Editor's note: Shannon is using The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight to teach herself to cook. She is blogging about her progress.
What is with this time of year? I’ve talked to several people and it seems that appetites are increasing and motivations are waning. I’d love to be able to say that I am immune to this, but sadly I have been feeling the same way. Is it the weather? Maybe it is the lack of sun in a colder climate or the availability of fresh, local produce. Whatever it is, I need to snap out of it. I am happy that now I am cooking healthier I am able to eat more to stay within my calorie range, so that is helping.
Warm and Spicy Banana Waffles, Chicken Creole, Pecan Chicken with Maple Citrus Sauce, Turkey Meatballs, Maple-Glazed Roasted Salmon, Weeknight Spaghetti, Wild Rice with Roasted Shallots and Garlic, Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic Herb Oil, and Banana Honey Cake all made it onto our plates as of late. I feel like I am eating like royalty. The first couple of weeks I started cooking real food I thought that it was going to be expensive. That was mostly due to not having a lot of the base ingredients on hand. Now I actually think I am saving money. Buying those initial ingredients may have added to a few grocery bills but once you have them on hand they do several meals, unlike boxed meals which are a onetime shot.
Also, I find so many of these meals are so hearty that you only need one serving to be full, so it usually does my husband and I for two meals. As a result, I am actually cooking less. As I mentioned before, my husband and I take turns cooking, so when you add up those times when we cook something hearty enough that there are leftovers I sometimes end up cooking only twice a week. I don’t know about any of you, but that fits quite well into my schedule. If timed right, I usually end up cooking on Wednesdays, my day off from work, and once on the weekend when I have more time.
The first thing I made this time was the Banana Honey Cake (page 354). I wanted to satisfy a sweet tooth (another plight of the season)! It was so simple to make and worth it, too.
I really did not know what to expect using orange juice and tea for liquids but the result was a moist, tasty treat. I admit it was my indulgence, enjoyed with a cup of tea and a good book on those 'I don’t feel like going outside quite yet' days. It would be a great snack over tea with friends, or for the meeting when you are in charge of the baking, or maybe even dusted with the confectioner’s sugar looking all decadent for the fundraising bake sale. No one will believe the healthful ingredients or the low calorie count. I baked mine in a 9x9 baking pan and still divided it into 16 pieces. So the extra inch squared of the pan made the pieces look bigger and feel like even more of a delight.
This time was all about the pairings, that is, pairing up my Spark recipes to create a meal. In my cooking attempts, this is what I struggle with most. I never know what main dishes and side dishes go together best. Can you make two different things that each have a sauce? How do you pair things to accentuate each other’s tastes? I like that this book takes some of the guess work out of it by suggesting some accompaniments. For the first meal I made Turkey Meatballs (page 205) with the Weeknight Spaghetti (page 256), which also allowed me to use my Italian Seasoning (page 369). The meatballs were a snap to make-- just mix the meat and the seasoning. They bonded quite well and tasted great. I just wish they were a little softer since they seemed to be quite dense. I am not sure what could be added to achieve this and still allow them to stay together without changing the taste or adding tons of extra calories.
My weeknight spaghetti turned into weeknight penne due to my lack of spaghetti in the house. The sauce was very good. Anyone who didn’t know would have thought it was a store-bought sauce. I think that this recipe could be quite versatile just by changing up the ingredients you choose: extra garlic for those garlic lovers, or extra veggies with some mushrooms, peppers, zucchini and onions. Just like walking down the sauce aisle in the store, the sky is the limit for your own pasta night creations.
My second full meal was the Maple-Glazed Roasted Salmon (page 226) with the Wild Rice with Roasted Shallots and Garlic (page 291). My husband was a good sport when it came to trying the fish. I think he may have even enjoyed it because he ended up having two pieces that night. However, this meal was not without its problems, not due to difficulties of the recipes, but rather due to the cook. Setting off the smoke detector and having wild rice that didn’t pop made for an interesting time. I am not sure what I did wrong with the rice, but at one point I checked on it in the oven and it was dry. I added more liquid, but it was too late. Even though I had difficulties, I would recommend this recipe and will try again sometime to make it. We ate it anyway and it tasted very good, just a little on the crunchy side. The rice also went very well with the salmon.
The salmon is how I ended up with a smoky house. When the recipe tells you to pour off the excess marinade, make sure that there isn’t any at all left in the pan. Burnt soy sauce bubbles up like molten lava and emits plumes of smoke, filling your kitchen before you know it. This did not happen until the fish was pretty much done so it luckily did not affect the taste of the salmon. So, despite my disasters, I would recommend both recipes as they tasted great-- just learn from my mistakes and if anyone knows what I may have done wrong to get the rice not to open up, please let me know, as I am excited to try this recipe again.
My last pairing was the Pecan Chicken with Maple Citrus Sauce (page 189) served with the Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic Herb Oil (page 316). What can I say about this one? It is a grown-up sophisticated version of chicken fingers and fries. For the parents out there whose kids will only eat chicken fingers and fries try this-- maybe they’ll eat it and it will save you from making a separate meal for the grownups. The potatoes are so simple to make. I used baby red potatoes and they were absolutely delicious, with a nice golden crispiness. Again, experiment with the herbs you like the best for your own take on this recipe. The pecan chicken was to die for. The subtle roasted nut flavour, the sweet, yet tart sauce, and the ease in which this meal came together made this meal a winner. What more could you ask for on a busy night? The chicken and potatoes even tasted great as leftovers the following day.
At our house, we have a Sunday morning tradition: waffles. We get up later than normal, spend the morning together and enjoy brunch. We never make appointments, meetings or tee-off times for Sunday mornings-- this is our time. D likes his waffles with pure maple syrup, and I have mine with berries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or mixed berries; just plain fruit, nothing added. As I am writing this, I am dreaming about this relaxed morning ritual with my husband and my beloved waffles… ahhhh.
With this weekly habit, I knew we had to try this recipe as soon as I got my Spark Recipe Book. Warm and Spicy Banana Waffles (page 98), did not disappoint. Even though we had a waffle iron sticking situation on our hands (so the waffles didn’t exactly look picture perfect) they were still tasty. They were so moist and the added spices went so well with the yogurt and banana, I dreamt that I was partaking in my Sunday morning ritual in some warm tropical destination.
My absolute favorite recipe this time (and maybe even so far) is the Chicken Creole (page 170). If you like flavor, this will not disappoint. I also got to use my Creole Spice Blend (page 370). This recipe was no more difficult to make than a boxed meal, but a million times better. The recipe states that it takes 45 minutes to prep and cook and I don’t even think it took that long. It has rich tomato flavour with all the peppers, onions, celery and a kick from the creole spice. One serving with ½ a cup of brown rice is a meal and as leftovers the spices seem to intensify and make your taste buds very happy. Anyone who likes the Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken will probably love this one.
I finally am feeling like I really can cook. It just takes patience, the willingness to try and the ability to shrug off the ooopses and enjoy it anyway. I look at the other cookbooks on my shelf and think that they could go back to the store and be resold because they look like they have never been used. I would not so easily give up my Sparkpeople Cookbook: Love the Food, Lose the Weight. There is no way it could go back to a store; it is definitely used. It has stains and bookmarks marking recipes I have tried and recipes that I am dying to try. I would not trade it for anything and finally feel like I have gotten my money’s worth out of a cookbook. Until next time, eat well and have fun.
Which one of the recipes Shannon made this week would you like to try the most?
Want more healthy recipes from Chef Meg and fellow SparkPeople members? Be sure to subscribe to SparkPeople's Recipe of the Day email. Click here to sign up!
Did you know SparkRecipes is now on Facebook? Click here to "Like" us!
Like this blog? Then you'll love "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight."
More From SparkPeople