Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On Being A Postie...

Post menopausal, that is. Black gold, tampax free.

OK, I really haven't struck oil, and I'm not as old or dried up as Granny. But I have entered into the part of my life that has surprised me with some riches I hadn't anticipated.

In my 30's, I dreaded menopause for many reasons. I wasn't particularly anxious to give up the vitality that the ability to reproduce gave me, nor was I in the least bit looking forward to all those menopausal maladies "older" women complained of. The business of family, life and career kept me from pondering menopause for the most part, but when I turned 45, it pondered me... and pounded me, and for the longest time, I didn't even know what hit me. In fact, it wasn't until this past year that I realized upon looking back, that I'd transitioned from a peri to a postie (menopausal, that is... black gold, tampax free, remember?) None of my physical symptoms were severe. A few hot flashes here and there and irregularities that I don't think I need to get into. However, the emotional/mental changes were significant, and I'm thankful for the tolerant family God gave me. I'm quite certain that they must have thought that the woman they knew and loved had been kidnapped and swapped out for some highly combustible version of myself. Tears, anger, irrational behavior.... you name it, I did it. The strangest thing was, I couldn't help it! It was like watching a movie of myself playing the evil villain, yet I couldn't stop myself!

Coming out on the other side, I have come to know the blessings that God gives to post-menopausal women. We're strong, very strong. We are no longer tempted, persuaded, nor compromised by our hormones. We're softer, gentler versions of our youth, and more able to accomplish through our calmness.

And seriously, I hadn't initially meant to add this, but it seems especially appropriate given that the election is next week. How do we feel about a prospective vice president who's just entering into this highly-hormonal phase of her life. Food for thought.

Smashed Potatoes and Carrots

I tend to stay away from white potatoes, usually opting for a lower calorie, less starchy vegetable instead. However, sometimes smashed potatoes are such the perfect side dish that I relent and boil up a batch. Tonight's main course was a delicious pot roast and instead of adding the potatoes and carrots to the pot I was roasting it in, I boiled them in some chicken broth and mashed them up together. DELICIOUS!

Smashed Potatoes and Carrots

3 large red-skinned potatoes, NOT peeled, and cut into 1 1/2 - 2 inch chunks
2 large carrots, peeled, and cut in half lengthwise, then into 3 inch sections
3 cloves of garlic, whole
chicken stock, enough to cover potatoes and carrots
salt and pepper
3 Tbsp fat free sour cream
2 tsp olive oil

Place potatoes, carrots and garlic in pan and cover with chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and boil for 25-30 minutes, or until veggies are fork tender. Drain, reserving liquid. Mash with potato masher and add in the sour cream, olive oil and enough of the reserved liquid to get potatoes to desired consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary. Garnish with parsley.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Whole Grain Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

I'm finicky about bananas. Where most people prefer them lightly spotted to ensure ripeness and flavor, I'm more prone to the ones with zero spots, maybe even leaning a bit toward the green side. I know, I know... that's not how nature intended them to be eaten, for as we all know, the more spotted the banana, the more flavorful. I just know that for some reason I like them more firm, with less developed flavor when I'm eating them raw.But... sometimes they do get away from you, don't they. One day they're all perfect and yellow on the countertop and the next day they've taken on an acute case of leprosy. And now they must be dealt with (evil grin.)

The sudden need for a chocolate fix and a place to put over-ripe bananas is surely solved by this recipe for :

Whole Grain Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup whole grain oat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Mix dry ingredients together and set aside.

1 egg
1 egg white
3/4 cup skim milk
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1 cup mashed very ripe banana (approximately 2 medium large)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp banana extract
1 1/4 cup Splenda

Whisk wet ingredients and Splenda together. Combine with dry ingredients, stirring just to moisten. Stir in 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional.)

Spray 12-cupcake baking tin with cooking spray and divide mixture amongst cups.Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 23 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in tin for 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The most bang for my caloric buck

Dining while traveling is always a problem for me. I'm OK with eating restaurant food here and there, scattered sporadically throughout the month. But when the angst of planning vacation meals, three meals a day, seven days a week enters the picture, I completely freak out. I love to eat and I've become accustomed to getting the most bang for my caloric buck, so to speak. So when I can make a huge egg white omelette with sauteed spinach and smothered with reduced fat pepper jack cheese and tomatoes at home for less than 200 calories, why would I want to double or triple those calories by eating something similar at Bob Evans? At lunchtime I'm faced with "splurging" on a supposedly healthy fast food salad that typically has calories somewhere in the 400-500 calorie range, when I know that I could have had a very tasty salad at home from under 300 calories. Dinner time presents another list of dilemmas, ranging from portion size to how the meat and vegetables are cooked. Hidden calories abound in the amount of fat and/or sugar used to create your favorite restaurant entree.

Again, I'm not completely neurotic on this issue when I'm faced with a single meal on the road. An extra 700-800 calories in one day is one thing. Multiply that by seven and you've gained yourself a pound to a pound and a half.... and that's even when you THINK you've chosen wisely! That's craziness!!

I do respect and applaud that many restaurants are at least trying to jump on the diet-friendly bandwagon, but I think that more could be accomplished in this area. Steamed vegetables could be available nearly everywhere with minimal equipment and effort. The option for reduced fat cheese and maybe fat free sour cream would be wonderful, yes? Whole grain croutons, buns, breads, wraps and tortillas would be skin off no one's teeth, would they? Soups and sauces made with skim milk instead of cream? Excellent idea, I say!

But I digress (and quite lengthily, I I'm about to give credit where credit is due, so not to worry.

It appears that Long John Silvers has jumped on the healthy food bandwagon with both feet running. Now keep in mind that I haven't tried any of the items I'm about to promote, so I surely can't vouch for their tastiness. But... I can tell you that I haven't stepped foot nor gas pedal in a LJS restaurant or drive-through in over a decade because I saw nothing but GREASE on their menu. Now, however, I find something worthy of my time and calories to at least try. Their Freshside Grille menu boasts such items as Grilled Pacific Salmon (150 calories,) Grilled Tilapia (110 calories) and Shrimp Scampi (110 calories.) Add their Vegetable Medley (50 calories) to any of those three, and you've got yourself a meal for under 200 calories! Could even I, Mags the Magnificent, beat that at home? I don't think so. Next time I'm traveling, I'll be stopping at Long John Silvers. And you can take that caloric buck to the bank.

Chicken, Mushroom and Green Bean Casserole

I've had a love affair with casseroles that started way back when I thought I knew how to cook. The simplicity of throwing together canned meats, veggies, and soup, then tossing it in the oven meant that I could have dinner ready in a little over a half hour. I've matured (culinarily speaking) in the past few years and learned a few things about nutrition along the way. I no longer like to use so many canned and processed foods, but the basic idea behind a casserole still excites me (culinarily speaking.) They're one dish meals that are great to make for a crowd, transport easily, and store and reheat without a lot of fuss. You remember the old green bean casserole that was a staple at every Thanksgiving gathering? The one with cream of mushroom soup and canned Durkee onions? Well, that was what inspired this recipe. I had some fresh green beans and mushrooms to use up and a couple of chicken breasts needed a dish to call home. And instead of the Durkee fried onions on top? I decided to incorporate onions into the sauce and call it a day.

Chicken, Mushroom and Green Bean Casserole

2 large chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 bell pepper (any color) diced
12 oz button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp flour (I used whole wheat)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1- 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/2 cup milk or cream (I used skim milk)
3 oz shredded swiss cheese (I used 2% slices)
3 cups green beans (steamed in microwave for 4 mins)
3/4 cup brown rice, cooked in chicken broth per package instuctions
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

In large skillet brown chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper or your choice of spices) in 1 Tbsp olive oil, skin side down over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet and place in preheated 375 degree oven. Finish baking for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Remove skin and bone and dice or shred meat. Set aside.

In same skillet add the other Tbsp olive oil and saute onions, celery and peppers for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add mushrooms and garlic and saute until mushrooms lose their moisture, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme. Cook flour for several minutes to remove raw taste, then stir in chicken broth, milk and bouillon cube. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened and smooth. Remove from heat and add the cheese, stirring until melted.

Add in the chicken and rice and transfer to a 9x13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with parmesan cheese and place in 350 degree oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fire Roasted Tomato Bean Soup

Soup is to the chef what a painting is to the artist. It's a one-of-a-kind expression of what is in the chef's heart (and/or refrigerator) at the time. The soup pot is the canvas, and a run through the fridge and pantry will dictate the "medium" used to create the final masterpiece. With that in mind, it becomes obvious that anyone can create a work of palatable art. Know what you have to work with (leftovers, veggies, stocks, pastas, beans, etc) and combine them with a few basic techniques, and you'll have lunch/dinner on the table in no time. The majority of soups I make start with five key ingredients: olive oil, onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic. The vegetables are seasoned with salt and pepper and sauteed in the olive oil until soft. The next step is deciding whether you want your broth to be vegetarian, chicken, or beef based. Do you have leftover pork loin, chicken breast, roast beef in the fridge? Now decide what type seasoning/spices you're in the mood for.... something southwestern? Indian? Greek? Grandma's old-fashioned whatever? Are you in the mood for pasta, beans, barley, potatoes? Do you have carrots, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, or mushrooms in your fridge's vegetable drawer that are a day away from death?

What may appear to be too many questions should in actuality be thought of as numerous choices and combinations, allowing the artist to fabricate her/his own signature recipe as well as a way to ensure that nothing goes to waste.

This soup recipe came to be because I had leftover V-8 juice, believe it or not. I had opened it before we went on vacation and I knew it needed to be used up. I also had a package of fire roasted red pepper chicken sausages (thank you Trader Joes) that I knew would be great in a soup, so from there I thought about what else would work in this recipe. Olive oil, onions, celery, bell peppers... CHECK! Chicken stock.... CHECK! Hmmmm... I'm thinking maybe a little spice and kick to this..... Chili and poblano peppers, cumin.... CHECK! Tomatoes..... yup, that V-8 juice, and let's toss in some crushed fire-roasted tomatoes as well.... CHECK! Canned beans, northern and refried.... CHECK! We're good to go!

Fire Roasted Tomato and Bean Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
12 oz chicken or turkey sausage, sliced in half lengthwise, then diced
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery (with leaves) diced
1 bell pepper (I used half of a red and half of a yellow) diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 mild green chili pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups V-8 (or other vegetable, tomato juice)
1 14.5 oz can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes (or whatever tomatoes you have)
2 tsp cumin
1 Tbsp worchestershire sauce
2 15 oz cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz can fat free refried beans

In soup pot heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add sausage and sautee until lightly caramelized. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel. Add other Tbsp olive oil to pot. Add onion, celery and peppers. Season with salt and pepper and saute until softened. Add garlic and saute another minute or two. Add broth, V-8, cumin and worchestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and sausage and simmer another 10 minutes to incorporate flavors. Stir in refried beans to thicken.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Back home....

The return back to Indiana was a long one indeed, made even worse due to the fact that we traveled interstate the entire way. If I go the rest of my life without seeing another semi-trailer I will be one happy camper indeed. I do realize that most of the goods I use, including the computer I'm using at this very minute, have made at least part of their way to me in the back of one of those semis, and for that I suspect I should be grateful. However, in the past week I've had my fill of the truck drivers who seem to think that they really are the only ones important enough to use the roads. And why is it that only the courteous truckers have those "how's my driving?" stickers on the backs of their trucks? The ones who dart into your lane two feet in front of you without signaling seem to never display that info.

End rant.

More lovely foliage pictures below.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall Foliage Tour... 2008

Ever since I was a little girl, the state of Massachusetts has called to me. I have no reason to believe that I have witches or pilgrims as ancestors nor that I may have unknown deep-rooted Democratic tendencies. I only know that I've felt that strong eastern pull. I even sent my Dental Hygiene National Board scores to Massachusetts, willing to uproot all that was familiar to me... wishing for a new life there. As it happens, real life/love/family interfered and I settled in Ohio. Thirty years later, I was finally able to visit the absolutely-freaking-gorgeous state of Massachusetts. A trip through the Berkshires and eastward following the Mohawk trail proved to be the most delightful case of sensory overload I could ever imagine. The red, orange, and yellow leaves contrasted with the deep color of the evergreens to provide the perfect autumn palette..... it was sooooo lovely. I shall return.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dill Chicken Pasta Salad

Pasta salad can be a very nutritious and relatively low fat meal if care is taken with the ingredients. Chicken breast and whole grain pasta are combined with lots of veggies and coated with a low fat dilly dressing.

2 cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed, cooled (I seasoned mine with Montreal chicken seasoning and sauteed in a little bit of olive oil)
12 oz pasta, cooked per package instructions, drained and cooled (I used a 7 grain fusilli)
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 english cucumber, diced
2-3 stalks of celery, diced
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup reduced-fat mayo
1 cup fat free sour cream
1 Tbsp onion salt
1 Tbsp dried dill

Combine mayo, sour cream, onion salt and dill. Set aside.

Combine chicken, pasta and vegetables. Toss with dressing and refrigerate for several hours. Serve chilled.