Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I got lucky!

When it comes to contests, I'm not what you would consider lucky. Frank can so much as look at a contest entry form and win something. One of my co-workers spends her off-hours entering online sweepstakes and wins all sorts of things - enough to make for some interesting Christmases in her family every year. But me... I don't have the luck o' the Irish, no matter what my Guinness-loving self might wish.

However, it seems that lately my luck has taken a turn.

Last month I was notified that I won a case of Pop Chips.

Two weeks ago, I won a pair of Levi's jeans from Gowalla.

And last week, I was notified that I won a contest hosted by GreenLiteBites to create a new spice set for Spices, Inc.!

Starting today, my winning entry will be sold on the Spices, Inc. Web site and I'll get one of my very own in the mail later this week.

And here's my original contest entry:
The Secret Ingredient Set

This is a collection of herbs and spices that are used in everyday recipes to really make them outstanding. I picked ones that I didn’t know I needed until after I tried them. Now they are kitchen staples for me and hopefully for you, too.

Organic Basil – add to canned tomato soup and feel like you’re at a fancy bistro, mix into pasta salad or sprinkle on pizza or sandwiches for an Italian flair.

Adobo Seasoning – mix with mayonnaise for a perfectly surprising sandwich spread, combine with sour cream for a quick and delicious taco topping, sprinkle in couscous, rub into chicken – the list goes on and on.

Marjoram Leaf – the secret to perfect meatloaf is marjoram. Period.

Crystallized Ginger – kick your sweet potato casserole to 11 by adding minced crystallized ginger. Or add it to molasses cookies, spice cakes and pumpkin rolls for a hint of goodness that will make them turn their heads – in a good way.

Lemongrass – combine with Asian flavors to make a delicious marinade for grilled chicken, add to soups for a light hint of the exotic, or mix with honey and drizzle over fresh fruit for an out-of-this-world dessert.

Nutmeg Powder – the secret to the best eggnog, the best quiche, the best savory bread pudding – if your dish is based on eggs, nutmeg will probably make them sing.

How cool is that? This contest was so much fun, and I love the thought that someone else might try one of these spices in a new way thanks to my set. The best way to add flavor while cutting back on fat and sugar when cooking is to experiment with herbs and spices. The only thing in the above set that I cooked with before the last year or two was nutmeg, and that was when it was sprinkled on top of a glass of eggnog. The more comfortable I get with the flavors of herbs and spices, the more comfortable I become as a cook.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Out and about.

Here’s our menu plan for the week of 12/06/2010. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time.

Monday: Sushi at Kato!

Tuesday: Lemon Grass Chicken Skewers with Rice

Wednesday: Oven-Baked Mahi Mahi Fish Sandwiches* with pasta salad

Thursday: Turkey Antipasto Panini and roasted Brussels sprouts

Friday: Moroccan Meatball Stew* with couscous and sautéed bell peppers

Saturday: Pho Ga at Mr. Le’s!

Sunday: Football Party!

So we ate out twice last week. On Monday we had sushi at Kato during their sushi Happy Hour. Nigiri for $1.50 and lots of rolls and appetizers for $3.95. If you're in the Kansas City North area on a weeknight, and want some really good, reasonably priced sushi, you can't do better than Kato.

Saturday found us at Mr. Le's in KC North for one of my favorite foods, Pho Ga. I've posted about my love of Pho before, and when I don't feel like making it at home, Mr. Le's is a good alternative.

Mr. Le’s is located at Parvin and Brighton in Kansas City, North, in what I consider one of the shadiest strip malls around. There are some seriously icky people around this place, but they don’t go into Mr. Le’s, so don’t be afraid. Inside, Mr. Le’s is bright and cheery:

Despite the dubious location, Mr. Le serves up some of the best sushi we’ve had. The fish is fresh and the rolls are creative and delicious. Presentation is not brushed over, as with this spicy tuna roll (one of the best we’ve had anywhere):

But I’m (obviously) a sucker for Pho, and the Pho at Mr. Le’s doesn’t disappoint. The broth is wonderfully aromatic – I’ve said several times that if I ever ask for chicken noodle soup while in the throes of illness, it is Pho Ga that I want, and not actual chicken noodle soup – that I can’t even imagine how that flavor is accomplished. Lucky for me, I don’t have to know because Mr. Le knows and is close enough to my house I can get a fix any time I want.

Despite the soup spoons that are brought with the Pho, I strongly recommend you eat the Pho with chopsticks and drink the broth. There is something very calming about eating a bowl of noodle soup with chopsticks. You are forced to slow down, have patience. Part of the experience of eating Pho for me is the exercise of eating it with chopsticks, and while I’ve tried to eat it with a spoon and fork, something suffers without the chopsticks. So give them a shot. Mr Le’s is open on Sundays, which makes me a happy camper. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in.

The Football Party mentioned was thrown by some good friends who are about to welcome their first child in about a month. Since they usually throw a Superbowl party, this is the alternative this year since by the time the Superbowl rolls around they will be up to their eyeballs in baby crap (literally and figuratively). There were a lot of food temptations to be had, and I had many, but I managed to limit myself more than I would have in years' past. I reached for carrot sticks more than chips, and had one beer instead of more than one. As for the football, I'm not what anyone would consider a sports fan, but it still sucks to be on the losing side. Hopefully the Chiefs will win next week and going forward - the actual football fans are much better to be around when the team is winning...

This week we had one of my favorite meals - panini! I love them because we tend to have all the fixin's on hand and can throw them together without much planning. While the options are endless when it comes to putting together a good panini, my favorite involves sliced turkey, provolone, spinach and a mixture of sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper.

A panini grill, like the Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler, is a handy tool for making panini. This particular model also has griddle plates, making it a more versatile investment than a panini press and flat griddle. We got ours at Costco a few years ago and use it a couple of times a month.
Turkey Antipasto Panini
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points: 10 per sandwich

2 Tbsp. fat-free mayonnaise
8 slices hearty whole-grain bread
8 ounces shaved deli turkey
1 (6-ounce) jar quartered marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. sun-dried tomato halves, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. roasted red peppers, sliced
1 c. fresh spinach leaves
4 (1-ounce) slices reduced-fat provolone cheese
Cooking spray

Preheat a panini grill.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes, artichoke hearts and red pepper and mix together.

Spread the mayonnaise evenly over each bread slice. Top each of 4 bread slices evenly with turkey, tomato mixture, spinach and cheese. Top with remaining bread slices. Coat both sides of each sandwich with cooking spray.

Place sandwiches on panini grill. Grill for 3 – 4 minutes or until bread is browned and cheese is melted.

These sandwiches are delicious with a side of spinach or, better for this time of year, roasted Brussels sprouts.

I've managed to meet my goals of exercising on my bike three times a week for the last two weeks. This week I plan on adding another minute onto my workout time to keep things moving forward. It's gotten much colder in the last week, so getting out of bed is harder than ever, but at least I have something good to read (thanks, J. K. Rowlings). I've also started to wrap Christmas presents, and have almost finished shopping - just two or three things left to pick up before calling it quits.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Stay on target... stay on target!

Here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time:

Monday: Classic Stuffed Peppers and sautéed spinach

Tuesday: Macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas

Wednesday: Chicken and Leek Potpie*

Thursday: Sushi at Kato!

Friday: Turkey Antipasto Panini and roasted Brussels sprouts

Saturday: Chipotle!

Sunday: Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Buttery Herb Couscous

Treat Monday: Peanut Butter Hugs

My first week on the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus system has been really great. I've been motivated to eat more fruit and I've found myself reaching for grapes when I otherwise would have reached for a VitaTop or baked potato chips. I've also been more motivated to exercise lately - re-reading the Harry Potter series while on my bike is a good strategy! As a result, I met my goal of using my bike three times last week! YAY ME!

AND - I've used it twice this week! YAY ME AGAIN!

I'm almost through Christmas shopping and can't wait until our families get their gifts. We've found great stuff for everyone on our list - you know, those just perfect gifts you can't wait to give (I have four words for my nephew who doesn't read this blog - two-foot tall tonton) - now all I have to do is wrap them.