Friday, January 29, 2010

Leaving on a Jet Plane

It is 3:30 in the morning. My plan was to sleep until 4:30 but I'm flying to meet my sisters in Mobile, Alabama later this morning and I can't sleep anymore. The fact that I slept at all is amazing. I always get excited and a little nervous when I am going on a trip. I tend to procrastinate getting ready probably so I don't have to think too hard about what to put in the suit case or for this trip my back pack.

In the recent movie Up in the Air, the George Clooney character does motivational speaking around a back pack. It is a side job. His main job is to go around firing people. Anyway his lectures explain to people how to make their lives better by simplifying. Or at least by getting rid of stuff and ultimately people. Because he has done this for himself the character's goal in life is to reach a certain amount of frequent flyer miles. He has nothing else. Of coarse by the time he reaches his goal it no longer holds much meaning for him either. Great movie, I highly recommend it.

With each move I've made in the last eight years I've downsized. I've gotten rid of a lot of my possessions. But I still have a lot of stuff and sometimes I think about moving into a 1 room apartment. What would I keep and what would I get rid of. A friend once told me that her aunt who lived in a nursing home died and when they went to pick up her personal things they all fit into a shoe box. At the time I thought how awful. A life reduced to a shoe box. But it wasn't a life, it was just things.

Having people in our lives is whole different story. Susan recently wrote about true friends. It has been more difficult for me to make and more importantly to keep friends. I'm not sure why that is. I think I've been a little like the George Clooney character, good at superficial, not so good at meaningful relationships. It has been my loss. But I have my sisters and my brothers and my children. I have a friend I write to and now I have a roommate who is my friend and an unexpected friend in an orange coat who makes me happy. I have friends at work on my new unit and my old unit that I want to work hard at staying in contact with. My life is full. My backpack is running over.

This is a cooking blog. Please excuse my digression. I made chicken tetrazzini last night that was great. It wasn't from The Book. It is an old recipe from a book I use to have that I have committed to memory. (The recipe not the book). A simply white sauce, mushrooms, chicken, spaghetti (I used the left over farfalle pasta), cooking sherry and Parmesan for the top. Bake until bubbly. I think I may have some for breakfast.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cooking vs Following Recipes

In my pursuit to get healthier I was looking for an exercise program I might actually enjoy and therefore actually do. (The weight loss is not going exactly as planned which might have something to do with discovering Carmel MilkyWays) Surfing the web, I came across a guy's website where he told me in page after page how he could teach me Tai Chi from a kinetic perspective rather than a visual perspective which is what most classes and videos teach he says. He likened the difference of visual vs kinetic Tai Chi to cooking vs just following recipes. When I finally got to the end of his million words (who teaches this kind of marketing?) he wanted 600 dollars for the program so I declined. He still sends me emails hoping I will change my mind. But anyway it got me to thinking. Is there a difference between cooking and just following recipes and if there is how do we learn how to cook? And can anyone follow a recipe.

This week's recipe from Women of Great Taste is a testament that I can't follow a recipe. I made Chicken Picatta. Basically you are frying chicken breasts. I mixed the flour with the salt, white pepper, nutmeg and and marjoram. I Beat the egg. Then the recipe called for dried bread crumbs. I didn't have any dry bread so I considered crackers and finally decided to toast my roommate's Wonder bread. After toasting I put the bread in my food processor and came out with still moist bread crumbs so I stuck the crumbs in a low oven for about 15 minutes and they got dry. I mixed those with the Parmesan cheese. Now here is where I messed up. The recipe called for 4 chicken breast halves. I was only going to use 2 but decided to go ahead and just make the whole recipe. So I had a little flour, egg and bread crumb mixture left over But here is the real problem. I missed the part about pounding the chicken to make it thin. And I had the amount of fat in the pan for 4 breast instead of two. I realized my mistake when I read that I was suppose to cook the chicken 4 to 5 minutes per side. I knew that my thick chicken breasts would never get done in that length of time so I cooked them a little longer until they were pretty brown and then stuck them in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes. I was suppose to deglaze the pan with wine but because all the fat had not been used up I had to get rid of most of it and then deglaze the pan. There wasn't as much good stuff sticking to the pan as there should have been. But all in all the chicken was done and tasted very good and the sauce was good. The recipe called for a thin sauce but if I do the recipe again I would thicken it a little.

So here is what I think. Since I never went to culinary school (does 7Th grade homemaking with Mrs Meyers count?) and I don't remember my mother teaching me the art of cooking, I think I've learn to cook mostly by trial and error. (I've undercooked chicken several times). I may or may not be able to follow a recipe but I can usually fix my mistakes. Sometimes however I throw the whole thing in the garbage and call for pizza.

Monday, January 18, 2010

In the book Shrink Yourself, Dr. Gould tells this Native American folk tale:

A grandfather explains to his grandson that he has two wolves inside
him. One wolf fills him with hope and reminds him how wonderful
his life is, and the other fills him with doubt and convinces him that
nothing is worth the effort. The grandson asks, concerned for his
grandfather, "which wolf will win?" The grandfather replies "Whichever
one I feed."

I use this in groups at work and always get surprising answers. Because of their depression most of my patients if not all admit to having a much larger negative wolf than a positive one. Often times they feel the negative wolf is all consuming. One of my patients this weekend who is profoundly depressed stated, "my positive wolf isn't even hungry." The point of the group is to help my patients find ways to feed their positive wolf.

We were lucky growing up. Our parents taught us everyday how to feed our positive wolves with things as simple as sunsets. Judy and I began cooking as soon as we could reach the kitchen counter top. Maybe even before that standing on a chair. Mother hated the mess but she never made us stop. Both Mom and Dad supported and encouraged our creative efforts even if they didn't last long. (I am thinking the guitar lessons here.)

I feed my positive wolf by being creative: writing, photography, cooking. I feed my negative wolf by not doing these things. I also feed my positive wolf when I am connecting with others. When I remain isolated my negative wolf gets much stronger. So my positive wolf wants to thank all of you who are sharing in this blogging experience whether you are just reading or writing as well. I have also begun a writer's group and I can feel my positive wolf get stronger everyday.

Oh yes, Women of Great Taste. Last week I made Farfalle with Wild Mushroom Sauce. The recipe calls for button mushrooms and wild mushrooms. I used shitake which turned out very rubbery but the rest of the dish was quite good with white wine (I used sherry because that is what I had) fresh tarragon, green onions. The fun part was the creme fratche. I could have used sour cream but decided to try making some creme fratche. Two tablespoons buttermilk in 1 cup of heavy whipping cream. Cover and leave it out at room temperature 12 to 24 hours and then stir and refrigerate for up to 10 days. The cream becomes very thick and tastes pretty much like sour cream. Kind of cool. You stir 1/2 cup into the sauce at the end. I made buttermilk pancakes yesterday to use some of the left over buttermilk and now I have to find a use for the remaining creme fratche.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Country Cabbage Soup

I made the Country Cabbage soup on Sunday. The first problem was I cut the recipe in half because it was just Kim and me eating and I didn't want to be eating cabbage soup for a month. I did that once on the cabbage soup diet but that is another story. Unfortunately I forgot to half the last ingredient which was the salt and the soup came out very salty. The second problem is I don't eat cooked cabbage. I don't know why. I love cole slaw and even red cabbage shredded into a toss salad. I don't eat a lot of vegetables cooked. Just the basics, green beans, corn (if you count it as a vegetable and not a starch), peas (are peas vegetables or legumes?)and that's about it. Oh yea onions, peppers and tomaotoes but that is more about flavor and I don't eat them by themselves. But I remember that Mom use to make a vegetable soup that I loved with lots of vegetables including cabbage. I remember liking the flavor of the cabbage. But this cabbage seemed to have no flavor to it. Maybe it was the extra salt. The third problem I had was that the recipe called for ground round. Ground round is lower in fat there for supposedly healthier and less weight watcher points than normal ground beef. But it had no flavor either. The flavor in meat comes from it's fat. What I am finding with this diet is that if I can't use the more fatty flavorful meat why add meat at all? I might as well go vegetarian. I'd save a lot of calories that way. But Kim liked soup and ate two bowls so maybe it's just me.

Thinking about the ground round I began to wonder if you can brine it. I decided to use the greatest invention since saran wrap and Googled "can you brine ground round?" I didn't find the answer exactly but I found a discussion about whether or not you could brine ground bison. The general consensus was no. Someone suggested adding lard or other fat to keep it moist. (Isn't that defeating the purpose?) The most helpful suggestion was to dry brine. A day before you are going to use the bison (or in my case the ground round) you salt and pepper it. Two thirds teaspoon kosher salt per pound. Hand mix to distribute it well and then of course refrigerate it until the next day. That might be an idea. I was listening to The Splendid Table the other day other day and the guest chef was explaining that salt brings out flavor and spices add flavor. Perhaps when dry brining the meat you could also add what ever spices you are going to use in the recipe. Something I will have to try the next time I make chili.

I also made something called Black Bean Spinners on Sunday. Turns out that Women of Great Taste has more weight watcher friendly recipes than I would have imagined. Perhaps I have simply been drawn to the more high calorie affairs. There are three kinds of spinners in the book: black bean, chicken and beef. I did the black bean because I had all the ingredients on hand amazingly enough and it was the least caloric. Very simple. Mash the black beans, add the spices and green onions, heat, thin with the black bean liquid, spread on a flour tortilla, roll it up and slice cross ways. The taste reminded me of the bean burritos I use to make for Rachel. . I dipped them in salsa as suggested. A very tasty, very easy appetizer and much less fattening than the butter laced phyllo dough ones we made at Christmas. These might be a nice accompaniment to a southwestern salad.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A new year!

The first week of the new year, the last year of the first decade of the new millennium. I had to think about that for a while. As with each and every new year I've made a resolution to lose weight. Actually this year and probably last it was to get healthy but for me losing weight would go a long way to that end. So I joined Weight Watchers on line.

But I need to back up a little bit. Last fall I did an on line program for emotional eating, called Shrink Yourself. And then I bought the book and read it cover to cover. It was a great program. I learned some new things about myself and remembered things I had forgotten. I made some changes. This blog and getting my siblings involved was a direct result of that course. I'm happier than I have been for a long time. My weight, however, stayed the same and I decided I needed a structured program.

The problem is that I struggle with how to eat. For several years I touted eating unprocessed whole foods while I drank Cokes and ate Snicker bars. I looked down on people who bought prepared foods while I ate fast foods on an almost daily basis. So, I began thinking about the way we ate as kids. Mostly we ate unprocessed foods except on Thursdays when Mom and Dad went out and we had chicken pot pies and fruit from a can, and baked beans from a can on Saturday nights and cream salmon on toast or tuna casserole on Fridays (the bread was not sprouted and the noodles were not whole grain) and for that matter the macaroni in the goulash wasn't whole grain either but at least it wasn't hamburger helper (not invented until 1970) and we never that I remember had potatoes out of a box, we had oven fried chicken but never shake and bake and we had fruit all the time and salad almost every night oh yea and ice cream and cakes and cookies and not to mention the candy bars from the daily shopping at the grocery store. So I guess my childhood was not as unprocessed as I thought and perhaps I need to cut out the all or nothing thinking about my food (and almost every other aspect of my life but we won't go there) and just get on with it.

I am renaming my blog. It will now be called Gail's weight loss and self help blog. Just kidding. It is still about Women of Great Taste. The problem with the book is that most of the recipes are not Weight Watcher friendly. But that's O.K. I found one I want to try this week that is. Country Cabbage Soup and I am sure that there are other recipes. The ones that aren't I will use as a treat. I am not going to go in order as I first planned because I need to be more flexible. But I am still going to cook my way through the book. I will let you know how the soup turns out.

Friday, January 1, 2010

My Christmas Week

O.K. so blogging on a regular basis isn't quite as easy as it sounds. But one of my goals in starting a blog was to get my siblings writing blogs as well so that we could stay connected in our lives. And now two of my siblings, Susan and Bill have blogs and I only have to work on the other four. (In laws please feel free to jump into the blogging arena too. I'm talking to you Kathy.)

Christmas was a wonderful time. Judy and Rachel came into town and stayed for a week. I had the entire week off. Kate unfortunately had to work part of the time. None of us had much money and it was cold outside so we spent most of the time just hanging out, playing spades, watching the NCIS marathon and of coarse cooking. I do find that cooking is much more fun when you have someone to cook with and someone to help clean up. My daughters and I tend to use every dish and utensil in the house when we cook so lots of dishes being washed. Thank heavens for my dishwasher.

Women of Great Tastes played a central role in our culinary delights. First I did one of our beloved standards Baked Potato Soup. Rachel became a vegetarian when she was 10 years old. Because of that I modified the recipe in the book to make it vegetarian. Easy to do, skip the bacon and substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth. Everything else, the onions, milk, half and half and cheese are permissible. Although Rachel now eats some meat we all agree that we prefer the vegetarian version. I should have double the recipe because it didn't last very long.

The Tuesday before Christmas Rachel made a salsa and baked some vegetables with sweet potatoes that turned out great. (Not from the book.) But she did make her own chips for the salsa using a version of a recipe in the book. She also made A wonderful crab dip. Christmas day Judy made a delightful spinach quiche (her own recipe). Kim (my roommate) had cooked a ham earlier in the week which we munched on continuously.

Our big meal was Christmas Eve because Kate had to work Christmas Day. I brined the turkey that Kate received as a bonus from work. (Some companies still do this). Brining is becoming popular because the meats now being produced have less fat and therefore less flavor and are less moist. This is especially true of poultry and pork. Brining is basically soaking the meat in a very salty solution. The salt draws the water into the meat. Sometimes sugar and vegetables and herbs have been added to the mixture. The recipe I used for the turkey I got off the Internet and everyone agreed it was very tasty indeed. The biggest problem with brining a turkey is finding a container large enough to keep the turkey immersed and then finding a place for it in the refrigerator. We also had Kim's ham, a rice and broccoli cheese bake, Kim's stuffing and Rachel made the almond cranberry sauce from Women of Great Taste that I had made at Thanksgiving. Hers was better.

Over the weekend Rachel and I decided to try the Phyllo and Phyllings from Women of Great Taste. Neither one of us had ever worked with phyllo dough. Rachel did all the work, I just watched and gave advise. It turns out not to be as hard as I expected. We had planned on making the feta cheese filling, the crab filling and the spinach filling. The recipe is a bit time consuming so we only did the feta which were excellent. Today I finally got around to making the crab filling. If I do it again I will cut way back on the mustard. It only called for 1/2 of teaspoon of dijon mustard but it completely overwhelmed the other ingredients.

Also on the weekend after Christmas I boiled the turkey carcass for broth and made another of my favorite recipes from the book, Chili Blanco. The original recipe calls for chicken thighs and chicken broth. I used left over turkey and the homemade turkey broth. The chili was amazing. Again I should have doubled the recipe.

That was my Christmas. Quite and wonderful. It is now New Years day and I have some things to say about time passing but this blog is already too long. I will save it for next time. Wishing everyone a very happy new year!