Road Trippin’ in a Van + Travel Snacks

Today my coworkers and I drove up to Ohio for a work conference.  Last week, this is the conversation I had with Andrew regarding the trip:

Catherine: Just a reminder, we leave Wednesday for that conference in Ohio.
Andrew:  Oh, yeah.  Do you need me to take you to the airport?
Catherine: Oh, no!  We are driving the church van.
Andrew:  Your driving to Ohio??

Oh, yes.  We spent 10 hours a 15-passenger van and traveled in three different states today, but we arrived in one piece. 😀

We will be away from home for four days (including travel days), and in the spirit of setting myself up to make healthy choices, I packed plenty of snacks for the time away.  We’ll eat breakfasts at the hotel, lunches at the conference, and dinners out at restaurants, and while I’m sure the food will be excellent, you just never know what the produce situation will be.  And four days with insufficient produce sounds like a headache to me.

travelfood

I packed:

~Bananas
~Clementines
~GoGo Squeez Fast Fruit
~Trail Mix
~Almond milk
~Energy bars (not pictured)

For traveling I love having “pre-packaged” fruit like bananas and clementines that can be thrown in a bag without any special preparation.  I was excited to find the Fast Fruits too–they’re essentially pureed fruit in a pouch!

Additionally I packed my running shoes and scoped out the hotel fitness center situation (there is a gym!), plus found some “do anywhere” workouts that I can do in the hotel room.  Preparation leads to healthier decisions.

After we arrived this evening we settled into our rooms, went out to dinner (our travel meals were pretty good today–Cracker Barrel and Outback Steakhouse, both of which have quality, healthy options!), then turned in for the night.  I am glad to be out of the van and looking forward to the conference starting tomorrow (Thursday)!

-What food do you pack when traveling?

-What tips do you have for working out on the road?

Snowmageddon Chicken Stew and Other Snow Adventures

We have another snow day here in Richmond!  In anticipation of the snow, which started yesterday around 4 PM, I felt compelled to cook a lot of food.  (If that sounds familiar, yes, I did the same thing a few weeks ago.  It must be a primal survival instinct.)

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For dinner–and what will be dinner for at least two more days–I made a big pot of Snowmageddon Chicken & Rice Stew.  What makes it Snowmageddon stew rather than regular chicken stew?  The chicken is only from drumsticks because when I went to the grocery store in all the storm preparation craziness yesterday, there was no chicken remaining except drumsticks.  I am not exaggerating.  The poultry case was empty except for a few packages of chicken legs.  Chicken legs it is. 🙂

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Snowmageddon Chicken & Rice Stew
10 drumsticks (~3 lb)
8 whole carrots
4 large celery sticks
8 oz green beans
8 oz mushrooms
5 large kale leaves
2 cloves garlic
1.5 c brown rice
2 qts chicken broth
Salt, pepper, thyme, smoked paprika, rosemary, onion powder
Olive oil

1.  Chop all veggies into bite-sized pieces.  2. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and brown; add garlic and saute for about a minute.  3.  Add all remaining ingredients, including whole, raw chicken legs.  Stir.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer.  4. Check chicken in about 15 minutes.  When it’s cooked through, take all drumsticks out of pot.  Remove chicken from each leg (yes, this is very tedious), discarding the bones and putting meat back in the pot.  5.  Continue to let simmer, partially covered, until rice is cooked through (or longer).

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Best if eaten while sitting under blankets on the couch 🙂

The legs definitely give the stew more flavor than we would have gotten using breasts, so that’s a plus!

While the stew was simmering, Andrew and I tag-teamed a batch of banana muffins.  We used a recipe from a gluten-free, dairy-free cookbook we have, and they turned out pretty great:

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We added a cinnamon-brown sugar crumble on top…not the prettiest, but they taste wonderful!

After dinner and dessert, we suited-up and played in the still-falling snow.  We took our sleds and found the best sledding hills in the neighborhood, threw a few snowballs, and give our inner-children free reign for an hour or so. 😀

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Eating snow + Snyoga

We warmed up and capped the night with two mugs of green chai tea:

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Andrew and I are both home from work today and have one snow adventure planned so far: making an igloo.  🙂  Have a great snow day, everyone!  Stay safe and warm!

-Do you have a snow day today?
-When was the last time you went sledding?
Do you cook way more food than you actually need when it’s about to snow?

Spinach, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Lasagna (Gluten-Free)

Sometimes you decide to cook a certain meal for dinner because you are craving a specific flavor.  You can’t get your mind off that one meal, and any other meal will not bring you the same satisfaction.  It’s decided: you will have that for dinner.  You know what I’m talking about, right?

And sometimes you decide to cook a certain meal because your husband opened the wrong can for a recipe earlier in the week, and now you have to use its contents before it goes bad.  We fell into this category this week. 😉

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Doh!

On Saturday Andrew opened a can of tomato sauce rather than diced tomatoes when we were making our Brunswick stew, so we decided to use it with some kind of pasta dish this week.  I didn’t feel like making plain ol’ spaghetti, and I recently found gluten-free brown rice lasagna noodles on manager’s special at Kroger, so I thought I’d give it a try!

We only used ingredients we had on hand, so you can tweak it depending on what’s in your refrigerator.  It’s not technically dairy-free, but if you are like Andrew and can tolerate goat cheese but not cow cheese, this may be a great recipe for you!

Spinach, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Lasagna

1 lb ground bison (or beef)
2 15-oz can tomato sauce
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh spinach
5-6 large basil leaves, chopped
Salt, pepper, oregano, red pepper, onion powder to taste
Olive oil
6 oz goat cheese
Almond milk (splash)
9 GF lasagna noodles

1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and brown.  Remove mushrooms from pot.  2.  Add more olive oil if needed, then add ground bison to the pot, and cook until brown.  3. Make room in center of pot, and add garlic.  Cook until fragrant.  4.  Stir and add tomato sauce, mushrooms, basil, and spices.  5.  Reduce heat, and let simmer.  6.  Meanwhile, cook lasagna noodles according to package instructions.  Preheat oven to 350.  Add a splash of almond milk to goat cheese and mix well to give goat cheese a creamier consistency.  7. Add spinach to sauce and stir.  8.  In a glass baking dish (9×13) layer sauce, noodles, cheese.  Repeat for 3 layers and finish with sauce on top. 9.  Cover and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for 10 more minutes.

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Oh man.  This tasted so good.  I am not ashamed to say that we ate half the pan that night!  I’m a huge fan of brown rice noodles too–I like that they are whole grain but taste exponentially better than whole wheat noodles.  The texture is way better than regular pasta too.  So good.

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Mmm 🙂

While I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having pasta when Andrew opened that can Saturday, it did push me to try a new recipe–and the end result was fantastic!  We will be making this dish more often!

Have a great Thursday!

-What are you cooking tonight?
-Have you ever been forced to cook something because you accidentally opened a can/package?  😀
-Do you prefer brown rice, whole wheat, or regular noodles?

Double Bean Brunswick Stew {Stewsday & Less Meat Monday}

Last Tuesday I cooked my first whole chicken, and it provided dinner for Andrew and me on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  We saved the bones, and on Saturday I used them to make chicken stock.  With the stock and about half of a breast that was left, we decided to make Brunswick stew for dinner that night.  I turned to the internet to find a basic recipe and quickly discovered that there are hundreds of variations with very little consistency.  So we improvised.

This recipe is great for Less Meat Monday or Stewsday!

Double Bean Brunswick Stew

1 qt chicken stock/broth
3 oz chicken, cooked and shredded
1 15-oz can black beans
1 15-oz can white beans
frozen carrots (1 bag)
frozen corn (1 bag)
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes 
4 oz tomato paste
3-4 c fresh spinach
1 pat of butter
Worcestershire sauce (generous splash)
White wine vinegar (splash)
Salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste 

The complicated steps:  Put everything except spinach in a large pot; stir and heat.  A few minutes before serving, add spinach and stir.

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As is the case with most stews, the longer you let it simmer, the better it will taste.  We used frozen and canned veggies because we were short on time, but you can certainly use fresh produce if you have more time to let it cook!  You can also add more water if it’s too thick for your taste buds.  Andrew really doesn’t like Lima beans–something I consider a staple in Brunswick stew–so we used other varieties.  You can leave out the chicken entirely if you’d like, or you can add more!  It’s a very adaptable recipe.

All in all this was a very good, easy, quick stew.  I love soups and stews because they are a great way to squeeze in veggies and swap beans for meat without really noticing the difference.  Speaking of foods with lots of fiber, if you’re looking for a more filling, tasty alternative to those popular detox cleanses, this may be your ticket.  It, uh, keeps things moving the way they are supposed to.  😉

I am trying to be less wasteful when it comes to food, so I am very pleased with the fact that we are using every bit of that chicken!  In addition to the three nights we ate the meat, the stew fed us Saturday, Monday, and there’s enough remaining for one more meal.  Heck, yes!

Happy Stewsday to all!

-Have you ever made Brunswick stew?  What do you consider to be the key ingredients?

Snow Day Cookin’

Greetings on this beautiful, snowy morning!  Is anyone snowed-in, legitimately or otherwise?  Richmond is notorious for shutting down at the first suggestion of flurries.  I was thrilled this morning to see that my office is closed today; sure, we only have about two inches of snow, but I gladly rolled over and fell back asleep!

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Yesterday was my day off, and I don’t know if it was the cold temperatures, anticipation of the snow, or procrastination of the cleaning projects I’d planned to do, but all I wanted to do was cook delicious food!  And cook delicious food, I did. 🙂

First up was a batch of Raspberry Orange Muffins:

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I started with this basic muffin recipe from 100 Days of Real Food, but used gluten-free flour rather than whole wheat.  I used a cup of chopped, previously-frozen raspberries and mango-orange juice in place of the regular OJ.  Delicious.  They aren’t super sweet, but they are healthier than your average muffin.  Each one of these guys contains roughly:

-150 calories
-5g fat
-3g protein
-2g fiber
-5.5g sugar

Not bad!

Next up was dinner, and I was feeling ambitious.  For the first time in my life, I cooked a whole chicken.  You culinary pros are probably thinking, Yeah, so?, and my vegetarian friends probably just closed out this window (sorry, guys :)), but this was a big deal!  As someone who regularly reevaluates her stance on eating meat (you can expect a post about that in the near future), this was huge.  Aaand it was delicious.  I mean, seriously… how beautiful is this? :

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I basically used this recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  Inside the chicken I put a lemon (quartered) and about four cloves of garlic (crushed).  After looking at a few other recipes I decided to cook it at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 degrees.  I took the chicken out of the oven after it had been on 400 for an hour just to check it, thinking it would need more time, and the internal temperature was slightly above where it was supposed to be, so I just let it rest!

With the chicken we had roasted beets, carrots, and red potatoes with rosemary

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When Andrew came home from work, the chicken was in the oven, and I was prepping the veggies.  He peeked in the oven, and was clearly surprised/impressed.  Because we still had about an hour to go until everything would be ready, Andrew decided to go to the gym for a quick workout.  When he walked back in the door, he was holding these:

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Me:  Flowers?? And wine??  What are these for?

Andrew: You made such a fancy dinner, and I wanted you to know that I appreciate it.

Me: I don’t know if it’s that fancy; I just felt like cooking!

Andrew:YOU COOKED A WHOLE CHICKEN!  That’s FANCY!

Love that guy. 🙂

So we ate our fancy chicken and roasted vegetables, and we drank our fancy wine, and we watched our fancy show, The Biggest Loser.  (Okay, I may be overreaching with my use of “fancy” ;-)).

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Andrew’s taste-test of the chicken went something like this:  “That’s good.  Whoa.  That’s like really good.”  I must say, I was not at all disappointed by how it turned out either!

Now that we have enough food to last us a few days, I’m afraid I actually have to use this snow day to do some house-cleaning…after I go to the gym, perhaps. 🙂

-Any snow outside your window today?
Have you ever cooked a whole chicken?

2014 Goals + New Year’s Day Cuisine

Happy 2014 (a few days late)!

I know some people are vehemently against New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t totally understand that.  The first of January provides a great, if only symbolic chance to start fresh and dream about what life might look like in the coming year.  It’s as good a time as any to make a change, so why not?  Why wait for the sake of rebelling against the tradition?

At the beginning of January I like to set goals rather than make standard resolutions–they might be functionally the same, but goals seem more attainable and specific than resolutions, which I tend to think of as more vague concepts (“Put 20% of my paycheck into savings” rather than, “Save money.”)

Here are some of my goals for 2014:

1. Run 750 miles. I’ve never tallied my mileage over the course of an entire year, but at roughly two miles per day, this seems attainable.

2. Run a marathon.  This was on my list of 2013 goals, and it just didn’t happen (I did, however, run three races last year, which was another goal :)).  If I succeed at this, running 750 miles during the year should be no problem!

3. Perform one random act of kindness every week.  Preferably anonymously.

4. Write three highlights of every day.  I purchased a small planner that has room to write something for each day, and I plan to journal at least three high points daily.  I am already really looking forward to having the completed journal at the end of the year and being able to reflect on all the good times.

5. Cook dinner for other people once a month.  I love cooking.  I love sharing food with others.  Friends–come over for dinner, and let us love you by cooking you (hopefully) delicious food.  😀

So far I am off to a good start:  On New Year’s Day Andrew and I ran 3.5 miles (this was a big deal as Andrew does not enjoy running; half a mile in he said, “Are you ready for me to start complaining yet?” ;-)), I’ve written in my journal/planner each day, and Wednesday night our friends Amanda and Diron came over for a New Year’s Day dinner!  We made a rosemary-garlic pork tenderloin, baked apples, black-eyed peas, and collard greens & kale.  (I don’t think of myself as a typical Southern girl, but my family definitely has some Southern traditions when it comes to food.  We also eat oyster stew on Christmas morning.  Anyone else? :))  I forgot to take any pictures on NYD, but thankfully we had most of the leftovers for dinner last night, minus the pork which Andrew finished for lunch.  Here’s the modified leftovers meal:

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Collard greens & kale, baked apples with butter and brown sugar, black-eyed peas with tomatoes, and lemon-thyme chicken

Not a bad start to the year. 🙂

-What are your goals or resolutions for 2014?
-Does your family have any interesting food traditions around the holidays?

Less Meat Monday: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos {with Chicken}

“Less Meat Monday” admittedly doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Meatless Monday“, but it’s a huge step for some members of this household (read: Andrew :)).  Last week he acknowledged that he should probably be eating a little less meat and a little more fiber for his overall health, and he gave me the green light to try some new dinner recipes in which meat is not the star.

Naturally, I was thrilled—as Andrew puts it, I always have one foot firmly in the vegetarian camp.  Now, we are not going vegetarian, but I am planning to make Mondays “Less Meat Mondays”, and try new recipes in which I can cut the amount of meat significantly with beans, lentils, or some other form of plant protein.

Here’s what was on the table last night:

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Tacos {with Chicken}

2 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
½ lb chicken, cooked and shredded*
2 medium sweet potatoes
½-1 c salsa
olive oil
chili powder
cumin
salt & pepper
mixed greens
lime
cilantro
goat cheese
corn tortillas

1. Preheat oven to 400°.  Chop sweet potatoes into ½-inch cubes.  Put in bowl, and toss with olive oil, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.  2. Spread sweet potatoes on a pan, and place in oven for 30 minutes, stirring/flipping halfway through.  3.  While the potatoes are cooking, combine beans, chicken, and salsa in a pot, and heat on low.  4.  When potatoes are done and beans are hot, place in tortillas with greens, cilantro, lime juice, goat cheese, and/or whatever sounds good :).

(*I actually cooked the chicken in a skillet as soon as I put the potatoes in the oven;  there’s plenty of time to do this and heat the beans, but if you have leftover chicken you want to use, this is a great way to do it!)

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The tacos were a hit!  Andrew said he did not miss the extra meat—typically we use 1- 1 1/2lb of meat for any given dinner, which will last us two nights, so only using 1/2lb of chicken was a significant drop for us.  You can also leave out the chicken entirely, and I doubt you’d miss it.

Happy eating to all! 🙂

-Do you observe Meatless Monday?
-Any recommendations for high-protein, meatless (or less-meat) dinners that I could try in the coming weeks??