Monday, March 31, 2014

it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood...

I was playing around with Mike's Nikon today and got some cute pictures of the dogs.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

kale & parmesan egg drop soup

I love soup.  It's like a hug in a bowl. Lots of soups are easy to make, and if you can imagine it, you can probably turn it into a soup. And since apparently winter is NEVER leaving, I decided it was a soup kind of day.

Always the helper...
I had some kale in the fridge that I needed to use, and I found this recipe - I made a few changes, including adding some garlic powder (I was afraid fresh garlic would burn, which why I used garlic powder), and pesto (it just felt...right).

The only carbs in this come from the kale, which is about as good as it gets...kale is sooo wonderful for you!

Kale & Parmesan Egg Drop Soup
(Serves 6-8)

1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon pesto (optional)

Wash and dry the kale, then trim the leaves from the stem. You can save the stems to use in another recipe - chop it up as you would celery. Chop the kale into bite sized pieces; set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the kale, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted (about 3 minutes).

Increase the heat to high and add the broth and the measured amounts of salt, pepper and garlic powder, bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until kale has softened, but isn't mushy, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the eggs and cheese in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and whisk until combined; set aside.

Increase the heat to medium and slowly pour the egg mixture into the saucepan, stirring to combine. Return to a simmer, stirring occasionally to break up any large pieces of egg. Add pesto, stir. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

The facts: Calories: 136, fat: 9.6g, net carbs: 4g, protein: 10.1g

chocolate & peanut butter addiction

You guys, I am completely addicted to the combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  But really, who isn't?! They're made for each other. It's like...the Lucy and Ricky of food.

My original plan was to make some kind of keto-friendly buckeye. A decadent peanut butter ball covered in chocolate. So pretty much, heaven.

A few months ago, I was melting chocolate to use in a recipe, and when I added sugar free Torani syrup, the chocolate seized. Stupidly, I didn't make the connection that it was the sugar free syrup that caused the issue, until I did the same thing yesterday when attempting this recipe and it happened again. I had used the rest of my Baker's chocolate, so I needed to come up with a plan B!

I rolled the peanut butter balls in Hershey's Special Dark cocoa, ending up with super duper tasty peanut butter truffles!  These aren't crazy low carb (about 3g per truffle), but they're a nice treat.

Peanut Butter Truffles
(Makes about 20 truffles)

1 cup all natural peanut butter (check your carb counts!)
1 cup almond flour
1/2 cup Splenda (or equivalent sweetener)
2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder

Couldn't be easier: mix the peanut butter, almond flour, and Splenda in a medium sized mixing bowl.  It'll eventually turn into a texture similar to cookie dough.  Roll peanut butter mixture into 1-inch balls and set them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Put the cocoa powder in a small bowl, and individually drop each peanut butter ball into the cocoa, making sure it's evenly coated.  I put mine back on the cookie sheet and chilled them for a few hours, then transferred them to a plastic container for storage in the fridge.

While I do think I'll try these again with chocolate, I was definitely not disappointed by how these turned out!

The facts (for one truffle): Calories: 102, fat: 8.1g, net carbs: 3.2g, protein: 3.6g

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

summer bucket list

I'm kind of on a mission this summer to do EVERYTHING.  For the first time in a long time, I'm not in crazy pain (!!!), and I actually feel like being social, staying busy, doing things.  And, while this is our second summer back in Pittsburgh (we bought our house last May), we were so busy doing new-home-owner type things that we didn't get to spend a whole bunch of time doing fun stuff.  I want this summer to be different, man...

Heathy enjoying a walk in our backyard
A good friend had the super genius idea to check out the Farm to Table Pittsburgh conference last weekend.  It was a really interesting experience...lots of fresh thinking and yummy food.  What I most enjoyed was seeing MY generation take an active role in changing how our society eats and lives.  This brings me back to the point of this post - my summer bucket list, because the first two items were inspired by the conference.

Grow a garden.  I'm a total newbie, but I want to try it.  I used to be a professional plant killer, but something happened when we moved to this house, and I suddenly can keep plants alive.  More to come on that, I'm sure.

Spend a weekend away at Gateway Lodge.  This.  Place.  Looks.  Amaaaazing.  I think that's really all that needs to be said about that.

Begin exploring the Montour Trail.  We're lucky enough to have a pathway in our backyard leading up to the trail - I can't wait until it's warm enough to really explore!

Revisit Kavic Winery.  It's so close to us, and we had a really great experience there a few years ago.  The owner was so kind and enthusiastic about his winemaking - he took some time to give us a tour, which was unexpected and wonderful!  And of course, the wine was fantastic.

Keeping with the wine theme, I have a LOT of friends who would have a blast at Painting with a Twist in Robinson.  BYOB wine studio?!  Sign.  Me.  Up.

What's on your summer bucket list?

Monday, March 24, 2014

this week...

I cannot believe that temperatures are in the low 30s again.  It's just...cruel.

Spring has to come soon, right?  ...right?

In the meantime, here's my wish list for this supposed early spring week:

Inspired by Bath and Body Works new french lavender & honey fragrance, I must locate and acquire every lavender & honey scented item that has ever been created.  I'll start with this lavender & honey soap, from etsy shop owner RadientFettle, thank you very much.

I also am really looking forward to taking a few minutes to read the current issue of Table Magazine.  I really enjoyed the Farm to Table Pittsburgh conference this past weekend, where I picked up this free issue of the magazine.  Lots of fresh ideas and truly inspiring people!  It's so great to hear what types of awesome things are going on in Pittsburgh.  Follow Table Magazine and Farm to Table Pittsburgh on twitter!

One of my best friends recently introduced me to the absolutely insanely wonderful Gold Canyon Candles.  I'm serious...I'm an admitted candle snob, and these blew me away.  I'm super excited to pick out a few candles from Kendra's online shop.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

a few words on keto

I love eating a ketogenic diet.  I feel healthier, more rested, less achy...just, better.
  • I sleep waaaay better.  I am a horrible sleeper and I always have been.  At my worst, I was sleeping between 5-6 hours a night and would wake up at least 20 times a night (for real).  Now, I sleep 7-8 hours, wake up between 5-10 times, and feel rested in the morning.
  • I'm less achy.  My dogs go outside via the basement door - so within a minute of waking up, I'm walking downstairs to let them out.  Right before I started keto, my knees were so sore that the trek downstairs was difficult.  I'm 28, so that's just not cool.  I don't really have joint pain anymore, and my back pain is way less.
  • My mind is less of a disaster.  If you know me, you know that I'm constantly forgetting something.  My brain just seems to work better since I've started keto.  I'm less scatterbrained (I said LESS) and studying for exams is so much easier.
  • I've lost 30 pounds.  I think that one speaks for itself.
Having said all of those beautiful things, I'm clearly so not an expert.  I also suck at explaining things.  If you'd like to learn more about keto and how to get started, read this, and then read it again:

As far as specifics on how I eat, I try to stay around 20g of carbs a day, and most of my carbs come from vegetables.  I also eat between 1200-1400 calories a day, which is made possible thanks to my personal daily ratio of 72% fat, 23% protein, 5% carbs.  I keep track of all of this with MyFitnessPal, which also has an iPhone app (add me: anistarz).  I'm not a nutritionist, but I've done my own research.  Do yours, too, if this interests you!

My shopping list typically includes:
  • lots and lots of eggs
  • heavy cream
  • unsweetened coconut milk (I like Silk)
  • cottage cheese (not all that low carb, but still a good snack)
  • cream cheese
  • cheese of every kind, nationality, shape, size, color...yeah, cheese.
  • pepperoni, salami, prosciutto, etc., mmmm.
  • low carb wraps (I like Don Pancho brand)
  • bacon
  • sausage
  • canned tuna
  • chicken thighs, breasts, legs
  • beef roasts, steaks, ground 
  • fish
  • nuts (just be careful of carb counts, always double check!)
  • peanut butter
  • salsa (once again, check labels! Xochitl is great)
  • almond flour 
  • butter
  • coconut oil
  • super dark chocolate (80% cocoa and up!)
  • produce including: spinach, kale, broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, celery, snow peas, raspberries

low carb go-to meals

We all have favorite go-to meals and that are sometimes so simple they're hardly recipes, or dishes that you can make from memory because you make them so often.  Definitely helpful when you're trying to stick to a certain diet.  Here are some of my favorites...

    Keto Crepes

    2 oz. cream cheese
    2 eggs
    3 pumps sugar free vanilla Torani syrup (or equivalent sweetener)

    Blend ingredients until frothy.  Over medium-low heat, add a tablespoon of butter to a hot pan.  Once melted, add some batter to the pan (I make mine about the size of my fist).  After a minute or two, you'll see the edges begin to slightly brown and firm up - this is when you flip.  Cook for another minute or so until golden brown on both sides.

    I like to use a sugar free syrup with these, but I've been thinking about serving them with fresh raspberries...yum!  These are great to make ahead on a weekend and warm up during the week, too.

    The facts: Calories: 342, fat: 28g, net carbs: 3g, protein: 16g

    Coconut Milk Latte

    8 oz. unsweetened coconut milk (I use Silk)
    1 tablespoon heavy cream
    Double shot of espresso
    Any flavor sugar free syrup

    I've worked really hard to find the ingredients to make as close to a "normal" latte as possible.  I tried almond milk, flax seed milk (yuck!), I tried just drinking americanos...I needed my morning latte.  I stumbled upon Silk's unsweetened coconut milk, and with a little experimenting, came up with this formula.  I steam the heavy cream and coconut milk together.  Make sure you shake the coconut milk well prior to pouring it, or else it can get a little grainy.  

    The facts: Calories: 97, fat: 9.7g, net carbs: 1.4g, protein: .1g

    Holy Grail Pizza Crust (original recipe from Cooky's Creations)

    1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (a mixture of mozzarella and cheddar is best)
    1-2 Tbsp cream cheese
    3/4 cup plus or minus 1-2 Tbsp almond meal
    1 egg

    Place the cheese in a med bowl; microwave till melted. Let cool enough to handle with your hands, then add cream cheese, egg, and almond flour.  Mix with hands and form a ball - it'll be super sticky, so you can add a little more almond flour at a time.

    Set the dough aside.  I use my pizza stone to cook this, with parchment paper on top of it.  Spread the dough evenly and thinly on the parchment paper.  Broil for 5 minutes, until the crust is evenly brown.  Remove from the oven and carefully flip the pizza (I think the easiest way to do this is just use a second sheet of parchment paper to flip it onto) and broil for another five minutes.  Remove again, top with your favorite toppings, and broil once more until the cheese is melted and delicious looking!

    Serves 4.

    The facts (FOR CRUST ONLY): Calories: 294, fat: 23.7g, net carbs: 4.2g, protein: 18.2g

    Pound Cake (recipe from Linda's Low Carb Menus & Recipes)

    1/2 cup butter, softened 
    4 ounces cream cheese, softened 
    1 cup granular Splenda or equivalent liquid Splenda 
    5 eggs 
    1 teaspoon lemon or orange extract, optional 
    1-2 teaspoons vanilla 
    6 1/2 ounces almond flour (1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) 
    1 teaspoon baking powder 
    1/8 teaspoon salt 
    Lemon or orange zest, optional

    Beat the butter, cream cheese and Splenda with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and beat well. The mixture should look like thick cake batter. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake at 350ยบ 50-55 minutes. I suggest checking the cake after 40 minutes or so because mine was done in less than 45 minutes. The cake will be golden brown and firm to the touch when done.

    Makes 8 servings 

    The facts: Calories: 346, fat: 31g, net carbs: 6g, protein: 10g