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Beef Pot Roast Marsala

Pretty sure that my husband has garnered all of his parenting skills from George Bluth on Arrested Development. This bodes quite poorly for our dear sons.

Take, for example, the stories he tells the boys about ‘Larry’. Larry is apparently the son we used to have, before he played with the bathtub drain and got sucked down it. Poor, poor Larry. The moral of the story is: Never play with the bathtub drain.

And then there are the stories about Darryl, and his other brother Darryl, also imaginary former children of ours. Each met equally terrible fates as a result of their naughty mischief.

The kids have learned all sorts of lessons from these stories, like never to play with the fireplace screen and to always put the caps back on the markers, lest they meet the same sad fate of Larry, Darryl, or Darryl.

The kids don’t know what to make of these stories. Their sense of real and pretend is still developing…as is their understanding of spatial relations. They giggle nervously as their dad talks of Larry, while I quickly reassure them that their daddy is just kidding. My husband then counters with comments like, Yes there really was a Larry. Mommy’s just too sad to talk about it. And then, when their father is not around, the boys quietly ask me if kids can really go down the drain. No, sweethearts. Your daddy is just a joker. (And later he’ll wonder why you won’t listen when he tells you it’s important to wear your bicycle helmet.)

If you haven’t seen Arrested Development, fire up your Netflix right now. You’ll laugh. And laughing is good. This pot roast is good too! I mean like, I-could-eat-this-every-night kind of good. Tender, flavorful, comforting. The idea entered my mind after looking for a pot roast recipe for a friend. During that search, I ran across a simple pot roast with mushrooms recipe, which got my gears turning. I bought the ingredients for my marsala-based twist on pot roast that afternoon. I sense this recipe is going to become a frequent Sunday night dinner.

Ideally, I’d have served mashed potatoes on the side of this pot roast, but under the rules of my current diet, potatoes are a big no-no. (You thought those were mashed potatoes in the picture, didn’t ya?) So, I decided to give something else a try; a cauliflower mash. Now, you may be thinking that there is no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that mashed cauliflower is going to satisfy your mashed potato craving. I was also quite skeptical. But I’ve got to tell you, I would eat this cauliflower mash even if I weren’t on an anti-potato diet. It’s surprisingly delicious. Parmesan cheese and garlic powder make this side dish a real winner! You won’t even miss the potatoes.

Beef Pot Roast Marsala

Ingredients

  • 2.5-3 pound chuck roast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, rinsed
  • 1 cup marsala wine
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim the chuck roast of any excess exterior fat. Season with the salt and pepper. In a large dutch oven or oven safe pan, heat olive oil over medium/medium-high heat. Place the meat in the pan and brown on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the meat and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Add the mushrooms. Cook for another minute or two. Add the marsala wine and simmer for a minute or two. Return the meat to the pan. Add the beef stock and the sprigs of parsley. The beef stock should come almost to the top of the meat, but not cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover the pan and place it in the oven. Cook for 3.5 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven. Carefully remove the roast. Place it on a cutting board and loosely cover with foil. Simmer the sauce in the pan for about 5-7 minutes to reduce. Turn off the heat, wait for a few minutes, then skim the excess fat from the surface of the sauce. (My favorite way to skim the fat is to pour the sauce into a clear container, like a pyrex measuring cup, and allow it to cool for a few minutes. The fat will rise to the surface. Carefully lower a large spoon into the fat layer to collect and discard the excess fat.) Finally, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Slice the meat or shred it with a fork (I went with shredding, since it was so tender, it fell apart when I attempted to slice.) Pour the sauce over the meat when serving.)

Serves about 6

Garlic-Parmesan Cauliflower Mash

Ingredients

  • 6 cups cauliflower, steamed until tender
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Serves about 6

Diet Day:  15    Weight Loss: 10   Motivation: Unwavering

*We finished phase 1 (the hard part) of South Beach diet yesterday. As of today, we get to welcome back whole grain breads, fresh fruits, dark chocolate…yum!

Spicy Beef and Bean Stew

You know those little dolls…the ones where you press their belly and they repeat a series of silly little things, like Mama, Feed me, and Goo goo gah gah?

Well, my three-year-old is just like that, only his sound bytes are more like I love you so much, I don’t like you, and I’m freezing cold.

For the record:

My four-year-old’s soundtrack is something like, I’m thirsty, I have an idea…, and How about we…

Daddy’s goes something like, What’s for dinner?, I’m getting a beer, d’ya need anything?, and things like It’s a fact of life. Dogs don’t like to be disturbed while they’re eating and neither does Daddy.

And Mommy’s is a bit like, Why in the world would you do that?, This room looks like a tornado blew through it, and Serenity now!

It’s the I’m freezing cold one that I can’t wrap my head around. The kid stubs his toe…I’m freezing cold. I tell him that he can’t have another cookie…I’m freezing cold. It’s time to get dressed for school…But, I’m freezing cold.

I tell him, You keep saying that. I do not think it means what you think it means.

A typical conversation with my little man goes something like this:

Hey buddy, it’s time to clean up your toys.

I can’t.

Why can’t you clean up your toys?

It’s just that…I don’t like you.

Ok, that’s fine, but you still need to clean up your toys.

But, I’m freezing cold.

Well, put on a hoodie and then clean up your toys.

**Insert Cry. Scream.Wail.** (Him, not me. Ok, sometimes me too.)

Mommy?

Yes, buddy?

I just love you so much.

I love you too. Now…Clean. Up. Your. Toys. This room looks like a tornado blew through it.

It IS winter time though, so if you’re freezing cold, it’s probably with good reason. And I’ve got just the thing to warm you up! Winter is the time for foods which fill our bellies and leave us feeling all toasty and satisfied. January also happens to be National Soup Month. So, it’s the perfect time for this Spicy Beef and Bean Stew, made with tender, slow-cooked beef and fresh jalapeño peppers. The broth gets its thickness from a puree of white beans, rather than the typical butter/flour roux. This is a rich and satisfying stew, which also happens to be extra-rich in protein and lower in high glycemix index carbs than traditional flour-thickened meat and potato stews!!

Spicy Beef and Bean Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 1.5 – 2 pounds stew beef
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (15.5 ounce) cans cannellini beans
  • 1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large ovensafe saucepan or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and jalapeño peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring frequently. Raise the heat to medium high and add the beef. Brown the beef on all sides. Add the marsala wine and allow it to simmer for a minute. Then, add the beef stock, tomato paste, and salt. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cover with a  tight fitting lid and place the pan on the middle oven rack. Cook for 2 hours. While the beef is cooking, puree one can of the cannellini beans and their liquid in a blender or food processor. Set aside. Drain the other two cans of beans. After two hours, remove the cover. Stir in the pureed beans and the whole beans. Cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes more. Remove from the oven. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper, as desired.

Serves 4-6

Diet Day: 12   Weight loss: 7    Motivation: Strong and steady

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

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Recently, we picked up one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We figured it would provide for some active fun for the boys during the cold, indoor winter months and even get us big kids moving a bit more to help out with our fitness goals. Some of the games in Kinect Adventures really get that heart rate pumping! And I’m waiting on my copy of Dance Central 2 to arrive, so I can totally bust out my sweet dance moves (in complete private, when nobody else is around).

The Kinect sensor is pretty amazing. And utterly frightening too. It’s got a little motorized camera which tracks and responds to your movements. If you move, the camera moves to find you. It can scan your body and create an animated version of your image on the tv…wearing the same clothes you’re wearing. Creepy. And it takes pictures of you while you play. It even responds to voice commands, like “Xbox, stop.” and “Xbox, play Golden Girls.” and “Xbox, make my dinner.”

Ok, so the Xbox doesn’t know how to make my dinner. Yet. But I’m sure that software upgrade is just around the corner. Seriously, the robot revolution is upon us. Are you prepared?

The other day, as I was trying to teach the kids not to wander aimlessly in front of other people while they’re playing with the Kinect, I found myself saying, You can’t walk in front of people because it confuses the Kinect. It’s not smart like us and it can’t figure out who it’s supposed to be tracking when there are too many people moving around.

And as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to eat them. The Xbox just heard me, questioning its intelligence. I swear I heard the little camera eye move to focus closer on me in that moment, recording and passing judgement on me as an enemy of the robot uprising. I’m doomed. I instantly started fumbling my words, trying to make my insult to the Kinect seem less degrading. I love you, Xbox. Please don’t annihilate me.

But since the Xbox is not about to prepare my meals anytime soon, I suppose that leaves me to do it… Hubby and I are still going strong with our lower carb diets. Today marks Day 8 of our diet and I’m down…drumroll, please…6 pounds!! Not a bad start, if you ask me. The weight won’t continue to come off at a rate of six pounds per week (nor should it), but it’s certainly a motivating start. The best part is that we have been dining on some pretty fantastic food this week. Like this smoked salmon and cucumber salad which is the stuff that dreams are made of. So fresh and simple. So insanely delicious!

Enjoy! (And beware. Kinect is watching.)

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • 1 large seedless cucumber
  • 2-3 small tomatoes, halved and sliced into small pieces
  • 1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons non-pareil capers
  • Creme fraiche, for garnish (can substitute sour cream)

For the Fresh Dill Vinaigrette:

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup white balsamic vinaigrette (plus a touch more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill leaves, torn
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, dill, salt and pepper until well combined. Cut the cucumber in half, then use a mandolin slicer or a very sharp knife to very thinly slice the cucumber, lengthwise, into ‘ribbons’. Place a mound of the cucumber ribbons in the center of each plate. Scatter the onions and tomatoes over the cucumber. Tear the salmon into small pieces and scatter over the salad. Place a larger piece of salmon in the center. Sprinkle the capers over the salad. Drizzle each salad with the dill dressing. If desired, garnish the center piece of salmon with a small dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Serves 2

Diet Day: 8   Weight Loss: -6   Motivation: High!

Asian Chicken Salad in Sweet Red Pepper

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My boys are bringing back the ghostbusters for a new generation. It all started with a t-shirt my sister found for my three-year-old’s birthday. A t-shirt which she gifted along with the Ghostbusters I and II dvd set. Which, after watching with my overprotective mommy eyes,  I decided was a bit too spooky for my young boys who are still sorting out the difference between real and pretend. So, my sis went back to the store to grab the complete collection of The Real Ghostbusters, with its confusing title, since The Real Ghostbusters is actually the animated series…not very real, but whatever. I decided to allow the kids to watch the cartoon. That was all it took to convince them that they had to be ghostbusters for halloween.

Soon after halloween, the ‘edited for tv’ version of the movie aired. We caved and watched it as a family. And it firmly sealed the boys’ obsession, as they watched with wide eyes. This would have been a Christmas full of ghostbusters toys and gear, if only the rest of the kid and toy-making world were as obsessed with the ghostbusters as my little men now are. It’ll happen though. They’ve already got all their little friends at school asking about the ghostbusters.

But, even without a toy box full of ghostbusters goodies, talk of the ghostbusters reigns supreme in our home…talk of who’s going to be Egon and who’s Peter Venkman when they put on their costumes, whose proton pack packs more power, and who is going to really be a real ghostbuster when they grow up. Oh, and if you’re wondering where all the monsters have gone, according to my three-year-old, they’re in the containment unit. Of course.

Most recently, my four-year-old asked to call the ghostbusters on the phone. So, I sent a quick message to my sister (the one who started this whole obsession) explaining that her phone was about to ring and that when it does, she should answer the phone as the ghostbusters. I then handed the phone to my son and made the call. It was all giggles on my end the moment my sister answered the phone, with a perfect Janine Melnitz accent, Ghostbusters…whadda ya want? He knew it was his aunt on the phone, but he played along.

I love my little ghostbusters.

As I mentioned, I started the South Beach diet a few days ago, which means I’ve temporarily bid adieu to some of my favorite starches and sweet treats. I miss them. But for me, cutting them out for a few weeks is the best way for me to break some of my bad habits and get me started on the road to successful, lasting weight loss. The first couple weeks on South Beach are also really effective in teaching me to appreciate the beauty of other flavors I often pass up for things like chocolate and buttered bagels. Like sweet red peppers. My goodness, you would have thought I was eating candy with the way I oohing over a crisp, super sweet, red pepper yesterday. Then I made this chicken salad for dinner, which is absolutely bursting in delicious flavors and textures. And I stuffed it into a crisp red pepper. I barely even missed the doughy bread I would have normally eaten this chicken salad on. Nothing makes weight loss easier than enjoying truly delicious and nutrition-packed food!

Asian Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 pound (approximately) chicken, cooked and torn into small pieces*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted cashews, coarse chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3/4 cup bean sprouts, divided
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek (crushed red chile paste)**

*I poached a few chicken tenderloins, but chicken breast or even leftover roast chicken would work just as well.

**Can substitute ground cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine the chicken, cashews, green onions, and 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts in a bowl. Rinse the red peppers. Cut the tops off of each pepper, then cut each pepper in half. Set the pepper halves aside for serving. Finely dice any of the red pepper remaining around the stem and add it to the chicken mixture. In a small bowl, stir together the mayo, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sambal oelek. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and stir to combine. (You may not need all of the dressing. Add gradually.) Serve the chicken salad in the pepper halves over a bed of lettuce.

Serves 4

Diet Day: 3   Weight Loss: ?   Motivation: Going strong!

Steak and White Cheddar Panini with Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

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Happy New Year, my friends!!

Like millions of other people, I’m resolving to lose weight and live healthier in this new year. I know…such a predictable resolution! But, I’ve got at least 20 (ok, probably more like 30) pounds of extra weight still hanging around since giving birth to our third little love almost eight months ago. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses (some quite valid and some more of a stretch) for why I haven’t lost the weight yet. I was hoping it would just go away, but it’s become clear to me that it’s time to stop dragging my feet and to get proactive.

When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, my approach has always been one of balance. Eat mostly nutritious and unprocessed foods, enjoy a few indulgences, balance the indulgences with exercise. It’s an approach which has always worked well for me and makes good sense as a long-term plan. But, at this particular point in time, I feel that I need something with a few more ‘rules’ to get me jump-started on the right path.

So, beginning today, I’ll be following the South Beach diet, slightly modified (as I am still breastfeeding our baby and the first phase of South Beach is a bit too restrictive for a nursing mom). My husband and I have done the South Beach diet in the past and there are many things I like about it. It’s often confused for being a low-carb diet, but that’s a misconception. The South Beach diet is more of a good-carb diet. It’s a diet full of lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains. It makes me feel good to eat this way. In many ways, it’s the way most of us should be eating anyway.

South Beach is a diet with guidelines, rather than a detailed plan; guidelines that teach you to choose foods which keep you feeling fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels more stable in order to avoid the inevitable cravings and overeating which result from rapid peaks and plummets in blood sugar levels. Feeling more satisfied naturally makes it easier to eat less and lose the excess weight. (I like that part!)

My main gripe with the South Beach diet is in its suggestion to use artificially sweetened products and other processed food substitutes, particularly during the restrictive first phase of the diet where even fresh fruit is off-limits. I get the point, but personally, I’d rather enjoy real foods more sparingly than start introducing food substitutes like sugar-free jello and artificial ‘buttery spreads’ into my diet. So, I’m going to skip the recommended sugar-free snacks and stick with a smidgen of real butter when I need it.

You may be wondering what my new ‘diet’ means for this blog. Well…nothing, really. My little space here is not about to become a diet blog or a South Beach resource. Quite simply, this will continue to be a place to share my love of cooking delicious food. You can still expect to see all sorts of simple and crave-worthy recipes…just maybe a bit more broiled fish and roasted veggies in between the macaroni and cheese and triple chocolate cake.

Well, it’s really official now…put in writing for accountability’s sake. I’m starting a diet. I will stay focused. I will lose this weight.

But before we embark on our healthier diets, I had to splurge a bit…have something completely indulgent (in addition to diligently finishing off the leftover Christmas cookies). With that, I give you garlicky potatoes au gratin and a cheesy flank steak panini sandwich, loaded with horseradish butter and sweet caramelized red onions on a doughy loaf of French bread. This meal is worth a little extra time on the treadmill!

Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon of butter around the bottom and sides of a medium-sized baking dish. Rub the smashed clove of garlic in the butter. Arrange the potato slices, lying flat, in the baking dish. In a saucepan, heat the half and half, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, until it begins to bubble. Allow it to bubble gently for a minute or so. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Give the baking dish a little shake and press down gently on the potatoes to ensure the potatoes and sauce of evenly dispersed. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 55 minutes.

Steak and White Cheddar Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 cups aged white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 loaf French bread (batard or baguette)
Directions
For the steak: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the steak on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired doneness. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Slice into thin strips. Set aside.
For the caramelized onions: Heat one tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until sweet and tender. Set aside.
For the horseradish butter: Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the horseradish. Stir. Place the bowl in the refrigerator. Every few minutes, stir the butter. Continue checking and stirring until the butter has become firm enough to be spreadable. Remove from the refrigerator.
To prepare the sandwich: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the French bread in half lengthwise. Press down on the top of the loaf to flatten the bread. Spread the horseradish butter on both halves of the bread. Arrange the steak on the bottom half of the bread. Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the steak. Generously sprinkle with the white cheddar. Place the other half of the bread on top. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down as you wrap.
Place the wrapped sandwich in the oven. Place a heavy, oven-safe pan (or a brick wrapped in foil) on top of the sandwich to keep it flattened as it cooks. Heat the sandwich for about 20 minutes or until all components are warmed and the cheese is melty.

P.S. Though I’m not quite brave enough to share my starting weight with you, I will gladly keep you updated on the loss! Wish me luck! Anyone else embarking on a New Year’s weight loss plan??

Day: 1 Weight Loss: 0 Motivation: High

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