May 7, 2018 / michael / Comments Off on Sunday Dinner: 3-Cheese and Spinach Stuffed Shells
In my ongoing quest to be a more useful family member, I have taken on the responsibility of Sunday Dinner. This week’s adventure was a cool 3-cheese & spinach stuffed shell with a side salad. I used this recipe from Lifehacker’s The Takeout sub-site.
We used to have all kind of baked pasta meals when I was a kid but I don’t specifically remember stuffed shells. We were more of a lasagna/baked ziti family.
We just got a new kitchen so I’m not 100% confident in oven temperatures and cook times yet. It was a 50-minute bake that I let run a few extra minutes to get some better browning on the mozzarella. It looked lovely. The salad was just a bagged spring mix. Hopefully we’ll get fresh veggies coming in soon.
I fit 15 stuffed shells into the dish for dinner and we ate a dozen of them. It’s a surprisingly rich meal, which I chalk up to the ricotta. I had enough filling left over for a second dish of 8 stuffed shells that I’ll bake up tonight.
I was cooking chili a could of weeks back and in my recipe research came across Alabama Firecrackers (as featured in Southern Living magazine). The recipe is easy enough, it just takes some time since you leave the crackers overnight in the oil and spice mixture.
16 oz package of saltine crackers
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp (2 packages) ranch dressing mix
3 Tbsp red pepper flakes (if you can handle the heat, add more)
2 cups olive oil
1. Using a large gallon Ziploc bag, pour in the olive oil, seasonings, and spices. Close the bag and knead to thoroughly mix the ingredients together.
2. Place all 4 sleeves of crackers in the bag, re-seal, and gently turn the bag over several times to coat the crackers with the spice mixture. The more times you do this the better the coating.
3. Let the bag sit overnight.
4. Remove crackers and lay out on a baking sheet. Bake at 250°F for about 15 minutes. (Note: If you are short on time, the crackers still taste great skipping the baking Step 4.)
Saltines hold up really well in all of that oil. I guess that makes sense since there is a whole pound of crackers in the bag. The red pepper flakes make them spicy, but not so aggressively so. They make a great partner to a bowl of chili and they’re not bad with a cube of mild cheese.
Ain’t she a beaut? I’ve been bringing this Zojirushi 12oz stainless travel mug/thermos to work every day for the last couple of years. It’s the same size as a Tall from Starbucks but I can enjoy it for an hour if I just have a couple of hot ounces at a time.
We’ve had a couple of different Zojirushi products over the years and they’ve been useful and durable. The cute elephant logo is a nice bonus:
When I finished my Whole 30 this spring I guessed that a two-week return to the strict eating would be a good way to get back on track after a vacation or holiday. I scheduled a Whole 15 for after Labor Day weekend this year since I’d gotten so deep into beers and sandwiches (and pizza and donuts and beer and chips) as the summer went on. Turns out that 10 days was plenty to get the results I was looking for. I lost a bag of weight and shook the sugar-based crash cycles I was into. The Whole life isn’t something that I can reasonably expect to do for long mostly because I don’t want to. It’s too strict and it is too much of a household hassle. I love it as an occasional way to dry out and that is how I’m going to keep using it.
I am glad that I have a Whole 30 to look at as an example of where I am in the dry-out process. It was that history I used to decide that 15 wasn’t going to do more than 10.
Well, that wasn’t so bad. The last 15 days of my Whole 30 weren’t so different from the first 15 and they even got good toward the end. I started to feel good again energy-wise and had settled into a solid meal routine: juice and egg for breakfast proved to be more then enough to get me to my lunch of grilled chicken over greens without cheese or dressing. Dinner was more grilled protein with some veggies. Standard “healthy eating”.
My goals getting into this thing were to lose some weight, course correct my eating habits back to something healthy, and dial back my drinks. I met them all and I’m cool with the results. I think a 2-week “Whole 14” is something I’m going to use as a way of getting back on track when I stray from health in the future. A strict plan will be a useful tool after the excesses of a vacation or holiday meal season.
I spent close to 2 years on the 4 Hour Body plan wth good results. I lost a ton of fat and was able to keep it off by following the simple plan. My weight loss had plateaued but it was as at okay number and I felt good. During Thanksgiving week last year I was bored and hungry so I took a week off and promptly gained 10 pounds. I wasn’t worried because I’d been able to drop weight easily by getting back on the plan. Only it didn’t work this time. I never got “strict” about being back on the plan and I was stuck with that 10 pounds until this month. A friend of ours posted on Facebook that she’d just finished something called a #Whole30 and she was excited to get back to eating food again. I did some reading on it and figured I could probably use the reset and a tight ruleset to kick my self back into gear when it comes to paying attention to food.
So I am spending the month of May working on a new “diet challenge” (what a weird expression. is that the gamification of food?). The Whole 30 program is a “nutritional reset” that uses the paleo diet as a foundation. The gist is that you cut the most common problem-causing foods out of your diet and get to where you’re just eating eggs, meat, vegetables, fruit, fish and nuts. That means no grains, no sugar, no dairy, no alcohol(!), no legumes, no white potatoes, and no MSG (or other sulfites). It’s strict.
Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days. Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making.
I don’t come to this from a place of where I’m looking for answers to why I feel bad. I don’t have gut trouble or joint pain that might be the result of some gluten or dairy incompatibility. I felt bad because I was eating like garbage, not exercising enough, and probably having too many drinks. In Whole 30 I found a framework I could sit in for a month and get back to right.
The initial adjustment wasn’t so bad. The carb and beer quitting pains were way worse when I started the 4HB so the feelings weren’t anything new or unexpected. A big positive for us was Michelle discovering the joy of a juicer so we’ve been having lots of our vegetables by the glass. The trickiest part has been getting enough calories in a day. I still feel kind of run down even after a meal.
I miss drinks, too. May was not a great choice for this plan. Craft beer week is this month, the (beer friendly) pool opens, and the warm weather means it’s time for dusk beers on the back porch. I’ve been sticking to the plan well enough and I’m halfway through.