Monday, October 31, 2011

Snow on Halloween Weekend

I was excited to dress up for Halloween this year.  It was the first time in a few years we would be dressing up, and the first time (in 4.5 years of dating) that we were doing a couple's costume.

So, we each got our costumes (or most of) and Hamad came over Friday night for dinner.  All evening he spent assembling the accessories to his costume.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week we really didn't know where we were going.  He had talk to a friend and we arranged for a double date (I guess?) to a particular local bar with a costume contest.  Okay, we're doing pretty well.  Costumes?  Check! Plans?  Check! Snowstorm?  Oh...wait, crap!

If you live in the Northeast, or if you watch the news or do any online browsing that might steer you near headlines, you've probably heard the Northeast got slammed with, well, a Nor'easter.

It was snowing all day long Saturday, with accumulations of probably around 5 inches.  We pretty much decided our plans were off.  Hamad was back at his house, I was in my apartment 30 minutes away, and so our plans for a fun night out with friends turned into a quiet night home alone.

I paid bills, set up my budget for November, watched some TV, was going to make cookies but figured I'd eat them all, so instead I Zumba'ed.  Somewhere in between there, one of the friends we were supposed to go out with text me to say it stopped snowing.  I told her that I'm a snow wuss, my car needed new brakes, and I wasn't chancing it on icy roads.  Immediately upon finishing my Zumba workout, I get a call from her boyfriend who volunteered her to pick me up.  (We live in the same town, and both our boyfriends live near each other.)  I figure I might as well go and get some use out of my costume.  In an hour and a half, I shower, straighten my hair, do my makeup, get dressed, and eat dinner.  Let's talk about multi-tasking!

My costume called for sandals, and wanting to stay true to the costume, and not having a better alternative that would still look cute, I work sandals.  With heels.  Out in the slushy snow.  That was smart.  Oh, and when I got picked up, it was snowing again.  Tree branches (or trees) were down everywhere.  But, for the most part, the main roads were fine.  We picked up the guys, noticing that many towns were without power.  Not once did it occur to us that the bar with the costume party might not have power.

With guys in tow, we make our way to the bar.  And, yup, it's pitch black! There we were, all dressed up with no where to go!  (Is it sad that I've always kinda wanted to say that?)  We brainstorm about other bars to go to.  We call one, but no answer.  We figured they were dark, too.  We call another and they pick up, wahoo!  Oh, but wait, what's that?  They're not having a costume party.

And that's how we ended up being the only 4 people in the bar in costumes.

Left to right: Cruella deVille, God's gift to women, Princess Peach, and Feather Cape Mario.

It's a little dark, but you can see the egg and feather Hamad labored over on Friday night.

Pancakes, and Pasta, and Cookies...

The other day I was shopping and decided to buy some canned pumpkin.

I didn't really have anything in mind to use it for, except maybe cookies, but I knew I wanted pumpkin flavored stuff.

It sat on my counter for a few days.  Until, along came a snowstorm on Halloween weekend.  The snowstorm said, "Hey, chick, don't go anywhere.  Just sit around and cook all day."  So that's how I spent most of my Sunday.  (To be honest, here, the storm happened Saturday, and I was going to spend my evening cooking, but I ended up going out instead... yes, in the snow storm.)

So, Sunday rolls around.  Plan I had were canceled and I figured it was time to get cooking.  I started with brunch: Chocolate Chip Walnut Pumpkin Pancakes.  This ended up being a WW Pointstastrophy.  Oops.  I worked off recipes that were supposed to make one serving of pancakes and then adjusted for my pumpkin craving.  16 P+ later, I'd had a pretty hearty breakfast...  I'm pretty sure I could have been satisfied with half the portion.  So, if you want 4-6 big fluffy pancakes, enjoy alone.  If you're good with 2-3, share with a friend.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Pumpkin Pancakes

In small bowl, mix together:
1/4 c canned pumpkin
1 egg white1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a larger bowl, mix:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Add wet ingredients to try and mix until just crumbly.  Whisk in 1/2 cup milk (I used 2%).  Then stir in 2 Tbsp each of chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

Then I poured the mixture into my trusty measuring cup, greased up a pan with  non-stick spray, and started pouring batter in. 

Small pan, but I was too lazy to clean the griddle.

Then I had 4 delicious fluffy, pumpkiny pancakes.  I topped each with about 1/4 tsp of butter because butter is awesome.  And then I topped with pancake syrup, but it probably didn't need it.  Wash it down with a glass of milk, and it was delicious!

More pumpkin deliciousness to come...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's in a shopping cart?

I love my local Stop and Shop for implementing the Scan It! system.  If you're not familiar with Stop and Shop or Scan It! (I'm not sure if other stores offer this convenience), here's the idea.  When you enter the store you can your shopper loyalty card and get a price scanner.  (You may also take shopping bags, or bring your own.)  As you go through the store shopping, you scan each item you are purchasing and immediately bag it.  Then, when you get to the checkout, you scan a bar code that's displayed there (you can go through the self checkout or to a cashier) and all the info from the price scanner appears in the check out. Then you proceed to pay as normal. 

I find this systems save me time because all my groceries are bagged by the time I check out and because I usually will go to the self checkout and the line is much shorter than waiting for a cashier.  I also think it's pretty cool that I don't have to keep a running tally in my head of how much I'm spending; the price scanner does that for me.  But really, the best part about this system, is that is saves me from embarassment!

Why should I be embarrassed at the grocery store?  Well, in case it hasn't been made clear in previous posts, I'm fairly neurotic.  With that comes a touch of paranoia and the sense that I'm always being judged.  By the time I was in college, and thus actually doing my own grocery shopping, the stores I frequented already had self checkouts.  I thought these were great because they saved time and I didn't have to go to a cashier who would judge my purchases.  But at my current store there's this super helpful guy who always bags my items when I use the self checkout.  I mean, that's pretty nice of him and I appreciate the gesture.  However, I'm fairly certain this guy thinks I'm a single woman with lots of cats and an eating disorder.  These are some typical orders that I think led him to that conclusion:

Crazy Cat Lady Order
- canned cat food, lots of it
- bag of dry cat food
- 1-2 tubs of cat litter (depending on if it was on sale)
- a few frozen dinners
- donut

Busy (or Lazy) Single Lady Order
- lots of frozen dinners and/or pizzas
- boxes of pasta
- jars of pasta sauce
- a donut or 2

The Clearly On Her Period Order
- tampons
- donuts
- lots of chocolate candy

Binge Eater's Order (the one I try to hide from the most)
- 2 frozen pizzas (usually because they're on sale)
- 2 or more donuts
- milk (to wash down the donuts, ironically it's usually skim milk)
- candy, chocolate 99% of the time
- potato chips or other snack

The Remorseful Order
- 5 Lean Cuisines or WW Smart Ones (because they're on sale 5/$10)
- fruit
- eggs
- possibly some chicken breasts and/or veggies

Contrary to how the above seems, I do buy and eat a lot of whole/natural foods.  But I do those in big batches, usually, and use Scan It to save time.  So Mr. JudgeyPants Nice Bagger doesn't see the those 'normal' orders.  Now I pretty much use Scan It even for small orders (as long as I get there before they shut it off at 9pm!), to avoid the completely irrational judging I created in mind.

I wonder what the recycle guys think when they pick up my cat food cans, cat litter tubs, and empty wine bottles?

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Have Two Jobs

Finance manager by day, and Mary Kay consultant by night/weekend.

And I love them both.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have two jobs that I absolutely love when so many people struggle to have one, period.  Let alone to have one that they actually enjoy.

So because I'm a huge nerd and have this weird love of Venn diagrams, here's what I love about my jobs:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pink Starry Horses

So you remember that time I said "Enough is enough!" and recommitted to really doing Weight Watchers and getting out of this ridiculous weight range in which I find myself?

Yeah, that didn't happen so much.

I mean, the first week went pretty well.  And then the next... well, it didn't.  And I've just been sort of floundering between "I Care! I'm doing this!" and "Mmmm....cookies!"
 I may or may not have been involved in an "How many biscotti can you fit in your mouth?" contest this past weekend.

And I just can't get inside my head enough to figure out where the disconnect lies.  I want to be healthy.  I want to eat mostly clean, whole, healthy foods.  I want to work out to carve my body into what I know it's supposed to look like.  And yet I don't do it, and my weight is essentially unchanged from when I "recommitted" nearly a month ago.

One thing I know is that I am not okay with living my life in this body.  Honestly, I pretty much love everything about my life.  I have a great boyfriend, great friends and family, love BOTH my jobs, and I only see things getting even better.  Everything is going right...except this weight thing.

In general, I don't have self-esteem issues. I know I'm smart, hard-working, honest, kind, empathetic, compassionate, etc., etc., etc.  Not to be immodest, but I'm pretty awesome.  Yet, when I look in the mirror, I cringe.  I can say fabulous things about myself as a person, as an employee, as a girlfriend, but when it comes to my body, I have not one nice thing to say.  I mean, I can't even appreciate that my boobs are nice and big now, because I know they're only big because I've gained so much damn weight!  (How's that for truth?)

So what now?  Do I recommit again?  Is that worth anything anymore, considering all the past attempts to be committed to a healthy lifestyle?  I guess it's just time to suck it up and get back on the horse.

Because it's less scary to get back on the horse when she's pink with stars on her butt.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Domesticity Continues

Remember how I had all that chicken?  All shredded and waiting to be turned into deliciousness? 

Well, I shredded it all up.  Came out to about a pound of shredded chicken.  And then I remembered I had to stop by my mom's.  So I put the cooking on hold.
I was afraid this guy would get to it. 

He much prefers to pick at my scraps than eat his own food.  He'll eat anything.  And has no qualms about jumping on my counters. I figured a little plastic wrap would help the situation.

But, just in case he decided to rip through the wrap, I decided to hide the plate behind the pots.

Don't worry.  That's chicken broth in the corner, not urine.

 In retrospect, there was still a chance he'd hop up on the stove, drink my broth, and eat my chicken.  Fortunately, when I returned home my food was still safe.

So I got to cooking for the boyfriend.  I had just enough wonton wrappers to make 8 Alfredo Chicken Cupcakes AND 8 Chicken Parm Cupcakes.  They tasted... pretty good.  Good enough for us to eat and make yummy noises.  And for me to eat the leftovers the next day.  However, the leftovers weren't super delicious reheated, and the recipe was lacking... something.  Not sure what.  For now you can look at the pictures and drool.  When I perfect the recipe, I'll share so you can try them out.
This thing is the BEST for grinding, grating, mixing, anything!

P.S.  All my cupcake endeavors are 100% inspired by Emily Bites.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I'm So Domestic

A regular Suzie Homemaker.

(At least when it comes to cooking.  I definitely don't clean.)

Today was a free Saturday.  So I decided to take advantage by cooking up some food to have for the week.

I started with Cream of Broccoli soup from another favorite food blog, Skinny Taste.  Anything I've ever made from this site has been delicious.  I got nervous about this soup, though.  It seemed thin, and a bit runny, and I got nervous about what it would actually taste and feel like in my mouth.  It was a bit thin, but the flavor was fantastic!  Also, it's probably my fault.  Re-visitng the recipe, I see maybe the consistency was my fault.  Gina specifies 3 cans of chicken broth, which I interpreted at 6 cups.  So I used 6 cups from the cardboard containers.  Maybe it was too much?  Or maybe I didn't use enough broccoli, seeing as about 1/4 to 1/3 of what I cut up ended up on my floor and not in my soup pot.  Oops.

Regardless, the soup tastes great!  My only issue with Gina's recipe is she told me it makes 4 1.5 cup servings.  I measured out 10 cups of soup.  Which is why I think maybe I used too much broth.  No problem for me, because I ended up with about 4 more servings than I thought I would.  Score!

And then I topped it with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar.  The leftovers are currently occupying my freezer and fridge.


I don't particularly love using store bought broth.  Even the reduced sodium version has way more sodium than it really should.  So, whenever I buy too much chicken, I make and freeze my own broth.  I just didn't have enough to make this soup.

Chicken breasts were on sale this past week for $1.99 per pound for the family packs.  So I bought 2.  Totaling about 7 pounds of chicken.  For me, myself, and I.  What to do?  Well, first, I tell my lovely boyfriend that we're having shredded chicken for dinner tonight.

I popped half a package into my handy dandy crock pot.

 This thing is invaluable to me.  It's had dinner ready and waiting for me after a long day at work.  If it could clean, I'd marry it.  I'll have to settle for just the cooking, though.
I topped the chicken breast with enough water to cover, added chopped onion, carrots, celery, scallions, a few bay leaves, pepper and a little sea salt.  

It's just about ready.  The chicken will shred easily.  What did the boyfriend and I decide on for dinner?  Chicken parm and/or chicken alfredo cupcakes.  (Did you know savory cupcakes are super trendy these days?  And wonton wrappers are totally fun to work with!)  I told him it depends on how many wonton wrappers I have left.  I'm hopping to make 6-8 of each type of cupcakes.  I'll guess you'll hear more about those when they've proven delicious.

How are you spending your Saturday?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cheeseburger Pizza with a Shiraz Cabernet

The cooking this week has not been what it should.  I would have loved to prepare things Sunday.  Instead, I made dinner for my boyfriend and I on Sunday, had it for lunch twice, but that was enough.  I still have leftovers, but I'm kinda over them.  Mostly, I've been eating out.  But when the boyfriend came over for our usual Wednesday night dinner at home date, I cooked.  I made Cheeseburger Pizza, which I adapted from one of my favorite food blogs, Emily Bites.

This is kind of a 2 step process.  Rather than using Laughing Cow, which I don't love, I made my own cheese sauce.  I'm going to list that as a separate recipe, because I ended up using only half.  The rest will go over macaroni or something tonight.

Mozzarella-Provolone Cheese Sauce
4 servings * 2 WW P+ per serving

1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 c 1% milk
1 Tbsp flour
1/2 c Sargento Shredded Mozzarella & Provolone mix  (feel free to use other cheeses, I wanted a mild flavor for the pizza base, and this was awesome!)
2 tsp garlic powder

Start by melting the butter over medium heat.  Before it browns, add half of the milk and all of the  flour.  Whisk until it thickens, then add cheese.  Continue to whisk until cheese is mixed in.  It will be stringy.  Add the remaining milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly until it reaches a thinner, spreadable consistency.

Okay, so now let's put together this pizza.

Cheeseburger Pizza
6 servings * 8 WW P+ per serving

1/2 of above cheese sauce (i.e. 2 servings)
12 oz whole wheat pizza dough (I used fresh, from the refrigerated section of the grocery store)
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup Vidalia onion, chopped
8 oz 93% lean ground beef
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp Cajun seasoning
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
~ 1/2 Tbsp ketchup
~ 1/2 Tbsp mustard
1 scallion
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (I used Sargento, again.)

Preheat oven to 450*.

First, melt the butter in a pan.  When melted, add onions and cook until golden.  Add beef.  Season with garlic and Cajun seasoning.  Cook until brown, then add Worcestershire sauce.

When the beef is cooked, we need to move onto the dough.  I decided to use fresh this time because I didn't love the Boboli crust the few times I've used it.  Joke's on me.  The fresh tasted pretty similar to Boboli.  Next time I'll either have to find a really delicious dough, or just save the time and effort and use Boboli.  (I grew up in NJ, just outside NYC.  I'm verrrry particular about my pizza crust.)

Anyway, this is what the dough looked like when it came out of the bag.  I decided to set the pizza pan on the stove, and the dough on the pan, to let it warm up, for easier spreading.  Flattening it and spreading it out was still pretty tricky, so I can't imagine what it would have been like had I used it at refrigerator temp.

So, I spread the dough as best I could using a combination of my trusty rolling pin and my own two hands.  It didn't quite reach the edges of the pan, but I decided it was good enough to get to work.

Once your dough is spread on the pan (or if you're using ready-to-go crust), the fun begins.  Spread the dough with the cheese sauce.  I didn't want to thick of a base, so I went with a nice thin layer.  Then I dumped the beef on top.

Using that trusty spoon, spread the beef out to cover the cheese sauce.  (I'll admit, the rest of this may be out of order because I, um, forgot the CHEESE part of my CHEESEburger pizza.  In the end it was still delicious, so let's pretend this was done on purpose.)  Once the beef is spread out, grab your mustard and ketchup.  I went back and forth with each about 4 times.  You can do more or less based on your tastes, but I found I got a really good flavor from this.  Then top with scallions.

I criss-crossed the condiments because that's what Emily had told me to do the first time I made her pizza.  I wondered what the point of criss-crossing was, and decided it must be for looks.  Which is when I realized I'd left off the cheese and thus the pattern of the condiments didn't matter.  Eh, whatever.  Looks pretty here, right?

Then I topped it with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar and baked at 450* for about 20 minutes.  You want the cheese melted and browned and the crust golden.

And viola!  The finished product.

Would have been prettier with better lighting and the condiments on top, but whatreyagonnado?  I will tell you it tasted delicious!

Especially paired with
Because Shiraz Cabernet is delicious.  And who doesn't love little penguins?  (Plus a bargain price at the International Food Warehouse.)