Thursday, July 24, 2014

White Bean Walnut Pesto

Most of the plants in my garden are still doing pretty well, but the basil and cucumber in particular are absolutely on fire.  I've been carrying extra cucumbers around in my purse to give away to family and friends.  I just can't eat them fast enough! 

Luckily, the basil surplus has not been as much of a problem.  It just means it's time to make pesto!
I absolutely love pesto, and I've made this white bean walnut version twice now this week.  I like using walnuts instead of pine nuts because they are chock full of healthy fats and a bit cheaper and easier to find.  Plus, you do not want to risk getting pine mouth!  It happened to my sister-in-law and it sounds awful!

I generally don't eat any meat with this dish, so I like having the white beans in there to bulk up the sauce and add protein.  Just toss the pesto with some pasta and you have a pretty well-balanced meal.  It may not look like you are eating a ton, but I promise it is really filling!
White Bean Walnut Pesto
Makes approximately 3 large servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 large cloves garlic
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup white beans
Hefty dash of salt and pepper

Instructions:
Blend walnuts and garlic in food processor.
Add in the basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil and blend until thoroughly combined.

Add white beans and Parmesan and blend for just a few more seconds.  It's okay if it's a little chunky.

Just before serving, add in 2 tablespoons of water from the cooked pasta.
Toss with the pasta of your choice and enjoy!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Black Bean Cabbage Curry

I've been having some extra strong cravings for cabbage lately.  We've been eating a ton of it at home, and I even ordered veggie cabbage rolls at a restaurant the other day.  It's a strange thing to crave, but I'm going with it!  I'd say there are a lot worse things I could be eating in excess.

I love to roast green cabbage with some olive oil and sea salt (like this), but the other day something a little spicier was calling to me.  I combined some of my favorite Indian flavors with a jalapeno from our garden to create this cabbage curry dish, and it really hit the spot.
Black Bean Cabbage Curry
Makes 2 large servings

1/2 head green cabbage, chopped
1-2 gloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1/4 onion, diced
1 cup black beans
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
Dash of garam masala
Dash of salt and pepper
Water as needed
2 cups cooked brown rice

1. In a large pan, saute the garlic, onion, and jalapeno in a little olive oil over medium heat until slightly brown.
2.  Add cabbage, spices, and a little splash of water if things are starting to stick.
3. Continue to cook, adding water as needed, until cabbage is soft and slightly translucent.
4.  Add black beans and cook until warm.
5. Serve over rice and top with additional sauces/garnishes of your choice (Sriracha, green onions, etc.)
 
Note:  I never really measure my spices out very precisely, so feel free to add more or less depending on your preferences.  I usually just use the sprinkle-and-taste method.

I also made this dish another time, but, instead of using Indian spices, I added lots of fresh lime juice and cilantro.  We wrapped it all up in some whole wheat tortillas, added hot sauce, and had ourselves a little Mexican feast.  It was so good.

Healthy, cheap, easy-to-find, tasty, and versatile - you gotta love cabbage!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Can't-Live-Without Kitchen Gadgets

Hi there.  Hope you all had a great weekend!  Since I've been home for a while now, all the days are sort of running together.  Jay and I are still doing P90X3 everyday and cooking lots of fresh meals from our garden.  We also celebrated a lovely third anniversary last week.  And the biggest news of late is that I bought a new car!  I am so excited about my new Hyundai Tucson.  It's a big step up from my little Toyota Yaris, and I can still hardly believe it's my car!
On another note, I wanted to share a few of my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets with you this morning.  As I was rinsing off some blueberries for breakfast, it got me thinking about how often I use our mini-colander and what did I ever do before I had one?!  So many kitchen gadgets do not live up to their hype and end up collecting dust on the back of a shelf or drawer, but there are a handful of inexpensive items that really do make all the difference in my day-to-day life.  

I use this little colander every single day!  It is perfect for rinsing berries, small veggies, herbs, or anything else that you need to quickly wash.  It can be thrown into the dishwasher for easy cleaning, and then it collapses down to less than an inch when you are ready to put it away.  
I don't know how I lived so long without one of these.  I used to always squeeze lemons and limes by hand, and it was so much work to get out just a little bit of juice.  Plus, the seeds would always end up in my food, no matter what I did.  This citrus squeezer makes it easy to get out so much more juice!  It also filters out the seeds and is dishwasher safe.  It is essential if you have to do a lot of squeezing, like for margaritas or sparkling water
Tip: To get even more juice out of your lemons, microwave them whole for 15 seconds before you cut and squeeze.  

I am the worst when it comes to eyeballing pasta measurements.  I usually end up making enough for ten people when I am only intending to cook for two.  Luckily, this $4 pasta measurer has solved all of my spaghetti-making problems.  It helps me create perfect portions so that we don't end up throwing food away or eating a ridiculous amount of noodles. 

These are the best peelers ever.  They are SO sharp and can peel any fruit or vegetable effortlessly, even something as thick as a butternut squash.  The trio set comes with three different blades.  The scalper blade is perfect for hard fruits and veggies, like apples and potatoes.  The serrated blade can peel really delicate fruits like peaches and tomatoes.  The julienne blade creates thin julienne sticks from carrots, zucchini, cucumbers, etc.  All three peelers are versatile and work great!

I have never in my life owned a can opener that opens cans so easily.  Plus, once the can is open, a magnet lifts the lid so you never have to touch a sharp edge.  You can take the lid over to the trash or recycle bin and release it with the touch of a button.  I love it!

Zyliss makes really awesome products, and this jar opener is no exception.  I am a weakling when it comes to opening things and constantly find myself struggling with sealed jars of salsa, pickles, etc.  This jar opener is really easy to use and gets the jar open every time!  The long handle is comfortable and gives added leverage, and the adjustable rubberized band can retract all the way for storage.  It has really made my life a lot easier!
So there you have it!  Sometimes the littlest products can make all the difference!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Workout Review: P90X3

I've always been skeptical of "extreme" workout programs like P90X and Insanity.  I tend to raise an eyebrow when a workout seems like a fad or claims you will "get ripped fast."  Plus, I had always heard that the P90X style workouts are so intense that they can really be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.

A few weeks ago, however, Jay's brother showed us a new 30-minute P90X3 program that he was following.  He shared the video program with us so that we could check it out.  Jay loves to have a set workout schedule, so the fact that this exercise program is all planned out with a calendar appealed to him.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to be locked in to anything, but I figured I would join him when I could and see how it went.

I have ended up doing the videos with Jay almost every day, and I am surprised at how much I like the program.  The best thing is that you genuinely get in a really great workout in just 30 minutes, without having to go to a gym or buy a lot of special equipment.  There are about 15 different workout routines plus some stretching videos that rotate, so it keeps things interesting and your body challenged.  It has been really nice to have my workouts all planned out and not have to decide if/when/what I'm going to do.

Aside from free weights and a mat, the only other equipment you need is a pull-up bar.  If you can't do a pull-up (like me) or don't have a bar, you can easily modify with a resistance band.  Jay had been using one of those door-frame pull-up bars, but earlier this week decided to build something more heavy-duty using metal pipes from Lowe's.
My goal is to be able to do an unassisted pull-up by the end of summer!

We are still in the first 4-week "block" (it is 90 days total),  so we haven't gotten to all of the workouts yet.  Here is a recap of what we have covered so far.

Total Synergistics - A total-body strength workout that incorporates a lot of body weight exercises, balance, and even some yoga.  Some of the moves take some practice to get the hang of, and there are some ridiculous pull-ups that I definitely have to modify.

Agility X - Agility training that involves all sorts of "quick-feet" type movements.  You run and jump all over the place in every direction.  It is very challenging but goes by quickly.

Yoga X - A quick, 30-minute stretch session.  Most of the moves are traditional yoga poses, but the video moves quickly and doesn't give a whole lot of explanation on how to do them.  It's probably not the best for people who have never done yoga before.

The Challenge - Alternates between different styles of push-ups and pull-ups for 30 minutes straight.  You try to complete the same number of reps in each set for the entire time.  Holy cow were my arms sore after I did this for the first time!

The Warrior - A full-body, army boot-camp style workout.  It's a great combination of upper-body, lower-body, core, and cardio exercises, with no equipment needed.  One of my favorites!

CVX - A cardio workout in which you hold a weight throughout all of the exercises.  It's easy to follow but will leave you dripping with sweat.

Many of the workouts use high intensity intervals in order to be effective in a short amount of time.  A lot of scientific research has shown that this type of "HIIT" training is just as effective as traditional cardio in a lot less time. These 30-minute P90X3 videos definitely beat spending hours on the machines at the gym.

As for the downsides - Tony Horton really gets on my nerves.  He never stops talking and making goofy comments.  I am constantly rolling my eyes.  Sometimes his banter is entertaining, but most of the time I just want to put tape over his mouth.

Another negative of the program - it is true that a lot of the moves are intense and sometimes complicated. While there are beginner modifications, Tony generally doesn't go into specific detail about form.  I can see how someone without a lot of exercise experience could overdo it or hurt themselves.  Jay and I had to do a lot of pausing and practicing to figure out some of the moves initially, and I am all about the modifications, especially when it comes to the pull-ups.

There are still quite a few videos that we haven't gotten to yet.  I will post another update on how it's going in a few weeks!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Jay and I have been planting a garden for several years now, some more successfully than others.  We've learned a lot through trial and error, but there is still so much that we don't know.  Some years we'll get a huge crop of veggies and herbs, but then, just when I start to think I'm a master gardener (ha), we'll have a year where absolutely nothing grows.  I like to chalk a lot of the inconsistency up to mother nature, but, in reality, it's probably more due to user error.

This is our second summer with a garden at this house, and the first year was pretty pitiful.  We had luck with a few plants, but the majority died from the heat, got eaten by something, or just didn't produce any fruits.

We made a few changes this year (and have gotten lucky with better weather), and there has definitely been a big improvement.

Here is our garden when we first planted it back in April.  (Hi, Wendy!)
And here it is now. 
We tried a few cold weather veggies for the first time this year, and they did okay.  The broccoli Jay planted grew into a HUGE plant, but never produced anything that even remotely resembled broccoli.  We need to do some research before we try that one again.  The kale and spinach did much better.  We were able to use our spinach for a while until it started to get eaten by something, but the kale stayed strong for a really long time.  We got several beautiful bunches off of our one plant, and even now it is still alive.  I will definitely be planting lots more kale next year!
We also experimented with planting our warm-weather veggies a little earlier this year to give them a head start.  Jay built a hoop house over our bed that would keep the plants warm enough and protect them in case of a freeze.  Covered, it looked a lot like this.
Unfortunately, we got a REALLY hard late freeze.  Even with the extra protection, a lot of our plants didn't make it.  I'm not sure if we will try that system again next year or not. 

Once the freeze threat had passed, we replanted what had died and added a few more things.  This is what we have growing now. 
We used this organic fertilizer as soon as we planted, and it really seemed to make a difference. 
Now some more info on the plants...
  • Herbs - our dill and oregano came back from last year, and the dill in particular has grown like crazy.  We can't eat it or give it away fast enough.  We also plant basil every year, and it always thrives with no trouble.  In general, herbs are some of the easiest things to keep alive.
  • Green onions - I am never buying these at the store again!  They came back up from last year, and I use them almost every day.  As soon as I cut some off, they just grown right back.  I love them!
  • Peppers - We have always had luck with peppers of all varieties.  Once the weather gets hot, they take off with just a little watering. 
  • Cucumber - Last year, the plant flowered and flowered but never produced.  I don't know what is different this year, but suddenly we are getting tons of cucumbers.  We added a small trellis so that the plant could climb up, rather than taking over the entire garden.  This thing grows a mile a minute!
  • Eggplant - Last year, something started eating our eggplant, and it got sick and died.  This year, as soon as I noticed little holes in the leaves, I sprayed them down with this organic pest control.
     The plant seems to be much healthier, and we have pretty little eggplants starting to grow.
  • Tomatoes - We usually have pretty good luck with tomatoes, and we are starting to get quite a few on our plants this year.  
    We've had trouble with spider mites in the past, so I will be keeping an eye out for those!
  • Squash - Our yellow squash plant has taken off and is producing some fruits, but so far they are really small and bumpy.  I'm not really sure what the problem is.  
  • Strawberries (not pictured) - We had a lot of strawberries come back from last year in the front left corner of the garden.  We were getting some tasty little berries early in the summer, but then the plants kind of got taken over by the exploding squash and cucumber.  Jay says we need to plant a separate strawberry patch so that they can have enough space.  Maybe next year...
  • Marigolds - Not something you can eat, but they (supposedly) help to keep away pests.  Plus, they are quite nice to look at!
So that's our garden!  I am going to try to continue to fertilize, water, and keep and eye out for bugs, and hopefully it will continue to be a successful season.  There's just nothing better than eating food that you grow yourself!