Friday, August 13, 2010

Breakin' the Fast

Breakfast makes this girl happy!

It's no secret that I passionately love breakfast - it's the most important meal of the day, right? Unfortunately, most of my life I used to eat a heavily carb-based breakfast, i.e. a bowl of cereal with milk, or a bagel and orange juice. I always wondered why I’d be starving an hour or two later.

After meeting with a nutritionist and reading lots of healthy eating blogs and fitness magazines, I discovered that I wasn’t giving my body the mix of nutrition it needed first thing in the morning. Your body needs carbs, protein, fiber and healthy fat (nuts, seeds, olive oil, etc.) at every meal to stay in tip top shape.

At first I was scared of eating so many calories (400+) that early in the day, especially the extra fat. Now, I think of good breakfast as a gift to my body. I’m starting the day off with the fuel I need to eat healthy the rest of the day and feel good. If you don’t eat breakfast, you SHOULD! Think about it – if you split up the word into “break” and “fast”, that’s literally what you’re doing - breaking the fast your body has been in since you went to sleep last night. You NEED those calories to get your metabolism going and to give you energy. A cup of coffee helps, too J

Here are a few of my favorite breakfasts.

Happy Belly Oatmeal

1. Stir all your dry ingredients together first – this helps all the flavas mix together.

- 1 packet instant oatmeal, any flavor – but take out the sugary stuff at the bottom of the packet (there will still be a few oats in it, but plenty left over to cook). I did this because my mom gave us a huge box of instant oatmeal packets from Costco and I didn’t want it to go to waste and eat the extra sugar. OR, use plain oats and add a little cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice and stevia added for lots of flavor with no extra calories.

- Add a tablespoon or two of flaxseed, wheat germ, or chia seeds for extra crunch and antioxidants.

- Add half a scoop of flavored protein powder for extra punch – you can only taste the flavor and it fills you up! Some of my favorite brands are Amazing Grass, Jay Robb, Vega, Tera’s Whey and Designer Whey.

2. Add the wet ingredients.

- Use your choice of non-/lowfat milk (however much you want based on how thick or runny you like it). It’s more filling than cooking with water and you get the extra nutrients. I like almond milk (super creamy!) or skim milk. Add to your oat mixture and stir well.

- That being said, add a little water to the mix before you cook it – it increases the volume and makes you feel like you’re eating more. Always a good thing!

- Add cut-up fruit (strawberries, bananas, blueberries, peaches, apples, whatever you like) before you cook it so it gets nice and warm. This creates a more dessert-like effect J

- Microwave for 1 min. 30 sec.

- After microwaving, add a tablespoon of nut butter for healthy fat and satiety (and just plain darn good tastiness). The heat of the oats melts the nut butter and makes it extra creamy and thick, with that stick-to-your-ribs sensation. I love organic unsalted peanut butter mixed in.

- Depending on how sweet you like it, you may want to add a bit of stevia – it’s all-natural and has no calories! Hooray for natural sweeteners J You could also add some sugar (regular or brown), agave, or maple syrup. I have never tried coconut oil but I bet that’d be tasty too.

3. Eat and swoon. Seriously, you will - it's THAT good.

Make My Day Breakfast Parfait

- Add your choice of fruit to the bowl FIRST (I used fresh blueberries, strawberries, and grapes) – you’ll get more fruit that way. Duh. J

- Spoon on your nonfat yogurt next, just enough to coat it (I usually use 5-6 tablespoons).

- Add a few tablespoons of flaxseed, chia seeds, and/or wheat germ.

- Add a SMALL amount (~ ¼ cup) of granola for healthy fat & crunch.

- Mix well and enjoy!

The trick I’ve found is to add the healthiest, most filling stuff first, i.e. fruit and oatmeal. You’ll get more servings of fruit that way, extra nutrients, and not fill up on the not-as-healthy-but-still-good-for-you-in-moderation stuff like granola. You can always add more granola later.

PB&F(ruit) Toast

- Toast two slices of whole wheat bread or a low-calorie bagel. Spread with organic peanut butter (and natural fruit spread if you wish) and sprinkle cinnamon on top. Add your choice of fresh fruit - here I added delicious pear slices. Stuff your face.

- Have some more fruit on the side to help fill you up. Continue to stuff your face. The nectarine pictured was fantastic - so ripe and juicy!

Breakfast Sammich (yes, I like to say “sammich” for fun. You know you do too.)

- Spray a ramekin with cooking spray. Add 1 egg white (separate from the yolk by cracking the egg in half into a bowl, and pouring the egg over the shell back and forth so the yolk stays in the shell and the white runs into the ramekin) and salt and pepper to taste. Microwave until it’s cooked – make sure you check on it every 5-10 seconds, and cover with a wet paper towel so it doesn’t explode and leave little egg bits all over the inside of your microwave. NOT fun to clean up.

- Slice and toast a low-calorie whole wheat bagel or sandwich thin (I love Western Alternative bagels). Add the cooked egg white to one side of your bagel, add a slice of reduced-fat cheese (Jarlsberg and Swiss are good), several slices of fresh basil, a few slices of breakfast meat (both ham and turkey are delish), and my favorite sauce! It gives it a great extra kick.

- Nom nom nom away. Have some fresh fruit on the side too.

What are your favorite healthy breakfasts?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pizza Pizza!

Anyone remember those Little Caesar's commercials? Aww yeah :)

A while back my mom and I were visiting the mother ship and they were offering all these special products that day. There was a company selling these delicious flatbreads covered in all sorts of yummy toppings, like pesto, sundried tomato, za'atar, etc. Next thing we knew, the salesgirl had charmed and flattered us into buying a 3 pack of these tasty breads. My mom sent me off to our new apartment with one of each, and after hanging out in the freezer for a few weeks they were yelling at me to be eaten.

So we ate them. I decided pizza was the course of action that had to be taken, so I thought long and hard about what toppings to use on each flatbread. I think our varieties included sundried tomato, spinach + feta, and za'atar perhaps? I can't remember. My new mini herb garden was inspiration for the evening's toppings:

Herbalicious! Why use the dried stuff when there is bountiful fresh basil outside? :)

Fresh herbs...ahhh :) Back to the pizza. Here are the toppings I went with:
  • slices of Brie and pear
  • barbecue sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, and garlic herb chicken (thanks Target!)
  • tomato sauce, fresh basil, fresh grated Parmesan cheese (PLEASE don't buy the stuff in the green can - it makes the angels cry) and homegrown tomato slices my mom got from a consignment store (one of the ladies had grown them at her house and my mom sweet-talked them into giving her a few with her purchase ;) )

Gathering ze ingredients. This...

...turned into these beauties:

And me in my hurriedness to cut the chicken I had just taken out of the oven, and in my inexperience never having turned our broiler on, did not realize the heating power bestowed in the mighty oven.
Less than 5 minutes in the broiler --> crispier than the Colonel fries his chicken. Oh well. It still tasted good once we cut the burnt part off.

The others still turned out delicious:
And that, my friends, is the Hubby and mine's first pizza adventure. Any way you slice it, we cut the cheese (har, har) :)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sinister Grape Jelly

Whilst I continue my job search, I try to find fun and interesting recipes or think of creative meals to make throughout the day, even if they're simple.

Such was the case for brekkie: I had the rest of the green monsta I made yesterday, plus some Nature's Own whole wheat bread (it's delicious, and only 50 calories a slice!) with organic PB & strawberry fruit spread. I am trying to stay away from icky high fructose corn syrup, so it's nice to have all of those typical pantry staples without the extra sugar. In my opinion, the less junk we put in our bodies, the better!

Can you believe I used to be afraid of PB&J? Funny story: when I was in kindergarten, for some odd reason I only liked PB sandwiches. No jam, thank you ma'am! One day, my mom told me she put a "surprise" in my lunchbox. During lunchtime, I took one bite of my sandwich, only to burst into tears after finding a sinister layer of that purple stuff covering my beloved PB. My teacher came to the rescue, however, and scraped off the jelly with a knife. I was not to be consoled, however, as any trace of the jelly on my PB just wouldn't cut it. Literally. Pun intended.

And so the story comes to an end on the spring break mission trip I took to Guatemala during my senior year of college. We bought the necessities to make PB&Js for lunch during one of our work days, and deep down I was scared to try it. Manual labor makes one hungry, however, so I sucked it up and took a bite.

How could I have NOT been eating that gloriousness for 17+ years?!?! Sweet baby Jesus! I ate every last bite of that sandwich and haven't looked back since. PB&J, I love you together as you rightfully should be. Never again will I separate one of you from your beloved as you tingle on my tastebuds. Ah...bliss :)

Fortunately, my lunch today was tear-free. I had a midmorning snack of several turkey slices and some fresh strawberries from the farmers' market last weekend:

I bought a lot of spinach on sale last week, and it needed to be eaten, so I felt inspired to make a Greek-style sandwich. I used a Western Alternative Sweet Wheat bagel (110 calories, 8g fiber and 7g protein EACH! So much healthy deliciousness!), spread some TJ's Roasted Red Pepper hummus on both sides, and added sliced cucumber, tomato, spinach and a little crumbled light Feta cheese. Totally hit the spot.
Look at all that hummusy goodness stickin' out on the spinach!

I also had some grapes and a Fiber One Oats & Chocolate bar. Those things are addicting.

Hubby had a long day at work so I decided to cook dinner. My mom had gifted us with some frozen pork tenderloin she cooked the other week. I reheated it in the oven at 350 for an hour, and it ended up being the perfect temperature. It tasted like she marinated it in teriyaki sauce, so I heated together some of her homemade nectarine preserves and TJ's Peach Salsa for a little sauce:

The finished product:

Plus a side salad of spinach, feta, chopped raw almonds, clementines, cracked black pepper, and raspberry vinaigrette.

Of course dessert is always in order, so I mixed together fresh strawberries, blueberries, a few chocolate chips and nuked it for 15 seconds to melt the chocolate. I topped it off with some pumpkin flax granola I got on sale at Sprouts today (one of my favorite markets!). It was almost like a fruit crisp with chocolate - delish :)

I also had a few bites of ice cream after our evening walk ;) Oh..and these must be made - stat. Night all!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Recipe: Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Bok choy is one of those vegetables that you think you've heard of or think you know what it is until you actually try it. I had it for the first time recently (I can't remember where) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The texture is reminiscent of celery or uncooked cabbage and it has a mild, almost nutty flavor. I found some on the produce clearance shelf at Mitsuwa when I was in OC the other day visiting my parents. Mitsuwa is an awesome Japanese supermarket and they have everything Japanese under the sun, including a huge food court, fresh sushi, and lots of exotic fruits and veggies. Fun times :)

I figured stir fry would be a good choice for the bok choy, and Hubby requested shrimp as his protein of choice. Here's what I came up with.

Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir Fry

Get your goodies together (I ended up nixing the celery), and rinse all ze veggies.

Chop up 'ze choy and separate the stems and leaves. It will look like zees.

What up, choy?

Combine bok choy stems, red bell pepper, carrots, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Add enough soy sauce and Sriracha to coat and according to what your taste buds prefer (I like it spicy). Take 1 piece of your lime (so this would be 1/4 of an entire lime) and squeeze the juice over the veggie mix. Then stir, baby, stir! Cover it up with plastic wrap and let it chill out in the fridge for an hour or so.

Side note: I used House Shirataki Noodles for my starch. I've been wanting to try them for a long time and found them at Mitsuwa for really cheap (!).

Look at those awesome nutrition stats!

They need to be drained and patted dry very well, so make sure you do that if you use them. Ze noodles will look like so:

Let the cooking commence! Add EVOO and garlic to your heated pan...

Add your veggies...

Add your shrimpies...

Add the bok choy leaves...

...until they are wilted, like so:

If you chose the noodles like moi, add 'em. Then squeeze the other half of your lime on top to get all that extra citrusy flavor.

Sprinkle your herbs on top, and add extra soy sauce if you wish. Voila!

Also excellent with a glass of Two Buck Chuck Chardo :)
Jammies Rating: 3.5/5 stars. Yummy, but a tad too spicy.

No meal for me is complete without dessert, so I had a scoop each of Stater Bros.' (local supermarket chain) Cookies & Cream + Praline Pecan light ice cream:
See all those tasty cookie bits, and the caramel swirl on top? SO good - you'd never know it was lowfat ice cream!

Tonight's pajama couture: pink polka-dotted flannel jammies from Victoria's Secret. My mom sent them to me my freshman year of college as a spring semester final exam treat :) They are super warm (it's been unusually chilly here this summer)!

Oh yeah, the recipe.

Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir Fry - serves 2 (with plenty of leftover veggies)

5-6 bulbs (is that what they're called?) bok choy
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 cup diced baby carrots (or regular, whatever you have)
1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, diced
1/2 lime, cut into 2 pieces
soy sauce
Sriracha hot sauce (you can find it in the Asian section of your grocery store)
1/4 tsp. crushed garlic
Enough shrimp for 2 people (I used large frozen shrimp, shelled and de-veined - it came out to 15-16 pieces), or whatever protein you prefer
salt and pepper to taste
steamed rice or noodles
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

  • Rinse all your veggies.
  • Cut off the bok choy leaves and set aside. Cut the stems into small pieces.
  • Combine bok choy stems, red bell pepper, carrots, and ginger in a mixing bowl.
  • Add enough soy sauce and Sriracha to coat and according to what your taste buds prefer (I like it spicy).
  • Take 1 piece of your lime (so this would be 1/4 of an entire lime) and squeeze the juice over the veggie mix. Toss it all together, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it hang out in the fridge for a while.
  • Heat some EVOO in your pan and add the garlic. Saute on low heat until the garlic is a-sizzlin'.
  • Add the veggie mixture to the pan and cook until tender.
  • Add your shrimp and cook until they turn pink.
  • Add bok choy leaves and cook until wilted. Squeeze the other half of your lime over the top to get all the juice out.
  • Serve over cooked rice or noodles and sprinkle your fresh herbs on top. Add more soy sauce to taste.
  • Enjoy!

Keep jammin', y'all!

Breakfast of Champions

My mom loves cookbooks, and she's gotten me hooked on collecting them. About a month or so ago she read an article in the L.A. Times about a group of ex-nuns who run a retreat center in Santa Barbara. They sound like incredible women of faith and as a lover of all things retreat-related, I would love to visit there someday.

Anyway, the article talked about their fantastic cooking abilities and the women have published a cookbook featuring some of their favorite recipes. My mom ordered it and I took the liberty of making their Banana Nut Bread. I kept the recipe basically the same, except I cut the sugar down to 1/3 cup, added about 2 tbsp. of orange zest, 1 tsbp. cinnamon, and 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt. It was good and extremely moist - just the way I like my banana bread :)

This morning we had plenty of leftover bread in our apartment, so I had the brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) of toasting it and spreading a little organic peanut butter on the top. Sweet baby Jesus, it was good.

I have also been reading too-many-to-count healthy living blogs for the past several months, and had been wanting to try Angela's Green Monster. Don't be afraid of the spinach - it's good for you! :) I doubled the Virgin Green Monster Recipe and used 1 banana plus 1 cup of strawberries for the fruit. 'Twas delish and I definitely plan to make it again - thanks Angela!

The green monsta, banana nut bread + PB, and *$'s coffee in one of my favorite mugs from Anthropologie. Woo breakfast! It's definitely my favorite meal of the day :)

What a Hamburger's All About

So I didn't have my camera with me this afternoon, but Hubby and I went here for lunch after church:

It was, is, and always will be...EPIC. I love In-N-Out so much. In-N-Out is to California what cheesecake is to New York, what barbecue is to the south, what cheesesteaks are to Philly. It was one of the things I missed most in my 4 years at college in Tennessee and the following almost 4 years living up and down the East Coast.

I always order the same thing, too. Give me a #3 (hamburger with ketchup, mustard, lettuce and tomato; fries; and a drink) with a Diet Coke any day and I can die a happy woman. SO good. Every time I hear their jingle on the radio or TV it makes me smile: "In-N-Out, In-N-Ouuuut...that's what a hamburger's...all about!"

The remnants of my lunch...just look at that condensation :) Pure bliss.

Other fun things about In-N-Out:
- They have a secret menu you can order from, including grilled cheeses, Neapolitan shakes (choc. + vanilla + strawberry layered together), and animal-style fries.
- They are still family owned and operated (out of my hometown, I might add).
- On the bottom of their cups and back of their burger bags there are Bible verse references. Clever way to share one's faith if you ask me :)

If you haven't tried it, you're missing out. Go. Now. Unless of course, you're not on the West Coast - then buy a plane ticket and get your butt out here! :)

It begins...

All right, blog world, here I go...

I have had this blog set up for quite some time and am now just getting around to starting it. The blog world is not new to me - I had a blog the last few years of college and while I volunteered with my church after colllege, but such things can only last so long. My name is Lauren and I love to cook and eat delicious food. I have fond memories of cooking with my grandmothers when I went to visit, and being so excited to have a personalized apron as a four-year-old. Since I was a child I've always loved to bake, whether it be Betty Crocker brownie mixes or attempting chocolate souffle from scratch with my best friend in high school. The first batch of egg whites failed, but gosh darnit, we persevered and it turned out awesome.

I also like to wear my pajamas at any given time of the day. My friends have always teased me because I enjoy coming back from any given place and exclaiming, "I'm gonna go put my jammies on!" I am a bit of a homebody, but more than anything I enjoy the comfort and coziness of a good pair of jammies and feeling relaxed in them. That, and my grandmother has gifted me with more pairs of jammies over the 26 Christmases in my life than I'll ever know what to do with :) Be on the lookout for pajama couture in the future.

In college I enjoyed making cakes for parties and decorating them with fun frostings. My favorite cake was one I decorated for a Star Wars movie marathon I hosted at my apartment senior year (yes, I am a Star Wars nerd too).

Circa 2005
No, I did not attend UCLA...but my dad did and I am a Bruin fan for life :)

Such is evidenced by the following picture:
I invited friends over to watch the UCLA-USC Tennessee. How's that for loyalty? ;)

Movie premieres are also worthy of cake decorating:

Et voila! I love good food, and I love to eat it...even when it is 90 degrees out in Rome and my hair has a mind of its own:

And the caffeine buzz from your first real espresso drives you crazy:

So there you have it, folks. I'm no Martha Stewart, but food and writing bring me joy and I hope this blog provides a fun outlet to share yummy food, happy times, and good memories with others. Bon appetit!
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