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When I’ve been eating out too much and start to crave a home cooked meal, more often than not this meal is what I turn to.  It may not be authentically Thai and it’s definitely not fancy, but it’s one of those rare dinners that’s 1) delicious enough that I truly crave it, 2) healthy enough that it feels like a welcome reprieve from greasy happy hour fare, and 3) easy enough to function as a no-brainer weeknight meal.  It’s even relatively cheap once you invest in the curry paste and fish sauce.

So the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some of this:

Thai Kitchen Green Curry Paste

And some of this:

Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce

And if you are like me and keep ridiculous stocks of coconut milk you are all set for a fast and tasty meal.  I generally follow the recipe (similar to this one) on the back of the curry paste jar, substituting light coconut milk, whatever veggies I have on hand, and sometimes shrimp or tofu instead of chicken.  The fish sauce is key!  After adding it, the smell will make you think that you have made a horrible mistake and ruined your dinner, but it gives it a subtle fishy je ne sais quoi.

Green curry chicken with asparagus, spinach and onions

This iteration included brown rice (buried underneath!), asparagus and spinach.  Add in some roasted paprika and cumin-spiced cauliflower, and I almost feel like I made up my veggie deficit for the previous few days.  Almost.

Any suggestions for other meals that hit the delicious / healthy / easy trifecta?

I was intending to scale back this summer.  Just not quite so much.  My wedding was just about a month ago, and I didn’t want the stress of wedding planning on top of maintaining a demanding schedule like I had last year while training for my half-ironman triathlon.  And post-wedding, I convinced myself that I deserved a break from being consistent with training and healthy eating, and I’d be able to ramp back up quickly.  I also convinced myself that it was perfectly fine to develop a daily (occasionally multiple times daily) leftover wedding cake habit.

Wedding cake

In my defense, it was really spectacular cake.

But the wedding and honeymoon break got extended into a recovering from a cold break, and after three weeks of minimal exercise I was faced with the registration deadline for a local sprint triathlon that I had planned on doing.  I told myself I still had the fitness to muscle through it and do fine, I just didn’t want to spend the money to go through all that hassle and not get a PR.  But after huffing and puffing my way through a slow 3-mile run yesterday and then struggling to squeeze into a pair of formerly loose dress pants, the conclusion is unavoidable:  I’m kinda out of shape.  Like, may-not-have-been-able-to-finish-that-sprint-tri out of shape.  And I don’t like it.

So I decided to make July all about getting back on track.  I still want to have plenty of summer fun and keep a more low-key approach to training and eating, but I miss that fit, in-shape feeling of knowing that I could bang out a 10K or a sprint triathlon or a long demanding hike without thinking twice about it.

July Goals

  • Get prepared for a sprint triathlon on July 31st. This will involve things like “biking” and “swimming” and “not blowing off training to go to the brewpub instead”.
  • Re-build the habit of morning workouts. I have gotten out of the mode where working out in the morning is just what I do every day.  Instead it’s a choice and a debate, and for me if I’m asking myself the question “should I sleep in?” then the battle has already been lost.
  • Bike commute at least four times. Bike commuting is great for squeezing more cycling time into the day, since you’re trading useless car time for extra training time.  I have a good start on this one since I biked to work this morning.
  • Keep a food journal. I really tried to come up with a less-tedious goal for improving my eating, like treats only on weekends, or eating more fruits and vegetables.  But even though tracking calories is a pain I think it’s the best option for me right now.  I’m not sticking to a calorie limit, just trying to honestly record everything for a bit of a reality check.  And looking at my Plate at Livestrong is definitely a reality check (eating out for four meals in the past three days – not the healthiest).

I figure if I can stick with these it will ease me back into athlete mode, and put me on a good path to achieving some of the loftier fitness-related goals I have for the rest of the year.

Festive patriotic cake

Tastes like freedom

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays, and I will use any holiday as an excuse to make dorky novelty desserts designed to appeal to a 10-year-old (see also: gingerbread houses).  So when I saw this brilliant cake design I knew I had to give it a try.

It’s not very much harder than a normal layer cake but it is really impressive looking and so much fun when you’re cutting the first slice with bated breath, wondering if a flag is actually going to appear.

Colored sugar on top helps hide my third-grader-esque frosting job

I used Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake recipe like Jayme from Delectable Deliciousness did, and made the cream cheese frosting from the original post at 17 and Baking.  I slightly overbaked some of the cake layers, but the cake was still so good that I didn’t mind it interfering with the cream cheese frosting (at least, not too much.)

Some tips based on my experience:

  • Gel food coloring is the only way to go for bright vibrant colors, even if it does stain under your fingernails
  • A pyrex custard cup was the perfect size (around 4″ in diameter) for the template for cutting out the center
  • As you can see, the blue layer tends to tip towards the outside of the cake.  I’m thinking it might work better to do the blue as an inner circle, instead of an outer ring.
  • Make sure to account for the frosting between the inner circle red and white stripes when you are planning the height of the blue layer.  My red and white layers were half an inch high, so I made the blue layer just shy of 1.25″ and it turned out about perfect.

Wheat berry salad with butternut squash, hazelnuts, red onion and arugula

I realized a few things about myself when I organized my pantry several weeks ago.  First, I can’t stop buying coconut milk.  You would think 6 cans would be enough, but apparently it is not.  I also seem to be a lot more adventurous in the grocery store than I am once I’m actually in the kitchen.  My shelves are full of unusual ingredients like millet or dried adzuki beans that I’m ashamed to say I’ve never even used.  I have all these lofty ambitions of trying new and exotic recipes when I’m shopping, but on a time-crunched weeknight it always ends up being easier to go with an old standby.

Case in point: wheat berries.  These had languished neglected in the cupboard for months.  Luckily I had just the recipe in mind to try them out, and as a bonus got to incorporate another aspirational pantry item: the hazelnuts that never quite managed to get turned into cookies last Christmas.

The salad was absolutely addictive and delicious, and the leftovers made for a week’s worth of great filling and healthy lunches.  I loved the chewiness of the wheat berries combined with the crunch of the toasted hazelnuts.  It’s the perfect example of how something composed of simple whole foods can still have you sneaking bites with a spoon straight from the fridge.

Butternut Squash, Wheat Berry and Hazelnut Salad

Adapted from David Lebovitz

Makes approximately 8 cups

1 1/2 cup wheat berries
One bay leaf
One medium sized butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
Half a large red onion, thinly sliced
~1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 T. dried sage
1 cup whole hazelnuts
1 cup baby arugula, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

2. Thinly slice the red onion and combine in a small bowl with the red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt.  This will lightly pickle the onion and tame the sharp onion flavor a bit.  Set aside while preparing the other components.

Red onions soaking in red wine vinegar

Red onions soaking in red wine vinegar

3. Chop the hazelnuts, and toast them in a skillet over medium-low heat until they are fragrant and starting to brown.  I think hazelnuts are probably better with the skins removed (they are slightly bitter) but I am lazy and I didn’t mind them.  Transfer the toasted nuts to a bowl and set aside.

Chopped hazelnuts

Chopped hazelnuts

4. Bring about 2 quarts of salted water to a boil, then add the wheat berries and bay leaf. Cook until tender, but still a little chewy.  Mine took around 45 minutes to get there, but could probably have cooked longer as my sore jaw can attest.

5. While the wheat berries are cooking, toss the diced squash on a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the sage, and some salt and pepper.

Diced butternut squash, seasoned and ready for baking

Diced butternut squash, seasoned and ready for baking

6. Roast the squash, stirring halfway through baking, for about 15 minutes total.  The cubes should be tender when poked with a fork and browned on the outside but still firm enough to hold their shape in the salad (mine were on the overly mushy side).

7. Once the wheat berries are cooked, drain them and remove the bay leaf. Transfer the wheat berries to a bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the toasted nuts.

8. Stir in the roasted butternut squash, the red onions and the chopped baby arugula.  Taste the salad and add some of the vinegar that the onions were soaking in if it needs a little more acidity.

There are so many ways this basic formula could be adapted, see the original post from David Lebovitz for more great ideas.