Friday, January 24, 2014

Chicken Cheddar Bacon Ranch Bake

This is one of the very easiest but also most delicious things I've been making for myself recently. I'm sure I didn't "invent" this recipe, not that there's really anything to invent. But boy, am I glad it's in my life now.

Chicken Cheddar Bacon Ranch Bake


6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup low-sugar ranch dressing
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
3 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled (or equivalent store-bought bacon bits)


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and rub the bottom and sides of your 9"x13" baking dish with butter.

Arrange the six chicken breasts so that they're just barely touching.

Top each with ranch dressing, making sure that no chicken is left exposed so it won't dry out.

Then, layer on crumbled bacon and cheddar cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes in your 375-degree oven or until the chicken reaches 165 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Chicken Cheddar Bacon Ranch Bake

Chicken Cheddar Bacon Ranch Bake

Chicken Cheddar Bacon Ranch Bake

The result is a big, cheesy, bacony mess that you'll either think looks like the most delicious thing ever or looks like a disaster. (I like to scoop the melted butter out of the dish and spoon it over my portion, which makes it look even crazier.) But no matter how you think it looks, you'll love the way it tastes.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Perfect Bacon Bowl: Is Everything Really Better with Bacon?

My BFF, Tracey, has been my BFF approximately our entire lives at this point, so she of course knew that I'd been seeing the commercials for the Perfect Bacon Bowl and was intrigued. Meaning I wanted one really, really badly. Well, mine came in a set of four, and I'm now the proud owner of them thanks to her. But are they as mind-blowingly awesome as they seem? My boyfriend and I decided to find out.

They really seem like the simplest thing right out of the box, lightweight like plastic but obviously made of something that can stand the heat of the oven. The booklet that arrives with them has instructions for use and a few recipes, but of course the first recipe was for bread bowls. NO!

Perfect Bacon Bowl

First, we draped two half-slices of bacon across the dome of the bowl in a criss-cross pattern:

Perfect Bacon Bowl

Then, we wrapped a second slice around the bottom of the center dome. It was long enough that the ends overlapped, which was no problem at all. Finally, we wrapped a third slice around the top of the center dome. The bacon easily stuck to itself, so there was no sliding around.

Perfect Bacon Bowl

We nudged the bacon up and down until there were no exposed areas. We were serious about forming these bowls.

Perfect Bacon Bowl

We put them in a glass baking dish, and 35 minutes later, we pulled these beauties out of the oven:

Perfect Bacon Bowl

All of the extra fat was captured in the base of the bowl (to be poured over Brussels sprouts later). The finished bacon bowls weren't easy to pry off, but even with all of my clumsiness, I still got mine off the form in almost one piece. And the little piece that stayed behind was a nice crunchy little treat that I couldn't help but eat the moment I finished taking this picture. The inside didn't look as crunchy as the exterior, but I didn't notice anything but crisp bacon when I was eating it later.

Perfect Bacon Bowl

My boyfriend made his famous scrambled eggs with even more bacon and filled the bowls for us:

Perfect Bacon Bowl

And then we were ready for dinner:

Perfect Bacon Bowl

The verdict? Yep, mind-blowingly awesome. But basically not functional as bowls. The moment we took a first bite, the remaining eggs tumbled out onto our plates, and after that, we were taking a bite of bacon bowl and then eating a forkful of egg. So I want to say the bacon bowl is mostly just novelty . . . except that somehow, this was THE BEST-TASTING BACON. Seriously, I don't remember eating more delicious bacon. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, excited by the prospect of a bacon in bowl form, but maybe something about the Perfect Bacon Bowl just makes the bacon cook better. We'll have to see how my second attempt turns out.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Low-Carb Success Story in Progress

I've lost 40 pounds since May of last year on a low-carb diet. I don't want to post dramatic before and after photos of myself where I look sad and sloppy in the "before" photo and upbeat and put-together in the "after" photo, because I don't consider my current body an "after" yet and because 40 pounds in seven months isn't some amazing feat. But I did want to talk about how I'm doing it, both for anyone who might read this and for myself in the future.

1) I've found recipes I love and don't mind making often. When I would low-carb in the past, I was living in a tiny New York City studio with zero counter space, no oven, and no freezer. The things I cooked for myself were usually compromises–whatever I could make on a stovetop with as few ingredients as possible–and that's if I even cooked for myself at all. Once I moved into a larger apartment, I began to find easy recipes that really worked for me, things I truly loved eating and that made me feel like I was lucky to be on a low-carb diet, if you want to call it a diet at all. I plan to talk about those recipes in separate posts, but my low-carb Pinterest board is a great place to start if you want to get some ideas.

2) I don't deny myself the things I crave. Right now, I'm at the end of a two-week period in which I've told myself I'm not going to have any cheat meals at all. I've lost about eight pounds in those two weeks. The other night before bed, I tried to think to myself what I might want for a carby cheat meal once the two weeks are up, and I genuinely couldn't think of anything I was craving. I wondered why, when the mere thought of pizza or ice cream has set my heart a-flutter in the past, and I realized it's because I've been eating everything I want to. I've made skillet pizzas when I've wanted pizza, I've made buffalo chicken dip when I've wanted buffalo chicken fingers, I've made so much ice cream in my ice cream maker. Seriously, that thing has changed my life. Ice cream is one of my biggest cravings and probably my favourite food. I can do without a lot of things, but I can't do without ice cream. So now I keep a quart of the homemade, low-carb variety around at all times and find that a small scoop satisfies me like I never would've believed. When I go out to eat now, I usually don't even care about dessert, because I know my favourite thing's already waiting for me at home.

3) I rarely eat more than one carby meal in a day. I've found that I can at least maintain my weight if I stick to eating empty carbs only once per day. So if I know I'm going to want to go on a late-night cookie binge while I'm visiting my family for Christmas, I try to eat low-carb throughout the day. I was in Ohio for a week for Christmas this year and had a couple of days where I had to eat multiple carby meals in one day because other people were feeding me, and I still managed to only gain one pound because I was eating low-carb as often as possible. The idea that I could eat one carby meal every day if I wanted to once I get down to a weight I'm comfortable with is so comforting to me.

4) I go to the gym, sporadically. Even though I know I'll feel relaxed and proud of myself once I get back to the apartment, I dread going to the gym, so it takes a bit of motivation to get me there. Some weeks, I'll go three times and use the elliptical or walk on the treadmill for 30 or 45 minutes. Other weeks, I won't go at all. I don't guilt myself for not going, but I do feel pretty awesome when I do. Walking up stairs later and noticing that it's easier feels like a real reward.

5) I weigh myself. I know there are a lot of reasons not to weigh yourself when you're dieting. I'll admit that it's a real downer for me when I expect I've lost weight and find that the scale tells me I weigh the same thing I did three days ago. But it's also a great way for me to make sure I'm on the right track with the things I'm eating. During this two-week period of eating no cheat meals, I'd lost two pounds when I weighed myself one day, but when I weighed myself three days later, I was the same weight. I'd had low-carb peanut butter fudge made with no-sugar-added peanut butter, and I'd had a cup of coffee with half & half because I was out of heavy cream, and those were the only new things I'd introduced into my diet, so I figured it had to be one of those. I made sure not to drink any half & half the next day and had lost another half-pound when I weighed myself again. Had I not been weighing myself, I wouldn't have known that I could be doing something to mess up my weightloss. Eventually, losing weight won't be the point, and I won't need to keep a close eye on the scale. But for right now, when I'm trying so hard to get back to a weight I'm comfortable with, it's dumb to sabotage what's giving me motivation with something like half & half.

6) I've realized that low-carbing is actually pretty awesome. I know it's not for everyone, and I don't fault anyone for wanting to go a more traditional route like a low-calorie diet. But when I'm eating a scoop of the dreamiest ice cream made with heavy cream, or when I'm chowing down on a cheese and meat plate at a restaurant, or when I'm eating Brussels sprouts with extra bacon and extra sausage, I'm so happy that I've found a diet that lets me eat the richest, most satisfying foods.

Obviously I could've lost more weight by now had I done things differently. Had I not eaten so much ice cream, not eaten as many cheat meals when I was out with friends, gone to the gym more often, I would've lost more than the five pounds per month I averaged. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would've been so happy, and I'm not sure I would've been able to stick to it so easily.

How's low-carbing going for you?