I’ll put the recipes I made at the bottom of this post by letter to complete the project and also because I liked some of them and might want to make them again.
When we made dinner on Sunday this week, my son, Michael, asked what the next week was going to be and before I answered he said, “Wait. Zucchini. Z. Z means we’re done. Yay!”
Then last night I sat down to write a grocery list and for the first time in 23 weeks I did not have to make my menus fit around a specific letter. It was both freeing and annoying. Without a focus of making every meal with Lentils, Ocra, Tofu, or Zucchini I had to actually think about what I might want for dinner. In the end I created a very boring list of meals (except for the homemade chili I have on the stove right now) because I wanted to not have to think about what I am cooking for a change.
Life got very busy in April and even though I didn’t blog I did stick to the one letter a week menus. Unfortunately the dieting part of this project was on par with the blogging part for the last month. I never did lose those last ten pounds. I’d like to think I would have made it if I hadn’t gone to New Orléans, but that isn’t necessarily the world I would want to live in. (It was an amazing tip with great food.) Going back to my weight of last June when I weighed the most I ever have, I have lost 45 pounds. I weigh less than I have in about 8 or 9 years. I still can’t remove my wedding band, but I blame that on cracking my knuckles for 40 years.
I’m going to call it a success.
I am probably the biggest reader of my blog these days because I check back here for recipes and to remember what I did the last time I made something. So here are the recipes by letter:
X – I always intended to skip X. I mean, you can’t cook a Xylophone.
As I mentioned in my last blog post I am struggling to lose this last ten pounds. It isn’t because I bought regular soda instead of diet and even though I am committed to running every day this month I don’t believe it is because I am not getting enough exercise. I stopped losing weight (and in fact gained a little weight) because I have bad eating habits. I snack on things at all hours and the meals I cook use unhealthy ingredients. When thinking about the last weeks of my diet I realized I need to think beyond the letter Z and to how I want to maintain my health going forward. This diet has been great. I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I went running over the weekend and did a 9 minute/mile pace without breathing hard.
I thought about this a lot over the weekend and it is time to make a serious change. Looking back over all the alphabet recipes I’ve made you might notice that none of them focused on meat. I’m not saying we’ve stopped eating meat in this house over the last few weeks, but it has been a much smaller part of the menu. It’s time to eliminate it all together.
That’s right – Mike Donnelly, a confirmed carnivore, is announcing that I am going to become a vegetarian. I am the first to admit that this is something I never thought I could do, but as I look back at the recipes I’ve made there is at least one from each week that I enjoyed as much as any good burger or steak. I think the Curry tofu sandwich during T week is what tipped me over the edge. If I can do a tofu week and still have a tasty meal then why not go all in.
I realize that just eating vegetarian won’t be intrinsically healthier (I will still fry things and use more butter than I should), but I think it will force me to think about what I am eating and help me stay healthy. Besides think of the blogging potential of converting all the Damn Good Recipes to vegetarian versions.
Wish me luck. I’m off to run 2 miles.
T is for Tofu
My vegetarian daughter was home for spring break for T week so Tofu seemed like the perfect choice. I found three recipes Tofu Walnut Croquettes from the Spoonriver cookbook, Tofu Tacos, and Curry Tofu Salad from the Commonsense Kitchen. For that last one think Tuna Salad; we put it on sandwiches in place of tuna and it was actually quite good. The other two recipes were not much to write home about. The Tofu salad/sandwich spread used not just tofu, but had a ton of ingredients in it that gave it good crunch and good flavor. I can see making this one again.
U id for Udon
Name a food that starts with U.
Go ahead. I’ll wait while you try to think of something.
Yeah, I couldn’t either. I didn’t really want to do Udon because it is was a busy week at Casa Donnelly. If I was going to have Udon week I really should have made the noodles from scratch. Instead I drove around to three grocery stores just to find dry Udon noodles. Here is what I learned about Udon this week – it isn’t about the noodles, it’s about the broth and the garnish. Before Melanie went back to school I tried to make a quick lunch and didn’t really have what I needed for the broth. Also you know the soft egg you can get in a bowl of ramen or udon? That takes about a half a day to make. Those tasty pieces of pork they put on top? Takes about a week to do it right. I did manage to make a pretty tasty stir fried Udon later in the week and on Thursday I made a decent Udon with pork using a boxed ginger-miso broth that I got from Trader Joe’s.
It was not a good two weeks for dieting. I gained a pound both weeks. These last ten pounds just won’t go. I blame the fact that I accidentally bought regular Dr. Pepper instead of diet. I was halfway through the week before I realized. I have 10 pounds to lose this month. I still think I can do it. My plan is to start the diet just as I began it last June. In June of 2013 I went running every day. For April I plan to do the same. It might just be a mile, but I will go for a run every day. I’m starting a training plan with Sarah to get her ready for the Avenger’s Half Marathon in November so I will a have a reason to go running three days a week – I just have to motivate myself to go the other four days.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I considered skipping the blog all together, but I have still been cooking by the alphabet. Rather than go through two weeks of cooking I will just pick the best recipe from each week. For Radicchio this was hands down the Butternut Squash and Radicchio Pappardelle. This recipe really surprised me. It only has six ingredients and the hardest part was carving up the squash. In the other dishes the radicchio was a little bitter, but in this one I think the sautéing and combining it with the butternut squash worked well. Add in some toasted pine nuts and it was delicious.
It was just a coincidence that my favorite recipe from R week had squash in it, but it id make Squash an easy choice for S (Spinach, Sweet Potatoes and Shallots were some of the other contenders). Yesterday I had a lot of fun cooking Ratatoulle using Tom Hudgens recipe from Commonsense Kitchen, which uses summer squash as an ingredient. I served it over noodles made with butternut squash for even more squash, but I think for flavor my favorite meal was the Butternut Squash Risotto using a recipe from the Spoonriver cookbook. This was another low ingredient dish that also used pine nuts so I guess I have a limited palate.
Other recipes I made this week:
This was a very busy week and I only cooked dinner twice. I made a simple pilaf with jasmine rice and quinoa; a recipe I got from the Spoonriver cookbook. This was for dinner on Friday and I made pork chops to go with it. The pilaf was good and the quinoa was mostly unnoticeable.
The second recipe I made was Quinoa Pizza Bites. I really wanted to try these, but I wasn’t sure what to server them with so I turned our dinner on Saturday into all finger food. We had pizza bites, breaded mozzarella sticks, and veggies with hummus.
I followed the recipe for half of the bites I made, but decided to get creative and make the other half with Italian sausage instead of pepperoni. I have to admit the pepperoni ones were better. In fact they were quite good and I could see making these again.
I only made a couple of meals with quinoa, but I can see the appeal. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own and just acts as a palette for the flavors that are added to it.
I’m not sure if it was the quinoa or just not eating my own cooking for most of the week, but I did manage to lose my pound and a half.
Gumbo is the second dish I made with okra, which makes sense because somewhere along the etymological food chain the word for okra is gumbo. You can pop over to Wikipedia if you want the full story, but it was a new fact for me that I was glad to learn. I have cooked jambalaya, mixed up some chili, thrown together a stew, but until this week I don’t think I have ever made gumbo. I doubt it will be the last time.
I used a recipe from my go-to cook book, The Commonsense Kitchen. The author, Tom Hudgens, begins the recipe with a story about learning to make gumbo in New Orleans from his grandfather. I thought this boded well and I was not disappointed. The gumbo starts with a roux that uses oil instead of butter, which was a new one for me. The oil and flour quickly took on a golden hue and I added the finely chopped onions and celery. I don’t care for celery in soups when it is used as a filler, but in the gumbo it is used for the base and only adds flavor, not texture. Next I added the green bell pepper, another item I usually stay away from , but as soon as I added the diced pepper the kitchen smelled like gumbo is supposed to smell. Six cups of chicken broth, a few spices, some andouille sausage, and the okra finished the recipe. One thing I learned was to cook the sausage whole and then cut it up right before serving. This kept the juices in the sausage and made a noticeable difference. The gumbo had some nice heat to it (probably from the red pepper flakes and dash of Penzeys Cajun spice mix I added), but it wasn’t overly spicy.
The last okra recipe I made was the classic, Fried Okra. Of course fried okra requires a meal of southern comfort food to surround it. I made chicken fried steak using round steak and a batter or butter milk and flour. The gravy and black eyed peas are store bought, but the corn bread is from scratch. Everything was delicious and I had to restrain myself from having seconds on everything.
This restraint paid off and I made my weight loss goal for the week. (Running 11 miles this weekend probably didn’t hurt.)