Biking Bucatini, What to Eat Before a Long Ride

Friday nights call for simplicity when it comes to pulling together dinner. I’m active in long-distance cycling and needed to carb up for a big, hilly, challenging ride tomorrow morning. Pasta was the only answer. Specifically, the bucatini shape of pasta. Bucatini is long and round, like spaghetti, but much thicker in width. It’s density provides a satisfying chew. I could just eat bucatini with butter. Then again, I did need veggies and protein to prepare for the big bike ride.

bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken
bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken

For the rest of the ingredients, I also wanted to use leftovers from last night: grilled chicken and sautéed cauliflower. A tried and true combination that works great with pasta is cannellini beans and artichokes. The water in the canned artichokes serves as a broth to unify the rest of the ingredients. Here’s how I started with the cooking: I set out on the counter four cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 cup diced grape tomatoes, 1 can drained and rinsed cannellini beans, 2 cans quartered artichokes (do not drain), and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan. While the pasta water was heating to a boil in a large pot, I started sautéing the garlic and onion in a large saucepan with olive oil. Once the onion softened and turned gold, I added chopped red pepper and the tomatoes. At this point, I seasoned the contents of the saucepan with salt and pepper. Next, the rinsed beans rolled into the pan and the contents of the two artichoke canned went in.

red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic
red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic

Those flavors combine fairly quickly at medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. The grilled chicken was cut into bite-sized pieces and was heated in the microwave. Same with the leftover cauliflower. The chicken and cauliflower was then placed in a large pasta serving bowl. Those ingredients were sprinkled with the cheese. Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I tossed it in the serving bowl to mix with the cheese, chicken and cauliflower, along with a dollop of SmartBalance butter alternative. Finally, the contents of the saucepan were poured over the top of the pasta bowl. The artichoke-infused water softly binds all the ingredients together, in terms of consistency and flavor. I feel satisfied that this meal will provide me with the right energy to take the hills on my bicycle. Maybe it’s psychological, but if and when I feel fatigued while climbing the hills, I can tell myself I  have it in me because I ate the right dinner with carbs and protein.

chopped grilled chicken
chopped grilled chicken

Of course, it will also help to hydrate more before bed, upon waking and while driving my bicycle out to the country town where the cycling group is meeting and riding. The really key thing for me first thing in the morning will be coffee, strong coffee. For the riding, I will have special sports mix for my water and protein bars. Afterward, the cyclists will hang out on the town square for a cookout with burgers. I’m hoping to ride around 60 miles tomorrow and the socializing will be the best part of the day. Well, the views are going to be amazing as well. All of the above are the motivation to keep pedaling those hills: bucolic views, friendship and burgers. I don’t normally eat them, but one doesn’t feel guilty about it after many miles of biking. I’m a little nervous about those hills, but still looking forward to it.

The Sage Leopard

Savory crepes paired with grilled chicken

I live in Texas, land of the breakfast taco, so crepes aren’t always front of mind when it comes to cooking at home. But, why not? They both have strong traditions as street food and I found an easy way to make crepes. Voila, a crepe maker. This is a very reasonably priced speciality tool and could serve other purposes. Think warming tortillas or making grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Velata crepe maker simply picks up the batter and evenly cooks crepes on a nonstick surface.
The Velata crepe maker simply picks up the batter and evenly cooks crepes on a nonstick surface.

The Velata crepe maker now comes in white and is on sale this month for $49.50 vs. the regular $55. This crepes dinner came together very quickly after an evening workout. I left the gym and popped into the grocery store to pick up chicken tenders, asparagus, mushrooms and spinach. My boyfriend set the chicken on one side of the raclette grill to cook, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

While grilling chicken and asparagus, we melted cheese in a raclette pan.
While grilling chicken and asparagus, we melted cheese in a raclette pan.

I set the asparagus on the other side of the grill and sauteed the mushrooms in a small pan. (Come to think of it, they could have gone on the grill too to simplify things further.)

I had pre-made the batter before heading out so that the bubbles would settle while the bowl sat in the fridge. I grabbed the crepe maker by the handle and dipped it upside down in its accompanying batter dish to cover the cooking surface.

The Velata crepe maker includes a perfectly sized dish for the batter.
The Velata crepe maker includes a perfectly sized dish for the batter.

Gently pulling up, I flipped the crepe maker and placed it on its cooking platform. The light turns red to indicate it is connected and cooking, Soon enough, the light clicks off to indicate the crepe is done. I repeated this process to create a stack of beautiful, light crepes. Meanwhile, we melted a little bit of Vermont white cheddar cheese in raclette pans that are placed under the grilling top for a broiling effect.

Chicken, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms combine for savory and fresh tasting crepe fillings.
Chicken, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms combine for savory and fresh tasting crepe fillings.

Very quickly, dinner came together as we topped the crepes with grilled chicken, cheese, asparagus, mushrooms, fresh spinach (right out of the bag) and a drizzle of Velata raspberry syrup. It was heavenly. It was also filling without feeling heavy and was a perfect way to enjoy making and eating a weeknight dinner together.

Bon Appetit

The Sage Leopard

Craft Your Own Happiness in 15 Minutes

We tend to stress ourselves out, even with things that should enhance our lives, such as cooking dinner. Why are you viewing your home life as a series of chores rather than a set of little luxuries? What if you cooked dinner on a granite-topped grill and took in the moment? Luxurious, right?

One of our luxuries is time. I’ve discovered I can best utilize it by marking the time. For instance, I’d been procrastinating on finishing a sewing project because when I returned to the machine it was jamming up the thread. I brought an egg timer into the sewing room and gave myself 15 minutes to figure it out. Re-reading the manual helped too. Soon enough, I had the machine rolling again and with relative ease, finished the project: a duvet for a doggie bed. The fabric had been measured and cut, twice, a month earlier. It was easy to assemble and the result makes me and the dogs happy.

Chester lounging on the swanky home crafted doggie duvet
Chester lounging on the swanky home crafted doggie duvet

I picked up this 15 minutes idea from my physician to whom I complained about how hard it can be to motivate to go the gym. He suggested I convince myself by thinking it will only be 15 minutes and then find myself putting in a 30-minute workout. Last night, I needed to de-clutter my mind and opted to take 15 minutes to meditate. It may have been 20 minutes I laid on a yoga mat breathing mindfully and it really helped.

Dinner should never be viewed as a chore and it too can be prepared relatively quickly. Here are two examples. Sunday night in this household is all about The Walking Dead. I used to make elaborate meals for this event. This time, I sliced up a chicken breast and marinated it in a plastic storage bag in rosemary, Meyer lemon juice and sliced garlic cloves.

Salmon and chicken grilling on granite
Salmon and chicken grilling on granite

I sliced off the skin from a filet of salmon. All I did to cook the meat and fish was to place it on the hot granite atop the raclette grill. I assembled a salad with lettuce and some deli salad sides (Greek olives and sliced roasted red pepper). Voila, a delicious dinner. In that instance, I had just returned from the grocery store with fresh ingredients.

Quick salad with a little help from the deli buffet
Quick salad with a little help from the deli buffet

But, I also recently discovered that the granite grill is great for cooking up canned vegetables. I rubbed on some olive oil and then let the grill work its magic on butter beans, green beans and diced (drained) tomatoes.

Butter beans, green beans and diced tomatoes
Butter beans, green beans and diced tomatoes

Salt, pepper and parmesan cheese brought it all together and to the table with ease. That’s what I mean when I talk about crafting your own happiness.

The Sage Leopard

Buffalo Grilled Chicken Cutlets, Grilled Indoors

A friend gave me a prize: a bottle of his secret Buffalo wing sauce. I do love the taste of chicken cooked with a delectable glaze of Buffalo wing sauce. IMG_6222I just don’t like having to work so much to get the meat off the wing. Same goes with eating crawfish. It’s a lot of messy work. Out came the secret sauce bottle and chicken breast cutlets. Call me prissy, but it was rather simple to grill the cutlets on the raclette grill. Once a side was browned with grill marks, I flipped the meat and brushed on a layer of Buffalo sauce. Once the other side was browned, I repeated with a flip and baste. At the same time, on the flat top side of the raclette grill, I cooked up zucchini slices, asparagus and sliced red cabbage.IMG_6217 I sprinkled some seasoning on the veggies as they cooked. Now, Buffalo chicken cries out for blue cheese or ranch dressing. We prefer a blue cheese Greek yogurt dressing. To engage the dressing, I toasted some whole wheat bolillos. To serve, spread the dressing on the toasted bread. I placed a chicken cutlet atop a bolillo half for an open-faced sandwich and ate it with a knife and fork. IMG_2215The veggies were an outstanding complement. The best thing was the simplicity: no brining wings, no plastic bags, no baking or outdoor grilling. It just all came together on the electric raclette grill, indoors. The non-stick aluminum grill top just washed off in the sink with warm water, a little soap and a brush. That was it. Enjoy!