Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

For my birthday, I got a new toy: the VacMaster VP112.

Still have no idea what this thing is? That’s okay. My family and friends are confused, too.

The short version is that this 50lb contraption will let me vacuum-seal liquids and things with liquid components.

I received it on Friday and gave it an inaugural over the weekend. The first thing we made was compressed watermelon tequila bites.

First we cut up watermelon and put it in bags, along with some homemade tequila syrup:

The, we used the Fruit Fucker 5000 Vacmaster VP112 to compress the heck out of the watermelon and syrup. The result looked something like this:

Compressed Watermelon Tequila Bites

1/2 of a small seedless watermelon, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. tequila
1/4 c. lime juice

Divide watermelon cubes among two food-grade plastic bags and set aside.

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and set saucepan in an ice bath to rapidly chill. Once the syrup is cool, stir in tequila and lime juice.

Divide the tequila syrup between the two watermelon bags. Compress each bag on HIGH. Refrigerate at least an hour, but 2 days seems to be the magic number.

I totally winged this recipe, and it turned out really well.  The watermelon takes on a sort of meaty quality when compressed, and the tequila infusion packed quite a punch. These would make excellent party snacks, but be careful – it’s easy to get boozy without realizing what’s going on.

You’ll have some watermelon-infused tequila left over in each bag, and with that we made a couple of martinis, adding in a bit of triple sec and vodka, plus a compressed watermelon cube (or two):

Absolutely delicious.

It’s Friday, and I’m happy to say I’ve stuck to my goals for the week:

  • I stayed on plan every day.
  • I exercised at least once, usually twice, each day.

Like many things in life, the more I eat better, the more I exercise, the more I want to eat better and exercise. It’s a wonderful cycle.

On Wednesday, UMKC hosted speaker Michelle Robins of Your Wellness Connection, who gave a talk called Embracing a Wellness Lifestyle. Michelle gave her seven habits for a healthy life, which include:

  • Rest, Reflect and Rejuvenate - get plenty of sleep, spend time in nature, thoughtfully consider your own actions, beliefs, choices, etc.
  • Breathe Deeply – oxygenate those cells!
  • Move Your Body – make time for exercise
  • Free Your Space – eliminate the clutter from your house, your office, your car, your mind, your life
  • Go for the Greens – eat lots of fruits and vegetables, especially green, leafy ones
  • Eat from the Sea – and Enjoy the Sun! – Eat more fish, and spend time outside to get Vitamin D
  • Drink to Your Health – drink more water

None of these habits is new news. However, they aren’t easy to put into practice. One of the tips she gave that both Frank and I found particularly useful is, rather than eliminating unhealthy foods from your diet, add in healthy ones. Eventually, the unhealthy ones will fall aside as you begin to enjoy how you feel when eating a healthier diet. This has proven true for us. Sure, greasy cheese pizza is delicious, but it is not worth the cost – weight gain, pain, headaches – that come from eating the junk that is traditional pizza.

Another tip she stressed was to define why you want to lose weight/live healthier. If you know why, you are more likely to stick to your plan.

What is your why?

Mine is this: To become the person I know I am. A short, simple phrase that’s loaded with meaning, expectation, hope, promise.

Finally, Michelle shared her recipe for what she calls a Green Smoothie. I modified her recipe a bit to make it one serving, and to add a bit of yogurt:
Green Smoothie
1 c. water
1 1/2 c. fresh spinach
1/4 apple
1/2 banana
1/4 c. frozen mango chunks
2 Tbsp. fat-free plain yogurt
3-4 ice cubes
Put the water and spinach in a blender and mix until smooth. Add the fruit and yogurt and puree until very smooth. Toss in the ice cubes and mix until the smoothie is as smooth or chunky as you like.
Michelle claims that drinking one of these a few times a week will do wonders for your overall health and well-being. Not being one to look a gift horse bearing an improvement to my overall health and well-being in the mouth, I prepared and drank my very first Green Smoothie this morning.

The verdict? It was delicious. Really – it was a teeny bit veggie-tasting, but mostly just fruity and cold and very good. I will have another tomorrow morning.

But – and I speak from experience gained this morning – make sure to remove the sticker from your apple BEFORE putting it in the blender. Sure, the sticker has some extra fiber, but I still have sticker in my teeth right now.

This weekend I will be giving two speeches in my Public Speaking class. On Saturday, I will give  a product persuasion speech on the Sous Vide Supreme. Basically, I figure if I can sell them on sous vide cooking, I can sell them on the Sous Vide Supreme. We’ll see. Sunday, I have to give a persuasive speech, and I’ve chosen to try to persuade my class to participate in the KC Slimdown Challenge, which starts next Monday. Wish me luck.

I’ll also be doing much swimming (hopefully), cooking, healthy eating, resting, rejuvenating, reflecting, breathing, drinking water, moving, and all those other things that come with a busy weekend.

I ask you to notice two things about this photo:

One: The beautiful beet salad I threw together using some leftover ingredients. There are diced, roasted beets, some blue-cheese crumbles (goat cheese is even better), Thai-spiced roasted walnuts, and a drizzle of shallot vinaigrette.

Roasting beets is easy, by the way. There’s a great tutorial over at http://localfoods.about.com/od/preparationtips/ss/How-To-Roast-Beets.htm. After they are roasted and peeled, cut them into cubes and store in the fridge for up to a week.

Two: The Top Chef Masters bowl. I won a Top Chef Masters prize package that included six such bowls, some Top Chef Masters t-shirts and a glorious Top Chef Masters apron.

Here’s the deal: If I get at least 25 comments on this post from 25 real people (sorry, spambots) by Monday, July 11th, I’ll give away one of the shirts to a random commenter.  If I don’t have 25 comments by 25 unique people by then, I’ll give the shirt away when then number of unique comments reaches 25. I have no idea how long it will take to get 25 comments from unique people – I could be giving away the t-shirt on July 11th or a year from now. I’ll announce the winner of the shirt on this site on July 11th, so make sure to check back then to see if you won (or if you still have a shot).

Trust me – you want one of these shirts. They’re really soft and comfortable. You can see one on Bravo’s site.

So… leave a comment, tell your friends, and good luck!

I have a camera full of pictures of the cookies I made last night, but I haven’t unloaded them and won’t until maybe tomorrow. Normally, I’d post about something else, but these cookies are so good, I have to share them with you right now!

Instead of a picture of the cookies, here’s Grizz’s cute little Grizzlepuss nose.

It's smooch-worthy.

How cute is that? I mean, doesn’t it just make you want to fall over from the cuteness?

Grizz loves helping with projects. He oversees cooking projects from his place in a dining room chair. Sometimes, he gets more involved. He especially likes embroidery:

He's so helpful.

Once you get off the floor, you should replenish yourself by making my ginger molasses cookies. They’re a little sweet, a little spicy, a little crisp (around the edges) and a little chewy (in the middle). Even better, they’re not terrible for you – I just had one, and I’m considering having another!

…considering…

…considering…

It’s been decided. Another one will be consumed very soon.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
Servings: about 20 cookies
WW Points: 1.5 per cookie

1 1/4 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
1/3 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1 Egg
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 1/2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. white sugar (for rolling cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, blend flour, baking soda and spices together and set aside.
In another bowl, cream together butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg until well mixed. Then add the molasses and mix to combine.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix to combine, then stir in the crystallized ginger until blended into the dough

Using rounded teaspoonfuls (or not quite full tablespoons), form dough into balls and roll them in the extra 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet, lightly flatten with the bottom of a glass and bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Allow to cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes before removing to wire rack to cool completely.

Some things to keep in mind as you make these. One, feel free to adjust the spices to your own tastes. I like the clove flavor, so there’s a bit of it in here. Two, rolling the cookies in sugar, then flattening the cookies with something flat (like the bottom of a drinking glass) are very important for the texture and appearance of these cookies. Take the time and you will not be disappointed!

Finally!

Autumn has full-on arrived and I couldn’t be happier. I love the colors, the cooler weather, and (of course) the food. What’s not to love about pumpkin, butternut squash, sage, turkey, cranberries and Brussels sprouts?

All of these delicious flavors can lead to major temptation around the holidays and that can mean trouble for people who haven’t mastered the art of moderation. For me, it’s not an option to simply avoid holiday food – I love it too much. But, I can practice moderation, which is what I did with this week’s Treat Monday.

Behold – the most delicious pumpkin cookies ever to come out of my kitchen:

These are big cookies. Big, tasty cookies.

That pan up there, holding 8 cookies? That’s a standard 9×13 pan. As you can see, these cookies aren’t slouches. They are some serious cookies.

The texture is cake-like and moist, but not sticky. The pumpkin and chocolate and spices and cream cheese all go together like some symphony announcing the arrival of fall. Not to mention, these things are versatile. Leave off the icing or the chips or both, add nuts or raisins or dried cranberries, make them smaller – consider these the Hand Turkey of cookies – you start with a base and make them what you want.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings: 18 big cookies
Adapted from The Joy of Baking

For the cookies:
2 c. flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/4 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. canned pumpkin puree
3/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the frosting:
8 ounces neufchatel cheese (low-fat cream cheese), room temperature
1/4 c. butter, room temperature
1 c.confectioners’ (powdered or icing) sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two cookie sheets with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, and salt.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until light and smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the oil, vanilla extract, and pumpkin puree. Add the flour mixture and beat just until incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

Using 1/4 cup of batter (can use a small ice cream scoop or measuring cup) place small mounds of batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. The cookies won’t spread much during baking.

Bake for about 15 – 18 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting:
Beat the cream cheese and butter until soft and creamy. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla until the frosting is soft and creamy.

I still haven’t bought a pumpkin for the front porch yet. Last year, we bought three, and someone stole all of them. Pumpkin-stealing jerks.

I’ve considered rubbing Vaseline all over the outside of a pumpkin, figuring I’d rather have a messy porch than a stolen pumpkin, but I can’t commit. I suppose I should carve it before setting it out on the porch, to make it less tempting. I’m not exactly a pumpkin artist, so it would be sort of flattering if someone stole a carved pumpkin.

Maybe I’ll decorate some pumpkin cookies instead.

I have a confession: I love sweets. Eating them, cooking them, staring longingly at them.

That’s not really a secret. I mean, you don’t get to be almost 240 lbs without having something of a sweet tooth.

One of the challenges of changing my diet for the better has been finding ways to satisfy my sweet cravings in a realistic way.

Enter Treat Monday.

What is Treat Monday, you ask? Good question.

A few weeks ago, I got the urge to bake something decadent. Not just cake mix + pumpkin puree baking, or whole-wheat carrot muffin baking, but ooey, gooey, butter and flour and eggs baking.

Serious baking.

Seriously fattening baking.

What’s a trying-to-be healthy girl to do when this kind of urge strikes? The only thing I could do – give in. But not completely.

I decided to find a recipe for something that I wanted to try a little of, make it on Sunday evening, and take the rest to work on Monday.

Thus, Treat Monday was born, out of a craving for a gooey chocolate chip cookie.

Sunday rolled around and I made some of the best chocolate chip cookies to ever have come from my oven (my Awesomesauce cookies are delicious, relatively healthy, and you can eat more than one without feeling guilty – these should be one and done).

I got the recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook and followed it to the letter.

I'm a sucker for cookie dough.

The result was a cookie that was as visually appealing as it was tasty.

Did I mention that these are really big cookies?

Do not adjust your screen - these are enormous cookies!

That’s a standard sized cookie sheet, and only six of these bad boys fit at a time.

Big and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Servings: about 20 large cookies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

3 1/3 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
16 Tbsp. (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beaters as necessary.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chocolate chips until incorporated.

Working with 1/4 cup of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay on two parchment-lined baking sheets, spaced about 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are golden but the centers are still soft and puffy, about 17 to 20 minutes, rotating and switching the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Let the cookies cook on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

I’m not going to bother putting Weight Watchers points on recipes for Treat Monday. These cookies, and the other recipes I choose to make for Treat Monday are about moderation – eat one and share the rest.

And with these, you can really only eat one:

One is all you'll be able to eat!

Eat half, take a break, eat the other half. Or share one with a friend. And then share another one with another friend later.

Healthy living is all about moderation, which is why I love being able to make what I want, enjoy a little and share the rest.

Hopefully, my co-workers will remember to enjoy in moderation, too :)

While last week was Hell Week in the life of a university worker, this week was Hell Week Lite. Almost as busy, almost as many problems to solve and fires to put out, almost as much stress. Cooking is a great stress-reliever for me, especially cooking sweet things to satisfy my fairly agressive sweet tooth.

I’m so looking forward to the long Labor Day weekend. And… to my 35th birthday this Saturday! I tend to get weird around my birthday – moody and nostalgic and not in a good way. Last weekend I had the birthday breakdown that comes just about every year, and while it made for a not-so-great weekend, I got past it just in time to celebrate full-force this weekend.

Starting on Friday with dinner with Frank at Justus Drugstore in Smithville, Missouri, our first time visiting the highly-regarded restaurant. Saturday is dinner with my parents, followed by a fireworks show at one of their friend’s farms. I’m so looking forward to everything and can’t wait to fill you all in on the details!

But we’re not here right now to talk about my birthday. My 35th birthday. That’s this weekend (I’m over the breakdown part, I promise). I mentioned something a few paragraphs back about sweet things, remember?

I have two words for you: Awesomesauce Cookies.

These cookies are, by far, the best cookies I’ve ever made. And they taste even better when you realize that they are not terrible for you! As I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – just because something isn’t bad for you doesn’t mean it tastes bad. Not only do these NOT taste bad, they taste better than darn near any cookie out there. Make these, and you won’t go back to the basic, high-fat chocolate chip cookies. I promise.

Lynn’s Awesomesauce Cookies

Servings: about 40 cookies
Weight Watchers Points: 1.5 per cookie

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 c. (1 stick) salted butter, softened
1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
2 c. whole-wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. milk chocolate chips
3/4 c. peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix sugars, butter, applesauce, vanilla and egg in a large bowl. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Stir in chocolate and peanut butter chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake 8 – 10 minutes or until light brown (centers will be soft). Cool on a rack and enjoy!

Working at a university has its ups and downs. The downside is that every August and September, we get ridiculously, insanely busy. It’s not completely a downside, though – being busy can be really rewarding. Not to mention, it makes the day fly by.

Keeping on the healthy track is both easier and harder when I’m nutso-busy. Easier, because I don’t have time to eat anything but lunch. Harder, because people tend to bring in treats to appease the troops when we’re under intense fire.

Today, I was the bearer of temptation. I brought these:

Do not adjust your screen – that is a seriously big cookie. A quarter cup worth of cookie. A monster cookie, if you will. And I made 24 of them, then ate two (one yesterday, one today).

I got the recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I love love love America’s Test Kitchen, and plan on picking up their Healthy Family Cookbook when it comes out in October.

I was jonesing to bake something, and decided that I would share whatever I made with my office. This opened up possibilities that I wouldn’t have had if I was planning on keeping the cookies to myself. Possibilities like butter. Possibilities like chocolate chips. Possibilities like making enormous cookies.

Check out the cookbook for the recipe – it’s worth it for that one, and dozens and dozens more.

I’m pretty proud of myself for only having eaten two of these things. Then again, I don’t think I could have put more than two in my belly. Did I mention they were huge?

Yeah.

I found some whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies in the freezer that I made a while back. To salvage my healthy reputation, I’ll probably bring those to the office on Wednesday.

Have I mentioned that I love chocolate? Because I do. I’m also a fan of VitaTops, so a flavor called Triple Chocolate Chunk is obviously something that draws my interest. But will they taste as good I hope they will?

First things first…

Looks

The promise from Vitalicious:

The wrapped:

The unwrapped:

It looks little drier than the image in the picture. However, there is a definite variety of chocolate chunks – three, to be precise. The white ones seem to be retreating into the cake, as if they are drawn inward by some interior quicksand.

Texture
The cake is a little bit dry, but I managed to get a chocolate chunk in each bite, which helped moisten the cake. It’s really dense and fudgy. I like it. I really like it. It’s chocolate. Times three. What’s not to love?

I have one complaint, and it’s really petty. When the chips are scattered around the edges, I end up getting chocolate goo on my fingers each time I pick up the VitaTop to take a bite. It’s not that bad, since I end up licking the stuff off my fingers anyway, but still, it’s sort of messy.

Taste
The cake is the same dense chocolaty cake used in the Deep Chocolate VitaTops. It’s very chocolaty and rich, with no discernable aftertaste as in the Fudgy Peanut Butter Chip variety. Each of the three chocolate chunks also has their own flavor. The dark chip-shaped one is like semisweet chocolate. The light chip-shaped one is a mild, sweet white chocolate, and the chocolate chunk one is like milk chocolate. I really like the white chocolate ones and find myself wishing that there were nothing but white chocolate chips in this one. The triple chocolate chunk is definitely chocolaty – almost too chocolaty. Almost. I do think I’d like this one more with some fat-free Cool Whip dolloped on top.

Sitstay’s Takeaway
Overall, I like this one a lot. But, it’s really similar to the Deep Chocolate in taste and texture, and since those are available for cheap(er) at Costco, I’d just as soon stick with those. The Triple Chocolate Chunk isn’t worth going out of your way for if the Deep Chocolate is easier and cheaper to get. But, if Costco isn’t an option or is out of stock, and it’s the same price for these or the Deep Chocolate, I’d get these over the Deep Chocolate because the white chocolate chips are the yums. The takeaway:  A really good way to satisfy an intense chocolate craving.

Today’s temptations are ones I don’t have to resist! Yay Boss and Yay grapes!