Moroccan Spice Blend

As we’ve previously discussed, dinner is a struggle for me.  Waking up at 5:15am to workout, then going to work all day leaves me little motivation to make a meal when 5:30pm rolls around, especially if it’s just for me.  I’m one of those people that prefers to cook for others.  Cooking for myself is extremely unappealing.

When Jesse has dinner with me, it’s awesome.  I tend to make an actual meal, but most days, on my own, I tend to snack.  So I’m trying to come up with better solutions.  My number one solution right now is to keep it simple.

So in my quest to keep things simple, yet flavorful, I discovered a Moroccan Spice Blend that is so versatile you can basically kick up any plain dish without adding fat.  The best part is you can control how much salt goes in it.

moroccan spice blend

Moroccan Spice Blend

Adapted from Epicurious

1 tsp  cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt (or less if you’d like)*
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp  cinnamon
1/2 tsp  coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp mace

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Combine all ingredients until well blended.  Store in an air tight container until ready to use.

*Feel free to adjust the amount of salt.  You can completely omit it, if you’re trying to go low sodium.  You can also add more if you like things salty (the original recipe calls for 1 tsp of salt, but I tried that and thought it was too much.  1/2 tsp was more to my liking).

I mixed up a bunch to keep on hand for easy meals.  So far using this blend I’ve made: Moroccan Spiced Chicken Thighs and Moroccan Spice Tilapia.

Super easy! In both cases, I sprinkled the chicken (bone-in thighs, skin and excess fat removed) or fish generously with the spice blend and baked.  Both times it turned out awesome! I can’t wait to keep making this. If you’re interested, I can do a full recipe post on either of these.  Let me know if you’re interested.

Tonight, the ultimate quick dinner for 1:  I took a piece of tilapia, covered it in moroccan spice blend, then roasted it along side some asparagus for 17 minutes at 400F.  Done in less than 20 minutes, and easy clean up.  I like it.

Give this Moroccan Spice Blend a try! It’s a great way to add a ton of flavor while still keeping things healthy.

What’s your favorite quick and easy weeknight meal?

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Healthy Baked Turkey Meatballs

This past weekend was a very Italian weekend for me.  I went to the Getty Villa.

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If you’re in Southern California and haven’t been to the Getty Villa, you should go.  I grew up here and had never been.  It’s a beautiful museum built to look like a villa you would around Pompeii or Herculanum around 30 AD.  It’s seriously beautiful, not to mention the exhibits are awesome.

To add to the Southern Italian-ness of the weekend, Jesse and I also saw Pompeii.  While I question the historical accuracy, I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s as if Titanic and Gladiator came together to make one ridiculous film.

If there’s one thing Pompeii taught me, it’s that Jon Snow is hot in a skirt.  After leaving the theatre, the one thing both Jesse and I had to comment on was Jon Snow‘s abs (because Kit Harington will forever be known as Jon Snow to me).

Image source: Torontosun.com

First we thought, those have to be digitally enhanced or airbrushed.  No one can have abs like that.  Of course then the conversation transitioned to: how does one get those abs?

I did some research.  Basically, if you want abs you have to lose fat and build muscle (no surprises here). Vanity Fair confirmed with an interview by the actors of the movie:

The four-hour workout: two hours of fight training with weapons, an hour of weight lifting, an hour of cardio, and an 1,800-calorie diet “designed specifically for our bodies to be attuned to lose fat and pop out muscles,” Akinnuoye-Agbaje told us.

Great.

So for the rest of us that aren’t working out for four hours a day or consuming a diet “designed specifically for our bodies to be attuned to lose fat and pop out muscles,” we should probably just stick to eating clean and maybe increasing our protein.

I’m not really in the market for Jon Snow abs (yep, that’s what I’m calling them now), but getting fit is always a good idea.  So to help you in that direction, I made you dinner:

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Healthy Baked Turkey Meatballs

1 lb lean ground turkey (from 1 package in the meat section)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 tbsp fresh chopped mint
1 tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Using your hands work together all ingredients and form into golf-ball sized meat balls.  Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cooked through (note: this might vary depending of the size of your meatballs and your oven). healthyturkeymeatballs2

Serve over cauliflower puree, on spaghetti squash or with your vegetable of choice and enjoy!  This recipe will make about 20 meatballs.

This low carb (paleo, gluten-free) meal will get you in the right direction to getting those Jon Snow abs.  Or if you’re like me and you just want to be a little bit healthy, to balance out an enormous piece of cake, this meal is great for that too.

Anyone else see Jon Snow’s abs in Pompeii and have their jaw drop?

Healthy Chocolate Smoothie

I love dessert, and I love feeding people dessert almost as much (or maybe even more) than I like eating it myself.  But some days,  I have a major guilt trip.  Today is one of those days.  I know sugar is terrible for your health.  I shouldn’t eat so much of it, and sometimes I feel guilty that I feed my loved ones baked goods so often.

I generally think I’m a pretty health-conscious person,  but then I turn around and make things like this:

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I know dessert makes me happy, but I also know I shouldn’t be eating it all the time so I give it away.  So pretty much I’m a jerk, a jerk that pawns off things that are too unhealthy for her to eat onto other people.  And when jerks feel guilty, they turn to fruits and vegetables.

I swear this has nothing to do with the fact that I’m about 293048292 years late to the party and finally watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and this article I read in National Geographic about Sugar.  That documentary didn’t convince me that I need to start juicing, but it did remind me that fruits and vegetables are always a good idea. The sugar article just reinforced my original idea that I need to eat less sugar. I’m not a nutritionist, but it seems like juices are lacking fiber and all the healthy things you get from the skins of fruits and vegetables. No? So instead of juice, I’m sticking to smoothies and less sugar.

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I’ve been having green smoothies for years.  My normal go-to combination was strawberry, banana, spinach.  But I decided to try a new combo to help me get past my enormous cravings for big handfuls of chocolate chips in the evenings.  It’s a bad habit.  So let’s replace it with something better:

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Healthy Chocolate-y Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen mango chunks (I eye ball it)
1-2 cup frozen spinach (I really just grab a huge handful and shove it in the blender)
1 date, pitted
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (or more if you want it more chocolate-y)
1 cup ice
1/2-1 cup water or almond milk (this might vary)

Place all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth.  In my Vitamix, I don’t need that much water and I can get it to be pretty thick.

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I actually eat it with a spoon!  Note: This makes one large smoothie for one person.

The key here is really the cocoa powder.

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You get the chocolate-y flavor without all the sugar.  The sweetness here comes from fruit, particularly the date.

It’s not like eating a Wendy’s frosty. Let’s be clear.  It’s not.  But it’s pretty darn tasty and it definitely helps me get my chocolate fix in a much healthier way.

So what do you think?  Is it bad to feed your friends and family unhealthy foods?  Should I (or you) feel guilty about it?

30 Day Paleo Challenge: Ending Early

So I started the 30 Day Paleo Challenge 14 days ago.

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Unfortunately, I’m cutting it off at the half way point.

I feel guilty for not committing to the full challenge, but then I remembered this is just a blog.  It’s not my job.  I don’t get paid to do this.  My life doesn’t depend on it.  It’s for fun.  This challenge became more than not fun and everyone around me noticed.

My boss asked if I was depressed.  My mom asked why I kept it up if I wasn’t getting positive results.  My poor boyfriend.  I don’t even know what he was thinking.

Ultimately, my blog is not a diet blog.  It’s a food blog.

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I love food.  Cooking and sharing what I make is just fun, so I want to keep it that way.

But all that said, I wanted to share my thoughts on my two week attempt at Paleo:

1. Paleo is just NOT for me. 

I think everyone’s body and metabolism is different and you need to find what works for you.  I was hungry all the time, unsatisfied, cranky and I had strange bowel issues (that I’ve NEVER had before) that I never talked about because that seemed like TMI.  If you haven’t found what works for you yet, then Paleo’s worth a try.  Even if you have found what works for you, sometimes trying something new (like Paleo) is a good reminder of that.

2.  Paleo was just too much meat for me. 

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When I say meat, I mean any animal protein (including chicken and fish, not just beef and pork).  I used to be vegetarian.  Even though I’m not anymore, I’m used to eating beans 3-4 times a week.  Honestly, I felt disgusting eating as much meat as I did during these past few days.  This is definitely not an environmentally-friendly diet.  I’m ready to eat beans.

3.  There are some things I’ll keep.

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I don’t think I’ll go back to putting milk in my coffee, and honestly I really enjoyed the paleo pancake and green smoothie breakfast.  I’ll probably keep that up instead of yogurt.  I felt great in the mornings after eating that, and I would stay full for a good while.  So there’s a plus!

4.  I didn’t lose weight, and that’s ok.

I think I didn’t lose weight because it wasn’t that drastically different from my previous diet, and I don’t have that much weight to lose.  I’m used to packing my lunch and cooking from scratch.  So that wasn’t that big a change.  The biggest change was the elimination of beans and tortillas (I don’t even buy bread or cereal).  I think if I wanted to have the drastic results that other people talk about on paleo, I would have had to eliminated fruit and nuts.  That means basically only eating meat and vegetables.  That’s limiting WAYYY too much.

5. I need to make dinner. 

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I used to just sort of snack for dinner, and that made me want sweets.  I realized that when I eat a full meal for dinner, I don’t want dessert as much.  Lesson learned: cook dinner, sit down and eat it!

6.  I can go without sugar for a week, no problem. 

I did it for 2 weeks just now.  I passed up cake at a wedding, didn’t eat chocolate chips, eliminated all added sugars, and I didn’t die!  I originally wanted to give this a try because I thought I ate too much sugar.  I think it’s totally feasible (and healthy) for me to stick to once a week treats.  I just proved to myself that I can do it for longer than a week.  I just need to stick to it.  Saying NO isn’t that hard.

7. I know my body. 

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As someone who has maintained a 50lb weight loss (fluctuated 10-15lbs over the years but managed to keep it off), I know what works for me.  Having everything in moderation keeps my happy, healthy and satisfied.  It encourages me to exercise more and not overeat.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eating bread, cheese, wine, cake, cookies.  You just shouldn’t be eating it everyday.  But like I said, that’s me and my body.  Paleo might work great for others.

8.  I’d rather not binge.

Last night, I had 4 and a half pieces of pizza, about 3 pieces of cake, and a bunch of flat bread with eggplant dip.  More than I need to eat in a day, and while I was happy to eat carbohydrates again, I didn’t feel good eating that much.  I can’t remember the last time  I had a binge like that.  I’d finally kept it under control and gotten by by practicing moderation.  Feeling deprived makes me binge.  If I had a totally normal relationship with food, then cutting out food groups probably would be fine.  But let’s be honest, I don’t. But that’s just me and my issues.

Overall, Paleo was a good experiment, but it just wasn’t for me.  I know what works for me.

I remember the first day I started a diet, over 10 years ago (funny the things we remember, right?), we had guests over that night.  My mom made something delicious that was totally NOT diet-friendly.  She said not to worry.  Have dinner with everyone and continue the diet tomorrow.

That’s the best advice I ever got. 

This weekend, my mom gave me a large pieces of cake that she brought from Guatemala. My aunt in Guatemala made it.  I don’t know how she does it, but I swear it’s the best cake on Earth.  I cut the large piece is half, put each piece in a ziploc bag and stuck them in the freezer.

The pieces are waiting for me for that moment when I really want it and it’ll taste best, not just when it’s there.

Cake in the freezer.  That’s what works for me.

Thanks for following me on my Paleo experiment.  It’s been fun (or something).

Now, back to normal blogging?

 

UPDATE: In case you’re curious… here’s an update on Life After the Paleo Challenge

30 Day Paleo Challenge: Day 13. It’s Just Food.

This morning, I woke up and did a St. Patrick’s Day themed 5k with some friends.

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It was nice, relaxed and fun.  At the end of the race, they passed out a bunch of snacks.  I’m not really sure what I was thinking but I grabbed a Kind bar, a Think Thin bar and a Gnu bar (all mini sample sizes), along with an apple and banana.  Those bars are totally NOT paleo.  But I figured I’d hold on to them for after the challenge.

So I came home after the race and had the usual green smoothie and paleo pancake breakfast.  That was all good and fine.  It was a cloudy day and I had no plans, so I curled up in my pajamas and watched Girls.

Around 1pm, I got hungry.  I looked in the fridge and there was a paleo meal waiting for me.

Left over pork chops and cauliflower and sweet potato fries.

I totally did NOT want to eat that.  I also didn’t want to leave the house to get a salad.  So instead, I ate the Kind bar, ThinkThin and Gnu samples. Then I had a spoonful of peanut butter with jelly.

Paleo Fail.

For a while, I felt bad about it.  But then I remembered.  It’s just food.  It’s NOT a big deal.  Some sample bars aren’t going to kill me.  Neither will some peanut butter and jelly.

For the sake of all female-kind, let’s remember, it’s just food.  No matter what our relationship to it is, it’s just food.  Eating the “wrong” thing shouldn’t make me feel bad.

So I’m over it.  I messed up.  Last night, I also had a few bites of Pad Thai.  Then I had a massive stomach ache.  Karma? No.

It’s just food. 

I probably ate the Paleo-friendly coconut soup too fast.  That’s it.

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Now I’m going to the mall to distract myself…

Do you feel guilty after a diet mess up?  Should we?  Thoughts?

30 Day Paleo Challenge: Day 11

Two nights ago, I made a super tasty dinner.  I’ll tell you about it because it was also day 11 lunch.

paleodinner2

Seriously, it was ready in about 15 minutes from start to finish, and I thought it was pretty tasty.

Pork Loin and Sauteed Vegetables

Few slices of pork loinMixed vegetables of choice*
Garlic powder
Salt
Pepper
Olive Oil

That’s all you need.  Season pork loin with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Heat some oil (about 1/4 a tbsp is good for 5 pieces) in a pan on medium/high heat.  Add pork.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side.  Set aside.

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Add vegetables to the same pan.  Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Sautee until tender.   Serve and enjoy!

*I used the asparagus stir fry mix from Trader Joe’s, but I won’t lie, while it’s convenient, the asparagus was really tough.  A lot of it was the tough ends that I would cut off on asparagus.  Half the time I felt like I was eating twigs and branches, so maybe steer clear of that?

Quick, easy and tasty.  And I always make too much for one person, so there were plenty of leftovers.

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Day 11 was an interesting day.  Apparently, March is the month of Karla trying new things, because  I went to Bikram Yoga for the first time.  My co-worker talked me into going with her, since they offer new students 2 weeks of unlimited classes for $20.  I figured why not?

So the studio is located in The Camp (if you’re an OC local), and it was interesting.  I’ll start by saying, the place is stinky, which is totally expected given the heat and sweat and warm bodies.  Definitively, not cute.  I had been having anxiety all day about it.  I thought for sure I would die.  But good news, guys!  I didn’t die!

In fact it was sort of fun.  I’m not sure I love it, but I’ll definitely have to give it another try, especially since I’ve got two weeks of classes.

I will say I came home with a pretty bad headache that lasted pretty much all night and an overwhelming desire to take a shower.  I don’t think I’ve ever been that sweaty in my life.  As a self-proclaimed “yoga hater,” I’ll say I definitely enjoyed it more than I disliked it.

After a much needed shower, I surprisingly wasn’t hungry!  Can you believe it?  So I decided to make a dinner that takes a while and it included sweet potato fries!

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Apparently I’m late to the game, but if you cook your sweet potato fries on a cooling rack (over a baking sheet that is) you get crispy, evenly baked fries!  Who knew?

So along with my tasty, crispy fries, I had cauliflower puree (because I’m OBSESSED) and some rotisserie chicken left over from Sunday.  Delicious.  Simple.  I swear the cauliflower puree was the tastiest thing on the plate!

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On nights like this, when I’m not starving and I have a tasty dinner, I might even like Paleo… That’s probably because it just feels like I’m eating normal food I like, not making myself eat one thing when I really want another.

Have you ever tried Bikram Yoga?  Love it? Hate it? 

30 Day Paleo Challenge: Days 9 & 10

So after my Monday freak out, I was ready to quit this challenge.  Thanks everyone for your supportive comments.  They were very encouraging and I truly appreciate it!

I decided to tough it out a little longer.  During the week, Paleo isn’t that hard.  I’m used to making my own lunch and bringing it to work, so that’s not anything new.  I used to bring salad, soups and beans a lot.  Now I’ve just replaced the beans with meat (which I’m not a huge fan of).

I think the challenge will remain the weekends.

On the hunger front, things have also been better.  This is potentially for 2 reasons:

1. I’m busy at work so I don’t think about food as much as I would on the weekends.

2. I’ve started packing enormous lunches that are guaranteed to keep me full.

Day 9 Lunch:

paleospaghettisquash

It looks small, but there is literally half of a spaghetti squash in that container, with spinach, marinara and two pieces of chicken.  Ordinarily I would consider that to be two meals, but now I eat it at once.  I’ve had this two days in a row and it has kept me pretty satisfied.

Later that night, I had dinner at my sister’s house.

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We had salad, sweet potatoes and tilapia.  I had a bit of non-paleo mayo (with the sweet potato).  Not the worst slip up on Earth.  I’ll survive.

Day 10:

I decided to switch it up.  Everyday I had been eating a Paleo Pancake with a green smoothie.  Today I had this:

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Bacon Avocado Egg Scramble

1 slice of bacon
1/4 avocado, dice
2 eggs

Cook bacon in a skillet until crispy.  Remove bacon from pan (once cooled, chop) and wipe off some of the bacon fat with a paper towel.  I think a lot of people would have kept the bacon fat but it just looked like too much to me.  In a bowl, beat 2 eggs.  Add eggs to pan with remaining bacon fat, add bacon and scramble.  Just before the eggs are done, add avocado and mix around.  Serve with coffee for a super breakfast or a great dinner.

This one is pretty easy to scale up.  You can add salt and pepper too.  I didn’t, but I won’t stop you from doing so.

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This was pretty tasty.  It was a great manly breakfast after my manly feeling crossfit workout (clean & jerk, 15-12-9!).   I won’t lie my black coffee was a little less enjoyable without my paleo pancake.

For lunch, I packed a mighty salad of lettuce, spinach, mini bell peppers, pickles, and avocado, along with a chicken breast.

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Again, I was full for a long time.  I’m glad the hunger levels are going down.   That makes it all a little more manageable.

Unfortunately, I am still pretty much always up for a cookie.

I’m starting to think that won’t ever change…