Grilled Sweet Potatoes

One thing I crave on a regular basis is potatoes in all forms, but mostly french fries. Occasionally, we make them at home, but in general it’s something we try to avoid. Last year we went through a phase where we made potatoes almost every nigh. I definitely put on some weight even though we were only roasting them in olive oil. This is when I realized carbs are a major problem for me, which is why we currently have a potato-free home.

I decided to purchase some sweet potatoes. I’ve always hated sweet potatoes dressed in sugar, cinnamon, and marshmallows because they just become too “cloyingly sweet” (thank you, Alex Guarnaschelli). I prefer them drenched in butter and salt. Of course, this isn’t much better.

As it’s grilling season, I set out on a mission to find a recipe for grilled sweet potatoes. As usual, I wasn’t quite happy with anything I found. So I just kind of winged it.

Ingredients

  • Sweet Potatoes, cut into 1-inch squares
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh, sliced Garlic
    • We actually chopped it but it fell through the grates. Lesson learned

Instructions

  1. Boil the sweet potatoes until fork tender (about 3 to 5 minutes)
  2. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let sit. If you’ll be mixing with a spoon or spatula, then you can dress them now. I’m a fan of using my hands so I let them cool a little bit.
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and seasoning. Mix in the garlic. For a stronger, more even garlic flavor, you can also add some garlic powder.
  4. Place a grilling basket, like the one seen above, on the grill above the charcoals to let it preheat, then dump the potatoes in.
  5. Because you’re only trying to get a good seared, grill flavor you can put them right over the direct heat.
  6. Cook until you’re happy with the char! But once the potatoes start to disintegrate, you’ll know you’ve left them on too long.

About the Grilling Basket (Wok)
We bought a Bobby Flay basket at Kohl’s, which worked great initially. Sadly, the non-stick didn’t hold up to the grill. I’d suggest stainless steal or porcelain. Also, it had a cedar handle that actually got in the way. Covering the grill is not an option and storing it was not fun. If you don’t own or aren’t interested in purchasing a grill basket, you can always put your vegetables on foil or skewers. Otherwise, take a look at some great options below!

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Battle for Breakfast

Breakfast and I have never been friends. It’s been a constant battle since sometime in middle school, but of course I know that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” so I’ve been making an effort to eat it.

The egg got a bad rap in the diet world during the whole low-fat craze and never really recovered. It’s not until recently that its become more widely accepted and I still have a difficult time finding recipes that don’t call for “egg whites”, which really is such a waste isn’t it? But back to breakfast… I generally rely on the ‘incredible, edible egg’ most mornings. It’s a good value, can be easily found at trusted farmer’s markets, and is an excellent source of protein. Just ask Dr. Oz!

Why yes, I did eat that whole tomato.

Eggs, scrambled, are one of the first things I learned how to make as a child. Over time I’ve broadened my horizons to omelettes, poached eggs, over-medium, and hard-boiled eggs. Since I’ve been trying to avoid carbs and am still struggling to find some true whole-grain bread I’ve been making a lot of scrambled eggs. Occasionally I mix in some sriracha or onions but I don’t make it much more complex than that.

As a substitute for bread I put a veggie on the side, like a delicious salted tomato. When I’m craving something sweet I have a side of fruit, like strawberries or cantaloupe.

Now that I’m trying to eat better, I also want to try some new breakfast items. Maybe even oatmeal? If anyone has any suggestions I would be happy to hear them!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We’re currently living in a rental townhome with no yard, which is deeply saddening when you have a strong desire for a vegetable garden. Making the best of things, we set up some pots on the deck and filled them with our favorite herbs, tomatoes, and peppers. We’ve been doing this for a couple years and are still learning new things, like what size pots are right for each plant.
I’m not the greatest at starting from seed (what’s the opposite of a green thumb?) so I always make sure to buy healthy plants that have already started to mature. I’ve found things I’m good at (thyme, mint, peppers) and things I’m not so good at (cilantro, tomatoes, dill). I always have a few in between things that still need some work like basil (something keeps eating it) and parsley (it doesn’t seem to like extreme heat).

We constantly experiment with size and depth of planters because sometimes suggestions don’t always work. I planted patio tomatoes in a gigantic container and we’ve still only seen about two. Last year I bought them in a hanging basket and they thrived. We also had better luck with peppers when they were deeper, but smaller, containers.

Even with the hassle I’d say having your own garden is worth it. Of course it would be easier in a yard with access to a hose, but sometimes you just have to do the best with what you’ve got. In the end it’s so satisfying to just walk out onto your patio and pick your own ingredients. It’s the only sure-fire way to know how your food is grown, afterall.
My favorite thing to eat straight off the vine is tomatoes. The flavor is entirely different from something you’d buy at a grocery store or even a farmer’s market. I was told from a very good source that when vegetables are transported from farm to market, it’s difficult to not refrigerate them. Refrigerating alters the flavor and texture of tomatoes so you may have never had the pleasure of tasting what a tomato should really taste like. This also enables you to pick them when you want to. We tend to want them a little underripe but you may want them just ripe or even overripe.
There are plenty of fancy kitchen herb growing kits at home & garden stores with fancy stands and tiny pots. We bought one and it’s still in the box. I would suggest going to a garden nursery in spring and getting exactly what you want. I was amazed at the selection. Culantro? Apparently it’s a much stronger (and hardier) version of sister cilantro. The downside is that it’s also much sharper, akin to a weed. I also purchased some chocolate mint which is delicious, delightful to smell, easy to grow, and with it’s purple vine and deep green leaves isn’t so bad to look at either. You’d be amazed at the variety of mints from just your average mint to pineapple. Oh, the temptations!

Jalapeno-Jelly Chicken Breast

This isn’t the healthiest chicken dish I’ve ever made but it turned out great. Leaving the skin on is a major splurge but it really boosts the flavor. Of course this can also be made with boneless, skinless chicken breasts for a healthier alternative.

Ingredients

  • Chicken Breasts
  • Olive Oil
  • Chili Powder
  • Onion Salt
  • Garlic Powder
  • Jalapeno Jelly
    • This was given to me as a homemade gift but can also be purchased… or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can always make it at home.

Instructions
     Total cook time: 30 to 35 minutes

  1. Prepare your grill. We used charcoal, piling it on one side to take advantage of indirect heat.
  2. To prepare your chicken, drizzle some olive oil over the top. Then cover the chicken with your desired amount of seasonings (chili powder, onion salt, and garlic powder). Just as an aside, we probably should have used some paprika.
  3. Place the chicken on indirect heat and cover for 20 minutes.
  4. Move the chicken closer to the direct heat (or even directly above it) for another 5 minutes.
  5. To get a char on the skin, flip the chicken over right about the direct heat for a minute or two. Leaving it too long with result in burnt skin… or even no skin.
  6. Flip the breasts over and finish by topping with the jelly (about 1/2 tbsp per breast) and cooking for yet another 5 minutes. We had to turn the chicken about halfway through because the jelly wasn’t caramelizing at an even rate.
  7. Done! We paired it with this Grilled Corn on the Cob and there was plenty for leftover lunch salads!

Grilled Corn on the Cob, sans Butter

We fired up the charcoal grill for some delicious corn on the cob, Santa Fe style (or so I like to call it). I spent a good part of my day looking for alternatives to butter… and apparently mayonnaise. I didn’t come up with anything that sounded particularly tasty, so I decided to wing it.

We set the charcoal up on one side to provide a low-heat setting. While the grill heated up, I soaked the corn in water – it’s apparently not entirely necessary, but something that’s always worked for me. I then pulled down the husks and yanked off all those pesky hairs.
Toppings:
  • Olive Oil
  • Chili Powder
  • Onion Salt (or Lawry’s Season Salt)
  • Garlic
Just apply whatever toppings you want. I assume it works with any number of seasonings, but as we were going for something that paired perfectly with Jalapeno-Jelly Chicken Breasts these seasonings worked perfectly. It was completely different, satisfying, and I didn’t miss the butter. Never imagined I’d say that!

As for the cooking instructions, just place the corn (husks returned to the original setting) on the low heat side. Ultimately, you want to cook the corn for a total of 15 minutes turning three times. That’s once every five minutes. That’s it! Super easy and gives it a much more complex flavor than simple boiling would. Fair warning: it’s not as sweet and a little more chewy.

Day 1: Preparing for the Journey

We prepped over the weekend by hitting up the grocery store and the local farm stand for real ingredients for the upcoming week. We came home with some great finds. I could spend hours in the grocery store – not because I want to, but because I’m indecisive and easily distracted. I literally have to time myself. As in, if you’re not done in an hour you’ll just have to leave with what you have. I also never wander aimlessly in the middle aisles. I make a circle starting in the produce, around the meat section in the back, and finishing in the dairy aisle. That way I avoid buying anything too heavily processed unless I need something specific: pasta, seasonings, canned tomatoes.

Delicious, healthy options from our local farm stand.

When I met my boyfriend 4 years ago, I still had my killer metabolism and could eat anything I wanted. He was very focused on healthy, low-carb eating and daily trips to the gym. Sadly, I (and a hefty work schedule) had a bad influence on him. The problem was that he literally ate baked chicken breasts and steamed broccoli everyday. Now that I want to focus on a newer, healthier lifestyle, I’ve found that variety truly is the spice of life. I would love to do a CSA but it’s just not in the budget right now. It would force us to use only the freshest, in-season veggies, things we may have never heard of. But for now I’ll just have to take weekly trips to the market and make conscious decisions to try new and unusual things.

This week we have some regular radishes but I also picked up some homegrown amethyst radishes because they were irresistible. I already had some organic orange carrots but I decided to give some ruby-red carrots a try. Of course corn was a must having just been harvested that morning. Shopping at your local farmer’s market provides you with a wider variety and a (usually) knowledgeable staff that cares about their customers. And I’ve even found that I save money when I shop locally.

I Promise to be Well

I have struggled, especially recently, to just eat well and be well. I’m by no means fat but I’m afraid if I don’t do something now I won’t be able to get back to where I want to be. I’m always exhausted, unmotivated, achy… and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me. Except that I eat poorly and never exercise.

In high school I danced an average of 8 hours a day. It’s hard to gain weight when you’re on your feet that much, and to top it all off I had a killer metabolism. Even after I quit dance I was never concerned with what I ate. It wasn’t until I turned 20 that I noticed a change. I gained nearly 30 pounds in just a few months. At first I wasn’t too concerned – I attributed the gain to my new womanly curves. But the weight kept coming.

I’ve tried dieting several times, mostly using Weight Watchers as a guideline, but have honestly never stuck to it longer than two weeks. I do great – run everyday, track everything, buy a lot of green leafy foods – for those two weeks. Then I end up cheating and it’s like a spiral effect. A spiral downward. But now it’s time for me to wake up.

I’m making a promise that I am going to eat well and ultimately be well. My life will be better for it. 

  • I want to focus on real food. Forget the processed junk and replace it with fresh, local, natural ingredients.
  • Say goodbye to refined flours and sugars and hello to whole grains.
  • Absolutely no fast food. It’s too hard to say no to french fries.
  • Replace junk food with healthy alternatives like seeds, nuts, and chopped veggies.
  • No soda. And that includes diet. I’m allergic to aspartame but generally feel that diet is no better than regular.
  • Whenever possible I will make my own… salad dressing, soup, hummus, etc.
  • I will run everyday and strength train regularly.
  • I will not give up every time I slip up. Things happen. What’s important is that you come back from it.

Weight Watchers is a great guideline to start with as it helps me understand how much I’m putting into my body. But I’d like to take it one step further and know exactly what I’m putting into my body. The best example of this is that I don’t eat enough butter to find it necessary to replace it with 0-calorie sprays and margarines. I believe in moderated real food over processed ‘diet food’. Luckily it’s summer and I live in an area where I have easy access to farmers markets and produce stands.

So here goes!