Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mmmm, Cake!

Yesterday, a couple friends moved into their new home.  My boyfriend spent the day helping them move furniture while I was out doing my Mary Kay thing.  Late in the afternoon, they decided to try to convince me that I should come over and make dinner.  Much to everyone's surprise, especially my own, I said yes.  We ended up with homemade mozzarella sticks for appetizers (still perfecting recipe, but expect it on here eventually), Caesar salad, garlic bread, penne vodka, and chicken parm for dinner (recipes for the penne to come eventually also), and for dessert: COOKIES AND CREAM CAKE!  The cake was fantastic.

Now, I'll admit, I took the easy way out.  Since I had limited time, and was already preparing the mozzarella sticks, penne, and chicken, I decided to go the *dun dun dun* box cake route.

I know, I know, not so original.  But you know what?  It was delicious.  And next time I make it, I will definitely try my hand at making some or all of the parts from scratch next time.  This time, however, I present you with the Shortcut Cookies & Cream Cake.

Shortcut Cookies & Cream Cake
(warning: NOT WW-friendly, but completely delicious)

  • 1 box French vanilla cake mix 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tub buttercream frosting
  • 1 tub chocolate frosting (I went with dark chocolate)
  • 1 package Double Stuf Oreos
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Prepare cake according to box.  I used Duncan Hines, which calls for 3 eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, and 1 1/3 cup water, but this might vary based on brand, so make sure to pay attention to the brand you select.  Bake in 2 round cake pans.
  3. While cakes cool, take about 2/3 of the package of Oreos and crush in food processor, or place in plastic bag and smash to tiny bits with a rolling pin, mallet, or just your hand if you're so inclined.  Empty tub of buttercream frosting into small mixing bowl.  Add crushed Oreos and mix until well blended.
  4. When cakes have cooled, place first layer on serving plate.  If top is uneven, feel free to slice off some of the top to even it out.  Spread buttercream-Oreo mix over bottom layer.  Place 2nd layer on top, and frost with chocolate.  You can frost the sides if you'd like, but I decided to go with a thicker layer of frosting on top.  
  5. Break remaining Oreos into pieces and use to garnish cake.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chicken Two Ways

Thanks to Ms. Gina at, I began experimenting with stuffed chicken breasts and chicken rollatini this year.  Gina has a fantastically delicious recipe for Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmagiana.
I'm pretty sure I've made it before, but I've made so many of her stuffed chicken/chicken rollatini recipes that it's hard to keep track of which ones I haven't or haven't made. With this one, I made a few minor changes.

Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmagiana, serves 4-8
inspired by

  • 1.25 lbs chicken cutlets, 8 cutlets overall
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (I didn't use whole wheat)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I usually have fresh, but I went Kraft this time)
  • 1 egg
  • about 2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped or torn up (I didn't really measure, but it looked to be about 2 cups)
  • 6 Tbsp part-skim ricotta
  • 1 oz pecorino romano cheese, grated
  • 4 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (I went with Bertolli Vidalia Onion since I didn't have any already made)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Spray cooking pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Chop or tear spinach into small pieces and place in bowl.  Add ricotta and grated pecorino romano and mix together.  In separate bowl, whisk egg.  In third bowl, mix combine breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.
  3. Spread cheese/spinach mix on each cutlet.  Roll each cutlet.  Dip in egg, and then roll in breadcrumbs.  Place in cooking pan, seem side down.  
  4. Cover each chicken roll with some sauce and a mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and cheeses are melted.

This was Wednesday night's delicious dinner.  But, I was lazy, and even though I had defrosted chicken breasts, I ended up buying cutlets because I didn't want to butcher the breasts to make cutlets.

On Friday, I was spending some time on the WeightWatchers message boards, my favorite place to "hang out" and chat with some wonderful people, many of whom have become my friends.  Well, one lovely lady was asking for some chicken recipes.  I had no idea what I was making for dinner, but I did know I still had that defrosted chicken in my fridge that had to get cooked or trashed.  And then came along Ms. Jamie (author of FoodFeminismLife) with an absolutely phenomenally delicious recipe. I searched her blog to give her proper credit, but I couldn't find this recipe.  Below is my re-creation, with very little adjustment to the original.  Fortunately, a bunch of us boardies from the NYC area were getting together Saturday evening so I was able to Jamie in person just how much I loved her dish!

We start by sauteing eggplant.

And I learned that sauteed eggplant is super delicious!

Dredge the chicken in flour, and then toss it in the pan and cook it up.

Top the chicken with eggplant, 

prosciutto, and fontina.

Broil until cheese is melted and everything looks delicious!

Mix up the sauce, 

toss together a salad,

and enjoy!

Chicken Sorrentino, serves 4
adapted from a recipe by Jamie, author of FoodFeminismLife
(Original recipe also called for chopped Roma tomatoes which I omitted, 1/2 stick unsalted butter which I replaced with 1/2 cup chicken broth, and 2Tbsp parsley for garnish which I just forgot to include in my finished dish.) 

  • 1/2 small eggplant
  • 1/8 c flour
  • 2 Tbsp vidalia onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c marsala wine
  • 1 oz prosciutto, sliced thin
  • 1 oz fontina cheese
  • 1 lb chicken cutlets
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • salt & pepper
  1.  Slice eggplant into thin slices.  (Original recipe calls for 1/2" circles, I went with thinner, lengthwise cuts, totally up to you.)  Heat oil in pan and saute eggplant until golden brown.  Remove from oil and set aside on paper towel covered plate.
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour.  Re-heat oil, if necessary, and add chicken to pan.  Cook until browned on one side, and then flip over and continue to cook until heated through.  If oil gets used up, add water or chicken broth to unstick chicken from pan.  When chicken is finished, remove from pan and place on broiler pan.  (Hint: Cover top of broiler pan with foil for easy clean-up.)
  3. In same pan, add marsala wine, onion (and tomato if using), and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Simmer and allow wine to reduce.  Add chicken broth to pan and continue to simmer until sauce thickens.
  4. Meanwhile, top chicken with eggplant, prosciutto, and fontina cheese.  Place under broiler for a few minutes until cheese is melted and browned.
  5. Spoon sauce over chicken (and parsley, if, unlike me, you remember) and viola!
For the Salad:

Chop up some romaine lettuce.  Add cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, banana peppers, a bit of red onion, and black olives.  Mix together some olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, garlic pepper, salt, and pepper.  (I threw it into my Magic Bullet for a few seconds to emulsify.)  Pour over salad.  Top salad with shaved cheese (I used pecorino romano).  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Forgive Me

Please forgive me for posting this absolutely emotional mouth vomit two week ago and then going into hiding.

I had basically retreated inside my head to do a lot of heavy thinking about the best course of action to treat the issues I posted about.

I decided it would be helpful for me to journal, but that maybe other people could relate or benefit from my experiences, so I decided to blog.  Which led me to question if I should blog here or elsewhere about recovering from those issues.  This blog was intended to discover new hobbies and passions, or rediscover old ones.  It was never intended to turn into a weight loss memoir.  So, I've started a new blog: Healing Hunger.  All of my weight loss/overeating/recovery musings will go there.  Here, at Passion & Zest, you'll continue to find recipes and recipe reviews, updates on new activities I've tried, and eventually a slew of photography.  (As I'll be getting a new camera for Christmas!) And maybe some random posts about fun, interesting, or miscellaneous topics.

It might sound a little confusing, or messy, but I'm confident it will all play out just fine soon enough.

As for what to expect to see here, well, with Thanksgiving coming I will be baking up a storm.  I'll be sure to take some pictures (via my phone) and post recipes while I work on those.  There may also be a few new recipes I'm trying for myself thanks to Emily Bites and SkinnyTaste.

I'll be making a variation on this delicious looking Chicken Rollatini tomorrow night.  It looks like the stuffed shells I made last week, but, with chicken instead of shells.  I will certainly let you know how it comes out!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Starting Over, Again

Today is November 1st.  (How did that happen, by the way?  Where has this year gone?)

About 5 or 6 weeks ago, I committed, or re-committed, to getting healthy.   I had commitment, motivation, passion.  I was renewed.  And a few weeks after that, I re-re-committed.   Well, yeah, that last one didn't stick either.

Here I am.  With 60 days left to 2011.  (Because it's 4PM and today's pretty much over.)  And I'm in worse shape then when I started the year, literally.  How is this fricken possible?

I decided today to clean the slate - again.  Start fresh - one more time.  But, really, honestly, truly, I'm a little discouraged.  I know that what I did in the past does not have to be an indicator of what I do in the future.  I can change!  I've changed before.  For the better, generally speaking.

Here's the thing, though.  To make a successful change, you have to want to change!  Hm, I'm not sure that's the issue.  I want to change my eating habits.  Seriously, I do.  I really, really, really do!  Every week day minute I'm thinking about this.
  • Do I want that cookie?  How badly do I want that cookie?  Is it more important to show myself that I have self-restraint and/or will power than it is to have that cookie?  
  • What meals should I prepare to ensure I stick to my plans this week? (Two days later) Hm, I didn't start any of those meals.  Guess I'm eating on the fly this week.
  • What should I have for lunch?  I have lots of work, so I'll just run downstairs.  Salad or soup?  Salad - I need to get some veggies in today.  Okay, good choice... wait!  I didn't mean to spend that many points on a salad!  But, I guess the points are from cheese, olive oil, and an egg, so it's not so bad.
  • I can't believe I'm so winded from walking up 2 flights of stairs.  With my boss.  How embarrassing.  I hope she doesn't try to have a conversation - I don't want her to realize how out of breath I am.  This is totally because I let myself gain so much weight.  How on earth did that happen?
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Is that what I'm doing?  Have I, by definition, gone insane?  And if so, what do I need to change to achieve the results I desire and deserve?

Maybe I should start with the results.  What do I want to see?  Who do I want to be with regards to my physical being and health?
  • I want to be someone who eats instinctively.  Who eats because she is hungry or approaching hunger, and knows when she is satisfied enough to end the meal.  
  • I want to be someone who enjoys food.  It's worth repeating: I want to enjoy my food.  Yes, one needs to eat to live.  But, let me be clear, I also enjoy food.  I enjoy preparing it.  I enjoy pouring myself into a meal.  I enjoy serving it to others.  And once in a while,  I actually enjoy eating it.  When I actually slow down enough to taste what I'm eating.  To savor the flavors that have come together. I find cooking to be an art form.  And a talent that I have developed and continue to develop.  But it's really difficult to appreciate that art or talent when you aren't paying attention to your meal, are eating out of boredom, sadness, excitement, fatigue, or any other emotions.  
  • I want to recognize my emotions and find another way to deal with them that does not involve food.  
  • I want to eat wholesome meals that are minimally processed, most of the time.  And learn to enjoy special treats in moderation.
  • I want to learn moderation.
  • I want to be physically fit and comfortable in my body.  I have a specific "goal weight" in mind, but I believe I can be happy if not at that weight as long as I feel my body looks pretty good.  I'm not sure how to measure that, though, other than "I'll just know."
  • I want to maintain good health and decrease my chances of developing weight-related illness or injuries.  I've seen these things in family members, and I do not want them for myself.  
  • Eventually, I want to start a family.  I want to be healthy before I get pregnant.  And I want to model good eating habits and general healthy well-being for my future children.
I don't think that's too much to want for myself and my future family.  Really, I don't.  The question is, what changes do I have to make to achieve those things?  And to make them habit and keep them consistent in my life, rather than falling back into old habits?

I'm at a loss.  I get all gung-ho about being healthy, following Weight Watchers, etc on any given morning.  And then I find myself on the couch with a bag of chips, 2 donuts, and 3/4 of a frozen pizza.  (At least it's not the whole pizza???) I think it was only this past year or two that I would actually plan out binges in advance.  Perhaps this is why I'm so afraid of grocery store judgment, because I'm judging myself the whole way.  I don't think I intentionally started planning binges.  I think it just kind of happened one day.  And then it continued to happen, to the point where it's almost natural now.  Automatic, sometimes.  At some point, each time, I recognize I'm in the middle of or about to start a binge.  I shrug my shoulders and continue to the point of being over-stuffed and usually feeling pretty gross.  Sometimes I feel badly about the binge.  Sometimes I feel nothing.  

I started writing this post thinking that I was over-dramatizing.  And that I just needed to focus and put my mind to it.  The more I've written (and I am sorry for the ridiculous length of this post), the more I've started to realize that maybe this is real, legit problem.  I've always had issues classifying myself as something.  In college I suffered from depression, but put off seeking help, minimizing myself thinking "But there are people who feel worse than I do."  I think I've done the same thing recently.  I've been struggling with the idea that maybe I have a real problem, but figure there are people who have far worse problems with food than I do.  I don't think I necessarily have a food addiction, but maybe I really have developed a disorder and skewed my relationship with food.  (And there are more facts that I'm choosing to not put out there on the interwebs at the moment.)  Maybe the change that I need to make is to admit and accept that, and accept that it's going to be a difficult journey.  Maybe I need to realize that just because someone might have a worse problem, my problem isn't "no big deal."  And maybe I need to let myself get whatever help it is that I need for that problem.  

This was a very emotional entry for me to write.  I feel completely spent right now.

Pumpkin Party, part 2

Remember all that pumpkin pancake goodness from yesterday?  It's time to fill you in the rest of the dishes from Sunday.

Dinner was fantastic!  I made Sausage and Pumpkin Pasta from Emily Bites.  I was going to make it on Saturday but realized I was out of chicken broth.  (Yes, I had pumpkin, but no chicken broth.  I had used it all up with some wonton soup on Friday night - recipe to come when perfected.)  So I made chicken broth.  But it had just finished brothesizing, when I was coerced into going out.  Then it got left for Sunday.

Okay, Sunday.  Lazy day of fakely being snowed in.  Time to whip out the broth and make some pumpkiny pasta.  I won't repost the recipe, as you can find it on Emily's blog.  However, I did make a few changes based on what I actually had on hand:
  • rosé instead of  white wine
  • regular pork sausage instead of turkey
  • spinach instead of mushrooms
And, viola!

Emily says the original recipe from Taste of Home says you can substitute extra chicken broth for the wine, but she recommends not doing so because of the flavor profile the wine brought to the dish.  I almost made the substitution, thinking I didn't have any wine on hand.  (Travesty! I know.  I need to head to my local wine store and stock up.)  But then I remembered I had a couple of bottles from my trip to the vineyards.

I am so glad I used wine!

Emily knows what she's talking about.  The wine (even though I went with a dry rosé instead of a sweet wine) really helped make the flavor of the sauce.  I can't imagine not using it (though I'll try it again with different wines).  It gave it a nice tang to contrast the pumpkin.  The other essential part of this recipe, in my very humble opinion, is the sage.  Wow.  Seriously, just wow.  It just made the sauce.  And it made my taste buds very happy.

The final pumpkin dish of the day was from Skinny Taste: Low-fat Pumpkin Spiced Chocolate Chip Cookies.  One word: yum!  Okay, that was a pretty lame word.  I can't even begin to describe how good this cookie dough the cookies are.  I'm not sure how accurate Gina's serving count is because I doubled the recipe, made 25 cookies, and ate lots of cookie dough.  (I wanted to bring 2 dozen to work, and I ate 1 off the first batch, so I added an extra to the second batch.  But then I had 2 more before I came to work, so... whatever, there were still plenty!)

No pictures, sorry.  But my coworkers loved them.  Lots of happy tummies around here!