Tiny Gourmet

A Guide to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse {Week 2}

FoodKristen2 Comments

"I cheated and I'm not that sorry about it." This is not really a text message you want to receive from your significant other, but it's the text I got from Frank earlier this week. Thankfully, he was referring to a slip in loyalty to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse, and not a bigger issue.

Victory!

Victory!

Thursday rounded out our second and final week of the cleanse (Week 1 recap here) -- a moment of both relief and (strangely) anxiety for me. I'm glad to be relieved of kitchen duty for the first time in two weeks, but I'm already stressing about next week's menu since it isn't laid out for me. Last night we celebrated the end of the cleanse with dinner at Estela -- highly recommended way to undo all of your hard work!

Other than my aforementioned baklava snack and Frank's fall to a sandwich on a day he wasn't able to bring lunch to work ("BREAD!" he texted), we stuck to the plan pretty closely. Here's my final assessment.

Week 2 Summary

Week 2 felt a little more streamlined than Week 1, but cooking fatigue definitely set in about halfway through the week. We still enjoyed the majority of the recipes and both continued to feel really good.

Cost: A much smaller shopping list meant a (slightly) less expensive grocery bill. We rung in at $200 this week, bringing the total for the entire 2-week cleanse to just about $500. That's more than we usually spend in a month for groceries, but we also didn't eat out at restaurants for two weeks, which is unheard of for us. A lot of the pantry ingredients we bought during Week 1 are now new, fun ingredients for us to use going forward.

Time Commitment: this week's shopping list was much more manageable than last week. I only made two major grocery store runs, and having everything on hand made it easier to prep things ahead. Cooking time was about the same -- an hour and a half to two hours per night.

Level of Ease: There was nothing particularly challenging in this week's recipe packet! Very straightforward.

Quality of Recipes: Like last week, we enjoyed the majority of the recipes. I did notice that some of the instructions got a little sloppy this week (i.e. no indication to save something from dinner for lunch the next day, which they were very good about in the first week), but nothing that totally ruined the results.

Results: I'm really happy that we decided to take on this cleanse. We're thinking very differently about portion sizes and our ability to re-purpose elements of dinner to create a new lunch item the next day. We were introduced to some fun flavors that we'll use going forward as well! I also really enjoyed being able to follow along with the creators of the cleanse on the Bon Appetit site. As far as weight goes, I have to say that I'm surprised by how much we lost! Changing our eating habits (and more importantly, not starving ourselves) for just two weeks resulted in losing 9 pounds, which is enough to make me really think about how much food really impacts us. I'd encourage anyone curious about the Food Lover's Cleanse to give it a try! If nothing else, you'll walk away with a few new go-to recipes that you can feel good about.

Favorite Week 2 Recipes:

Least Favorite Week 2 Recipe:

  • Beet and Escarole Salad with Avocado and Walnuts -- I was surprised that I didn't love this salad because I really liked all of the elements of it. But alas, the result was a little lackluster in flavor, and the lack of a side dish on this particular night was also sort of a bummer.
  • Roasted Celery Root with Walnuts and Thyme -- I thought this one was fine, but Frank was not a fan. Again with the root-vegetables-taste-like-dirt thing. It's a personal preference, for sure.

A Guide to the Bon Appetit Food Lover's Cleanse {Week 1}

Food, RecipesKristenComment

To quote John Oliver, "No one wants to hear about your f*#%ing cleanse." He's probably right, so if you want to go ahead and roll your eyes and move along, I don't really blame you. But after a few years of being curious about Bon Appetit's annual Food Lover's Cleanse, I finally decided that this would be the year that I would try it.

For those unacquainted, The Food Lover's Cleanse is a recipe program developed by the Bon Appetit staff and a registered dietitian. It's totally free and available online -- you just buy the ingredients and cook the dishes. The menu offers two weeks of healthy eats for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

I thought it might be helpful for anyone considering doing the BA cleanse to break down the program and give a realistic look at the cost, time commitment, level of ease, quality of recipes, and overall results.

Before I give you a recap of week one, here's a little insight into what I'm looking to get out of the cleanse:

  1. Get back on track with eating right. I don't feel as though I went too overboard this holiday season, but it's always good to push the reset button and focus on fueling yourself with good food. I always find myself reaching for less-than-nutritious options during the cold, bleak months of January and February, so I'd love to use this as a launching pad to get the right nutrients this winter! Weight loss is not a huge focus, but I'll note any differences I find during the cleanse (this is NOT billed as a diet/weight loss program, just FYI).
  2. Try new recipes and find new favorites. We always get stuck in a cycle of making the same recipes over and over again. It's really appealing to me that we will be trying new recipes almost every day, and I'm really hoping that some of them will stick!
  3. Start the new year with a sense of accomplishment. Sticking to a new regimen is always tough, especially when it comes to food. It's easier to order takeout or to cave to making dinner plans with a friend, so I'm really looking forward to challenging myself to stay accountable! Sorry friends, call me in a few weeks for dinner!
So many greens...

So many greens...

On to the guide:

Week 1 Summary

Last night marked the end of week 1 of the cleanse, and so far I'm pretty impressed! I have to admit that for the first few days my stomach was grumbling a little in between meals, but I made an effort to chug water and enjoy a cup of tea to combat that (dehydration often manifests as hunger pangs for me, so I tried to be mindful of that). I only "cheated" once this week when a co-worker brought in her  mom's homemade baklava that she makes once a year and I wait for all year long. Some things are more important than cleansing. The biggest challenge of this week was buying all of the ingredients. As someone who cooks very frequently, I had a lot of pantry items on hand already, but the Week 1 Shopping List was 115 items long -- holy smokes!

The guidelines that Bon Appetit provides say that you should keep alcoholic beverage consumption low -- no more than 4 drinks per week. This wasn't at all a problem for us, as we're not big drinkers to begin with. I had one beer last weekend, but otherwise stuck to coffee, tea, and water.

Cost: Week 1 rung in at (deep breath!) $300. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That's 3/4 of our normal monthly grocery budget. In one week. I'm interested to see what next week's total will be since all of the non-perishable items were purchased this week, so next week's list is considerably smaller. Also take into account that we live in New York City where grocery prices are somewhat higher, and I bought all of the meat and fish at Whole Foods (Yes, I'm a snob. But the quality is just a lot better than any of the other stores in our neighborhood).

Time Commitment: I won't lie, this takes a lot of time. I shopped at 4 different grocery stores over 3 or 4 days (probably at least 3 hours-worth of shopping). I spend about 2 hours each day making dinner and prepping lunches and breakfast for the next day. I really don't mind that piece of it since being in the kitchen is quite cathartic for me, but I can see how this would not be fun for someone who isn't comfortable in the kitchen. Being organized about your prep work will shave off a lot of time, so wash your greens, mix your salad dressings, and cut up the fruit for your breakfast the night before. You should also take into consideration that a lot of cooking produces a lot of dishes. We gave our dishwasher a workout this week, and spent a good amount of time doing dishes by hand as well.

Level of Ease: I don't find any of the recipes particularly difficult, but there may be elements that are challenging for beginner cooks. For example, one recipe calls for poached eggs which I think take some practice! Of course, you can always sub a fried egg for a poached egg if the latter is too challenging. Which reminds me to mention: the Bon Appetit team is updating the cleanse page with a post each day where they offer advice and substitutions -- super helpful!

Quality of Recipes: I have to say that I'm really impressed so far with the results. The recipes are delicious for the most part! The portion sizes are satisfying and don't feel like you're being deprived. One small annoyance is that the recipes are designed to serve 2 people for breakfast, 4 for dinner, and 1 for lunch (using leftovers from the night before). My ever-patient boyfriend is (begrudgingly) joining me in the cleanse, so I'm shopping for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 2 dinners per day, meaning that I have had to adjust the quantities a little  bit. Not a big deal, but it could be frustrating for some. The slightly bigger problem is that there are quite a few errors/typos in the recipes, so I would encourage you to read very carefully before you start cooking. I know that the team has been updating the recipes online as people point out errors, but I just printed out the full packet at the beginning of the week.

Results: I think the biggest "result" of this week is that I'm thinking a little more mindfully about what I'm eating. It has also made me think more about portions -- in each of the dinners, about half of the plate is filled with vegetables and one quarter with protein. We eat a lot of veggies already, but proportionally I think we could do better! Frank has found himself craving carbs, since there are almost no simple carbs on the menu... I'm not minding that so much. I'm happy to say that my 3 p.m. cravings for sugar have really dropped off this week, and I've been able to stick to just one small, healthy snack per day. For what it's worth, I'm also down about 4 pounds this week (I also exercise fairly regularly and have continued to do so during this cleanse). We're definitely ready for Week 2, and I'm planning to shop and do a lot of prep work this weekend to make next week a breeze!

Favorite Week 1 Recipes:

Least Favorite Week 1 Recipes:

  • Mahi-Mahi with Fennel, Olive, and Orange -- a pretty uninspired lunch, unfortunately. I found it really bland.
  • Beet Soup with Caraway -- Frank said this "tasted like dirt", but for the record, I found it pretty tasty. I think this one depends entirely on your taste for beets.
  • Oatmeal with Cacao Nibs and Figs -- This one just doesn't suit my taste for some reason, although Frank really likes it. I find the combo of figs and cacao nibs to be just too crunchy, and there is a weird wine-like aftertaste to this (I love wine, but not in my breakfast!).

Check back next week for the final recap of Week 2!

Gougères (Cheese Puffs)

Food, RecipesKristenComment

Hold on tight, everyone -- this recipe might just change your life forever, at least when it comes to party planning/entertaining. Call them by their fancy French name (Gougères), or just call them cheese puffs -- either way, these little appetizers are a seriously impressive AND really easy to make ahead. You can make a big batch of these guys today, pop them in your freezer, and pull them out as you need them over the next few weeks of holiday festivities.

The ingredients in gougères are really simple: butter, milk, salt, flour, eggs, and cheese. The dough takes about 15 minutes to whip up, and then you can either bake the puffs immediately or portion them out and freeze them to use later. They will keep for at least 6 months in your freezer -- I store mine in a zip-top bag so that they are easy to pull out as needed to bake.

The base of gougères is a savory choux pastry (the sweet kind is used to make cream puffs and eclairs!). I think that some people are a little intimidated by pastry, but this is a fairly straightforward method! The keys to successful choux are properly cooking the moisture out of the dough and then putting a little muscle behind incorporating the eggs (more on both of those things in the recipe below!). The result is a deliciously airy and cheesy pastry puff, which will pretty much make you the most popular person at any party.

Gougères (Cheese Puffs)
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Yield: 35 pieces

Ingredients
---------------
1 c. + 1 Tbsp. milk
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) butter
1 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose flour
5 eggs (at room temperature)
3/4 c. Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. Gruyère cheese

Instructions
---------------
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit if baking gougères immediately. In a large saucepan, heat the 1 c. of milk, butter, and salt on the stove top until the butter melts and the mixture begins to boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat when it bubbles up and add all of the flour, mixing together with a wire whisk.

Return the pan to the stove top over medium-low heat -- switch to a wooden spoon (it will make your life easier) and stir the dough continuously for 3-5 minutes. Your goal here is to cook some of the excess moisture out of the dough so that your pastry puffs don't get soggy after they bake. You'll know when it's good when the dough pulls away from the edges of the pan and forms a single mound (see photo, above left).

Remove the pan from the heat and allow everything to cool for 2 or 3 minutes -- you just don't want the pan to be too hot when you start adding the eggs. [NOTE: I recommend that you start with room temperature eggs to minimize the chance that the eggs will cook when they hit the warm pan/dough. If you forgot to leave the eggs out, don't worry! Just put them in a bowl and cover with very warm water for a few minutes before using.]

Add 4 eggs (save the last one for your egg wash!), one at a time, to the dough. Mix each egg into the dough completely before adding the next. At first, it might seem like the dough is separating (see photo, above right), but don't panic! Just use a little muscle and everything will come together -- promise! Finally, stir in the cheeses.

I like to let the dough rest for 5 minutes or so before I start portioning it on to my baking sheet. I find that the dough is a little less sticky after it rests. Portion the dough out by the tablespoon onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or sprayed with non-stick spray. If you are baking them immediately, leave about 1 inch of room in between the puffs. If you are freezing them, don't worry about leaving room.

To bake immediately: Beat together the remaining egg and the 1 Tbsp. of milk in a small bowl. Brush the top of each puff with the egg mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes until puffed and golden brown on top. Serve warm.

To freeze/bake: Do not apply the egg wash before freezing! Put the baking sheet of portioned puffs in the freezer for at least two hours until they are frozen solid. Remove from the sheet and store in a large zip-top bag in the freezer. When ready to bake, place the puffs one inch apart on a baking sheet that is prepared with parchment paper or non-stick spray. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, and then brush the tops of the puffs with the egg and milk wash. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 350.
 

Pumpkin Overnight Oats

Food, RecipesKristenComment

It's that time of year again. Everyone is busy testing out new recipes, wiping the grocery store clean of anything remotely "fall" flavored, and planning their holiday meals. Somewhere in this shuffle, millions (by my unscientific estimate) of half-used cans of pumpkin puree languish in refrigerators across the country until they grow unsightly dots of green mold on top and are thrown away. Everyone has the best of intentions for the rest of that puree -- they promise themselves that they'll use it in something! But alas, time gets away from us and takes the pumpkin with it.

Here's my solution: pumpkin overnight oats. I've been playing around with different varieties of overnight oats for a few months. I love that I can easily throw everything together on Sunday night and have a few days' worth of breakfast ready to go in the morning. In this version, I whisk leftover pumpkin puree together with almond milk to create the liquid base of the overnight oats. A quick dash of some warm spices and a little bit of maple syrup or honey brings everything together nicely!

I've found that steel cut oats work really well for this preparation -- rolled oats will work as well, but the steel cut oats definitely absorb more liquid and take on a creamier consistency. I like to add chia seeds into my overnight oats because they add a little more fiber and protein, which is always a good way to start your day. If you can't find them or you're just not into them, feel free to leave them out.

Pumpkin Overnight Oats
1 Serving

Ingredients
---------------
1/3 c. steel cut oats
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of salt
1/3 c. pumpkin puree
1/3 c. almond milk, plus 2-4 tbsp. additional
1 tsp. honey or maple syrup
(optional) walnuts, pecans, or almonds to top

Instructions
---------------
In a bowl, combine oats, chia seeds, spices, and salt. Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl or measuring glass, combine the pumpkin puree, 1/3 c. almond milk, and sweetener of choice (honey or maple syrup). Whisk until everything is smooth and combined. Add the pumpkin mixture to the oat mixture and stir to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour, or overnight.

The oats should absorb the liquid and have a thick, cakey consistency. To serve, add a few additional tablespoons of almond milk to loosen up the oats. Top with nuts and drizzle with more honey or maple syrup if desired.

 

Chewy (Raisin-less) Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Food, RecipesKristenComment

It all started with an innocent question: "Have you ever made oatmeal raisin cookies, just without the raisins?"

The answer? I'd never made oatmeal cookies in my life because I never liked them. I remember the feeling of disappointment from childhood when you knew there were cookies at a birthday party or a family function, but they were oatmeal raisin. UGH! What a waste of a cookie. When oatmeal raisin cookies are "crunchy," it usually means that they are dry and crumbly. When the cookie is "chewy," and then you add in chewy raisins, they can taste really gummy. In case you haven't caught on yet -- not a fan.

But I'd never considered just making oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and leaving out the raisins altogether. It's a simple enough substitution, but it was enough to change my opinion on oatmeal cookies forever! I think the real secret to these cookies is the molasses. It keeps them soft and chewy even after they've cooled, which I think is the better consistency for oatmeal cookies.

Chewy (Raisin-less) Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: 2.5 dozen

Ingredients
---------------
1/2 c. butter (2 sticks), softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. rolled/quick-cooking oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. chocolate chips

Instructions
---------------
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl. Using the paddle attachment for the stand mixer, or an electric hand mixer, cream together the ingredients until they are fully combined, light, and fluffy. Don't skimp on this step -- it's the key to good texture in the finished product!

Add in the egg, molasses, and vanilla -- beat until everything is combined well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients 1/3 at a time, mixing well between each addition until a dough is formed. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix the chocolate chips into the dough by hand.

If the dough is very soft, I recommend sticking the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes before forming the cookies. This will keep the cookies from melting and spreading too quickly in the oven. Drop mounds of dough in rounded tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake each sheet of cookies for 10-12 minutes until golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to sit for 2-3 minutes on the baking sheet before removing with a spatula to a wire rack to cool.