Friday, December 30, 2011

My 2012 New Year's Resolutions

For the first time in my life, this past year I kept my New Year's Resolution.  I actually exceeded my goal of losing 40 lbs in the year, and ended the year with a total weight loss of 55.6 lbs!  I've got some big shoes to fill in 2012 but I think I can do it.  My resolutions for 2012 are as follows:

Resolution #1:  Reach my goal weight and become a Weight Watchers Lifetime member.
What is my goal weight?  Well, I haven't actually set it yet.  Currently I am 6.4 lbs away from getting into the healthy weight range listed for my height.  However, I would ideally like to be a bit below that.  I want to keep working to get to a comfortable and HEALTHY weight for my body.  I've also decided to stick with Weight Watchers until I reach Lifetime status membership.  I have come so far with the program and really want to see this through to get Lifetime.
Resolution #2:  Maintain, maintain, maintain!!
I know that the maintenance of my weight loss is going to be just as much (if not more) of a challenge as getting the weight off.  I had the positive reinforcement and excitement each week of achieving small goals and seeing the numbers on the scale go down.  Once I am maintaining, I will not have that anymore.  That being said, there are a lot of other health & fitness goals that I have in mind and that I will be working towards in 2012.  I'm hoping these goals will help me to have things to "celebrate" and keep me motivated.  Which leads me to my next resolution...
Resolution #3:  Run faster & further.
My fastest 5K so far has been a 30:08 and I am determined to break 30 minutes this year.  I'm running inside this time of year so I've started some speed workouts on the treadmill, pushing myself harder and faster than I've ever run before.  I'm also exploring races for 2012 and want to participate in a long race.  I ran two 10Ks in 2011, making the furthest I've ever run 6.2 miles.  This year I want to push past that distance with some longer runs, even just recreationally.
Resolution #4:  Take care of me.
Plain and simple.  I aim to be my own best friend in 2012 and do whatever it takes to just take care of me.

And with that, I bid you adieu 2011.  This past year has rocked me to the core in every way imaginable.  It has led me to not only question, but completely change, some of the beliefs that I have formed about myself and my life over the past 25 years.  I have become painfully aware of some of the areas that I need to work on-- and also of a strength inside of me that I didn't know or believe existed.  My farewell to the year 2011 is incredibly bittersweet because it started and ended a chapter in my life that I'm not sure I'm ready to say goodbye to yet.  I think 2012 is going to be a year of growth for me; I'm excited to see what it brings.  May your celebrations on the 31st be safe and joyful, and may 2012 bring a year filled with love, health and happiness.  Happy New Year everybody!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who holds you accountable?

Yesterday morning I woke up to text messages from a friend, who has been close to me throughout my weight loss over the past year, saying,
"I just watched a documentary on the New York Times.  At the end there was an info pop up that said one of the guys lost 90 lbs in some amount of time because he was broadcasting everything he ate on Twitter to his thousands of followers.  I just thought that would be of interest for you to think about.  Not to do it, but to think "If I had thousands of followers, what would they think about me eating ____ and ____ right now."  Food for thought.  Pun intended."
I love waking up to messages on my phone from friends and this thought-provoking text was no exception.  I did think that this provided some "food for thought" and it got my brain buzzing bright an early that morning :)

To me, the reason that this individual was successful boils down to the fact that he had someone, in this case, thousands of "someones" in the name of his Twitter followers that held him accountable for his actions besides himself.  I've seen that many people, including myself, need an external force outside of themselves to hold them accountable when trying to get in shape (or really, achieve any goal.)

I have a number of forces in my life that have helped throughout the past year, and continue to help, to keep me accountable for my actions.  For me, it has been:
  • The Weight Watchers program: I mean, come on, what better way to be accountable than to have to get on a scale every week and have someone weigh you?  On top of that, the essence of Weight Watchers is to track every. single. thing. you. eat.  And THEN, assigning a point value to it.  I don't think there is any way that you can do that without having some sort of feeling of accountability.
  • Work-out buddies: My roommate and I motivate and encourage each other to get up at 5:00 a.m. to go to boot camp three times a week.  My co-workers (who are also great friends!) and I have become regulars at the spin class at our work gym and I know the question will be there every Tuesday/Thursday of "Are you going to spin?" And when I am home, my mom, a lifelong exercise junkie, keeps me moving and on my toes (nobody wants to be shown up by their mom!)
  • Blog followers: Although you may not know it, having you here helps to remind me to try new foods, take care in what I am eating, and enjoy and celebrate that food can make me healthier and taste delicious!
  • My weight loss support system:  This past year there have been a number of key influential people who have helped me and kept me accountable more than they will ever know.  My former roommate and best friend, my long-distance WW buddy, and a few of my closest friends have been especially helpful throughout this journey.  These people deserve a post dedicated just to them, but they've all helped to keep me accountable in their own ways.
So, just as my morning wake up text me gave me some "food for thought" -- I want to leave you with something to think about. Who keeps you accountable as you work to reach your goals?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas... and by the way, you are fat!

Last week the BBC online edition posted an article with the headline, “Tell loved ones they are overweight this Christmas” with the subhead, “Christmas may be a time of indulging for many, but health experts believe it is the perfect time to tell a loved one they are overweight.”

via BBC article
My first reaction to this was… are you kidding me?  For many, the holidays can be stressful as it is, and now to top it off, people have to worry about being greeted with comments from their loved ones regarding their weight?  Through my own personal experiences, I have learned that personal health issues such as smoking, obesity, etc. can only be fully addressed and overcome if an individual makes the decision to do that on their own.  As well, I have never met anybody who has not been aware, ON THEIR OWN, that they are overweight and needed a loved one to let them know.

I am speaking from my point of view and from what has been successful with me and with friends.  That being said, this holiday season, if your loved ones make comments indicating that they are are looking to shed a few pounds in the new year, show them that you can be supportive.  Let them know how you can help and offer support rather than you opinion on their weight.

My family and friends have been invaluable throughout the past year as I made a journey myself to lose weight.  Had someone told me last holiday season that I should drop a few pounds… well, I don’t think that would have gone over too well with me.  I made the decision MYSELF to get healthy and to take action to improve my own life.  The goal I gave myself was to lose 40 lbs in 2011 and I am proud to say that I exceeded that goal by 15 lbs!

As I mentioned before, weight gain and obesity is very often caused by underlying issues.  An addiction to food, a method of coping, stress, depression, unhappiness, etc. can all lead to someone being overweight.  Unless they are ready to make a change that involves eating healthier, exercising more, and ADDRESSING the issues that caused them to become overweight in the first place, there isn't a lot of chance for long term success. Family support can only go so far. 

I urge anyone who may have been thinking about having a conversation with their loved one to take a step back and be careful before making the leap.  Especially if you have never had a weight issue of your own, you don’t want to end up pushing your loved one in the wrong direction.  Or at least, wait until after the holidays. January is a great time to start anew.  A  weight loss plan doesn’t need to start on January 1st to be effective.  Enjoy the holidays with your loved ones.

I would love to hear others thoughts on this.  Has anybody successfully had a conversation with a loved one regarding their weight?  Has anybody ever talked to YOU about your weight?  How did they/you react?  Any advice?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Is there anything cuter than a 2.5 year old?

Okay, so this isn't food or really anything related... but I just had to share this series of photos.  While at my Dad's house celebrating Christmas, my half-brother Tristan and I took a fun little series of photos on my iPhone.  I was completely shocked that Tristan (who turns 3 at the end of January) was actually participating and making the silly faces with me and I just love every one of these photos.

I hope they make you smile :)

We couldn't quite get coordinated with the tongues...
This was supposed to be "Eyes closed!" but Tristan is peaking :)

That's all folks :)

Happy Holidays from The Hungry Twenties!

Hope everybody had a great holiday season so far.  We're right in the middle of it as far as I'm concerned and this week for me is going to be spent working, exercising, eating healthy, and finding some time to relax and enjoy the slowed down pace of life that comes with this sleepy week between Christmas and New Years.

I wanted to share a few photos of my holiday with my family.  These are just a few quick snapshots, with more to come later.  Hope your holiday was wonderful!!

Christmas tree at my mom's
Santa came!
Tear-jerker gift of 2011: My grandfather's framed childhood baseball uniform
The dessert table. Yum.
My gingerbread cookie :)
The annual family bow photo. Awkward family photos much?
The fam: Mark (brother-in-law), Nikki (sister), Mom, me, and Jeff (brother)
Myself with my best bud, one of my twin half-brothers, Tristan

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Oatmeal, peanut butter & banana lunch of deliciousness!

I've been hearing really great feedback from friends about the recipe that I shared for spaghetti squash and chicken sausage.  It makes me SO HAPPY to hear that many of you have tried it and loved the recipe. Please let me know if anybody else out there has tried it and/or if you altered my recipe in any way.  I love to learn what you are doing in the kitchen as well!

I've done a couple posts lately about longer topics that I felt were interesting to write about and that I care about but I wanted to get back to what I know many of you love... tips for eating delicious meals that are also, fast, low-cost, and easy for the 20-somethings out there who are often on the go and/or cooking for one.

What I wanted to share today is actually what I have been eating almost every day for the past week for lunch.  I actually got the idea of combining these things for a lunch from Courtney at Sweet Tooth Sweet Life's oatmeal/peanut butter breakfast.  I like a lighter breakfast but thought it could make for a great, easy lunch!  I make this at my desk at work and it is warm, delicious, sweet, and keeps me full throughout the afternoon.  I probably shouldn't even call this a "recipe" but rather a "combination" however, let me indulge, will you?  Here is my latest recipe for a super delicious, quick, and filling lunch:

I call this my Lunch of Deliciousness!

Oatmeal, Peanut Butter & Banana [aka Lunch of Deliciousness]
Makes: 1 serving
Weight Watchers Points Plus: 6

- 1 packet instant oatmeal
- Hot water
- Banana
- Peanut Butter
- 1 Splenda packet (optional)

Step 1:  Prepare instant oatmeal as instructions state.  The water cooler near my desk has a hot water option, so I've learned that just by counting to 3 as I open the hot water faucet, is the perfect amount for oatmeal.  My current favorite oatmeal is Quaker Instant Oatmeal in the Chocolate Chip flavor, this is 3 Points Plus.  Another favorite is Quaker Instant Oatmeal Cinnamon Swirl, which usually comes in at 4 Points Plus.  I add one Splenda packet at this point and mix it in.

Step 2:  Cut up a banana into small slices and mix in to warm oatmeal.

Can you spot the extra little treat I added yesterday? Hey, it's the holidays! :)
Step 3: Stir in 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.  I actually have Jif To Go packets that I keep in my desk at work and LOVE.  In fact, I actually don't stir my peanut butter in to this but put a little bit on my spoon with each bite so I get a good amount of peanut buttery goodness.  As well, the Jif To Go packs have a ton of peanut butter in them and one pack is a total of 7 points.  That may seem like a lot but I use about 1/2 the pack with my lunch and then eat the other 1/2 of the pack throughout the afternoon with 0 points fruits and vegetables such as carrots, celery, apples, etc.

Step 4: Enjoy!!

I think one of the things that makes this meal work for me so well is that I love to have something sweet after I finish eating.  When I have this for lunch I actually feel like I am having a dessert-like meal for lunch.  I have an incredible sweet tooth so any way I can satisfy those cravings while eating healthy foods and staying within my Points Plus range for the day, I love!

Side note: you may have noticed that there is a Hershey's Kiss atop my oatmeal in the picture.  I was eating a Chocolate Chip oatmeal yesterday and the Kisses have been floating around my office for the holidays, so I figured I'd add one to make my meal a little extra chocolate-y as a holiday treat.  Hey, why not, right?  Happy eating!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

25 Questions of Christmas!

Today, I've seen a number of my favorite blogs post a short 25 question Christmas survey. Since my past 2 blogs have been rather "heavy" I thought it would be fun to lighten things up a bit and share a little bit about Christmas and what my families Christmas traditions are. Also, check out Emily's answers over at Perfection Isn't Happy, as she is one of the bloggers that inspired me to do my own. Merry Christmas everybody!

1. Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?
Hot chocolate all the way. I actually was thinking of doing a blog entry purely dedicated to the topic of Eggnog. I've seen various debates pop up across the internet and on the radio around what eggnog is and who likes it. It seems like people either love it or hate it. I am a chocolate girl through and through and eggnog does nothing for me, so pass the hot chocolate and don't forget the marshmallows please!

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
He wraps them! Does Santa not wrap some people's gifts? I didn't even realize that and feel bad for those who don't get to make a giant mess on Christmas morning by unwrapping gifts :)

3. Colored or white lights on tree and house?
I have to say I am a fan of colored. Growing up we had these huge colored tacky Christmas lights on our tree and I always loved them. In the past few years, my mom switched to decorating the tree with small white lights. However, I will always be a fan of the big colored ones. My own tree will always be colored!

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
I do not. To be honest, I don't think I've ever really seen mistletoe in real life...

5. When do you hang your decorations up?
My decorations go up right after Thanksgiving. I like to make the holidays stretch for as long as possible.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish, besides dessert?
Meatballs! Leave it to an Italian/Swedish family to have meatballs on Christmas but I look forward to it every year.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
I remember barely being able to sleep every night because I was so excited. And trying desperately to listen for Santa and the reindeer on the roof. We'd always have a fire on Christmas Eve and eat Chinese food. I loved the time just spent as a family.

8. What’s on your Christmas wish-list?
Not too much this year. I asked for a teapot and the book Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham's book "The Happiness Diet" that I discussed in my past entry.

9. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve?
When we were younger we opened family/sibling presents on Christmas Eve (and Santa's presents in the morning). Since the Santa thing has worn off and it is pretty much understood that all the gifts under the tree are family gifts now, we do them all the day of.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
Very eclectically. The tree at my mom's house is full of a mish mash of new and old, homemade and store bought ornaments. Every year my mom tries to discard of these horribly tacky bird ornaments, but my brother insists. As well, she tries to insist on no tinsel, but that is one of my favorite parts.

11. Snow? Love it or dread it?
What is Christmastime without snow?? But then again... will someone please shovel my car out for me? ;)

12. Real or fake tree?
If possible, go real. I have a miniature fake tree for my apartment and this year I found myself encouraging my mom to go fake. We'll see what happens in the future...

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I always loved getting a "Storybook" of Life Savers, as lame as that sounds. It was something that was in our stocking every year and I always looked forward to it.

14. What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?
Being with family.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
My mom makes the most amazing fudge of all time. She is a phenomenal baker and every December her kitchen turns into a fudge factory as she experiments and creates different fudge flavors. Nobodies fudge even compares and I look forward to it every year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
I love opening the gifts at my grandmother's house every year. It is always a crazily chaotic event with ~20 people opening presents, shouting thank yous, paper flying, trying things on, etc. But it is a ton of fun and a great family tradition.  As well, at the end of the day, we all take one of the ribbons from the presents and take a "Bow" picture.  Silly, but fun :)

17. What tops your tree?
An angel!

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?
To be honest, I love giving gifts. Always have and always will!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
I am a sucker for "All I Want for Christmas is You" but I also really love "Last Christmas," "Please Come Home for Christmas," and "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

20. Candy canes, yuck or yum?
Yum! My grandmother always has them on her tree and by the end of the day, they are usually gone :)

21. Favorite Christmas movie?
Elf, A Christmas Story, and Love Actually.  My college roommates and I loved Elf so much that last year we all went to go see the Broadway play they made from the movie!

22. What do you leave for Santa?
Cookies, milk, and some carrots for the reindeer!

23. Do you have a favorite Christmas morning tradition?
When we were younger, my brother, sister and I would not be allowed to go downstairs until 6:30 a.m. I barely slept Christmas night I was so excited but we would usually get up around 6:00 a.m. and talk about/guess what would be under the tree when we got downstairs. At 6:29 we would stand, waiting for the clock to move to 6:30 and then SPRINT to wake up my parents and then run downstairs to see the tree and gifts. My siblings and I always had our regular seats/opening locations that we would sit at year after year as well.

24. Do you prefer to shop online or in the mall?
I like to go to stores, but definitely shop online for unique/unusual gifts or gifts with better prices online.

25. Christmas letter or Christmas cards?
Cards with a photo please!

Please let me know if you complete the survey as well, I would love to read your answers!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Are weight loss programs really just money-making schemes?

As a communications professional, marketing/promotions that companies use to attract attention have always intrigued me, and as a Weight Watchers member and someone who has personally struggled with weight issues, I find this industry’s techniques especially interesting.  Recently, a New York Times article titled, “Weight Loss, With Divas and Public Service” discusses some of the tactics that the three major weight loss programs, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem are using to attract new members. 

All three programs are rolling out new campaigns that partner with celebrity endorsers.  They have also begun to rally around health/humanity issues such as hunger/chronic obesity.  As a communications/marketing professional, I see these promotions as smart ways to attract attention and publicity for the company, promote the company culture and values, and in the end, yes, make more money for the corporation by bringing in new members.  As an consumer, it raises questions about whether or not the celebrities endorsing the programs are actually participants themselves?  What exactly am I “buying” when I purchase a 17-week membership to Weight Watchers?

Jennifer Hudson, Weight Watchers spokesperson, looking INCREDIBLE at the 2011 Oscars [Photo via HelloBeautiful]
For me, I believe I pay money to be a part of Weight Watchers in order to learn a manageable way to organize and control my diet.  For the money I have spent, I have become a part of a community of people who have the same issues and struggles as I do, who can help me, and who can support me.  I pay money and get tips for cooking, new recipes, fitness, and advice on how to fit healthy eating into a chaotic, unpredictable lifestyle.  Sure, seeing Jennifer Hudson looking AMAZING definitely is one form of inspiration, but I didn’t join Weight Watchers and spend money thinking I would look like her.  I joined Weight Watchers to learn how to take control of my life and get healthy.  I feel I haven’t spent the last year of my life “on a diet” but that I have spent the last year, changing my life.  

Some people criticize these programs saying that they are money making schemes.  This is criticism I have heard just recently and took person offense to it.  And I do see how it can be a fine line.  Weight Watchers offers free "Lifetime" memberships to those who reach and maintain their goal weight.  If every person on the program reached goal weight, they would need a new business model.  I do see and understand that.

Because when it comes down to it, business is business and most things in life are a business.  Weight loss programs are not the only “healthy” companies that operate by making money… gyms, health centers, yoga studios, hospitals, etc. are all trying to make money as they improve the lives of their customers.  I recently read a book called 'Yoga Bitch' by Suzanne Morrison that touches upon the authors struggle with being a yoga teacher when she realized that by charging people to participate in yoga, you really can't be "zen."  Many businesses and industries are contradictory in this sense, yet they almost have to be in order to be profitable.  Money makes the world go round.

I personally am happy to see the new techniques and approaches that Weight Watchers, Jenny (which apparently has dropped the “Craig”), and Nutrisystem are using to attract new members.  I am particularly looking forward to seeing how Charles Barkley’s endorsement of Weight Watchers is taken by the male overweight population!  To end this blog, which now just feels like a big rambling of words... the NYT article quotes Ellen Granberg, a Clemson University sociology professor who studies long-term weight loss as saying,  “The companies are changing the way they are perceived, and how they influence the public.  They may be transitioning from being seen as diet companies to preventative health providers.”  And for that, I give two thumbs up and say way to go!

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Epi-Log: Food Trend for 2012 from Epicurious

For someone who loves to cook and loves to blog, you would think I might be obsessed with Epicurious.  Although, it is actually a site I visit pretty infrequently, recently, they had a post up n the Epi-Log that I enjoyed called, "Epicurious Predicts Top 10 Food Trends for 2012."

I love this time of year because I am a sucker for "Year in Review" and annual "Top 10" lists, and any that is food-related, is of course, a hit with me. One of the things that particularly stuck out for me on the Epicurious list was their prediction for the diet that would be popular in 2012.  They called it the "Happy Diet" and afterwards wrote,

"Eating healthy shouldn't make you sad. That's why we're excited about Dr. Drew Ramsey and Tyler Graham's Happiness Diet, which focuses on foods designed to boost your mood--and shrink your belly."

This immediately caught my attention because of a conversation I had just had with a friend based on a New York Times blog article titled, "Exploring the Links Between Depression and Weight Gain" by Roni Caryn Rabin.  Although the article was posted in June 2010, I stumbled upon it only just recently and found it fascinating.  It discusses depression and obesity as sort of a "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" type of question.  Most assume that being overweight leads to low self esteem and depression.  However, the article discusses studies and evidence that weight gain could often be an effect of depression, not the other way around.

Lately, I have become really curious about the physical and mental connection within the body.  I have seen in myself and in others, instances where stress and anxiety has caused physical ailments.  So a mental condition of depression or stress, causing a physical condition of obesity is intriguing to me.

The article quotes Belinda L. Needham, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, saying that “Chronic stress arousal leads to depressed affect, which then leads to excess weight gain."  And what I thought was ESPECIALLY interesting was learning that the stress hormone corisol, stimulates and promotes fat storage, primarily in the abdominal area.

Tackling the "obesity epidemic" in the United States is something that has gotten a lot of media attention lately.  This season I have been addicted to The Biggest Loser; I've read much about First Lady Michelle Obama's fight to end childhood obesity with "Let's Move!"; Chain restaurants are required to list calorie counts for their food; Cities are banning the sales of foods containing trans fats; and workplaces, including my own, are spending millions of dollars to help promote health and wellness in their employees.

Articles such as "Exploring the Links Between Depression and Weight Gain" make me wonder... is the solution to the obesity epidemic to remove trans fats from bakeries and encouraging employees to have "Treadmill Desks" or is it to address an issue that often causes obesity-- depression, stress, and unhappiness?  Diet and exercise may be the solution in the short term, but for those with weight issues, you often have to address the underlying issues of WHY you have that issue with food and weight to begin with.  I can personally attest to the fact that dieting can be a yo-yo phenomenon and with my current weight loss, I have been working to be sure that this is a lifestyle I can maintain but addressing the mental as well as the physical reasons why I have been overweight my whole life.  One of the reasons that I like The Biggest Loser and I am looking forward to Tim Gunn's new show "Revolution" is because they address these facts.

It is also a reason why I loved seeing "The Happy Diet" on the Epicurious list of trends for 2012.  I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to learning more about this and immediately put the book on my Christmas list.  In addition, after reading the New York Times article, I have been working to make sure each day is filled with healthy eating, exercise, AND time devoted to things that make me happy.  For the past few weeks I have been trying to make more of an effort to be just as diligent about my happiness as I am about the time I spend in the gym or preparing healthy foods.  For me, that means a lot more reading, writing, and blogging.  What about you?  What makes up your "Happy Diet?"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Spaghetti squash, chicken sausage & shallots

One of the side effects of taking part in a program such as Weight Watchers were you are carefully tracking and recording what you eat is that you learn a lot about your eating habits.  Throughout the past year of Weight Watchers, I have come to learn a lot about my body and my behaviors.  For example, I used to only recognize a rumbling in my stomach as a sign of hunger.  However, after months of Weight Watchers, I now know that both feeling lethargic and a bit "cranky" are also signs that I need to find something filling to snack on-- and I likely need a big glass of water.  I've learned that I tend to overeat on the weekends mistaking hungry for dehydration.  And I've also learned that I am a volume eater.  Even if a smaller portion of food may satisfy my physical hunger, I mentally enjoy and am comforted by seeing and consuming a heaping plate of food.  Small portions feel too much like I am depriving myself and I usually end up eating more later on.

I have developed a number of recipes that rely heavily on vegetables and voluminous foods so that I get to serve myself what is essentially a BIG plate of food, but with maximum nutrition and low Weight Watchers PointsPlus values.  What comes in handy is that with Weight Watchers PointsPlus, almost all fruits and vegetables have 0 points values.  I've been playing around with spaghetti squash a lot over the past few weeks and have perfected a super simple dish that is already a favorite of mine and will soon be a staple in my diet: Spaghetti squash, chicken sausage, and shallots.  Photo and recipe below... let me know what you think!!

Spaghetti Squash & Chicken Sausage
Makes: 2 BIG servings!!
Weight Watchers PointsPlus (per serving): 6
-  1 Spaghetti Squash
- 4 links Bilinskis Mild Italian chicken sausage (or your favorite brand)
- 1 large shallot
- Salt & pepper
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- 2 Teaspoons olive oil
- Red pepper flakes (if desired)

Step 1:  Season uncooked, halved spaghetti squash (seeds removed) with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder

Step 2:  Roast spaghetti squash face down in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes (for full instructions on how to roast a spaghetti squash, with pictures, check out my blog on exactly that -- cooking a spaghetti squash!)

Step 3:  While the spaghetti squash is cooling, chop shallots and saute in 2 teaspoons of olive oil until slightly translucent and aromatic.

Step 4:  Cut up 4 links of your favorite brand of chicken sausage.  I personally use Bilinski brand Mild Italian chicken sausage, most flavors, including Mild Italian, have a PointsPlus value of 2 points for one sausage link, 5 points for 2 links.  They are all delicious with great flavor, but I particularly like the Mild Italian for this recipe.  Another popular brand is Al Fresco, which have delicious chicken sausage in tons of flavors as well.  They are both delicious but Al Fresco chicken sausage usually comes in at 3 PointsPlus per link, so I usually go with Bilinski.  Either brand works great.

Step 5:  Add the chicken sausage to the pan with the shallots.  The chicken sausage comes fully cooked, but be sure to give it some time in the pan to release the oils and fats in the chicken sausage and give it some heat and get a nice brown crust on the sausage.

Step 6:  Shred the spaghetti squash with a fork directly into the fry pan with the shallots and chicken sausage.  If the spaghetti squash is still warm, hold with a paper towel or cloth to be able to shred the meat from the squash without burning yourself.

Step 7:  Season again with onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper (the latter, only if you want a little heat.)  Mix everything together, to combine sausage, shallots, and spaghetti squash.

Step 8:  Split and serve. Bon Appetite!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How do you cook spaghetti squash?

Recently, I've found myself answering questions from my friends and family about how to cook different foods or enhance recipes.  I LOVE this because I love sharing my love of food and cooking with others (heck, it is why I started this blog!)  So, I decided to take these questions and make blog entries out of them.

To start, the question I got a couple weeks ago from my friends in Boston... how do you cook a spaghetti squash?  As is often the case, I had been asked a question I did not know the answer to.  And as is often the case, I replied that I didn't know but would find out!

I had been wanting to try cooking a spaghetti squash for a long time.  When I first heard of this vegetable that bears the same name as one of my favorite foods, I was totally intrigued.  I actually looking through the grocery store vegetable section, trying to find something that resembled uncooked pasta.  Needless to say, I couldn't find it :)   Once I finally got my hands around a spaghetti squash, I was determined to cook one and see how it went. 

The photo journal of my experience is below...

To my surprise, spaghetti squash looks nothing like spaghetti

I was told to cut in half lengthwise (which was actually a little difficult) and remove the seeds.  When I cut it in 1/2 it immediately smelled like pumpkin.  Yum!
As I removed the seeds with a spoon, I already started to realize where the "spaghetti" term came in to the title.
I roasted in a 350 degree oven (face down) for ~40 minutes and when I took it out of the oven, I started scraping the squash with a fork.  It immediately shredded.  Fun!
I continued to shred.  And shred... and shred...
And voila!  A bowl of spaghetti squash!
As this experiment was merely to figure out how to cook the mystery vegetable, I actually didn't season it at all.  I have been eating this throughout the week with a hearty vegetable spaghetti sauce I made the same day.  I am looking forward to seasoning this the next time I cook it and actually build flavor around and into the spaghetti squash!  Let me know if you have any favorite recipes or methods of cooking my new fun favorite veggie-- I'm open to suggestions!

Recipe Recap:
How to Cook a Spaghetti Squash
Need: 1 spaghetti squash & 45 minutes

1. Cut in 1/2 lengthwise and remove seeds with a spoon
2. Spray cookie sheet with non-stick spray
3. Roast face-down in a 350 degree oven for around 40-45 minutes
4. Let cool, then take a fork to the squash, begin to shred.
5. Enjoy!