Eat to Energize

I've been trying really hard lately to eat well; to have a healthier breakfast in the morning (first thing when I get up, rather than two hours later at work), snack on produce throughout the day, and have a more interesting, but healthy dinner.

A while back, I bought a book, "Mad Hungry," by Lucinda Scala Quinn. It's about how to feed men and boys; I got it because I thought there might be more recipes in there that Billy would be interested in. I've found out, though, that there is so much more! She really tells you how to make cooking easier and more enjoyable; how to get the most out of your food and your day! There are tips galore. One of the main tips, which I'm now trying to get into, is to have an established routine because everything is easier when it's all laid out before you.

So, this week I began a routine, planning out four meals (since the other three nights would be booked already): enchiladas salsa verde, coq au vin, potsticker dumplings, and chili.

Coq au Vin. I know it looks like a photo from some Chinese takout menu, but this is chicken simmered in red wine with garlic, onions, and herbs! Amazing.
The first thing I did was make a list of all the ingredients I didn't have on hand, so Billy and I could pick everything up Sunday and be prepared for the rest of the week. Usually, I'm so indecisive and feel like we don't have enough variety in the cupboards, I end up making the same handful of dishes all the time. I usually default to pasta with tomatoes and herbs (actually, one of my favorite and most satisfying meals, though), steak with wine sauce and some type of potato, or baked chicken (plain, spiced, or curry) with, again, some type of potato or coconut rice. Without planned meals, I just don't buy less common ingredients at the store. I figure, I don't want to crowd my kitchen with food that never gets touched, because you know how easy it is to find something interesting, buy it, and never use it because you just don't get to purposefully finding something to use it in.

Planning out the week completely changed this, though. Not only did we eat meals we'd never had at home before (or necessarily at all), but we had something vastly different every single night. With a plan, I was also comfortable cooking straight after work. Usually, I'll sit down to relax first, mostly because I'm exhausted and just plain don't want to cook, but not having any idea what to make compounds that. Cooking after work, though, rather than immediately sitting/laying down for an hour or so, gave me more energy to last the rest of the night! Cooking, itself, obviously kept me awake, but since I was eating at a decent time, I was given an energy burst that would last me until bedtime, rather than finding myself falling asleep in front of the television. I've ended up sleeping better, as well, because of the lack of any sort of nap.

I've been practicing, generally, the same routine in the morning. My main plan is to start cooking breakfast foods that can be taken to work, like frittatas, homemade Hot Pockets, hard boiled eggs, etc--things that are more hardy and will give us real energy boosts, unlike carbs. Both Billy and I eat cereal for breakfast and, at least for me, it does nothing. I wait until work to eat (because I take so long to get ready), which makes it worse because that's two hours between waking up and breakfast, which defeats the metabolic boost it's supposed to give. Now, I haven't actually done any of this yet; I literally haven't had time this week...but I have been eating eggs daily for breakfast, directly after my shower, and I actually do feel the difference! I definitely feel much more awake at work. Being on a computer all day, my eyes get droopy pretty quickly, but I've been fine all this week until today...I'm guessing because I didn't eat breakfast until about 10 and had sugary cereal instead of eggs (it's not my fault, my dog kept me from getting up on time!).

Anyway, my point is that there really is something to this routine stuff. I think people find it difficult to cook not only because it takes effort that they don't want to make after work, but because they're unprepared, which makes it worse. Defaulting to what's easiest is...easier! Even coming up with a plan or routine seems like unwanted work, but it's not really. I think it's actually fun because you get to look through a cookbook at all the different recipes, ogling the most delicious looking photos, and picking out what you want to try, as if you were at a restaurant.t I mean, maybe it's just me, but I love looking through restaurant menus to find the most appealing dish to order, so why wouldn't I want to do that at home?

I'm just hoping I can continue this trend without giving into laziness and that more people discover how much easier cooking is with a routine and how food can truly enrich their lives...because I really do believe that most people love food (nearly) as much as I do.


Whiskey and Chocolate

This past weekend was the bachelor/bachelorette parties I spoke of in my last entry. To illustrate how much fun I had, I probably need only say that I slept for eight or nine hours Sunday...morning/afternoon/evening as opposed to Saturday night! Between the end of the bachelorette party and Monday, I was probably awake for only four hours. Crazy! I do not like to sleep. Sleep is a waste of my time. Of course, I'm constantly exhausted and try my best to get at least seven hours a night, but during the day? Naps are not an option...though I often fall into an extreme coma against my will.

Anyway, the party was just absolutely awesome and the night flew by so quickly! We started out at the bride/groom's house, quickly ate some of my exquisitely decorated cake (this is the part where you recall what kind of cake I made and laugh), hopped onto the party bus to make our way to the bars, and within what felt like an hour, we were dropping people off. That's how you know you had a great time; it just passes you by in a blink. I only spent $10 too, which is pretty amazing! Of course, I only bought two drinks, but mixed drinks are usually more than $5 a piece.

Beginning of the night...
End of the night...Apparent by the table full of bar condiments!

The only thing I would do differently about that night is bring home some of the whiskey brownies...or actually put the tiny whiskey cake I set aside (using the leftover batter) in the fridge rather than leave it out all night on an open-air cake stand. OOPS.

Oh, and use a different recipe for the bachelorette cake/cupcakes. I didn't want to make a chocolate cake because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible (if you know what I mean), but I hate yellow cake; I absolutely loathe it. It was the simplest thing I could think of, though, and my compromise was to add crushed pineapple, so it would be more like a pineapple upside-down cake. Too bad the pineapple didn't add enough flavor! I actually believe that, had there been more fruit, it would have been great. But I'm entirely unsatisfied with the outcome! I'm sure not everybody felt the absolute same way, though. The meringue frosting was at least amazing.

Of course, I have plenty of leftover "pineapple" cupcakes! The one thing I do not want to eat. I actually hate whiskey, but those cupcakes were pretty good! I think it was the fact that the whiskey was set against so much cocoa; the cake was practically black! I also made bourbon caramel to pour over the tops, which was really my favorite part. I could eat spoonfuls of that...maybe. At first bite, it's really delicious and then the back-flavor of bourbon hits you.

Just sampling the ingredients! I recommend leaving the whiskey for the cake...

The combination has inspired me to try something similar with other liquors. I've brushed straight liquor and liquor-infused simple syrups onto cake before, but I've never actually baked it into the cake, and especially caramel, until now. Perhaps, soon, I'll experiment!


...Go Together like a Horse and Carriage

*Note: I stole the entry title from a post a friend made about a completely different subject. But it's so perfect! So, thanks Dustin ;)

I began this entry with the intention of talking about the sudden weather change, what it means for my cooking, and the upcoming bachelor/bachelorette dessert task I'm taking on, which I'm pretty excited for, if I have the time to actually be creative.

I'll start with dessert...

My friends are getting married at the end of this month (17 more days! Don't worry, I had to check my calendar to come up with that number, haha) and their bachelor/bachelorette parties are this Saturday. Megan and I have made several bachelorette party cakes, for parties that we're not even invited to; we get asked simply because we always do it, and we're good at it! Of course, being as blatantly dense as I can be at times, I didn't even think of making one for this party. I offer to bake a cake for all of my friends' birthdays, but I let a bachelorette party go right over my head. The only reason the idea came to me is because someone inquired this past weekend. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it!

So, Megan has agreed to help me make the cake. If you're wondering what exactly the cake is, just consider the most inappropriate theme for bachelorette parties and that is the cake. If that doesn't help, perhaps you're a Friends fan and recall the bunny-shaped birthday cake Rachel ordered for her daughter's first birthday, which was not in the shape of a bunny ;)

When we make the cake, we usually end up with enough leftover batter for a small batch of cupcakes and I thought this was my perfect opportunity to make the cutest cupcakes possible! Then, I remembered the wedding-themed cupcake liners I saw at Sur la Table; they came with little cutout brides and grooms on toothpicks. Adorable! It's a tossup, though. Spend time making cute little decorations myself...or spend money on some paper decorations that cost more than they probably should...
Bake Cups, Wedding Set
Considering those cupcakes, though, brought me to the realization that the party is starting at the bride's house, which is the location of the bachelor party and, since I'll be there anyway, I thought I should make something fun for the boys! You know they'll devour anything, as men always do...so I figured that's another opportunity to make something fun.

The problem is that I still haven't developed my decorating skills as far as my ambitions. Believe me, if I could make a full-blown (inappropriate) groom's cake, I would. With a full-time job, feeling over-fatigued every night, and only the smallest decorating talent, there's no way that's happening. I don't even know if I'll have the time or energy to accomplish some of my other ideas; for all I know, these will be simple chocolate cupcakes. Let's hope I can pull through!

I love making desserts for my friends, though, because not only do I get to see them happy, but I don't get stuck trying to eat an entire dessert by myself. Now you're thinking, "Her boyfriend lives with her..." But no...that doesn't matter. Billy eats like a bird and, while he loves sweets, he never eats what I make simply because he can't recall that there's anything to eat! People say you need to leave food where a man can see it or he'll never touch it and I have to say...it's so true. Too bad I can't have everything in my fridge sitting front and center.

After having gone up a full size in the past year, I'm excited to make food for someone else to eat :) I'll just ignore the fact that I'll be continually making dessert for myself and Billy anyway. Maybe I should start trying to come up with nutritious, low-fat, low-calorie recipes like I started to years ago...It's actually not that difficult, so I'm not quite sure why I gave up...probably because I started baking for so many other people and didn't want to chance making something bad.

I've been writing this on my lunch break, which is just about up, so I have to run! Pray for my cakes! ;)


A Weekly Family Meal

For a few years now, my parents and I have gone out to dinner every Friday. My mom came up with the idea as a way for us to go out and regularly try something new. In the beginning, it was fairly easy to pick a completely different restaurant each week; after so much time, though, we tend to go back to the same ones over and over. There are only so many to choose from! Like I've said before, though, I love trying new places, so I make a constant effort to find a dinner location that we've never been to.

Tonight, it was Dino's Lounge in Ferndale. I've actually been there once before, but it was years ago with Megan, and my parents (and Billy) had definitely never been. I hadn't even thought of it until Megan and I drove past it last week on our way to Como's and Pinwheel for our incredibly late lunch and dessert. Like Como's, Dino's seems to be based on Italian food. In my opinion, a preponderance of restaurants seem to dabble in Italian food and get it utterly, utterly wrong; usually, it's less than nothing to write home about. Based on my Chicken Scaloppini Risotto tonight, though...Dino's has it right!

I am very picky with my risotto. The first time I'd ever had it, I made it myself and, while the texture was beyond comfort-food-satisfying, it was far too flavorful to stand for more than a couple spoonfuls. It took me three tries to realize that I didn't like the chicken broth flavor, which all of the recipes I'd used called for. Later, I discovered Brio's Sweet Potato and Chicken Risotto, which I thought was amazing when I tried a bit of my mother's, but found too flavorful, yet again, when I finally had a dish of my own. Instead of overpowering chicken broth, however, it had an overpowering flavor of wine. I have yet to perfect risotto at home, but I finally found a dish I can eat and eat...and eat...until I'm actually full.

After dinner, we headed over to Pinwheel because I, of course, needed to satisfy my week-long craving for macarons! I also wanted to brag about all the more interesting selections they have. This time, instead of getting just one of each cookie I wanted to try, I felt the need to ensure I wouldn't be longing for anything particular all day, every day, for the second week in a row. So, I got a few "cappuccino coins," a Mexican chocolate cupcake, a nice cold lemon buttermilk bar, and two of every flavor of macaron. Two...of every...flavor. That's two blackberry, two strawberry, two lemon, two pistachio, two vanilla, two chocolate, and two coffee. I even had a little photo shoot just to show how adorably delectable they really are!

Now, these cookies, as small as they appear, are definitely sweet enough for a person to eat just one. It's really all you need to be satisfied! For that moment...The next day, however, there are no guarantees, which is why I wanted so many! I figured, I want one of each so that I can sample the different flavors, but I want a second of each just in case there's something I really like that I want to sample again :) Since I don't make too many trips to Ferndale and sandwich cookies tend to be tedious, I'm certain I won't overfill myself on these, so this little overindulgence should be just fine :)

Sunday, I'm going to my parents' house so I can help my mom try a new method for cooking ribs, which is how I attained that tender, fragile meat that slipped right from the bone last week (recipe courtesy of Megan's boyfriend, Steve, man-cook extraordinaire!), as well as learn to properly cut up a whole chicken. Since we'll be having dinner there, I thought it only appropriate that I bring a dessert!

So, tomorrow, I expect, hopefully, to either make several tiny blackberry, red currant, and nectarine tarts (each fruit its own individual tart and all tarts baked rather than fresh, which I tend not to prefer) or an attempt at the original gooey butter cake recipe. I've made the common household recipe (in a chocolate version) just about a bazillion times and finally tried, this past week, to make my own. I used my personal brownie recipe as the cake base and then used the gooey butter cake topping. The treats that came out of the oven, I must say, were out of this world...texture-wise. I thought they must literally be the best little hot fudge cakes I'd ever eaten. The only problem is how blatantly rich and sweet they are. In an effort to find out if alternate recipes exist, I discovered that the most common one found is not the original, which, I can only imagine, is not nearly as overly sweet as it doesn't contain a block of cream cheese paired with a pound (yes, a pound) of powdered sugar.

We'll see what happens tomorrow!


A little comfort dessert for a surprisingly eventful week

I feel like, with my constant burning hunger and my absolute pure joy just to eat, one of my absolute favorite activities is to find new restaurants that actually have good food (because, I find, restaurant food is usually anything but special) and bakeries with new treats I've never tried. I especially like doing this with Megan because she is one of the few people I know who loves to do the same! I’m sure others enjoy eating at new places, but Megan seems to be constantly looking for new and different food stops, which is how I got into it and ended up spending my Saturday in Ferndale.

We had “lunch,” which was really dinner as it was after four pm, at Como's Restaurant and Pizzeria, where I had one of the better chicken dishes I’ve found. It was covered, absolutely covered, in roasted garlic. I didn’t even need my sides and I always need a side. After Como’s, we went off to our real destination, Pinwheel Bakery, where I discovered my complete, unqualified love for macarons. All my life, the only macaron I've ever eaten was this past Saturday at Pinwheel, but I'm totally addicted! They’re little almond-based meringue sandwich cookies filled with buttercream and there are so many different flavors! Megan had a coffee macaron, which reminded her of my mocha cupcakes (I haven’t made them in years and should probably fix that!), and I had a blackberry, which was actually pretty fruity tasting with just the right amount of sweet! They were the perfect size, too. You really only needed to eat one, though I wanted to eat ten J

There were actually a lot of different cookies that I'd never seen in a bakery before too…chai tea cookies (I think like Mexican wedding cookies, but with different spices), cardamom cookies, tiny "cappuccino coins" with equally tiny chocolate morsels, even rosemary cookies! I had to get myself a little cellophane baggy filled with one of each, just in case I’d find a new favorite and because I might discover something I’d like to reproduce at home. Of course, the winner was the macaron and I had only tried one of five flavors.

After our little food outing, Meg and I did some shopping, popped by her boyfriend's fantasy football draft for a drink, which then turned to two, and, finally, I had just enough time to stop by my mom's to pick something up and then drive aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back home to get Billy so we could drive half an hour in the opposite direction to be late to a friend's apartment for the funniest drinking game of all time, set to The Jersey Shore, that is sure to get you off your rocker.

Having stayed out late for a friend's barbecue the night before, it was definitely a weekend filled with more fun than I'm used to! I was simply exhausted by Sunday and yearning for some comfort food, which brings us to my very first barbecue ribs, which were so tender (thanks to a method I learned from Megan’s boyfriend), we had to eat them with forks because the entire sheath of meat would fall cleanly off the bone when you tried to pick it up…

…and also, my very first clafoutis, made with figs and raspberries.

I got the recipe from my mom's copy of The Best of Gourmet: 1988 Edition...which she just bought for a dollar, by the way...When I saw the dish had figs in it, a fruit you rarely see in recipes anymore, I just couldn't pass! It was so incredibly easy to make too. All I had to do was slice the figs in half, arrange them in a dish with the berries, mix up some batter, and pour it in! 

After that, I let my oven do all the work and spent the next hour laying on the couch with the amazing scent of freshly baked fruit wafting all around me.

When the clafoutis had finally cooled, just enough to serve, I found myself finishing off my small slice so quickly and fervently, I had to take twice as much for seconds. It was everything I was looking for that night...warm and sweet, moist and refreshing...creamy, yet chewy, yet crunchy (from the sugar sprinkled over the top). I'd like to take a piece to work every…single…day this week to warm up in our little toaster oven, but I'm going to at least attempt to behave myself!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...