March 11: Ice Skating (update)

It’s been seven weeks since I last went to public ice skating. I have taken 6 group lessons and signed up for the next session that includes 5 lessons. Two weeks ago I learned how to snowplow stop, so I felt confident that I would not be a danger to anyone on the ice. In the local community coupon book, the ice center had a buy one get one free admission coupon. I invited my friend Brittany (who introduced me to the wonder world of ice skating!) to accompany me to my first public skate since I began my lessons.

As it turned out, Brittany did not know how to stop! So, it was a good feeling to be able to show her my new skills considering she picked me up off the ice a few times several weeks ago lol. I won’t begrudge that she picked up snowplow stops much better than I did! The ice was not crowded, so it was good to just skate and have fun. We skated for 50 minutes non-stop before heading home. My legs were like jelly, so I knew it was time to end the adventure, though my mind wanted to keep skating.

Ice skating is SO much fun! I have already found an indoor rink in Virginia, so if I decide to continue lessons once I move, I have a place. I am in the process of learning to skate backwards, so hopefully in the next 5 weeks I will learn to do crossovers with both feet, snowplow stop with my left leg, and skate backwards. Thanks to ice skating my lower body is nicely toned. When I fell off the fitness wagon, ice skating was great cardio. I want to live in ice skates lol. My lessons are the highlight of my week! I regret not looking into ice skating lessons as soon as I started my job 18 months ago. I’ve made such amazing progress in 7 weeks, imagine what I would be able to do with more than a year’s worth of experience! Oh well. I won’t make that mistake with kayaking. In fact, I already found a company that offers kayaking lessons and  trips, and wait for it: stand-up paddleboarding! omg, bye bye gym membership!

March 9: Red Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

The problem with going vegetarian cold turkey is that I didn’t see how the sharp reduction in protein would affect me. I had been waking up hungry the last few days but attributed the issue to my stoked metabolism (I fell off the fitness wagon for a few weeks).  I inspected my diet and realized that I was not eating enough protein to compensate for the lack of meat. It’s only so much Fage greek yogurt I can eat in one day, so I opted for a more economical solution: quinoa.

The back of the regular quinoa box had a recipe for stuffed peppers. My mom made the best stuffed peppers when I was growing up. She used ground beef, white rice, canned crushed tomatoes, diced yellow onion and cheese. I’ve actually followed her recipe to make stuffed peppers before, so I didn’t bother with the recipe on the quinoa box. I picked up ingredients at Kroger: a bag of 3 tri-colored peppers, a yellow onion (that I didn’t end up using), vine-ripened tomatoes (I’m anti BPA), and a bag of Private Selection Zesty frozen vegetables.

So this zesty vegetables is pretty tasty. It’s black beans, sweet corn, diced onion, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, and spices. The bag is steamable, which makes cooking super easy. I figured rather than ice a bunch of vegetables, which I wasn’t feeling, I would cheat and use the frozen veggie medley as my filler. I did dice the tomatoes because I love fresh tomatoes.

I did not multi-task very well. Start the quinoa before prepping the vegetables; red quinoa takes longer to cook than regular quinoa. I washed the vegetables with produce spray and rinsed. I chopped the tomatoes. I sliced the tops from the peppers and removed the seeds and pulp from the peppers. After the vegetables steamed in the microwave for 5 minutes, I transferred them to a large mixing bowl with the diced tomatoes. I transferred the 2 cups of cooked quinoa to the mixing bowl (0.5 cup dry = 2 cups cooked) and stirred. I mixed in some shredded queso cheese (something Kroger makes) because I like my stuffed peppers to be cheeeeeeesy! Stuff the peppers and top with lots of shredded cheese!

The peppers were placed in a baking dish lined with foil. Filled peppers don’t stand up well on their own, so I reconfigured the stuffed peppers in the dish so they wouldn’t fall over while cooking. The dish went into a 350 F oven until the peppers were cooked. I didn’t cover my peppers with foil, and the cheese did not burn. My mom would wait until the peppers were cooked before topping with cheese.

Anyway, dinner was delicious. I roasted asparagus in a separate baking dish while the peppers cooked. So, lots and lots of vegetables with a touch of protein. I had extra filling, so 2 small tomatoes, the steamable bag of vegetables, and 2 cups of quinoa can stuff 5 medium bell peppers. Quite the economical and hearty meal!

March 4: Sauteed mushrooms and grape tomatoes in green olive tapenade

What.a.meal! Who needs meat when I can have such a flavorful, quick, and inexpensive vegetarian meal?!?!?! Sunday after the gym I went to Kroger to buy fruit and grape tomatoes. The mushrooms that were supposed to be part of the roasted vegetables sandwiches needed to be cooked to avoid food waste. I was inspired by a Barilla ad to make a mushroom, grape tomato, and cheese pasta dish. As I milled about the produce section, I recalled that one of my best friends used to make portobello mushrooms with an olive tapenade that was to die for. She sourced her tapenade from a California small business; I had to settle for Kroger Private Selection. My choices were black olive tapenade and green olive tapenade.

Honestly, I do not like olives, but something about the blend of spices and herbs takes the bite from olives, which is what I dislike about them. Both jars were the same size (8 oz if my memory serves me correctly). I settled for green olive because it was $0.60 cheaper. Tapenades typically include finely diced olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic in an olive oil base seasoned with salt, other spices, and herbs. Tapenades are great as condiments (atop crackers, toasted bread, burgers, chicken, salad) or as a “sauce” for pastas.

The meal took less than 5 minutes to prep and about 15 minutes to prepare, with multi-tasking. I rinsed the mushrooms (~1.5 cups pre-sliced white mushrooms) as I heated 1T of olive oil in a skillet. I sauteed the mushrooms while preparing the grape tomatoes. I washed 1 PT of tomatoes with produce spray and sliced them in half. Meanwhile, I cooked the whole wheat linguine in a separate pot. The mushrooms began to wilt after about 10 minutes on medium-high heat. I added the tomatoes and 2 heaping tablespoons of tapenade and simmered about 5 minutes. I did not cook the tomatoes all the way down. Canned crushed or diced tomatoes would have been a nice substitute, but I avoid canned food when possible in part because of BPA-linings and high sodium content.

So my plate would not look so naked, I added a side salad and topped with homemade olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. Well, salad is overstating a bit. I bought a small bag of salad mix (iceberg lettuce and julienne carrots) and literally took a handful from the bag. It had no other toppings lol. I texted 4 people to tell them how awesome this meal was as I ate! The flavors blended so well. I was concerned about not having enough “sauce” for the pasta, but the olive oil and vegetable juices made a nice broth that adhered well to the pasta, which I did not rinse off (I never rinse whole wheat pasta). The tapenade added a wonderful kick to the dish. I did not add any additional seasoning to the mushrooms, grapes, and tapenade and was pleased with the balance of flavors. You couldn’t have told me that I was eating olives! I am super excited to have leftovers for the next two days.

Overall, this is one of my favorite meals that I’ve made in a long time. In the future, I will add other vegetables (e.g., bell pepper, onion) and try it with portobello mushrooms. I think some cooking wine would take this dish over the top. I wasn’t thinking as creatively while in the store. I estimate the cost per serving to be $1.82 considering I used about a quarter of the tapenade ($3.29/jar) and three-fourths a box of linguine ($2/box). The salad adds about $0.40 cents. So, add this recipe to the inexpensive column.

Later this week I will try adding the tapenade to a pizza. I was rummaging in my refrigerator and found the jar of pesto from the gourmet pizza I whipped up a few months ago, so I’ll use that as well. Tapenade will be a staple in my house from now on! Such a quick recipe that looks like a lot of trouble. I must say that I will miss the Private Selection brand when I move to D.C. I can always have my mom ship me boxes in between trips home to Georgia *smile*.

February 27: Kroger Private Selection Sauteed Vegetable Lasagna and Roasted Peppers Sandwiches

It’s that time of year again: Lent. I have learned from 12 years of experience to not give up chocolate/sugar/sweets this year. I prayed about what I should sacrifice. I opened the refrigerator on Ash Wednesday, and my spirit said meat was the sacrifice this season. The first few days of Lent were rather traumatic because I have been craving beef for the longest. Ever since I started eating it again a few months ago, it’s like my body screams for hamburgers and steaks. Anywhoo…so, I made a grocery run on Saturday. I purchased green, red, and yellow bell peppers, a red onion, carrots and sliced mushrooms to roast for sandwiches. I was inspired by a sauteed vegetable sandwich at a local sandwich shop. I also hit up the frozen food aisle to stock up on vegetable stir fry, vegetables, and vegetable lasagna for those days when I have neither the time nor the desire to prepare fresh vegetables.

So, Monday night, I cooked the lasagna and roasted the vegetables. I did not feel like peeling carrots and I forgot about the mushrooms, so it turned out to be just peppers and onion. I coated the veggies with a little olive oil and sprinkled liberally with dried herbs. The vegetables cooked at 375 F until they became wilty (about an hour). The lasagna was only supposed to cook for 60-70 minutes. It turned into more like 90 minutes. For some reason, the center cooked really slowly. I used a thermometer to measure the internal temperature. After 50 minutes, the center was only 80 F while the rest of the lasagna was 120 – 130. The box recommended an internal temperature of 160 F.

I will say, the extra 20 minutes, while annoying (because I didn’t want to eat at 8:30 pm) was worth the wait. The lasagna was cheesy, flavorful, and hearty. I wouldn’t have expected the latter for a vegetable lasagna. The vegetables were carrots, zucchini, and yellow bell peppers. I think there is spinach, too, in the ricotta cheese layers. For $1.03 per serving, I really can’t complain. The size of the lasagna is ideal for a single person, though I was skeptical with the smaller box. Kroger has a bad habit of over-estimating the number of servings a product provides. But, as I said, I was pleasantly surprised. With a salad or additional vegetables as a side, the lasagna could feed 4 people easily and still have a couple of pieces left for seconds/leftovers.

Tuesday, I had a sandwich for lunch. Not such a good idea. First, I used sourdough bread from the bakery. I scooped out most of the bread so I could pile in more vegetables. I wrapped the bread separate from the vegetables and provolone cheese. I warmed the veggies and cheese in the microwave then built my sandwich. The sandwich was awesome. It was well seasoned, the cheese and bread added nice flavor and texture. The problem was the sandwich was soOoOoo messy. Juice from the vegetables dripped all over the plate and my hands. The bread was a little too doughy, so I will have to experiment with other breads. I probably should have toasted it in the oven, but I didn’t.

So, overall, I’m enjoying this vegetarian thing. I will likely begin to buy organic fruit and vegetables since I will consume much more than I normally do. I am looking forward to trying different vegetables. Next on my list is colored cauliflower; Kroger sells purple, orange, and green. I’m quite sad, however, that I will not be able to indulge shamelessly in corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. Technically, I can have meat on Sundays, but I think I can manage one year not following my tradition. I can still have the cabbage :o) I don’t add potatoes and carrots to my brisket and cabbage; this year I must make an exception because cabbage soup is so unappealing. I’m curious to see what God has planned that it was placed on my heart to give up meat.