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31 December 2012

Menu Plan Monday: 31 December

It's Menu Plan Monday, Holiday Regret Edition! Here I am optimistically posting a healthy and nutritious menu as if that will magically undo all the drinking, stress-snacking, and comfort-food-binging I've engaged in since the clocks shifted back.

Monday (New Year's Eve -- half day)
"Baked Lemon Caper Salmon" (use boneless steaks instead of fillet) with baked potatoes and roast asparagus.

Tuesday (New Year's Day -- off)
WW Best Darn Food Ever's "Chicken Pizzaiola With Torn Basil and Capers" with whole wheat spaghetti and tossed salad.

Wednesday
WW's "15-Minute Skillet Cassoulet" (halved but use the full amount of tomato paste, thyme, and garlic) with tossed salad.

Thursday (work)
BLTE salad -- chopped romaine, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red onion, 1 hard-cooked egg, 1 serving low-fat blue cheese, 1 serving bacon pieces, drizzle red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper.

Friday (off)
WW Tastier Than Takeout's "Rosemary Chicken with Fresh Tomato and Balsamic Sauce" with steamed green beans and whole wheat pasta.

Saturday (work)
WW Tastier Than Takeout's"Spicy Tortellini and Roast Tomato Soup" with garlic ciabatta sticks and tossed salad.

Sunday
Homemade pizza (topped with mozzarella, Cabot Seriously Sharp, sweet corn, tuna, red onion) with tossed salad.
28 December 2012

Of Bread and Napkins

I've been baking bread and sewing napkins. It sounds quite cozy, doesn't it? Very domestic diva. Very Martha. If only. My coping mechanisms for grief seemingly swing between "eat everything in sight" and "reorganize everything in sight." I've been trying to focus on the latter, because the former is really not doing me any good in the long term. I tackled my sewing room just after Christmas and, amongst the never-started or never-finished projects, I found a neat pile of squared scraps I'd meant to make into napkins three years ago.

So, I sewed napkins. Haphazardly and with no good grace. If you look not-very-closely, you can clearly see how my stitches wander around the hem, mostly keeping in a straight line, but occasionally veering off to visit more exciting parts of the napkin.

More Napkins

Whatev. They're napkins. As long as they wipe my face clean and launder reasonably well, it doesn't matter how perfectly imperfect they may be. And I made them to pack with work meals, so it's not as if I'll ever inflict them on dinner guests. (Admittedly, I would burn them and shoot their ashes into space before I let my mother see one).

So. Napkins. I sewed some.

And, yes, I baked bread. A beautiful traditional white sandwich loaf baked in a pan and everything. It baked up right and looks like "real" bread aisle stuff. None of that crusty misshapen "rustic" nonsense I'd been baking.

A More Traditional Loaf

How did I get such a perfect loaf? I ... bought a bag of frozen bread dough at the grocery store! Yes, I did. And I'll do it again. Yes, one bag of five frozen unrisen loaves for four dollars is not as economical as scratch bread, but it's waaay cheaper per loaf than the farmhouse-style white I usually buy (when I buy bread) and easier because I can make one loaf at a time and leave the rest in my freezer.

I do love Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but I feel it doesn't work well for a household of two. One loaf can last us most of the week, but in order to use up the dough before it goes weird, I feel I need to bake bread two or three times in a week and that just isn't happening and I end up wasting dough. (Also, that tub of raw dough takes up a lot of fridge space).

So frozen dough is pretty okay. I thawed and baked it according to the instructions on the bag and it turned out beautifully. The instructions said "bread is done when it pulls away from sides of pan and sounds hollow when tapped lightly" and, by golly, they were spot-on. My lovely loaf did indeed sound hollow when I tapped it. It did take longer for the dough to rise than I anticipated, but that was because my kitchen side wasn't warm enough. Next time, I'll tuck the dough in the corner by the toaster where it's always (suspiciously) warm and see if that loaf rises faster.

A More Traditional Loaf

(Brushed it with butter as it came out of the oven, because butter makes it better).
23 December 2012

Zesty Lemon Chicken, Yum!

I threw this dish together on a whim and was surprised by just how good it turned out! The chicken positively exploded with flavor and, when mixed with the noodles, there was just enough sauce to nicely coat the noodles with zesty lemon goodness. Really look forward to making this again.

Zesty Lemon Chicken

I served the chicken with an organic imported Italian pasta, strozzapreti (a kind of cavatelli), that I had leftover from one of my Italian cooking assignments. I imagine any pasta would do, including plain ol' egg noodles, but fancy-pants pasta makes it more fun.
Zesty Lemon Chicken

Ingredients
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 packet Italian dressing mix
1 Tbsp butter
Juice of one lemon
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup white wine
2 Tbsp freeze-dried pepper flakes
1 small onion, very thinly sliced
3 servings pasta, cooked as directed
Freshly ground black pepper, as desired

Directions
Whisk together lemon juice, dressing mix, wine, and chicken broth.

Coat bottom of slow cooker insert with cooking spray. Nestle chicken thighs in bottom of insert and pour lemon juice mixture over them. Sprinkle with onions and peppers. Dot with butter. Cook on low for 6 hours.

When finished cooking, break chicken into bite-size bits (just bash them with a mixing spoon and they'll break right up). Stir in egg noodles and season with pepper as desired.
21 December 2012

Cleaning Out the Cupboards: Lunch

I was up to my elbows in flour, baking for tomorrow's Geek the Library big cookie giveaway, when there was a rumbly in my tumbly and I realized it was hours past lunch time. Clearly, grue needed feeding and fast. Conveniently, I had a bunch of opened bottles, jars, and bags of stuff hanging around that all seemed like they could go together to make something fast and delicious.

Lunch-in-a-hurry: Orzo Stuff

I think I succeeded pretty well, although The Husband was less impressed (artichokes not being one of his favorite things).
Artichoke-Chicken Stuff

Ingredients
3 cups turkey broth
3 oz orzo and ditalini (any small pasta will do)
3 Tbsp julienned oil-packed dried tomatoes, well drained and chopped small
2 bottled water-packed roasted peppers, chopped small
6 bottled marinated artichoke hearts, well drained and chopped small
3 oz Tyson Grilled & Ready® Fully Cooked Frozen Grilled Chicken Breast Strips
2 handfuls baby spinach
Freshly ground pepper, as desired

Directions
Bring broth to boil. Add pasta, tomatoes, and chicken to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 9 minutes or until orzo is desired tenderness. Remove from heat. (At this point, I fished out the bigger chicken strips and chop them into smaller pieces).

Add peppers, artichoke hearts, and spinach to pot. Stir. Cover. Let sit 10 minutes or until spinach is tender. Season as desired and eat.

Lunch-in-a-hurry: Orzo Stuff
20 December 2012

Improv Challenge: Marshmallows & Chocolate

I made s'moraffles for December's Improv Challenge! Call them waffled s'mores or s'mored waffles if you prefer, but whatever you call them, they remain delicious. (I admit I'd had far more grandiose plans for December's Improv Challenge, but life happens and you get waffles covered in sugar).

S'moraffles
Is it breakfast? Is it dessert? It's everything!
I used a recipe from Anne at The Homeschool Daily for "Wonderful Waffles" as my s'moraffle base. Her recipe uses graham flour, which I could not find anywhere so I used whole wheat pastry flour which King Arthur Flour tells me is the same thing. Anne's waffles came out very light and fluffy -- a bit like eating a crispy pocket of air -- and that was a good thing, as a denser, heavier waffle would have made the s'moraffles too rich.

When I first conceived the notion of s'moraffles, I thought I could just sprinkle the miniature marshmallows and chocolate morsels over the graham waffle batter and waffle away. Alas, while tasty, these waffles were not pretty and had lost their light crispiness. They were also impossibly sweet when broiled with additional marshmallows and chocolate.

S'moraffles
Bad waffle :(
The next two waffles I cooked plain and then quartered, sprinkling each wedge with miniature marshmallows and chocolate morsels, and broiling them until the marshmallows were golden and the chocolate chips were a bit melty. I served them with a splodge of fresh whipped cream for dipping and they were magnificent. Crispy, light, chocolaty, sweet, and gooey. Everything a s'moraffle should be.

S'moraffles
Broil me, baby!
When could you eat these? We ate them for breakfast. Yes, we did! But they would make a fine dessert or special treat on a snowy day.
S'moraffles
Adapted from "Wonderful Waffles" at The Homeschool Daily with permission from the author

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
¾ cup graham flour [whole wheat pastry flour]
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder

2 eggs
1 ¾ cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil or melted butter [oil]
1 tsp vanilla

As desired:
Miniature marshmallows
Semisweet chocolate morsels
Whipped cream

Directions
Preheat your waffle iron.

Combine the first four ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Whisk together.

In a measuring cup or small bowl combine the 2 eggs, oil/butter, vanilla and milk. Whisk together.

Pour into dry ingredients. Stir until blended. Pour onto preheated waffle iron. Cook until golden [about 8 minutes in my waffle iron].

Quarter waffles and place on a baking sheet. Poke a miniature marshmallow into the pockets of each waffle. Scatter with chocolate morsels. Broil until the marshmallows are golden and chocolate morsels are soft and a bit melty. Serve with whipped cream for dipping.
S'moraffles
I think I'm looking at Christmas Day breakfast.
Anne's recipe makes 5-6 waffles, depending on the size of your waffle iron. If you don't want to eat that many s'moraffles you can freeze the plain waffles. Just let them cool and then pop them in a freezer bag. When you want s'moraffles, just them out of the freezer, microwave them for about 30 seconds to partially thaw, and then broil with miniature marshmallows and chocolate morsels.


16 December 2012

Fuck Christmas

I was going to post a photo a day until Christmas, because I haven't been feeling very seasonal and was hoping to force some holly-jolliness. But ... fuck Christmas. Christmas has no space in it for what I feel right now. Christmas is irrelevant.

In less than twelve hours, I lost both an uncle and a grandmother. My body is exhausted, but my brain won't shut off. I said good-bye to my grandmother. I kissed her unconscious body before she died. But my uncle? I knew he was ill. I knew he would not make it through the weekend, but I thought he could wait. So I didn't get to tell him good-bye. And I am just full of sadness and misery and anger.

I've been baking cookies. And shopping for funeral togs. Because I don't know what the fuck else to do with myself. Tomorrow, I'm back at work for a day where I'll pretend to be normal while trying to ignore my own woe and the greater national tragedy playing out in the media. I feel terrible about Sandy Hook, but my own personal grief is too great right now to spare any for others outside my family.

Wakes and funerals begin Tuesday. I feel I'm just counting down the hours until I set foot in the first funeral parlor.

I've picked up bottles of Manischewitz and Johnnie Walker Black to toast my grandmother and uncle respectively and I plan on drinking a lot after each funeral. Because, frankly, I don't want to do the "healthy" American thing and try to work through my emotions. I want to overwrite them with sweet, syrupy Manischewitz and simply not feel them at all.
15 December 2012

Eating the Alphabet: Z is for Za'atar & Zucchini

With Z we've come to the end of the 2012 Eating the Alphabet Challenge. What can you do with Z, but something with zucchini? Ahhh ... but then I found a spice blend at Penzeys called "zatar" and knew I had to give it a try. According to The New Food Lover's Companion (Barron's Educational Series, 2007), za'atar is "a popular, pungent Middle Eastern spice blend composed of toasted sesame seeds, dried thyme, dried marjoram and sumac. It's mixed with olive oil and salt and is drizzled over hot bread or used as a dip for bread. Za'atar (also spelled zahtar) is also sprinkled over meats and vegetables as a seasoning. It can be found in most Middle Eastern groceries."

Or Penzeys. Or the Teeny Tiny Spice Co. of Vermont, for that matter. And, if you're feeling ambitious and want to make your own za'atar blend, there's a great recipe in The Jewish Slow Cooker (available at many public libraries).

So. I had acquired za'atar. Yay for me, but what was I going to do with it? Well, there was always zucchini ... and then I found a recipe for "Zaatar Chicken with Fattoush" in Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer and had a pretty good idea what I was going to do. I didn't follow Lawson's recipe very well, because I'm all rebellious (Or lazy? Probably lazy) like that.

Zatar Chicken

Za'atar Chicken w/ Zucchini & Potatoes

I.
½ cup olive oil
2 chicken legs (that's thigh and drumstick together)
3 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
1 very ripe satsuma mandarin, juiced

Trim extra skin flaps and fat from chicken legs. Put them in a large food storage bag with za'atar, olive oil, orange juice, and salt. Squish everything around until the chicken is thoroughly coated. Put the bag in your fridge and leave overnight.


Zatar Chicken


II.
¼ olive oil
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
10 small potatoes (I used a blend of purple, red, and gold)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a large jelly roll sheet with foil (for easy clean up). Arrange the chicken at one end of the pan and set aside.

Toss potatoes with za'atar, olive oil, and salt and arrange on other side of pan. Pop the pan into the 450°F for 30 minutes.


Zatar Chicken

III.
¼ olive oil
1 Tbsp za'atar
1 tsp sea salt
1 zucchini (about 8 inches long)

While the chicken cooks, cut zucchini into chunks and toss with za'atar, olive oil, and salt. When the oven timer dings, baste chicken with pan juices and crowd the potatoes up together. Add zucchini to the cleared space and pop everything back in the oven for 15 minutes.


Zatar Chicken

Remove pan from oven. Let chicken rest for 5-10 minutes or until the yummy odor drives you mad and you just can't wait anymore. Eat. Consider going back to Penzeys and buying the biggest jar of za'atar they sell.
The za'atar was very herby -- I could definitely taste the thyme and there was a slight tanginess which I'm presuming came from the sumac -- but it didn't overwhelm the chicken or vegetables. Indeed, they worked really well together. So well, in fact, that I'm considering slathering a za'atar-butter paste all over the chicken I'm roasting for Sunday supper instead of my usual sage blend.

I was a little worried The Husband would be all "What are you trying to feed me now, woman?" but he seemed to enjoy the meal very much. (It probably helped that I swapped his zucchini out for buttery carrots).

So I tried something new and it turned out great! Isn't that what the Eating the Alphabet Challenge is all about? Can't wait for 2013 and a new batch of letters to try (going to do the ones I didn't in 2012, hopefully).


Zatar Chicken


List of all other Eating the Alphabet Challenge posts:
B "Beetroot and Pea Salad" (beets)
C "Pasta With Chickpeas, Spinach, and Golden Raisins" (chickpeas)
E "Edamame Hummus" (edamame & endive)
H "Greek Salad Bowl" (hearts of palm)
J "Jerusalem Artichoke Recipe: Creamy No-Dairy Vegetable Soup"" (Jerusalem artichokes)
K & L "Lush No-Bake Lemon Cheesecake" (kiwi & lemon)
O "Herbed Goat Cheese and Spinach Sandwich" (olives & oregano)
P "Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal" (pumpkin)
S "Beginners Stracciatella" (spinach)
W "Watercress Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes" (watercress & walnuts)
Z This post! (za'atar & zucchini)



11 December 2012

Christmas Time is Cookie Time

So, like everyone else, I've been baking cookies. Nothing fancy this year, because I don't have the motivation or drive for fancy, but I yearn for the comfort of cookies. The sheer homeyness of cookies.

Cookies!

The first batch I made, "Spumoni Chunk Cookies," used a recipe I found on bettycrocker.com. The cookies, which used Betty Crocker's sugar cookie mix as a base, were chock full of dried cherries, dry-roasted salted nuts, and white and semisweet chocolate chips. I admit my cookies don't look quite as pretty as the ones on the website, but they still tasted pretty darn fine and my coworkers scarfed them down as if they were manna or ambrosia.

Knowing The Husband would not touch the spumoni cookies with a ten-foot pole, I made him a batch of Crisco's "Ultimate Double Chocolate Chip Cookies" using white chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips. He seemed pleased with them, but said they were best still warm from the oven. Warming them the next day in the microwave worked okay, but nothing is beats cookies fresh from the oven.

Cookies
08 December 2012

Healthy Breakfast Still Tastes Good

Now that we're in The Season of Eating, I'm trying very hard to eat healthfully and stick with Weight Watchers. I'm not forswearing any Hanukkah/Christmas goodness, mind you, as December without latkes or home-baked cookies would be a terrible thing indeed. I'm just trying to eat more sensibly the rest of the time.

So what does this "more sensibly" look like when it's at home? Well, for breakfasts, I've been doing this excellent egg white and spinach bake:

Egg Whites & Spinach

Egg Whites & Spinach Bake

Ingredients
16 oz carton All Whites 100% Liquid Egg Whites
7 oz package Nature's Promise organic baby spinach
3 oz fat free feta, crumbled
¼ diced dehydrated red & green bell pepper
1 Tbsp sriracha chili sauce
Salt and pepper, as desired

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Microwave baby spinach 1-2 minutes or until wilted. Stir in all other ingredients. Transfer to a greased pie plate and bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until cooked through. Serves 4. (2WWP+ per serving, but ymmv).
You could bake these in four individual ramekins, but the cooking time will need to be adjusted.

I eat this egg bake with two tablespoons of garlicky Green Mountain Gringo salsa (0) and a satsuma mandarin (0) or banana (0) and I feel righteous. If I'm extra hungry, I'll add a fat-free Chobani Greek yoghurt (3) and still feel righteous.
05 December 2012

Doubleplusawesomewithknobson Chard & Chicken

Now that it's December and snowed twice, I must accept there will be no fresh chard coming from my garden until spring. What to do? Frozen chard! Yes, you can find bags of chopped chard in the freezer section of the grocery store. What do you do with it? I'm guessing you can use it in pretty much any cooked dish. I made mine with tomatoes and white beans, because chard + tomatoes + beans = doubleplusawesomewithknobson.

Chicken & Chard

Chard with Tomatoes & White Beans

Ingredients
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
9 oz bag frozen chopped chard
14.5 oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
1 tsp Penzeys Tuscan Sunset (salt-free Italian-style seasoning blend)
Juice of one lemon half, or more to taste
15 ounce can cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
salt and pepper, as desired

Directions
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook 3 minutes or until onion is translucent and very fragrant. Reduce heat to medium, add tomatoes with juice, chard, lemon juice, and Italian seasoning blend.

Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until chard is tender. Add beans and simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serves 4. (5WWP+ per serving, but ymmv)
I ate the chard for lunch/supper at work with four ounces baked boneless skinless organic chicken breast and it was made for an unbelievably yummy meal. Going to hit the grocery store this weekend and buy all the frozen chard I can fit in my shopping basket!
Easy Oven-Baked Chicken Breasts

Ingredients
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp Penzeys Tuscan Sunset (salt-free Italian-style seasoning blend)
1 tsp olive oil
Juice of one lemon half, or more to taste
¼ cup low-fat reduced-sodium chicken broth

Instructions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a small baking dish with cooking spray.

Season both sides of chicken with salt, pepper, and seasoning blend. Transfer chicken to pan and drizzle with oil and lemon juice. Pour broth around chicken to coat bottom of pan.

Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 4. (3WWP+ per 4 oz serving)
So many times in the past, I've baked chicken breasts and they've come out dry or flavorless, but with this recipe, the chicken came out really well -- moist, tender, and flavorful. Definitely worth repeating.
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