Post Work-out Eats: Spiced Roasted Purple Sweet Potatoes

26 Oct

IMG_3509‘Tis the season for organic purple sweet potatoes!  David and I love having roasted sweet potatoes in the fridge, which make for a great post-workout snack and snack in general.  And when we can get purple sweet potatoes?  Even better!  Purple sweet potatoes are wonderful — they are drier and denser than your regular sweet potatoes or yams, have a balanced sweetness and are packed with antioxidants.  I like to chop them up in small pieces (about 1/2 in. by 1/4 in), coat them in cinnamon with a sprinkling of cayenne, garlic powder and salt, and roast them with coconut oil.  The coconut oil and cinnamon highlight the sweetness of the potatoes, while the garlic powder, cayenne and salt bring out the savory qualities.  I eyeball the spices, and roast them at 400F until the potatoes are cooked through.  A fork test always works best to make sure the potatoes are cooked.  Today, I chopped up 3 large purple sweet potatoes, tossed them in cinnamon, cayenne, garlic powder and some salt, and plopped on about 3 tablespoons of coconut oil.

FullSizeRenderI find it easier to toss the whole mixture together once the coconut oil melts in the oven after a few minutes.  Once in the oven, I mix the potatoes around every so often, making sure that the pieces are coated evenly with the coconut oil, and roast them for about 45 minutes.

IMG_3515Voila!  I sprinkle a little bit more salt once the potatoes are out of the oven.  The potatoes keep very well in an air-tight tupperware for a week or a bit more.  They are great cold, and I eat them after my workouts or when I’m craving something sweet.  Roasted sweet potatoes have become our must-always-have foods in our fridge these days, and we LOVE them!

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Check out this purple sweet potato beauty right out of the oven!

I ♥: Harissa

26 Oct

harissaEarly this summer I discovered harissa at our local Brooklyn Whole Foods, and this spice blend has really changed up our “easy and quick” meat game.  Harissa — at least the Whole Foods blend — is made up of paprika, caraway, chili pepper, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, garlic, peppermint and sea salt.  It’s a little spicy, and packs a lot of flavor.  You can mix the powder with water or olive oil to make a paste, or simply use it as a dry rub.  I started using the rub when I wanted to change up the simple roast chicken or a steak, and have used it when roasting cauliflower as well.  When we went on our dive vacation in Bonaire recently and I knew we would be cooking either beef or chicken everyday due to island grocery limitations, I brought harissa with us.  It was a life saver from the monotony of eating the same thing day after day, literally spicing up our meals in a different way.  The only thing to watch out for when using harissa is that it will burn — so for instance with whole chicken I make sure the bird is covered until the meat is cooked and is ready to be exposed to crisp up the skin, or with steak I like to put it only on one side, the side that will be seared/cooked second.  The rub will also be great on ribs.  Harissa is a great spice blend that packs a lot of flavor and aroma — if you see it at your grocery store, it is definitely worth trying and experimenting with it!

Roasted Butternut Squash w/Spicy Onions

13 Oct

Well THAT was a long hiatus! It’s been a hectic summer, but now I’m back for the holiday season and will post more regularly, so do check back in!

A couple of weekends ago, we invited David’s colleague over for dinner. I had come across a roasted butternut squash recipe on the Bon Appétit website that I wanted to try, so I thought the dinner party would be a good occasion. Squash and pumpkin are deeply associated with autumn foods, and for good reason – they’re in season and are delicious!  They’re the perfect comfort vegetables as the temperature dips — they take on spices well, and have a lovely natural sweetness to them.  We love butternut squash, but usually, we end up making soup with it instead of roasting it. For the dinner, I was going to make Cornish hens, so I was looking for a “starch” side dish that wasn’t too heavy. This recipe looked good, and I also liked that it could be made ahead because the dish is served at room temperature. I am a big believer that, when hosting a dinner party, the more dishes that could be made ahead, the better; that way, I can mingle and be more social while the hot components of the dinner are finishing up.

The result? David has declared that butternut squash roasted and tossed together with spicy onions is now his favorite way to eat butternut squash! What really makes the dish is the spicy onions with lime zest, chili, and hint of honey. This spicy onion concoction really brightens the sweetness of the squash. Also, the textures are wonderful: the tenderness of the squash, the crunch of the hazelnuts, the softness of the tangy goat cheese, the aromatic freshness of mint and parsley. I made a few tweaks on the original recipe: I used fresh serrano chili instead of crushed red pepper, because we have chili still growing in our garden; I also used thyme instead of marjoram, because I have thyme in the garden but no marjoram. I had never blanched hazelnuts, but Googled it and found an easy method on eHow (here’s the LINK).  I found that the squash took longer to cook than was outlined in the original recipe, but it could be that I didn’t slice the squash quite to size.  It’s best to do a fork check — if it goes through the squash easily, then they’re ready!  (Full disclosure: As can be seen in the photo, I forgot to “coarsely” chop the hazelnuts — which would be better — but it still worked out fine.) Continue reading

Spice Marinated Skinless Chicken Breast

1 Mar
Tender AND flavorful lean chicken breast?  It's possible!

Tender AND flavorful lean chicken breast? It’s possible!

With chicken, I definitely prefer thigh meat to breast meat.  Thigh meat has so much more flavor and, of course, more tasty fat.  And who doesn’t love crispy chicken skin?  Unfortunately for me, thigh meat and chicken skin also contain more Omega-6 fats, the kind of fat David and I are trying to decrease in our diet (while upping our intake of Omega-3 good fats).  So I recently experimented with baking skinless chicken breasts as a source of protein “snack” we can have in our fridge.  My idea was the have cooked chicken breasts available in our fridge, which we can slice up and eat on top of a salad or just as they are when we wanted some protein boost.  It seemed like a good “make ahead” and “keep” in our fridge.

After making the Indian-spiced curry, I have been experimenting more with spices, especially garam masala.  To make chicken breasts interesting flavor-wise and also tender, I knew that I had to marinate them overnight.  I combined a variety of spices, and also added balsamic vinegar as well as lemon juice, to help tenderize the meat.  The result?  The breast meat was so tender and so flavorful, even a chicken thigh lover like me was satisfied.  David loves having these chicken breasts in the fridge, because it’s so easy for him to put together a lunch (just add salad and avocado).  If you are looking for some tasty lean meat to have on hand in your fridge, I highly recommend cooking up some skinless organic chicken breasts!

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Indian-Spiced Chicken Curry

15 Feb

curry - top shot

We love Dutch oven/big pot dinners, especially in the winter when we crave a warm and hearty meal.   Dutch oven/big pot dinners are also great for us because they make many meals at one go — and when your husband requires a lot of food all the time, as mine does, the abundance provided by a Dutch oven/big pot meal is a big relief.  I recently came across a lovely recipe on the Bon Appetit website called Indian-spiced Chicken with Tomato and Cream.  It’s described like a stew with curry-like spices, and it looked quite simple, so I decided to give it a try last weekend.  I tweaked the recipe a bit — I used butternut squash instead of potatoes, chicken thighs instead of whole legs, goats milk yogurt instead of cream, added slightly more cayenne pepper, and garnished the curry with cilantro instead of mint (because I couldn’t find mint at the supermarket).  The original recipe also instructed the ginger and garlic be grated, but I was too lazy and just minced them finely (which works just fine, because they will cook down anyway).  The resulting stew/curry was FANTASTIC!!!  It is the first curry I have made from scratch (i.e. not using a ready-made paste), I was so impressed with myself!  If you are craving a good Dutch oven/big pot meal, or a simple curry, this is a great recipe.  I will definitely make it again.  The layers of flavors from the spices are wonderful, perfect for a cold winter night.  Next time, I may use coconut milk instead of goats milk yogurt… but I think my tweaking worked out very nicely.  The sweetness of the butternut squash complemented the spiciness very well; we also loved that the squash is lighter than potatoes.  The cilantro was great, too, although mint would have been interesting — maybe next time!  All in all a great new recipe to add to the repertoire.  It’s a slow-cooking kind of meal and takes a few hours to make, so it’s not ideal for a weekday dinner.  But it’s definitely a great meal to make on a weekend, and it will feed you for a few days!  Also, your house will smell amazing with all the spices involved.

Here is the recipe, adapted from the Bon Appetit version.  I doubled up the amount of the original recipe because I wanted to make a big batch.  If you are not as big a eater as my husband (few are), you may want to halve the recipe.  Or, just make it as is and enjoy leftovers!  The curry tastes even better the next day.

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On Learning to Put the “Work” in Working Out

21 Dec

Here are some facts about me:

  • I love cooking and eating
  • I love trying out new restaurants
  • I love wine and cocktails
  • I love clothes and fashion
  • I hate going to the gym
  • I hate working out

The last two facts don’t jive particularly well with the first four facts.

And here’s what I’ve discovered:

Even if I eat well — lead a gluten-free lifestyle — without exercise, it is hard to get that good, toned body that looks great in clothes… especially when I like to try new restaurants or recipes, as well as have my wine and drink it, too.  Until I married David, going to the gym was not remotely in the picture for me; it just wasn’t something I was accustomed to even thinking of doing.  This approach (or lack of approach toward fitness) was fine in my 20’s and I guess I got away with it for the most part.  But once I hit 30, I could feel my metabolism slowing down.  Add to that the fact that David is always trying to put on weight (muscle) and eats like a large zoo animal, I found it increasingly difficult to not put on weight myself.  So I started going to the gym, once, maybe twice a week, under David’s guidance doing mostly weight training, because I hate running and, really, cardio-anything.  I was not a good trainee.  Although I got stronger and could see some muscle definition taking place, I was still very good at finding excuses not to go to the gym (inside our building) or not to push hard.  I wasn’t motivated.

And yet, I coveted a more toned body.  I wanted to be able to wear crop tops, which was so big this past season and looks like will continue to be in the fashion picture in the upcoming seasons.  There were also quite a few outfits in my closet that I couldn’t quite fit into anymore, and I wanted to change this situation.

Nothing motivates you quite like vanity, perhaps.

And so, I decided to try exercise DVDs at home.  “Maybe if I could work out inside the comfort of my own home, I’d do it more” was my thinking.  I kept seeing commercials on TV for the Insanity exercise program… and finally, last February, I took the plunge and started it.  It was, indeed, insane.  It was hard.  The self-described “extreme” exercise program calls for working out 6 days a week for 8 weeks, with a “recovery” week in between.  Each exercise session takes about an hour.  I got through it, but my knee was bothering me by the end because there’s a lot of jumping involved.  Although it was a good program to whip me into a resemblance of cardio shape, it wasn’t a sustainable workout regimen.  I lost some weight, but not a lot, although I felt a little leaner.

The good thing about Insanity was that it started me down the path of working out at home on my own, using DVD’s.  David preferred this arrangement, too, because I was such an unwilling trainee.  After Insanity I did P90X.  P90X is a much longer program.  90 days, 6 days a week, and a lot of the workouts are more than an hour long.  I liked the exercises but found the duration very difficult to fit into my life on a 6-days a week basis.  I did get through the 90 days, though, and I got stronger (hello, push-ups) and more flexible thanks to the yoga element, but the time it demanded was not a sustainable option for a more long-term exercise lifestyle.

If you do a bit of googling for results on Insanity and P90X, you will find a lot of amazing “before and after” photos of people who achieved great body successes on the program.  Although I was getting leaner and stronger, my progress was rather slow, not exactly magical.  But doing the two programs was a good way for me to learn how hard it is to get a good body.  Toto, I’m not in my 20’s anymore, and I need to put in the work to get the results!

And then T25 happened.  T25 is a new program developed by Shaun T, creator of the first program I did, the Insanity workout.  Each workout in T25 is only 25 minutes long.  25 minutes!!  It is very hard to not find 25 minutes in your day.  The T25 program calls for working out 5 days a week; on Fridays, you do a double session (2 sessions of 25 minute workouts, or 50 minutes).  There are two cycles, Alpha and Beta.  Each cycle lasts 5 weeks.  Alpha is the “foundation” cycle, which basically paves the way for the Beta cycle.  No equipment other than a mat is necessary in the Alpha cycle, because you use your own body weight for resistance.  The Beta cycle focuses more on the core and in sculpting muscles.  Light dumbbells or resistance bands are added.  The main thing about T25 is that you don’t stop or have breaks at all in the 25 minutes.  You press play, and push hard, for 25 minutes.

I just completed Alpha and Beta cycles (10 weeks) and I LOVE the program.  I LOVE Shaun T, the trainer.  I feel like I have found a program that I can do for a long time to come. That the workouts are 25 minutes long instead of an hour or more makes a HUGE difference for me.  Even I — queen of wiggling out of workouts — can’t really come up with an excuse for not being able to fit in 25 minutes.  There is a Gamma program that follows Beta, sold separately, which focuses on strength — and so I am onto the Gamma phase next.

The most surprising and impressive thing about T25 is the visible changes I have achieved.  I’m sure if I had abstained entirely from wine and cocktails, I would have seen much more results, but I am looking for a workout lifestyle I can live with… anyway, pictures will say a thousand words, so here are my results photos (first time sharing my workout “look” photos with the public!):

Fitness progress frontFitness progress sideFitness progress backI can now fit into clothes I haven’t been able to wear for a long time!  It’s like shopping in my own closet!

If you are looking for a short but intense workout program, I highly recommend T25.  Putting the work in working out is easier, I find, when it’s only 25 minutes.  It’s just long enough to feel like you’ve accomplished something, but not too long so that you feel it is tedious or overwhelmed at the prospect of fitting it into your busy life.  Interestingly, last year the American Physiological Society found that a half hour exercise works just as well as an hour-long exercise to maintain/shed weight.  You can read a little bit about it here.

I turn 35 next summer (gulp!).  My goal is to rock a crop top come summer time… and even more importantly, I am going to work at being the fittest I’ve ever been when I turn 35.  Wish me luck!

Roasted Acorn Squash w/Cinnamon+Serrano Chili

14 Dec

acorn  squash

Recently, I have come to the conclusion that my favorite squash/pumpkin to roast is the acorn squash.  I had never cooked an acorn squash before this fall; it happened as one of my “impulse” vegetable purchases one day when David was away and I was cooking for myself, and the acorn squash looked appealing and it also wasn’t too big.  I went home, sliced up the squash, tossed the slices in olive oil, seasoned them and roasted them… and they were SO GOOD.  What I love about roasted acorn squash is that the squash has a lovely, natural sweetness to it, and when roasted, it has an almost creamy texture that is still light, an almost custard mouth-feel without any density or heaviness.  Adding a sprinkling of cinnamon brings out the sweetness of the squash, while the chili slices give them a fiery kick.  The squash is great cold, too, and makes for a delicious veggie leftover “snack.”

I like to get organic acorn squash, because I keep the skin on, which I think is delicious roasted.  And here’s how I roast them:

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Oven-roasted Eggplants w/Garlic+Chili

8 Dec

eggplant

One of my favorite vegetable is an eggplant.  Sometimes, when I feel like having a simple vegetarian dinner and taking a break from protein, eggplant is a great option, because they are so satisfying.  Recently, my go-to way to cook eggplants is by roasting them in the oven with garlic and chili.  Roasted in large slices, the eggplants are almost like vegetarian “steaks” packed full of flavor.  I love how the garlic slices are crispy, while the heat from the chili adds a nice kick to the creaminess of the eggplants.  I can eat so much of these eggplants, I don’t miss having my usual protein main (although David still needs to have a main protein component, of course).

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Beets+Sweet Potato Chorizo Hash

30 Nov

beets potato - chorizo

Over the summer, we went to Yonkers for the day for a local foods and drinks event.  There, we ate sausages made by Hudson Valley Harvest, which were delicious.  Luckily, I recently discovered that I can get the sausages on Fresh Direct.  Our favorite is the chorizo.

The chorizo is great on their own, but can also be mixed into dishes… like a hash.  When I had a lot of beets and sweet potato in the fridge, some chorizo, eggs, and not much else, I combined them together for a dish that I think is great for breakfast as well as dinner. Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving!

27 Nov

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  I hope those of you who are celebrating the holiday have very safe and smooth travels to wherever you are headed.

Today I baked my paleo pumpkin pie, among other things we will bring to Eleanor and Michael’s house for Thanksgiving.  This weekend, I hope to *finally* catch up on my blogging (it’s been a while) so please stay tuned!!!