Friday, February 28, 2014

Roast Chicken in a Crock-Pot (2014:8)

After hearing two people talk about roasting a chicken in the crock-pot (one being SKP), I decided I needed to try this.  It's so very outside of my normal cooking realm, I thought it would be a fun adventure. 

I looked at a lot of recipes and was going to do a lemon garlic chicken....but I forgot the lemon when I went to the grocery store!  Ack!  So, I improvised with garlic, onion, and carrots.  My first inspiration for this recipe came from here, and I may have to try this one for my next chicken!

The chicken was fantastic, despite my on-the-fly seasoning.  I'd made roast chicken before, with my mom, in the oven....  But this was so much more most!  After using some of it for dinner with Mr. Higgins (who approved!), I bagged the rest up to freeze for quick dinners.  

Never again will I roast a chicken in the oven!  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cleopatra: A Life

Recently, I finished a superb book: Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff.  The New York Times Book Review named it the Best Book of the Year - and I can see why. 

Here's my Goodreads review:

If I didn't know better, I would say that Stacy Schiff is a historian!  This book is an amazing read.  Schiff mainly draws upon ancient historians Plutarch and Dio to form this captivating portrait of the last pharaoh of Egypt.

As a trained historian, I'm vastly impressed by Schiff's ability to draw upon so many sources, all the while remaining critical.  After all, there are so many questions regarding Cleopatra!  Schiff's writing is superb - fluid yet matter-of-fact.  The portraits of ancient Rome and Alexandria that she paints are wonderful! 

This is a great read for anyone interested in ancient history!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Michelle Dozois: Peak 10 Cardio Strength Remix (Review)

I'm loving the new Peak 10 workouts that Michelle Dozois put out in 2013.  Despite the title, these are brand workouts and this Cardio Strength Remix is possibly my most favorite Cardio Strength video by Michelle yet.

You will need a pair of light and heavy dumbbells for this workout.  I've been using lights until I get more familiar with this video.  It's a doozy! 

Michelle begins with weights - there is no warm-up, per se, but the first peak is lighter than the rest.  You will see what the rest of the workout will bring, without the crazy intensity.  Like other Peak 10 videos, you begin with a basecamp, then on to the ascent, climb and, finally, the peak.  

This cardio strength video is possibly my favorite so far.  Michelle has put together some complex moves, but she provides you with a "Movement Review" on the disc - watch it before you do the workout the first time.  There are more lunges in this strength video and that addition alone is enough to make me like it.  The sequences also seem to flow just a little better.  Granted, it may take you a few times to get comfortable with, since Michelle makes some quick transitions, but it flows nicely.   

After each strength section, you do a short cardio series that leads to your "peak" move.  In this video, Michelle has put together some innovative moves that are so refreshing after doing jacks, mountain climbers, and high knees over and over with over videos.  This is why Michelle is so great - she makes cardio fun!  There is no "rip it until you die" or "I'm going to make you hurt today" being said over and over.  She just leads you through a great workout! 

For a clip of the video, go here.  After a refreshing cool-down, you really feel like you've accomplished something.  I like that.  I also like how my triceps ache the next day - ha!

Bottom Line: This is definitely an advanced workout but you can't go wrong with Michelle.  Done.  Period.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vegetarian Chili

I love chili.  Love it!  I used to get so mad at my dad who would only let us make chili during the winter.  I would go chili-deprived for 8 months out of the year!  It was a relief to finally have my own kitchen and able to make chili whenever I wanted!

Since I've started eating less meat, I developed this vegetarian chili recipe to satisfy my chili cravings.  It has plenty of beans, spiciness, and tomato-y goodness to satisfy my tastebuds.  Feel free to play around with the ingredients, depending on your favorite beans and desired amount of spiciness. 

Doniamarie's Vegetarian Chili

1/3 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 15-ounce cans petite diced tomatoes, low-sodium
8 ounces tomato paste
2 15-ounce cans Ranch Style Beans
1 15-ounce can, black beans
1 15-ounce can, garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp pepper
salt, to taste
water, to preference

Combine chopped onion, pepper, and olive oil in a large pot and heat on medium to high until onions are starting to become transparent.

Add diced tomatoes and tomatoe paste, stir well to combine.  Bring to a boil.  Add all the beans (with liquid, except for the garbanzo beans), bring to a boil.  Add spices and simmer on medium for 15 minutes.  Depending on how thick or soupy you prefer your chili, you may want to add some water.  I've been known to add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes...but I'm from Texas!

I usually get 8 servings from this, making each serving 242 calories.  Mr. Higgins prefers a side of cornbread with his chili - so yummy! 

This recipe freezes very well!  I freeze individual servings for lunches and quick dinners.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Jillian Michaels: 6 Week Six-Pack (Review)

As I've said before, I'm not a fan of Jillian Michaels - for many reasons.  Her attitude during her workouts really annoys me - that bad ass, rip it until you die philosophy.  I will never turn to her for cardio because her workouts are too stilted and slow-moving, in my opinion.  But when I needed a new ab workout and her 6 Week Six-Pack (2010) was on sale, I snatched it up.

This video consists of two workouts - an intermediate and an advanced.  In both workouts, you're given a beginner modification and an extreme (kill yourself) modification. 

Jillian gives you a quick warm-up to get your blood pumping, which is much appreciated.  She then moves into both standing and floor ab work.  Interspersed with the ab excercises are short high interval bursts to keep your heartrate up.  I like this, though I loathe burpees and mountain-climbers (actually, who likes these torturous excercises!).  Once you go through all the exercises, you repeat them, this time at a faster pace.  At the end, you have a quick cool down.

You will need a weight for this video, though the beginner modification in the first workout can be done without one.  Jillian uses this to really make you ache. 

This video will get you results, I have no doubt.  I like the variety within it - the standing work is innovative and the floor work is a killer. 

I have a few gripes, though.  When the pace quickens, it's sometimes hard to keep your balance and do everything at once.  I'm pretty advanced and I can't do quick static lunges while twisting vigorously with a weight in hand.  Also, the thing that always bothers me about Jillian is that she doesn't seem to count out the repeats and her girls are never together or on the same beat. many repeats should I do?  How do I know I'll do the same on the opposite side?  This is just a little too disorganized for my OCD self.  For a clip, go here.

But when you're in the right mind-set, Jillian is a nice change.  Let's face it - there are a lot of bad workout videos and bad instructors.  Jillian isn't bad, she just doesn't have a style that works for me.....all the time.

Bottom Line: For some seriously challenging core work, Jillian's ab video is definitely a good option.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Toasted Coconut Chocolate Cookies (2014:7)

I'm always on the look out for low calorie desserts.  Annoyingly, this usually means cookies.  The good news is that I've found some awesome low-fat cookies!  The bad news is that cookies no longer excite me. 

Long ago, I'd pinned this recipe for Toasted Coconut Chocolate Chunk Cookies, from Cooking Light, and this past weekend, I decided to give it a try.  I got to try something new - toasting sweetened coconut.  This was a painless process and made the house smell wonderful!

The cookies are good but not nearly coconut-y enough for me.  I don't think they turned out quite right, possibly because I used some brown sugar that was a bit past it's prime.  So, this is one I'll have to try again because it's so close to being a keeper!!

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Hangman's Daughter

I recently finished an interesting read by German author Oliver Potzsch: The Hangman's Daughter.  Here's the review i posted on Goodreads:

As a lover of historical fiction, this book greatly appealed to me as it takes place in seventeenth-century Bavaria. Rural Germany is not a common setting of historical fiction these days (the genre is saturated with mind-numbing Tudor England novels) nor is the local hangman a character frequently focused upon. Thus, I was intrigued.

I loved the characters in this novel; the Kuisls are a real family of Bavarian hangmen and Jakob came to life as the outcast, as the town hangman who learned the craft from his father. Simon, the local physician, and Magdelena, the hangman's daughter, have great personalities and provide the love story of the novel. In the end, this book was just a bit too much like a mystery for me. Also, the title of the book makes no sense - Magdelena was only a supporting character.

That being said, I'm interested enough in the life of the hangman to read more.

I found the next two books in the series on clearance, so I can keep reading!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thai Peanut Slaw (2014:6)

I've been craving something Asian.  And so when I went to pick a new recipe to test this past weekend, I was searching for Asian dishes.  I didn't like how many calories the noodle dishes had so I settled on this Thai Peanut Slaw.

This recipe allowed me four firsts in the grocery store: buying cole slaw mix, sesame seed oil, rice vinegar, and peas!  Ha!  (I've never liked cole slaw.)  I loved the idea of a peanut-ty slaw and so I made this with great anticipation, happily whipping out my food processor.

The slaw turned out really good!  I was a bit worried when I was making the dressing - all the ingredients seem like a very odd combination.  But when I mixed it all together and took a bite - it was very tasty!!  And Mr. Higgins approves!

I left out the mint because I couldn't quite justify buying $4 of mint to use in one dish.   But I'll be keeping this recipe, especially to use in the summer when we need salad-like dishes!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cathe Friedrich: Cardio Core Circuit (Review)

If you know me, you will say that I can be a little OCD.  Nowhere have I realized just how OCD I can be as with my workouts.  I'm always worried I'll get stuck in a rut - and I'll see no more results.  So, I'm constantly trying to do things differently.  I love my Michelle Dozois and Jari Love videos but recently I bought several videos out of my comfort zone to change it up.  One of them was Cathe Friedrich's Cardio Core Circuit (2009).

Because I'm very OCD, I read a lot of video reviews and fitness articles online.  I'd heard a lot about Cathe but had never tried her videos, mainly because none of them are available through Netflix.  And so I did something I rarely do - I bought a copy (albeit gently used) of Cardio Core Circuit, without having tried it first.  I chose this video because it requires no equipment, which is rare for Cathe, from what I see.  Her videos often require a lot of very uncommon equipment, which really frustrates me. 

This workout is broken down into five circuits.  In each one you'll do three high impact moves and then repeat them.  You have a short recovery after each, marching in place.  Then on to a crazy ab exercise.  Repeat this five times.  At the beginning of the video is an effective warm-up and there's a good stretch at the end.  

To be clear - this video is filled with high impact moves with no nice dance moves in between.  You just go through these, one after another.  These moves are very similar to the moves Michelle Dozois "peaks" with in her Peak 10 workouts.  In hers, you do them for 30-60 seconds after having done high impact cardio (dance-like but high impact) for five minutes prior.  Cathe just goes through these crazy "peak" moves one after another.  

This video almost killed me.  In a way I like just how no-nonsense it is - and with no crazy complicated choreography that gripes me with other instructors.  But these moves are intense and often involve jumping very high for prolonged periods.  

The core work is also intense.  I was only able to do the regular moves on two out of five.  For the other three, I had to do the "modified" (i.e. beginner) version.  It's been a long time since I had to "modify" any workout to be easier.  

At the end of this workout I was drenched with sweat and barely able to breathe.  Wow!  That being said, I'm not really looking forward to doing this video again.  I can see how Cathe gets results and you pay for those results.  I'll do this video again and I'll keep doing it....but ouch!  One thing is for certain - when you get through something like this, your confidence really spikes; it's a great feeling......  The feeling in my calves, which ached with pain for a week afterward, was not so great.  Must stretch a bit more before jumping around so much!

Bottom Line: This is a super-advanced workout.  Try it only after Michelle Dozois' Peak 10 videos.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pet Peeves in the Office

I'm really enjoying my new job and my awesome new co-workers.  The only thing I can complain about are my hours - 8 to 5, which means really bad traffic and, therefore, longer commutes. 

In my previous job, surrounded by mostly absent professors, I was spoiled.  Now, I have a better office but the walls surrounding it are paper thin.  Because of this, the new bane of my office existence is the lady across the hall (who is, thankfully, in a different department than me....and not a direct co-worker).  

She's enlightened me on what NOT to do in the workplace....

1.  Do not arrive 1.5-2 hours after everyone else and yawn at the top of your lungs for the next hour.  Really, yawns have nothing at all to do with your vocal chords.  Lean to differentiate the two and yawn silently.  Many, many people around you will be thankful.

2.  Likewise, sneezes have nothing to do with your vocal chords.  Your sneezes should not make people across the hall physically jump.  Be courteous and sneeze with your nose/mouth, not your vocal chords.

3.  Do not yell at the person in the next office.  Get some exercise, because you most likely need it, get up, and speak to them while in the same room.

4.  Show a little common sense and close your door when you call the doctor to speak to them about your yeast infection and/or bladder infection.  The entire office does not need to hear those details.

5.  Turn the volume off on your computer.  Everyone does not need to hear when you accidentally click on something that makes a hideous sound blare from your speakers.  

For most people, these things are common sense - but not for everyone, as evidenced by my office neighbor.  Read these, ponder them, and respect your co-workers.

Thank you and good day!  Ha!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cheddar Muffins (2014:5)

I'm really enjoying making some new and different recipes due to my New Year's resolution.  One thing I've been wanting to make that was completely new to me....a savory bread.  A recipe just happened to find its way onto one of my Pinterest boards and I was dying to try it: Cheddar Muffins.

The main reason this recipe appealed to me was because Mr. Higgins loves, loves cornbread.  But I wanted to find a different bread to pair with soups and such.  I loved many ingredients in this recipe: oil, which I don't get enough of; cheese, because it's awesome; and the ability to customize the recipe in tons of ways! 

Because of what I had on hand, I made the muffins withe Mexican cheese blend.  They were pretty darn good but now I want to make them again, using only cheddar.  I bet they'll be a bit better. This recipe will definitely go into my collection and will be made quite frequently!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Michelle Dozois: Peak 10 Cardio Interval Burn Remix (Review)

For my birthday in October, my super-fit sister gave me the two newest Michelle Dozois Peak 10 videos.  I was ecstatic - you well know of my love for Michelle's workouts.  I held off on trying the new videos until January, when I knew I'd need motivation to get back into shape.  Michelle's Peak 10 Interval Burn Remix (2013) does not disappoint - and it's not a remix.  It's a brand new Peak 10 workout!

The workout begins with a warm-up that quickly warms you up.  There is no marching in place - this is an express way to get your heart rate up and up!  

The next five 10-minute intervals are a lot of work - and super fun.  As with the other Peak 10 workouts, you do a five-minute interval twice - once on the right foot lead, once on the left.  Each interval begins with an extremely short basecamp to catch your breath followed by an ascent.  The ascent will keep you moving while allowing you to recover.  The climb is tough - you frequently go to the floor for burpees and/or moutain-climbers.  The peak is a very painful 30-second interlude where you do crazy jumps of some kind - this will test you.  But, don't worry, you get done quickly and start over with a basecamp to recover.

Michelle is very inventive in her workouts.  None of the moves are crazy complicated but she likes to keep things fresh and different.  In this video she provides you with a "Movement Review" on the Main Menu to run you through some of the more tricky sequences.  I liked watching this so I knew what was ahead for me. This "Remix" definitely has the trickiest sequences of all the Peak 10 workouts - but it's still easily accessible.

The music that Michelle chooses is fun.  There is no equipment necessary.  You will spend 65 minutes being workout out....and out.  At the end of it, you will be sweating profusely (I usually lose 1lb of water weight during a 50-minute session with Michelle) and you will feel great. 

The cool down and stretch is always one of my favorite parts.  I love it when my muscles are warm and I can get a great stretch.  For a clip of this video, go here.  This is a great addition to the Peak 10 series.  My only hope is that Michelle keeps the videos coming!

Bottom Line: This is an advanced cardio workout.  Once you are comfortable going to the floor during cardio workouts, you're ready for the Peak 10 series.