Friday, August 27, 2010

Time to get coco-nutty!

Last night, I made a coconut cream pie. Now, before you thinking that I've fallen off the healthy wagon, let me say that I used the recipe from Hungry Girl.

If you don't know Hungry Girl, go visit her. She's terrific.

And, she has a really good slimmed-down coconut cream pie recipe:
Hungry Girl's Coconut Cream Pie
Servings: 8
WW Points: 2 per slice (a bit more if you use regular pudding instead of sugar free)

For Crust:
1 cup Fiber One bran cereal (original)
2 sheets (8 crackers) low-fat honey graham crackers, broken into pieces
3 tbsp. Splenda No Calorie Sweetener (granulated)
1/4 cup light whipped butter or light buttery spread (like Brummel & Brown)

For Filling and Topping:
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
1/2 tsp. coconut extract
One 6-serving box Jell-O Sugar Free Fat Free Vanilla Instant pudding mix
2 cups Cool Whip Free, thawed and divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. shredded sweetened coconut, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large pie pan lightly with nonstick spray and set aside.

Place cereal and graham cracker pieces in a blender or food processor, and grind to a breadcrumb-like consistency. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add Splenda and set aside.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine butter with 2 tbsp. water. Microwave until just melted. Add to the medium bowl and stir contents until thoroughly mixed.

Evenly distribute crust mixture along the bottom of the pie pan, using your hands or a flat utensil to firmly press and form the crust. Press it into the edges and up along the sides of the pan.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, pour milk into a large bowl. Add coconut extract and pudding mix and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gently fold 1 cup Cool Whip into pudding mixture. Stir in 1/4 cup shredded coconut.

Once crust has cooled and filling has thickened, evenly spread filling into the crust. Spread remaining 1 cup Cool Whip over the filling. Refrigerate until completely chilled and set, at least 1 hour.

For a toasted coconut topping (optional), bring a skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat on the stove, and add remaining 2 tbsp. shredded coconut. Stirring occasionally, cook for about 4 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, sprinkle toasted or un-toasted shredded coconut over the pie. Cut into 8 slices and enjoy!

How does one make this not-terrible-for-you coconut cream pie?

I'm glad you asked.

For starters, you nix the whole traditional pie crust thing, which is easy for me because I've never really been a traditional pie crust kind of girl. Instead, Hungry Girl makes a graham crackery-type crust (that's more my style) out of graham crackers and Fiber One cereal.

You know Fiber One. It's the stuff that looks like Colon Blow:



God, I miss Phil Hartman. Wasn't he terrific in everything? He was just a cave man.

Anywho, I'd never in my life tried Fiber One cereal until last night. You know what? It tastes like AlphaBits without the marshmallows. Who knew?

In addition to its known role as an intestinal pipe cleaner, Fiber One cereal, when pulverized with a few low-fat graham crackers and mixed with Brummel and Brown makes a pretty decent-looking pie crust.

When you press the mixture into the pie pan, don't get frustrated when most of it sticks to your fingers. Just keep patting it into place, working from the center outward, then up the sides. It took a minute for me to get the hang of it, but once I did it was easy.

So we made this Colon Blow crust, and baked it little to set it. Then, we mixed up a some instant vanilla pudding. HG (Hungry Girl, for those of you not on initial terms with her yet) calls for sugar free pudding mix, but since the pie is for Frank and me to share, and he doesn't do artificial sweeteners, we used regular pudding mix. To the pudding we added some coconut extract, a little shredded coconut and some fat-free Cool Whip.

Then we dumped it in the cooled pie crust, topped it with more Cool Whip, and sprinkled on some toasted coconut to make it look all bakery fancy.

I wanted to eat some of it last night, but resisted. This morning, Frank packed a couple of slices into to-go containers so we could enjoy our pie at lunch.

The verdict?

Delicious!!

It tastes like a coconut cream pie, and that's what I wanted it to taste like.

I would only change one thing about the original HG recipe - next time, I'll add about 1/4 tsp. or so of salt to the crust mixture. Otherwise, this is a definite keeper.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer break? What summer break?

I have worked at a university for almost 15 years (holy moly, that's a long time) and typically, our summers have meant a slow period. The requests for help diminish, people take vacations, and the days slide by like molasses out of a bottle until August, when things ramp up again.

This year, though, things haven't been slow at all. In fact, this has been the busiest summer I can remember. One reason is our new student union opens in a week, there's lots of moving things from one place to another and making sure everyone has everything they need to do their jobs in time for fall semester. It makes the days fly by, which can be a good thing, but it also makes for some stressful times, which isn't so good.

I'm not the type of person who eats when I am stressed. I tend to eat when I'm bored, so this summer has been good for me, diet-wise. But I am the type of person who can get overwhelmed easily, and sort of freak out a bit when I think I have too much on my plate (ha! unintentional diet reference!). To combat potential freak-outs, I make to-do lists. I write down on a piece of paper the tasks that I need to get done, and cross them off as I complete them. The physical act of seeing the list get whittled down is reassuring and helps to remind me that I get what I need to get done completed eventually, one task at a time.

I find that listening to music will help relax my stressed self, too. Some current stress-relieving favorites are:

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

Clem Snide - Your Favorite Music

Metric - Fantasies

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed? Do you eat? Sleep? Create? Make lists? Whatever it is, make sure it's good for your mind and body. The last thing you need when stressed out is to feel guilty about choices you make to cope with that stress. Find a healthy outlet, whatever that is for you, and find time to incorporate that outlet into your day-to-day routine.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lose the glove. Share the love.

A staple of my childhood cooking experience was a cheeseburger casserole, the recipe for which came on a case of boxed macaroni and cheese we got from Sam’s Club. It was a delicious and high-in-fat-and-calories concoction of cooked hamburger, macaroni and cheese and cream of mushroom soup. It was Hamburger Helper without the glove. It was comfort and joy in a microwavable casserole dish.

I still love the flavor of that meal, but don’t want much of anything to do with the old versions. This makeshift "hamburger" helper is so named because it’s a from-scratch version of the original that uses ground turkey instead of beef. The flavors are very, very similar to what you’re used to, with far fewer calories or fat grams – knowing that it’s good for you makes it taste even better. Serve with a side of sauteed spinach and a couple of old episodes of Night Court to complete the throwback experience.

Makeshift “Hamburger” Helper
Servings: 6
WW Points: 4 per serving

8 oz. whole wheat macaroni noodles (uncooked)
1 lb. ground turkey
14 oz. fat-free beef broth
2 cups water
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 oz. button mushrooms, diced
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. all purpose flour
1/2 c.fat free sour cream
1/4 c. grated reduced fat Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

Brown turkey in a large skillet. When beef is cooked through, add veggies, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook it until the veggies start to soften and release their juices, stirring it often.

Stir in the water, 1 1/2 cups of the broth, uncooked macaroni noodles, and the Worcestershire sauce, bring to a boil. Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium and cook until the pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.

Whisk the flour with the remaining 1/4 cup of broth in a small bowl until it’s smooth with no lumps. Stir this into the turkey mixture. Add the sour cream. Simmer uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Right before serving, add the Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. The sauce will thicken some as it sits.

By the way, this freezes really well. So make lots and do that, m'kay?

U can't touch this. Or maybe you can. OK, you can.

After almost three months with my iPad, it's safe to say that I love it. Long before they were even announced, I told Mr. Awesome that I loved my iPhone, but that a tablet-sized version would be killer. No, I didn't want to hold the giant version to my head like some sort of douchebag - I barely use the thing for phone calls at all - but the screen on the iPhone was perfect, the responsiveness so right there, that imaginings of a bigger version were really just too cool to be true.

And then Apple went and done it. They gone and did it. They made my dream come true.

I realize at this point I sound like an Apple fanboy to the nth degree. I'm cool with that. Why? Because Apple really has created a new tool for connecting to the hive mind that is the internet. The iPad literally puts the Web in your hand... it all feels very Tom Cruise in Minority Report, without the Pre-Cog business or necessity to wear tight-fitting black clothing while using the device (that would be cool, though - I may have to try that).

Anyway, the purpose of this post isn't just to rave about the genius that is iPad. I want to talk about Apps for a moment. An iPad is only as useful (or entertaining) as the Apps installed on it, and with a virtual universe of Apps to choose from, it can be very daunting to find the ones that are a.) legitimately excellent and b.) worth the money. That's the kicker, folks - most of the really good Apps cost money. Sure, you can have a great experience with the free Apps, but if you want to kick it into high gear and fall madly, deeply in love with your iPad, you are going to have to do what any good suitor does and fork over some cash.

Based on my experiences thus far, here are some of my absolute favorite, must-have Apps of the moment, in no particular order:

NetNewsWire - Google Reader never felt so good.

Plants vs. Zombies - Loved the PC version, drool over the iPad one.

Twitterific - The instant accessibility of the iPad pairs beautifully with the fast-food feel of Twitter.

Pages - Word processor. You don't think you need this, but you do.

Scrabble - I'm a Scrabble junkie, and Scrabble + iPad = Scrabble heroin.

Todo - Sync tasks between Outlook, iPad and iPhone. Keep organized, people.

GoodReader - Nice PDF reader.

iBooks - The Kindle killer is really all that.

What do you think of the iPad? What are your favorite Apps? What do I need to download?