Cooking Again! Okay, Just a Little Bit

I made mini crustless quiches yesterday, a recipe from my WLS blog friend Eggface.  She has about 50 variations of these little bites, as she calls them, but Sunday I made the Breakfast Bites. Each one has 45 calories and 3g of protein, and 3-4 make a serving, depending on what you’re having with them.  They’re full of eggs, swiss cheese, chopped ham, onions and ‘shrooms, baked in a mini muffin tin. It’s nice to have variety for meals and I’ve been getting sick of 2 oz of cottage cheese or yogurt for breakfast.

She also has dozens and dozens of recipes for all kinds of foods that are WLS-safe but equally appealing to non-ops.  (The bites, for example, would be wonderful appetizers for a party.)  Next on my list to try is protein ice cream.    Or maybe the pizza bites. We’ll see.

I also made pudding yogurt, this time with a protein boost. I mixed a tub of plain non-fat yogurt with a box of instant sugar free vanilla pudding, one scoop of vanilla protein, and 4 TB of SF Torani gingerbread syrup.  I’ve made this stuff for years with just yogurt and pudding, but adding the protein powder kicks up the nutrition value without changing the taste.  The Torani syrup takes care of that, in a good way.  I went a little crazy ordering SF Torani flavors that I couldn’t find locally and am eager to try out.

I went out and about late morning to shop for a few things before the cold rain started – toys for the Toys for Tots drive at work, warm gloves & scarf for the Cold Weather Clothing drive, also at work, and some whey protein to give my nephew for Christmas.  It’s not the biggest size tub but I’m pretty sure he’ll appreciate it and at least it does fill up the “under the tree” space.

Most of my shopping is done, though I plan to pick up some things at the Union Square Christmas Fair in New York City this week on a day off.  Holding my breath that the weather behaves coz I don’t really want to mill around NYC in snow, rain or sleet.  Yes, I’m a wieather wimp.

Where do You Get Recipes?

Chef with head in cookbookWhen I was a kid, my mom cooked from her Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, her collection of recipes  cut from women’s magazines such as Redbook, and her faithful wooden recipe box with recipes from friends and family.  But we mostly ate the same things, at least I don’t remember many complicated options.  Lots of plain meat, potatoes and veggies and the usual casseroles made with cream of chicken soup.

Now adays there are cookbooks out the whazoo for every narrow little sliver of cuisine.  My own collection includes almost all of the Weight Watchers cookbooks published in the last 4 years – although I confess I’ve only actually made a few of them, making them definitely not cost-effective purposes.  I have my own Better Homes & Gardens book and a variety of healthy food cooking options – not that I cook from most of them, either.  I like the pictures, though.

Mostly I get recipes from blogs and reading about things friends made, or by going to Epicurious, Recipezaar, and now Spark Recipes.  I like being able to plop in some ingredients I may have on hand and see what comes up – and I like being able to see the nutrition info at the same time.  Tho I try to look there last, because if I don’t like the ingredients or difficulty level enough, what difference would the nutrition make?

My favorite recipe of the last few months, the famous Alton Brown’s Free Range Fruitcake,  came from the Food Network website.  I do look at recipes there when I watch my favorite FN stars show me how easily I can whip up a 4 course meal in just 3o minutes, show after show after show, but it’s not my usual go-to spot to find something to make.

Where do you go?

When Was the Last Time You Cooked with Butter?

Butter sizzlingOne thing that comes with what seems like a lifetime of dieting and calorie counting is that butter is something that only comes in little pats out in restaurants, not in your own kitchen.  Sometimes my mom would buy a box of butter to bake butter cookies at Christmas time – c’mon, “margarine cookies” just aren’t the same.  But that was it.  Everything else was low fat, lower calories, shaving off food values and often flavor in a quest to save fat grams and calories.

Julia Child did not cook that way.  Julia lived with gusto, enjoyed her food, and taught America about French cooking, not sparing the butter or the wine along the way.  Food was complicated but rich and flavorful.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a breakthrough for American cooks at a time when casseroles made with cans of mushroom soup were haute cuisine.

My introduction to Julia Child was Dan Akroyd’s impersonation of her in a Saturday Night Life sketch and I never watched food chefs until the last few years, when I’ve become addicted to the Food Network.  But there would have been no Food Network without Julia Child.

So I was delighted to finally get and devour Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell.  It’s about the Julie/Julia project, in which a NYC secretary takes on a self-imposed project of cooking the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, and blogs about it as she goes.  It’s not a cookbook but you do read about the success and failure (but mostly success) of her stretching herself to learn new things, eat new food, expand her horizons, and grow.  Julie & Julia is a story of accomplishment, relationships, life in NYC, coming of age – and yeah, that food.

I can no more imagine going through the pounds of butter that Julie used in recreating these recipes than I can imagine walking to Houston.  But I loved the richness and discovery that came with using that butter in faithful adherence to Julia, in honoring her food.  I can’t wait to see the movie based on the book that’s due out in August 2009 – with Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

Julie Powell says at the end of the book something that will stick with me:

Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world.  It’s not what I thought it was.  I thought it was all about — I don’t know, confidence or will or luck.  Those are all some good things to have, no question.  But there’s something else, something that these things grow out of.

It’s joy.

Read this book.  See the movie with me next summer.  Use some butter in a recipe now and then.  Stretch yourself to learn and grow and try new things.  And find your joy.

Overdoing Cooking

Vegetable PeopleI got a bee in my bonnet this weekend to cook.  I haven’t really done this in a while, not like this.  And I have to admit that while it’s good for stocking the fridge with healthy stuff, it wasn’t the smartest thing for my shoulder, even though I tried to pace myself.  My knees aren’t too happy with extensive kitchen standing, either,  so pacing worked all the way around.

We were supposed to get a huge snowstorm on Saturday into Sunday, so the house was stocked with groceries delivered by Peapod (thank heavens for them – lots of wear and tear saved on the shoulder there by having food delivered right to the kitchen).   I had no plans other than trying to figure out how to get my car shoveled out after the snow.

On Saturday I chopped and roasted a big pile of green peppers and sweet onions, lightly tossing in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and seasonings.  They’re great for adding to almost everything – in soup, mixed with couscous, added to salads, as a side to scrambled eggs.  I also made a batch of sweet and sour red cabbage, using shredded cabbage, red onion, apples, vinegar and sugar.  I totally adore this dish, which we actually eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas, though I like it better cold the next day when the flavors have melded more.

A friend stopped by just before the snow to bring me starter for Amish Friendship Bread, so I made that, too.  Don’t ask me why I thought this was a good idea, but it wasn’t hard and I put one loaf in the freezer and will slice the second to have with breakfast this week.   I have a few batches of starter doing their thing in baggies on the counter, just part of the general clutter.

Today’s big project (which isn’t that big, really) was roasting a chicken in the crockpot.  It’s incredibly easy, uses minimal ingredients, yields a ton of clean protein to eat in sandwiches or for dinner.  I especially like chopped chicken mixed with roasted veggies and couscous.  The drawback is that it makes a big mess, since the chicken basically falls off the bone.  It’s worth it, though. I also made a new recipe with sweet potatoes, crushed pineapple, and some brown sugar.  It’s yummy and I suspect I’ll make it again.

In the middle of all this, I went outside to check out the snow situation.  We didn’t get nearly as much as anticipated, which means we won’t believe the weather people the next time they predict a big storm.  It also meant I didn’t have to worry about much snow removal.  My car is in a carport so it doesn’t actually have to be shoveled out, but the plow does sometimes leave a pile behind it that can be a problem if left unattended.

So, um, I went out with a shovel and, using my LEFT ARM ONLY, pushed it out of the way.  Even that I could feel on the right side, and trust me, I’m not going to do it again soon.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we don’t have big storms on the horizon – not that I’ll believe the weather people anyway.

For now, I have clean clothes, a well stocked fridge, a content kitty, and a bag of frozen peas on my right shoulder.  I’m optimistic that it will be a good week, which will be improved considerably if our online system comes back online.  We lost almost 3 days last week, plus work done on Tuesday was lost completely when the system crashed before nightly backup.  Nothing we can do about it.  At least I have a tidy office!

Spicing Things Up

The Food Network’s other name is Food Porn, and it’s addictive.  I like to watch chefs do all kinds of interesting things that I know I’ll never make but find fascinating when prepared from start to finish in nice neat 30-minute segments.   Sandra Lee is one I think is slightly insane with her insistance on using seasoning packets instead of real, yanno, spices.   None of the other FN chefs would dream of that.  But they also have kitchens stocked with every kind of spices and herbs that you could want for any recipe.  It’s miraculous.

spicesMy kitchen is somewhat different.  I tend to use the same basic things over and over, completely forgetting about the curry powder or alspice or some such thing.  Before I moved I tossed out a ton of things that didn’t look familiar and my current spice/herb supply is skimpy.

When I buy a new one, I’ve learned to write the month and date on the container using a sharpie.  That way I can see that my jar of ground ginger is five years old.  Oops, that’s about four years too long.  I just hate the idea of throwing away things I spent good money to buy.  On the other hand, old spices don’t have the punch and flavor of fresh jars and food tastes better when things are fresh.

Quality ingredients matter.  Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa, always says to buy the best vanilla you can find, that it makes a difference in the flavor of the dish.  And she’s right.  Last month I bought some really good vanilla and the smell alone is hugely different, not to mention the taste.  It’s making me wonder about some of the other things I could have on hand to perk up my meals.

Needing some direction and inspiration, I did some searching and found two really good starting points for ideas:

I think it’s time to weed through the cabinet again – and pick up some new spice, looking for small containers of things I don’t use often and bigger ones of things I go through fast such as bay leaves.   A visit to Edge of the Woods or Trader Joe’s seems to be in order.