Friday, February 29, 2008

Lentil and Potato Stew

It’s the last day of February. With the beginning of March comes promise of spring and it is to that promise that I am holding onto. With an iron-like vise grip! Yes, the snow is pretty, but I am getting tired of it and of the cold as well. Our bedroom was below 60 last night and my nose was cold—I cannot sleep with a cold nose! (yes, I know that it’s probably a sign that I’m healthy...). Even under flannel sheets and a huge, puffy comforter I cannot get comfortable, and I am just longing for the warmth that the sun will finally bring. And soon, I hope.

Until then, it is up to me to warm us from the inside. Big ol’ flakes of snow continue to fall and since Jack was out driving in it this morning, I wanted to make something hearty and filling and warming for lunch. I looked in my recipe binder and pulled out a long-time favorite from Jane Brody’s “Good Food Gourmet”. This adaptation of her Lentil and Potato Stew, although it sounds rather unexciting, is anything but. A thick stew chock-full of lentils, sautéed potatoes, and tomatoes spiced with turmeric, cayenne, and garam masala is ladled over steaming hot basmati rice and provides (at least 20 minutes) of warmth.

I altered her recipe a little, increasing quantities (because this is so good reheated),
cooking the lentils in veggie broth rather than in water, subbing canned tomatoes for the 2 cups fresh in the original recipe (since I make this in the winter and fresh tomatoes are like cardboard), and adding spinach for color and nutrition.

Spooned over steamed rice, the stew is fragrant with Indian spices and absolutely delicious. Adding a bit of plain yogurt on top balances the heat of the cayenne.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Lentil and Potato Stew

Recipe By: Jane Brody

Servings : 8

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- ----------------------------------------

4 1/2 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 1/2 cups lentils -- brown lentils preferred

2 whole bay leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 large potatoes -- peeled, 1/2" dice

2 teaspoons turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

14 ounces canned diced tomatoes -- undrained

14 ounces tomato sauce

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups frozen spinach

1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt

Bring veggie broth to a boil, add bay leaves and lentils. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 30 minutes or until just soft. DO NOT drain! Remove bay leaf and set aside.

Drizzle oil into a large nonstick Dutch oven, heat over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds, and add potatoes. Do not disturb potatoes for 2 minutes (to allow bottoms to brown a little) Sprinkle with turmeric, cayenne, salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste. Stir. Continue to cook and stir for another 3 minutes. (Note: if your pan is not big enough, divide the oil, potatoes and spices and cook 2 batches. You want the potatoes to fry, not steam. I used a 3-quart Dutch oven and did this)

Add the tomatoes and sauce, then the lentils with their cooking liquid. Stir in the spices and sugar. Add the frozen spinach (no need to thaw first) and when the mixture comes to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Serve over steamed rice or with chipati. Dollop some yogurt on top of each.

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Per serving: 258 Calories (kcal); 2g Total Fat; (7% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 42g Carbohydrate; trace Cholesterol; 794mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Enchilada Casserole

Today is a white day. As I sit here in the living room there is a beautifully peaceful view out of the window, and all is white. Well, almost all. A fresh layer of snow covers the ground and the hill and soft, fluffy flakes are continuing to fall. The sky is also white, and it takes a bit of concentration before I can discern where the summit of the hill ends and the sky begins. Color on this blank canvas of a landscape is added by the dark green pine trees bordering the front and side yards, the olive-brown of the bare maple and oak tree branches, and the bright red of the half-dozen cardinals, and their rusty-red mates, fluttering under and around the birdfeeder. I’m tired of winter now, but this particular sight fills me with peace.

Yesterday I needed to turn on the oven. Our kitchen is unheated and it can get a little… nippy… in there during these cold winter days. Conversely, this kitchen also faces west and the windows absorb all of the afternoon sun, so I rarely even turn on the oven from the beginning of June until the end of September.

So why is there no afternoon sun to warm my kitchen now? Because I live in western Pennsylvania, where winter sun is rare and, when it does appear, is very weak.

I wanted to make something hearty, a casserole perhaps, to fill our tummies and warm us up a bit.

Jack requested something Mexican. I looked at what was on hand, what was on the menu for the rest of the week (in an attempt to balance the chicken meals with the meatless meals with the fish meals, and also cuisines as well since Jack admitted recently that although he loves curries, three in a row are just a bit too much). I decided on an enchilada casserole.

I was making this one on my own since I had made breakfast and lunch, both without assistance from my long-suffering husband. ;) He needed to work on our taxes, and I should start becoming more self-sufficient in the kitchen since I've become somewhat adjusted to the lurching/ limping motion of walking with this aircast on.

The following is the recipe which I came up with. Jack loves enchiladas but I couldn’t spend the time making the sauce, then standing while I dipped the tortillas in sauce, filled, rolled, etc. I decided to make a layered casserole with the flavors of enchiladas. I have made a chicken enchilada casserole with a green (tomatillo) sauce before, but only had canned red enchilada sauce on hand.

I supplemented the ground turkey with veggie-based burger crumbles and also added black beans and corn to make this a substantial dish. Sauce and cheese completed the enchilada-like taste of this casserole. I served it with a drizzle of blended light sour cream and skim milk which added a nice creamy texture. A tomato and avocado salad is perfect to add some more

vegetables and round out the meal.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Enchilada Casserole

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 8

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- --------------------------------

8 ounces ground turkey

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

3 cloves garlic -- crushed

2 teaspoons oregano -- Mexican preferred

2 teaspoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper -- optional

4 ounces Morningstar Farms burger crumbles

28 ounces enchilada sauce

1/4 cup water

1 cup frozen corn kernels

15 ounces canned black beans -- drained and rinsed

1 small can green chili peppers, chopped

4 ounces shredded lowfat cheddar cheese

12 corn tortillas

1/2 cup light sour cream

3 tablespoons skim milk

In a large nonstick skillet, brown the ground turkey until no longer pink; add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and continue to sauté until the vegetables are almost soft. Add oregano, chili powders, and burger crumbles and stir for two minutes.

Pour 3/4 cup of the enchilada sauce and water into the ground turkey mixture and combine well. Stir in the corn, black beans, and chopped green chilies; bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.

In a 3-quart casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray, layer 3 tortillas on the bottom. Add 1/4 or the reserved enchilada sauce, 1/3 of the ground turkey mixture, 1/4 of the cheese for the first layer. Repeat in this sequence: 3 tortillas, sauce, ground turkey mixture, cheese, 3 tortillas, sauce, ground turkey mixture, cheese, 3 tortillas, sauce, cheese. Cover and bake for 15 minutes; uncover and bake for 10 minutes longer.

After removing form the oven, allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream and milk until smooth.

Scoop onto plates and drizzle with the sour cream mixture.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 567 Calories (kcal); 14g Total Fat (3g saturated); (22% calories from fat); 27g Protein; 82g Carbohydrate; 27mg Cholesterol; 1309mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 5 Grain(Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 4 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 10 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : Although this is great right out of the oven, if made a day in advance and reheated the layers will firm up and look more presentable rather than collapsing onto themselves!

Serve with a tomato-avocado-onion salad

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Brownie Drops

While I had the oven all fired up on Sunday, in addition to baking the bread and pizza, I made a batch of Brownie Drops. And as a result, this is why I am now able to walk around without crutches. Ya-hooo!

I’ve been trying to walk for a week and, honestly, I was afraid to place all of my weight on my foot. Still wearing the aircast (which will be a part of my stylish ensemble for another 2 weeks), I first went through the walking motions while placing my weight on the crutches. After a couple of days I was able to add a little more weight onto the foot. Then a little more. But every time I attempted to walk normally I panicked and stumbled. I knew that my ankle wasn’t going to break again, but I was having a difficult time with convincing it.. That Sunday afternoon, tired to death of sitting on the sofa (for Day #43), I decided to spend some time in the kitchen since there was some bread dough rising which would need my attention anyway.

The supply of peanut butter cookies which I made Jack for Valentine’s Day was dwindling, as were the truffles which he bought for me. We needed to replenish our sweet-stash! :)

Last week I found this Brownie Drops recipe on They looked easy enough and I loved the fact that along with the melted chocolate, there was only ¼ cup of flour. Little flour, lots of chocolate. Sounded good to me! I assembled the ingredients onto the kitchen counter, placed the mixing bowl in the sink to contain any splatters, plugged in the hand mixer, and away I went. The directions called for beating the eggs and brown sugar together for 4 minutes.

So I stood, propped up at the sink, crutches leaning against the doorframe a few feet away. I placed a little weight on my broken ankle. Hmmmm. No pain, no snap (*shudder*). More weight. A little more. As those four minutes wore on, I was able to transfer all of my weight onto my bad leg. When I was done making the batter, I saw the baking sheets across the room on the table. I took a step. Then another. And another… Cool! I was walking without crutches and without pain!

Anybody who has gone through this knows what a wonderful feeling it is. After 6 weeks of hobbling around with crutches or a walker, unable to carry anything, I am finally getting around on my own. Now I wonder how long it will take for the calluses to go away from my palms where I had to grip the crutches…

I attribute the Brownie Drops to my walking around again (thanks, Carrie!). Okay, I admit that it would have happened sooner or later, but having to stand for four long minutes, propped up by the counter, gave me the opportunity to do this gradually.

So, back to the cookies.

These have a rich, deep chocolate flavor that makes them hard to stop eating. They are moist and chewy inside with the crunch of walnuts, just like pan-baked brownies—I finally put them in a plastic container and asked Jack to please, for heavens sake, hide them from me. I love chocolate, and I have no willpower. A deadly combination around treats such as these are!

Monday, February 25, 2008

No Knead Pizza Crust

In a previous post I had mentioned using frozen bread dough as a pizza crust (and with less than desirable results). For the first few weeks after I broke my ankle, we had made our usual Sunday night pizza with a pizza crust bought in the dairy case which came rolled-up in a tube. It wasn’t bad, but we still longed for my pizza crust. While Jack is helping me in the kitchen, I really don’t want to make breads that require kneading. I am spoiled because several years ago, when recuperating from a frozen shoulder, I realized that my Kitchen Aid mixer could knead dough just as well as I am able to do by hand. This is how I make most of my bread and pizza crust now and, although it is easier, I still didn’t feel as though I could stand at the counter, adding flour, mixing, kneading… Those darn crutches keep falling over.

For this week’s pizza, I did a variation of a no-knead bread as a pizza crust and it turned out wonderfully. On Saturday night, before going to bed, I mixed a batch of no-knead bread dough then also a smaller batch to use as pizza crust. As with the bread, it was allowed to rise leisurely for about 18 hours. Then, because the dough is too wet for the crust to be rolled out, I kneaded in a little more flour. That dough rested for a couple of hours, then was shaped on a greased pizza pan, covered with plastic, and set aside for another half-hour. This produced a very satisfactory pizza crust for our Pizza Du Sunday

The crust was thin in the center, nice and puffy on the perimeter, and had a wonderfully developed flavor. This may be how I make my pizza crust from now on, even after I'm able to stand and use the KA once again.

Recipe for No Knead Pizza Crust

And here is the no-knead bread which was baked while I had the oven going. We just love that thin, crisp crust! Best part, though-- no kneading. I just have to remember to start it the night before.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Baked Rigatoni

Although I was craving Indian cuisine last evening, I finally decided to make a pan of Baked Rigatoni for dinner.

Jack had spent the afternoon at meetings, then went to the grocery store on his way home and braved the crowds (which the local media had whipped into a frenzy with warnings about an impending winter storm). He arrived home late and tired. Baked pasta with a sausage-spiced red sauce seemed to be appropriate, especially since I had been thawing 2 loaves of frozen whole wheat bread dough and the oven would already be on to bake these.

A note on the bread. I make a tried-and-true recipe for five-grain bread, two loaves every other week, and I haven’t bought sandwich bread (except while on vacation) for years. Before Christmas I was at the grocery store and decided that, after the subsequent stops which I needed to make, I would be home too late to make the dough for the pizza which I had planned for dinner that evening. I have tried the prebaked crusts (Boboli) and they seem too “bready”. Not really a word, I know, but an apt description. I was looking at frozen pizzas, immediately counting them out as I read the nutrition labels, when I saw whole wheat frozen bread dough. I bought a package of 3 loaves, took one from the bag and placed it in a plastic bag from the produce department, stored the other two in the cooler against a block of ice. The single loaf was placed on the back seat where it thawed for a couple of hours and, by the time I arrived home, just needed 45 minutes to rise and was ready to use.

For all of the forethought and preparation I did to transform this bread dough into a pizza dough, it was not very good. The crust turned out to be too much like thin bread than crust. So the other 2 loaves sat in the deep freeze until I broke my ankle and we ran out of the five-grain. I was surprised at how good this was (of course, baked as a loaf of bread rather than a pizza crust). It is lighter than the five-grain which I make, and we do enjoy dense breads, but quite suitable for the situation which I am in (the very-little-baking situation).

I had Jack buy another bag of whole wheat frozen bread dough last week and this is what I will probably use until I am in the kitchen, unencumbered by crutches, once again.

So much for the “plug” for frozen bread dough (to make bread, of course). Back to dinner.

I will not turn on the oven to bake anything for less than 30 minutes. It’s quite an arbitrary limit, one which I gave myself. I simply feel that the energy needed to preheat the oven would be a waste if I kept it going for less time. Therefore, if I want to bake something in the oven for dinner which requires less than a half-hour baking time, I make something else.

This recipe for baked rigatoni is very quick and basic, and one which Jack loves. I tried to keep the fat content down through the use of turkey Italian sausage and part-skim mozzarella. I’ve also found that Parmeginio Reggiano cheese, while twice as expensive as regular ol’ Parmesan, adds the same amount of flavor while using less that most other grating cheeses. Using whole wheat pasta really bumps up the nutrition quotient of the dish (I used the 365 Organic brand from Whole Foods). As usually is the case, it was after the pasta was in the oven that I thought of another way to add flavor and nutrition-- the next time I will add a 10-ounce package of thawed, squeezed-dry frozen spinach to the sauce before the rigatoni is added.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Baked Rigatoni

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- ----------------------------------------

16 ounces whole wheat pasta -- rigatoni, ziti, cavatappi, etc.

16 ounces Italian turkey sausage -- hot, sweet, or a combination

1 cup chopped sweet onion

2 large garlic cloves -- crushed

15 ounces tomato sauce

29 ounces canned crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried basil -- crumbled

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons dried oregano -- crumbled

2 cups shredded lowfat mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350F. Cook pasta according to package directions and keep warm.

In a large nonstick skillet, crumble and stir the sausage over medium -high heat until broken into small pieces and no longer pink. Add onion and garlic and stir for a few minutes until onion is softened. Stir in the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and herbs/spices and bring to a simmer. Add the cooked pasta and combine well. Coat a 9"x14" baking pan with cooking spray. Pour in about 1/3 of the pasta. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella. Add another 1/3 pasta, sprinkle with another 3/4 cup of mozzarella, then add the remaining pasta. Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella and the Parmesan.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and place back in the oven (uncovered) for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is bubbly. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 583 Calories (kcal); 16g Total Fat (7g saturated); (23% calories from fat); 40g Protein; 78g Carbohydrate; 73mg Cholesterol; 1338mg Sodium

I admit that this is not exactly a lowfat recipe and, as you can see by the photo, it isn't exactly swimming in cheese, either (a few recipes I've found have way more cheese, and also ricotta). I was able to do something to lower the fat a little, and this is not indicated in the nutritional information listed above because I have no idea how to go about figuring it out.

When I brown ground turkey or sausage, I always rinse the meat with boiling water, in a colander, after cooking and before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. I have seen various numbers for this, but one that stuck out is that rinsing can remove up to 30% of the fat. If you soak the meat in a bowl of boiling water then drain and rinse it with additional boiling water, it can take that number up to 50%. I did just the rinsing last night, then I chopped the pieces of sausage further than crumbling in the pan could do. This seems to make it appear as though there is more sausage in each bite.

And it's all about appearances, isn't it???

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blog Ramblings...

I am now firmly convinced that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more frustrating to me than being housebound with a mobility-limiting injury. Lately my first thought in the morning when I wake is “Great. Another day in the living room.” I have a box full of old photos from the 1970’s which Mom gave me a few years ago to arrange in photo sleeves, and these undoubtedly would be an interesting way to spend a few days, but I just cannot maneuver myself around even a small card-table to do the necessary sorting and arranging. I’ve organized my files. I have even planned menus for our June vacation and for some entertaining that we plan to do this summer.

I find myself looking forward to the mail. Pathetically, receiving the local grocery flyer is an event. *sigh*

Blogging is saving my sanity. Reading, writing, I feel a little less isolated, a little less unproductive. I have been working on the appearance of my blog, as some of you may notice, although I constantly have a nagging feeling that I may do something, accidentally click a button, that will erase the entire thing.

I have been reading a lot more online than I usually do. One article which held my attention enough that I copied it into a Word document then edited it down (from 5 pages to 3) was by a chef in San Francisco (I believe) on making Pad Thai

This is an amazing read. The recipe itself is short and to the point, but there is a ton of information on preparation and ingredients. The proper way to make authentic Pad Thai and you can bet that as soon as I’m able to get around the kitchen more easily I am going to make this. I have had a block of tamarind paste in the freezer for 2 years and hope that I’ll be able to rehydrate it.

Well, cross your fingers for me that I can get a new template on this blog and restructure it a bit without losing all of the data. Here goes… :)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Waffle Wednesday (and a cat-nap)

Waffles. Jack and I love breakfast, and these are one of our favorite “breakfast foods”, so several years ago we declared every Wednesday to be (ta da!) Waffle Wednesday ! It takes very little to amuse us…

Anyway, since we both work from home it’s not a big deal to make a breakfast that is slightly more complicated than a bowl of cereal or defrosting muffins.. I would go through the preparation while Jack was in his office, then I would call him in to the kitchen.

For the past 5 weeks, it has not been that way.

Aware of our Waffle Schedule, my friend Jenni brought us enough waffles for the first few weeks after I broke my ankle. She made a multi-grain waffle recipe from Eating Well, then wrapped them individually and froze. Now these were excellent waffles. I didn’t realize that they could be frozen, reheated, and then still taste great. Alas, these were soon gone. As soon as I can get around the kitchen better I plan to make these repeatedly.

Today I had planned to make a pumpkin waffle recipe. In order to streamline the time it would take to prepare them in the morning I was going to mix the dry ingredients while Jack cleaned up the dinner dishes last evening. Unfortunately, when he went to the basement shelves to find a can of pumpkin, there was none.

I am also out of the pancake/waffle mix which I make in large quantities from a Mollie Katzen recipe.

And so we were left with a store-bought buttermilk pancake/waffle mix. Not bad, but not as healthy as we would like. I added some oat bran, a bit of baking powder & soda, cinnamon, cornstarch (my secret ingredient for making light waffles) and plain yogurt to bump up the nutrition quotient. The result was a nice crisp waffle, relatively low in fat (for a waffle!) with a bit of fiber. Not bad at all for a mix!

Um, a very plain waffle photo... Jack wanted to place a grape in each of the recesses!

Add-To-The-Mix Waffles

1 ¼ cups buttermilk pancake/waffle mix

⅓ cup oat bran

¼ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cornstarch

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix in a medium bowl.

Into a one-cup measure, spoon ⅓ cup plain fat-free yogurt. Add water to the ¾ cup mark. Mix well, then add more water to the one cup mark. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

Pour the water mixture into the dry ingredients, stirring slowly with a whisk. You may need more water. Now, here is the tricky part. The oat bran, as it sits, will absorb moisture so you need to make a rather thin batter. Not watery, but thin. Mix just until ingredients are combined and allow to sit for 5 minutes to thicken. Check and add a little more water if necessary, only (gently!) stirring enough to incorporate. Allow the batter to rest for another 5 minutes while the waffle iron heats up. You can’t hurry this 10 minutes’ worth of resting or there will be little crunchy bits of oat bran in your waffle!

Hopefully, you have made waffles before and know the consistency which the batter needs to be in. It will be slightly thinner than pancake batter but not at all runny.

This recipe makes 3 Belgian-style waffles.

Spooky, for a probably-around-12-year-old cat, is quite active. He has also had to adjust to my immobility since I was the one who would play with him and, yes you are reading this correctly, take him for walks. Having to take care of the house and meals, Jack simply doesn’t have the time. So I have put together some interactive toys for him which I can use from a seated position. His favorite seems to be a long thin dowel on to which I have attached a plastic handle with a bunch of feathers at the end. Or, rather, there were a bunch of feathers at the end. It’s currently down to two, and Jack will have to pick up a replacement feather-toy when he goes out grocery-shopping tomorrow.

So Spooky has had to increase his nap time. This is probably not too difficult for him. :)

He is stretched out behind me, on a pad on the living room radiator. I can’t resist ending this post with a cute “cat sleeping” photo.

Foodie BlogRoll and... I've been tagged!

Well. Two things happened recently which are pushing me to my limits of blogging knowledge. Yes, I have been writing this blog for a year now but up until now I have been a “write, post, go elsewhere” blogger. It has only been since I injured myself and am now faced with several potentially idle hours each day that I’ve discovered how fun it is to read other food blogs. And what’s really cool-- when I finish reading some posts in a blog, marking recipes as I go, then click onto another blog whose information is displayed at the first blog, then I’ve discovered a whole new person with new information and recipes!

First, I am now a member of the Foodie Blogroll which is a large list of links to other food blogs. I am finding this very dangerous since I lose all track of time as I click on links and read, read, read. I have to get these broken bones healed so I can get back into the kitchen soon. The “to try” pile of recipes is getting huge!

Second, I have been “tagged”! I had absolutely no idea what that meant until it happened. And there are rules as well, which are:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names, linking to them.
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

Laura, whom I am familiar with from the Cooking Light forums, tagged me and I visited her blog . I am wondering how I managed to have missed this one— she posts a lot of information and recipes featuring Asian cuisine; Thai being my favorite. I anticipate finding a lot of new recipes in this blog.

I am, however, a bit stumped by the five facts which I am supposed to share. I am not looking for compliments here, but I simply am not that interesting. Deep breath, here goes:

1) I love to entertain. I love every part of the process—the planning, the cleaning and decorating, the cooking, the actual event itself. I even like cleaning up afterward because the adrenaline is still coursing through me and Jack and I discuss what all happened during the evening. I am quite at a pinnacle of happiness when the event is in full-swing and I can step back, see everyone enjoying themselves, and think “wow!”.

2) I can tear apart a 6’ x 3’, 140+-year-old wooden frame window, totally strip it down then rebuild it to be just as sturdy as the day it was installed (including cutting new glass panes); and have it all completed in 4 days. I’ve done this to most of our 21 windows.

3) Our cat, Spooky, is Master. I am Slave.

4) It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I finally tasted (and loved) olives, artichokes, goat cheese, gorgonzola, and avocados. It may seem like I grew up in a culinary black hole, but it really wasn’t that way. I lived in a small town until I graduated from college and wasn’t exposed to these foods or, if I was, I was a picky eater anyway and refused to try anything that was too different! Ahhh, how things can change! ;)

5) I practice frugality to the point where I think that something may be wrong with me (of course, when we have a party, that little personality quirk goes right out the window!). Does anyone else wash out plastic bags and foil to reuse them? :O

I have discovered a lot of blogs recently, and it’s difficult to choose my top 5. There are the big, well-known ones (kitchenmage, culinary in the desert, smitten kitchen, farm girl fare) which I read regularly, but I thought I’d post a few of the lesser-known blogs which I enjoy:

Cook Simple (Carrie)

Nick Snacks (Nikki)

For The Love of Cooking (Pam)

Indian Spice Trail (Sheela)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Meatball Stroganoff

A mere five days after informing my parents that I had broken my ankle and foot, a box arrived at our doorstep. Mom, still suffering the final stages of walking pneumonia, had felt badly that she couldn’t drive the 2+ hours to our house to clean and cook for me, so she did the next best thing—she sent a box of goodies. Puzzles, hand lotion, magazines, and lots of cookies did a great job in dispelling the gloom of self-pity which I had created around myself. The peanut-butter brownies almost made up to Jack for the extra load of work that he was now shouldering.

I have been reading a lot of magazines lately. Mine had piled up over the holidays, and the ones which she sent were added to the basket. Mom has seven grandchildren, all of whom, at one time or another, have been part of a magazine-subscription drive. Most recently, my eight-year-old twin nieces are involved with this as fund-raiser for their Brownie troop. Needless to say, Mom and Dad receive a lot of magazines. Dad hasn’t owned a boat since the early 1980’s, yet he receives Boating World. They replaced their standard-sized mailbox several years ago with a much larger one, and this is always filled. Mom sent me many magazines!

Last week I was reading an issue of Woman’s Day and there was an article featuring “50 easy meals”. This was a subject which I had never been interested in before but, with my current situation, Jack certainly deserves to make some “easy meals”. I tore the article out, circled five or six recipes which seemed interesting, and added a couple of the ingredients to last week’s grocery list.

Yesterday, I decided to try the Meatball and Pepper Stroganoff. The recipe was a bit vague, not really a recipe at all but simply instructions on how to cook without specifying measurements.

It took only 25 minutes to prepare, and definitely wasn’t bad at all. I didn’t have particularly high expectations as one of the ingredients is condensed cream of chicken soup (I try not to be an ingredient snob, but condensed “cream of” soups always remind me of Tuna Noodle Casserole!). I was surprised. The only change which I would make next time would be to add some garlic to the onions and peppers as they cook.

Here is my version of the recipe. I added sliced mushrooms and replaced some of the water in the sauce with skim milk. As you can see by the photo, it would look more appealing with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley. But it's Comfort Food. Creamy and tasty and easy-- who could want more in less than a half hour? :)

You could easily make the recipe to serve four and use an entire standard size 10-ounce can of soup.

Meatball & Pepper


Adapted from Woman’s Day,

1 February 2008

Serves 2

5 ounces whole-wheat fettuccine

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into ¼”wide strips

1 small sweet onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼”wide strips

1 large clove garlic, crushed

¾ cup sliced mushrooms

8 turkey meatballs

2 teaspoons paprika

2/3 cup reduced-fat condensed cream of chicken soup (save the rest for another use…)

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup skim milk

1/3 cup light sour cream

Prepare fettuccine while cooking the rest of the meal.

Drizzle olive oil into a large nonstick skillet.

Add red peppers and sauté over a medium flame for 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring, for 1 minute; add mushrooms and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Add turkey meatballs and paprika and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Mix soup, water, and milk in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Pour into the meatball mixture. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Turn heat to low and add sour cream, stirring gently to mix well. Turn off heat, add cooked fettuccine, toss to mix.

Divide between 2 plates; sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Curried Chicken with Cauliflower and Rice

Jack professes to dislike “working for his food” and, as a result, the ingredients in our meals are prepared boneless, skinless, shelled, and in manageable pieces. He was horrified once when, in a restaurant (one of our favorites, no less), he was served a platter of jambalaya topped with huge shrimp, shells intact, and also a whole chicken leg. This was several years ago and he still talks about it. I had two choices that evening: to watch him mangle the shrimp and chicken in an attempt to extract the meat, or take his plate and do it myself. I did the latter and, by the time I was finished, my crab-and-salmon cakes were cool. So goes the sorry tale of the wife who spoils the husband…

Several years ago when I grew an unusually huge cauliflower in the garden. I had remembered to tuck the leaves around the head as it grew, shielding it from the sun, so that it was an almost-pure white in color. I also had been using biological insecticides to keep cabbage worms and such pests away. This was one gorgeous cauliflower! So I prepared it as it deserved to be. It was steamed, whole, until just tender, then drizzled with a light sauce of an artisan-crafted Vermont sharp cheddar, and sprinkled with chopped chives from the herb garden. Centered in a platter, it was gorgeous. Jack looked at it, complimented my green thumb and presentation, then asked if I was going to cut it in pieces for us to eat. No, I replied, you only have to slice off as much you want with a serving spoon. It was that easy.

Well, not really.

Now, this is an architect who has made beautiful miniature models of building projects without a problem. I know that he has the fine motor skills; I don’t see the difference between cutting tiny windows in a tiny foamboard building and dissecting a cooked, unshelled prawn or removing the meat from a piece of chicken! But it is a problem, and after almost 25 years of marriage, it is simply dealt with.

It goes without saying that I make a good deal of recipes for our meals which feature boneless, bite-sized pieces of food.

Last night for dinner I was craving curry. Something warm and fragrant with Indian spices, and something that I could also make myself. Jack had been in his office all day trying to catch up on paperwork and I figured that the last thing he wanted was to be in the kitchen. While, on the other hand, I live to be in the kitchen! It’s difficult with crutches, and takes at least three times longer to do anything, but as I told Jack later, at this point I have all of the time in the world… ;)

Following is what I came up with. I was surprised at how simple it was to put together, yet how tasty. Just what I had wanted. This isn’t “company-worthy”, it could be with some extra work, but as it is, it’s a very good, basic, warming Indian-style meal.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Curried Chicken with

Cauliflower and Rice

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings: 2

Preparation Time :0:35

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- ---------------------------------------

10 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- cut into 1" cubes

1 tablespoon mild curry powder -- Penzeys is a good brand

2 teaspoons olive oil -- divided

1/2 cup diced onion

1 large garlic clove -- crushed

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes -- (or less, to taste)

1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth -- heated

2/3 cup basmati rice

10 ounces cauliflower flowerets

1/3 cup frozen peas -- thawed

2 wedges fresh lime

Toss chicken cubes with 2 teaspoons curry powder.

Drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil into a medium, nonstick, covered sauté pan. Add chicken cubes and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until lightly browned and cooked (cut one of the larger pieces in half to be certain). Remove from pan to a bowl, cover, and set aside.

Add then remaining oil to the skillet and, over medium heat, sauté onions, garlic, and hot pepper flakes until onions are barely softened. Add one teaspoon of curry powder and rice; cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add hot chicken broth and bring to a boil, cover tightly, and reduce heat to low. Cook without stirring or removing lid, for 15 minutes. Turn off heat but do not remove lid from pan; allow to stand while the cauliflower cooks.

Steam cauliflower (it should take 6-8 minutes, depending on the size of the florets)

Add cauliflower florets, peas, and cooked chicken to the rice mixture and stir. Serve with lime wedges and additional hot sauce, if needed.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 510 Calories (kcal); 8g Total Fat (1g saturated); (14% calories from fat); 51g Protein; 58g Carbohydrate; 82mg Cholesterol; 592mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 3 Grain(Starch); 5 1/2 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mediterranean Chicken

For the past few years I have been trying to control our portion sizes. Although I am able to resign myself to consuming one portion (most of the time), Jack is a different story. He insists that portion sizes are too small and, for an active 6’4” man, perhaps they are. So the easiest thing for me to do is to make 3 servings of a recipe and give him 2 servings. I’ll scale back on this if it’s one of the infrequent higher-fat recipes which I try, but I don’t see the harm in giving him extra food. It also helps me as I don’t then have to hear him ask, after I place the plate on the table, “Is this it??? Is this all??? ”

Chicken breasts have been a problem with controlling portion sizes, though. I buy large bags of frozen chicken for everyday use and have seen the individual pieces steadily increase in size (per chicken breast) in the past 10 years or so. A few months ago, I noticed that the chicken breasts often weighed about 10 ounces for each half. A serving of protein is supposed to be around 4-5 ounces. I usually prepare 12 ounces for Jack and myself.

What the heck are they feeding chickens? Or have scientists been breeding progressively larger chickens every year? Growth hormones? I’d rather not think about that. Organic chicken is so expensive.

Recently I have been paying attention to the packages and counting how many breasts are in a bag. When I buy the bag with the most pieces, they will usually be around 6 ounces. Much easier to pull out and defrost rather than needing to cut one in half while still partially frozen, then placing the other half back in the freezer.

The smaller chicken breasts are a perfect size for those infrequent times which I prepare recipe which requires a cooking whole chicken breast halves.

I went into my archives and found one such recipe. As I recall, I made this frequently last autumn (while blatantly ignoring this blog) for a quick dinner. After trying to make the most of every minute of the quickly-fading daylight (and fast-cooling temperatures) by scrambling to get the outside wood trim on our house scraped of loose paint and then primed and topcoated, dinner became a hurriedly assembled meal around 8-9pm. This Mediterranean Chicken is perfect for those times when you want something easy and quick, but still lowfat and delicious. As the chicken is prepared, boil a pot of water and get the steamer out for sides of buttered orzo pasta and broccoli.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Mediterranean Chicken

Recipe By : Vicci

Servings: 2 Preparation Time :0:20

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

---------- ---------- ----------------------------------------

12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast -- (2 halves)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 medium garlic clove -- crushed

8 ounces arrabbiata pasta sauce

1/4 cup kalamata olives -- coarsely chopped

2 ounces reduced-fat feta cheese

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Carefully, using a sharp knife, cut each chicken breast lengthwise into 2 pieces (this is much easier if the chicken is partially frozen). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle oil in a medium-sized nonstick pan and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and stir around in the oil with the spatula for 15 seconds; add chicken and sauté until golden on each side. Remove to a warm plate and cover with foil.

Place pan back on heat and add pasta sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and stir in olives. Add chicken, turning to coat.

Spoon some sauce on the individual serving plates, lay chicken on sauce, spoon the rest of the sauce over top, crumble cheese over, and sprinkle with parsley.

Serve with buttered orzo and steamed broccoli.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 348 Calories (kcal); 16g Total Fat (3g saturated); (42% calories from fat); 45g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 109mg Cholesterol; 973mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 5 1/2 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

Note: Arrabbiata sauce (which, incidentally, means "angry mood" in Italian) is a spicy, tomato-based pasta sauce. A plain marinara can be substituted, adding crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spicy Peanut Butter Cookies/ Salmon with Orange Sauce

Valentine’s Day. It is my Mom’s birthday, and the only reason that the day is important to me. I haven’t been very big on celebrating Valentine’s Day in the past several years because it has become more of a “buy this diamond necklace, buy these red roses” kind of a holiday rather than what it was probably meant to be-- a sweet, simple little day tucked in the middle of February for one to show appreciation to a loved one. Or to reveal your romantic feelings to one who is uncertain of them. It has, like every other major holiday, been blown into a huge commercial event.

Warning! Rant ahead!!! ;)

Speaking of commercials, the ones for jewelry (from the huge mega-jewelry stores) that have been airing for the past 4 weeks on television and radio drive me nuts. They are very good at doing what they were created to do—convince men that they must show their special one their love by buying her (preferably diamond) jewelry, and convince women that they’re not really loved unless their special guy lavishes them with expensive jewelry. Most men have no idea what to do in romantic gift-giving situations and if they’re told that women want diamonds then, by God, they’re gonna do it or face serious repercussions from the woman who has also been paying attention to these commercials. Let’s get something straight. I like pretty jewelry- heck I even have some, but I just can’t see spending lots of money on it. Diamonds are sparkly and nice to look at, but so are rubies. And glass.

Don't get me started on engagement rings. My nephew, who has several months' worth of accumulating credit card balances and is in a starting-level job in retail, bought his fiancee a $5000 engagement ring. Oy. This bodes well for their financial future!

Chocolate, though. Now that shows the perfect meaning of Valentine’s Day! Dark chocolate is heart-healthy, practically good for you--could there be a more perfect food?. Now giving the one you adore some chocolate is THE way to go. Nobody is slaving in diamond mines in Africa to produce it; not a single confectioner will, like a florist with their red roses, realize a 400% profit on chocolate for a single week out of the year.

Obviously, Jack and I do not have a lavish, gifty Valentine’s Day. Since we met, I have baked Jack something sweet for this day (although he prefers other flavors to chocolate) and he has bought me a bag of conversation hearts (traditionally THE way to celebrate the day) and perhaps some chocolate as well. Simple, basic… us.

I had resigned myself to making him a card with an IOU for something delicious to be created after I regain control of the kitchen. Having a broken ankle seriously impedes my baking capabilities. But there was an opportunity which suddenly arrived.

The weather during the past 2 weeks has been very February-like. Snow, rain, ice, and some unusually high winds combined with highs in the low 60’s and, several days later, a high of 18. Jack decided that he wanted to drive to our lake house to check on it. He left in late morning and I figured that I had, minimally, 2½ hours bake something, totally clean up, hide the evidence, and be back in the living room with my foot up.

I heard the Jeep’s horn beeping as he left the driveway, waited five minutes in case he forgot something and came back, then made my way out to the kitchen. I turned on the oven, then the exhaust fan. First up was a curry-spiced nut mix which I had made while he was out last week but when he returned too soon and saw (and smelled!) them, there was no turning holding off until Valentine’s day

I mixed the spices and nuts, spread on a cookie sheet, and as they were baking I put together the ingredients for spicy peanut butter cookies. This recipe I had found on the Cuisine at Home website and used a kind of peanut butter called Some Like It Hot, which I just happened to have.

Despite the exhaust fan the scent of curry spices mixed with the peanut butter and it was glorious to just stand in the kitchen and breathe. The nuts were baked and cooled, mixed with dried fruit, and bagged. The cookies were finished, cooled, and bagged. The treats were stashed in the dryer in the laundry room until this evening.

But the delicious smells remained. In a flash of deceptive genius, I baked a batch of tortilla chips to eat with chili for our lunch. The scent of baking chips layered over the fragrant nuts and cookies and all Jack noticed, on arriving home, was the baking tortillas. Heehee!

The kitchen was exactly as he left it after breakfast this morning, the cookies and nuts were hidden, and I had sat in the living room and had barely read a chapter in my book when he returned.


Jack doesn’t like his baked goods to be very sweet, so I couldn’t decorate the cookies with colored sugar. Instead, these very plain cookies received a heart design cut in the center with a small aspic-cutter. But plain is appearance was the only ordinary thing about these cookies. They were crisp on the outside, moist and chewy in the middle, and had one heck of a kick from the cayenne-spiced peanut butter.

I am providing the recipe as I received it from Laura’s post on the Cuisine at Home website, with my alterations afterward in parenthesis.

Spicy Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup shortening (1/3 cup Trans-fat free Crisco)
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar (1 cup)
3/4 cup spicy peanut butter (The Heat Is On)
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk (lowfat half and half)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (190 degrees C).
In a medium bowl, cream together shortening, brown sugar, and peanut butter until smooth. Stir in egg, milk, and vanilla. In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt then sti
r into the peanut butter mixture until well blended.

Use a scoop and drop onto ungreased cookie sheets. Press down criss-cross with a fork gently to flatten. Turn oven down to 375. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes (depending on size of cookie scoop you use. Mine holds about 2 Tablespoons and I cook for about 10 minutes) in the preheated oven. Space cookies about 2-3 inches apart, they spread out. Cookies are done when they are slightly browned across the top and spread out quite a ways. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

(I baked these for 6 minutes in the oven, and allowed them to stand for 4 minutes after taking them out of the oven. This recipe gave me 43 2” diameter cookies)

For dinner, we made one of our more simple favorite meals, salmon with an Asian-inspired orange sauce over basmati rice and steamed spinach.

After the rice was cooked, it took less than 20 minutes to pull the rest of the meal together.

Salmon with Orange Sauce

1/3 cup fresh orange juice

½ teaspoon fresh orange zest

½ tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon minced garlic

½ teaspoon grated gingerroot

½ teaspoon dark sesame oil

12 ounces wild salmon fillet

Mix marinade ingredients in a plastic container. Add salmon, turning to coat, and marinate (covered) in the refrigerator for at least one hour

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Lift fillets from marinade, reserving marinade, and cook for 4 minutes. Flip and cook for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to stand in pan for 1 minute. Serve with sauce drizzled over.

While fish cooks, pour marinade into a small saucepan and boil over high heat until reduced by about half.

The rice/ spinach side was prepared as follows:

Cook basmati rice (We used 2/3 cup uncooked measure)

In large nonstick skillet, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat over a medium-high flame. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic, stir for 15 seconds, add spinach (5 ounces? I didn’t weigh) and stir until spinach is mostly wilted. Add rice and stir for one minute. Transfer to a bowl and keep warm.

I wiped out the skillet to use for the fish, which was prepared immediately following.

Now, there's a bottle of champagne and a box of truffles waiting us.

Happy Valentine's Day to all

and Happy Birthday, Mummy!!! :)