Friday, February 25, 2011

The "Little Red" Experience

I live in the south and as we all know when someone is sick or has been taken to the other side, it is our moral obligation to take food to them or their families. I did not make these rules, but my mother does it, my grandmother did and as I understand her mother did it also. It is not because we fear being thought of less if we don't do it, or because we expect something in return. It's just something we do, like saying "Yes Ma'am" automatically to all of my mother's living friends. ( Well , honestly the dead one's aren't much for conversation so a yes or no really isn't required) Friday night I got to take food to my good friend whose husband has just had some really nasty surgery. Technically I know that it was he, not she who had it, but I also know that it can be grueling to be the caregiver. Sometimes it is nice to not have to think about the small details like "What's for dinner?, and concentrate on physical therapy instead.

She asked me to share the recipe, which I would be happy to do if I actually used a recipe. Instead I will just recreate it using guesstimates of the actual ingredients. I found this recipe online a while back and each time I make it i change it a bit, so here is the totally bastardized version of the easily Googled recipe for Romantic Chicken with Artichokes .

Romantic Chicken with Artichokes Somewhere on the Google

4 chicken breast halves, cut in bite size pieces
olive oil
4 or so cloves garlic finely minced
1 onion . I cut it in half then just slice crosswise in in about 1/2 inch slices so there will be nice strips of onion in the dish
1 or 2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained. Use the smaller artichoke hearts or cut the large ones in quarters
Chicken broth. I generally use homemade only because I tend to buy a hen for boiling a couple of times a month and I freeze
the liquid. I am guessing I use about a cup. Feel free to use canned. I would if I didn't have it on hand.
Thyme ( dried french is the tastiest and I probably use about a teaspoon)
mushrooms ( about a cup) if you have them, but Friday I didn't.
parsley ( about a tablespoon of dried or 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped)
acid of some sort. Friday I used a combination of lemon juice and balsemic vinegar. No idea how much I actually used but you want at least a couple of tablespoons.
salt and pepper to taste
Italian dressing
corn starch

Put olive oil in a large skillet ( decent puddle to swirl around the pan a time or two. I do not use EV in this recipe because I don't want the olive taste to interfere with the taste of the artichokes. Get the pan decently hot and add the chicken pieces, cooking till just browned. Remove from the skillet and add a little more olive oil to the pan. Toss in the onions and cook till wilted then add the minced garlic. It should only take 30 seconds to a minute to wilt the garlic. Add the chicken back to the pan and pour in the chicken broth. Throw in the seasonings, artichoke hearts and mushrooms if you have them. Let it just sit on the stove at a slow simmer for about 15 minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons of Italian dressing ( I use Kraft Fat Free) and stir it thoroughly. Make a slurry of 1 tablespoon of corn starch and 1/4 cup cold water. Stir it into the chicken liquid and cook til thickened a bit. Serve over rice.

I use brown rice because we do not eat a lot of refined products.. Years ago when I used to cater I learned a valuable lesson from David Crosby ( Yeah the Stills and Nash guy) Well I learned 2 valuable lessons from him. The first is to treat people with respect so that when you leave they won't think " What waste of a perfectly good kidney transplant" (BTW David if you are reading this: I did cook the blooming ham from scratch and just because one of the kitchen helpers had worked at Honey Bake and knew the secrets of spiral slicing does not mean we bought you a ham there! Oh yeah, and when I woke up the next morning you were a memory. When you woke the next morning you were still a jerk!) The second and valuable lesson I learned is even though a jerk requests short grain brown rice, it does not negate the fact that short grain brown is a better product. So thank you for that. If you cook short grained brown rice commit to the full 45 minutes it takes to make it. There are no shortcuts, but the end result is well worth the time invested. The grains are full and chewy with that wonderful nutty flavor. Nothing is needed but tiny bit of salt to enhance the flavor. As a base for the chicken, well it is nearly perfect.

I also took them some broccoli slaw. It was your basic bagged broccoli slaw, rinsed and drained and dressed with a very special dressing (laughing and giggling as I type this)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 or 4 shakes of Beau Monde seasoning
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Mix the aforementioned exotic ingredients and pour over the slaw. Toss to coat and serve.

This meal travels well and really is good. In fact if any of you are under the weather and need a boost from me, most likely this is what you will get.

Have a great day and stay well!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Everybody on Weight Watchers say "Cheeseburger" Kinda

Tonight the guys who call this house home have gone to Tuscaloosa to see either Alabama put a basketball whuppin' on Auburn or Auburn put a whuppin' on Alabama. It means they are having fun and I am home alone. I kept thinking it would be a great night to run up to Mugshots and grab a huge delicious cheeseburger with all the fixin's and then thought " Oh yeah I am doing the Weight Watchers thing. It is not a horrid thing to do, but I had gone off of it last night ( Not really gone off but I had done a ton of point shuffling so I could have the "Hawaiian" at the Diplomat) I knew I had to stick with the program better today, but I wanted a burger badly. I sat down and started thinking of my options... steamed broccoli , have it don't want it. Same goes for cauliflower and asparagus. Dang it!!! I wanted a cheeseburger. I started weighing my options. I could run outside and throw a turkey burger on the grill and eat it on 2 slices of Nature's Own Double Fiber bread. Calculating using all fingers and thought "No that is too many points tonight cause I will probably still want something else besides just a burger" Then I thought of making a salad to go along with the turkey burger. But I really did not want a turkey burger either. I wanted cheese on my burger. Where were the points going to come from I don't mind doing the reduced fat cheese, but I am not going to use the fat free stuff. It looks , tastes and feels like someone cut a sandwich size patch out of an orange beach raft and called it food. Where to steal the points then... I picked up my quick fix Bible otherwise known as the Hungry Girl Cookbook and flipped through the pages thinking something would jump out at me. There on page 45 the angels started to sing and my eyes fell on the Big Chomp Cheeseburger Chop. OK so its not a real cheeseburger, in fact it's not a real burger at all. But it is a perfectly acceptable variation on a theme of cheeseburgerness. A simple process, perfect for doing on a single meal night. Sorry but there is no way I was going to spend any real time fixing supper just for me. I had all the ingredients on hand and was perfectly willing to use the additional points with the reduced fat cheese, which will actually melt, unlike the prefab fat free abomination.

Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien

Big Chomp Cheeseburger Chop

3 Cups Chopped Romaine lettuce
1 Original Boca Burger
1 slice fat free cheese ( NO WAY!)
4 pickle slices*
1/3 cup chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons chopped onions ( 1 slice onion lightly grilled in the Boca pan, pre burger cooking)

100 Island Dressing ( It's so fake I can't bring myself to call it 1000 Island)

Mix equal parts fat-free mayo, low sugar ketchup and Dijonnaise ( I used 1 tablespoon of each) It is a little thicker than I like so I cut it with about a teaspoon of cider vinegar

Prepare Boca according to package directions. ( This means get out your non-stick skillet, give it a quick shot of Pam and cook it until it is hot and sizzles a little) Top patty with cheese slice and microwave about 20 seconds until the cheese melts. ( As I said the fat free crap doesn't melt so I opted for 1 oz. of super thinly sliced reduced fat cheese placed on the patty in the skillet. Guess what? It melts and looks like cheese.) Set aside.

Place the chopped (torn) roamine (mixed leafy greens) in the bottom of a large bowl. Top with pickles, tomatoes and the onion. Additionally, I seared about a half cup of sliced mushrooms in the pan after the onions and the burger cooked, 'cause I like mushrooms on my cheeseburgers. Cut the burger into bite size pieces and put it on the top of the salad. Drizzle the dressing on top of burger and enjoy
* If you like dill slices any kind will work, but if you are a bread and butter pickle junkie Mount Olive makes a pickle sweetened with Splenda rather than sugar. Personally bread an butter pickles on a burger in any form grosses me out, but I know some of you are out there because I have eaten with you and been repulsed by your pickle habits. But seriously who am I to judge?

The verdict? This really does taste like you are eating a cheeseburger that is too sloppy for the bun, so you are reduced to eating it with your fork. The Boca burger does not taste exactly like real meat, but the consistency is fine and the flavor is quite good. ( I admit I can eat a Boca plain so maybe I'm not totally objective) I also like dijon mustard so the dressing is fine with me. It tastes nothing like thousand island dressing but just tastes like mixed hamburger condiments. If you are a purist you might want to use traditional yellow mustard instead. I love the grilled onion. I cooked it to a crisp tender and it's nice and oniony without being as sharp as a raw onion. The mushrooms provide little in the way of actual flavor, they picked up just bit of the onion/burger flavor, but they provide some really nice "chew" . I am a tactile eater and the food has to feel "right" or I won't eat it (hence my banana revulsion) You have to use a really big bowl for this. The one I used is about 8 1/2 inches wide and 3 inches deep. The salad pretty much filled the entire bowl, and you need a little room to mix it up as you eat it so you get bits and pieces of all the components in most bites. I will definitely do this again. I can't imagine how good it would be with fat sun ripened summer tomatoes. I can see how good this would be with a reduced fat swiss and lots more mushrooms and onions. The only thing I am having with this tonight is a cold diet coke and it is all i want. This portion is HUGE! If I had thought of it earlier I might have done some oven baked sweet potato 'fries". I think it would have been a good addition and it's something I will try next time.

This is totally an aside but if any of you have a Kindle or Kindle app on your phone or computer, Hungry Girl 3 is available for pre-order for free from Amazon. So far I am 2 for 2 with the recipes from the original book. I have no idea what this new one will be like, but it is free so it really doesn't matter if it is as good as this one or not ( FYI you can get the Hungry Girl Cookbook at Costco cheaper than anywhere else in the city)

I am off to watch a movie I picked up at Publix. Can't beat a buck rental

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cooking again finally

Over the weekend both of the guys who hang out here and call it home were gone. Friday night Son3 was doing some teen Rave thing while The Hub was in Tuscaloosa doing some charitable business. Saturday night they both went back to Tuscaloosa to a ball game and stayed over to see the reopening and rededication of Fosters Auditorium. ( The fact that my brother-in-law was part of the dedication festivities was a large part of their being there) While they were gone I ate leftover black eyed pea soup and ate it again and ate it one last time. It seems that most of the moms I know just eat whatever is left instead of what they really want. Monday was Valentine's and we scooted out to eat at the opening of Mugshots in Vestavia. Yum! What a delicious burger. If you let me have grilled onions and peppers with swiss on a burger I will be your friend for life.

Tonight The Hub is in Oklahoma so it is just Son3 and me. We are opting for a simple fare done slightly different. Its a glazed chicken on cheese grits. If any of you are reading this and you know Cindy just go ahead and nod your head in agreement and know what I am saying is true. My friend Cindy, is not like most other friends in the world. Most of us have projects on our to-do list like clean the garage, wash the curtains or dust the refrigerator coils. Cindy' s list says things like paint a mural of the French countryside on the walls going down the basement stairs. Not only does it say stuff like that, but she actually does it. Those of us who are her friends never try to top her for 2 main reasons.

1st: We just can't.


2nd: If by some weird alignment of the planets we were actually able to do something better than her, she would just add some other oddity to her list: Hammer a dime into a hair thin ribbon of silver and etch "War and Peace" on it using a Barbie screwdriver. So it is just pointless to try. We just enjoy her many talents and call her fondly, "That Cindy"

Now that you understand what she is like it should come as no surprise that she has printed her own cookbook which she shared with several of us. Tonight's meal comes from Cindy's book and, unlike a meal Cindy serves, it will be eaten on plain plates with no centerpiece, candles or multi utensil table setting.

Cindy XXXXd's Favorite Recipes Compiled by Cindy XXXXd (The X's protect her anonymity and keep YOU from becoming her friend)

Spicy Apple Glazed Chicken with Cheese Grits
4 skinned and boned chicken breast halves,sprayed with Pam
1/4 cup apple butter
1/4 cup brown mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped green onion for garnish
fresh oregano for garnish

Place the chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and flatten to 1/2 inch thick
Put the chicken in a Pam coated pan
Combine the next 5 ingredients and brush over the chicken.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Cut in strips.

Cheese Grits

2 (14 oz.) cans of chicken broth
3/4 cup quick cooking grits
1 cup shredded Muenster cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Bring the broth to a boil and gradually add the grits, stirring constantly.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.

Serve the chicken strips over the cheese grits and garnish with the onion and oregano leaves.

What we thought and what I did differently: The flavor of this is very good, but I thought the apple butter glaze was a little thick. Son3 and I both scraped about 1/2 of it off. Of course I did not flatten the chicken breasts so I had a much higher concentrate of it over a smaller area, which would account for the thickness. I did not have any cayenne or ground red pepper so I had to use ground chipotle. It gave it a hint of smokey flavor, which was not bad.

When I made the grits, I had just finished poaching the chicken breast that remained in the pack so instead of just the canned broth I used the poaching liquid. I had a concoction of white wine, broth, bay leaves and thyme that I used. Since I had the savory spices in the poaching liquid I did not put the nutmeg in it. The liquid was substantially darker than canned broth so it did give the grits a little "off" color. The flavor was quite good in spite of the color.

The hunk of cheese I thought was Muenster turned out to be Horseradish White Cheddar so I had to punt quickly. Fortunately the Parmesan Cheese fairy has been hovering around for a few weeks and each time I go grocery shopping she slips more in my cart, so I had a boatload which I used instead. I think the Muenster would have been creamier and tasted better. I had low fat sour cream in the fridge so that is what I used. I don't think it made a difference either way since it did not actually cook, but was just warmed by the hot grits.

I will do this again, but I will flatten the chicken and use clear broth, just to keep the grits color a little prettier.

Thanks Cindy for the inspiration!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

6 Minutes to Chocolate Bliss

This does not count as a counted recipe in the quest toward 100 new trials. This is tried and true, but I have had a few requests for it so I am putting it here for all to enjoy. I would love to credit the cookbook but I think it was in a cookbook that came with my first ever microwave. I don't remember the year, but microwaves had not been out terribly long.

6 Minute Brownie

1/2 cup butter (melted)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 c. chopped nuts (optional)

Melt the butter in a microwave safe mixing bowl ( I use my 8 cup pyrex measuring cup). Add the sugar and stir to mix. Add the eggs and mix well. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour then cocoa then salt but do not mix until all are added. Stir until the dry ingredients are incorporated, but don't beat too long. If using nuts stir them in. Pour into an 8x8 in microwave pan that has been sprayed with Pam. Microwave 3 minutes, give the pan 1/4 turn and microwave another 1 1/2 - 3 minutes. (Every microwave is different so it is trial and error on your part. Mine takes exactly 5 minutes total) Let cool to warm and cut and serve. If nothing else is done to them they need to be eaten shortly after they are made, because they do get hard sitting . My favorite way is to pour dark rum over the hot brownies and then frost with a white buttercream frosting. The brownies absorb the moisture and the icing seals the tops. They will last in an airtight container about 3 days ( If you can keep them uneaten that long). So what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Foiled by Bouillon

Tonight was going to be our weekly vegetarian meal. We knew it was supposed to be cold and snowing by dinner time so The Hub suggested we have a hearty soup. Not a problem at all. I looked through a few books and decided to scoot to Publix to buy everything I needed. ( Can you tell I really do love Publix? Well, for everything except meats and I bow to the butchers at the Pig for all of our meats and fowl. They have even special ordered veal bones for me !) I go to Publix every Wednesday, sometimes for the penny ad but mainly to get the BOGO items while they still have them. Today I was accosted by the dreaded snow shoppers. How much blooming bread does a family need when it is snowing? And milk? One lady had 3 gallons of milk! I guess they are planning on eating a boatload of peanut butter sandwiches and would need about 3 gallons of milk just to wash it down. When I checked out I had a grocery buggy full of lovely produce and the cashier wanted to know why I was buying that for snow food. Go figure! I think he would have been more comfortable if I had bought bread and milk and peanut butter. Wow, I really digress here!
I needed collard greens, garlic, onions, tomatoes and fresh chili peppers. I came home with all of that plus additional cauliflower, celery, butternut squash, salad fixings, grapes, apples, strawberries, bell peppers, sweet potatoes and cucumbers. The produce section at Publix seduces me badly. To quote David Letterman " I been hyp-mo-tize"

The soup tonight comes from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites. Moosewood is a collective restaurant in Ithaca New York. They have 20 members who contribute to the food and operations of their vegetarian place. They are not vegan so some of the recipes include dairy, eggs and honey. I have had this particular cookbook for years and have enjoyed everything I have ever made from it, but it is never a go to cookbook. I am not sure why it isn't.

The Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

Savannah Beans and Greens Soup

2 cups finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups homemade vegetable stock
1/2 pound fresh collard greens
2 cups fresh tomatoes (diced with juice) or 2 cups petite diced canned tomatoes (juice included)
3-4 cups cooked black eyed peas
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
pinch of thyme
1/4 teaspoon allspice
couple of splashes Tabasco
2 cups cooked rice
salt to taste

Put the vegetable stock in a large pot ( I bought mine off the shelf at Publix, but if you want to make your own go right ahead
Put the prepared onion and garlic in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. While the pot is simmering cut the collards into thin strips ( This is a little time consuming, At first I was making a chiffonade but it took more time than I was willing to spend. I wound up just stacking about 8 leaves and slicing them into matchstick slices. )
Add the greens, black eyed peas ( In my world it meant 2 cans of drained peas), vinegar, brown sugar, allspice, thyme and Tabasco (Texas Pete ) . Simmer an additional 15 minutes. Add the rice ( I forgot to put it in the pot) and heat for another 5 minutes. Salt to taste and serve.

Fortunately I tasted it prior to serving it. Since I live in the south peas are supposed to have a smoky pork flavor. At the first taste it was pleasant but a little sweet, so I added 3 pork bouillon packets. ( So I guess it was almost vegetarian) It tasted more like what we are used to ( I should have known that people in Ithaca would not know how to cook black eyed peas) When I first read the recipe I had decided to mince a chili or 2 and add it with the onions and garlic. I did and even with that it still lacked the heat we like. I added about a teaspoon of Texas Pete to the soup and then it was dang near perfect. The Hub and I loved it but Son3 is afraid I am trying to kill him with vegetable material and preformed his mealtime ritual of removing all offensive green matter from the soup bowl. Luckily for us, it made a huge pot and there are leftovers for a couple of lunches. I understand the weather is going to change drastically and warm up, but since the soup has no meat it might be decent chilled . Will see and let you know.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tales From My Misspent Youth

This afternoon I was wandering around thinking of my teenage life living in a trailer park south of town and all the mischief I used to get into, then I remembered I actually grew up in the suburbs in a 3/2 ranch and about the worst thing I did was burn some socks I was tired of wearing. Why then was I having this overwhelming hankering for TRAILER TRASH COOKERY? Oh yeah, it was because we had been out of town for a few days and I had few groceries so decided to just find something to make from the low stash I had on hand. For proteins I had my choice of canned tuna, canned ham, canned chicken, eggs and hotdogs. Not a lot to choose from and I could eliminate all the canned meats right off the bat. That left me deciding between eggs or dogs. I flipped through a cookbook I had not looked at in years and found recipes for both, so a simple "eeny meeny minie mo" sealed my supper time fate. Well it actually chose eggs, but when I mentally went "Yuck" I decided I would rather do the hot dog thing.

Every one has been to a fair or carnival and bought and eaten a corn dog. It's not a masterpiece or food perfection but its a dang tasty walking around treat. Well this is the casserole alternative to the traditional fair fare. It is called Baked Corn Dog and I guess it is a pretty succinct name because it is indeed a baked loose variation of a corn dog.

Live Don't DIEt Vicki Parks

Baked Corn Dogs

1 1/2 cups self rising corn meal
1/2 cup fat free egg substitute
3/4 cup water
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
5 97 percent fat free hot dogs

Combine the cornmeal, egg substitute, water and applesauce in a mixing bowl. Spray an 8x8 pan with Pam and lay the five hotdogs in the bottom of the pan, spacing them equally from each other. Pour the cornmeal mix over the dogs and pop into a 425 degree oven. Bake 25-30 minutes. Cut into 5 equal portions with one intact hotdog in each serving.

Personal changes and observations: Use yellow cornmeal instead of white! I used the white and there was little color when it was finished baking. I think the yellow would just be more visually pleasing. I also confess I used skimmed milk rather than water. I also added a teaspoon of lemon juice and let it sit about 15 minutes before mixing everything together, just so the cornbread would taste more like buttermilk. I would think fat free buttermilk would also work, but I didn't have any on hand. The applesauce replaces the fat and also adds a little familiar corn dog batter sweetness. I only use Hebrew National ultra low fat hot dogs. They taste really good plus Publix has them in their BOGO rotation. I pick up 2 packs each time they are Bogo so I always have a pack in the fridge.

The Hebrew Nationals are only 1 WW point each (At least 1 old WW point. I have no idea what they are on the new Points Plus and I don't guess I ever will. After spending nearly 2 hours on the computer looking for the diet I gave up and will follow the old points plan. I don't have the time or the willingness to follow them through click, after click, after click to watch another video or testimonial. I feel like Dragnet, I just want the facts...but they don't want to deliver them in a way I am willing to do, so I am sticking with the old plan.) Rant over!

They were easy to separate into individual servings, but one was not enough food for either The Hub or Son3. They both had 2 and I think Son3 would have loved at least one more. I was kind of surprised that they both liked them very much. The Hub and I topped ours with some mustard squiggles and Son3 drowned his in ketchup. It did need the topping for both color and a hint of flavor. When I do them next time I will mince red onion and maybe a combination of green pepper and jalapeno's. I think a little heat would have made it a little more satisfying. We had a side of slaw, (bagged shredded cabbage mixed with matchstick carrots tossed with a low fat mayo/champagne vinegar/cajun spices dressing) pickles and a side dish of asparagus spears ( And yes, I know it does not go with the meal but they were in the crisper and had to be cooked tonight!) If I had thought of it earlier I would have made some "fries" from sweet potato wedges, sprayed with Pam and baked to a crisp. It would have made the meal a tad more filling. If there had been one additional fake corn dog I would have eaten it because I was still a little hungry. I will make this again, just not for a while!