Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chicken Sausage and Veggie Hash

I'm always searching for new recipes for quick lunches for the family. Since we're all home every day (I homeschool the kids and hubby works from home), I have to come up with lunch. Every day.

I used to rely on leftovers for next day lunches, but with a growing teenage boy in the house, leftovers are a rare occurrence these days.

This recipe has protein and lots of yummy veggies. The original recipe called for sweet potatoes, but I leave them out because no one likes them but me. The beauty of this dish is that is easily customizable to suit your family's likes. Often, I just use whatever veggies I have on hand, but here's what my family likes best.

You'll need:

1 pkg. fully cooked chicken sausage links
1 small onion, diced
2 teas minced garlic
1 red or green pepper, seeded and diced
1 zucchini, diced
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
2 cups fresh spinach or kale
sea salt and pepper to taste
Optional : crumbled feta or shredded Parmesan cheese

Slice the sausage links into bite sized pieces. I use this brand of sausage that I find at Publix.
I like the short ingredient list.
Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet. Add the sausage pieces and cook until browned.

Add the onions and garlic to the skillet. Cook until the onions are almost translucent. Then add the pepper and zucchini. Cook for another 5 minutes.

The mushrooms are next and they won't take long to get softened. When they are soft, add the spinach or kale. Cook and stir until wilted.

Season with salt and pepper. If desired, sprinkle with a little feta or Parmesan cheese for a little tang.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Menu Plan February 23-March 1

25 days until Spring!

Who else is ready?

It's been cold here with several nights in the single digits and teens. Thankfully we've had no issues with frozen water pipes like some others we know.

I've survived on this wonderful homemade hot chocolate most evenings.
Anyway, here's what I've got on the menu this week:

Oven roasted sausage and potatoes, spinach parmesan

Philly cheesesteaks, steamed cabbage

Spaghetti with garden meatballs

Italian sausage sandwiches, homemade fries

Homemade pizza

Turkey meatloaf, mashed cauliflower

Savory roast beef, crockpot potatoes
For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Menu Plan February 16-22

So, who's ready for spring?

I know I am! Besides being intolerant of the cold - I plain just don't like it! - I'm ready to plant a garden. I've got big plans. I'm hoping to plant an herb garden because I love to cook with fresh herbs. Tomatoes will also be planted, along with zucchini and maybe some lettuce.

Now if some warm weather would show up, I could dive in head first!

In the meantime, I'm just meal planning and trying to stay warm. Here's what I've got planned for the week:

Pretzel dogs, homemade fries

Cajun Shrimp and Sausage with rice

Cheeseburger soup, crusty bread in a cast iron pot

Fried cabbage with bacon, zucchini

Homemade pizza

Grilled steaks, baked potatoes

Crockpot coconut curry chicken over brown rice

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday. Have a great week!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Panko Crusted Salmon

Recently I've been able to purchase salmon fillets for $5.99/lb. That's a really great price. Usually the prices hovers closer to $10/lb. So I've been searching for new ways to prepare it so we don't get bored.

This recipe is a from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. It calls for salmon with the skin on. But my sale-price salmon was skinless, so I modified the recipe just a bit. If you can find skin-on salmon, by all means follow Ina's method as written.

Either way, the tang from the Dijon and the crunch from the panko crumbs make this dish a simple, elegant meal.

Here's what you need:

4 salmon fillets, about 4-6 oz each
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teas dried parsley
1 teas garlic powder
2 TBSP olive oil or melted butter
sea salt and pepper to taste
2 TBSP Dijon mustard
olive oil for the pan

In a small bowl, combine the panko crumbs, parsley and garlic powder. Drizzle the olive oil or melted butter over the crumbs and stir until moistened.

Sprinkle each salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Brush the Dijon mustard over each fillet. Press the panko mixture on the top of each one.

Brush a 12-inch cast iron pan (or other oven proof pan) with some olive oil. Heat over medium heat on the stove until the pan is very hot. Carefully place the salmon fillets in the pan and let cook for about 2 minutes.

Transfer the pan to an oven heated to 425 degrees. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until panko is browned and the salmon is almost done.

Remove from the oven and cover the pan tightly with foil. Allow the salmon to rest for 5-10 minutes. This will allow the fish to finish cooking without drying it out. And who likes bone dry salmon?
My family adores this dish. It's their favorite way to eat salmon. And it's quick and easy, so you'll get no complaints from me!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Menu Plan February 9-15

Last week I told you about my experience with the Fast Metabolism Diet. Well, I'm happy to report that though I didn't lose any weight last week after my 28-day eating plan was over, I didn't gain any either! Yay!

I've incorporated more veggies into our meals, cut back on carbs and sugar and continued to drink plenty of water. It's made a difference, I can tell you.

This week is going to be busy. My sweet boy will turn 14 on Thursday and he's requested lasagna as his birthday meal. He loves Italian food! We also have a dear friend whose birthday is tomorrow, so we'll be joining his family for dinner to celebrate. And of course, Saturday is Valentine's Day. So we've got a fun-filled week ahead!

Now here's what I'm planning for this week's menu:

Dinner with friends

Moroccan chicken, curried couscous, zucchini

Baked salmon, spinach parmesan casserole

Lasagna, salad, garlic bread

Homemade pizza

Steak bites, twice baked potatoes

Savory roast beef sandwiches on whole wheat buns

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Experience with the Fast Metabolism Diet

Have you heard of the Fast Metabolism Diet?

I hadn't either until last fall when some people on a message board I frequent were discussing it. I bought the book and started reading author Haylie Pomroy's plan for boosting a person's metabolism and kickstarting weight loss. It made a lot of sense to me.

This is not about depriving yourself, although you do avoid certain foods. I'll get to that later. You actually eat tons of food. Real, unprocessed food. So much that I almost couldn't eat all that I needed to eat every day. The book lays out portion size based on how much weight you want to lose. You eat at least 5 times a day. It's a lot of food! In fact, Haylie says that on her program, the word DIET means Did I Eat Today?

Okay, here's the gist of it. You stay on the program for 28 days or 4 weeks. Each week you divide up into 3 phases. This is a fantastic summary of what each phase is supposed to do:
The book provides a list of foods that are appropriate for each phase. You must stick to eating those foods on the right phases.

Phase One is the high-glycemic, moderate protein, low fat phase. You eat grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal. Sprouted wheat breads are allowed, too. Fruits high in natural sugars like apples, strawberries and mangos are permitted. Moderate amounts of protein that are low in fat make up the rest of your menus. No oil is allowed on this phase. You also do one day of cardio exercise.

Phase Two is considered to be the hardest by a lot of people I've talked to. It is very high protein and high vegetable (though your choices are more limited than the other phases.) No grains or fruits except lemons and limes are allowed. Strength training is the exercise you complete on this phase.

Phase Three adds back in good grains and fruits, plus some healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and nuts. This was the easiest phase for me. Exercise for this phase is supposed to be a relaxing activity. I just took nice, meandering walks at a slow pace for mine.

You really have to get the book to understand the why's of this diet. There is a whole lot of chemistry involved. Plus, the book has some really good recipes to get you started. Once I understood the phases and what you could/couldn't eat on each one, I could adapt some of my own recipes to work on the plan.

Now here are some of the things you can't eat/drink on this diet:

No corn products
No wheat products, with the exception of sprouted bread like Ezekiel bread
No dairy - it was hard giving up cheese!
No caffeine - bye bye, morning coffee
No refined sugars - the only sweeteners you can use are stevia and xylitol
No soy - the exception is tamari sauce, a gluten free soy sauce
No alcohol - not a problem until I got sick and needed cough syrup
No dried fruit or juice
No artificial sweeteners
No fat free anything

I don't care for stevia, so I chose xylitol as my sweetener. It's pricy but I felt like it was worth the cost. It's imperative to get birch xylitol instead of something corn-based, though.

Even though I drank a cup of coffee each morning prior to starting the program, I only had one day of withdrawal headaches. Some people who drink a lot of coffee experience more serious withdrawal symptoms like fatigue and the shakes. Now that my 28 days are up, I really don't have a burning desire to go back to drinking coffee. That's not to say I'd turn down a coffee date with a friend. I just don't feel like a need java to start my day like I did before.

One of the rules on this plan is to drink lots of water. You're supposed to drink half your weight in ounces each day. That's a lot of water! You're also supposed to get adequate rest, like 8 hours of sleep each night. But I couldn't do that because I got up a few times to go potty after drinking all the water! LOL!

I'm going to tell you right now, the key to success on this nutritional plan is planning. I mapped out every meal and every snack and made sure I had the ingredients on hand. I cut up veggies ahead of time so I could grab them for a quick snack. Basically, veggies are unlimited so if you ever get hungry on this diet, just eat some celery or a salad to fill you up.

The only real drawback to this plan is the cost of food. Buying fresh produce and healthy food is expensive! I easily tacked on $50 each week to our regular grocery budget, buying tons of veggies and fruits, nitrate-free meats and sprouted bread products. Now that I don't have to eat as much for every meal, I can scale back the budget and still keep buying healthy.

One of the upsides to this program was that my family tried new dishes with me and even liked some of them! Neither child liked cabbage much before this, but now they love it. That's a win in my book!

Ok, so does this diet plan work?

My answer is yes, it worked for me. If you stick with it and eat the phase-appropriate foods, you'll lose weight. I started the plan on January 5 and ended on February 1. In that 4-week period, I lost 14 pounds. And I had a great deal of energy. Eating real foods keep you full and satisfied.

My best friend and her husband decided to follow the program with me. She also lost 14 pounds, and he lost 24! He did a bit more exercise than the program demanded, though. They've been so pleased that they're going to do one more 28-day cycle to see if they can lose some more.

Now, just a disclaimer. As with any diet program, you need to follow the advice of your doctor. If you have a metabolic disorder or a thyroid problem, you definitely want to get your doctor's input before starting this program. Since it's all about getting the most out of your metabolism, your doctor can tell you if this will help you lose weight.

If you want to try the Fast Metabolism Diet, here are my best tips for you before you get started:

1. Read the book. It really is the best way to understand this eating plan. And
    you will refer back to if often, especially during the first week when you're
    unsure if you're eating the right things on each phase. It's also a great way
    to remind yourself that this isn't just about losing weight. It's about waking up
    and repairing your metabolism so it will function as it should even when you
    are not following the diet.

2. Follow Haylie Pomroy's Pinterest boards. You can find them here. She       
    regularly pins new recipes and gives tips on how to make them appropriate
    for each phase. I found a number of yummy recipes that I'll continue to
    prepare even though I'm no longer following the plan.

3. Map out your menus for each day for one week. Don't do all 4 weeks at
    once. You might want to try one of the recipes in the book, so you put it down
    as a lunch or dinner for each week. Then you prepare it and find out you or
    your family don't like it. Now you've got to come up with a new plan and you
    get discouraged that all your hard planning work is for nought. 

4. Check to see if your local grocery stores carry nitrite-free lunchmeat.
    The only store around here that did was Publix. They had two kinds of nitrite-
    free turkey. I chose the smoked kind. It became my go-to snack for the protein
    heavy Phase 2. I could just grab a couple of slices and a handful of celery.
    Since it was free of added chemicals, it tasted very plain. But I liked it. It was
     clean and fresh-tasting to me.

And here are some tips once you've jumped on the bandwagon:

5. Fill a pitcher with the amount of water you need to drink each day.
    I kept mine in the fridge because I enjoy cold over room temperature water. I
    was surprised how much water I really needed to consume. Water is pretty
    much the only beverage I drink, so I thought I was getting enough. I wasn't
    coming close to the daily recommended amount for everyone, let alone the
    amount of water I needed on this plan.

6. Don't weigh yourself every day. There will be some fluctuation from day to
    day. If you weight yourself and find out you've gained a pound since the day
    before, how likely are you to get discouraged? Very likely! It's normal on this
    plan to see fluctuation, especially on protein-heavy Phase 2. Instead, weigh
    yourself once a week, right before you start next week's phases. It will be so
    much easier to stick with the program!

7. Prepare snacks ahead of time if you can. Having celery cut up, ready to
    eat, saved me from grabbing something I shouldn't. I generally don't keep junk
    food around anyway, but I do have dried fruit for snacks. On this plan, dried
    fruit is a no-no. Even though it would have been a healthy choice any other
    time, it would have thrown me off my eating plan. Why do all this hard work
    only to be done in by a couple of snacks I shouldn't have had? Preparation is
    the key.

Now is this eating plan for everyone? No. It does take a lot of time to plan and prepare the food. And you won't be eating out much, if at all. If you don't enjoy cooking, this diet could present a challenge to you. But you will be eating real, whole foods with no chemically stuff. The recipes on the book serve 4-6 people, so your family can enjoy the wholesome food with you.

My favorite new recipe is Haylie Pomroy's Italian Garden Meatballs. They are juicy and flavorful and don't need any sauce to make them delicious. I made double batches so I could freeze some for snacks, as well as meals. I will be making them often in the future, too.

My conclusion about the whole thing - this diet works if you stick with it. The results were well-worth the time and effort I put into it. I would not hesitate to go back on the plan if I needed to rev up my metabolism again.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mango Smoothie with Spinach

A friend of mine got the NutriBullet from Magic Bullet a couple of months ago. When I saw how great it worked and how easy it was to clean, I wanted one, too.

Thankfully, my husband found one on sale at Sam's. I use it almost every day for something - blending smoothies, grinding nuts, liquefying tomatoes for homemade sauce. It's awesome!

One of my new favorite smoothies is this Mango Smoothie with Spinach. I've never been one to enjoy spinach in a smoothie. But the sweetness of the mango and pineapple in this recipe completely hides the taste of the spinach.

Here's what you need:

1 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
A handful of fresh spinach leaves (I know that's not a precise measurement, but I just eyeball it)
1 to 1 1/2 cups of water or almond milk

Place the ingredients in a blender. I love using my NutriBullet! Blend until smooth.

I went from this:
to this:
in about 20 seconds.

Even if you don't have a NutriBullet, you can enjoy this naturally sweet smoothie by using your blender. It's so delicious you have to give it a try!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Menu Plan February 2-8

We survived January! Doesn't it seem like the first month of the year drags on? Maybe because it's cold. But here we are in February already.

Mr. Lego celebrates his 14th birthday in a couple of week, but we're letting him enjoy it a bit early. He no longer wants theme parties. Or really any parties at all, even though we've thrown some good ones, including this Mario Kart party and an awesome Phineas and Ferb party. Instead, he just wants a couple of his friends to come over and spend the night, watch movies and play video games until the wee hours of the morning. Hey, that's easy for me, so why not?

He requested pizza and an ice cream cake. A Dairy Queen opened up a couple of miles from our house, so picking up an ice cream cake will be on my to-do list. And for breakfast the next morning, he wants muffins. Such an easy kid to please!

So here's what I've got planned for the rest of the week:

Chicken parmesan casserole over linguine

Pretzel dogs, homemade fries

Baked egg rolls, garlic sesame noodles

Cabbage rolls, pierogies

Pizza, ice cream cake

Grilled hamburgers, mac and cheese

Turkey rice soup

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.