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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cooking Lessons - Parsnips

I usually try to have some witty story to tell you guys at the start of each post but today I'm not really thinking of anything to share with you.  I'll try to be better about that for next week, I promise.  We had a busy week with Dan playing ice hockey in 3 different leagues between Thursday and Sunday.  I was working on homework, again and on Sunday we took Briscoe (our black lab) and Tucker (our yellow lab) to a fundraiser for Placing Paws (the animal rescue that we volunteer with) in Mundelein.  It was hosted at a doggy day-care and was raising money for both the rescue and for canine cancer research.  It was fun because I saw people that I haven't seen in several months, if not longer, but it also reminds me that I have no idea how to react when people react to how much weight I've lost.  If anyone has any advice on how to do that - let me know.  Clearly I'm flattered but I always feel like I don't know what to say (besides thank you of course).

Now... on to today's cooking lesson.  One of the comments that I got from last week's post was about parsnips.  I hadn't ever had them until we got them in our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box back in the fall of 2010.  I absolutely loved them so much that we decided to plant them this past spring.  As it turns out they are ridiculously easy to grow (plant in the spring, let the grow all summer and harvest in the fall right after the first light frost) so we planted quite a lot of them this year.  However, I'm not necessarily suggesting you plant them but if you can find them in your local market (for those in IL - I know they have them at Caputo's or you can also check another good produce market) you should give them a whirl.  They are a root vegetable and look like a white carrot but taste a little more potato-ey than they look.  I like to peel them (just like a carrot) and cut them into chunks and boil them.  I've boiled them alone or I've boiled them with potatoes and then smashed them and topped them with a little spray butter, salt and pepper.  Delicious.  You'll know they are cooked when they are tender (just like a carrot or potato) so just stick a fork or knife in them to check.  Another way to prepare them would be to slice them thin, toss them with a little olive oil and seasonings, lay them on a pan and bake them into chips.  Time will vary based on how thin/thick they are cut so keep an eye on them.  

Unfortunately, parsnips are not one of the free vegetables.  They are a little starchy so there is a Points+ value to them so keep an eye on the portion size.  I think they are totally worth the Points because they are really satisfying and tremendously delicious.  So, do you think you're up for trying a parsnip?

What other foods do you wonder about cooking?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cooking Lessons - Butternut Squash

I realize this post is coming a couple of days later than normal but what can I say?  Things have been busy!  The weekend was spent scrapbooking with Sheri, Marianne, Anita, Sami, Judy and some other very funny ladies.  I am very lucky because prior to the crop Sheri, the hostess of the crop, sent a survey and one of the questions was about the type of snacks you like.  I checked the fruit box and she provided a ton of delicious fruit that I happily munched away on.  I tried to keep to the WW plan and I was pretty successful in keeping to my daily points target, even with the temptation of birthday cake.  I had a small piece so I wouldn't feel deprived but would have loved a much bigger piece!  Anyway, I knew when I went to weigh-in that it wasn't going to be a great scale day (though I don't think that was because of the cake).  I gained 2.2 pounds but it is more likely because I haven't worked out since I injured my finger.  This is both because of frankenfinger (which is healing nicely if you're curious) and because of the nasty sinus infection/cold that I have and didn't want to make worse.  Anyway, I'm really hoping to get my butt out of bed tomorrow morning for a nice long walk with Tucker.

In other news... let's talk about cooking butternut squash (actually now that I think about it this is how I prepare most squash).  My friend Jen discovered butternut squash this week but mentioned that she bought the frozen/cubed kind and that she wasn't sure what to do with an actual butternut squash.  So, here you go Jen...

My most favorite way to prepare this is to slice the squash in half length wise.  Use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds and stuff from the bulbous end of the squash.  I put them in a pan with about an inch or so of water, cover the pan with foil and bake until the squash is soft.  Usually 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven but that can change based on the size of the squash.  Just insert a knife in and if you get any resistance then it's not done yet.  Once it is finished, take it out of the oven and let it cool (though I usually don't) and then scoop it out of the shell into a bowl.  I like to top it with salt, pepper and a little bit of spray butter.  If it's not as sweet as you like add a little brown sugar or Splenda brown sugar blend for sweetness.

If you're careful with the mandolin you could also just peel a butternut squash and slice it thin and then pan fry them or bake them.  It's tasty like that too but I think the texture is kind of wrong for "fries" because mine ended up being really soft.

I also really enjoy eating this with potatoes or parsnips or a combo of the two.

Do you have favorite ways to prepare butternut squash or any kind of squash?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cooking Lessons - Beets

Late last week I was making lunch using the new mandolin I'd gotten for Christmas.  I was slicing beets and being kind of an idiot about it by NOT using the safety thing that came with it to prevent one from slicing their finger off.  Guess what happened next?  Yes, I sliced my finger nearly all the way off.  After a few frantic phone calls (thanks Sheri for telling me where to go to have my finger put back together), a long drive to the urgent care center (maybe it only seemed long), 3 stitches and explaining to the staff that I did NOT cut my finger while PLAYING a mandolin but while cutting a beet on my mandolin (seriously, these people graduated from med school?  I should have asked to see diploma's) my finger is healing well.  However, this spurred a conversation between my friend Jen and I today.

She said that we need to have cooking school because she didn't know anyone who cooked beets.  Except me.  This got me thinking... I could post some information about vegetables that you may not understand how to cook.  If you have questions about one - post it in the comments and I'll try to follow-up with those suggestions.  So... here's my informal cooking lesson on beets.

They are tremendously healthy, free in Points+ values, but they will stain almost anything they come in contact with so be careful with them.  There are really only two ways that I generally prepare them - if you do something different and want to share please post that in the comments section too.

The first way I have prepared them is to make the beets into chips.  I start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees.  I wash the beets, though I don't peel them and then I use my mandolin (WITH SAFETY GUARD) to slice them pretty thin.  I spray a cookie sheet with olive oil.  Spread the beet slices evenly across the cookie sheet and bake for 20-35 minutes (depending on thickness) until they are chiplike.  Keep an eye on them though as they will burn and they are less appetizing when they become charcoal.  When I bring them out of the oven I will sprinkle some salt over top of them and let them cool.  Then, munch away.

The other way I have prepared them is to boil them.  I start by filling a pot about 1/4 of the way with water.  Then I wash the outside of the beets and slice off the top and the bottom.  If the beets are large you can cut them into smaller pieces.  Boil them until they are soft (which depends on how big the pieces are so I can't give you a time here) in the middle.  Once they are I put the pot in the sink and run cold water over them to cool them.  When they are cool enough to handle I just rub the peels right off (that's a nifty time saver that Mom taught me after I spent a long time peeling them one day).  I'll usually add a little spray butter and some salt and then enjoy them like that.

Does anyone else have any recipes using beets that you want to share?  How about other vegetables that you think about making but aren't sure you want to tackle?

PS - I also updated the About Me page with a new photo!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

600 Quarterpounders?

Today was big.  I mean HUGE.  I went to weigh-in and got on the scale and was so close (I was 0.2 pounds away from 150) when I realized that I hadn't gone to the bathroom.  Crap.  So I went to the bathroom quickly and then went to my favorite receptionist to beg her to weigh me, again.  For those who don't know Weight Watchers only allows you one recordable weigh-in per week.  Thankfully, Pat was able to delete my less than stellar weigh in and I tried again.  This time I did it.  Total weight loss:  150.2 pounds!!!!

We celebrated during the meeting and even though I feel like my meeting mates are tiring of celebrating my losses they were so proud and excited for me.  A few of them asked some really great questions and I was extremely touched by it all.  Here are the questions I was asked (I think this is all of them but someone keep me honest if I missed any):

Q:  How long did it take to lose 150 pounds?  A:  I started Weight Watchers in July 2010
Q:  How did you get started?  A:  My very bestest friend, Sheri, called me while we were driving back from Northern Wisconsin and said that she and her daughter were joining and asked if I wanted to join too.  She said we'd go to meetings together and have a little club.  We called ourselves Fatties Unite Tonight.  It worked!!
Q:  Had I done WW before?  A:  Yes, about 10 years ago I did the WW Online only plan and followed it for awhile but then later quit.  I didn't realize how valuable the meetings are both from an encouragement perspective as well as a learning perspective.  There are tips about food and recipes that really kept (and keep) me going on the program that I wouldn't learn if I wasn't going to meetings.  Plus I've met some of the most friendly and caring people there and I really love going to the Tuesday meetings just so I can see them and catch up with them.  My leader, Karen, has been BEYOND supportive too and she has this contagious optimism that you can't help but feel motivated and energized for the week ahead.  Meetings, like the Weight Watchers commercials say, work!
Of course when I got home and told my husband he said, "my god that's like 600 quarter pounders".  To which I replied, "Well, that's one way to think about it!"

How about everyone else?  How was your week?  Sticking to the New Years resolutions?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

SIXTY MILES!!!

How many miles do you think you could walk or run in 30 days?  Well, 31 days to be exact.  In late November I found out that my Garmin had a 'goal' feature that allowed me to set a goal and it would track it.  Cool, right?  So I created a goal that over the month of December that I'd go 60 miles in 30 days.  So, on December 31, Dan and I set out for the last walk to cover the last 3 miles.  Hitting the goal felt amazing and tiring.  Mostly amazing!
You can click on the image to see it bigger

The remainder of our New Years weekend was spent being reading in front of the fire, watching movies and playing with the dogs.  In Northern Wisconsin there was enough snow to make the dogs leap and jump through snow piles.  They were in heaven!  I also started thinking about new goals... what do I want to accomplish in 2012?  I'm still working on some of them but will post them shortly.

I missed my meeting this week due to a critical work problem.  I did go late and weigh in and the results were alright.  They were good, not great but since I have been battling a cold for several days I didn't expect to see huge numbers.

How was your New Year?  Do you set resolutions?  What kind of things do you want to accomplish in 2012?