SCRATCH:: Creative Cuisine: On Plan and On Budget

Before I begin, understand that I strive to eat very healthy.  Not just healthy, but low in fat, calories, blah blah blah.  It’s part of my Weight Watchers (WW) journey.  When I stick with it, I’m extremely successful.  I’ve lost 30 pounds sense this summer – when I started working at the YMCA again after my pretty harsh injury at the beginning of the year (which fueled the weight gain).  Now, I’m down to a size 10.  You want to lose weight reasonably and learn great lifestyle changes?  I highly recommend WW all the way.  I’ll take that to the grave.

I used to not be so into cooking.  I remember when I was living by myself (or married and by myself), I would make the most simple dinners.  A piece of frozen salmon with some steamed asparagus.  I knew just the right amount of couscous to make just for myself.  A lean cuisine (chicken Alfredo was my favorite for this one) with steamed broccoli mixed together in a bowl.  A frozen turkey burger with low fat cottage cheese and lettuce.  Boom.  Quick gourmet meals for the weight conscious.  These are not so bad, and I still have these in my back pocket.  But this all isn’t really “cooking”.  It’s just kind of heating something up.

Now, I love to cook.  I really enjoy cooking for my wonderful boyfriend.  I love making special dishes for us to share together.  Culinary is an art form that you can practice every day.  And it doesn’t have to kill your wallet or your waistline to make it happen.  Interested?  Then listen up…

I have so many of them…but here are some of my favorite dishes that I make (and when I make them)…from SCRATCH!

Salmon Smarty Pants (Tuesdays) – That’s what I call it.  Fresh salmon with a little olive oil, lemon and dill.  Serve with roasted asparagus and couscous.  So simple.

Prosciutto Wrapped Cod (Friday-Monday) – my new favorite white fish.  I sear it in a little olive oil and fresh minced garlic and then bake it in the oven.  Last night I served it with whole wheat pasta and sautéed baby spinach with lemon and caper sauce.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin or Chicken (Monday, Wednesday, Sunday) – make enough of it so that you have leftovers for lunch for your salad tomorrow and the day after.  Remember – no pork intake of any kind at least 2 days before weigh in (WI).

Shrimp Scampi (Friday) – Take uncooked shrimp and throw it in a pan with some EVOO and garlic.  Only cook for two minutes TOPS and just make sure they are pink on both sides.  Set aside shrimps.  Add in light butter (2 tbsp), fat free (FF) chicken broth and a splash of wine.  Make sure you use enough garlic to take out a vampire lair.  Once this breaks down, add back shrimps.  Don’t overcook.

Mussels (Friday) – I usually will get 5+ pounds of mussels from my local fish market.  They are already cleaned and de-bearded.  Just throw them in a big pot with water to steam.  Add others if you want.

There are two essential mussel dishes that I make: mussels marinara and mussels in cream sauce.  Before you are all like “OMG!  I thought this was a weight loss blog!” – wait for it…

With both of these dishes, I take most the mussels out of the shell and incorporate them right in the sauce.  I leave a few intact on the shell for fun and presentation.  The marinara dish is simple – minced garlic in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).  Throw it in some sauce (homemade or store brand), add your own Italian spices to make it yours.

The cream sauce is a little trickier, but it’s not that complicated.  Strain the broth from the mussels and set aside.  Using a food processer, whip up 1 part broth and one part fat free creamer (told you).  Add this into your skillet which already contains the meat from the mussels, maybe 2 tablespoons of light real butter, garlic already cooked in EVOO and a splash of white wine.  Holy shit, this is so good.  However, it’s not very heavy and it’s a very reasonable “hit” to take when eating and trying to lose weight.

Crock Pot Concoctions (Sunday) – I don’t use my crock pot that often.  This is a shame, I really should more often.  The last things that I made were turkey chili and lightened up beef stroganoff.  I wish there were more that I could think of.  But honestly?  I just don’t have time in the morning to put all this crap together.  And, I feel a little safety concerned keeping something cooking unsupervised in my house all day.  It’s silly, I know.  But this is coming from someone who was raised by a family who told her not to leave the house with laundry un attended.  SOMETHING COULD GO WRONG.  A PIPE COULD BURST.  THERE COULD BE  A FIRE.  See?  Yeah, crockpot unsupervised not going to happen.

These dishes that I mentioned can be reasonable on the wallet and you can make them for one two or more.  Just remember – if you got more it’s always going to cost you more coin.  That’s one of the many reasons why I don’t have children.  Good god.

My other random tidbits for you:

  • If you came looking for vegan or vegetarian dishes, sorry.  You absolutely came to the wrong girl.  I love all animals very much.  But they are so tasty and good for you.
  • Whole wheat pasta is available at your warehouse club stores.  Looks for other good starches like QUINOA. Good way to pinch a penny is by buying in bulk.
  • Don’t forget the veggies…for all the love that is holy.  And make sure they are green for god’s sakes.  I strive for 2 cups of veggies on my plate at dinner time.

    Make EXTRA so you will have some leftover.  Set aside and throw them in your eggs in the morning.  You don’t eat eggs in the morning??  Why, I ought to…  It takes about 5 minutes.  Throw them in a container to take with you.  Scramble up one egg and some egg whites from a store brand carton.  So tasty, good for you and will keep you full.

  • Stick with fresh veggies.  Again, warehouse stores are great as is Aldi’s when you can hit them up at the right time.  I’m not going to give you the “eat in season!” lecture because that’s lame.  I hate squash.
  • I always prioritize my portion control: starches (1 cup max.  Period.), sauces, then meats.  Veggies?  Have at it as long as they are bare.
  • Coupons for whole foods (like fresh produce and meats) do not exist.  They just don’t, so stop looking for them.  Coupons that are in style this season are for baking, brothing, frozen veggies, canned soups and cold medicines.  Stock up like it’s the zombie apocalypse.
  • I always keep extras of everything on hand: onion soup mix, canned soup, canned veggies, salsa, condiments.  Just in case.
  • Rice crispy treats and brownies are my quick go-to desserts.  I use sugar free apple sauce in the brownies instead of oil and light butter when making the rice crispy treats.  Get rice crispies while they are on sale and combine with a coupon.  Marshmellows at Aldis or warehouse club.  Same goes for brownies and apple sauce.  Every penny/point counts.
  • I re-use some of my zip-lock baggies.
  • Get a good tupperware set for food storage.  Store your weight loss cabbage soup in a big container right up front so you can just dump some in a bowl and eat with the satisfaction that you are getting in your veggies and will be full.
  • Most simplest way to steam fresh broccoli:  cut of the florets from the crown.  Throw it in a microwave container with a cover (does not have to seal).  Add about 1/2 cup of water.  Nuke for 5 minutes.  Done.
  • When a recipe calls for wine, I use mostly FF chicken broth and a splash of wine.  Saves on the wallet and waistline.
  • Go to a local fish market or get your fish on sale.  Get some poundage of fish.  Save one pound for tonight to cook.  Freeze the other.  Fresh fish frozen is still WAAAAAY better than just those frozen packages.
  • If you want to make a whole mess of food and freeze it for meals later – wow that’s a great idea!  Do yourself a kindness and label/date the stuff.  That way you are not pulling something out a year later going “huh??”
  • Chinese takeout.  Always start out with soup and get steamed with the sauce on the side.  Fried rice or something starchy?  Measure it.

    So, what’s cooking tonight?  ::C

Extreme Bead Shopping and Makeovers

Date: 09/01/2014
Time: 09:00 HOURS EST
Location: Dining room and kitchen

Him: “We need to go to the pet store today”
Me: “I know. Do you know where else there is a Pet Smart besides our neighborhood?”
Him: “…where?”
Me: “Crossgates Commons”

A little pause goes by…

Him: “You mean to tell me that you want to go to three different craft shops in three days??”
I just look at him wide eyed and flutter my lashes.
Him: “That’s craziness. You can’t do it – it’s never been done before.”
I’m still looking at him wide eyed.

He walks away mumbling “hooo my gaaad…”


Labor day is a pretty sad time of the year for me. It marks the end of my favorite season: summer. No more water parks. No more hanging out at the lake. People’s pools start to close. Amusement parks close down for the season. Ice cream places close down. It’s also a reminder that the season of death is going to be approaching soon. Which means that I will have to drive in crappy weather, shovel and scrape ice off my truck. What a bummer.

However, there is a sunny side to Labor Day weekend: the sales. Everyone and anyone is having a sale of some sort, and the local craft stores are no exception. My extreme beading has taken a very aggressive turn. My shipmment from BRC came in on Friday. We went to Joanne’s on Saturday night (where I saved about half of what I bought). We hit AC Moore on Sunday (again saved half). And today we will just see what Micheal’s has.

From my previous article, you can imagine that I manage to save as much money as I possibly can when I shop local. I even have my boyfriend buy stuff with the “one coupon per customer” promotions. Even with all that, they can be pretty expensive compared to what you can buy online. I currently have two favorite online stores that I will continue to shop at:

BRC Beads
Fire Mountain Gems

BRC beads actually had my shipment to me within a week, and it was free. Very impressive. Fire Mountain Gems will give you more discounts with the more you buy (naturally). However, the search features on this site are incredible and it’s worth the visit.

With all my different shopping, I craft items with beads that I have gotten from multiple sources. The agate from BRC and the glass from Joanne’s, along with those cute little spacers from Amazon. The different turquiose I got from AC Moore with some charms from that shop that I picked up when I was at Cape Cod. It’s makes it interesting, because every piece has it’s own interesting story. My peices are not just “made out for the masses”. They are all made with careful consideration and have a story on where they came from.

We also hit up home depot and bought some shelves to add to my studio. Now it looks really nice and I have lots of space. Nothing like a makeover in your creative area.

My Crafting Studio

Happy Beading! ::C