Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mia Cooks: Sweet Potatoes, a Surprise Hit

I had Team RAGE over for dinner on Sunday and while we took video and I took tons of photos of the lamb, kale, couscous, etc. that I made, by far the biggest hit were the sweet potatoes! And in response to the latest spate of "healthy" frozen food delivery reviews, I'm teaching you how to make them.

It's crazy easy.

You need:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Coconut Oil
- Cayenne Pepper
- Salt

That's it. Literally. That's it.

1) Peel sweet potatoes.
2) Chop sweet potatoes into circles (about 1/2" thick)

3) Melt coconut oil

4) Toss potatoes with oil
5) Lay sweet potatoes out on baking sheet
6) Sprinkle with cayenne and salt

7) Bake at 400 for 15-18 minutes

I thought I had a photo of the finished product, but apparently not - we just ate them quickly because they're that good.

Leftovers (if you have them) make great pre-workout snacks. And good breakfast sides with eggs.

And yeah. Stop buying that frozen crap with additives.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mia Cooks - Pork Tenderloin, Green Beans, Scalloped Potatoes, and Gravy!

Alright! I'm injured. Still injured. My ankle was swollen to the size of my biceps Saturday night (only slight exaggeration). Until my health insurance kicks in...Coach has mandated (wisely) that I am NOT allowed to run or do anything resembling impact. Blah blah blah, Coach is right, blah blah. Running resumes March 1.

In the mean time, I figured it was time to dedicate myself to some time in the kitchen! One of my goals for these two weeks with Christine has been to make a food plan at the beginning of the week and cook more of my meals. Normally, I'm really good at this, but probably one week a month, I fall totally off the wagon. We'll be out of food, I'll be too tired to go to the grocery, and face it, tomato soup from Cosi sounds SO good right now...

But this weekend, we hit up Costco and Safeway and Washington's Green Grocer delivered an abundance of beautiful produce. The freezer and fridge are PACKED, and mostly with produce!

And so, in the frustration of being off my ankle, I decided to cook! This episode of Mia Cooks focuses on how to cook a pork tenderloin. The best think about this dish is that the meat is craycray cheap. You can get a two pack at Costco for pennies.

Below, I've got my recipes and step by step for pork tenderloin, green beans, scalloped potatoes, and gravy. If you decide to make everything, here is a list of what you'll need in total:

- Pork tenderloin(s)
- soy sauce
- sherry cooking wine
- rice wine vinegar
- vegetable oil
- orange juice
- shallot
- fresh or ground ginger
- rosemary
- italian seasoning
- butter
- salt, pepper, garlic salt, seasoned salt
- garlic cloves

Green Beans:
- green beans
- onion
- powdered chicken bouillon

Scalloped Potatoes:
- 5-8 small potatoes (enough for 2-3 c. sliced)
- chives, bacon, cheese (optional)
- powdered mustard, paprika, salt
- 1 1/4 c. milk and cream

- broth (optional)
- flour
- left over juice from cooking tenderloins

1) Optional Trimming I thawed the tenderloin out over night and then, mid afternoon, I trimmed up the tenderloins. This is optional. I recently had the opportunity to observe an incredible chef cook - during this time, he demo'ed how to trim a tenderloin. I will admit, I am not nearly as adept at it, but here is the general gist, via video:
 (video coming shortly)

Basically, take off the fat and the tendons (anything white). You can do this with a sharp knife and some patience. If you're lazy/time crunched, don't bother...though I REALLY do recommend doing this.

2) Marinade. Then, I marinaded the meat for a couple hours. My marinade recipe is:
- 1/4 c. soy sauce
- 1/4 c. sherry
- 1/8 c. rice wine vinegar
- 1/8 c. veg oil
1 tbsp orange juice (or just a splash)
A couple dashes of rosemary
1 chopped shallot
Dash of powdered ginger (it's preferable to have about a tablespoon of chopped fresh ginger, but use what you've got.)

You can put this in a big bowl or dish, but I prefer the "no clean" option of a plastic ziplock. Easier to move the meat around the marinade this way.

3. Wait. Let it sit in the fridge for however long, but 2+ hours is preferable. Overnight is even fine.

4. Crust. (ps. now is the time to preheat your oven to 400). I like seasoning the outside of the tenderloins in addition to the marinade. Here's the "no clean" way to do it. Pull out foil and grind a good layer of salt, pepper, seasoned salt, herbs (italian blend works fine), and garlic salt. Then roll your tenderloins over it (that's what she said). Then, I have slices of garlic cloves (thin) and put small knife cuts into the tenderloins and insert the garlic slices.

5. Sear. I like to sear the outside of the tenderloin to lock in the flavor. There are more technical terms for why this is a good idea, but I don't know enough to tell you why. Go with me, here.

Just melt about 2-3 tbsp butter in a skillet that can go into the oven (which should be preheated before you sear the meat.) Make sure the butter is hot enough that when you put the meat in, you hear a sizzle, but not too hot that the butter browns before you put the meat in. On my electric stove, this is a 5-6 on a scale of 1-10. You can test the butter by dripping a tiny bit of (like, a drop or two) of water or marinade.

Cook each side of the tenderloins for 1 minute - just enough to sear the outside.

Don't worry if some of the red at the ends isn't gone. It's thinner and will cook just fine in the oven.

6. Cook. This is a tricky one. If you get the normal sized tenderloins at costco or wherever, then this is a decent cooking time: 
  • 8 minutes - mostly raw
  • 6 minutes more - smaller tenderloin is done
  • 3 more minutes - larger tenderloin is ready
These cooking times are for a "pink" tenderloin. If you prefer yours well done (???) or have family members or small children who can only eat well done meat, I would add another 3 minutes to these times. The key, really, is to have an instant read thermometer. I've seen a range of temperatures, so I may be wrong, but 155-160 appears to be the right internal temp. 

The biggest mistake I made when I was learning to cook was taking the meat off when it was exactly where I wanted it to be. WRONG. Meat doesn't stop cooking the second it is out of the heat, so make sure you take it off a few minutes before it appears "done" (whatever that "done-ness is to you.)

Here is what "done" is for me:

7. Rest. Yes, rest. Rest, for meat, is just as important as rest is for athletes. Take the meat out of the skillet (watch the handle, it IS hot and will sear your flesh off). For the no-clean method, put each tenderloin on it's own sheet of foil and loosely wrap the foil around it. This will keep it warm and allow the meat to cool, finish cooking, and have the juices set. This will keep the juices from spilling out all over everything (and drying your meat) when you cut it. I let this happen for about 10 minutes (or while I'm finishing making dinner.)


Yes, I know we can all live on meat alone, but it's SO much better with some sides. Normally, I'd make something a lot more healthy, but I was feeling indulgent. I added scalloped potatoes, green beans, and gravy.

Scalloped Potatoes
Recipe adapted from Joy of Cooking

I tend to make these when we have some potatoes have seen better days - usually, smaller potatoes. Some of them are starting to sprout and all that. No matter. Take enough to fill two cups with slices (this will be between 5-8 smaller potatoes).

1. Peel them. You can do this with a knife a little more effectively and easily than with a peeler, but it's chef's choice.

2. Slice them. The more thinly and evenly you slice them, the prettier and more evenly cooked your dish will be. I recommend going for something around an 1/8th of an inch.

3. Prep your secondary ingredients. And preheat your oven to 350. Chop up about 1-2 tbsp butter. You want smaller pieces you can "dot" around the layers of the potatoes. Grab about a 1/3 cup of flour and have that on the side. If you want to add some new flavors, grab some chives, a half an onion, or some bacon (or all of them!) Some people also use cheese. 

4. Layer. Cover the bottom of the pan with one layer of potatoes. Dust with flour and with a few pieces of butter and whatever extras you'd like to add. Keep layering until you're out of potatoes, but don't dust the top with flour or any extras. 

5. Mix liquid. Depending on your level of decadence, heat up a mixture of 1 1/4 c. milk and cream so that it's about bathwater temperature. Sometimes, I add more milk or more water to have more liquid. No more than an extra 1/4 cup, though. 

Mix in 1/2 tsp. of paprika and another of powdered mustard. I add salt in at this point (about a teaspoon). Make sure it's really mixed up or you just get a lump of seasonings in the bottom of the pan.

6. Pour liquid over the potatoes. 

7. Bake. Cover this bad boy with foil and pop it into the oven. In about a half hour, take off the foil. Cooking it with foil for the first half hour keeps it from drying out or burning on the top. Let it bake for another 45 minutes to an hour - but check it at a half hour. I just told Chadd to take it out after an hour while I was at a meeting, so ours came out a bit more "done" than normal. 

Green Beans
I assume most people know how to make green beans, but if you don't - or you want a new twist - here's how we make them in our house.

1. Heat water. Put about an inch and a half of water into the bottom of a larger pot. Add two heaping tablespoons of chicken bouillon and half of an onion, cut into large sections.   

2. Clean the green beans. Rise, then chop off the ends of each green bean. I'm not meticulous about it, don't let yourself spend way too much time doing this.

3. Cook. With about 6-8 minutes left on the rest of your meal, throw in the green beans and just keep an eye on them. Take them out when you can pierce them with a knife, but before they turn brown. They will look vibrantly green when they're done. If you like your green beans soggy - don't come over for dinner. 

Recipe non existant, but mad props to my dad for teaching me how to make gravy.

When you took the tenderloins out of the oven and moved them to foil, I'm sure you noticed that you had a lot of extra juice and stuff floating around in the bottom of the pan. This is good. 

1. Thicken. Toss a tablespoon or so of flour into the juice in the pan on medium low heat. If this makes paste, add some water, broth (any kind, really), or left over marinade. Your choice. If you use the left over marinade - match that 1 for 1 with water since the marinade will be very strong in flavor. Don't over do it.

2. Simmer. Bring gravy to a simmer. Too thin? Add flour a spoonful at a time to avoid lumps. Too thick? Add water, marinade, or broth. Stir continuously so you don't burn the gravy.

3. Repeat. Until you have the consistency you like. A word on using the marinade - that has raw stuff floating around in it. Make sure your gravy simmers (bubbles) for a bit if you've decided to use that as a loosening agent. 

I think timing is probably the hardest thing for people to master as they are learning to cook. Here is my cheat sheet to make everything above and have it all finish at roughly the same time.

Earlier in the day: prep tenderloins and marinade them
2 hours before dinner: prep scalloped potatoes
1.5 hours before dinner: put in scalloped potatoes
1 hour before dinner: take foil off potatoes, prep green beans
30 minutes before dinner: sear tenderloins and place in oven
15 minutes before dinner: boil water for green beans
10 minutes before dinner: put on green beans, take out tenderloin and let rest
5 minutes before dinner: make gravy

And voila:

The meat is a little pink for my taste, but Chadd likes his tenderloin more rare than I do. 


Questions? Mia Cooks requests? Soup recipes coming soon!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Solo Run

I announced it on Twitter, and probably on Facebook the other week, but I don't think that trickled into my blog.

I pulled out of the Myrtle Beach Marathon.

This is the first race that I have ever DNS'ed (did not start).

The longer story behind my DNS is that I've been injured since the first week of January. Between foot surgery years ago and an already weakened left ankle, my left arch swelled up, my ankle was tight, every step I took was agony, likely because of over use, old shoes, or just...bad luck. As I started to heal with the help of rest, active release therapy, and a lot of foam rolling, the marathon drew closer and closer and all I had to show for it was one long run of 18 miles.

Coach T and I met, discussed that I would skip the tapering period before the marathon and, instead, ramp up. I felt like this was a doable strategy. I'd run marathons on stranger training regiments. I'm stronger, faster, more consistent...after Coach and I had dinner, I knew I could do it.

The night before I was supposed to head out for 12-13 miles, I was up the wall with stress, anxiety, and guilt over whether or not I should do the race. All I could hear in my mind was "Failure. You gave up. You are not an athlete. Liar. Fraud." I cried. I paced around the apartment. I couldn't tell if I was lying to myself about the pain and I was wimping out or if I was actually injured (spoiler alert: I was actually injured. But it was a unique experience to test physical pain versus mental denial).

In the end, I was so paralyzed by my inability to know how I would be healing that I had to make a decision. The stress of hoping to not be injured was driving me mad. My foot was still swollen, my ankle still tender, and crying over a 12 mile run was the final straw:

It was time for a mandated break.

In the end, this would have been my fourth marathon. I don't want to take the little vacation time I have, to only hopefully PR a marathon, much less finish it without injury. I didn't want to spend the energy I have left at the end of the day worrying about something that is supposed to be a joy...and, finally, I have some lofty goals for the end for the year (sub-6 half IM in Augusta). To do a marathon in February that may have lasting implications for my foot, right as training season revs up? It wasn't a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I'm still fighting to remember that injuries are things to be taken seriously, that there are other marathons, and that sometimes, NOT training is the smartest training decision that can be made.

But, my brain and determination are stubborn. So, to prove to myself that I haven't bitched out on training, I hit every workout this week AND I got up at 5:30 this morning to meet team RAGE for a 6:30 am run.

Rachel and Victoria had a much longer run on the calendars, but Coach T let me get to Saturday morning run early to go out with them as they begin to train to start a run in the early morning for race day.

The sun had not yet risen. And it was COLD. Like, 18 degrees according to my iPhone cold. I had my headlamp and LED flasher (who says I don't train for Ragnar?). I wore long spandex, shorts, a long sleeve tech shirt, thick tech bright orange jacket (thanks, Jason!), two pairs of gloves with hand warmers (thanks, Mom!), ear warmers and baseball hat. Bundled is an understatement. And I was still cold.

As we were getting ready to go, Coach jumped out of her car and rallied with us to run a quick 6 miles. What a gift. How amazing it was to spend a few miles running with Coach. When we hit 3, Coach ran ahead, Victoria and Rachel kept going on Beach while I turned around to head back to the car. Three miles, alone.

It's been a long time since I have run alone.

Aside I headed back, the sun was rising over Rock Creek, squirrels were stirring up the leaves, I saw a runner here or there, but mostly, I was alone.

I stopped my Garmin at one point to stand on a small bridge over the creek and watch the water rush past. Then I picked up the pace and held sub-9's the rest of the way home.

My confidence boosted by the lack of pain in my ankle and foot, the success of getting up early, the excitement of running with Coach...all of that seemed to churn up everything else on my mind in a cathartic manner.

I spent the better portion of my solo run back to the car pouring my heart out to the frigid air. I confessed my deepest thoughts and feelings to imaginary running companions. Perhaps, if you want to know the state of my heart, it is best to run long with me.

Running strips away a certain amount of armor that we all have. I am the most honest with myself in those moments and miles. I love myself the most; I forgive myself the most.

As I write this, my ankle and foot are tender, a little reminder that I made the right decision about the race, for which I am grateful. But the good news is that it all seems to be on the path to healing and I've overcome a huge mental obstacle for me - I am not a failure for pulling out of a race. I am learning to listen to my body. And there will be other marathons.