Meatball Week

This has been the week of meatballs.  Meatballs are so awesome.  They are little bite-sized morsels of spiced deliciousness.

Last night I made Beef Liver and Onion Meatballs again.  I think I’ve written about this recipe before.  Liver is tough for some people to eat, but it’s chock full of goodness and is fairly cheap for grass-fed meat.  Tim and I both like the taste of liver, but often it has stringy bits running through it which make it difficult to eat.  This recipe overcomes that drawback – you grind up the liver in a food processor!   Because I am efficient (aka lazy), I toss the liver in the food processor along with the onions and spices from our herb garden (dill, oregano, and basil).  I mix it all up for a few minutes and then add it to the ground beef.  The meatballs turned out delicious.  I made them with the tried and true Sweet Potato Salad.  I kicked it up a notch with fresh dill from the garden and chopped, cooked bacon.  It was so tasty.

Tonight we went out to Lake G for an open-water swim (Tim is considering doing another triathlon this summer).  I did a few test runs in the water; I was too scared to swim out in the middle of lake without a wetsuit.  Plus, in my defense, I ran 4.5 miles this morning and did 8 15 second sprints.  My legs were beat!  Anyway, after the swim we were pretty whooped.  We came home and sauteed broccoli with cauliflower, and I made Asian Pork Meatballs with Dipping Sauce.  We ate it with the leftover sweet potato salad and slices of avocado.  Not to toot my own horn, but it was a delicious supper.  I was super proud of myself too for planning my recipes so that I used ALL of my homemade mayo.  I love homemade mayo, but it only lasts for 3 days, so I always end up tossing some of it.  It’s too expensive and too tasty to waste.  

And that’s meatball week.  We’ll have leftover meatballs for breakfast and lunch tomorrow.  I sauteed chopped up beef & liver meatballs this morning in grass-fed butter with red peppers and zucchini.  It was delicious and kept me really full and satiated until I got to work and succumbed to a cherry donut.  So tasty and so bad.  I had rot gut immediately after consuming it, but I’m pretty sure it was worth it.

Tomorrow is Friday!  And Payday!  I hope you all have a fantastic, productive, in-the-moment day.  

Fantastic Bruschetta Chicken Recipe

I ran across this Bruschetta Chicken with Zucchini Pasta recipe last week and HAD to try it as it features one of the 4 herbs I have in my herb garden – BASIL!  My basil is growing fantastically, as is my oregano (it came back from last year – thanks Diane!).  The dill is doing pretty well too.  The parsley is not producing as much as I want to eat, but it’s persevering.  The cilantro is dead and buried.  RIP cilantro.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  I wish I would have thought ahead and made up the bruschetta and marinade yesterday.  As it was, I made everything when I got home from work last night and let the works sit for about an hour.  I made a few alterations to the recipe – Tim does not like balsamic vinegar, which is a pretty integral ingredient in bruschetta, so I went light on that.  Also, I had no walnut oil, so I used olive oil.  I also smashed the chicken breasts in a plastic baggie, so that they were nice and flat and would cook evenly, then I added the marinade to the baggie and rubbed it all over the breasts (wink wink).  I also forgot to buy a lemon, so  I used 1 T of lemon juice instead of the juice and zest from one lemon.  They turned out SUPER delicious.

I used my mandoline to create the zucchini noodles and to shave a little bit of flesh off the tops of my fingers.  I can’t figure out how to the use the little tool that is supposed to prevent you from shaving off the tips of your fingers.  It mystifies Tim and me utterly.

The combination of the parts – sauteed zucchini noodles, grilled & marinated chicken breasts, and garlicky, basily bruschetta – turned out fantastic.  This was a perfect summertime supper.  We will definitely make this again!  I can’t wait until my coworkers’ gardens explode with zucchini, so I can have it for free instead of paying $1/zucchini at the farmer’s market from some douchebaggy farmer who complains about how people hand him cash (not all perfectly sorted and straightened out).  I love having produce from the FM, but I hate buying it there.  Too many people, dogs, strollers, and sun. It’s so hot and crowded.

Tonight I’m making beef & liver meatballs, accompanied by sweet potato salad.  It’s going to be deeeeelicious.

Lessons Learned from my First Triathlon

It’s only been a week, but it feels like it was ages ago that Tim and I participated in the Quad Cities Triathlon. It was Tim’s second go at it (he shaved 12 minutes off his time!) and my first try at my first tri.  My only regret after it is all over is that it is all over.  It was a really fantastic experience.  Here are my reflections and comments on the experience, for those of you who are contemplating participating in a triathlon.

I’ve never been a strong swimmer.  When I was little I had a traumatic experience in my grandpa’s pool. One of my uncles took my cousin and I for a ride around the deep end of the pool and then set us back down on the edge of the shallow end.  I slipped back into the deep end, and after swallowing gallons of water, found some legs attached to some arms to pull me up. Ever since then, I’ve been wary of the water.  I failed Beginners Swimming at least twice, and I get panicky if I can’t get my chest above water.  Sooooo, I was SUPER worried about the swimming portion of the triathlon.  But my husband and brother both had such a great experience in 2012, that I really wanted to participate in 2013.  So Tim and I joined a local gym with a pool, and I started hitting the pool at 6AM a few days a week.  When I first started swimming, I couldn’t even force myself to put my face in the water to swim.  I swam with my head out of the water, which is exhausting as it forces the back half of your body into an angled position, creating TONS of drag.  Eventually I worked up to putting my face in the water and swimming like a normal(ish) person.  I was still SUPER slow.  It took me at least 30 minutes to do the 600 yard tri distance.

Things started to turn around when a friend of mine sent me the Total Immersion swimming book.  The book teaches you how to torpedo through the water by making your body long and lean and floaty.  The book really made sense to me, and by applying its principles, I was able to swim more gracefully.  I even experienced some flow moments while swimming and started to enjoy being in the pool (once I got past the horrible initial shock of getting in the freezing cold 84 degree water :)).  However, I still was not fast, so I decided to take some swimming lessons.  It was not a good decision in retrospect.  Much of what the instructor taught me ran counter to what I learned in Total Immersion.  My swimming worsened, and I became more exhausted with each practice.  I finally ended up skipping my last lesson and bought the DVD that goes with the Total Immersion book.  I watched a couple of lessons and was right back to where I was before the confusing swimming lessons.

Once I had swimming kind of under control, I felt much more secure about the tri.  However, I was very concerned about the water temp on the day of the race.  Tim and I swam in an outdoor pool in Austin on a 69 degree day back in March.  The water temp was 70 degrees.  It was horrible.  I couldn’t breathe, my fingers and toes turned white and blue, and I got severe stomach cramps.  The lake in which the triathlon swim is held was forecasted to be 64 degrees the day of the race.  Based on advice on the QC Triathlon Facebook group, I decided to rent a wet suit.  Best decision ever. But before I get to that, let me talk about the rest of our training regimen.

Up until the first time I did a bike/run brick, I assumed this portion of the tri would be easy peasy.  After our first practice brick, however, I realized that I was a fool.  Running 3.1 miles after biking 15 miles SUCKS.  Big ones.  It’s exhausting and your legs feel really weird.  Oddly enough, however, you actually end up running faster because your legs are already primed from biking.  We did one swim/bike brick (which was actually pretty easy), and two bike/run bricks.  The first one was exhausting.  The second one was more manageable even though we did the run portion on an off-road course in Bettendorf. Part of the tri run goes over grass, so we wanted to prepare for the bumpier terrain.  Tim and I ran it together, side-by-side, which is unusual for us.  Tim is a much faster runner.  But running together was fun and helped keep us both motivated.

So, after our third brick, we were feeling pretty secure.  But we wanted to do an open water swim.  The tri race director was emphatically encouraging every one to get out in open water and swim before the triathlon.  Tim seconded this encouragement, based on his experiences from last year.  The first time he hit open water was during the actual event, and for him and my brother and our friend, the experience was VERY unsettling and anxiety-producing.  So Tim and I headed out to a local lake to practice.  We ran into some other triathlon entrants who were also practicing.  They slipped into the water and swam the 600 yards as if it was nothing.  In fact, they swam it at least 2 if not 3 times while we were there!  Unbeknownst to us, they were triathlon royalty!  At least 2 of the swimmers training that day walked away with awards the  day of the triathlon.  Anyway, after they entered the water, Tim and I ventured in.  Much like the day in Austin, whenever I put my face in the water, I started to hyperventilate.  I was hoping it would subside as I got used to the water, so we started across the lake.  Even though I was in a wetsuit and knew the possibility of me drowning was very remote, I was on the verge of a panic attack the entire time.  I spent most of the time doggy paddling or back floating – any time a wave hit my head, I started to hyperventilate again.  By the time we got back to shore I was on the brink of withdrawing from the tri, convinced that I wouldn’t be able to complete the swim portion.

However, once we got out of the water, and I got back home and reflected on all my practice, and read all the blog posts from other swimmers who felt the exact same way the first time they swam in open water, I decided I would have to just practice some more.  The next day we went back to the lake, and I swam the distance, totally fine and calm.  I just had to get my mind under control.  Fear is the mind killer, you know.

The day of the triathlon all went remarkably well.  When I first entered the water, the dreaded hyperventilating started again, but I was able to quickly get it under control.
“Heather – You don’t have time for this.  You are OK.  There are 20 people out here who will jump in and save you if you flounder.  You cannot go back to work on Monday and tell people you chickened out.  Just swim.”  And I did.  I finished the swim section in about 15 minutes – 1/2 the time it took me to swim that distance 6 months ago.

After getting out of the lake, I was greeted by my brother and his girlfriend, who got out of bed at 6AM on  a Saturday to come cheer us on.  Their faces and cheers gave me energy as I ran up the hill to the transition area, pulling down my wetsuit as I ran.  I went to my primo transition spot, pulled off the wetsuit (quick side note – everyone talks about how hard wet suits are to get on and off, but I had no problems!!  To get it on, I put a plastic bag over my foot as I slid it in the suit, and the suit went on easy peasy.  It pulled right off after the swim too).  I pulled on my biking jersey (pre-stuffed with GU chomps), tugged on my shoes and tightened the lock laces, and jogged my bike to the starting area. I hopped on and started peddling.  The biking portion went fine – the clouds were beautiful, the fields were green, the volunteers helpful and encouraging.  Tim had switched out my clip-in pedals for regular pedals with cages.  I do enjoy biking with the clip-in pedals, but I didn’t wanted to take time to change shoes between the bike/run portion.  The only mishap during the biking portion was when I entered the transition area and thought the volunteer was reaching out to me to give me a high five, which I of course reciprocated, but he was actually just directing me to go to his left.  Embarrassing.  🙂

Once back to my transition area, my addled brain could not figure out what gear I needed for the run!  I took off my shirt, then remembered to take off my helmet, then started jogging out only to remember that I needed to put on my race number.  Finally I was all in order, so I jogged out to the run area.  Of course, the bastard run starts out with a jog UPHILL on BUMPY GROUND.  That sucked, but once my legs got their rhythm, I was fine.  I tried to chat with people as I ran, but only a few really responded.  It was a focused crowd, I guess.  All-in-all the run went pretty well.  I’m not a fast runner, and I didn’t push myself to go fast during the race either.  My goal was not to get an amazing time, but to finish and to not pass out.  I met my goal!  I completed the tri in about 1 hour 45 minutes, which made me exceedingly happy.

After the tri, we stuck around for the awards, then went home and showered, and then went out for beer and deeeeelicious ribs.  We ate pretty much all day. I was craving sugar something fierce, to the point that I ate a couple of handfuls of ancient Good & Plentys at my parents’ house.  I didn’t actually get full until the next morning at breakfast.  After the tri Tim and I were both exhausted.  I haven’t been that tired since I was a kid, I bet.  But by Sunday were were feeling almost back to normal!  We didn’t exercise for 3-4 days afterwards, to give our bodies a break, but that was tough.  I was glad to start running and biking again this weekend.  It feels unnatural to not exercise anymore.

But, now the event is over, and I’m rather sad.  It was fun and motivating to have a goal to train for.  We are considering doing another triathlon later this summer, and we’re probably going to do the Bix (a 7 mile run here in Davenport) in July.  We’ll see.  We did a 30 mile bike ride yesterday (and I have an intense sunburn to show for it) and a 4.5 mile run today.  Tomorrow I think I’ll head back to the pool, less I start to regress.  Time to get our rears in gear again!

Homemade Gourmet Tomato Soup

I’ve always loved tomato soup.  When we were kids my mom would can tomatoes and then  we would dump a jar of them in a pot, add a bunch of butter, and that would be some deeeeelicious tomato soup.  I also like the tomato soup that you get at nice Italian restaurants – where the tomatoes are pureed with olive oil and delicious seasonings, and the soup is the perfect color of red.  I don’t why, but I always assumed it was difficult to make.   It looks so fancy. Today I found out differently.

I tried this recipe:  Tomato Soup with Spicy Mini Meatballs.  The soup itself was pretty easy to make, and best of all, I was able to finally utilize my herb garden!  I used fresh parsley, basil and oregano.  Those spices were combined with olive oil, garlic, canned tomatoes, water,  and salt.  The concoction simmered for 30 minutes, and then I dumped it into our Vitamix blender (I will have to do a separate post on this amazing machine some day).  Out came perfectly silky, tasty, beautiful tomato soup.

Once that was complete, I set to work on the spicy mini meatballs. Making the meatball batter was a pretty simple feat, but making the mini meatballs was a huge PITA.  They are supposed to be teaspoon size.  TEASPOON!!  It took forever.  I only cooked half up them and then froze the rest.  I have to say, they were worth the trouble. Very very delicious.

Tim and I both loved this soup.  Next time, however, I need to double or quadruple the batch.  We only got 2 large bowls out of this recipe.  Also, if you make the recipe, note that the ingredient list for the meatballs is missing garlic.  It’s referenced in the instructions but not listed in the ingredients.  I added 2 gloves of chopped garlic to my balls.

Now that the triathlon is over, I need to get back in the habit of cooking more and writing more.  That is, unless we do another triathlon.  Which we are seriously considering.  I probably should have just BOUGHT my wet suit instead of renting one.  Triathlons are expensive.  But Tim and I had a great time participating in the QC Triathlon last weekend. I want to do it again 🙂  I can’t believe it, but I actually enjoy swimming now.  I haven’t been swimming since last Saturday, and I miss it.  This is probably an egotistical thing to say, but I’m super proud of myself for facing and overcoming my fear of the water and of swimming.  Yay Heather!  I read a quote somewhere that says you should never compare yourself to someone else.  You should only compare yourself to who you were yesterday.  I feel like I’m a much stronger person physically and emotionally today than I was 6 months ago, and that makes me happy.

Hopefully I will have more recipe reviews to share soon!  Take care and good night.

Lots of New Recipes!

School was officially over on May 10th, so I’ve finally had time to start trying some new recipes.

Primal Beef Enchiladas:  I killed a pot in the process of making this (I was boiling the ancho chiles in 2 cups of bone broth and kind of forget about them :/), but the recipe was still worth it.  My meat didn’t get defrosted in time to make this during the weekend in the oven (for 4 hours), so I made in the Nesco roaster.  I made the sauce and seared the meat the night before.  The next morning, I tossed the works into the roaster on the lowest setting and let it cook from about 7:30 to 5:30.  When the meat first came out, it seemed a little dry (as grass-fed beef is wont to be), but once I shredded it and doused it with the sauce, it was delicious.  We ate it with avocado slices the first night.  The second night Tim made some white rice and added some broccoli to the meat & sauce as it simmered.  Again – delicious.  This recipe is a definite keeper.

Crockpot Pork Stuffed Peppers:  I used the Nesco roaster for these bad boys too.  However, I think I overcooked them. It’s hard not to do when you leave at 7:30 and don’t get home until 5:30.  By the time we removed the peppers from the roaster, the peppers were total mush.  The insides though – very tasty, especially with lots of delicious salt.  🙂  I would definitely make this again.  It’s a super easy way to cook your meat and veggies all together.  I love our food processor so much.  Mom gave us an old Vitamix, and that is rocking our world too.  Tim’s been making some mean veggie smoothies with it, and I’ve been using it to make the most delicious coffee drink ever – bulletproof coffee.  The stuff tastes amazing, but I’m not totally sold on all of its supposed health benefits.  The first morning it only kept me full for about 2.5 hours.  I also seem to feel the effects of caffeine more with this coffee; I feel more anxious.  But one thing is for sure.  It’s some tasty sh!t.

Beef Liver & Onions:  I picked up a couple of pounds of grass-fed beef liver from the farmer’s market a couple of weeks ago.  I really enjoyed the Fried Beef Liver and Onions I made with the first batch, but it was kind of a lot of work.  And it was messy.  So I tried this new recipe.  I was being kind of lazy, so I tossed some liver in the food processor along with some shallots (the recipe called for onion, but mine was bad), some garlic, and some dill and oregano from our herb garden. Once all that was thoroughly mixed, I kneaded it together with some locally raised ground beef.  I used an ice cream scoop to form it into meatballs, put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cooked them up.  They turned out really tasty!  They do have that kind of… thick… taste of liver, but it’s a little lighter since it’s mixed with the ground beef.  It’s a great, easy way to get an inexpensive, nutrient-rich dose of grass-fed meat into your diet.

And….then I made this:  Best Chocolate Sheet Cake Ever.  This was COMPLETELY not paleo, but it was oh so deeeelicious.  I used whole milk, dark chocolate cocoa powder, and omitted the pecans (due to some nut allergies at work), and it turned out fantastic.  It was probably one of the most popular cakes I’ve ever made.  And it should be.  It’s rather a lot of work!

I JUST finished making these:  Greek-Style Lamb Meatballs.  I originally bought the lamb to make a recipe that I subsequently lost.  So I had to find a new recipe, and find one I did!  Tim and I are eating these right now.  My house smells like Hungry Boy Deli, and I really, really want some tzatziki sauce.    This would taste amazing with an onion, cucumber, tomato, vinegar, and olive oil salad.  Next time!!

Besides cooking and eating, Tim and I have been busy training for the triathlon that is LESS THAN TWO WEEKS AWAY.  This weekend we were going to do a brick – a swim/bike brick or a bike/run brick.  However, Tim tweaked his back yesterday morning and is still recovering, so he was out of commission.  Tim bought me some new pedals for my bike – clip-ins!  He installed them today, and I gave them a go.  Getting the shoes to clip-in took some work, but once they were in – wow – I just flew!  At least until I came to a stop.  I was smart enough to get my right foot out but didn’t anticipate myself leaning to the left, the side on which my foot was still adhesed to my bike.  Down I went!  Right on my butt, knee, and elbow.  I banged my knee up pretty good, twisted my bike seat and shifter, and tore my brand new handle-bar tape.  I will survive, but this knee is going to need some rest before I can run on it again.  Oh well!  It was a good learning experience – take out BOTH feet when  you come to a complete stop on the bike.

And…that’s been the past couple of weeks.  This week will be the last full week of training. Next week my big bro and his girlfriend are coming for a visit and to support us during the Tri, so next week is going to be most excellent.

Hope you have a great week!