Shannon Adds Her Own Flavor to Recipe Favorites

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.

Posted 3/14/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 25 comments   19,849 views

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Shannon Explores Food Pairings-- with Delicious Results!

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.

What is with this time of year?  I’ve talked to several people and it seems that appetites are increasing and motivations are waning.  I’d love to be able to say that I am immune to this, but sadly I have been feeling the same way.  Is it the weather?  Maybe it is the lack of sun in a colder climate or the availability of fresh, local produce.  Whatever it is, I need to snap out of it.  I am happy that now I am cooking healthier I am able to eat more to stay within my calorie range, so that is helping.

Warm and Spicy Banana Waffles, Chicken Creole, Pecan Chicken with Maple Citrus Sauce, Turkey Meatballs, Maple-Glazed Roasted Salmon, Weeknight Spaghetti, Wild Rice with Roasted Shallots and Garlic, Roasted Red Potatoes with Garlic Herb Oil, and Banana Honey Cake all made it onto our plates as of late.  I feel like I am eating like royalty. The first couple of weeks I started cooking real food I thought that it was going to be expensive.  That was mostly due to not having a lot of the base ingredients on hand.  Now I actually think I am saving money.  Buying those initial ingredients may have added to a few grocery bills but once you have them on hand they do several meals, unlike boxed meals which are a onetime shot. 

Also, I find so many of these meals are so hearty that you only need one serving to be full, so it usually does my husband and I for two meals.  As a result, I am actually cooking less.  As I mentioned before, my husband and I take turns cooking, so when you add up those times when we cook something hearty enough that there are leftovers I sometimes end up cooking only twice a week.  I don’t know about any of you, but that fits quite well into my schedule.  If timed right, I usually end up cooking on Wednesdays, my day off from work, and once on the weekend when I have more time. 

The first thing I made this time was the Banana Honey Cake (page 354).  I wanted to satisfy a sweet tooth (another plight of the season)! It was so simple to make and worth it, too. 

Posted 2/20/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 29 comments   18,398 views

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Shannon Cooked 7 More Recipes--and Broke Her Plateau

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.

I’d love to be able to say that I made as many recipes as last time, but life got busy again.  Work and a major research paper for school took up a lot of my time.  I did however cook seven recipes and am proud to say we didn’t eat one boxed meal this time around.  There are still a few in the cupboard so I know that I will eventually use them but I am trying to outlast my husband.  I am hoping that he breaks down and makes one before I do.  For today’s blog I made Nutty Fruity Granola, Egg-White Omelets with Spinach and Mushrooms, Spinach Salad with Cherries and Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Lemon Chicken with Spinach Pasta, Roasted Root Vegetables, Herbed Mushrooms with Bacon, and Sweet and Spicy Pecans.  I noticed that I had a spinach theme going on, but that’s OK. I’m getting to that tipping point where I am learning to love and even crave veggies and spinach is one of my favorites.  Raw, cooked, it doesn’t matter!

I love spinach and it is working.  I am happy to say that since the new year I have broken through that plateau of 200.  I have lost 3 more pounds for a running total of 73 pounds.  Only 17 more pounds to go until I am at my goal!  I am excited and oddly nervous about reaching my goal but am confident that day will come.    
Well, back to cooking... 

Posted 2/7/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 49 comments   30,047 views

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Shannon Cooked 11 More Recipes from 'The SparkPeople Cookbook'

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.
I am so amazed and humbled by all the terrific comments I have been receiving.  You all are so wonderful, supportive and kind.  Writing this blog series has been so inspiring and motivating.  Thank you all.

I have been cooking up a storm.  Since my last blog, I have prepared the Mushroom-Cheese Frittata (it was supposed to be the Tomato-Cheese Frittata until I realized I forgot to buy feta), Baby Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Toasted Almonds (I actually made it twice), Crunchy Chicken Salad,  Bluegrass Jambalaya, Chicken Breasts with Red-Wine Sauce, Quinoa-Flaxseed Pizza Dough, Multigrain Rolls, Lemon Berry Tartlets, Dark Chocolate Angel Food Cake with Rich Chocolate Glaze, Italian Herb Seasoning and finally the Creole Spice Blend.  I’ve spent more time in my kitchen lately than on the couch and that alone feels good. 

The Mushroom-Cheese Frittata (page 91) was a snap to cook and only took minutes to make.  The only issue I had in making this was my skillet.  I used my cast-iron frying pan so I could go from stove top to oven, but it was a little too big so the egg mixture was spread pretty thin.  As a result, I did not get a quite as nice of a puff as the frittata picture shows.  But I am happy to say that it did not affect the taste one bit.  To be honest, before I tried it, I thought it was going to be pretty plain.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The pepper really brought some zip and went very well with the leeks (which I had never had).  When I make this again I will either do a double batch in my frying pan or transfer it to a pie plate before putting in it the oven. 

Posted 1/18/2012  6:00:00 PM By:   : 28 comments   19,897 views

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Learning to Cook, One 'SparkPeople Cookbook' Recipe at a Time

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.
I am back and still well-fed.  There were no major disasters, a few minor ones but all is well.  The first thing I would like to say is Meg is right: real food tastes good.  I have found myself fuller, less thirsty (due to lower salt intake) and satisfied.  And that is just from changing out a few recipes in a couple of weeks.  I am not going to pretend to be perfect and say that I did not rely on the old dinner in a box once or twice.  If it’s bought and paid for, it’s not going to waste.  Plus it gives you some real perspective after having healthier foods.  You can really start to taste the salt and other chemicals in the boxed meals.
I would like to start off this week by talking about the first few chapters of the cookbook.  Chapters in a cookbook?  Yes!  The cookbook starts off with an introduction, a little SparkPeople history and inspiration from people who have been here.  Then on to more good stuff: meeting Meg and the reasons behind the cookbook.  The reading was very informative talking about the sciences behind food, hunger and satisfaction.    No healthy cookbook would be complete without some healthful tips on portion sizes and some nutritional guidelines.  I found this part very nice to read, informative without being preachy and judgemental. 
Chapter 3 – The New Healthy Kitchen is the most important part for a beginner cook, such as myself. It is full of cooking methods and tips, some of which I had never heard of before.  Now I have a handy reference to go to when a recipe tells me to sweat my onions, garlic and peppers.  Then onto the tools, most of which people, including myself, already have (I have one item to add to the list: mixing bowls). 
Now it’s time for ingredients and the must-have pantry staples (nothing I couldn’t find at the supermarket, and nothing too expensive!).  This is where I had to do a little more shopping, being a from-the-box eater.  I can’t wait to put some of these ingredients to use.
The last section they included before the recipe chapters is devoted to motivation: inspirational stories from real people, how they added healthy eating into their lives and the amazing results they achieved.  In regular “Spark-tacular” style, they have really captured the essence of why so many of us are on the website and purchasing the cookbook.  These are real people who were motivated to change and now their stories can be your motivation to start on your own journey.
Part II is called Get Cooking and that’s exactly what I did.  The first thing that I made was a breakfast recipe.  Previously I would eat a honey-based oat cereal cut with some bran cereal to bring down the syrupy sweetness of it and give me some fiber.  Now I must say I am hooked on Stepfanie’s Oatmeal Mix (page 79).  In fact I am going to have to prep my next batch.  This is where a mixing bowl is crucial, a large one for this recipe.  Mixing it out was super simple, even simpler if you bought pre-ground flax and pre-chopped walnuts.  Stir it up (you can tell when it is fairly well-mixed by the colouration of the cinnamon throughout), portion it out, and you're ready to eat.  The only other tool you need for this recipe is a large spoon or ladle to aid in getting it from the mixing bowl to your fridge storage system, which can be as simple as a plastic zipper bag. 
Each morning before work, I just scoop out my portion, add boiled water from the kettle, and then go pack my snacks for work.  By the time I am done I have a hot and ready breakfast.  I preferred adding a little less than the suggested 3/4 cup of water because I like my oats a little thicker.  The taste and texture are wonderful.  The only thing I did find I wanted with this recipe was a little sweetness.  The dried cranberries do add some, but by adding just 1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar (unpacked) it brought out some sweetness and really accentuated the flavour of the walnuts.  That portion of brown sugar adds only 6 calories.  This recipe is a keeper and has become a staple in my house already.  Experiment a little on your thickness preferences and maybe a little sweetness if you are so inclined.  Just remember if you add it, track it. 
My next recipe was a little more difficult. 

Posted 1/4/2012  2:00:00 PM By:   : 43 comments   16,581 views

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Shannon Can't Cook, But That's Changing, Thanks to 'The SparkPeople Cookbook'

Editor's Note: Shannon (DARSHAN130) recently reached out to me with an idea for a new blog series.

She suggested "a review of 'The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight' from a member. Kind of a 'Julie and Julia' kind of thing where someone with lackluster cooking skills goes through the cookbook from front to back making all the recipes and blog about their experiences along the way. I am awaiting my cookbook to come in the mail and can't wait to start cooking."

I loved the idea, and Shannon's blog series starts today. She won't be sharing every recipe, but instead she will be sharing some highlights from her journey to a healthier self--and a better cook! Take it away, Shannon!
I would like to start by telling everyone a little bit about myself. I have been married to my lovely husband, D, for over 15 years.  I love to read, garden, and spend summers at the lake or in my backyard oasis in the city.  We spend as much time with family and friends as possible and have two large dogs that complete our immediate family.  I work full time, attend school and share in the household responsibilities.  I am quite proud of what I can accomplish some days, while others I wish I could get more done.  In general, I would say that I am in a good place right now. 

However, that was not always the case.  About two years ago I was depressed.  I felt alone despite being surrounded by loving people.  I was unhappy with myself, my looks, my career and my weight.  Being in such a miserable place, unhappy with my life I was not sure what direction to head.  It was then that a co-worker introduced me to SparkPeople.  I have been hooked ever since.   

And so my journey began. 

When I started SparkPeople I was 270 pounds, morbidly obese and in deep denial.  I didn’t think I was that big. After all, I am “big-boned” and 6 feet tall. (And I gave any other reason I could come up for excusing my size.)  It wasn’t until I saw pictures of myself at my brother’s wedding that I realized how big I actually was.  Was that me in the picture? 
No way, the camera adds 10 pounds (more excuses).  Well, I must have had a lot of cameras on me that day because I not only looked big, I was big.  I started interacting on SparkPeople, reading articles and inspirational stories.

I realized that these are real people, and if they can do this, why can’t I?  I found and still find the site infectious--even addictive.  The positive attitudes, the fact that people don’t put each other down, and the encouragement make it simply an amazing place to be.  It took me a little bit of exploration and courage before I started to take steps toward my healthy lifestyle, but I am sure glad that I did.  In the last year and a half I have lost 70 pounds.  When I started I was a size 24 and now I can wear a size 14.  All through portion control, getting active and improving my outlook on life.  I credit SparkPeople with it all.  I do still have some more weight to lose and would like to break the 200-pound mark.  My goal weight is 180 pounds, which would put me into my healthy weight range for my height and age.  It also would put me at a smaller size than I was in high school. 

In the past year I have changed so much physically and emotionally that people I have known and had worked with for years don’t even recognize me. 
Once they realize it’s me they cannot believe the transformation and say that there is a light in my eyes they had never seen before. 

Despite all of my SparkPeople success I have one problem I am still trying to overcome and it is about time that I face it. 


Posted 12/14/2011  10:00:00 AM By:   : 23 comments   12,241 views

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