How To: Cooking Veggies

A while back, my dad asked if I would write a post on how I cook veggies.  He’s a great cook himself, but he was looking for new and different ways to cook veggies that would hopefully get him to eat more of them.  I’m definitely not a master chef, and in fact, I pretty much follow the stupid-simple model when it comes to cooking, but I’ve figured out what works for me and I’m always happy to share.

I really only cook veggies in two ways: in the oven or on the stove top. 

For stovetop cooking, I’ll heat a shallow pan, spray it with cooking spray, or coat it with a little olive or coconut oil, and throw in some sliced veggies.  I often use a little bit of oil for some added flavor (and crunch), but you really don’t need it.  Sometimes, I’ll just wash the veggies and throw them in the pan wet, and the steam that’s generated is more than enough to keep them from sticking.  I’ll usually cook either the meat or the veggies first, depending if I want al dente veggies or not, and then throw them all in together for a while.

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Peppers are so versatile, and they cook up on the stovetop really well.  I usually cut around the stems, remove the seeds, and then slice them lengthwise, but sometimes I go horizontally to make rings instead.  They don’t take long to cook at all, but they’re packed with flavor and nutrients. 

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This is my favorite way to cook peppers, and I do it often, usually adding spices to get them nice and flavorful.  Some of my favorite stovetop spices to use are cumin, chili powder, crushed red pepper, cilantro, basil, rosemary, garlic powder, and black pepper – although not all at the same time!

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Option number two for me is to bake my veggies in the oven.  This is generally how I take care of the heartier veggies that take longer to cook, like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, or the ones that I want to crisp up, like zucchini and summer squash. 

You can certainly roast Brussels sprouts whole,  but I like to chop the stems off and cut mine into halves or quarters for smaller bites.  That allows the whole thing to cook through the middle, which means no raw insides. 

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For broccoli, I generally slice the “tree” down along the middle of the “trunk” (do these things have real names?) and then chop it into smaller pieces going the other way.  You’ll find you what works for you though; you can’t really go wrong! 

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I use this same method with plenty of other veggies, like different varieties of squash, tomatoes, asparagus, and carrots.  When I roast veggies in the oven, I will generally bake them right alongside the meats, and I often top them with spices.  Some of my favorites are Italian seasonings, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper, and the Mrs. Dash and McCormick Perfect Pinch collections.   The different spices, temperatures, and even the way you cut or slice the veggies can really make them seem different every time. 

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When I cook veggies in the oven, I like them to come out crispy, so I’ll sometimes add a drizzle of olive oil over the top and give them a good shake to get them coated (and help the spices stick).  They go in at a high heat – usually about 450*F or whatever I’m cooking the meat at – and I’ll check on them every so often and give them a stir so that the tops don’t burn.   The time it really takes depends on the temperature and how crispy I’m willing to let them get. 

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Broiling is a little trickier because it happens a lot quicker, but it’s something that I do often, especially with green beans.  I will sometimes cook green beans on the stovetop when I’m feeling extra lazy I don’t want to heat up the kitchen too much, but my favorite way is definitely under the broiler.  You have to be sure to watch them and shake them around every couple of minutes, but they crisp up so nicely, and all of the sweet flavor really comes out.  Add a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and they taste as good as French fries to me!

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One of my favorite new ways to cook veggies is using my julienne peeler.  I’ve only had a chance to use it with zucchini so far, but I bet it would be amazing with carrots, squashes, and even broccoli.  It’s a really easy tool to use, and it lends a whole new dimension to your meals.  It takes sometimes-soggy-tasting-zucchini and transforms it into an al-dente-pasta-like side dish.  Check out this post if you want to see more about how I do it. 

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Grilling, stuffing, wrapping, and juicing veggies are some of my other favorite ways to use them, but I also have a steamer that I’ve yet to try. 

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Oh, and don’t forget about cauliflower rice and cauliflower pizza

What are your favorite ways to cook veggies?  Please share!


Chicken & Veggies – All Day, Every Day.

I’m going away for the holiday later this week, so since I’ll only be able to lift three days, I’ve been trying to make it worth it.  On Monday I did push presses and cleans, and on Tuesday I did lots of back squats.  My legs are certainly going to start feeling sore today, I bet!

Here’s what Monday’s workout looked like:

  1. Warm-up and stretch
  2. Push presses:
    1. 15 @ 35#
    2. 12 @ 55#
    3. 10 @ 75#
    4. 8 @ 85#
    5. 5×5 @ 105#
  3. Power cleans:
    1. 5×5 @ 85#
  4. WOD (10x):
    1. Run 1 lap
    2. 5 OH squats @ 75#
    3. 5 Pull-ups
  5. Core:
    1. 200 Weighted side bends
    2. 100 Swiss ball sit-ups

And Tuesday’s:

  1. Warm-up and stretch
  2. Back squats:
    1. 15 @ 45#
    2. 12 @ 95#
    3. 10 @ 135#
    4. 8 @ 155#
    5. 5 @ 175#
    6. 3 @ 195#
    7. 1 # 215#
    8. 5×5 @ 175#
  3. RDLs:
    1. 50 @ 35#
  4. Workout:
    1. 100 Push-ups
    2. 100 Air squats
    3. 100 Pull-ups (assisted)
    4. 100 Sit-ups
  5. Cool down

You would think that Tuesday’s WOD would’ve been easy – no weights involved.  But that was seriously not the case.  Like, at all.  It was tough!

As far as food goes, I made a big batch of chicken and veggies to get me through this week, so there has been a lot of that going on around here lately.  I made four different combos, and I’ve just been alternating them at different meals to keep it interesting.  Luckily, it seems to take a lot for me to get bored with chicken and veggies.  And making big batches and having them all ready to go makes things so much easier on me.  All I have to do is grab a container out of the fridge and my meal’s ready to go!  It doesn’t get much simpler than that. 

There’s been chicken + zucchini + tomatoes…

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Chicken + green beans + tomatoes…

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Chicken with julienned zucchini, red peppers, and tomatoes…

DSC_0791And chicken salads with lettuce, spinach, kale, cucumbers, carrots, green peppers, dried prunes, and hemp hearts…

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Plus cantaloupe, cashews, almonds, and raisins, of course…

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I’m totally used to eating lunch/dinner foods at breakfast now, and it doesn’t bother me at all.  If I get the craving for something sweet, I just go for a bowl of strawberries, Go Raw cookies, and dates…

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Or I’ll have a few swigs of a Naked Juice.  Those things are so sweet, but all of the sugar is naturally occurring from the fruit… nothing added, which is awesome!

I feel a lot better when I eat well, so it doesn’t bother me at all to eat the same thing day after day… plus, I know that this weekend is going to be full of fun and delicious goodies anyway.  I’m going to my aunt and uncle’s lake house for the weekend with practically my entire extended family, and it’s sure to be a good time.  My mom is making chili and cornbread and I don’t know what everyone else is bringing, but I have a family full of good cooks, so I can imagine it’s all going to be pretty dang yummy – and filling! 

I’m off to the lake to start the festivities after work today, so I hope you all have a great holiday! Smile


It’s Monday Already?

This weekend was a little bit backwards from how my weekends normally go – mostly because of the weather.  Saturday started off cloudy and rainy, and I had to go into work for a few hours in the morning, so I decided to get all my weekly chores out of the way right off the bat.

After work, I headed straight to the gym to get in one more workout for the week.  Being at the Y on a Saturday morning between 9 and 11 is really not fun to me because of how crowded it gets, but luckily by the time I was finishing up, it was clearing out.

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Despite the crowds, I do love Saturday workouts because they often mean I can spend as long as I want in the gym.  I can move slower, spend more time on things I want to work on, and practically get as much in as I feel like with nothing pressing to rush off to.  That’s definitely how it went this weekend, and it was good to spend some extra time stretching and working on some new moves that I’ve been trying to master. 

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Here’s what my Saturday workout looked like:

  1. Warm-up + stretch
  2. Back squats:
    1. 12 @ 95#; 10 @ 105#; 8 @ 135#; 5 @ 155#
    2. 5×3: 185#; 155#; 135#; 105#; 95#
  3. 15×3 @ 35#:
    1. Shoulder press
    2. Upright rows
  4. Front squats: 5×5 @ 95#
  5. 1 Snatch + 5 Overhead squats x10 @ 55#
  6. Squat cleans: 5×5 @ 553
  7. Sumo deadlift high pulls: 5×5 @ 55#
  8. RDLs: 5×5 @ 55#
  9. Snatch drills

After my long workout, I headed home to clean my apartment and do my laundry, stopping for lunch in between.  I wanted Mexican, so I cooked up chicken and peppers in a pan on the stove with chili powder and cumin, and had some chips and salsa on the side.

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The rest of the day was spent shopping for new workout pants (found a pair at TJ Maxx) and running errands.  And while I was out… all I was thinking about was pizza.  I haven’t had pizza in quite a while, so I was thinking about stopping to pick one up, when the idea hit me: cauliflower crust pizza.  I’d been wanting to try it out for a while, and with some time to kill and a craving for pizza, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.  It came out absolutely wonderful too, so I’ll definitely be sharing the recipe later this week.

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I woke up early on Sunday and started the day off with a big batch of extra-green spinach banana pancakes with syrup, berries, and bacon.  I’m not quite sure what went wrong this time, but they all stuck to the pan and it was rather devastating.  Luckily they were still delicious (even if they weren’t that pretty), but I think it might be time to buy a new, non-burnt pan…

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After breakfast, I hurried off to meet up with a couple friends to hike Mt. Monadnock.  It was the absolute perfect day for a hike – sunny and warm but not brutally hot. 

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Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea as we did because the parking lot was packed, but luckily the trail didn’t feel crowded at all.  We took a trail I’d never done before, which seemed far less-traveled than the main one, and we only passed by a few other groups the entire time. 

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The clear skies made for picturesque views all around, and I took it all in from the top.  I’m severely directionally-challenged, but on a clear day, they say you can see Boston from the summit. 

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How lucky am I to live in such a beautiful place?!  (The correct answer would be: pretty dang lucky.)  I absolutely love it here. 

Once we made it back to the base, I headed home and spent a couple hours out lounging by the pool at my apartment.  It wasn’t quite warm enough for me to want to take a dip, but it was nice to get a little sun.

And the last stop of the day was the kitchen for some meal prep.  Since I did groceries on Friday, my fridge is absolutely filled to the brim with food… Chicken, steak, eggs, fruits, and veggies galore!

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This week, I decided to take the easy route and make one batch of meatloaf filling and turn it into two different types of meals.  Sometimes I make a meatloaf that lasts me practically an entire week, but I’m so sick of it after a few days that I’m shoving it in just to keep from wasting it. 

To avoid that, I combined a pound of ground turkey, two plum tomatoes, one green pepper, one egg, about 1/4 cup of almond flour, and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste (ingredients: tomatoes), to make the base.  Then, I put half of it into a loaf pan and topped it with bacon, and made half of it into meatballs.  I baked both in the oven, cooked up some green beans to go with the meatloaf, and peppers to go with the meatballs (I’ll probably add fresh spinach when I actually eat them), and voila – two very different meals. 

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I don’t usually add tomato paste to my meatloaf, but I tried it out for dinner last night, and I think it was a great choice.  I had it leftover from Saturday’s pizza, and it definitely gave the meatloaf an extra kick and made it nice and moist. 

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I also had quite a few bananas laying around, so I made a batch of banana bread muffins using three bananas, six eggs, about 1/3 cup (maybe?) of almond flour, a big tablespoon of coconut flower, a pinch of baking soda and baking powder, four teaspoons of coconut oil, and a crapload of cinnamon.  (I’m so precise, I know.)  Since the loaf pan was occupied with the meatloaf, I used my individual brownie pan, and they came out wonderful.  It made six pretty large muffins, which would be perfect for either breakfast or dessert!

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So between working and spending too much time at the gym and shopping and cooking and hiking and napping by the pool… this weekend certainly flew by.  Sometimes though – like in this case – that’s the sign of a really good weekend, so you won’t hear me complaining.  We’ve only got so many summer weekends to enjoy, and I think I’m off to a good start!

Questions:

What did you meal prep for this week?

What did you do this weekend?

Do you like hiking?


Memorial Day Monday

I don’t really remember what I did last Memorial Day (oh wait, yes I do), but I’d have to say this year’s was probably way lazier than ever.  I slept in, did some chores, cooked a little, sat out in the sun reading a book… it was definitely relaxing. 

I did go get a workout in during the afternoon, but it certainly wasn’t my most intense fitness session ever.  I guess it’s hard to get fired up after a morning of lounging around in relaxation mode!

I went over to my friend’s house, and he had big plans for a CrossFit Hero workout, but halfway through I just wasn’t feeling it.  I went a little rogue and ended up doing a mish-mash of that workout and another one I had planned, switching back to the Hero WOD when I suddenly got a little burst of energy.  In the end though, I still felt like I got work done, and that’s what matters. 

Well, that and the fact that there are tons of servicemen and women out there much physically and mentally stronger than I am who dedicate their lives for us to just be able to do the things we want on days like yesterday.  Now they’re the ones who really count!

But here’s what the workout ended up looking like:

  1. Warm-up: Swinging around on the rings/pull-up bar
  2. Back squats:
    1. 15 @ 45#
    2. 12 @ 95#
    3. 10 @ 135#
    4. {7 @ 55#, 5 @ 55#} x3
    5. 10 @ 135#
    6. Practice form (see below)
  3. WOD:
    1. 25 Assisted pull-ups (I am terrible at pull-ups and it makes me so frustrated!)
    2. 50 Sit-ups
    3. Run .5 mile
    4. 21 Deadlifts @ 95#
    5. 21 Box jumps
    6. 21 Assisted pull-ups
    7. Run .5 mile
    8. 30 Front rack lunges @ 65#

One of the things that I literally never work on is mobility and stretching.  I always find some excuse to skip it – not enough time usually being the main one.  It’s probably the worst part of a workout to skip, and I know that, but still, I find it so hard to get myself to do it. 

Well, yesterday I was reminded just one of the many reasons why it’s so important.  I tend to drop my chest forward when I squat down low, and since going low is the goal, that’s definitely something I need to work on.  It takes a lot of back strength (which I lack, hence the reasons I also stink at pull-ups), but I’m going to make a conscious effort to work on it.  I started yesterday by practicing squatting against the wall; it forces you to keep your chest up, making me realize just how much it really does involve your back.  You would think squatting is all about the legs – but that is so not the case. 

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Once I was done with the workout, I came home and got to work on some meal prep.  This is already a short week, and I’ll be spending next weekend at my mom’s house, so I did want to go overboard, but I did want to get a good chunk of it out of the way because it’s going to be really nice outside this week and I know I won’t want to be in the kitchen after work. 

First, I made a huge pot of chicken + veggie soup using the rotisserie chicken I picked up the other day.  I scraped all the meat off the carcass, put it in a pot, and added just enough water to cover it.  Once it came to a boil, I let it simmer for about an hour to really let all the flavor soak into the broth. 

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While that was going, I put veggies into the food processor to get them good and chopped.  I used zucchini, red, orange, and green peppers, green beans, and wax beans.  I need to give my dad a shout out though because I have used the food processor he gave me at least three or four times this weekend alone, and it seriously makes me life so. much. easier.  It would’ve taken me a lot longer to chop all those veggies (and I never would’ve been able to get them that small), but using the FP took all of five minutes or less.  So thanks again, Dad!

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After I strained all of the bones out of the broth, I dumped in the veggies and a little bit of leftover chicken and let the pot simmer for a while while I got to work on the rest of the prep. 

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I used the FP again to make some more cauliflower rice, and I cooked tomatoes, green peppers, and red peppers in a pan on the stove.  As everything finished up cooking, I layered it all into plastic containers, with the cauliflower on the bottom, then spinach, then tomatoes, and finally peppers. 

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During this time, I also baked some broccoli and wax beans in the oven with olive oil and Italian seasonings, plus an entire tray full of chicken breasts. 

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When the chicken was done cooking, I chopped it all up and put some of it with the cauliflower and peppers, and some of it with the broccoli and beans.  I used different spices for each one to keep it interesting – garlic + basil, sundried tomato + rosemary, and Italian seasonings on the cauliflower ones, and crushed red pepper + Italian seasonings on the broccoli and beans.  It’s definitely going to be a good week of eats!

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For dinner, I had a bowl of the soup, to which I added a little bit of salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings for flavor, and a toasted g-free Udi’s plain bagel with butter.  And I don’t know if I was just super hungry or what, but that bagel is definitely in the running for the best bagel I’ve ever had.  Go figure!

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I put the rest of the biscotti in the freezer the other night so that I wouldn’t be tempted to finish off the entire batch in one day, but I pulled out a piece for dessert last night.  The new Bachelorette premiered, and it was a holiday, after all!

I hope you all had a fabulous holiday, whether you spent it with your family, at parties with friends, or relaxing at home.  And wherever you were, I hope you took at least a couple of minutes to remember what the holiday’s really about.

Have a great week! Smile


Keeping It Interesting

One of the best ways to keep life interesting when it comes to food is to mix things up.  I often use many of the same basic ingredients and use spices to change the flavors of certain dishes, but alternating what kinds of meats, vegetables, and textures you use are also great ways to create variety. 

Because I’m still trying to figure out my new schedule, this week was full of repeats for me, but it wasn’t boring at all.  At the beginning of the week, I made some spinach turkey meatballs, chicken, roasted vegetables, and cauliflower rice to have on hand as a base of foods, but the rest of the stuff I just whipped up as the week went along and I figured out what I specifically wanted each day. 

A few of my breakfasts this week consisted of plain Chobani with cinnamon and berries mixed in, but other variations on these ingredients could be overnight oats, smoothies, or yogurt mixed with other kinds of fruits, like pineapple, pears, apples, peaches, or plums.

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Another common breakfast this week was egg scrambles, like this one made with red peppers and spinach, with pineapple on the side.  Customization options for egg breakfasts are endless, including egg sandwiches, fried eggs, omelets, or egg scrambles filled with any of your favorite vegetables.  My favorite things to add to egg scrambles are tomatoes, peppers, and spinach, but you might also like onions, mushrooms, ham, bacon, or cheese.

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I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of the cauliflower rice, but I used it a couple of times this week, and I was absolutely thrilled with the addition. 

Here, I sautéed zucchini, tomatoes, chicken, and spices ahead of time and stored it in the fridge.  When I was ready to eat it, I threw it all back into a pan with some olive oil and the cauliflower rice and let it cook together for a few minutes.  The cauliflower was almost like a couscous, and I thought it was a fantastic change.  The texture added a whole new dimension to the usual chicken, tomatoes, and zucchini that I eat frequently, and I was very pleased. 

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Another day, I cooked up some peppers and then tossed them, a few spinach turkey meatballs, some sliced tomatoes, and spinach in a pan to heat it all up.  It was good, but I’d been-there-done-that before.

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So on another day, I tossed meatballs, tomatoes, and peppers in a pan with the cauliflower rice and a bit of olive oil like before, and then threw it all over a handful of spinach.  Again, the rice added a really great texture change, and even though I ate meatballs with spinach, peppers, and tomatoes three times this week, this time felt totally different!

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Like with my food, I really try to switch up my workouts in order to keep them interesting too.  You’ve probably caught on to my basic template by now (unless you just skip over the workout parts of my posts, which is totally fine too), but here’s what it generally looks like:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Strength
  3. Workout
  4. Other random stuff – Legs/arms/skill/mobility/etc.
  5. Core
  6. Cool-down

So even though the format – or the basic ingredients – are pretty much the same each day, what keeps it fun and interesting are the little changes I’m constantly making. 

Here’s what some of the variety has looked like this week:

Wednesday:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Deadlifts:
    1. 15 @ 85#, 12 @ 105#, 8 @ 125#, 5 @ 145#
    2. {5 @ 165#} x3, 5 @ 145#
  3. Workout (10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1): @ 55#
    1. Squat clean, Shoulder press, OH squats
  4. Run 1 mile
  5. 100 Crunches
  6. Cool-down

  Thursday:

  1. Warm-up 
  2. Front squats:
    1. Warm-up
    2. 5 @ 135, 3 @ 155, 1 @ 175, 2 @ 155, 5 @ 135
    3. {7 @ 95} x5
  3. Workout: Prowler pushes to opposite wall between each of the following exercises:
    1. 25 Push-ups; 25 Ball slams; 25 Crunches; 25 DB swings; 25 Air squats; 25 Box jumps
  4. 200 Jump ropes
  5. @ 35lbs:
    1. 20-15-10-5 Shoulder presses + Bent over rows
    2. 20-15-10-5 RDLs + Upright rows
    3. 50 Back squats
  6. 100 Swiss ball crunches; 100 Weighted side bends
  7. Cool down

Friday:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Strength:
    1. 12×4 Bent over rows + 12 Bench presses @ 55lbs
    2. 12×4 Back extensions @ 10lbs + 20 Obliques
    3. 12×4 Bent over front raises + 12 Upright rows @ 35lbs
    4. 12×4 Chest flies + Close-grip bench presses @ 20lbs
  3. Workout (15min AMRAP – 8 rounds @ 35lbs):
    1. 10 Thrusters
    2. 15 Front box jump overs
  4. 100 Crunches
  5. Cool-down: 5-10 minute walk

As you can see, it’s constantly varying!  And in a life where things seem to always be the same (eat, sleep, work, gym, repeat), it’s the little things that keep it interesting. 

Questions:

What little things do you do to keep life from becoming too routine?

How do you spice up your meals and workouts?


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