Thursday, April 17, 2014

Husband Approved: Stuffed Sweet Potatoes by Averie Cooks

I've been working on trying out new recipes to put in the weekly rotation. Our weekly meal plan usually includes:

1 fish night
1 pasta night
1 salad night
1 "ethnic" night - mexican, indian, stir fry
1 other meat night - usually chicken
1 leftovers night

and then a casserole, breakfast for dinner, pizza, etc - whatever sounds good

I'm not a big sweet potato person, but I remember that my mom used just to microwave sweet potatoes and eat them for dinner. It always seemed so weird to me! I do love sweet potato fries, sweet potato casserole at holidays, and sometimes home made roasted sweet potato slices.

When I saw this recipe on Pinterest, I thought I would give it a try - seemed easy enough!

Cheese, Black Beans, and Corn-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Avocado Crema (vegan, GF) - A healthy meal that's easy, ready in 15 minutes, satisfying & doesn't taste like health food!

Find the full recipe at Averie Cooks

This simple recipe uses roasted sweet potatoes, cowboy caviar, cheese, avocado, sour cream and a lime. Super easy!

I roasted an entire bag of organic sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's in the oven. Two of the smaller sweet potatoes I set aside for the kids - one was eaten plain and the other with a little cheese on it. These potatoes were so sweet that my nine year old proclaimed some honey from the potato had squirted on his hand and it was SO good! But it wasn't honey - just some liquid from the potato. I usually get sweet potatoes from the bulk bin at Hy-Vee so I will have to get them again from TJ's to see if they are consistently this sweet - my mom always used to say they tasted like candy - and it was definitely true with this batch.

After roasting the potatoes (there were a couple big ones and a bunch of smaller ones, bigger ones went in the 400 degree oven - after scrubbing and poking with a fork - for about an hour and the little ones were in the for half an hour), I sliced them in half and ran the back of a spoon down the middle to create a well. Spooned in the cowboy caviar, and topped with a tbsp each of TJ's quattro formaggio and lite mexican shredded cheeses. I used the whole jar of cowboy caviar on this batch of sweet potatoes (minus the two for the kids) but you could use a little less in each potato and stuff all of them easily.

Back in the oven under the broiler until the cheese was brown and the edges were crispy.

The avocado crema was super easy to make and the perfect amount to cover a whole batch. I am way too lazy to get out equipment like a food processor for something like this, so I just mashed a ripe avocado with a fork, added in 4 tbsp TJ's lite sour cream, the juice of one lime, and mixed well. I added maybe 2 tbsp of water to thin it out to the desired consistency. I also hit it with a little salt.

In review - the sweet potatoes themselves were crazy sweet and the kids loved them. I've never tried the TJ's cowboy caviar before and it is awesome! Nice hearty consistency with just the right amount of spice. I am already thinking up all the ways I can use it. The blend of cheeses was great, and using the light cheese option helped the calorie and fat count a little. Lite sour cream lightens up the crema, but this would probably be good with greek yogurt in place of the sour cream for some added protein. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kid Approved: Tofu "Steaks" with Coconut Rice and Crispy Kale

Inspired by this recipe

Extra firm tofu on a bed of creamy coconut rice topped with crispy kale and coconut flakes. Flavored with my coconut in a sauce of coconut oil, soy sauce and a hint of sriracha and sesame oil.

Start with the rice - this makes TONS extra, so you may want to halve the recipe.

2 cups jasmine rice
2 cups water
1 can coconut milk
Salt to taste
Stir - bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. I stirred it before putting the lid on and about every five minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for at least ten minutes.

You can use any firm / extra firm tofu based on what is available to you and your tastes. I find Trader Joe's extra firm tofu to hold up the best! Cut the block into four slabs - how you cut it up is totally up to you, I wanted a steak like feel of cooking big pieces but you could easily slice or cube into smaller pieces.

Marinade / sauce - melt 1/3 cup coconut oil in the microwave, add in 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp sriracha, 1 tbsp sesame oil. Mix together well (I whisked with a fork, worked great).

Melt some coconut oil over medium heat in a skillet. Lay the tofu in the skillet in single layer (I was able to cook two pieces at a time). Drizzle a spoonful of marinade over each piece. Cook until it gets crispy (about five min) and then flip. Repeat in batches until done - you may need to add more coconut oil for subsequent batches - make sure there is enough so that the tofu doesn't stick!

Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove ribs and stems from kale and cut or tear into small pieces / strips. I used half a bag of kale from Trader Joe's that I had on hand from a recipe last week. It was the perfect amount but didn't give us any leftovers. Half the bag fit well on one large pan, I drizzled the marinade over it, added about a cup of unsweetened coconut flakes, and tossed to combine. Cooked in the oven for about 20 minutes, stirring about three times during the cooking. Once it wilted down I tried to keep it in a single layer so it could crisp up well.

Once again, I wasn't sure how this would be received. The same bag of kale in pasta last week had kids crying at the dinner table. But when Gavin saw the "crispy lettuce things" he remembered me making kale chips a long time ago and remembered he liked them. I served the meal with a little more marinade on the tofu right before serving.

He even asked for seconds! The little one fell asleep before dinner time, so I wasn't able to get his review.

I didn't end up trying it but it got two thumbs up from the hubs!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kid Approved: Chickpea of the Sea Sandwiches

Sometimes I really don't give my 9 yr old enough credit. 

Tired of falling into the habit of the same meals every week (salad night, pasta night, fish night, quesadilla night, pizza night - repeat), I've been browsing Pinterest for some dinner inspiration.

This recipe from caught my attention, but I wasn't sure how the kids would like it. 

I made some adjustments to the recipe since I wasn't able to find the vinegar originally called for, and I forgot to buy celery seed. I also doubled the recipe.

2 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed - pulse a few times in processor

then add:
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 giant scallions, whites and greens, sliced
1/3 cup olive oil mayo
2 tbsp yellow mustard
2 shakes cayenne pepper
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp capers with liquid
couple turns of fresh ground pepper

pulse or food process on low until desired texture - I wanted mine to get the celery and onion pretty well chopped up so it wouldn't set off the kids ick radar.


Then served on oatnut bread with thin slices of avocado, tomato, and a leaf of romaine lettuce.

I made up one sandwich and cut it into small pieces to let the family taste test. I was waiting for my son to go screaming from the room - an over reaction that happens perhaps once a week when I offend his taste buds. I really did not expect him to like this, although I thought it was great - a hummus texture with egg salad flavor. He took a bite and said "I want a WHOLE sandwich of this!"

I was really happy with how it turned out - took no time to throw together in the food processor, I made enough to last a couple meals, and it is super versatile. Use it in wraps, sandwiches, on toast, in "unwich" style lettuce wraps. Highly recommend!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Oatmeal Review: Coconut Creme Brulee Steel Cut Oats

Disclaimer: I was sent this product free to review via Fit Approach (I did pay ~$4 for shipping) but all opinions are my own.

I recently had the opportunity to test out an oatmeal creation from MyOatmeal. MyOatmeal allows users to create customized oatmeal with an endless array of options, flavors, add ins, to make a truly unique product every time!

I really appreciate the mission of this company (from their website):

This is why the mission statement is so simple; Do unto others, as we would have others do unto us. Simple as that! My aim is to manage in the exact same manner as everything else in my life, with respect, humility and passion.  To give back, and encourage others to give back also.

Now on to the review.

The website is super easy to ease and I appreciate that the nutrition facts and price update as you choose your options. You start with the type of oats you want, add flavors, fruit / nut add ins as well as choose a sweetener. You have a range of options of how much of each you want to add. 

I like my oats fairly basic, so I went light on all my options.

I started with the Steel Cut Oatmeal because I love the texture of steel cut oats. It just feels like it fills me up more! I chose the medium size bag of oats. I have been on a coconut kick lately, so I knew I wanted to create something around a coconut flavor. I am so indecisive that the process was difficult for me - I created and deleted several bags before I finally ordered. 

Ultimately, I added chipped coconut, creme brulee flavor, and sliced almonds to my mix. They recommend using a sweetener when you have a flavor, so I went with brown sugar granules. There is a stevia option for those wanting to avoid real sugar.

All my options for the 2.25lb bag, plus shipping ended up being $25.77. I had a $22 credit for reviewing the product.

I received my package within a week of ordering and tested it out this weekend. 

I thought it was neat that they put my name "Coconut Creme Brulee" on the back of the package!

Now the first thing that I noticed is that it said 25+ servings, but the directions just called for one part oatmeal to four parts water. How much mix equaled a serving? I ended up measuring out how much was in the bag, and for the 2.25lb bag, I had about 6 and 1/3 cups of oatmeal mix. So I am guessing that a serving is 1/4 cup of oatmeal mix.

The next thing that I noticed is that there is not a microwave option without some planning - you need to soak the oats overnight if you want to microwave. We are definitely in need of convenience for breakfast, so I would need to plan ahead with soaking the oats, or more likely, I will make up a big batch on the stove on the weekend and then take it to work and reheat for breakfast all week.

Also, at ~ $25, the cost ends up being around $1 per serving. Not horrible, but definitely more expensive than the options at the grocery store.

I cooked 1 cup of the oats with 4 cups of water on the stovetop. It took about half an hour to cook and according to my 9 year old it "smelled like biscuits" while cooking. I was a little worried about how creamy / liquidy it was because I tend to use less water than recommended when cooking microwave oatmeal. I kind of like it "chewy", but that's just me and my weird food texture preferences!

I don't know how to make pictures of oatmeal appetizing, but I wanted to give you a close up so you could see the big steel cut oats - they held up well, as well as those big flakes of chipped coconut.

Eaten on the couch, and coffee makes everything more attractive, no?

Now for the taste test - I actually really liked the creamy texture! The steel cut oats held up well and had a great "chew" - it wasn't a mouthful of mush. I loved the pieces of chipped coconut, but I didn't really notice the almonds. I also thought it was a little sweeter than I liked. In the future I would maybe note in the comments on the order to halve the sweetener. The other option, and this would make the cost of the mix stretch a bit more, would be to add some plain rolled oats towards the end of the cooking process to dilute the flavor a bit.

The coconut and creme brulee flavors went really well together! My husband didn't think he noticed the creme brulee flavor much - but I did. 

One other thing I noticed is that when I was pouring out the bag to measure how much was in there is that the big flakes of coconut and almond settled at the bottom of the bag. There was also a lot of "dust" at the end of the bag which may have been the sugar. I would recommend pouring out the mix into a bigger tupperware or something so that you could give it a stir before taking some out to cook.

The verdict?  I loved my creation, but found it on the sweet side. It does take advanced planning or thinking ahead to cook. The quality of ingredients seem to be on par with the price, which is more expensive than standard off the shelf options at the grocery store. I wish they would add the serving size to the package so you don't have to guess. I would definitely recommend this product! It would make a fun gift for those hard to buy for relatives. My little guy also liked it, but couldn't tell me why. One other offering they have is a "mystery" blend that you have the opportunity to add to your order for a really good price - this may be a fun way to mix up your breakfast routine. I also received a coupon in my package for 15% off my next order!

Advocare - what happened?

I hate when blogs leave me hanging so here is the wrap up. I really enjoyed the cleanse phase of the program - a month later and I feel like it did make a difference. When I was supposed to start the max phase I came down with horrible bronchitis and sinus infection and went on antibiotics. I delayed the max phase for a few days because trying to take all the supplements and eat a certain way while sick just wasn't appealing to me. 

I tried the max phase for a few days but the infection took a long time to get better - a couple weeks! I went off the supplements after a couple days because I felt so awful and I didn't want to fight the infection and introduce my body to this new stuff at the same time.

Once I got better, we were headed out of town for spring break.

Will I pick up the max phase again? I am not sure. You know how you associate things that aren't related because of coincidence? Right now I associate those products with how awful I felt when I was sick.

Weight loss - I didn't lose much on the cleanse phase but I felt GREAT. I am still struggling with my weight - I don't know how I have gained ten lbs in the last year, when I eat about the same and continue to be active. I am trying to get religious about using Myfitness pal again as that was what helped me lost a fair amount of weight in the past. 

Verdict? I will likely try the max phase again to finish up the supplements, and I will probably do the cleanse every six months or so.

Friday, February 21, 2014

AdvoCare 10 Day Cleanse {Results & Review}

Disclaimer: I did sign up to be an AdvoCare Independent Distributor because the discount made it worth it. I have a full time, advancing career and am not looking to make this a job. I intend to be completely honest in my review. If you want to buy through me, the links will take you there and I am happy to coach anyone through a challenge, but I am NOT pushing or "selling" this. Simply blogging my experience.

Well, I had intended to blog the experience daily but then I traveled for work and then got sick. It's always something isn't it??

Last I checked in, it was Day 4. I was feeling really hungry despite not lowering my calorie intake and was bloated and felt gross.

When I traveled for work, I was pretty successful at sticking with the eating plan. I even drank seltzer water when I went out for drinks with friends!! I have to admit, I really do not miss the once or twice weekly wine I got in the habit of drinking in the evenings. I also stuck to the no fried foods rule, and only had a little bit of white carbs during one work luncheon.

With the days that I got a break from the fiber drink, I was started to feel much less bloated. 

I also was not really able to work out much while traveling. 

So what were the results? Well, I don't know why I expected to lose more weight or inches, since my eating habits hadn't changed drastically. However, I did lose 1.8 lbs (down to 128.2) and lost an inch at the waist. No inches lost anywhere else. 

Overall, I felt GREAT! I just felt good all day - no afternoon slumps, I felt very refreshed, energized, and focused. I don't really know how else to explain it.

I was supposed to start the max phase on Sunday but I woke up super sick. I had the cold or resp flu - and now on Friday I am still not over it. Sunday and Monday were really bad with lots of congestion, itchy throat, and body aches. I didn't want to start the max phase feeling sick and icky, so I waited until Thursday to start it. I will update on the Max phase tomorrow.

I wanted to give a quick review of the products I used on the cleanse phase.

Fiber Drink - citrus flavor. I had read a lot of bad things about this drink, but it honestly didn't bother me at all. First day I put it in 4 oz of orange juice and found it way too sweet. After that I mixed it with 4 oz of water and it was fine. Drink it fast before it clumps up. The texture and taste didn't bother me at all. If it does, I've read to mix it with juice or applesauce.

Omegaplex - they were kind of big, but weren't a problem to take. I didn't have any fish burps that sometimes happen with omega supplements. I took 4 in the evenings before dinner.

Herbal Cleanse tablets - took these right before dinner. Again, they looked ominous but weren't hard to take.

Probiotic Ultra Restore - teeny pills compared to the others! I actually felt really good once I started taking these.

Spark - contrary to what I first thought, my flavor preferences changed as the days went on. Now my favorite is Fruit Punch, then Mango Strawberry, then Mandarin Orange. I put a packet in a 20 oz blender bottle with ice and water, drink about half, then keep topping it off with water, further diluting it. I am not a big fan of sweet drinks so I prefer it heavily diluted. Then I drink it over the course of a few hours. I only ever drank  one in the mornings and never felt like I needed any other caffeine during the day. I've still not had any diet soda and only had coffee with a friend once while on the cleanse and earlier this week when I was sick and not on the max phase yet.

Would I recommend this? I think it probably is good for digestive health, and it was the motivation I needed to clean up my diet a little bit. I didn't see major results, but I can't emphasize enough how great and healthy I felt. Could you get the same results with metamucil and any old probiotic? Maybe. It is an expensive system - but sometimes that's the push people need for motivation. I will say a net loss of 1.8 lbs in 10 days was welcome after a year of steadily gaining. I've also discovered how much I enjoy cutting out the white carbs, brown rice is another favorite thing I've found since starting the 24 Day Challenge.

But to quote Phaedra Parks (Real Housewives of Atlanta) - "girl, we don't spend our money to get motivated".....well, maybe some of us do!

Monday, February 10, 2014

AdvoCare Challenge {Day 4}: Strawberry Chia Seed Pudding

Disclaimer: I did sign up to be an AdvoCare Independent Distributor because the discount made it worth it. I have a full time, advancing career and am not looking to make this a job. I intend to be completely honest in my review. If you want to buy through me, the links will take you there and I am happy to coach anyone through a challenge, but I am NOT pushing or "selling" this. Simply blogging my experience.

This was a really hard day for me food wise. The good thing is I am learning where my pitfalls are and what I need to start doing to avoid falling into these bad food choice traps.

No fiber drink this morning! Day 4 gives you a break from the fiber drink, and replaces it with a Probiotic Ultra Restore. For breakfast I tried this new to me hot multigrain triple berry cereal from Trader Joe's. It does not have a bunch of added sugar, there is a little bit of sweetness from the fruit and I love the "bite" of the different grains - less mushy than oatmeal. I failed to add a protein with breakfast.

Took the kids to Target to spend some gift cards they had, and then we went to Sam's club. It was 11:30 by then and I hadn't drank my Spark that morning, but I still resisted the urge to get a giant Diet Coke. I was not able to resist eating the crust of my little ones pizza. Food fail - white flour.

After a few more errands we came home and I drank my Spark (fruit punch flavor) and I ate some Strawberry Chia Pudding that I made up the day before. It is so good! Not terribly sweet, texture of tapioca, but the cinnamon reminds me of rice pudding. The nutrition stats do NOT include the toasted coconut sprinkled on top.

This recipe was inspired by this Blueberry Chia Pudding parfait

Recipe serves 8:

1.5 cups Trader Joe's unsweetened coconut milk beverage
1.5 cups Fage 0% plain greek yogurt
1 cup milk of your choice (I ran out of coconut milk so I used Horizon 2% milk - reflected in nutrition stats)
1 cup strawberries, hulled
10 tbsp chia seed
4 tbsp honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon

Pulse in blender until strawberries are smooth - refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Top with unsweetened, toasted coconut. I toasted it myself in a dry saute pan over medium heat.

Stats not including coconut:
~ 170 calories, 5g fat, 9g protein

I ate the salad I had made for dinner the night before - spring mix, grape tomatoes, avocado, cucumber with a little parmesan cheese and home made balsamic for an afternoon snack. I was super hungry in the afternoon for some reason, so I then had a low fat string cheese stick. Followed up by an apple with Trader Joe's natural peanut butter (no sugar added) - 3/4 of an apple.

I made an awesome tomato, veggie and whole wheat penne soup for dinner (recipe coming tomorrow) and then hit the treadmill for 90 minutes. My energy has felt great during this cleanse phase, I am really proud that I have not had any coffee or Diet Coke. This last week I really hit it hard on working out, and I feel like my muscles are recovering well. Not terribly sore at all, but I can tell my body is fatigued. I was not at all in the mood for a longish run, but I wanted to hit 7 miles to get 30 total for the week, and I wanted to move my body for 90 minutes. I ended up doing run/walk intervals and did 8 miles in 93 minutes.

Took the four Omegaplex, ate some soup, and the three herbal cleanse pills before I went to sleep.

I had a great night's sleep and no weird dreams! I have to say that I have been very alert during this cleanse - getting about 7 hours of sleep at night and not tired / sleepy during the day like I usually am. Despite feeling very bloated and like my digestive system is not really moving, I feel good. I did some searching last night and came upon this link that explains the cleanse is great detail. I am not following this diet plan because I didn't see it. My coaches told me to avoid alcohol and fried food, and the guide in my box said to avoid sugar, processed foods, white carbs, etc, but was hardly this strict. I feel ok about it this first time around, but if I ever want to do this again and get hard core I might follow the stricter diet. At any rate, I was glad to see that what I was feeling was normal.

Woke up this morning and weighed in - 129.4, up a pound from the morning before. I now feel REALLY bloated, but I measured my waist and it's actually down 3/4 of an inch. Go figure. Still just trying to trust the process. 

Have you ever done a challenge / cleanse / etc and had it permanently change your way of eating?

I am enjoying getting ride of the white carbs....I am hoping I can stick with that going forward. Those whole wheat english muffins are pretty awesome.