Food52: Google's New Recipe Search

Really interesting post about Google's new recipe search. My short ribs wouldn't even make the cut!

Google's New Recipe Search - Blog - food52


Rule #1 About Dieting

Don't start it unprepared. Do your research to figure out the write diet for you, and then plan it out for at least the first week so you don't have to stress about what the rules are.

Which is why I'm taking a slight sabbatical from my own. I was suppose to start the Flat Belly Diet on Tuesday, but I was facing an upcoming weeks of supper clubs, visitors expecting brunch, and really amazing meals out that I still haven't come down from. Sure, I could have started Flat Belly on Tuesday, but it would have been half-hearted, and I doubt I would have lasted a few days.

So I hope you understand that I'm continuing my calorie counting through the weekend and will start fresh with my Sassy Water on Monday.


A Big THANK YOU to two amazing parents

John and Patricia, newly retired
As you've read, I've had a pretty amazing week of excellent food, and I wanted to make sure I gave credit to my amazing parents who made the dinners possible. They wanted to have some exciting meals on their trip, and I think we were all happy with the results. I love you guys so much--thank you for letting me live out some of my 'dream dinners' of the year.
Outside Restaurant Eve

Volt: A Dinner in Wonderland

One of two flying pigs at Table 21
So as you remember, last week I was a little concerned about overdoing it on my dining options this week. Two top tier restaurants in a weekend? A little excessive. But when my parents come in town from San Antonio, land of the chain restaurant, it's no wonder they want to do it up big. The only requirement: don't take us to a place we can go in Texas.
Graeme Ritchie, sous chef in charge for the evening
As I've already said in my Restaurant Eve Review, that night was a great success, but what waited us at Volt was more. And in a completely different way that made the meals almost incomparable. The food at RE? Fantastic. But the energy, excitement, and build-up of attending a molecular gastronomy tasting menu for the first time kind of stacked the deck in Volt's favor. This is up there with La Reve as my best dining experience ever.
For Wine: Two bottles was perfect for four people
Thanks to a random patron who cancelled for Table 21 on Sunday night, we were not only able to try the restaurant's most hearlded courses like yellowfin tuna tartar and arctic char with black forbidden rice, but more experimental things like a mock oyster and a fabulous lavender, vanilla, and coconut dessert. With rare exceptions—the dry aged beef strip loin seemed a little, well, average; and the dulce de leche dessert had an overpowering lime sorbet—each bite confirmed that this meal was worth the expensive price tag of $121 per person.
Most expensive sushi counter ever :)
Table 21 is set around the kitchen prep bar, with four seats on two corners wrapping around like a sushi counter. Even with the casual settings, the service never faltered from exceptional. Four servers setting plates down at the EXACT time--it was a cool experience. The fact that it was in a kitchen was even better, because the pretenses and attitudes were on a much lower key. They totally seemed fine with the fact my mom and I were both camera hogs and documented the entire thing!
prepping the beat salad
Prepping the Blue Cheese Course
Take a look at the slideshow below to see the complete progression (I'm only missing two courses--the second and the final dessert). I didn't want to write out the entire menu, but I've added captions of each course on the slideshow on Flickr.


RIP: Filippo Berio EVOO

Brand: Filippo Berio EVOO (for dressing and marinating)
Bought: October
Lasted: 5 months (insanity!)
Flavor: For keeping the olive oil around for five months, the flavors never really collapsed on this one. I'd recommend as a good staple olive oil for those who don't cook as much. It worked great along (we used it in dips and on popcorn) and heated nicely when I needed to saute.


Restauant Eve: Impeccable Service, Enjoyable Food

Besides being a regular on the area's Top Restaurant Lists (it was 11 on this year's Washingtonian Top 100) Restaurant Eve is known for its service and locally sourced ingredients. The pricier end of Chef Armstong's Alexandria restaurants, I was looking forward to seeing how this one stacked up against his American bistro, The Majestic.

A note on reservations: When I went on Open Table, the restaurant seemed sold out, but after calling I discovered they only place a few tables on OT--the rest are through the phone lines. So always call to double check availability.

Eating in the Bistro: While the Tasting Room has gotten a lot of press now for its renovations, I wasn't going to drop over $100 before sampling the menu first. The Bistro has a nice set up, and the tables were situated far enough apart that you didn't seemed crowded (Like at Tabbard Inn). We were seated by a window, and the biggest downside of the evening was the air conditioner vent that was located directly under the far two chairs. For my mother and I, in dresses, it was a very strong, cold breeze that led us both to switch seats with our dates. However, as a testament to the service, when we notified the waiter about the cool situation, he brought over a table cloth to cover the vent.

The Menu: On Fridays, the Bistro has a three-course tasting menu for $65. The portion sizes and quality definitely made the price worth it. There was a nice selection of both traditional items (Chris ordered a Ribeye with spring veggies and a really tasty sauce with thyme, while my parents both ordered fantastic fish dishes) and more exotic fare (I ordered a farm rabbit with Brussels spouts, sweet potato cream, and foie gras-rabbit sauce as my entree and an antelope pate en croute (inside a crust) with pickled carrots and a dijon sauce that was really out of this world). The desserts were all stellar as well, and while I was intrigued by their extensive cheese selection, I ended up going with a hazelnut creme brulee.

A Small Fault: One slight fault I'd give the menu is that it's not novice friendly. While descriptive, unless you are up on your French food terms, you might be surprised when the Pork Belly Rillette turns up looking like pate and the pate looks more like a meat pie. Not really a fault, but more of a warning. The servers are very good--and if you aren't sure what you're getting, definitely make use of their knowledge in case you end up with a surprise.

And to end, a second warning about asking what you order. My father ordered a cocktail he thought sounded Irish, and ended up being a VERY frilly girl-drink, complete with pink coloring and a cotton-candy topping that impressed the entire dining room:

Dad's hilarious drink order
Mom's Salmon Mousse...like BUUUDDER
Rockfish with lobster and mushrooms
Carolina Black Bass with violet artichokes, olives, and fennel
Apple Tart

Hazelnut Creme Brulee
A Diet Note: for those interested in my month-long quest to eat healthy---I have found out that Rabbit is quite high in protein, so I ordered correctly (however fatty my dessert!)


A Tale of Two Dinners

My parents decided to visit Chris and I this weekend in a pretty rare visit (San Antonio is a long way away) so when they were planning their trip I began researching great places to eat while they were here. Restaurant Eve seems a no-brainer. It's the best place to eat in Old Town, my new neighborhood, and I absolutely love its American bistro counterpart, The Majestic.

Then my mother emailed and let me know she'd love to go to Volt. And not just the regular dining room, but Table 21, the fabulous table that is INSIDE the kitchen where you can watch the Chef make 21 magical treats for you that go beyond your typical culinary imagination. How can you turn that down?

My general opinion about fancy dinners is that they are magnificent, but better in moderation. You don't want to have every meal out at a four star restaurant because at some point, the experience begins to weaken and you start to think spending $70 on a meal is not that big a deal.

So for the first time, I've agreed to two fancy dinners in the same weekend. Restaurant Eve on Friday—Volt on Sunday. My main concern is that one or the other (or both) will not live up to the expectations because it's too recent an experience to the other. But maybe that's a mistake---good food is good food, and it just means you have two great meals in one week.

What would you do? How many fancy meals have you had in a week?

Edit: 3/24/11
See my Review of Restaurant Eve Here

See my Review of Volt Here


Checking in on my Calories

So It's been four days since I've started using Livestrong.com, and I have to tell you it's a LOT easier than I thought it would be. Any brand name food or chain restaurant is in the system, so I just type in 'Chioptle Steak Salad' and they have it in their system ready to pull up and provide all the nutrition information.

The system used on the site is pretty easy: you enter your age, weight, and height and then let them know your activity level and if you want to gain, keep, or lose weight. I set it up to lose 1.5 lbs a week, and BOOM, my calorie intake is set at 1608.

Each day I enter what I eat online as I eat it, and it has a handy counter letting me know how many calories I have left. They also keep track of your water intake--which I shockingly have not been able to get 100% on yet. 8 oz. of water 8 times a day is 64 oz. You end up going to the restroom a LOT (and that is from me getting up to 5-6 glasses a day). What a challenge.

I haven't explored the site more, but you can enter recipes and find out the calorie intake as well. A nice side-element is that when you work out, you can add those calories burned back to your daily intake. Over the first four days, I've kept under my goal twice and gone over once (Ray's Hell Burger..not in their system, but definitely not healthy.)

So calorie counting is not as bad as I thought. I think I might keep up Livestrong a little longer to see if 1. I can finally make it up to 8 glasses of water a day and 2. what my nutritional intake is on a regular basis.

Tonight I eat out at Restaurant Eve (one of my Top 10 this year) so my calorie intake might spike. I purposely ate a small lunch, so I have 1000 calories to splurge on tonight. See my post about it later this weekend.


Easy Peasy Chinesey

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
Considering I don't have a wok, I've made two really fantastic stir fries this week. The following jumped out at me while I was recipe surfing because by this point in the month, I would have usually thrown in the towel and ordered Chinese takeout. Before giving into my craving, I thought I might as well try to make it myself and see how it tasted.

Unlike the Pad Thai which didn't quite match the flavors, this was a pretty decent replication. I have adjusted the recipe below to bump up the spiciness factor--feel free to check out the original if you want to soften the blow, but I found the original recipe slightly bland and very Americanized.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
Cooking Light, March 2010
Serves 4: Calories 476, Fat 12.9g, Protein 32.1g, Carb 52g, Sodium 523mg
Note: Cooking Light said it only takes 25 minutes, but they don't account for the ingredient prep--add another 10 for cutting up the veggies.
  • 2  (3 1/2-ounce) bags boil-in-bag long-grain white rice
  • 2 T. dry sherry, divided
  • 2 T. lower-sodium soy sauce, divided
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 lb. boneless sirloin steak, cut diagonally across grain into thin slices
  • 1/2 cup lower-sodium beef broth
  • 1 T. cornstarch
  • 1 T. hoisin sauce
  • 1 T. Sriracha (hot chile sauce) (originally 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 T. canola oil, divided
  • 1 T. bottled ground fresh ginger
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 4  cups prechopped broccoli florets
  • 1/4  cup water
  • 1/3  cup sliced green onions
  1. Cook rice according to directions.
  2. While rice cooks, combine 1 tablespoon sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sugar, and add to beef.
  3. Stir together 1 tablespoon sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, broth, cornstarch, hoisin, and Sriracha.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef mixture; sauté 3 minutes or until browned. Remove beef from pan. 
  5. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Add ginger and garlic; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. 
  6. Add broccoli and 1/4 cup water; cook 1 minute. Add onions; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. 
  7. Add broth mixture and beef mixture; cook 2 minutes or until beef is thoroughly heated and sauce is slightly thick. Serve beef mixture over rice.


Your Next Meal at Chipotle could be Healthy!

So on my good friend Megan's suggestion, I ate out at Chipotle today--but ordered a salad instead of burrito or burrito bowl. The key is to feel like your splurging without adding all those calories, so I ordered a salad with black beans, pico de gallo, corn, and a heaping amount of guacamole. Then I went back to the office and figured how much my guacamole splurg would cost me.

Turns out--not that much. According to the nutritional information on Chipotle's website, my salad was only 380 calories. That's practically a Lean Cuisine! I've always been told a full burrito can be your entire day's calorie intake, so I feel a LOT less guilty about eating there so much now.

Take a look at the calories of each ingredient:
Right off the bat, I notice that Guacamole isn't so much a splurge if you balance it out by removing something else (I didn't get cheese). Plus the guacamole was very creamy and flavorful, so I didn't need to use the vinaigrette sauce, which turns out to have nearly as many calories as my salad! Another random calorie bump I was not expecting: corn salsa, up at 80 calories. I don't like corn that much, especially when the green salsa is only 20!

Some other random notes. Chips are the most caloric thing on the menu--as much as I like them, I'm going to say no from here on out. Another best practice is to be more selective with your ingredients. You know it's too much food--so instead of getting MEAT and BEANS and GUAC and SOUR CREAM....change it up. I stopped ordering beans on my meat burritos awhile ago, and it really makes the meat flavors stand out a lot more. Or when I want guacamole, don't get cheese and sour cream--swapping it out will help balance your scales a lot more.


Mustard & Fruit-Braised Pork Chops

For those who love mustard, this is a must-make recipe. Another treat from America's Test Kitchen (I really need to get a subscription!), this magazine can seem to do no wrong. I swear, it took 15 minutes to prep, and then another 10 to braise on the stove. Super tasty--and fast!

Mustard & Fruit-Braised Pork Chops
Mustard & Fruit-Braised Pork Chops
America's Test Kitchen, 2011 Light & Healthy
Serves 4: calories 410, fat 11g, carbs 34g, protein 38g, sodium 510mg
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 unripe pear, peeled and cut into .75" pieces
  • 1/3 c. dried apricots (quartered)
  • 1/4 c. dried cherries
  • 3 T. white wine vinegar
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. whole-grain mustard
  • 2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 (6-oz) bone-in pork rib chops, .5" thick, trimmed of all fat
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 T. minced fresh parsley
  1. Combined water, fruit, vinegar, sugar, bay leaves, whole-grain mustard, and 1 T. Dijon mustard in a bowl.
  2. Pat pork chops dry with paper towel and lightly season with salt & pepper. Heat 2-3 T. oil in a 12" skillet on medium high. When oil is just smoking, arrange pork chops in the skillet (pinwheel, tip-end out) and brown 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Add fruit mixture to the pan, scraping up browned bits. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and return chops to sauce. Cook until meat is tender, around 30 minutes.
  4. Transfer chops to a platter and tent loosely with foil. Increase the hat to medium and continue to simmer the sauce until thick (5-7 minutes). Remove and discard bay leaves, stir in the remaining 1 T. Dijon mustard and minced parsley. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Spoon sauce over pork chops and serve.


Guest Blog: Leaving it to the Experts

Both Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are based around cutting calories, and while that's my general goal in week three, I didn't want to copy either plan all-out. If you are interested in learning about either, I did find a nice article comparing the two.

My mother was on Jenny Craig for a few years (we'll see if I can convince her to guest blog!) but for now, I asked my friend Megan to write something up about her experiences with Weight Watchers. She has an amazing blog that details her exploits in the running world (she's about to run her second half-marathon this spring!)
Megan and I hanging out before her half-marathon in November
If you have any questions about WW, feel free to comment here or contact Megan directly through her blog.

I joined Weight Watchers last January. January 1, actually. I had been diagnosed with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that means my thyroid will eventually die, a year prior (for more on this, see this post at my blog) and had started exercising. Working out alone, I knew, wasn't enough to drop the pounds. I had to get my diet under control. I had previous experience (and success!) with Weight Watchers, so I decided to sign back up with them.

I weighed 190 pounds at that time. I'm 5'8", so that gave me a BMI of 28.9. That's not obese, but it's close, according to BMI standards. More worryingly, I clocked in at 36% body fat, which is obese. I was uncomfortable and unhappy, and my clothes didn't fit right anymore, which made it even worse.

Weight Watchers immediately set me at ease. There are lots of different sizes of people (mostly women, but a few men). The leader at my first meeting was funny and smart, and I liked him a lot. I signed up for the meetings and online e-tools, knowing from my prior experience that the online tracker was key, but also knowing that it alone wouldn't be sufficient to keep me on track. I had to go to the meetings.

At first, I had a pretty easy time with it. Everyone is assigned a number of points for the day, with a certain number of additional weekly points for indulgences. Exercise can be traded for points,
which is good when you're running long distances! All food is assigned a points value based on macro nutrients - formerly fat, calories and fiber. Under the new plan, it's carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and protein that are computed to find a PointsPlus value.

The points allowances (note: this is before they switched over to the PointsPlus formula, which is something I'll address later in the post) were generous enough that I never felt deprived. The goal is to lose weight, yes, but to keep it off. Not to eat weird food until you hit goal weight, not to leave out whole food groups. Just eating real food and increasing my exercise.

Things I like about the plan:
  • I never felt hungry, but it did take a fair amount of planning to make sure that what I was eating was filling, nutritious and sustainable.
  • The focus on exercise, which is much greater now than it was when I used Weight Watchers before.
  • The emphasis on discussing WW as a tool, not as an end-all-be-all system. There was no discussion of failure if we weren't on WW, just pointing out that it's been helpful to others and works for many.
  • The emphasis on learning portions. I often just ate without thinking about HOW MUCH I'm eating, but now I always try to think about sizes and what's appropriate for my hunger and nutrition levels. I'm not perfect, but I'm working on it.
  • Nothing is off-limits. Nothing. Cupcakes? Sure. Just factor it in.
  • If you eat too much one day, tomorrow the numbers reset. It's a pretty amazing mind-set in the diet world, really.
Things I didn't care for on the plan:
  • Portionsizes are rather too small for building muscle, particularly protein.
  • Processed foods that were low-calorie are treated as equal value with whole foods. This is different with the new PointsPlus plan, to some extent: Fruit is now zero, so it's easier to make a more nutritious choice: An apple over say, a piece of candy. Both could have had the same points value, but obviously didn't have similar nutritional value.
  • Tracking is a pain, though SimplyFilling/PowerFoods/whatever they're calling it now is a good alternative. That's a more restrictive diet where you don't have to track, because everything you're 'allowed' to eat is nutritious, filling food. Points apply to things you eat that don't fit with that plan.
I lost 20 pounds fairly quickly - by March, I was down to 170 pounds. That's when I started training for a half-marathon (a post on that coming soon!) and my eating has changed again. I'm maintaining, though, and still keeping track of what I eat, though not as religiously as I was when I started. The PointsPlus program has thrown me for a bit of a loop, and I'm debating switching over to SimplyFilling to see if that works any better for me.

I know Megan has been a true inspiration for me this month--and not just because she's done so well losing weight without letting dieting take over her life! When the two of us decided last spring to run a half-marathon (which I chickened out of half way through training) she not only completed it, but managed to qualify for the National Half-marathon in DC this March. Go Megan--I hope the training is going well (and I promise to run with you at least once before the month is over!)


Shrimp Pad not-quite-Thai

Continuing my week of healthy recipes, I moved on to Cooking Light. It's a great magazine, but I feel they are a little ridiculous in their ingredients some times. Whereas ATK kept the spices easy (red pepper flakes, garlic, and salt in all recipes), Cooking Light might have you searching the grocery store for the random ethnic spice you've never heard of before.

I couldn't pass up this recipe, though, because I've sworn off ethnic take out because of the sodium and my tendency to eat three or four times a normal portion. But Pad Thai sounded perfect. PLUS it only takes 25 minutes.

The results were tasty--although I'm not sure how authentic it was to great Thai takeout. I'm guessing half of it was the fact I couldn't find FLAT rice noodles (damn you crazy ingredients Safeway doesn't has!) and the other half of it was that the sauce was probably lightened.

from MyRecipes.com
Shrimp Pad Thai
Cooking Light, March 2011
Calories 462, Fat 16.1g, protein 15.8g, carb 64.3g, sodium 779 mg
  • 8 ounces uncooked flat rice noodles (pad Thai noodles)
  • 2 T. dark brown sugar
  • 2 T.  lower-sodium soy sauce
  • 1.5 T. fish sauce
  • 1.5 T.  fresh lime juice
  • 1 T.  Sriracha or chili garlic sauce
  • 3 T.  canola oil
  • 1 cup (2-inch) green onion pieces
  • 8 ounces peeled and deveined large shrimp
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 3 T.  thinly sliced fresh basil
  1. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain.
  2. While water comes to a boil, combine sugar and next 4 ingredients (through Sriracha) in a small bowl.
  3. Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion pieces, shrimp, and garlic; stir-fry 2 minutes or until shrimp is almost done. Add cooked noodles; toss to combine. Stir in sauce; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly to combine. Arrange about 1 cup noodle mixture on each of 4 plates; top each serving with 1/4 cup bean sprouts, 1 tablespoon peanuts, and 2 teaspoons basil


Brabo Tasting Room:
A small—but deserved—reprieve

Tonight my most awesome boyfriend took me out for a fun dinner (diet month be damned! I had to celebrate not drinking coffee for a week.) Not wanting to change out of our work casual clothing of jeans and Josh Ritter shirts, I took at look at my 2011 Restaurant Goals and decided to mark something off the list.

An easy choice. Brabo Tasting Room is a place I've tried to go to twice already. Contrary to the name, it's not the fancier side-restaurant, but a casual, walk-in seating that serves flatbread pizza, mussels, salads, and sandwiches.
Indian Tomato Curry, Toasted Almonds & Coconut
Clearly this is a place to go if you like mussels.  They were everything I love--fresh mussels, a rich, delicious sauce, and great atmosphere. I'd been on the lookout for a new mussel place closer than H street, and Brabo met the challenge nicely.

The atmosphere is casual upscale. We felt fine in jeans, but more people were dressed up nicer (after work or on dates?). There is a wood burning oven right when you walk in, and the tiny dining room gives off the feel like you just snuck into Martha Stewart's kitchen.

I was a little concerned because Chris had never tried traditional mussels, so we ordered a safe mix of the Curried Mussels, a Pork Belly Flatbread that was AMAZING (the crust..yum. this place knows how to make delicious bread), and a Slow Roasted Angus Beef Sandwich. The good news was that Chris like mussels, and couldn't stop eating the bread and sauce mixture. The bad news was that the sandwich, when compared to the flatbread and mussels, just did not live up to the hype of the rest of the menu. It was nice---but just no where near the quality the other items we had.
Chris's sandwich...I think he was already jealous of the mussels in front of me. THEY CAME IN A SKILLET!

Go Here If: you like mussels, fancy beers, or a fun drinks and snacks dinner with friends.
Avoid: sandwiches---stick to charcuterie, mussels, and the flatbreads.
Perfect For: date night or girls night. Unless you want the mussels, there aren't many 'big dinner' type items on the menu.


Adventures in Garlic

Garlic Pork Roast up close
Tonight I made the meal I was planning to make yesterday (before I realized you needed to marinate the meat for a day...READ THE RECIPE FIRST!) I had a 2 lb. pork tenderloin left over from another meal, so I decided to try out another America's Test Kitchen recipe.

One great thing I did here was plan a main dish AND a side. Look at me acting like a grown up. I served the pork with some spinach, and the two worked nicely together. The combination of garlic and red pepper gave the pork a great bite to it, and the spinach was a nice milder flavor.

Note: My recipe here was enough for 2-3 people.  You'd want to buy more spinach if you're serving more--it reduces quite a bit.

Garlic Pork Roast
America's Test Kitchen
Serves 8: Calories 330, Fat 19g, Protein 36g, Carb 2g, Sodium 240g
1 2 lb boneless, center-cup pork loin roast, trimmed
22 garlic cloves (10 peeled and crushed for marinate, 12 unpeeled)
4 t. olive oil
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. pepper
1.5 t. minced fresh thyme
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 T. unsalted butter
1/4 t. sugar
Kitchen Twine

Sauteed Spinach
1 bag baby spinach
1.5 T. water
1 t. olive oil
1 clove garlic
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 t. fresh lemon juice

The Day/Morning Before:
  1. Butterfly the pork roast. Whisk the crushed garlic, 1. t. oil, salt, and 1/4 t. pepper together in a bowl and transfer it and the pork to a ziplock bag. Seal and leave for 1 hr, up to 24.
Day Of (20 minutes prep/1.5 hrs total)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325. Toast unpeeled garlic cloves in a skillet until fragrant (8 min). Reserve two cloves for garlic butter, then peel and mash together the rest with 1 t. oil, thyme, red pepper, and 1/4 t. pepper.
  2. Remove the roast from the marinade and pat dry, removing marinate items. Spread the inside of hte roast with the garlic paste. Roll tightly into a cylinder and tie the roast in 1-inch intervals with kitchen twine. Season the outside with pepper.
    My first attempt tying meat..not to shabby
  3. Heat 2 t. oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Carefully lay the roast on the skillet and cook until well-browned on all sides (1-2 minutes each). Transfer to a wire rack, held over a baking sheet lined with foil. Place in oven and roast 50-60 minutes.
    Well-browned, and ready to roast
When 15 minutes remain on the pork, prep the spinach:
  1. Place spinach and water in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and heat on high until spinach has decreased in size by half. (1-1.5 minutes)
  2. Drain the spinach in a colander, removing excess liquid with a spatula. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop. Return to colander and press a second time.
  3. Cook oil, garlic, and pepper in a skillet. Once garlic begins to brown, add in spinach, 1/4 t. salt, and toss. Cook additional 2 minutes.
  4. Off the heat, stir in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper (keeping in mind the main flavor is coming from the pork, so you should add sparingly).
Finishing up the Pork
  1. Take your final two garlic cloves set aside earlier, and mince. Add to butter and sugar and microwave for 1-2 minutes until garlic browns and butter is melted.
  2. When pork is done, remove from oven and transfer to cutting board. Baste the sides with the garlic butter, then let rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove twine and serve in 1/2-inch discs.
The final plate next to the flowers Chris bought me earlier this week!


Guest Blog: The Things We Do for Lent...

Lent starts today, and I've decided to give up caffeine again this year. I started to wain myself off coffee last week, and while the headaches haven't been fun, I'm really energized about being able to pull this off. But this is nothing to compared to my awesome sister, who has decided to go Pesca Vegan for the next 40 days.

She's got a great blog you should check out called Brioche & Bourbon, but I wanted to share her entry about giving up cheese, and why she decided to take it a step further this year:

Here it goes. The post I've been dreading because it makes everything official. I've decided what I'm doing for Lent. Drum roll please... I'm becoming a Pesca Vegan. That'd be a vegan- vegetarian that doesn't eat dairy (eggs, milk, cheese, etc), but I'll also eat fish. Yes, I kind of just made this up and no, I'm not doing this for any major veganism, anti-meat, anti-dairy convictions at all, other than I love meat. And I LOVE cheese. And this year especially I want to really, really challenge myself on a larger level.
So hard to give you up, locally made ricotta
Let's back this up a sec. Every year, for the past few years I've given up cheese. I love it that much that it is definitely a big challenge. And then for Easter I'd go to San Antonio, aka home, and gorge myself on Tex-Mex.  But I've begun to notice that while I might be cutting down my cheese consumption, I'm replacing it with other entirely unhealthy alternatives (bacon, juicy hamburgers, desserts I can stomach like custards, LOTS of butter). I'm not "giving up" in the way Lent was meant to be a time to give things up, I'm just substituting one love for other vices.

So I've racked my brain. Being a bit selfish I want this to focus on me, my lifestyle, my well being. Because as they say, you can't fix the world until you've fixed yourself. And I want this to be a challenge that hurts. And hurt worse than making myself run mile after mile while staring at a cement wall at my breeder gym or tentatively allowing my pop-up ex back in my life on occasion. No, this will hurt and be positive for me.
And do something good for myself
What I'm hoping for out of this? A bit of a lifestyle change. Feeling a bit healthier, being a bit more well-rounded. Having the satisfaction of knowing that I can do something that scares me, and hopefully that will start a whole chain reaction of doing challenging things because I know that I can succeed. And already this year has been unexpectedly positive and mostly from me making positive lifestyle decisions, so why not just continue the trend? 
I like how her project and mine are both connected through our commitment to a lifestyle change. I know how hard a drastic shift like veganism can effect someone, but the reward totally out weighs the initial discomfort and cravings. I wish her all the best!


A Healthy Pasta

Roasting Makes all Vegetables Fun
Week two could not have come quick enough! I caught myself trying to 'lighten' the Chicken 'n' Dumplings recipe over the weekend but held off. To sum up week 1: I was STARVING. Just trying to gauge a 'healthy' portion of what I normally eat usually left me eating less than I should, and then splurging later because I needed the calories. Glad that is over.

Week two should be much more my speed. Healthy recipes, as dictated by others. My first stop is America's Test Kitchen, which has just put out a lovely Light & Healthy 2011 magazine that I grabbed a few weeks back. It's out until May, so grab it if you can.

 I absolutely love this publication because it's written like a blog: they explain the process, then leave you with a finalized recipe. A word of warning. Read the recipe thoroughly before committing to dinner for the night. I thought I would make a pork loin, until I realized I should have marinated the meat yesterday. The magazine doesn't do a great job at telling you the total time for any given recipe, so just be sure you read ahead first and are prepared.
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
America's Test Kitchen, Serves 6
Per 2-cup serving: 480 calories, 16 g. fat, 3.5 g. sat. fat, 18 g. protein, 70 g. carb, 7 g. fiber, 610 mg sodium

2 heads garlic
2 T. water
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
5 T. evoo
1 head cauliflower, cut into 8 wedges
salt and pepper
1/4 t. sugar
1 lb. fusilli, campanelle, or orecchiette
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 T. minced fresh parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Cut the top of the garlic heads off and place the heads, cut side up, on a sheet of foil. Drizzle 1 T. water on each, and then seal the foil and place in the oven on the top rack for about 30 minutes. Place a roasting dish in the oven to preheat for the cauliflower.
  2. Trim cauliflower, then coat with 1 T. oil, 1/2 t. salt, a pinch of pepper, and 1/4 t. sugar. Remove the roasting dish from the oven and add cauliflower, cut side down. Roast until well-browned, around 20-25 minutes. This should finish up at the same time, or just after the garlic is done.
  3. When garlic is done, remove from foil and let cool. Squeeze out the cloves and mash with a fork. Mix in lemon juice and red pepper. Slowly whisk in oil.
  4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add pasta and 1 T. salt. Once pasta is al dente, reserve 1 c. liquid, and drain. 
  5. Add in 1/4 c. liquid, cauliflower, garlic paste, 1/2 c. Parmesan, and parsley to the post and toss to combine with pasta. Add in more liquid as needed.
In terms of a healthy dish--this worked out pretty well. I actually cut the cheese in half, and still felt it was plenty. I also thought the recipe was heavy on the salt, so feel free to reduce that as needed. 


Half-Diet: Sunday Brunch Edition

Another reason I am not liking this non-dieting thing right now: My will power to choose the Healthy Options at Denny's over Hash Browns and a Chicken Fried Steak is just not there...especially after a week of not eating cheese and soda.

For those looking to diet, I was impressed how Denny's has tried to make an effort in the healthy eating realm. They have a Create Your Own Slam, with the healthy options like whole wheat pancakes, fruit, and turkey bacon highlighted. They will also substitute those healthy sides for free. (Not that I did).

However, it was easier to stick to my 'Eat Half Rule' (however bad the half I ate was). I had half the chicken fried steak, only the charred bit of hash browns, the top of a buttery biscuit, and a few eggs smothered in Tabasco.


The Half-Status Quo

It's been four days so far, and I can already tell just adjusting my current diet is not going work long term. I thought this would be the easiest week in terms of rules, but the problem with not making actual change, is that it is too tempting to cheat.

Working Out: This has been going well--I'm up to 30 minutes every other day, and once I'm not so sore on off-days, I'd like to start working out every day. There's usually a 30 minute window between when I get home and when Chris joins me, so it's a great use of that time.

Breakfast/Snack: Haven't gotten to this yet, but I did buy instant oatmeal to keep at work. I also stocked up on Kashi Bars as a healthy snack. The carrots and celery are still in the fridge...but I have managed to stay away from soda. I've had a few sips this week to ease me into an all-out fast.

On the coffee front, I've decided to try something new that Chris told me about. He suggested drinking a large glass of water in the morning instead of coffee--and while it doesn't work every day (especially before a morning meeting) it does wake me up. My rule now: Every morning, I will have a large glass of water before I have coffee. Some days, this will be enough, and others, not. But it's better than just giving in to the caffeine.

Eating Half-Sizes: This has been the hardest part, and something I know I would not be able to keep up. Going out at lunch and eating half isn't hard, and a good way to keep your weight in check--but to keep eating that smaller portion for both lunch and dinner is a little too hard.

I went to Chipotle today and ate half the burrito bowl there---and while I was full, as soon as I came home at 6 I was pretty starved. Same thing the other day when I grabbed a small bowl at Noodles & Company. The problem with small meals is you have to plan pretty well---because if you wait too long, your hunger will get the better of you and suddenly chips and salsa seems like a GREAT snack. I'm starving right now (having finished the other half of my Chipotle bowl, plus a slice of pizza from last night)...and the juice I bought isn't quite doing the trick.

Stupid dieting.


Day 1: Figuring Out My Routine

So in this first week, I am easing into my dieting by not dieting. I think before beginning any change, you need to first figure out what is routine, and what of that can be changed. The past week I've been examining my lifestyle and making little notes for myself on what to do once March began.

Here's What We Know About Me:
Not active. Work outs went from regular, to irregular, to nonexistent in the course of three months. Considering I was running 5Ks in November, it's a little embarrassing and depressing how much muscle and energy I've lost so quickly.  
Goal This Month: For the month, I'm committing myself to 30 minute workouts every other day. Starting off, I might need to split it 15 minutes each day, but hopefully by the end of the month I can build up to an hour long workout twice a week. That's nearly where the Mayo Clinic wants me to be.

No Breakfast or Snacks---but too my Coffee and Soda. I haven't been eating breakfast, and I think it's affecting my eating schedule. I am starving by 11 am, scarf down a lunch at my desk, and then try to eat right away when I get home. Coffee doesn't count as a food group, and soda is just an expensive habit.
Goal This Week: Bring in a granola bar to start off the day--and go out for lunch so I'm better able to savor the meal. I bought carrots and celery to snack on in the day, and will keep popcorn on hand to snack at night. I will keep my coffee habit in check this week, but try to wean myself off in time for Lent. (Next week---giving up caffeine!)

Curb My Craving for Curries (and Chips). I am addicted to Tex-Mex. And Indian. And Thai.  Too bad they are all insanely high in calories.
Goal This Week: I'm trying to avoid all three until I can find healthier options next week. If I must eat out---I'm going to hold to a eat-only-half rule for now. With healthy snacks through the day, I'm hoping that combined it will help keep me full.

Generally Less Cheese. (I know :( ....)