• Personally speaking….

    Just the thoughts and cookings of a software engineer that likes to make foodstuffs from time to time in the bay area of California.
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Quorn chick’n nuggets

Quorn Chik'n Nuggest

I’m not a huge fan of fake meat cause it’s usually tasting like, um, fake meat. I’ve had this package in my freezer for a while now and finally got up the nerve to try it. Let’s see, I went vegetarian again October 23, so this has been in the freezer since at least February, probably.

They crisped up alright. And the texture was similar to chicken nuggets. The flavor wasn’t exact, of course. It tasted like freezer burn chicken nuggets. Maybe that was because I’ve had them in the freezer for so long? Once I started dipping them in stuff, then they improved drastically. Would it fool someone? I don’t know. I don’t know if I would do that. The only person I would try to fool knows that I’m vegetarian so would know that I’m not fixing her real chicken. This would be more “realistic” (to me) if it were covered in barbecue sauce and/or kept wet with the dip.

No, not vegan because they contain egg and milk.

Will I buy them again? No, I don’t think so. Just not sure why I would. I’m flirting with veganism so the egg and milk would make them “out.” I also don’t think it’s “worth it,” you know?

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Review: Eat, Shrink & Be Merry! (with Recipe)

I recently grabbed a copy of Eat, Shrink & Be Merry, cookbook by Janet & Greta Podleski with cartoons by Ted Martin. Yes, cartoons. Not only are the cartoons great, but there are “funky factoids,” “cooking tips,” and puns — lots and lots of puns. This is one of the only cookbooks that I’ve read.

When I was looking for a recipe to cook, though, I skipped the cutesy titles and read the subtitle which was more descriptive of what the dish is. For example, “Livin’ on the Vedge” is subtitled with “Roasted vegetables with lemon couscous.”

There are many illustrations, but mostly cartoons and not photos of the food. The photographs of food are a few pages throughout the book. It’s not gathered up in the middle like some books. The photograph goes with the recipe which is nice, in a way. Sometimes I just like to “shop” for a recipe by looking at the pictures. What? Yeah, I’m a visual creature. Each recipe has nutritional information (calories, fat, saturated fat, protein, carbohydrate, fiber, cholesterol, and sodium) which is great for those following a point or other numerical system.

I checked for vegetarian dishes. And I don’t mean boring sides either. I mean main dishes that don’t just have lettuce as the major ingredient. Interestingly, there’s a section called “Don’t Have a Cow, Man!” that is full of meatless entrees. Nice! (And Greta recently did a “vedge” week.

The authors have a home at http://www.eatshrinkandbemerry.com and there are even videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/GranetPub.

Here’s the gem I settled on cooking:

Curried Cauliflower Soup
Melancauli Baby
(Available on their website in PDF form so you can see the whole page.)
Curried cauliflower soup with Swiss cheese and wild rice

1 tablespoon Butter or olive oil (I used olive oil)
4 cups Chicken or vegetable broth (I used vegetable broth)
2 cups Leeks thinly sliced (about 2 large)
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoon Garlic minced (I used more, of course)
1/4 teaspoon Black pepper freshly ground
4 cups Cauliflower small florets
1 cup Brown and wild rice blend cooked (I had frozen brown rice so used that)
1 1/2 cups Sweet potato peeled and cubed
1 cup Evaporated 2% milk
1 1/2 teaspoon Curry powder (My curry powder ran away so I made up something)
1/2 cup Swiss Cheese shredded and packed
1 teaspoon Ground cumin

Heat butter in a large, non-stick soup pot over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic. Cook and stir until leeks begin to soften, about 3 minutes.

Stir in cauliflower, sweet potato, curry, and cumin. Cook and stir for 1 more minute. Add broth, salt, and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Transfer half the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot with remaining soup and mix well. Stir in cooked rice, milk, and Swiss cheese. Heat soup for 1 more minute. Serve hot.

Note: I was halfway through and realized I didn’t have curry! So I made up a curry-like flavor with these guys:
Spices used

Review: Wesabe.com

Like many, I want to get a handle on my budget (or lack thereof). Overall, my spending is good. I save. I don’t charge a lot that I don’t pay off monthly. I do have some old debt though that I would like to be rid of.

utilities
Wesabe. I can burrow down on the graph and see in one spot how much I spent on the tag “utilities.”

I have used Google docs to make a budget. I have tried a Mac application called Moneydance to download my statements and tag them. I heard of mint.com and wesabe.com. I checked out mint.com but ended up putting my life in wesabe.com.

Why Wesabe?

Both touted their security features which was a major concern of mine. Both had a pleasing layout and seemed easy to use. Both have charting features which is nice to see how much of the pie *** goes to the mortgage.

Tags. Community. Those two together are a fantastic combination. Basically, if I upload my bank statement and it has 30 entries from 23104005-WAS-T-M-234133 that means nothing to me. The tool converts it to something understandable if it knows it, and it builds on other people’s input. Maybe Jane Smith uses that company too and it then becomes “Waste Management” for me and suggests tags that others have used like “bills, utilities, household” which helps me later.

Also, there’s a goal feature but I’m not too keen on it yet. I tried adding a goal of paying down the debt but it didn’t give me the carrot I was hoping for. For example, if I have 2 credit cards with one at 9% and one at 3%, I would like it to tell me to pay down the 3% and how much to pay to get it paid off by November 2009. And if I pay extra, what that does. I’ve seen these calculators elsewhere and it’d be nice to have it rolled into one. Maybe it exists and I haven’t seen it on the site.

I also like the community aspect other than the help with tagging and changing my entries into human-readable formats. There are areas for saving on lunch, home improvement, and paying down debt. The other users in the same boat as I am offer up suggestions that have worked for them.

Wesabe groups

The major reason I like it is because I can combine my one credit card and my bank statement together so that I can see all purchases of a certain type together. For example, I use the card that I pay off monthly to charge to get the points. But sometimes I have to write checks (go figure). It’s nice to see how much I spent on memberships for 2008 from both locations in one place. It’s very easy! Import. Import. Tag. Click. And there it is! Lovely.

*** Great visual calculator of what we should have pie-wise: http://www.cnbc.com/id/26641187/.

Local market: Game’s

I went back to the local Game’s market again and came with my phone. Snapped some sights and tried to capture some of the prices and quality. They had locally grown produce and they cut up their own meat. I like that it’s owned locally and is a showcase of local wares.

I picked up some steaks, corn and sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes were not those gigando 5-serving size and I liked that. The steaks were inexpensive but very good. Corn was amazing. Now that I’m out of tomatoes from my neighbor, I will pick up some of their tomatoes next time!

Flatout amazing! My first time making a flatout wrap

Turkey, tomato, spinach, cheese wrap

Two thumbs up!

I wanted to buy a low-cal, low-fat wrap for sandwiches (yes, thinking about my laptop lunch makings) and found among the wraps a weird looking oblong wrap. Brand name is Flatout and after looking at the nutritional values of those available, I got the Honey Whole Wheat one. It’s a lot of good bread for just 1 point. Odd though, I can’t find it on the Flatout website. This is the closest to the nutritional value that I found: Multi-grain Flatout.

The texture is great. It’s not scratchy or heavy wheat. It didn’t fall apart like the one tortilla ‘sandwich’ that I made did.

I looked on the website to try and figure out how I was supposed to use it. I found a few recipes but no play-by-play. So, I went with the generic “put the stuff on round end of the bread and then roll tightly.” I smooshed the cheese on the bottom using a wet tablespoon. It made the spreading of the cheese much easier. I then put on spinach, some thinly sliced turkey breast, and some slices of tomatoes. I rolled up from the filled end as tightly as I could but couldn’t do too tightly because of the tomatoes.

It held together very well considering I take my sandwiches so dry — no mayo, etc. I sliced it in half and it still held up well.

Fantastic product! I can’t wait to try some other ideas with it. Interestingly enough, after I bought it, I saw a fellow blogger post her fajita photo made with Flatout bread. So weird to go from never knowing about a product to buying it and seeing it in use shortly after!

Review: Berry Bowl

Is it silly to buy a bowl just for berries? Perhaps. But I impulsed when I was shopping at Food Lion. It was $5.99 and came in two colors.

Berry bowl

It has three parts: lid, bowl, and colander. No, that blue lid isn’t the lid. I just didn’t move it out of the shot. The concept is that you wash the berries with the colander, then drop the berry-filled colander in the bowl. It keeps the berries dry cause the water goes to the bottom of the bowl. Pop the lid on and voi la! At first I tried without the lid because I’m used to that but then put the lid on to keep moisture. And with the lid on, I can put stuff on top like the yogurt container.

I looked around online and found some “berry bowls” for more than what I paid. Not sure if I’d pay more than $5.99. But I’ve been eating more berries so maybe that is worth it.

Before, I would wash off the fruit, put a towel at the bottom of a bowl and then pile on the fruit. Not sure if the berry bowl is better than that though. I like that grapes don’t go bouncing all over the place since they’re contained in the colander. And I like that I’m not dirtying up extra dishes.

TOPS versus Weight Watchers

Magazines Take Off Pounds Sensibly (TOPS) is a non-profit weight loss group that’s been around since 1948. They have 200,000 members and 10,000 chapters in the world.1 They don’t “sell” a particular way of eating as long as it’s healthful but they do have exchanges on their recipes and such. TOPS has a magazine. TOPS meets weekly. TOPS has weigh-ins. TOPS has success stories. TOPS is a lot cheaper than Weight Watchers. So why did I join Weight Watchers instead of TOPS?

Actually, I joined both. I signed up for TOPS, I think, in January or so. I picked a meeting night based on my school schedule and showed up. I paid $24 for the year which included a new members’ packet with weight-tracking booklet, magazine subscription and information about eating wisely. I went a few times but haven’t gone in a while.

The meetings are member-run which means no TOPS-paid leader or staff. The members come up with contests and games that are weekly or monthly, depending on what the member running the event wants. TOPS also has retreats that all can go to that are held all over the place.

I’ve belonged to TOPS once before and went fairly regularly. I was losing but was basically following the Core plan of Weight Watchers. I even ran a couple of the contests and made a huge contest compilation book for ideas.

So, why’d I join Weight Watchers that costs me $39.95 a month? That’s more a month than I pay all year for TOPS!

DSCN3016
DSCN3013

The top is a WW page layout ( July/August 2008 ) and the bottom is a TOPS magazine layout ( June 2008). WW magazine is slick, 2 months instead of just 1, a lot of ads, better photography, and better layout. TOPS has more reader-submitted content and is not as professionally designed. Which is better? Depends on what one wants.

Weight Watchers (WW) started in the 1963. I couldn’t find a membership number but it has over 50,000 meetings a week around the world. I have over 25 at my meeting. At TOPS, it usually averaged 5-10 a meeting. So, I can assume that there are more members in Weight Watchers than TOPS. Both programs have the support of a meeting (if you sign up for meetings), and both have a maintenance program (oh to get to that!). But, the cultures are different.

My local WW group is about 70% women in their 20s-lower 40s. Also, there is a program each week that is informative. I don’t like how WW pushes their products with little commercials — at least, I feel like they’re commercials — at the beginning of the meeting. “Blahblah is 50% off this week. It’s really good. Here are some recipes on how to use it.” I enjoy the programs of WW more than TOPS but WW has all those paid (underpaid, probably) staff members behind it. It also does the same program at different meetings whereas the TOPS chapter comes up with its own program. I also like that the leader of WW has been there, done that and was successful. Every meeting is different but the TOPS meetings I’ve been too are more openly accepting and friendly than the WW meetings.

Both, I think are great. But I prefer Weight Watchers because it’s more serious… more professional… more consistent. However, if you need a low-cost, fun way to get support, I suggest TOPS.

Footnotes:
1 http://www.tops.org