Sit. Stay. Cook.

Cook to live. Live to cook.

Here’s our menu plan for the week of 12/06/2010. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time.

Monday: Sushi at Kato!

Tuesday: Lemon Grass Chicken Skewers with Rice

Wednesday: Oven-Baked Mahi Mahi Fish Sandwiches* with pasta salad

Thursday: Turkey Antipasto Panini and roasted Brussels sprouts

Friday: Moroccan Meatball Stew* with couscous and sautéed bell peppers

Saturday: Pho Ga at Mr. Le’s!

Sunday: Football Party!

So we ate out twice last week. On Monday we had sushi at Kato during their sushi Happy Hour. Nigiri for $1.50 and lots of rolls and appetizers for $3.95. If you’re in the Kansas City North area on a weeknight, and want some really good, reasonably priced sushi, you can’t do better than Kato.

Saturday found us at Mr. Le’s in KC North for one of my favorite foods, Pho Ga. I’ve posted about my love of Pho before, and when I don’t feel like making it at home, Mr. Le’s is a good alternative.

Mr. Le’s is located at Parvin and Brighton in Kansas City, North, in what I consider one of the shadiest strip malls around. There are some seriously icky people around this place, but they don’t go into Mr. Le’s, so don’t be afraid. Inside, Mr. Le’s is bright and cheery:

Despite the dubious location, Mr. Le serves up some of the best sushi we’ve had. The fish is fresh and the rolls are creative and delicious. Presentation is not brushed over, as with this spicy tuna roll (one of the best we’ve had anywhere):

But I’m (obviously) a sucker for Pho, and the Pho at Mr. Le’s doesn’t disappoint. The broth is wonderfully aromatic – I’ve said several times that if I ever ask for chicken noodle soup while in the throes of illness, it is Pho Ga that I want, and not actual chicken noodle soup – that I can’t even imagine how that flavor is accomplished. Lucky for me, I don’t have to know because Mr. Le knows and is close enough to my house I can get a fix any time I want.

Despite the soup spoons that are brought with the Pho, I strongly recommend you eat the Pho with chopsticks and drink the broth. There is something very calming about eating a bowl of noodle soup with chopsticks. You are forced to slow down, have patience. Part of the experience of eating Pho for me is the exercise of eating it with chopsticks, and while I’ve tried to eat it with a spoon and fork, something suffers without the chopsticks. So give them a shot. Mr Le’s is open on Sundays, which makes me a happy camper. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in.

The Football Party mentioned was thrown by some good friends who are about to welcome their first child in about a month. Since they usually throw a Superbowl party, this is the alternative this year since by the time the Superbowl rolls around they will be up to their eyeballs in baby crap (literally and figuratively). There were a lot of food temptations to be had, and I had many, but I managed to limit myself more than I would have in years’ past. I reached for carrot sticks more than chips, and had one beer instead of more than one. As for the football, I’m not what anyone would consider a sports fan, but it still sucks to be on the losing side. Hopefully the Chiefs will win next week and going forward – the actual football fans are much better to be around when the team is winning…

This week we had one of my favorite meals – panini! I love them because we tend to have all the fixin’s on hand and can throw them together without much planning. While the options are endless when it comes to putting together a good panini, my favorite involves sliced turkey, provolone, spinach and a mixture of sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and roasted red pepper.

A panini grill, like the Cuisinart 5-in-1 Griddler, is a handy tool for making panini. This particular model also has griddle plates, making it a more versatile investment than a panini press and flat griddle. We got ours at Costco a few years ago and use it a couple of times a month.

Turkey Antipasto Panini
Servings: 4
Weight Watchers Points: 10 per sandwich

2 Tbsp. fat-free mayonnaise
8 slices hearty whole-grain bread
8 ounces shaved deli turkey
1 (6-ounce) jar quartered marinated artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. sun-dried tomato halves, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1/2 c. roasted red peppers, sliced
1 c. fresh spinach leaves
4 (1-ounce) slices reduced-fat provolone cheese
Cooking spray

Preheat a panini grill.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes, artichoke hearts and red pepper and mix together.

Spread the mayonnaise evenly over each bread slice. Top each of 4 bread slices evenly with turkey, tomato mixture, spinach and cheese. Top with remaining bread slices. Coat both sides of each sandwich with cooking spray.

Place sandwiches on panini grill. Grill for 3 – 4 minutes or until bread is browned and cheese is melted.

These sandwiches are delicious with a side of spinach or, better for this time of year, roasted Brussels sprouts.

I’ve managed to meet my goals of exercising on my bike three times a week for the last two weeks. This week I plan on adding another minute onto my workout time to keep things moving forward. It’s gotten much colder in the last week, so getting out of bed is harder than ever, but at least I have something good to read (thanks, J. K. Rowlings). I’ve also started to wrap Christmas presents, and have almost finished shopping – just two or three things left to pick up before calling it quits.

Here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time:

Monday: Classic Stuffed Peppers and sautéed spinach

Tuesday: Macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas

Wednesday: Chicken and Leek Potpie*

Thursday: Sushi at Kato!

Friday: Turkey Antipasto Panini and roasted Brussels sprouts

Saturday: Chipotle!

Sunday: Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Buttery Herb Couscous

Treat Monday: Peanut Butter Hugs

My first week on the new Weight Watchers PointsPlus system has been really great. I’ve been motivated to eat more fruit and I’ve found myself reaching for grapes when I otherwise would have reached for a VitaTop or baked potato chips. I’ve also been more motivated to exercise lately – re-reading the Harry Potter series while on my bike is a good strategy! As a result, I met my goal of using my bike three times last week! YAY ME!

AND – I’ve used it twice this week! YAY ME AGAIN!

I’m almost through Christmas shopping and can’t wait until our families get their gifts. We’ve found great stuff for everyone on our list – you know, those just perfect gifts you can’t wait to give (I have four words for my nephew who doesn’t read this blog – two-foot tall tonton) – now all I have to do is wrap them.

First off, here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time:

Monday: Grilled chicken sandwiches and Baby Red Potato Salad

Tuesday: leftover grilled chicken sandwiches and Baby Red Potato Salad

Wednesday: Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Sauce* and Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Thursday: THANKSGIVING!

Friday: THANKSGIVING, Part 2

Saturday: Chicken Cacciatore with Red Pepper Tomato Sauce and Parmesan Polenta

Sunday: Leftover Chicken Cacciatore with Red Pepper Tomato Sauce and Parmesan Polenta

Treat Monday: Mom’s Chocolate Fudge

Now for more fun stuff:

Weight Watchers launched a new system today called PointsPlus. Instead of considering calories, fat and fiber when determining the points value of food, they now consider all of the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Notice that calories are missing from the new formula. The goal is to encourage healthier choices, while discouraging consumption of processed foods. It’s also to take into account the way our bodies process nutrients – it takes more energy to process protein than sugar, so foods with higher protein content, like chicken, are worth less points than before.

I really like the sound of this new approach. This semester, I have been taking a Human Nutrition class and I’ve learned a great deal about macro (and micro) nutrients, how the body processes foods and what each nutrient can do in the body. While I already knew much of the information thanks to Weight Watchers and a general interest in the subject, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about what too much or too little of certain nutrients can do in the body.

For example – did you know that food that naturally contains cholesterol doesn’t necessarily raise your cholesterol? When you eat food that naturally contains cholesterol (like shellfish), your liver responds by producing less cholesterol, thereby balancing out the scales, so to speak. However, when you eat food that is high in saturated fat, your liver produces more cholesterol to process the fats, raising your overall cholesterol. So go indulge in some cholesterol-rich shellfish. It’s okay!

Anyway.

I’m a good example of why Weight Watchers revamped the points system. Why? Because I’ve been eating a lot of VitaTops lately. Under the old system, VitaTops had one point a piece. One point for a sweet, cakey, chocolaty treat that, while loaded with vitamins, is also exactly the type of processed food I should be reconsidering. But one point is so low! Contrast that with the points value of a banana – under the old system, a banana had 2 points. Why on Earth would I choose a 2 point banana over a one point chocolate snack cake? I didn’t. I opted for the food that was lower in points, but not as natural. I was opting again and again for a processed food over a natural food. And I think that’s why I’ve been at a plateau for over three months.

Under the new system, all fruits, including bananas, are “free” – that is, they have zero points. And that VitaTop I like so much? It’s now worth three points, because it’s loaded with carbohydrates and has very little protein. So while I have a mini-surplus of VitaTops that will be staying in my freezer for a while, I am stocking up on fruits that I love – like red grapes, mangoes, bananas, kiwi, berries, etc. – and will be indulging in them more than ever.

I’m really excited about the new system, because I think it will help get me out of the rut I’ve been in weight-wise. But it also means that I have to recalculate the points values for all of my recipes. For now, all points, unless otherwise marked as PointsPlus, were calculated under the old system.

The goals for this week are to get acquainted with the new system, to try to stay within the allotted points, and to get my ass on my exercise bike at least three times this week. I started off right by getting up early this morning and going for 22 minutes. There’s some truth to the notion that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will eventually become that person. I’m going to try it out by pretending I’m an athletic person who loves exercising. We’ll see how that goes.

Here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time:

Monday: Chipotle!

Tuesday: Longboards!

Wednesday: Macaroni and cheese with tuna and split pea and ham soup

Thursday: Makeshift “Hamburger” Helper

Friday: Baked Italian Salmon* with Lemon Spaghetti*

Saturday: Tuna melts with red peppers and leftover Lemon Spaghetti

Sunday: Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Buttery Herb Couscous

Treat Monday: Pumpkin Butterscotch Cookies

The goal for this week is to not overdo it with Thanksgiving. That means trying to eat a bit lighter on other days so the main event won’t be such a challenge. While my mom is doing the turkey, I’m taking on some of the more traditionally not-so-good-for-you fare in the form of stuffing and sweet potato casserole.

The stuffing recipe is one I used last year. It combines lots of fruit and veggies with wheat bread crumbs, broth and seasoning. There’s little fat to speak of, save the olive oil and light butter used to sauté the vegetables:

A photo from last Thanksgiving.

The picture above was taken last year, which was the first time I made this stuffing. It was so delicious that we’re breaking it out again this year, and probably every year for the foreseeable future. If you want more, it’s easy to increase the measurements – this is one of those recipes where it’s really about what you like.

So Good Stuffing!
Servings: 8
WW Points: 3 per serving

Cooking spray
9 cups whole-wheat bread cubes, toasted
2 tsp. olive oil
2 tsp. light butter
1 small onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 1/2 c. chicken broth
2 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 c. dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a 4-quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter together for 1 to 2 minutes. Add onion and celery; sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add thyme, sage, salt and pepper; stir to coat. Cook until herbs are fragrant, about 1 minute.

Transfer onion mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add bread, broth and chives, apple and cranberries; toss to combine. Spoon mixture into prepared baking dish and cover with foil; bake 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until top is golden brown, 15 minutes more.

As for sweet potatoes, while I absolutely love the marshmallow and sugar concoction that graces most tables, we’re going with something a bit lighter, but just as delicious. This casserole accentuates the natural sweetness of the potatoes with some apple juice and crystallized ginger. I’ve recently discovered how well crystallized ginger pairs with squash and sweet potatoes, and recommend you try some combination thereof soon.

Before the oven.

We tried this recipe a few months ago and knew it would be a Thanksgiving keeper. We’re going to double it, so I hope it turns out as good as the first time!

Sweeter Potato Casserole
Servings: 4
WW Points: 4 per serving

2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 tsp. finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. thawed frozen apple juice concentrate
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp butter, diced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange half of the apples in the dish; top with half the potatoes, then sprinkle with half the ginger and half the salt. Repeat the layers.

In a small bowl, combine the juice concentrate, brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, cloves and water.  Pour over the potatoes. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes; dot with butter. Bake, uncovered, until tender, bubbling and lightly browned, about 15 minutes more.

My mom, in addition to the turkey, is making my favorite salad ever – 7 layer salad. She makes it with lettuce, bacon (turkey this time!), peas, red onion, a little sugar, shredded swiss cheese and Miracle Whip (reduced fat). It’s one of those salads that I could eat with every meal. The bad news is that it doesn’t do well as leftovers, but it’s incredible when fresh.

Frank’s parents will be joining us and will bring traditional green bean casserole (It’s my guilty pleasure and since it’s only once a year, indulge!) and a pumpkin pie.

After the meal, we plan on taking a nice long walk, assuming the weather cooperates.

What are your Thanksgiving must-have dishes?

As promised in my previous post, here’s what we had for dinner last week, complete with links to recipes in my cookbook.

An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we tried for the first time.

Monday: Sloppy (and Healthy) Joes and Haricots Verts

Tuesday: Grilled chicken sandwiches with pasta salad

Wednesday: Trout with Rosemary, Lemon and Garlic* and Butternut Squash with Ginger and Cilantro*

Thursday: Hoisin Chicken with Peanuts

Friday: Sushi train!

Saturday:  Scrumptious California Salmon* and couscous with green onions, lime juice, Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming seasoning and cilantro*

Sunday: Gremolata-Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Tomato Relish* and Butternut Squash with Ginger and Cilantro:

Sunday dinner.

Treat Monday: Lemon Cooler Cookies*

On Sunday evening, usually I prepare something delicious to share with my co-workers the next day. I call this Treat Monday. However, I had a long Sunday and didn’t feel like making anything other than dinner. So, Treat Monday will become Treat Wednesday this week.

The best new recipe we tried was the butternut squash with candied ginger and cilantro. So freaking good!! The texture of the ginger is perfect with the squash, and the flavors of sweet and spicy and savory are a big, big hit.

Sunday was spent with my dad, sister and step-mom in northwest Missouri. My sister made chili (so good!) and a key lime pie (so, so good!) and I brought some homemade cornbread that had diced mild jalapeños, a little shredded cheddar and a few shakes of Penzey’s Arizona Dreaming seasoning. If you have a Penzey’s store in your area, make sure to sign up for the catalog – every couple of months, they send a coupon for a free jar of spice. Last month, it was a full jar of Arizona Dreaming, and I love it. It’s great on chicken, fish, in couscous, and in cornbread :)

Tonight we took a cooking break and went to Chipotle for dinner. Frank and I order one burrito, then split it. I put my half in a bowl and give him the skin. We get a chicken fajita burrito with mild salsa and lettuce, then get corn salsa, sour cream and some guacamole on the side. That way, we get portion control for the fattiest parts of the meal. It’s filling and delicious. I can’t imagine eating an entire one of those things, especially one loaded with sour cream and cheese. I think my stomach would burst. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a time when I could eat a whole burrito by myself. Not now, though.

It’s surprising what you can do without, and what you really need, when you make up your mind to live just a little more reasonably.

Each week, I plan out what to cook for dinner and try to stick with it as much as possible. If we do, great. If not, no big deal, but regardless, I keep track of what we did for dinner anyway. I thought that maybe some of you would be interested in our menu plans. If nothing else, you might get some ideas of your own.

If I have a recipe for the dish, I link to it. Which brings me to something else…

I have an online cookbook. I keep it fairly under-wraps since it’s really just a personal place for me to keep recipes and notes, and have previously been posting recipes from there over here. In an effort to save time and post more, I’ll be linking to recipes over there more and more. This is my front door, my living room, the place where I want to meet and greet and talk and share. The online cookbook is my kitchen, where the serious nuts and bolts of cooking take place. There’s no editorial over there – it’s all business. Tasty, tasty business. Click on the links below for recipes and my notes on the dishes. Some even have photos!

This was our menu plan for the week of 11/01/2010. An asterisk (*) indicates recipes we will be trying for the first time.

Monday: Chicken Parmigiana with Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccine

Tuesday: Leftover chicken parmigiana sandwiches and salads

Wednesday: Broadmoor Bistro – it’s a gourmet restaurant run by high school students. You can’t find a more delicious, soul-satisfying meal for a better price anywhere. If you’re in Kansas City on a Wednesday night, check it out.

Thursday: Pan-Seared Salmon with Honey-Balsamic Sauce and Buttery Herb Couscous

Friday: Tomfooleries – best Happy Hour ever. We had hummus, pot stickers, and grilled chicken skewers.

Saturday: Potato Broccoli Cheese Soup*

Sunday: Red Chicken and Mango Curry and Pear and Brown Sugar Crisp*

If you try any of the recipes above, or any from the cookbook, please let me know – I’d love to hear what you think!