Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Better Habits in 2016

I've been pretty quiet here this past year. I haven't done a lot of crafting, but I did manage to read over 140 books.  I'm feeling the urge to make things again though, so maybe inspiration will strike and some new patterns will appear in 2016.  However, this post hasn't about crafting. It's about new beginnings and trying to get healthy.

I'm a registered nurse and work in critical care.  I am required to get continuing education credits to maintain my license.  Yesterday, I stumbled on a couple that included strategies to prevent diabetes and heart disease, both conditions that are not only increasing in our society, but are also appearing in younger and younger patients, and are leading causes of death, disability and health care spending. Surprisingly, I learned that currently, more women than men die of heart disease in the US. Much to my dismay, once I actually saw these things in black and white, I realized that I actually fit into the higher risk categories for getting a serious, chronic disease. My list of risk factors is impressive, and there are probably some that I missed.   I'm post menopausal, over weight, apple shaped, sedentary, have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, my diet isn't the best, and I rarely get enough sleep. I generally think of myself as pretty healthy...but this was a huge wake up call for me.

In the past I've focused on weight control as my primary strategy for being healthier, but I haven't been motivated enough to maintain this, probably at least in part, because a healthy lifestyle encompasses a lot more than just this one thing. In 2016, 
I'm going to focus on creating healthy habits, one habit at a time.

I'm planning to focus on activity first. This will probably be the hardest for me to start and maintain. My goal will be at least 150 minutes of actual intentional exercise each week. My current plan is 20 minutes on either the treadmill or exercise bike at least 5 days a week, plus two 30 minute walks a week. In addition I plan to park at the far end of the parking ramp at work, plus park farther away at stores, etc. As I get into better shape, I will take the stairs more. At this point more than one or two flights of stairs make me extremely short of breath. I will also set a goal of walking around 10,000 steps per day at least five days a week. I'll have to buy a better pedometer to track this though, or maybe a Fitbit. I'll be interested to see if increasing my activity will increase the quality of my sleep.

Another thing I've noticed is that my sense of balance is declining. For instance, I can no longer stand on one foot for more than a second ir two before I'm at risk of falling over. According to a physical therapist co-worker, this is a normal consequence of aging and it can be improved and prevented by exercise. Apparently there are some specific exercises, but she recommended exercises that strengthen your core, such as walking, biking, etc. So I'm hopeful that improvement in this area will also be a benefit of increasing my level of activity.

I'm putting this out here for several reasons. I want to be accountable and putting it out here will help me with that. I'm hoping my journey provides encouragement and inspiration for others. Lastly, I'd love to have company in this endeavor, so if anyone wants to join me, I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easy 5 Can Soup

I really, really, really need to work on eating better.  Two years ago, I lost 26 pounds on Weight Watchers.  After a while I decided that I knew how it worked, so why pay for it.  I'm sure you can guess what happened. I managed to gain back all the weight, plus 5 more pounds.  I lost the extra 5 pounds over the past couple of months and now I'm back where I was when I first tried WW.  So, today I'm starting again.  This is what I had for lunch.

I found a number of versions of this recipe online, and tweaked it a bit to my taste.

1 14.5 oz can corn, drained
1 14.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (could probably substitute other types of beans)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can chicken broth (or 2 cups water plus 2 chicken bouillon cubes)
1/2 cup refried beans (freeze leftovers)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 tsp dried minced garlic

Combine all ingredients in saucepan.  Bring to barely boiling over high heat, then turn heat to low and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes, stirring once in a while.  A little chili powder and cumin would probably be good in this, if you like those flavors.

Nutrition info. per serving:
236 calories
47 grams carbohydrates
11 grams fiber
13 grams protein
2 grams fat

4 servings, 6 points plus each, (if my calculations are correct.)

This tasted good, was quite filling and helped me towards my 5 or more fruit and vegetable servings for the day.  I also like the fact that I can easily keep the basic ingredients in my pantry.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bread Machine Recipe

This is my favorite bread machine recipe. My bread machine only makes a one pound loaf, so if your machine is bigger, and you want to make a bigger loaf, you would have to increase the ingredients.  (Most larger machines can make loaves in smaller sizes though). However, I think that you should consult your bread machine manual to get some idea of how much salt and yeast to use in a larger loaf.  Same with other seasonings added to the dough.  I'm not sure that those ingredients would need to be increased in proportion to the others. This is a very basic recipe and as written it makes a nice light loaf of white bread. I think this recipe should work, even if you don't use a machine.

I don't bake bread in the machine, I always make dough and then bake it in the oven. I've never baked this bread in the machine.  If I tried it, I would use the light crust, and white bread settings.

7 ounces lukewarm water
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp white sugar
2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp instant yeast

Place all ingredients in bread machine in order suggested by manufacturer.  Set machine to white bread and dough setting.  Check dough when it's a few minutes into the cycle and add either a small amount of flour or water if needed, to form a smooth dough that isn't sticky to the touch.  (Check your manual for more details and when to check.). Once dough cycle is complete, form dough into loaf and place in greased bread pan.  Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Bake bread in preheated 400 degree oven for 17 to 20 minutes or until nicely browned.  Cool on a rack, covered with a clean towel.  Slice when cool.  Makes a one pound loaf, approximately 16 slices.

This is not my favorite variation, but you could substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the bread flour.  Add 1 tbsp of vital wheat gluten for each cup of  whole wheat flour.  It might need a bit longer to rise.  Mix and bake as directed.

This can be rolled out into a pizza crust.  Just spread rolled out dough with tomato sauce, sprinkle with cheese and add whatever toppings you like. Let stand for 10 minutes or so.  Bake at 400 until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Length of time to bake will depend on how thin you rolled the crust, and how much you put on it, but around 12 minutes is a good time to start checking.  I make two 12 inch crusts out of this. We eat one, and I bake the other until it's done, but not yet browned and then freeze it.  Sometimes I make 4 individual pizza crusts.  That way I can have mushrooms and peppers and hubby can have meat and onions.

I also use this recipe to make raisin bread.  I haven't had any luck with adding raisins to the bread machine.  They either end up all chopped up, or stuck to the outside of the dough, or rolling around loose in the pan.  Instead, I do the following:
1.  Roll out the dough into a large rectangle on a lightly floured surface
2.  Very lightly brush the dough with a small amount of melted butter.
3. Sprinkle very lightly with cinnamon and generously with raisins.  Press raisins into dough.   (If you omit the raisins, increase the cinnamon a bit and sprinkle with sugar, you will end up with cinnamon bread.)
4:   Roll up dough from short side, tuck ends under to form a loaf shape and place into greased bread pan.  Allow to rise and bake as directed above.

Cinnamon rolls are made similarly.  Spread dough rectangle with softened butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll up from long side of rectangle and cut into slices about an inch thick. Arrange in a greased 9x13  pan, allow to rise, and bake at 350 for approximately 15 minutes.  Glaze with a powdered sugar glaze or frost when the come out of the oven.  I sometimes let these rise overnight in the fridge and bake them the next morning.

Herb Bread
Add to dough with other ingredients:
1/4 tsp each of:  dried basil, dried minced garlic, dried thyme, dried oregano, coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp each of dried rosemary,  and dried minced onion

10 Grain Cereal Bread
Add 1/2 cup 7 or 10 grain cereal to the pan, (the kind of cereal that you cook on the stove), before mixing the dough.  I buy 10 grain cereal from an Amish bulk food store, and it doesn't absorb much water, so I leave all the other ingredients the same.  I don't know about other brands of cereal.  You may need to decrease the flour or ad a bit if water.
This is our go-to variation.  We like the slight crunch of the cereal in our sandwiches and toast, and this is also a great bread to serve with soup.

Honey Oatmeal Bread
Add 2 tsp honey instead of the sugar and 3/4 cup quick oats to the bread.  Decrease bread flour to 2 cups.  You may need to add either additional flour or a bit of water to this one, depending on how much water the oatmeal absorbs.  Instant oats will absorb more water than quick oats, which in turn will absorb more water than regular oats or stoneground oats.

Cooking for the Freezer

In a previous post, I said I did some cooking for the freezer.  I'm going to post links to the recipes here for next time, so that I can easily find them and remember what I thought about them.

Alton Brown's Baked Brown Rice
This is one of the easiest ways I've ever found to cook brown rice. I haven't tried doubling the recipe, but I make 2 or 3 pans at a time.  I don't heat up the water, butter and salt first.  I just use the microwave to melt the butter right in the casserole dish, (or I chop it up, or I substitute olive oil for the butter), and add in very hot tap water, salt and rice. I use a casserole dish with a cover, and bake as directed.  (Keep a bit of a watch on it toward the end, it seems to absorb the water in less time some days.  If I  remember, I add about 1/4 cup more water than the recipe calls for.  I've never had it come out soggy.). Sometimes I substitute a crushed beef or chicken bouillon cube for the salt.  This freezes beautifully in freezer bags, and reheats well in the microwave.

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
I sometimes add a little crushed garlic to the water that I cook the potatoes in.  When I thawed these, they had a lot of watery liquid in the bottom of the pan. This might be related to the type of potatoes I used.  I drained this off before baking them.  Despite this, these were very good.

Chicken Burritos
I used fat free refried beans for this recipe.  I tossed some salsa and some chili powder into the filling.  These were soggy when reheated in the microwave, but turned out well in the oven.  I sprayed a baking dish, and baked them at 350 until they were hot. I sprinkled them with additional shredded cheese for the last few minutes.

Chicken Alfredo Calzones
I made these with homemade bread dough,  but it was hard to roll the dough thin enough and I ended up with a lot of bread in relationship to the filling.  Next time I try these, I'm going to try Pilsbury pizza crust, the kind that comes in cans, like biscuits.  We liked these, even though they were a bit heavy in the bread department.  (What's not to like about warm, homemade bread!)

Bacon Wrapped Mini Meatloaves
I liked this concept, but wasn't crazy about this particular recipe. The bacon isn't neccesary, just adds fat and calories, and got soggy when the meatloaves were reheated in the microwave.  Both hubby and I thought the seasonings were "off" for meatloaf.  I'd freeze meatloaf again, but I'd try a different recipe and make little mini loaves for the two of us, rather than cupcakes.  I'm not sure I would pre-bake either.  The whole muffin tin thing, and the bacon was really fiddly and time consuming, and made for a lot of clean up.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole
This was yummy.  I used leftover ham and turkey rather than chicken, since that's what I had, and substituted cream of chicken soup for the evaporated milk and chicken bouillon.  We ate this over the afore-mentioned brown rice, but it would be very good over pasta as well.  If you scroll down to the bottom of the post, there is a link to a printable recipe, which is a lot easier to read than the picture heavy post.

Healthy Banana Blueberry Muffins
I had bananas to use up and a couple of bags of blueberries in the freezer from last summer.  These were okay, a little heavy in my opinion, and definitely best warm.

What we are eating this week.

Yesterday I tried this recipe for a pork loin roast.
Tangy Slow Cooker Pork Roast
It had quite a number of very positive reviews, so I was hopeful for a nice tender roast. My pork roasts are usually dry, whether I put them in the oven or the crockpot.  Even an instant read meat thermometer hasn't improved this.  This meat was okay, but not great, and still pretty dry, even though I left the fat on top.  Also, I really felt that the rather bland, not especially tangy sauce needed some help. I ended up whisking in 3 or 4 tablespoons of brown gravy mix, not enough to make it very thick, but enough to add a bit of a salty taste to the rather lack-luster sweet and sour taste that was going on.  This also added a bit of visual appeal, as the sauce was a really unappealing watery looking liquid. My crockpot was set on warm at this point.  I turned the crockpot up to high and let it cook for close to another hour.  Meanwhile I sliced the roast and put the slices into the gravy to stay hot, and maybe get a bit moister.  The end result was passable.  We will eat it, but I won't make this particular recipe again.  Guess I will keep looking for a good recipe,
Anyhow, now I have all this roast pork to use up.

Today, however, it will be burgers on the grill, along with baked onion rings and carrot sticks and cucumber slices. (It's sunny and relatively warm for a change!)
Thursday: pulled pork on buns, corn chips, salad, maybe baked beans
Friday:  leftover pork with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans
Saturday:  we are going to finish demolishing the kitchen in preparation for installation of new cabinets next week, so we are going out for dinner
Sunday: ham, hash brown potato casserole, (both in crockpots, since stove will be out of commission), rolls, corn and applesauce

The beginning of next week will be microwave, or toaster oven stuff, as I'm not sure how long the kitchen will be out of commission.  Our youngest daughter came over for a day a few weeks ago, and we made a bunch of freezer meals, most of which can be microwaved or baked.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spinach Salad with Hot Lemon Bacon Dressing

Spinach Salad with Hot Lemon Bacon Dressing

This is a my take on Spinach salad.  It's not the healthiest salad choice you could make, but it is very tasty.  Makes two servings, but can easily be made to serve more.

2 eggs
3 slices bacon
1 cup sliced yellow onion
3 cups fresh spinach, cleaned and dried
2 tbsp dried cranberries

1 tbsp bacon fat
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice, fresh is nice, but bottled works fine
3 tsp white sugar (you can increase or decrease this as you like)

1:   Place eggs in small saucepan and cover with water. Bring water to a boil, cover and remove from heat.  Let sit for 15 minutes.  Then drain, and run cold water over eggs in pan for a few minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Peel eggs and cut into slices or chop when cool.  I prefer them chopped up, but slices look a little nicer.
2:   Fry bacon in skillet, until crispy.  Remove to paper towels to drain and cool enough to handle.  Crumble when cool. Do not drain fat that is left in pan.
3:   Put 1 tbsp of bacon fat into a small saucepan and set aside for the dressing.
4:   There should be just a little bacon fat left in your skillet.  If there's a lot, remove most of it, so the skillet is just barely coated.  Add onions to skillet and cook over low heat, until soft, stirring occasionally.  I do not season the onions, but you could if you want.
6:  Divide spinach between two salad bowls. Top with warm onions, cranberries and crumbled bacon.
7:  For dressing:  add lemon juice and sugar to reserved bacon fat.  Heat over low heat just until sugar is dissolved.  (If you heat it too long, your dressing will solidify like fudge as it cools.)  As soon as dressing is finished, pour over salads and toss to coat.  (This may seem like too small of an  amount of dressing, but a little goes a long way.). Top salads with egg and serve immediately.