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.
Although I did make a few new recipes over the past few weeks, this time was really about making some staple SparkRecipes my own. For instance, Stepfanie’s Oatmeal Mix (page 79) has become my standard breakfast of choice. Since I initially made it, I have prepared dozens of batches and have weaned myself down from 1/2 tsp. of brown sugar to just a pinch. Some people might wonder how I can eat the same breakfast every day. Do I get bored with it? No way! I am very much a creature of habit; plus, there are lots of ways to mix up this simple breakfast. I have been using different dried fruits instead of the cranberries, like dried cherries, a dried mixed berry blend, raisins, and dried blueberries. These are all delicious and add minimal changes to the calorie count of the original recipe. I have also been making the same adaptations to the Nutty Fruity Granola (page 87) as well as playing around with some different nuts. Making these small changes is similar to the experience of enjoying all the different flavors available in your favorite brand of cereal.
In my adventurous state, I also played around with the Sweet and Spicy Pecans (page 335). I used almonds in place of the pecans and they were a delicious substitution, but took a touch longer in the oven because of their density. I knew they were done when I started smelling that delicious, toasty aroma! I also decided to add some walnuts to the Banana Honey Cake (page 354). This made it taste very much like banana bread, so much so that I think I'll make it in a loaf pan next time.
I have really been enjoying so many of these recipes and have a general rule: the first time I make a recipe, I follow it exactly as it is. As I enjoy the fruits of my labor, I try to imagine what other flavors may go well with the recipe and then make a note of those to add in the next time I make the dish. I have loved these recipes and am not saying that they need to be changed. All I'm saying is that everyone’s taste buds are different, and in creating my own variations it is really helping me to enjoy cooking, learn about more foods and to stop eating boxed, chemical-laden foods. After all, that was why I started on my SparkRecipe journey.
I also know I'm getting more skilled in the kitchen since I only had one minor cooking mishap this time around: a fairly nasty burn to my forearm. I did this when flipping my Banana Honey Cake (with walnuts) out of the pan. I used a stoneware pan, which continued cooking the cake since stoneware retains heat for such a long time. A little ointment and some bandages, and I am good as new.
As far as new recipes go, I made Blueberry Flaxseed Muffins, Lower Count of Monte Cristo Sandwich, Chicken Vegetable Quesadillas with Ranch Yogurt Sauce, Baked Chicken Tenders, Slimmer Sloppy Joes, Ranch Seasoning Blend, and Spicy Yogurt Sauce.
I made the Lower Count of Monte Cristo Sandwiches (page 134) for supper one night and they are very filling. I think if I made one for lunch, I would only have half a sandwich with some soup, salad or veggies on the side. My only difficulty was that my frying pan was not large enough, which made it difficult to cook 4 pieces of bread at a time for the two sandwiches. Once I got the bread cooked and the sandwiches were put together, they both fit in the pan very well. To get the cheese nice and melty, I recommend putting the lid over your frying pan. Only do this for a minute or two, as you don't want the bread to get soggy.
I prepared the Chicken Vegetable Quesadillas with Ranch Yogurt Sauce (page 135) and used the Ranch Seasoning Blend (page 367). The seasoning blend smells amazing and I like the fact that it is just herbs and powders—there aren't any unpronounceable words that sound like some sort of fuel for your car, just honest ingredients. I'm going to try this as a salad dressing next time I make it. The quesadillas were very yummy and made a filling meal. I used leftover cooked chicken breasts rather than using the marinade in the recipe, so I am looking forward to making them again to see how the taste differs. This was a great way to use up leftovers; I wish I had thought to do this months ago to spice up leftover holiday turkey!
I cooked the Baked Chicken Tenders (page 194) and Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic Herb Oil (page 316), which I have previously made and reviewed, and used the Spicy Yogurt Sauce (page 380) as a dipping sauce for the chicken. The yogurt sauce was not as spicy as I thought it would be, but I have been told that I have a high tolerance for spicy foods. The sweetness of the peach preserves accentuates the spice instead of making it hotter. A fair warning, though: keep the juices and seeds from the peppers away from any paper cuts!
The potatoes were delicious; this recipe is one of my favorites. I can't wait to wrap them in foil and cook them on the barbecue this summer. The chicken tenders were also really good and very crispy. I did like the Pecan Chicken with Maple Citrus Sauce (page 189) better; I think that they were a more sophisticated chicken finger. I know that I recommended them as a kid-friendly option, but I think that the Baked Chicken Tenders may be an even better solution for the little ones.
Slimmer Sloppy Joes (page 221) are also a hit with kids. These were great and once again, in SparkRecipe style, very filling. One serving on a bun and an added vegetable or salad on the side is all you will need. The leftovers tasted great, too. For only using ½ a pound of meat, the recipe yields four hearty servings, so it's economical as well.
Lately, I have been trying to eat well-balanced snacks. Previously, I was mostly snacking on carbs. Although nutritious and made with whole grains, I found that if I added anything else to my carb-focused snack, I would go over my allotted calorie amount for the day. So I made some of the Blueberry Flaxseed Muffins (page 100). These muffins are so moist and a very nice snack. I cut them in half and had one half for my morning snack and the other half in the afternoon. Then I paired it up with some yogurt, a piece of cheese, a piece of fruit or some nuts to get more than one food group into my snacks. I find that doing this makes the snacks more satisfying. I must admit though, you do have to have a little will power to only eat half a muffin at a time. That is why preplanning and prepacking is such a good idea.
Remember, it doesn’t hurt to play around with your recipes to make them suit your taste preferences. The SparkRecipe calculator makes doing this and properly tracking it a breeze. Until next time, eat well and have fun!
Do you add your own flavor to recipes, or do you go strictly by the book?
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