Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meal Plan In Action

Ok, so I know I'm a novice at meal planning and I've not yet mastered the plan that uses leftovers of one meal for new meals in the coming days, but for me, meal planning is simply having a plan for meals.  My objective is to use up the food I have in my freezers, eat the food I have fresh in my fridge, and throw as little away as possible.  My progress has actually been quite good.  My spreadsheet that I mentioned in an earlier post has come in very handy if for no other reason that it tells me what is in the freezer and available for my meal plan!

The thing I am finding out through sticking with my "eating it until it's gone" or freezing it approach is that food takes you through a lot more meals than you expect. So from last week, I am still working on the last of my curry chicken salad and peanut stew.  That will be gone today.  But, I'm still working on a large batch of gumbo, which has at least 2 servings left.  And, true to my word of thawing something unlabeled in the fridge and eating it, I thawed (wouldn't you know it), gumbo broth!  So now this meal that was already stretching into it's fourth day, is now going to stretch another three.  Luckily, I still have another pound of frozen shrimp and won't have to buy anything there.  Oh, and I have tofu.  I have no idea why I bought the tofu or what I should do with it now.  Any ideas?

So here's my Meal Plan for this week.

Today, I boiled 6 eggs.  I have 4 servings of prepared steel-cut oats in the fridge, a bag of grapefruits, a bag of carrots, and zucchini.  Tonight, I'll make hummus and start portioning out the week's food into containers.  Oh yeah, I do that, too.  It helps with portion control if all you have to do is grab and go.

Grocery List:  green grapes, green peppers, other fresh fruits and vegetables, cottage cheese, yogurt, chickpeas, salad greens, tomatoes, butter, walnuts, lime, and oven roasted chicken breast. I hope to keep the bill under $40. If it is on the meal plan and not on the grocery list above, I already have it.  Oh, and keep in mind, I'm on a weight-loss diet.  This may not sound very interesting, but it will work.

Sunday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch: Senegalese peanut chowder and curry chicken salad.  Dinner: shrimp gumbo and brown rice.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  grapes and carrots.

Monday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  hard-boiled egg sandwich with dill-yogurt spread, pretzels, carrots and grapes. Dinner:  shrimp gumbo and brown rice.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  grapes and carrots with hummus.

Tuesday:  Breakfast: grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch:  hard-boiled egg sandwich with spicy brown mustard, fake peanut butter and wasa crackers, carrots and a pear.  Dinner:  shrimp gumbo and brown rice. Dessert:  fruit.  Snacks: carrots and grapes.

Wednesday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich (or shrimp gumbo if there's any left), carrots, and grapes.  Dinner:  boca burger with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat bun, baked doritos and salsa, and grilled zucchini.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar. Snack:  hard-boiled egg, wasa with hummus.

Thursday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich (or the last of the gumbo if there is any left), carrots, grapes, and cottage cheese with walnuts.  Dinner:  Curry chicken pizza with onion and bell pepper.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar. Snacks:  carrots and hummus, and yogurt.

Friday:  Breakfast:  grapefruit, cottage cheese and peaches.  Lunch:  chicken breast (deli-meat) sandwich, grilled zucchini, and hard-boiled egg.  Dinner:  Boca burger smothered in onions and peppers on a whole wheat bun, side salad of tomato and lettuce, baked doritos and salsa.  Dessert:  Weight Watchers mini bar.  Snacks:   yogurt and fake peanut butter and wasa cracker.

Saturday:  Breakfast: grapefruit, steel-cut oats.  Lunch:  Boca burger with tomato and lettuce on whole wheat bun, vegetable barley soup.  Dinner:  Chicken tacos with lettuce, tomato, salsa, bell pepper and lime, baked doritos and salsa, and black beans.  Dessert:  yogurt.  Snacks:  pear and cottage cheese.

So yeah, I realize that I have a heavy dependence on carrots as a snack and sometimes as a vegetable source, but the gumbo has a lot of vegetables in it.  If anyone has any ideas for spicing up a weight loss diet, I'm all ears.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Low-Cal Fettccine Alfredo

I've had a craving for pasta lately. I found this recipe at Food Network and added chicken to it. I thought I'd share it here. Usually, alfredo sauce is way too rich for me to eat more than a few bites, but this one is lighter and had a very good flavor.

This is the recipe I used. I don't know about it being especially that "low calorie", especially if you used this as 4 servings. I think it would easily make 8 reasonable sized servings, as 3 of us ate it and I have a huge bowl of leftovers.

I baked one large boneless, skinless chicken breast (sprinkled w/ garlic powder, salt and pepper at 350 degrees for 30 min.) and chopped it and added it into the sauce at the end. It really made it good.

I also highly recommend having the sauce ingredients measured out and ready to go. It is a fast process and it helped to have everything ready. Even then, I almost scorched the garlic.

I also did not use "fresh" pasta. I used boxed fettuccinne and cooked for 14 min.

Don't forget to use the pasta water for thinning. I did need it and was glad I didn't miss this step.

Low-Cal Fettuccine Alfredo

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (about one lemon)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup low-fat (2%) milk
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons Neufchtel or low-fat cream cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 ounces fresh fettuccine
Freshly ground pepper
Make the sauce: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and cook until the garlic is slightly soft, about 1 minute. Add in the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon,1 minute. Whisk in the milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook, whisking constantly, until just thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the Neufchatel and parmesan cheese; whisk until melted, about 1 minute. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta and return to the pot.

Add the sauce and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water to the pasta and gently toss to combine, adding more cooking water as needed to loosen. Season with salt. Divide among bowls and top with parmesan and pepper.

Per serving: Calories 490; Fat 15 g (Saturated 8 g); Cholesterol 48 mg; Sodium 734 mg; Carbohydrate 66 g; Fiber 3 g; Protein 20 g

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cajun Cookin'

I found some shrimp in the freezer.  Two pounds of it that I refuse to let go bad.  I decided to make perhaps my favorite shrimp dish: seafood gumbo.  So I pull out my trusty Paul Prudhomme cookbook and open 'er up and got busy.

Gumbo is deceptively easy.  Sure, if you are going to make your own stock, you will have to start the day before  But you don't have to do that. I'll tell you about the short-cuts later.

First you chop some veggies.  I used two medium green bell peppers, a couple stalks of celery and at least two onions and about four cloves of garlic.  I was using rather large cloves, so if you have a normal-sized bulb of garlic, you might want to use six.  You'll need about two tablespoons worth.  I like the vegetables diced fairly small and  try to make all the cuts uniform.  Not quite a mince, maybe just a smidgen larger than a fine dice.

Next you need some shrimp stock.  Now under normal circumstances, you'd buy shell-on shrimp and peel the shrimp and use the shells to make your stock.  Making stock takes time, but it's actually a lot of fun. When else do you get to throw in halved unpeeled onions and an entire bulb of unpeeled garlic?  It is fun to watch the stock come together.  So much more fun that making chicken stock.  Unfortuantely, since I bought only tail-on shrimp, there wouldn't be enough shells to flavor a stock.  So I used some of this....

It really has decent flavor for bouillon.  These are large, oversized cubes.  Make a very dark, very pungent stock.  With stock ready, shrimp thawed, and vegetables chopped. I can get busy.  This dish takes a lot less time than you'd think for how great it tastes.

You create a spice mix, which is a combination of white, black and cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, thyme and some salt.  Oh, and you'd better get the file and Tabasco ready.  This is Louisiana cooking after all.

Melt a stick of butter in a stock pot over medium heat.  When to temperature, add the chopped vegetables and cook for 6 minutes stirring constant.  Add two tablespoons of file, and the spice mix and a full tablespoon of Tabasco.  Heat over medium heat for 5 minutes.  The file will become very sticky, so you must stir the pan regularly.  Over time, the file will begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, make sure you scrape off any brown bits.  They add flavor and reduce the ability of file to thicken the final product.

Now all you have to do is add your stock and bring it to a boil over medium heat, then simmer over low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Look at that nice rich color!

Now is a good time to put on some brown rice.  You don't need a lot.  Gumbo isn't a rice dish.  The rice is an accompaniment.  After 45 to an hour, turn the heat off the stock and add the shrimp and crabmeat and cover.  Ha!  I didn't mention the crabmeat, did I?  But you can't just have one kind of seafood in gumbo.  You can also throw in oysters if you are made of money, which I'm not.  In any event, when the shrimps turn bright red, the meal is ready!If at all possible, you should only put in as much shrimp as you can eat in one meal.  If you cook the shrimp and let it sit in the broth, it will get tough.  This meal is so fluffy I think I'm gonna die!  Oh wait. Wrong movie.

Wow this was good.

Here's the full recipe from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

1 lb medium shrimp
5 cups basic seafood stock
Seasoning mix:
1.5 teaspoons ground red pepper (cayenne)
1.5 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon white pepper
0.5 teaspoon black pepper
0.5 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
0.5 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
1 bay leaf, crumbled

0.5 cup margarine
2 cups chopped onions
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
3 tablespoons gumbo file (file powder)
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1-2 tablespoons minced garlic
1.25 cups canned tomato sauce
1.5 cups, packed, crabmeat (about 0.5 lb)
1 dozen shucked oysters (about 0.5 lb) (optional)
1.33 cups cooked brown rice

Peel shrimp, rinse and drain.  You can use the shells and heads to make shrimp stock if you want.  Otherwise, refrigerate shrimp while you make the rest of the dish.  Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.  In a 4-quart heavy soup pot, melt the margarine over medium heat.  Add the onions, celery and bell peppers.  Turn heat to high and stir in the gumbo file, Tabasco, garlic, and seasoning mix.  Cook 6 minutes, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat to medium and tir in the tomato sauce; continuing cooking 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the stock and bring gumbo to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the shrimp, crabmeat and oysters (if desired); cover and turn off the heat. Leave the pot covered just until the seafood is poached, about 6-10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

For a main course, place about 1/3 cup rice in a bowl and top with about 1 cup gumbo.  For an appetier, serve about half that amount.

This is rich folks.  Rich, rich, rich.  And delicious.  And I gotta go eat.  :)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Update: Weight Loss

Well for those who have been watching my weight loss progress, I wanted to provide an update, since there have been some changes lately.  Unfortunately, those changes haven't been in my weight.  Which is exactly the problem.  I joined Weight Watchers under a program called "Momentum".  That program was extremely effective for me.  But in mid-December, Weight Watchers switched to a more "scientifically accurate" program called PointsPlus.  I bought all the materials (food guide, dining out companion, recipe book, and pocket PointsPlus calculator) and dove in.  Only the program doesn't work for me.  In effect, my weight loss stalled.  Completely.  For three months.  The leader at my meeting told me to give it a chance.  To focus on the weight I have already lost.  But honestly, three months with NO weight loss?  Despite following the program to the letter?

I'm a scientist.  If a regimen isn't working, waiting and expecting that same regimen to give you different results is pretty darn stupid.  So.  My big news?  I'm switching back to the old program.  I have quit Weight Watchers on the payment plan that I was using because there is no real sense in me paying for access to the food information on their website if their website only supports the new program.  My sister quit for a month or two and Weight Watchers ended up enticing her back with a few free months offer.  Maybe they'll do the same for me.  It's not that I don't like Weight Watchers.  I actually like my meetings.  It's just that the meetings and the program now no longer support the program I'm going to be following.  Although I have told myself that if I feel I need the accountability of weighing in on someone else's scale and the group support, that I will go back for meetings on a week-to-week basis.

So that's my big news.  I have dropped 36 pounds on Weight Watchers.  And a total of 46.2 pounds since I began this odyssey on Jan 3, 2010.  I only have 22 pounds to get to normal weight and 27 pounds to get to my goal.  I'll keep you updated on my progress.

For now, good eating!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Update: Meal Planning

So I wanted to check back in on the meal planning and offer some thoughts.  I really got a little militant about the whole deal and did something that I think was tremendously overboard, but if I keep it up, might just come in handy.  I made an inventory of my food.  Fridge.  Freezers.  Pantry.  If nothing else, this should help with grocery lists or when I'm too tired to cook.  Now I know what ready-to-eat meal I can thaw from the freezer when I'm really too tired to think.

Another great thing about meal planning is that I know what I'm going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Sounds remarkably easy, but even on a diet, I usually open the refrigerator door to decide what I'm eating next.  Now at least, that ambiguity is replaced with two or three options from which I can select.  Although, honestly, I sort of miss the mystery of the way I used to live.

Finally, I've been pretty strict in trying to finish up the food I have before it goes bad.  For instance, I am often ready for fresh food and wanting to cook something new before I've cleaned out what I already prepared.  Which is how things get rotated to the back of the fridge and become science experiments.  So, I say to myself, "You can have those things when you finish X and Y."  I cook less often.  Yes, that makes me sad, but to think that in my race toward novelty, I was usually costing myself money.  Ugh.  For the next several days, I have to work on the beef from the bourginon (using as taco filling) and turkey (bbq shredded turkey that I'm using for sandwiches at work).  I am thinking I'd like to clear out those four remaining green stuffed peppers I have in the freezer soon.  I won't feel like eating them once the weather turns.  I still have wild rice soup and white chili to work on.  I have a LOT of nice cuts of venison, chicken, and shrimp to finish up over the next couple of months.  Looks like it may be time for some gumbo!  Maybe it will be time soon to drag out the bbq grill.  I'd love to say that this new dedication to eating what I have and eating it until it is gone is saving me money, and surely it is even if it is difficult to put a price tag on, but the cost of fresh vegetables has skyrocketed (gas prices and bad weather, I'd guess), and I'm going to have to make a switch to frozen soon.  I am NOT happy about that.  Luckily, local produce will start coming in soon.  Not soon enough in my mind.

Oh, and on a final note, my inventory pointed out that I have more of some things than I can possibly eat in a year and I'm getting rid of them.  I have two pounds of breakfast sausage in my freezer that belongs to my brother (Christmas present of all things) and another two pounds that I didn't eat myself last year.  So I'm giving some of this stuff away.  Along with some other canned goods from the pantry.  If you aren't going to eat it, I say get rid of it to someone who will.

So how is meal planning working in your house?  I'd love to hear new ideas.