Apricot-Glazed Corned Beef

When my husband and I decided to get married, we had a lot of long talks about how we wanted our life together to go. One of the things that was very important to us was starting traditions to keep our families close to us. Usually, this revolves around good food.

For St. Patrick’s Day, we have tried to start a tradition of inviting our families over for a traditional Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage with potatoes. This has been a recipe I’ve used for the last couple years we’ve done this, and I always get rave reviews from family members about the corn beef and its glaze.

I’ve seen similar recipes for the glaze used with other proteins but I’ve only ever used this apricot glaze with the corned beef. I really like the sweet, tangy vibe I get with it and I think it complements the beef well. Plus, I think cooking the corned beef in the oven and using a glaze helps preserve so much more flavor than the traditional boiled method.

Keep watching as I’ll be bringing out more of my favorite Irish/St. Patrick’s Day recipes!

Apricot-Glazed Corned Beef

1 package of corned beef

1/3 cup apricot marmalade

1 tbsp spicy mustard

1/2 yellow mustard

Preheat oven 350F.

Place corned beef in a baking dish with the fatty side facing upward. Sprinkle the seasoning packet over the corned beef (this is typically included in the package).

Cover with foil and cook according to package instructions. Most packages suggest 50 minutes per pound of beef.

Combine the apricot marmalade and mustards in a bowl.

With 20 minutes left in the cooking time, remove foil to uncover the corned beef. Pour the glaze over the center of the beef. Cook the additional 20 minutes.

Let beef rest for 20-30 minutes before cutting up to serve.

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Is there a vaccine for the awful Keto Flu?

This week, I attempted to do something that I have never done before. I attempted to go on the ketogenic diet. If you’re not familiar, this diet basically eliminates carbohydrates from your diet. This causes your body to go into what’s called “ketosis”. Basically, your body has to burn stored fat for energy to make up for the carbohydrate deficits and ketones are a byproduct of this process.

So, for five days, I eliminated carbs completely. I was so pumped to get started because all of the stories I had read talked about how much energy people had. It was like a light switch turned on in their bodies, making everyone feel 18 years old again. There were little blurbs here and there that offered a sugarcoated disclaimer about the initial effects of the diet. There were remarks about the first week and the drowsiness, the mental fogginess and the pangs of hunger. None of this sounded unbearable, but merely a slight inconvenience for a day or two.

Uhhh, what?

Sorry, but these must be the same people who think childbirth is a “slight inconvenience for a day or two.”

Maybe it’s not necessarily that bad, but I’m here to tell you that the Keto Flu is real. It’s a thing and it doesn’t mess around.

The first two days going Keto were fine. I missed food, but I could move past it. My biggest hurdle was cutting the emotional tie to carbs that I had. At the end of the day on both days, I went to bed with a feeling of mild hunger. I was actually proud of this. There had been times in the past when I would have given in and fed myself right before bed, even though I knew it was bad for me. I felt a sense of accomplishment.

On day 3, I got up from bed feeling like my seven hours of sleep was only 2 or 3. I chalked it up to a less than stellar night’s sleep. Since my husband and I share a king size bed with 2 extra-large dogs and a cat, there are occasional space issues that cause suboptimal sleep.

When I got to work, I felt ravenous. I had already had breakfast, so I tried to ignore it. This is easier said than done when I work in a very large office and we always have something to celebrate with food and baked goods. It happened to be the birthday of not one, but two of my colleagues. So, we had a few desserts to choose from as early as 8:30 in the morning.

As hungry as I was, I was also suffering from an ironic kind of nausea. I didn’t want to eat, but I simultaneously wanted to eat everything. Throughout the day, this nausea remained constant. Even after my ultra-healthy Keto lunch, my stomach could not be tricked. In fact, I really just pissed it off more. I started to almost feel feverish. Not that I felt warm to the touch, but more like I was having cold sweats. I felt clammy. As someone who is anxious about, literally, everything, I started to contemplate all the worst diagnoses for my current condition.

Was I hypoglycemic? More likely than not, considering the lack of sugar.

Was I going into some form of shock? Maybe I should have researched this Keto diet better.

Was I dying? Has anyone died from 3 days on Keto? I don’t know, but I sure don’t want to be the first.

To top it off, my mental clarity was completely shot. As a healthcare professional, I need to be logical and well-rested and focused at all times. I double- and triple-checked everything I did for fear I would screw up.

Driving home, I felt mentally drained. With my history of working the night shift, I knew all the tricks for keeping awake behind the wheel. For me, it’s all about rolling the windows done, blasting the music and putting on a concert from my driver’s seat. Halfway home, a ballad came on the radio that caused a 10-minute nervous breakdown complete with the kind of ugly crying that makes your vocal cords ache.

This continued even after I got home and found my amazing husband getting a nice dinner together. His romantic efforts were met with emotions of rage alternating with that same ugly crying.

This persisted for two more days before my saint of a husband presented me with the one peace offering that could make all of this go away: a plate of pasta.

If you want to make the argument that he didn’t support my Keto efforts, you are not grasping how severe these symptoms were.

After I resumed eating carbohydrates, I felt a strange mixture of physical improvement and emotional despair. I felt like a failure. It made me feel like losing weight was out of my reach. But at the same time, if losing weight feels like this, I might just have to be fat forever.

The silver lining from this experience is that I unearthed a ton of recipes about going low-carb and no-carb. I got tons of good tips and tricks from others out there who share in my struggle. From this, I’ve decided to go with a low carbohydrate approach without cutting them out completely. It might take longer, but I always try to remind myself that it took more than a couple weeks to get the weight on, so I need to spend more than a couple weeks getting it off.

This is not meant to prevent anyone from trying the Ketogenic diet. In fact, if you’re doing Keto, keep going! I’m proud of you. If you couldn’t keep going because it was too hard, you’re not alone! I’m right there with you. My experience has made me realize that when I hit my weight loss goal, I just won’t be able to thank Keto for my success. But, I’m not deterred! I’m going to keep going on my way to my making my hopes, dreams and goals a reality.

Let me know your Keto stories in the comments!!

“Mexican Flag” Enchiladas

Here it is!

The reason I’ve been cooking up enchiladas like crazy for the last week.

One of my favorite things about cooking is the ability to be creative and try new things. For instance, in this case, I knew that I wanted to make a Latin-inspired dish with tons of different flavors. I couldn’t make up my mind about what kind of protein to use, or even what kind of pepper to use. That’s when I decided to do this version that reminds me of the flag of Mexico. The red, white and green colors are beautiful and create tons of visual interest with this dish. Once you take a bite, you realize that there are three different proteins at work in three different sauces, making three completely different meals on one plate!

I also really love using the chicken and cheese enchilada in the middle. Because it’s less spicy than its two counterparts, it provides a little creamy, cheesy relief. It’s almost like a palate cleanser.

I could definitely see using this as the main dish at a summer party later this year, especially since you can make the sauce by roasting the vegetables on the grill instead of inside the stove. You could also grill all the meat for this at the same time as well!

Overall, this was a bit of an time-consuming endeavor in making the enchiladas with homemade sauces, but it was definitely worth it to make this stunning dinner!

“Mexican Flag” Enchiladas

1 Venison Enchilada with Red Chile Sauce

1 Chicken Enchilada with Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce

1 Shrimp Enchilada with Green Chile Sauce

Align the enchiladas on a large plate with the green enchilada on the left, the white enchilada in the middle and the red enchilada on the right.

Chicken Enchiladas with Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce

If I haven’t made it known yet, I really love enchiladas.

And, this particular recipe happens to be one of my favorite because it combines three of my favorite things: chicken, cheese and a soft tortilla shell.

While this sauce does have some small pieces of pepper throughout, this is definitely the mildest of the enchiladas I’ve made so far.  It’s rich and creamy and devoid of any real spice.

I’m a big fan of “not too spicy”.

For this, I used my Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce because I cannot seem to make a typical queso. Although, I’m beginning to think that “soft at room temperature” queso that might be found in many good restaurants may not exist without the aid of chemicals and/or preservatives. That’s not the direction I wanted to go, so I made my own pretend queso.

It just so happens that this faux queso works wonderfully here!

 

 

Chicken Enchiladas with Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce

 

8 flour tortillas (or corn, if you prefer)

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 chicken breasts, diced into 1″ cubes

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

3 cups Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce, divided

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro for garnish

 

Preheat oven 350F.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onions in butter for about 5-6 minutes, or until slightly translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add chicken and cook for 4-6 minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until fully cooked.  Remove from heat.  Once chicken is cool enough to handle, chop the chicken into smaller pieces, less than 1/2″ pieces.

In a large bowl, combine shrimp, onions, 1 and a 1/2 cups of Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese.  Season to taste.

Spoon 1/8 of the mixture into the center of a tortilla.  Spread it into a long thin column and roll the tortilla into a burrito shape.  Place the enchilada into a greased pan (The size of the pan will depend on how large your tortillas are.  I used extra large 8″ tortillas, so I used a 9×11 pan).  Repeat with the rest of the tortillas until you have a full pan of rolled enchiladas one layer thick.

Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce

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Defeated.

That’s how I felt when I tried to make “queso”, a sauce that seems like it should be relatively easy to make, but has eluded me yet again.

The problem is, with all of the research that I’ve done online to make homemade queso, each recipe that I found seem kind of… gross. And listen, I am a huge supporter of other like me in the blogosphere trying to make their niche. I’d never call somebody out for doing their thing. But, some of the recipes I’ve tried have made for less-than-stellar results. One I tried used gelatin as a thickener, but I felt like the this just made for a weird texture. Other recipes had a suspiciously low cheese-to-other-ingredients ratio. Seriously, how could it even taste like cheese at that point??

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

I tried a few of these recipes, but nothing gave me the flavor, texture and color I was looking for in a Latin-flavored dish. Therefore, I decided I had to look outside the Latin culinary world and find an alternative to make my sauce.

My imaginary travels led me to this Mornay Sauce. Basically, a Mornay is a fancy way of describing the sauce you would typically use on macaroni and cheese. It’s a heavy, cheesy sauce that gave me exactly what I was looking for.

I used a pepper jack cheese for this recipe. This is basically a white Monterey Jack cheese with little pepper bits in it. When melted into a milk-based sauce, you get the cheese flavor with a smooth consistency and the white queso appearance I was going for. Plus, it stays creamy even at room temperature, which was also a plus.

This is my own circuitous route I took to getting to a good “queso-like” sauce that will work with a number of Latin-style foods!

Pepper Jack Mornay Sauce

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 8 oz. brick pepper jack cheese, grated

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a pot over medium heat. Add flour and stir to create a roux. Let this cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add milk and whisk for 3-5 minutes. The sauce should be smooth and slightly thick.

Add the grated cheese and stir until the sauce is smooth.

Season to taste.

Meal Planning Fails: The Double-Edged Sword of the “Sensible Dinner”

Has this ever happened to you before?

You trying out a new diet plan where the instructions tell you to be strict in your nutritional regimen for breakfast and lunch, then feel free to go nuts for dinner, as long as it’s “sensible”.

You’re suckered in, because that “sensible dinner” ploy makes you believe that you can still be creative and “enjoy yourself” at least once a day. It makes the whole process of restricting yourself for 2/3 of your meals seem worth it. You’ve invested in meal-replacement shakes, protein bars and frozen, pre-packaged meals, and your only responsibility is to eat something healthy on your own once a day.

If it sounds too good to be true… well, 9 times out of 10, it probably is. That’s because we didn’t make it to the size we are by “eating sensibly”. Any of us who struggle with weight know how to read a diet book. We know how to follow recipes. We know how to follow directions on an exercise video. It’s not that we don’t know how. It’s just that we don’t.

For me, my biggest struggle is portion-size. I actually love healthy food. And, as a person who works in healthcare, I’ve done my fair share of classes on nutrition, exercise and healthy living. I know what fuels my body and I happen to love all of those things. I just love them to excess.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing a meal-prepping regimen. Typically, my go-to is a protein shake for breakfast and a spinach salad with a hard boiled egg for lunch (and a small serving of Caesar dressing because I haven’t been able to wean myself off of creamy, fatty dressing just yet). Overall, I’d give this an 8.5 out of 10 for healthy dieting.

On my way home from work, I’d start fantasizing about what I could make for dinner. So many ideas to choose from! Meat and potatoes. Chicken and rice. Tacos. Pizza. Pasta. I could make these with some “healthy ingredients” and all would be well with my diet. Funny how a salad never entered my head during my dinner brainstorming…

As I sat down for dinner, this healthy meal turned out to be a “sensible dinner” for a family of 3-4. No wonder the scale wasn’t budging! A closer glance at the plate revealed that I had likely cooked my healthy ingredients in such a way that their nutritional benefit was now questionable. Maybe I’m not even the healthy eater I thought I was?

Left to my own devices, dinner was frequently a dieting disaster. This would only fuel my negativity toward dieting, making me resistant to “get back on the wagon”. Another fail in a decades-long line of almost daily failures, leading to how I became the size I am today.

Fast forward two weeks later, and I’ve upped my meal planning game like crazy. I’ve come to learn that I’m not mentally, emotionally or physically capable of making good nutritional decisions on a whim. I just can’t be trusted. And, that’s okay. I’m not a bad person for admitting my flaws. I just need to make those flaws go away.

To me, going strict on breakfast and lunch is necessary. I have just always been more successful when I have a routine, in dieting and life, in general. So now, I have to go strict for everything else as well. My meal prepping has now extended into snacks and dinner. My refrigerator is stacked full of containers for my weekly meals. My snacks are appropriately portioned and individually packed. I know what I’m going to eat for every meal for the next eight days.

Boring, you say?

Maybe, but being spontaneous and fun with food has only made me more unhappy with myself. Which means that if sacrificing the spontaneity gets me to where I need to be, I’ll gladly do it.

Stay tuned as I will be posting my weekly meal plans, as well as the pros and cons of each, in the coming weeks!

Happy dieting all!

Shrimp Enchiladas with Green Chile Sauce

So, I’m going to let you in on another secret: I don’t actually like shrimp.

When I say this, I mean I don’t like the feel of shrimp. Cocktail shrimp, specifically, is about the worst thing I have ever eaten texture-wise. I don’t know why it creeps me out so bad because I can eat tons of other types of seafood like lobster, oysters and clams with absolutely no problem.

And, it’s not the flavor. If I eat fried shrimp, or something where the shrimp is chopped up and incorporated into the food then I can tolerate it. That’s why, as you’ll see in this recipe, I have diced the shrimp into very tiny pieces. It’s not necessarily because it makes the recipe better.

It just makes the recipe better for me.

I knew when I was making enchiladas for this upcoming project, I wanted to include red meat, white meat and some type of seafood. Shrimp seemed like the natural option because I’ve seen shrimp tacos and other Latin-inspired foods made from shrimp in the past. I just had to figure out a way to make the shrimp palatable for myself. Plus, adding spices like chili powder and cumin really elevated the shrimp into something even more flavorful. That, along with this green chile sauce, makes this enchilada, surprisingly, one of my favorites that I’ve made so far

And no one is more pleasantly surprised than me!

Shrimp Enchiladas with Green Chile Sauce

8 flour tortillas (or corn, if you prefer)

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, finely diced

1 garlic clove, minced

20-25 raw shrimp

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

3 cups green chile sauce, divided

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

Salt and pepper to taste

Cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven 350F.

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onions in butter for about 5-6 minutes, or until slightly translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional 1-2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 4-6 minutes. Flip the shrimp and cook another 3-4 minutes, or until fully cooked.

In a large bowl, combine shrimp, onions, 1 and a 1/2 cups of green chile sauce and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese. Season to taste.

Spoon 1/8 of the mixture into the center of a tortilla.  Spread it into a long thin column and roll the tortilla into a burrito shape.  Place the enchilada into a greased pan (The size of the pan will depend on how large your tortillas are.  I used extra large 8″ tortillas, so I used a 9×11 pan).  Repeat with the rest of the tortillas until you have a full pan of rolled enchiladas one layer thick.

Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.