On Food and Drink and not-Drinking

In sticking with my commitment to Dry January my new mock-tail is the Not So Dark and Stormy. I like the taste of Ginger Beer. My sister does not. Ginger ale is okay but can be sweet tasting, even the diet version.  Ginger Beer tastes more grown-up. So my drink is really not a Not So Dark and Stormy from the internet recipes. I had to look that up so I would know whether I made this up. I probably made my mock-tail but apparently not the name.

I found a six-pack of diet Ginger Beer at my local Walmart and after a few seconds of deliberation put it in the grocery cart. When I make the boozy cocktail I use spiced dark rum. I think to myself, “Self, why not spiced tea?” I have been enjoying chai type spiced tea from various brands but I prefer the non-caffeinated types. So I brew a strong cup of tea and let it sit until room temperature. Basically leave the tea bag in this whole time. Put ice in a tall glass, pour to half full with the tea and top off with Ginger Beer. Nice and refreshing! A lime twist would be the finishing touch but I did not have any.

The above is not a dish one should have on a weight loss eating plan. Pie crust is fat and flour and how can that be diet friendly? But I have only the top crust on this pot pie which is mostly vegetables anyway. I was debating between a quiche and a pot pie. I tried to roast the veg but they just cooked in the oven. I had one small and thin frozen chicken breast and diced this up to sauté with half an onion. And it worked well in the cast iron skillet; goes from stove top to oven in seconds!

  • ½ very large bag Asian stir-fry vegetables ( discard or save sauce packet for later), roasted
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 chicken breast, or more if you prefer, diced
  • Olive oil for the skillet
  • ¾ cup evaporated milk + ½ cup vegetable broth
  • 1-2 tablespoons flour
  • Seasoning of choice, I used a salt-free combination from a craft booth at the RV show similar to Mrs. Dash
  • One ready-made pie crust

Roast vegetables. Sauté onion and chicken in skillet with oil. Sprinkle with flour and add liquid and seasonings. Simmer slightly. Stir in the roasted vegetables. Make lattice with pie crust and put on top. I sprayed the crust with butter flavored cooking spray and sprinkled more seasoning on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-45 minutes. Hubby said he wasn’t particularly hungry but he ate his portion happily.

Thoughts from my kitchen table:

What have I been thinking about these past weeks: Results of Dry January.

Dry January is supposed to have health benefits including improved sleep, improved mood, saving money, brighter skin, stronger immune system, more energy, and weight loss and better liver function. I can’t measure the liver function but let’s evaluate the rest.

  • I have not noticed any improvement in my sleep. Sometimes I sleep well, sometimes I don’t. This has not changed.
  • Improved mood: not particularly. But maybe. I don’t feel like going to work some days but that is because Hubby is home and I would like to be retired. I may have been feeling a little down at the first part of the month but that may have been post-holiday blues. My December was full of activities including a trip to Jamaica to see my son get married. And that was a fun time. My sister and her husband came out and we sat in the pool chatting, swam in the ocean, ate really good food and just relaxed. Flights got cancelled and trip home was two days instead of one. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we had visits with all 4 children (all grown) and two grandchildren and Christmas Eve and morning in New Hampshire with the grandchildren. So the beginning of January was the start of quiet; all the activity was over. And then there is the news, of course, and that will dampen anyone’s mood!
  • Saving money: definitely. An O’Douls at the bar on Trivia night is $4 instead of $7 for a Guinness. The bottle of wine that was opened after Christmas still sits on the counter. I don’t think we’ve gone to the liquor store at all this month.
  • Brighter skin: I have no idea. I’m an older woman who has a few wrinkles as it is. I have few if any blemishes either. This one is probably a wash. Actually I only wash my face with water. I do not wear makeup so water is good, no drying soaps, and no goopy creams.
  • Stronger immune system: I had a nasty cold virus for 3-4 weeks but by the time I went to the doctor she said I was on the mend. She recommended the time honored use of turmeric, ginger, and honey from the wisdom of grandmothers. This depends on who is your grandmother. Mine would have recommended chicken soup and hot tea with lemon and honey, not to mention Vicks Vaporub!
  • More energy: maybe. I have started sewing again. I believe I have had fewer days of coming home from work and just collapsing on the sofa. Bedtime remains at 9-9:30 PM. I have also spent more time reading in the evening and a little bit less vegging out in front of the TV. But there may be more to this than the giving up of alcohol.
  • Weight loss: 2 to 2 ½ pounds. There are a lot of factors besides giving up the drink that contribute to this. But I won’t argue with this result. More on this weight loss journey and these other factors in another post.

What I did enjoy about Dry January was the “not feeling impaired” sensation after having a drink. Not that I get drunk or even tipsy, but I can feel the alcohol after even one drink sometimes, especially a mixed drink. This is probably the buzz that people seek and enjoy. The recommended about of alcohol for women is one drink per day and no more than 7 drinks per week. It is easy for me to have two glasses of wine in an evening and even if not every night this still can add up to more than 7 glasses a week. I also enjoyed the search for non-alcoholic drinks. I plan to seek out non-alcoholic beers to enjoy as well as drinking more Ginger Beer (diet, no need for empty calories). I’m sure my liver and brain will thank me.

Oh and I broke my fast on January 31st (as planned) with a glass of a nice red wine blend. at a gathering with friends over salad, pizza, and a fabulous dessert.

Now that my commitment is over I can have a drink whenever I choose to. But do I really want to? I am hoping that how much and how often changes.

Camping is my Happy Place

I’ve been camping. So baking and cooking has not been occupying my time. Sitting in the backyard weeknights is a good place too. I decompress from work there. I watch the birds. The same ordinary backyard birds. I did see a goldfinch this week. Actually that was while camping in New Hampshire. The biting flies were still at it. Mountain lake for swimming, campfires for roasting marshmallows, grandchildren for chasing around the fields with bats and wiffle balls. Bicycles for riding…into the woods to sit by the river…almost getting thrown into the ferns and poison ivy by the exposed tree roots on the path. Camping is my happy place. And that campground is one of our favorites. I have three more camping adventures planned for the season. That just seems too few for me.

We had a gourmet meal while camping. Beef filet wrapped in bacon, stuffed baked potatoes, garden salad, and fresh focaccia bread. Voila!

The secret here is the beef filet are from a package already prepared and ready to cook. Hubby had baked the potatoes ahead of time and stuffed them at the campground to heat on the grill. The salad greens and the bread were fresh from the Keene farmer’s market that morning. A tasty meal that we ate under the canopy while listening to the now gentle rain tapping on top. It always rains when we camp.

But then:

And, of course, there is the cast iron all-in-one breakfast: sausage patties with eggs and sauteed leftover potato, onion, with cheese on top.

Turkey Dinner

Due to the various arrangements and travels of family members through the last winter holidays, Hubby and I did not get to enjoy a traditional roast turkey dinner with all the trimmings. But we had a 15 pounder in the freezer. Well, it was time. Hubby roasted the turkey and made his famous stuffing. He also made smashed potatoes. I made the turkey pie and cranberry sauce. It is nice having a house-husband around. When I came home from work I just had to make the gravy.

Betty Crocker’s recipe was used for the cranberry sauce. Unfortunately it did not gel. It was tasty but did not gel. My daughter had that problem a few years ago. We did not figure out why.

  • 4 cups cranberries
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar

I admit I halved the recipe. Was that the problem? I also did not follow the instructions strictly. But I never had in the past either. One is supposed to bring the sugar and water to a boil and boil rapidly for 5 minutes before adding the cranberries. Once added boil this for an additional 5-8 minutes. So I brought the water and sugar to a boil, maybe let it boil a minute or two, then poured in the cranberries which were frozen. I let this boil away for 10-15 minutes since I failed to watch the clock.

Meanwhile life goes on. Hubby continues to job search. He keeps busy doing various household tasks and chores and reads books and listens to the financial reports. (I’m counting on him to make our millions in the market so I can eventually retire.) Grandson turned 3. Our debit cards got hacked. We can’t seem to lose weight, even though I walk to and from work most days. We watch too much Netflix and complain about no content. I got a bird book and have casually taken up bird watching. But now that I am looking, the birds are not staying put long enough for me to figure out what they are. Ordinary life is a good life. Blessings to all!

Quinoa casserole: inspired by Betty

To be fair my 1978 edition of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook has no mention of quinoa anywhere in it. Not that quinoa was not known but it was not the superfood in popular cooking at that time. We older people struggled to learn how to pronounce the word.

I was actually looking for a recipe for sausages and rice that did not have tomatoes. We had been eating out at an Italian restaurant weekly and I wanted something differently seasoned. I also wanted something with vegetables. The following meal is inspired by Betty’s Rice and Corn Bake, page 109. That recipe is basically rice, corn, cheese, eggs, and milk. Mine is a little different.

  • 2/3rd pound chicken sausage link cut into 1 inch pieces and sauted. The sausage I had was flavored with spinach.
  • 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables; I thought about using only corn but I like color in my foods.
  • 4 cups cooked quinoa; I had thought about using brown rice; maybe next time.
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 tsp dry mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tomato, sliced

Cook the quinoa as directed by the package. I cooked what I thought was the amount for 4 servings: 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups of water. Cook the sausages in a bit of oil. Heat oven to 350 F.

Now combine. First mix the vegetables, quinoa, and sausages in greased 2 quart casserole or baking pan. Sprinkle cheese on top. Combine eggs, milk, and seasonings. Pour this over the food in the pan. Place slices of tomato on top. Now bake for 40-45 minutes.

This made for a tasty and filling dinner. Hubby and I like to have “dinner in a bowl”. I deliberately arranged the tomato slices to make four servings. This was a lot of food and I wanted to insure two meals.

After thoughts: This is a lot of quinoa. I should have cooked 1/2 the amount. Actually I think brown rice may be a better choice for more appealing texture.

“Butcher’s Wife’s Pork Chops”

This is my version of the titled recipe in my French Feasts cookbook. This is cooking without really measuring and just adding as one goes along. Here are the ingredients as best I can estimate.

  • 2 pork chops, end cut
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup sliced roasted red peppers, from a jar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1-2 cups fresh spinach

Bread the pork chops while heating 1 Tab of olive oil in cast iron skillet. Salt and pepper them as well. Cook these until crispy brown about 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat.

Meanwhile, cook bacon in another skillet and add the onion. Add some olive oil as needed. Toss in the garlic and cook this for at least 5 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Now add the carrots and red peppers. Add salt and pepper to taste, or just some pepper. The bacon may be salty enough. Cook this for another 5 minute so the vegetables have softened. Stir this a few times. When this has softened enough for your liking put the spinach on top. Cover this with a lid and cook another 5 minutes to wilt the spinach.

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I served this with plain quinoa. After plating our dinner it occurred to me that I should have spread the quinoa over the plate, added the pork chop, and placed the cooked vegetables on top. Oh well. It was a nice meal, so much so that we sat at the kitchen table to eat instead of on the couch in front of the television.

The vegetables and quinoa would make a nice vegetarian meal, just leave out the bacon. And the vegetable quantities could be increased very easily.

Enjoy!

One Pan Chicken Dinner

I don’t think the title is original. I have seen and read many postings for one pan dinners lately. This is my version. I have taken inspiration from various postings, too many to list, so if one of them is you, thank you! The primary inspiration is here.

I have a bunch of lemons leftover from the latest lemon meringue pie birthday. Hubby and I just went grocery shopping and he picked out some small red potatoes. I wanted to do something a little different than the lemon chicken recipes I usually make. So I add paprika. My Anheuser Busch cookbook has a nice crockpot Paprika Chicken recipe but I’m roasting this in the oven.

  • 4 small/medium sized chicken breasts
  • 8 medium sized red potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 2 plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • scant 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 tsp minced garlic (from a jar)
  • dried thyme, a few shakes from a shaker jar
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste at serving

I mixed the juice, oil, and spices in a large bowl while Hubby chopped the vegetables. He cut the carrots into “pennies” which I thought would be too small but turned out perfectly. The other veggies were cut into one inch chunks. Put these into the bowl with the juice and mix to coat.

Oil the roasting pan and distribute the vegetables in it. Reserve the juice. Now put the chicken breasts in the juice to coat them. It will not be a thick coating as the juice mixture is very thin. Nestle the chicken in among the vegetables. Sprinkle with thyme and distribute the lemon slices on top. Hubby suggested pouring the juice on top of this before baking, so I did.

Here is the before baking/roasting picture and then the served dish.

I bake this at 350 degrees F for one hour. The chicken is done. I remove the chicken and Hubby helps pour the juice onto the chicken. I cover this to keep warm while I raise the oven temperature to 450 F and roast the vegetables for another 15-20 minutes.

This was a nice dinner. It had good flavor and not just lemon. The chicken was moist and not overcooked. I think using the juice in the first baking kept the chicken from drying out.

Stuffed peppers, my version

So, I asked Hubby what should we do with the two green peppers languishing away in our fridge’s produce drawer. Mind you, I have stored these in there in one of those mesh produce bags so they are doing just fine. I forgot to take them camping with us so now I feel they need to be used. Hubby suggested stuffed peppers. I’m thinking I have not made stuffed peppers but once in my life and Betty Crocker had me blanch the peppers before stuffing. What a hassle that was! But I figure I would give it my best shot anyway. I looked up a more modern recipe and found that blanching was not essential. Yay! As I am making these for our dinner one weeknight after work, I begin to add all sorts of ingredients. It becomes another version of Southwestern Quinoa salad that I had just thrown together. There are differences so just bear with me. Thanks!

  • 4 small yellow peppers
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/4 cup ground beef (I confess, I diced up one frozen pre-formed burger pattie.)
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 can tomatoes with chilies
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa (I again used the boil-in-bag kind.)
  • 2 medium sized green bell peppers
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon jarred minced garlic
  • a few grinds of fresh pepper
  • and don’t forget the cheese: 1/2 cup shredded
  • olive oil for sauteing

Chop and dice the onion and yellow peppers. Saute these in a bit of olive oil until nicely aromatic. Also add the garlic. (I forgot garlic until later, oops!) Brown the ground beef in this concoction and season with cayenne and black pepper. Get that all nicely browned together. Oh, by this time I am remembering to cut the tops off the green peppers and dice the tops and add this to the skillet. Use a large-ish skillet. Add the corn and stir this around for a bit of a saute as well.

Meanwhile cook your quinoa as directed on the package. Drain or fluff when appropriate. Add the can of tomatoes and the can of drained black beans. Taste for additional seasoning. Add the quinoa and stir all together. This in itself would make a nice meal. But I’ve got these two bell peppers with the tops cut off and the membranes removed sitting like wobbly cups on my cutting board, so let the stuffing begin.

I have semi pre-heated my oven to 350 degrees F. I’m taking a big chance here and hoping this won’t undo the nice cooler house temperature that the cooler weather has brought us over the past two days. My kitchen is not air-conditioned. The small unit in the dining room does not reach it well so we close it off so the dog can stay cool enough at night to breathe. But I digress.

Find a suitably sized baking or casserole dish (this one is 1 1/2 quarts). Spoon the filling into the two peppers. Then spoon the remaining filling all around. Now top each pepper with cheese. Truth be told the only shredded cheese we had was a “pizza blend”, but cheese is cheese! Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Then uncover the dish and bake another 15 minutes. The peppers will be al dente but that is the way we like them.

Enjoy! The leftover filling will make a good take-to-work lunch.

Chicken in Orange Sauce

This is a recipe from Eating Well Magazine Spring 2004. I was browsing through the magazines for interesting recipes. I have chicken and I have orange juice, so that is close enough. The manner of making the orange sauce is something different that just thickening juice with cornstarch. And of course just a few of the ingredients change. Actually the amount of the liquids were changed. I just thought 4 cups of liquid would make too much sauce.

  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • cooking spray to coat the pan and to spray on the chicken
  • salt and pepper to season the chicken

Place chicken thighs in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray or lightly oiled. Spray the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Bake in a 375 degree F oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile make the sauce.

  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Put the sugar and the vinegar in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Do not stir, but swirl the pan from time to time until the sugar melts and turns a nice deep amber color. This should take 6-8 minutes. Add the broth and juice and bring to a boil. The caramel will harden but do not worry about that. It does soften as the cooking continues. This should be cooked 30-35 minutes until it is reduced and lightly coats a spoon. It smells wonderful at this point.

After the chicken has cooked its initial 35 minutes, pour the sauce on top. Turn the pieces so they are nicely coated. This is a thin coat. Bake 10-15 more minutes. I baked them until Hubby came home so that was just over 15 minutes.

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I served this with a tri-color quinoa and green beans. I am trying to have us sit at the kitchen table to eat our dinner. This is to prevent our backsides from becoming one with the sofa too early in the evening! We are binge watching the Inspector Lewis series from Masterpiece Theater from a few years back. Love that Sergeant Hathaway!

 

 

Chicken Cooked in Wine with Caramelized Onions

This is an adaptation of a recipe from a “diet book” with the theme of eating the same primary flavor throughout the day. Supposedly this will keep you satisfied and encourage less eating and encourages weight loss. I only tried this theme day once years ago so I have no idea if it would work or not. But this recipe I kept because it sounded good anyway.

We have been trying not to overspend on groceries so my cupboard is sort of bare. Not as bare as Mother Hubbard’s though. Remember that nursery rhyme? I have lots of pantry staples of beans, rice, more beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, more beans. I only had two onions remaining and that is all that this recipe required. And in the freezer I have one of those 5 pound bags of individually frozen chicken breasts. These are great. I pulled two out and put in the fridge to thaw during the day while I went to work.

  • 2 nice sized chicken breasts
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup broth (I used vegetable broth; chicken broth would be preferred)
  • scant 1/2 cup dried cranberries (Craisins)
  • 2 tablespoons rinsed and drained capers
  • 2 teaspoons crushed dried rosemary (I had dried this herb from my summer herb pot and used a mortar and pestle to crush the leaves.)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken breasts into a pan. I used a 10 x 7 inch pan which fit the two breasts just fine. Place in oven.

Meanwhile heat the oil and butter in a skillet and add the onions and cook for 5 minutes. They will be soft but not yet caramelized. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Pour this over the chicken in the pan in the oven. Bake for one hour. The sauce thickens and becomes a glaze.

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Sorry about the picture. It doesn’t really show case the chicken. We were half way through our meal when it occurred to me to take a picture. I served this with peas and carrots and a quinoa/rice mix.

 

 

 

Thoughts:

  • if using two chicken breasts, use half the amount of liquids.
  • one could use up to 6 chicken breasts for the amount of sauce the recipe makes. Just use a bigger baking dish.
  • the chicken was very moist and flavorful as was the sauce.

 

Chicken Vegetable Casserole

Greetings my dear readers! This is an updated version of a casserole I used to make when I first started a family many years ago. I am not sure where I got this but it is one of those canned soup recipes. And back then I used canned soups. I don’t anymore and haven’t for a long time. I have learned how to make my own cream sauce. I thought I would share this with you all. I had thawed chicken thighs and didn’t want to do another lemon chicken recipe. So here is what’s for dinner.

Original recipe: 2 cans cream of mushroom soup, 2/3 cup mayonnaise, 1 pound large cut vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and carrots, shredded cheese if desired, and one cut up chicken.

Here’s my update:

  • 8-10 medium sized chicken thighs; I wanted to be “healthy” so took the skins off.
  • 1/2 super large bag of frozen Normandy style vegetables: zucchini and yellow squash, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower; use at least two pounds of large cut vegetables. You could cut fresh vegetables for this as well.
  • (I could have added about  4 ounces of mushrooms but the ones I had smelled too earthy for my liking.)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • generous sprinkling of seasonings of your choice; I used Herbs de Provence; it is my new go-to herb mixture
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt; I threw this in at the last minute to add a creamy “healthiness”
  • 1 cup shredded cheese; I used a mixture of cheddar.

Super simple to make: heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray your 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray, or oil it if you prefer. Place your vegetables in here. Place your chicken on top of the vegetables. Make your sauce.

Melt the two tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Add broth. Sprinkle on your seasoning or herbs. Mix the cornstarch with the half-and-half. Add to pan and bring just to boil. This will not be thick but on the verge of thickening. Pour the sauce on top of the chicken. This looked thin to me so I smeared the yogurt on top of the chicken. Sprinkle the cheese over this.

Bake for at least one hour. Test chicken for done-ness with meat thermometer: 165-175 for thighs.  Dinner is served. This has your vegetables and your protein. Rice or egg noodles could be a side which would be nice with the sauce.

Enjoy!