New Articles on Cooking, Meal Planning, and Healthy Living

I’ve posted several articles to a site I’m new to, Associated Content, that you might find interesting depending on what search brought you here to my old blog. Check them out!

Cooking Tips to Help Picky Eaters Learn to Love Vegetables
Use these ideas for how to prepare vegetables to create tasty, less bitter dishes that will entice reluctant eaters to try these new foods. Getting picky eaters to eat vegetables just takes patience and a little ingenuity.
http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/1898892/cooking_tips_to_help_picky_eaters_learn.html

Picky Eaters? Tips on How to Introduce Vegetables
Know a picky eater? Are you a picky eater? Try these strategies to introduce vegetables, notorious for turning up noses, to people who are afraid to try new foods. Celebrate small victories on the way toward achieving a truly healthy diet.
http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/1898414/picky_eaters_tips_on_how_to_introduce.html

Get Started with Easy Meal Planning to Save Time and Money
It’s simple to start planning meals: It takes nothing more than a piece of paper and a pocket of time. Collect ideas as you go, then organize them into a list or on a calendar, and you’ll be set to start saving money and improving your health.
http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/1899112/get_started_with_easy_meal_planning.html

Strategies for Eating Out at Restaurants Without Wrecking Your Healthy Diet
Restaurants offer rich, indulgent food that can easily throw your weight-loss plan off track. These tips can help make it possible to enjoy the occasional night out without regretting it when you step on the scale in the morning.
http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/1888016/strategies_for_eating_out_at_restaurants.html

Avoid Dehydration This Summer with Thirst-Quenching Tips
Five tips for keeping yourself hydrated through the hot summer months that won’t break the bank or pack on the pounds, based on my experience with dehydration and living in the crazy Las Vegas heat.
http://www.associatedcontent.comarticle/1858229/avoid_dehydration_this_summer_with.html

July 10, 2009 at 9:12 am Leave a comment

Cookie Calendar Lives!

. . . only now it lives at my other blog, The Cookie Book!

I’ve posted three recipes so far this December: Sparkling Cranberry Gems, Butterscotch Sundae Cookies, and Jam Thumbprints. I’m also keeping up with this year’s 12 Days of Cookies newsletter, posting downloadable MacGourmet recipes for each new cookie Food Network sends.

You’ll also find related articles on baking equipment, other cookie recipe sources, and whatever cookie-related topics strike my fancy.

Please stop on by and check out my current work!

December 3, 2008 at 7:29 pm Leave a comment

South Beach Living Pudding Cups

sbpuddingcups.jpg

Cross-posted from Pennies & Pounds.

I received some free samples of Kraft South Beach Living pudding cups from a PR rep for the company. As I have an interest in low-cal products that I share here on this site, I’ll share my take on this new product.

The packaging makes a boatload of claims: 60 calories! Sugar free! Good source of fiber!

Fiber? In pudding?

Both puddings I tried came infused with inulin, a fiber plentiful in plants such as chicory and jicama. Wikipedia says it’s a soluble fiber that may lower cholesterol, but recent reports suggest the isolated fibers added to processed foods may not carry the same benefits as those in whole foods. However, inulin, being indigestible, doesn’t add to the calorie count, and the only possible problem that might stem from its consumption (in large amounts) is a little indigestion.

Speaking of indigestion, these treats manage to achieve sugar-free status through the use of the sugar alcohols xylitol and maltitol, in addition to sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium (Ace K). Taking in too many grams of sugar alcohols also can lead to digestive upset, so take care not to binge should you indulge in sugar-free products. On the upside, xylitol helps prevent tooth decay.

Fiber, fake sugar, and plenty of water explain each cup’s svelte 60 calories. Starch, rather than fat, provides the thickness and silkiness; the Dark Chocolate Vanilla Marble has 1.5 grams of fat, and the Milk Chocolate Truffle has 1 gram. The fat is saturated, likely because of the cream listed in the ingredients.

That cream, along with the Dutch-processed cocoa and salt, are the only ingredients in this pudding that you could buy yourself at the supermarket. If you’re looking for all-natural foods . . . well, by now you’ve probably already looked elsewhere.

Taste? These cups taste much like other pudding cups I’ve tasted from the grocery store. They’re creamy and rich-tasting, despite the lack of sugar and fat. The size and texture make for a satisfying dessert for me, though my husband, Scott, opted for two. The cups come four to a package.

Scott’s favorite was the Dark Chocolate Vanilla Marble, which he enjoyed for the contrast in flavor between the chocolate layers and the center vanilla layer. I found the vanilla layer unassertive; it mostly tasted of milk, not vanilla, and the dark chocolate dominated this subtle flavor. It provided some relief from the chocolate, but don’t choose this looking for a vanilla hit. It tastes a lot like chocolate chips.

I preferred the Milk Chocolate Truffle. I guess I’m just a sucker for that buttery, chocolaty flavor I associate with those creamy Lindt truffles. There’s no contrasting flavor or subtlety here, just straight-up richness. I moaned a little.

Should you buy these cups? If you don’t mind all the additives and fake sugars, sure. They’re tasty and, at 60 calories, a perfectly reasonable dessert. If you balk at the idea of ingredients you can’t pronounce, go with my longtime favorite prepared pudding, Kozy Shack, in moderation. Nothing beats some tasty tapioca.

More on South Beach Living:
South Beach Living Packaged Meals

Photo: Colleen Fischer

August 20, 2008 at 3:33 pm Leave a comment

Dinner at a Greek Diner

smchickenwithartichokes.jpg

Chicken with artichokes and roasted red peppers, served on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes and drizzled with balsamic sauce.

It came with a salad and a side veggie, too!

Verdict: Mmm . . .

August 12, 2008 at 3:06 am Leave a comment

Slowing Down, Speeding Up

It’s obvious I’m not posting here with the frequency I once did. Food blogging is a lot of work, and I have to hand it to the people who do it consistently and well. I’m a bit more slow and methodical than most when it comes to producing content, so what might take them 30 minutes to throw online takes perfectionist me two hours.

I’ve decided to focus my efforts on venues that are more about writing (which I have a talent for) rather than photography (which I don’t). I just don’t think recipes are so much fun to read without a photo alongside, but photos are what keep holding me up with most recipe posts.

I’m still writing about food, though! Not only will I find time to still put up the occasional post here, but I’m now posting to a new blog that has a broader focus. Pennies & Pounds focuses on nutritious eating, losing weight for better health, and managing a kitchen to minimize waste and stress while maintaining a budget. I’d love for anyone reading this to come check out my new articles there. As a bonus, I’ll even gradually be bringing over updated and otherwise revised versions of some of the more popular articles from this site. You’ll feel right at home.

Incidentally, if you happen to be an educator or parent reading this, I’d like to give a shout-out to the other web site project I run, Sharp Pencils. It’s an evolving site focused on encouraging kids to write and aiding their language-arts teachers.

Back to food . . . here’s links to a few of the latest posts over at my new site, Pennies & Pounds:

A Jackpot within Reach

I tried and tried. Oh, did I try!

I bought nothing but light mayonnaise, skim cottage cheese, low-fat this, reduced-calorie that. I stocked my car with 100-calorie snack packs to ward off post-work hunger. I switched to healthier, whole-wheat pasta and bread. I bought diet books and tried to follow my magazines’ eating plans. I even joined a gym!

It didn’t matter. My weight, which had been inching upwards all through college, shot up dramatically. I gained more than 20 pounds in less than two years!

Articles of Independence (Day)!

I’m polishing up the first couple of posts for the site still. Look for more soon on weigh-ins and fruity deliciousness! In the mean time, check out this week’s articles of interest:

New York Times – The Claim: Mayonnaise Can Increase Risk of Food Poisoning
I’m glad to see they’ve finally taken on this old saw, and just in time for July 4th picnics. I discovered mayo had been given a bad rap years ago on the wonderful Good Eats.

Fruitful Snacking

Afternoon rolls around, and lunch seems like it was an eternity ago. Stomach rumbling, you reach for a snack to quell your hunger. But what should you choose?

Pick fruit! It’s an easy, pleasurable, and nutritious way to aid your efforts to improve your health and lose weight.

Unlike most “snack foods,” fruit is good for you! It offers vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and other nutrients, in a tidy, plant-based package. That bit’s important: After all, we need more plant-based foods in our diets for not only health but environmental and budgetary reasons.

Weighty Matters

I’ve long had a minor obsession with weights and measures. As a kid, I loved fussing with the balances in science class. I also found the those manual scales in the doctor’s office fascinating. In fact, I thrilled inside when I finally got to take one for a spin at the gym years later. In the kitchen, I’ve fallen for the digital food scale. I weigh portions to match nutrition labels when I’m counting calories, and I park my work bowl on the thing for measuring ingredients when I’m baking — it saves on dishes!

It’s in the bathroom, though, that I have tucked away the most important scale in the house. Every morning, I step on it to see how I’m doing at losing or maintaining my weight. Why? A firm grasp of where the scale points is one of the best tools in your weight-loss arsenal. To keep that toolbox stocked, you must weigh yourself regularly.

More are coming soon! But you’ll have to visit the new site to see those. Hope to see you there!

July 9, 2008 at 11:56 pm 1 comment

Eating Less Meat

A new article from Mark Bittman at the New York Times just popped up in my newsreader. It continues a theme the Minimalist has been pushing a lot lately, that of eating less (but not no) meat.

The reasons to cut back on meat consumption are many and are covered in various past articles. Some important ones are improving health (as meat is generally high in saturated fat), cutting costs (because meat is more expensive than grains and produce, even with rising costs for grain — animals here are fed grain, after all), and reducing environmental impact (in several ways, including this weird yet true bit: Cattle flatulence is a source of air pollution).

We’ve cut down our meat consumption considerably while living overseas. Our egg sandwiches are baconless, and our burgers are often made out of beans. The ultimate reason for us is that we are on a tight budget, what with the currency having tanked this year. Subbing beans for beef is economical and healthy.

Still, I’ve also reduced meat portions in straight-up meat-and-potatoes meals. Now, we share one boneless, skinless chicken breast piece between the two of us rather than each having our own, for example. (I do pound them flat and cut them into cutlets first, though, so it looks like a normal size).

But even though this is ostensibly “less,” I find it’s better this way. Growing up, we were never big meat eaters in our house. I don’t know why, but the habit of cutting up a portion of the meat dish into small pieces for the kids to take never left my mom. Thus, even as a teenager I was putting maybe six small cubes or a chunk smaller than a deck of cards on my (American-child-sized, European-adult-sized) plate and considering that a full portion. I never grew to like big meat portions much, always preferring the side dishes.

In a way, then, I feel like I’m getting back to normal rather than moving away from it.

June 11, 2008 at 2:40 am Leave a comment

Potato-Leek Soup

Tonight’s dinner:

A double batch of dilled potato-leek soup from Tasteofhome.com

SERVINGS: 3

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sliced leeks (white portion only)
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 cups cubed peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh dill or 1/2 teaspoon dill weed
  • Herb potato chips and finely shredded leeks, optional

Directions:

In a large saucepan, saute leeks and celery in butter until tender. Stir in the broth, potatoes, carrot, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Cool slightly.

Transfer to a blender; cover and process until smooth. Return to the pan. Whisk a small amount of soup into buttermilk; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Add dill; heat through (do not boil). Garnish if desired. Yield: 3-3/4 cups.

Taco salad (lettuce, diced tomatoes, diced cucumber, chopped onion, corn, kidney beans, chopped green olives, chili powder)

Bosniak bread with light butter

Verdict: Good. The potato masher made a decent substitute for a blender in this application. The soup wasn’t totally smooth like in the picture, but it was pretty pulverized. Sort of like that Campbell’s Vegetable Soup-at-Hand, if you’ve ever tried that. I did cut all the veggies very small though to aid in smoothness.

March 13, 2008 at 12:36 am Leave a comment

Slips!

I’ve definitely been stalled for the past few weeks, weight-loss wise. It’s not a surprise to run into a plateau, sure, but it is depressing. Oh, and my desire to eat has long been connected to my levels of stress and depression. It’s a vicious cycle.

I need to get out and about more for exercise to reduce the stress and depression, but I have little desire to go outside in the freezing weather. I’m none too keen on exercising with my videos, though, because it’s tough to move around and still seen what’s on my 13-inch laptop LCD. Well, and also because I feel like the time investment is too high when I have to add in the extra changing of clothes (ooh, and that irritates my sore shoulder, struggling to get on the tight support tops!), the setup, and the additional showering.

This kind of not seeing the forest for the trees is a problem with my food choices, too. It’s only upon long reflection that this root of a lot of my diet issues from the Vegas years dawned on me, and the past few days have shown that I still engage in this irrational behavior.

For example, I’ll start out the day great, choosing healthy breakfast and lunch foods. I’ll stick to low-cal but high-protein or high-fiber snacks if I need them in the afternoon. Dinners sometimes end up a little indulgent, but I plan them in advance to make sure the higher-cal item is more than balanced by an abundance of vegetables to fill out the plate. (I do subscribe to the notion that the plate should be 1/4 lean protein, 1/4 carb or starch, and 1/2 veggies.) But then comes the looooooong stretch between dinner and bed.

Many days I’m OK with nothing after dinner or with a small dessert like a 1/2 cup of ice cream or a couple of chocolates. Lately, however, I’ve had difficulty due to the emotional eating. I get all anxious and both want to eat to ease it and to not eat because I will get more anxious from the knowledge I’m destroying my diet for the day, you know?

Anyway, I force myself not to eat any of the healthy snacks for a while because I want to avoid calories, then totally crash and indulge in unhealthy foods to shut up the “I want to eat!” voice.

I did this all the time in Vegas. I spent a lot of time and money on finding and buying healthy foods, only to ruin it all by talking myself into believing I deserved the indulgence of a big fast-food meal and snack chips after a long, tiring, stressful work day.

I need help, honestly.

In other news, I have been looking over this list of healthy foods. It’s nice to see some of my favorite foods (white potatoes, romaine lettuce, onions, etc.) on there when I had figured they had little nutritional value. And I do cook the potatoes in healthy ways these days — usually steamed with ketchup for dipping or mashed with low-fat cheese and skim milk.

Steamed Potatoes

4 small russet potatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt and pepper

Toss everything in one of those big Ziploc steamer bags. Microwave for 14 minutes.

Alternatively, cook ’em in a bowl loosely covered with plastic wrap. And the measures are totally approximate. I do it differently each time.

I love these with ketchup. It’s low in calories and the combo reminds me of fries without making me crave fries. However, if you’re feeling particularly Slovak, they’re also great with tartar sauce.

February 20, 2008 at 3:16 am Leave a comment

Progress in Healthy Eating

I’m starting to emerge from weeks of sleep problems and feel a little more like writing now. I thought I’d reflect a bit on the effects I’m seeing from my switch to paying greater attention to what I eat.

Mentally, I think I’ve come a long way in how I view food. I feel better equipped now to make good decisions about food from all these months of educating myself on nutrition, portion sizes, and calorie counts. I can face the dinner table and choose not to have an extra slice (or two) of buttered bread because I know that with one slice I’ve eaten a serving sufficient for my body.

I’m hoping that this will translate into success in beating off temptations when I’m back in the United States and have access to my favorite junk foods. There’s not much selection in chips here, for example, and I generally dislike the ones that are here. Back home, I will have to face aisles bursting with Fritos, flavored pretzel nuggets, and Sun Chips. I’m hoping my ability to resist picking up a bag or two at the store now is not simply due to the chips being subpar.

I do think I will be better able to resist fast food. I ate a ton of fast-food dinners while I was working alone in Vegas, partly because of stress and fatigue and partly because I didn’t feel motivated to cook when the audience was just myself. I will have Scott around full time when we get back, so his appreciation of my efforts will be encouraging for me in the kitchen (not that we take the attitude that cooking is “women’s work” — I just prefer to cook and he prefers to take on other home tasks I hate, such as washing dishes). But more than that, I feel like I have learned the error of my ways and understand that all that bad food was holding me back from achieving a healthy weight in a way that I didn’t before.

You see, before the last few months, I basically ate whatever whenever. I ate what I could get quickly when I was starving, and I ate when I felt stressed. I thought about eating healthy foods, but while I did switch to eating whole grains and tried incorporating more vegetables, I generally sabotaged those efforts by frequent trips through the drive-thru and down the snack aisles. I figured I’d chosen healthy foods at other times so I could “afford” to slack off. Unfortunately, I used that excuse multiple times per week, and no one can afford to slack off so much.

So my mindset has changed. It’ll certainly be tested when I get home and have to face more choices and the stress of more work, but here’s hoping.

I’ve also noticed lately that my digestive system is a lot happier than it used to be. I used to pop a lot of Tums and have uncomfortable, leaden sensations in my stomach. I also had other unpleasant digestive symptoms I’d rather not discuss. But now, my stomach and the rest of my guts never really bother me. True, they did somewhat on our cruises this year, but now I know why — it was all from overeating, especially overeating foods high in fat.

I don’t oppose fat in food, by the way. Unsaturated fats such as olive oil are necessary for good health.  I do try to cut a lot of fat from diet, though, both because I was definitely eating too much before and because it’s the easiest source of calories to remove. As long as you have a good nonstick pan, you can cut out a tablespoon or two of oil or butter from nearly every recipe, and that’s a huge calorie savings.

The one area I haven’t done so well in is keeping my blood sugar on an even keel throughout the day. I’m not a diabetic or anything like that, thank goodness, but from what I’ve read I know that certain foods can affect blood sugar levels even in healthy people. You know — eating simple carbs causes you to get a quick energy rush followed by a big crash. I still have times throughout the day when I suddenly turn all cranky and tired for no apparent reason and then feel much better after a meal.

Nevertheless, I think I’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished so far. I’ve managed to lose almost 20 pounds since the beginning of October on top of the changes I’ve wrought in my attitude towards food. I’m hoping all those changes are here to stay.

February 6, 2008 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

Peas and Quiet

Searching for peas I’ve learned to like most vegetables as I’ve grown older. I don’t turn up my nose at broccoli or cauliflower, and I’ll even accept bell peppers and cabbage provided they’ve been prepared to my liking.

But what’s with peas?

I’ve never particularly disliked peas. However, I simply cannot muster any enthusiasm for them. I’ve had this bag in my mini-freezer for weeks now, despite it holding a mere 450 grams of the green meanies.

As you can see, I added a mere half a cup to my fabulous vegetable soup. I was afraid I would overwhelm the good veggies with the starchy taste of shelled English peas were I to add more.

I like snow peas and sugar snap peas. I don’t remember ever having tried field peas, so I reserve judgment. But this typical freezer-fodder type just doesn’t dazzle me. I don’t get the sweetness from them that people rave about.

So what is it? Am I doing something wrong here?

January 27, 2008 at 2:15 am Leave a comment

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Come for the recipes I’ve created, enjoyed, or discovered and the themed collections from my Recipe Box. Stay for the links to interesting food blogs and food-related articles, product reviews, and kitchen stories.

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Pennies & Pounds offers advice on healthy eating, meal planning, and weight loss. You'll find tips for making nutritious choices while staying within a reasonable budget as well as reviews of products and tools to aid a healthier lifestyle.

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