. I served it over some linguine with a side of garlic bread.

Of course, I’ve never tried this, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. The spice only came through a little bit on the back-end, and otherwise it was just a very tasty blend of a lot of flavor.

What kind of kitchen experimentation have you done lately? How did it turn out?

 

Alfredo and Peppers

The past couple of nights, making dinner has been an adventure. I’m having to modify my way of doing things a little bit to make sure that I’m staying within my calorie count. Instead of just saying, “Yeah that looks right,” I’m actually measuring things, and I’m not doing a whole lot of improvising these days. I guess as we grow older, things have to change a little right?

The real challenge I faced yesterday. I had to go back to work at the restaurant, where I had to physically think about not grabbing a french fry or downing a cup of soda, which I’m so used to doing while I was there. I am almost dreading working doubles because I am going to have to bring my mid-day meal to resist the temptation of getting something stupid unhealthy.

So, on to the food. The whole reason people read this blog.

The other night, I pulled out one of my other cookbooks, and this one I’ve mentioned before in a post and in a recipe. It’s the Eat What You Love by Marlene Koch. This time I found her recipe for a Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo, and instead of using the heavy cream and butter with tons of parmesan to make an alfredo sauce, she uses lowfat milk and cornstarch to imitate the creaminess of the sauce and then only a little bit of parmesan and I’m thinking that because the cheese doesn’t have to penetrate as much sauce, a little bit goes a long way and it’s absolutely delightful. And, the broccoli is basically steamed in the microwave which makes for super easy preparation. And I got to have pasta! On a diet! It was a good day.

So then last night, I decided to try something that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure that my hunny would enjoy, but that I had never tried to make and that only had 187 calories per serving. That would be Stuffed Peppers, and goodness gracious did they turn out pretty. Now, out of the three go-to cookbooks for this diet adventure, the only recipe that I could find for a low-cal version involved using the meatless soy crumbles instead of ground beef. I had pulled out ground beef, I was going to use it. I had bought some deliciously colored red, yellow and orange bell peppers at Sam’s Club and they were calling me to make this dish. (Have you ever noticed that the more pretty an ingredient is, the more you want to eat it? It goes right along with that whole eat with your eyes first mantra.) Therefore, I turned to my friend Google and found a great recipe. And guess what? My hunny loved them. And we both decided that the meat mixture that goes into the peppers would also taste really good wrapped in a tortilla with some cheese.

Corkscrew Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Ingredients:

8 oz rotini or bowties

5 c. broccoli florets

1 c. low fat milk

1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch

1 c. reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/4 c. light cream cheese

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp pepper, or more to taste

1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

2 c. shredded cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (I used chicken thighs and it was really good too)

Directions:

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions while preparing the sauce, and set aside.

2. Place the broccoli in a large microwave-safe dish. Add 3 tablespoons of water, cover, and microwave for 4 minutes, or until crisp tender.

3. In a medium saucepan, whisk the milk and cornstarch until smooth. Whisk in the broth and place over low heat. Add the cream cheese, garlic powder, and pepper. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, about 4 minutes. Whisk in the Parmesan and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes, or until sauce is smooth.

4. Toss the cooked pasta, broccoli, and chicken together in a large serving dish. Pour the sauce on top, and toss gently to combine.

Serves 6.

NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING (1 1/2 CUPS): 330 Cal, 36g Carbs, 7g Total Fat (3.5g Sat Fat), 6 WW Points

RECIPE FROM: Eat What You Love by Marlene Koch

Cooking for Two

The past couple of days we had some amazingly delicious meals for dinner. Last night, it was a shrimp pasta, tonight it was porkchops and spinach. Both were done rather healthy compared to how we normally eat. And for once – there were two nights in a row with NO LEFTOVERS! This is an accomplishment for me I promise.

The shrimp pasta, I took some help from the new Philadelphia Cooking Creme, the Italian Herbs and Spices kind. I mixed about half a tub of that with about a tablespoon and a half of prepared pesto, and another tablespoon of regular cream cheese. I added some dill and some thyme to that mixture and heated it on the stove. Then I threw in some leftover peas we had from the night before, and then halved some cherry tomatoes at the last minute and put those in as a topper. I cooked up some shell pasta, tossed it with half a block of grated mozzarella, and then the sauce mixture and finally about a half-pound of shrimp I sauteed until they were just pink.

These past couple of nights I’ve just been trying to take my knowledge of what tastes good together and running with it. And it’s worked out splendidly.

Tonight, we had a balsamic spinach and the best pork chops ever. (Mom you need to try cooking them this way!) I quickly declared that I had been making pork chops wrong my entire life, and my hunny said he’s never liked spinach until now…The secret is in the flour.

For the pork chops:

2 Bone-In Pork Chops (I’m sure you could use bone-less, but I have my barbarian moments and enjoy gnawing the meat off the bone that is impossible to get at with a fork and knife)

About 3 heaping tablespoons of flour

2 tablespoons of ground mustard

1 tablespoon of Montreal Steak Seasoning

A couple of dashes of ground oregano

2 tbsp of cooking oil (I used canola)

For the Spinach:

1 box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed to get rid of the majority of water

Balsamic vinegar, approximately 3 tablespoons

4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 of a onion, thinly sliced

Garlic powder, about 1 tsp

ground sage, about 1 tsp

1/2 tsp of salt

1 tsp of pepper

1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions:

Start by saute-ing the onions and garlic on low in a small pan with the olive oil until they get very fragrant.

While those are working, mix the flour, ground mustard, steak seasoning and oregano on a paper plate. Heat up the canola oil in another pan on medium until the oil moves around the pan like water (quickly and easily). Put the pork chops in the flour mixture, and press and coat both sides, then put them in the heated canola oil.

Go back to the spinach pan, and once it’s all fragrant, put the spinach in there and turn the heat to medium low. Move it around the pan so it doesn’t stick and let it work.

After about 4 or so minutes, flip your pork chops. The edges should be just starting to get white.

Add the balsamic to the spinach mixture and stir it up well to combine it with the onions and garlic as well. Let that work for about a minute, then add the dried spices. Stir it all together.

About this time, your pork chops should be ready to flip again. Try not to move them around the pan when you’re not flipping them, because you don’t want the wonderful golden skin that is forming on there to break off. Dependent on the thickness of your pork chops, they should be ready in about 2 minutes.

Add the lemon juice to your spinach, stir it in, and then move that off the heat.

Plate the spinach first, and then top it with the parmesan. Put the porkchop on top of the spinach for a very pretty presentation.

Dirty Bird Sketti

Last night for dinner, I decided to use one of the many cookbooks that I’ve bought with grand dreams of making amazing dishes. Well the one recipe that we picked was pretty amazing. Thank you Guy Fieri! And not only did I get to use one of my newer cookbooks, I also got to use three of my kitchen toys that I’ve never used! Cookbook holder works wonderfully well for making this easy to read while cooking, the immersion blender is messy but fun, and the avocado slicer works better if the avocado is riper. But none-the-less, last night’s meal added to my feeling of finally being settled.

Anyway, I made Guy’s “Dirty Bird Sketti,” and was skeptical as I did it. I started off by making his marinara sauce from scratch (and I may never buy marinara sauce ever again). That took about an hour. And then there was some bacon crisped, chicken spiced and browned, and then some onions in a sauce and pasta in a pot. And it was amazing. The spice rub that you make for the chicken makes a mild-tounged person like me worried that it’s going to be insanely spicy, but it’s not. It’s very well flavored with just a small kick of spice right at the end of it. What made it nice is that it uses a quarter cup of dry white wine in the sauce. Well, given that I’m not normally a white wine drinker, it’s not something I keep on hand. But since I only used a little of the bottle that I bought, we had enough to go quite nicely with the dinner.

My momma would be proud, because I made sure to put green stuff next to my Sketti, making for a well rounded meal.

So, given that I have high respect for Mr. Fieri as a chef (all of his recipes are just a little bit crazy and a lot of unexpected but insanely delicious), I’m not going to post the recipe. Go buy his book. It’s worth the $25 dollars I promise.