Tuesday, May 31, 2016

It's so FLUFFY!

I continue to use my Azure Standard Wild Yeast Sourdough Mix in a number of things. This last weekend  it was another version of pancakes, but a much fluffier version than the flour free recipe made a couple of weeks ago.  These were incredibly light and fluffy, and though they used a bit of white flour, they still had a nice dose of nutrients and probiotics from the whole wheat sourdough.

In a cereal bowl mix 1/2 cup milk and 1 tablespoon Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar
Let sit 10 minutes
In a separate bowl mix:
2 Tablespoons of sugar
3/4 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a larger bowl mix

1/2 cup Azures Standard wild yeast whole wheat sourdough starter
1 egg
dash of vanilla extract
the curdled milk mixture
2 Tablespoons of butter, melted.

Mix wet into dry ingredients, blending, just until mixed.  Batter should be fairly thick, depending on your sourdough mixture, just enough to drop on the griddle with a spoon and spread out only slightly. If it is runny, add 2-3 Tablespoons more flour, if it is too thick, add a Tablespoon of milk.  Cook on an oiled griddle set to medium heat.
Although I normally don't use products with ingredients that are more man made than nature made, I will make an exception for syrup.  Maple Grove Farms makes a great low calorie (12 calories per serving) maple flavored syrup that has NO funky aftertaste.  It's the best diet syrup I've tried and it's not expensive either.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Search For My Holy Grail Foundation is Over - Sappho Cosmetics

This is the second part of "natural beauty" weekend here (because of the holiday, no one is eating particularly low cal around here though we're doing our Meat Free Monday as always.)

I've switched over to all organic skin care, using  products from several lines, my favorite being "Simply Birgit" and "Frangipani" (incredible serum), both hand crafted in Indiana, and female run companies. (links to both on the right sidebar under "products I use in my home").
In makeup though, I'd not found an organic eyeshadow or foundation I particularly liked. The various mineral ones I tried were either too dry, where they flaked into my eyes, or had an unnatural sparkly sheen to them. But I was determined to stick to an organic line.

I have incredibly sensitive facial skin that breaks out at the drop of a hat. The only foundation I found that offered good, natural coverage in a tone light enough for my "Casper the Friendly Ghost" complexion without the most common sunscreen ingredient (which I can't wear) was a Chanel one that was $72. I don't want to pay $72 for an organic foundation, I'm certainly not paying $72 for a NON-organic one. Seriously - finding a good really light color in foundation is not easy, even the lightest ones are too dark, too pink or too yellow. To get a shade that worked I had to sacrifice either moderate price or a natural look.

I finally found my Holy Grail foundation, and even better - their blush and eyeshadow rocks.



Sappho is a female owned and operated (JoAnn Fowler, an Emmy-Nominated professional makeup artist) company located in Canada has one of the best organic cosmetic  lines I've tried (and I've tried a bunch).  Edited from their website:

(The foundation) is made of the purest of natural minerals suspended in base of aloe juice and organic jojoba oil . Preserved with an all natural system and incorporating  essential oils , these vegan foundations provide  flawless coverage without a heavy look or feel.  

This is one of the few foundations that provides a luminous smoothness to my skin without making it LOOK like I'm wearing foundation and the smell and feel is heavenly from the essential oils. After age 50  (mumble, mumble) you need a lighter foundation that won't settle into fine lines, but you also want a little youthful freshness (not too shiny, not too matte).  This was perfect. The container is small, but this  foundation formula literally only takes a pump or two to cover my whole face.

I also bought a blush and the eye shadows, also mineral and have since reordered, including their brushes, I'm that pleased with the product and service.
They come in little disks that you can mix and match with their reusable containers, less waste in the environment and very sleek and small in a purse.

The green "Beckitt" shade is just lovely a pale (or buildable) sheer color, perfect for Spring and Summer with just the slightest hint of sheen to it.  I also got the "Chloe" shade which can be used with a thin moist brush for a long lasting eyeliner.  The blush shown is "Emma's blush" which is also a mineral formulation with argon oil, providing for a natural, long lasting finish.

I know I can find cheaper products elsewhere but once I understood how chemicals in our skin care and cosmetics end up in our bodies, I made the switch.
The skin on our face and head has absorption capabilities that far outreach any other part of the body. What we put on our body can make it's way into our bloodstream. Conventional cosmetics are full of synthetic chemicals which may be far more harmful than anybody ever imagined and the evidence is starting to mount. Sappho's website has a glossary and information page about some of the risks associated with long term use of many of the products found in mass produced cosmetics. Having a doctorate in one of the forensic fields, I have taken more organic chemistry that should be allowed by law.  This stuff is NOT good in our bodies and we're fooling ourselves to think that by applying it to our skin, it's just sitting there on the surface.

I want only ingredients found in nature.  When they are crafted with care for their customers AND the planet, it shows.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Caffeine - The Best Part of Waking Up AND a Toning Beauty Treament

Caffeine in beauty products is becoming more and more common.  Why?

Caffeine - when applied to the skin is a vasoconstricter, a diuretic, AND a good antioxidant which results in firming and tightening properties.  Caffeine can also constrict the veins, which is useful in reducing dark circles and puffiness around the eyes.

When applied to areas where cellulite is an issue (that cottage cheese appearance to the skin that often no diet and exercise will help) it has a dehydrating effect on the fat cells, triggering the evacuation of sodium and water and the intake of potassium which can result in the skin in those problem areas looking smoother, at least temporarily.

So I've notice a number of products including some great coffee salt/sugar scrubs on the market. The only issue - they are usually EXPENSIVE.  As I work on getting more firm and tone, keeping my skin in good shape is a priority (no one wants Rocky the Flying Squirrel arms).
Make your own coffee sugar scrub - so much cheaper and if you use the leftover coffee grounds from your morning brew (simply dry out on a plate first) it's beyond cheap, and it works just as well I bought a high end  ($30+) coffee scrub to compare and I could tell no difference in the feel, results and fragrance.

You need  dry coffee grounds
coconut oil
sugar
and fragrance (option).

You can make as little or as much as you want to use in a two week period (about how long it should safely keep).

The ratio is simple

3 parts ground coffee beans
2 parts melted coconut oil
2 parts sugar (the larger crystal type is great, but table sugar will do).

Melt the coconut oil and pour into the coffee grounds in a small glass container.  I used fairly large grounds but if you have delicate skin you can grind a little finer.

Let cool, stirring every so often so the coconut oil doesn't clump as it hardens. (You can put in the refrigerator for a bit to hurry this process up). When cool but still stir-able, stir in sugar (this prevents sugar granules, which are exfoliating as well as moisture drawing, from melting).

Add a few drops of essential oil such as peppermint or spearmint or add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Store covered  in a cool place.  In your shower, simply rub on the skin in circular motion and rinse.  For eye firming when you wake up,AN take a teaspoon of coffee grounds and mix a few drops  coconut or olive oil.  Lightly pat under the eye, wait 20 minutes and rinse with cool water.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Crusted Pork with Balsamic Glaze and Reduced Fat Knock Off Red Lobster Biscuits

Abby T. Lab says "Click to Enlarge - I double dog dare ya!"

This is a fairly easy dinner to put together for a special family meal (I'm leaving my husband at home for a week here soon, to celebrate my dad's 96th birthday, too long of a visit to leave Abby with dog sitters)

If  you have just half a biscuit and extra salad, it's still fairly healthy meal, made with a healthy oil for cooking and a reduced fat baking mix.

You will need: four pork chops or uncooked meat substitute such as firm Tofu or Tempeh, sliced into about the size of a chop
Balsamic Vinegar
a cup of cheese
An onion or veggie of your choice to roast
and baking mix, flour and herbs and spices.

To start:

Chop a large sweet onion (or other vegetable you'd prefer to roast) into one-two inch pieces while the oven preheats to 425 F.

Make seasoned flour (yes, you can use a premade kind but most of them have MSG, something my husband is very sensitive to),  Besides, this is tastier and WAY cheaper.

1 cup flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cracked black pepper
1 tsp. sweet  paprika
1 tsp. Penzey's Chili 9000 (or plain chili powder)
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. tsp. dried sage
1 tsp. tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or substitute rosemary)

Make Biscuits: (these taste JUST like the yummy ones at Red Lobster restaurants)

In a blender or food processor pulse several times (until butter is the size of tiny peas)
2 and 1/2 cups  Heart Smart Reduced Fat Bisquick  baking mix
1 cup grated  Cabot reduced fat cheddar
1/4 stick cold butter (or you can cut in with a pastry blender, no food processor required)

Stir in 3/4 cup cold milk just until combined.

Drop by 1/4 cups on non stick cookie sheet and set aside.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a 10 inch cast iron pan, and saute onions for about 4-5 minutes on medium, just until they are starting to soften and fall apart, then place them around the edges of a 13 x 9 pan. Put cast iron skillet back on stove and set pan with onions aside on the counter.
Whisk an egg in a bowl, dip 4 pork chops into it, shaking to remove excess, then roll pieces in seasoned flour., until lightly coated

Raise heat on pan to medium/high and sear the pork pieces in the remaining oil from the onions for 1 minute per side, then place in the 13 x 9 pan with the onion.

Do not wipe pan clean, and place back on stove, medium temp..

Set oven timer for 20 minutes.

After the pork has been in the oven a couple of minutes, put biscuits in oven (they'll cook about 1-18 minutes).

Deglaze pan on medium with about 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, reduce to low and stir for a couple of minutes, incorporating any drippings from the meat or veggies, then turn heat off.  A few minutes before pork is done, drizzle over the pork and onions, then return to oven.

Pork should be done at  145 degrees F. internal temperature, but let sit at least 3 minutes when out of the oven, as the temperature then will go up a few more degrees without the meat getting tough

Top biscuits with 3 Tablespoons of butter melted in a cup in the microwave with 1 T Parsley (optional, the peeps don't always like it) and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or other savory such as rosemary if you don't use garlic)

Sit back and enjoy!

You made a biscuit for me with the gluten free Biquick and NO Garlic? (garlic is very toxic for dogs)

I LOVE YOU MOM!

Friday, May 27, 2016

RXBar - Finally, a Protein Bar I LOVE

I have been on a mission to find the perfect protein bar.  I developed low blood sugar when I hit menopause so if I go for long periods of time without a little protein, I get nauseous and lightheaded. With a schedule that can be hectic in the best of days, toting around containers of yogurt is not that convenient and I need something I can just drop in my bag or my purse. We all have had times like those. I remember one copilot I flew with and when I lifted his flight bag to help get it on the plane, it weighed about a gazillion pounds. (Back in the day before electronic flight bags, some of the flight bags were about the size of a small car.) I figured he'd had enough of that cranky crew chief and disposed of him, removing the body in the bag or he was smuggling gold bricks. Nope, about 15 cans of tuna so he could keep the tummy full and the blood sugar stable.

My professional piloting days are over  but I still agree there HAS to be a better way to get a nice boost of protein, without a bunch of cats following you around.

But here is why it's harder for me and why I'm so happy I found this product.

My stomach does not tolerate whey protein isolate OR Monk Fruit (a popular "natural" sweetener) OR any of the sugar alcohols created in a laboratory. So having them for an "on the go" meal replacement can take "on the go" to a place you don't want to think about. Unfortunately about 95% of the protein bars out there have one or more of those ingredients.
Half a bar so you can see the texture

So I kept looking -  trying to find a bar that was made out of real food that I could eat without that expression that Daenerys from Game of Thrones had when when she had to eat the raw Stallion heart (which was actually a very large gummy on the set).

I found a couple which will remain un-named, but they either had a really artificial taste (I'm sorry, you can NOT make a protein bar taste like a donut, just can't be done) or they had the texture of an eraser and were about as easy to swallow.  It seemed like the stores were full of mass produced protein bars filled with lots of cheap, nutrient deficient artificial ingredients or way too much sugar (If I wanted a Candy Bar I'd snag a Milky Way Dark).

I spotted a PowerBar, which might have been great tasting, but there were so many ingredients, the print was TINY and I was going to have to get out my "cheaters" to read the label, and but then people WILL think I'm my 33 year old husband's Mom. Let's just say there was a LOT of ingredients.

I thought I'd never find a natural protein bar with just a few simple ingredients and no added sugar. Imagine, my perfect bar was under my nose all along, right here in my home in Chicagoland, where they are distributed.

(click on word for link). No whey, no sugar alcohols and it's made out of actual clean foods:

3 egg whites
6 almonds
4 cashews
2 dates
and no BS, only natural spices and flavors.

Not only that they are really delicious, with a chewy moist texture that's not too dry, too sweet, or too hard. I would actually enjoy eating these even if they didn't have 12 grams of protein. Plus, the egg white protein is in, my opinion, a better source of protein when why and soy which are protein isolates. Isolated protein, unlike whole foods is more acid forming in the body which may promote inflammation and reduce immune function.

They are also cheaper than a lot of the bars out there, just a little more than $2 a bar, which as a snack or meal replacement with a small beverage is pretty reasonable.  They also hold up pretty well to heat - my latest box was delivered by UPS late in the day on a HOT day, and having probably been in that truck for hours, though the box was pretty warm, the product was not "melted". The packaging is durable, they won't come open by accident while traveling either.

Plus each has a different colored wrapper so I can avoid that whole o'dark hundred pack the lunch incident where my dog treats and people cookies were in identically colored  and shaped boxes.

So think about it!  Easy to pack, easy to tote!  I can take these white river rafting!  I can hike the Himalayas with these!  I can ride that mechanical bull in Oklahoma City!  Maybe not - but I CAN take them to my next book signing!

I bought the blueberry flavor for my first box and my second box was the assortment. So far I've just tried the chocolate mint which was wonderful, flavored with real cacoa.

Other flavors are:

Pumpkin Spice
Peanut Butter
Mint Chocolate
Chocolate Coconut
Chocolate Sea Salt
Chocolate Coffee !!!
Apple Cinnamon

So, if you've given up thinking you can find a clean, all natural (and Paleo friendly) protein bar -  think again.  They're easy to order online, the customer service is awesome, and if you are near a CrossFit Store, across the country, the bar is carried (but call first as they are so popular you want to make they have your favorite in stock).  Check them out, the answer to your clean eating protein source might be closer than you know.

LB Johnson - Author, Fitness Enthusiast,

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Sourdough Adventures - Cornbread!

Looking for a healthier carb to have with your meal?  How about gluten free sourdough cornbread?

I made a pan of cornbread with the wild yeast/whole wheat sourdough starter and it turned out great.
But I wanted to try my hand at a gluten free version.

I LOVE sourdough bread for the taste AND the health benefits:

Sourdough is:
– easy to digest
– contains the healthy gut bacteria lactobacillus (the same major player in yogurt and kefir)
– has most of the phytic acid  broken down and
– doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar like traditional bread often does (I'm hypoglycemic so this is always a concern)

Gluten Free Sourdough Starter (Adaption from King Author Flour website)

In a minimum one quart glass jar or bowl whisk 1/4 teaspoon French sourdough starter into 1 cup King Aurthur Ancient Grains Flour Blend (a whole grain, gluten-free mixture of amaranth, millet, quinoa and sorghum).

With a wooden spoon (I have best results with sourdough NOT using metal implements) stir in 1/2 cup cool water (non chlorinated filtered water will give you the best results.)
Blend this mixture together evenly, and allow it to sit at room temperature overnight, lightly covered with a thin cotton towel.

You should begin to see results within hours. When the starter becomes active following this initial feeding regimen, you’ll finally be able to use it in your first recipe.

Keep in a crock or glass jar with a loose fitting lid for airflow, feeding with equal amounts of gf multipurpose flour and filtered water every couple of days storing it in a very cool place or your fridge.  If you don't use it for a while, remove a cup of the starter and replace with a 1/2 cup each of flour and water, stir and feed again in a couple of days.  It should revive.

The recipe for cornbread is below but if you are making yeast breads and cakes, King Arthur flour website recommends using 1 cup starter in place of 1/2 cup of water/liquid and 1 cup of flour in your recipe.
For the gluten free cornbread.

1 cup GF Sourdough Starter
2 cups cornmeal
1 1/2 cups milk (dairy or nut)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup oil of your choice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix milk and lemon juice together and let sit a few minutes.  Preheat oven to 425 F. and lightly grease a 10 inch ovenproof skillet or baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine the starter, cornmeal, milk mixture, sugar and eggs (beaten first).  Stir in the oil, salt and baking soda. If  using a cast iron skillet instead of a  pan, preheat it in the oven for a few minutes, the remove with a potholder and pour in the batter.  Bake 25-30 minutes. (I love cast iron to get that great crunchy crumb to the edge of the cornbread).

If you prefer,  you can make in muffin tins cooking at 400 degrees for about 12-15 minute and don't preheat the pan..

Monday, May 23, 2016

Healthier French Toast - From the Tropics

Get some day old Brioche bread, and make your usual french toast batter, using Egg Beaters instead of whole eggs and reducing any sugar you add by half. Dust with some toasted coconut for sweetness without all the butter and syrup and serve with fruit and sugar free raspberry preserves.   For breakfast or brunch - it's a nice change from the ordinary.

Friday, May 20, 2016

I don't need to working out extra today after a big meal.  I can just invent a time machine and go back and get a pair of THESE.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Melt in your Mouth Sourdough Pancakes

This weekends pancakes were an experiment.  I had LOTS of wild yeast/whole wheat sourdough starter with the kitchen stove wrapped in plastic all week while my new counters were put in. So I made some whole wheat pancakes with mostly starter and they were really tasty - fairly thin but melt in your mouth soft.  Making enough to feed three or four people, we put the leftovers in the freezer to heat up later. Wild yeast sourdough starter has a slower rise time than traditional sourdough so additional leavening was used so I didn't have crepes

1 and 3/4 cups Azures Standard wild yeast sourdough starter (bring to room temperature)
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 Tablespoons honey
splash of vanilla
pinch of spice (cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom)
1 extra large egg (or two small)
4 Tablespoons butter melted
1 Tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix sourdough starter, flour, salt, vanilla, spice, egg and melted butter (last) in larger bowl.

In a cup mix 1 Tablespoon of hot water with the baking soda and stir in right before you cook them.

.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Azure Standard Wild Sourdough Muffins

Since we had an incredible burger dinner out in the Western Suburbs of Chicagoland at Burger Colony in the little town of Brookfield, IL, after visiting the city's zoo, Sunday mornings was NOT our usual big plate of pancakes and sides.  It was a good day for some scrambled eggs with muffins and fruit.
I experimented a bit more with my  whole wheat wild yeast sourdough starter which is really thriving in my refrigerator (unlike most sourdough you don't have to keep it covered on the counter and it is NOT temperamental at all, simply requiring a minimum of a  quarter cup of whole wheat flour and pure spring water every day or every other day, mixed with a wooden spoon. Link below for information on harvesting or ordering your own.

I've made  whole grain muffins with it before but these are the best ones yet, so I had to share. They are very buttery and moist in the middle with a nice crisp outer layer (you know how when you bake cornbread in a skillet it gets those wonderful crispy edges?  Yes, like that!)

Wild Sourdough Corn Muffins

In a large bowl mix:
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can use white or a mixture of white and w.w. pastry flour)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup corn meal
1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh is best but thawed from frozen or canned will work).
In a small bowl whisk:

1 cup sourdough starter
2 eggs
1 cup milk (or almond milk if you want a vegan version).
2 eggs
1 teaspoon molasses
1/4 tsp Vanilla

SLOWLY Whisk in:

6 Tablespoons of butter, melted and cooled slightly (or use vegetable oil for vegan version)

Mix wet into dry mixture in the bigger bowl until combined.

Place into muffin pan sprayed with non stick spray or buttered.

Bake in 350 F. degree preheated oven 18-20 minutes, until golden brown around the bottom and a toothpick inserted inside comes out clean.

Made 12 muffins plus one small bread pan of cornbread (about an inch thick for some nice little slabs to go with lunch soup)



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Little Kitchen Tune Up - The Art of Braising

After $1000 in some suspension work for my 9 year old truck (still cheaper than a monthly payment) I was ready for a tasty but not wallet busting dinner.  With gas up here with that "Special Chicago Pricing", plus the cost of upkeep, transportation costs are taking up more of my monthly budget then when I lived in Indiana. Add to that all the maintenance items you have to buy when there's a British car in the garage - Heimlich valves, muffler bearings, lunar wain shafts, flux capacitors, clutch belts, blinker fluid, bottom tire air (the tops of the tire never needs it) and the list goes on and on.

So when my husband offered to cook me dinner recently after a long day,  I was not going to say no.  He had some chicken, some veggies, a big cast iron skillet with lid and some herbs.  Plus the man knew how to braise.

Braising is a good way to prepare a  cheap cut of meat and often the one people are the least experienced with.  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a  pressure cooker or heavy Dutch oven,  or, in many kitchens, simply big cast iron pan with a heavy metal lid that may not seal tightly, but  it covers.

The basic steps involve seasoning, sauteing the meat lightly in a bit of oil or butter until brown, deglazing the pan with broth, stock or juice, stirring up the browned bits, adding cooking liquid and then finishing in the oven until it's completely tender (for large cuts of meat, such as cheaper cuts of roast this can range from 1 to several hours).


For braising chicken, the best cuts of chicken are the legs and thighs, preferably on the bone with skin on  for a little fat to get the juiciest pieces. There's no need to braise boneless, skinless breasts, they will do much better grilled or just sauteed.

Braising is a good way to use up cheaper cuts of meat. If you have a local butcher, see about leftover pieces from a specialty cut or the dismantling of a whole bird to give another shopper some chicken breasts.  They often will have some and sell to you at a reduced cost if there's not enough to make up a big "family pack". Also check the "reduced" section. Such items, if cooked right away are still quite good and often heavily discounted.

 You've all seen those prepacked dinners that can be made quickly. Most are full of artificial ingredients and tons of sodium, and run up to $10.00 or more. You can make something 10 times more tasty for less than half of that, if you shop carefully, and get veggies and other staples in family packs or bulk. Even better, put your best Semaphore Code "tablecloth", some candles and place mats and enjoy a meal that's not eaten in your car or in front of the TV.


Tonight's posted recipe is a slight adaption of the traditional method, using bacon fat in addition to the oil to sear the meat and using less liquid, so that the veggies maintain a bit of crispness as the meat cooks off til it's fall off the bone tender

Start with chicken pieces. It was going to be a light supper so a thigh and a leg per person.  Before prep, the pieces should be rinsed and patted dry. 

A sweet onion was cut into reasonably thin chunks and then the thighs were deboned by hand to keep a bit of the connective tissue but make them thinner so they cooked equally with the smaller legs. (if you don't want to debone, simply took the thighs for a few minutes before adding the legs). Prep the veggies THEN work on the chicken to keep the work area as clean as possible.

Brown 2-3 large pieces of double smoked bacon in a cast iron skillet. Remove and set aside. The bacon  fat from that is just the perfect amount for the pan with a  splash of good quality olive oil.  Add the oil to the bacon fat, stirring up the brown bacon bits.  Add chicken pieces with the heat on medium high. Cook skin side down for 5-6 minutes (more if really big pieces) until lightly brown, flip and remove and keep warm. In the same pan add the onion, Cook, stirring in the drippings until softened but not caramelized (you want a bit of bite to it still). Add to that was a good splash or three of balsamic vinegar (Artesano's 18 year old, incredible stuff) and some chopped thyme.


Stir it around and return chicken pieces to pan, skin side UP and place about 2 tablespoons of water in and around the chicken and cover again with a heavy lid.  As it finishes in the oven the top of the chicken will crisp up just slightly.

This is different than traditional braising that fully simmers the bigger cuts of meat in a lot of broth.  For this recipe, you don't need to as it keeps the onions perfectly cooked with a texture and taste that's more roasted than boiled.  Place in preheated hot (roughly 400 F.) oven for 20 minutes, until no pink remains in the meat.  Throw in a a couple nice baked potatoes, partially cooked in the microwave (4-6 minutes depending on size) and then wrapped in foil and placed in with the covered pan to finish cooking with the chicken..

When done, rub the potatoes with a tiny bit of olive oil and course sea salt and serve with some vegan butter spread and the chopped bacon as well as some steamed veggies to which you added only white pepper. I've had more photogenic meals (it was dark out when dinner was done) but few that were as tasty for a "budget" minded chef.

From start to finish, one person cooking, one person "back seat braising", it was only about 30 minutes from start to table and it is gluten and dairy free. With some bargain chicken pieces from a small town, non chain, butcher and some bulk veggies, less than $4.00 for the entire meal for two.

That leaves enough money for a replacement 710 Cap.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Got Chocolate Milk?

I try and get in some power walks or other light cardio (using small weights) 3 times a week, but once a week I get in a serious workout with Birgit, my personal trainer, an hour of multiple reps working both upper and lower body. It's not about being thin, it's about being STRONG and building muscles. Muscles burn more calories than couch potato bodies.

Pre and post workout I've learned that there are better alternatives to sports drinks full of chemicals and sugar or artificial sweeteners.  Simple Chocolate Milk.

I love Oberwise  brand, available in  much of the Midwest and all over Chicagoland, as it's low fat and has no added artificial ingredients, rBHT growth hormone OR white sugar (using a natural plant extract for the sweetness). It's gluten free (yes, pure milk should be but much of the dairy you see in stores contains thickening agents made with grains.)  Oberweis Dairy does not use such thickening agents in their dairy products.

Plus they use cows that are treated humanely, as happy cows -who are not stressed, produce better quality milk. The end product is less sweet than what you may have had, with a rich, thick taste, that when cold, is as satisfying as any high calorie milkshake.
Why chocolate milk?  There are a number of reasons:

It's MUCH cheaper than high performance supplements and  beverages for athletes. (and you're NOT going to miss consuming artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup and tasty Gycerol Ester of Wood Rosin).

One cup of Oberweis low fat chocolate milk has just 90 calories, and has more B Vitamins then you might realize, nutrients you need to convert food into energy as well as Vitamin D for healthy bones, calcium and phosphorous.  Low fat chocolate milk doesn't have a high dose of saturated fat or cholesterol but DOES have over a dozen vitamins and minerals. And of course, there's the protein.

You need protein.  You're not going to get that from a couple cups of coffee pre or post workout.
Exercise isn't just about raising heart rate or getting short of breath - it's also stress on the muscles, and in some workouts, you could damage muscle fibers if you're not careful. Protein in the milk will aid in not just muscle growth but tissue repair.  If you're wondering "how much protein?".  Highly active people need about 1.8 g of protein for each kg of body weight. If you are not so active you'll need much less.  For most women of average activity level this is about 46 grams of protein per day (add 10 grams if you are male, or 25 grams if you are pregnant or breastfeeding).

A cup of Oberweis chocolate milk has 9 grams.

It also has lots of calcium. Sure you can get your calcium from broccoli but after you work out how often do you think "boy I'd love to have some fresh broccoli right now".

A number of studies have shown that calcium can actually impede your body's ability to absorb fat, and when researchers in Nebraska analyzed five of these studies they estimated that consuming 1,000 mg more calcium can translate to losing nearly 18 pounds of flab that otherwise would have been lost with calorie reduction alone.

Additionally, in a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, subjects were given chocolate milk before hopping on a stationary bike and were able to ride 49 percent longer than subjects given a generic carbohydrate replace beverage.  They also pedaled harder.  Milk has naturally occurring electrolytes, you don't  need those expensive fortified sports drinks and it's sweetness helps push more energy into your muscles.
Vitamin D - your secret weapon.  When I had my physical two weeks ago, my doctor asked if I was taking a Vitamin D supplement. That's not a question I've been asked before. This  nutrient is getting a lot more attention and people as people are getting less and less of it as the natural Vitamin D we'd get from sunlight is reduced as we spend more time indoors or covered with a hat and long sleeves due to skin cancer concerns

Vitamin D is important as it's responsible for moving calcium from  your food to your body, so if you're running low on it, you're losing some of that calcium you take in.  A Vitamin D deficiency can easily sneak up on you with symptoms of weak muscles, easily breakable bones, and depression.  But make sure your chocolate milk has a little fat in it, as you need a little fat to break down the Vitamin D (but skip the whole milk as it has too many calories to make it a habit if you're cutting calories).

So next time you finish your workout or those 12,000 steps for the day consider a soothing and tasty glass of cold chocolate milk.

Your muscles and taste buds will thank you.

Friday, May 6, 2016

How I cut Carbs - Pizza Night

Yes, Friday Night is always pizza night in our house.  But now, we cook it at home, either homemade or frozen, doctored up with lots of extra veggies. It saves us a lot of money and we can use reduced fat and organic dairy products as well as the freshest of toppings (including veggie meats if it's a meat free night).

But switching to thin crust (the Chicago Style pizzas are yummy but it's the calorie equivalent of eating a pan of lasagna). we save on fat AND calories.  Cooking it in the cast iron makes for a thin, crispy crust without being tough and if you use some sourdough starter in place of yeast, you'll have a nice yeast free version. This used up a bit of leftover bell pepper and veggie breakfast sausage made out of spices and grains.

Cast Iron Pizza Crust (for one crust)
1 and 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon warm water (about 120 degrees)
1 Tablespoon olive oil (I used>Artisano's butter flavored oil)
1/3 cup cornmeal
Whisk active dry yeast in the warm water and let it sit until the yeast is active, which takes about 10 minutes

Note:To make yeast free version:  replace yeast with 1/2 cup sourdough starter and reduce water to 1/4 cup, adding more flour if needed if dough is "wet"
In medium bowl mix salt and one cup of the flour. Add honey and oil to the yeast/water mixture after the ten minutes are up and whisk well.  Pour this into dry ingredients  (including the cornmeal) and mix briskly with a wooden spoon until ingredients are mixed and the dough looks slightly shaggy but holds a rough doughball shape. If it looks a bit wet, sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup flour.
Turn out the board dusted with a little flour and knead until the dough is smooth and pliable, about 4 minutes. Place the dough in an lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat, and let it sit, covered in a warm place for 1 and 1⁄2  hours (until double in size). If using wild yeast sourdough starter, you may have to double the rise time. Roll  or pat out  (this is a really easy dough to form)  to be slightly larger than your seasoned and lightly oiled cast iron pan (mine is 12 inches) and transfer to the pan, building up the edge slightly.
Top with a cup of jarred or homemade red pasta sauce (just enough to lightly cover the crust, a big handful of  veggie sausage (use remaining sausage in a breakfast dish tomorrow), and any little bits of chopped red/green/orange peppers you might have on hand and a couple handfuls of Mozzarella.  Place pan with crust on stove burner on medium/high for 3 minutes then transfer  hot pan to 450  F. degree oven and bake until edges are  lightly golden and cheese is melted  11-13 minutes (check it at 10 minutes though, some ovens bake hotter).  This ensures a nice crisp crust on the bottom and the pan is the perfect temperature for quick, even heating in the oven.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

It's the Great Pumpkin (Soup) Charlie Brown!

Though summer is approaching - we've still had some chilly nights earlier in the month down in the upper 30's low 40's.  A good night for soup and sandwiches (especially in that my favorite bread - Dave's Killer Bread has shown up in WalMarts in Chicagoland).  I love creamed vegetable soups but they can be high in fat.  Here's a lightened version of a pumpkin soup that is wonderful with a grilled cheese or turkey sandwich on whole grain bread.  It has a warm rich taste that's nothing like pumpkin pie, but has its own unique flavor.

Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Basil

Six cups chicken stock (or vegan "chicken" or veggie stock)
1 teaspoon salt
dash of nutmeg
dash or ginger
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh basil ( or thyme)
2 cups canned  pumpkin puree (just pumpkin, not the pumpkin pie mix in a can that has sugar and spices)
3/4 sweet yellow onion (large) chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
five whole peppercorns (or fresh ground pepper to taste)

Heat stock, spices, onion and pumpkin.  Bring to a boil and turn heat down to low and let simmer for half an hour, uncovered.  Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup a cup at a time,  place back in pan and bring to a bowl again, letting it simmer uncovered for another 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream, strain out peppercorns and serve. (garnish is fresh basil)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Did I Stick to My Plan Today? - Let's Just Say I Waffled

 Yes - it's sweet potato waffle fries covered in bacon and homemade queso.  It was either that or I was going to commit a felony with a carrot stick.

But back on the plan tomorrow - one meal or treat snack won't ruin a diet plan, unless you allow it to. Especially if you use a smaller plate and split it with your spouse
If anyone wants the queso recipe, let me know in the comments.