Discovery of the day: From scratch

Two blog posts in a row -- yay, me!

One of my goals over the past year has been to make as much stuff as I can from scratch. So far we've got the mayonnaise thing nailed; we now make small batches on demand. Did you know it's just egg and oil? Amazing. I also have hazy plans to conquer dried beans, but first I need to get a freezer so I can make batches and freeze in can-sized portions. Jam is another thing that's perfectly do-able, since we don't eat mass quantities of it. I've make small batches using frozen fruit, and freeze it so I don't have to 'can'.

The other biggie is bread.

A few years back I was knee-deep in a major bread/pastry phase. I went to work in a bakery then moved on to cake decorating, and even had dreams of going to pastry school. Luckily that didn't pan out (ha!) -- I had to pack away my pans and pastry bags due to weight gain and the full-time day job, but I've been itching to get back to bread baking, at least.

This last week I pulled out the rarely used bread machine and decided to try for a whole wheat sandwich loaf. I tried the recipe that came with the machine and was under-impressed, so a few days later I pulled out my copy of 'The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book' and flipped to the bread machine section. I decided on the buttermilk loaf, subbing white whole wheat flour and powdered buttermilk. Miracle of miracles, three hours and twenty-seven minutes later we has us a sandwich loaf, and a darned tasty one at that.

I brushed the top with butter as soon as it was de-panned and wrapped it in a towel to cool. I then used my electric knife to cut the 1.5 pound loaf into thin slices similar to store-boughten bread, bagged it, and stuck it in the freezer. Sounds weird, but I've found it's the only way to keep homemade bread more than a few days, especially since we don't eat that much bread.

So I think we're on the right track. Next up is tortillas -- we eat those fairly regularly. I've made corn (masa harina) tortillas in the past and even have a tortilla press, but I need to make up enough in advance to freeze for weeknights. Also, I need to conquer flour tortillas. I currently buy nice whole wheat (blend) tortillas that are made fresh at the fancy-pants grocery. I'd like to come up with something close to those. When all is said and done, someday soon I want to be able to say with confidence "Why yes, in fact I do BYOB."

Problem is that breads, even whole grain one, are danger foods for me. After all my moaning about my weight gain (verified today at my doctor's visit - crap!) it probably seems pretty stupid to get into bread baking again, but I never said I was smart.

If I stick to the stuff the other members of my household eat regularly, I shouldn't get in too much trouble... I hope. We'll just have to see how slippery this particular slope turns out to be.



Discovery of the day: Enough!

OK, ten days is long enough. I've got to get back to it. If there's one ting I've learned in the past year, it's that writing about eating makes me think a little more thoughtful about what I put in my mouth.

Yeah, I have excuses, and I have reasons. But at the end of the day, they don't matter. I'm up eight pounds, which equals a pants size. And I'm not happy about it at all.

Problem is, I haven't been junking out; I've been eating pretty much decent stuff. What I haven't been doing is 'moving through space', as my sister puts it. I've been a lump, a slug, an immobile block of flesh. And my metabolism, after years of yo-yo dieting, has learned exactly what to do when my activity level drops.

It stops.

Yeah, I could cut my intake back to 1000 cals/day, but I've tried that and it just makes it worse. I'm far better off being a little more conscientious about my food choices (read: eat salads for lunch, dammit!) and walking at lunchtime.

So I'm on the cusp of making a bold declaration. Starting April 1st, I am thinking about maybe committing myself to a moderate plan of action.

(Is that vague and loose enough to let me sleaze out without feeling too guilty?)

Stay tuned!



Discovery of the day: Well, that was unpleasant

I found out today what happens when I run out of food in my desk, which forces me to miss my 10:00 am post-coffee snack, and then I have to postpone my lunch till 12:30 because we're short-handed.

Pizza is what happens. A slice of pizza and a Diet Coke, to be precise.

Part of the problem is that I think I'm still dealing with ulcer-ish issues. I used up the rest of my old prescription and I keep forgetting to take the OTC stuff. Throw the better part of a quart of decaf coffee on top of that, and yeah, I pretty much set myself up.

So here's my to do list for this weekend:
1. Buy peanut butter, Wasa crackers, and bananas. And possibly whole-wheat Fig Newtons.

2. Grab a week's worth of acid-reducers from the medicine cabinet.

3. Bring them to work on Monday.

Funny how 'Cut back on decaf' never quite seems to make it on the list, eh?


Project Weeknight: St. Paddy's Day Feast

I read somewhere along the way that corned beef isn't a traditional Irish dish. I was a little disappointed, but not enough to stop me from making it yesterday to acknowledge my teensy-tiny bit of Irish heritage. I haven't cooked any corned beefs for many, many years, but I remembered it would take several hours. I couldn't leave it on the stove or in the oven all day, so the crockpot seemed to be the way to go.

I chopped up an onion and a few garlic cloves the night before and stashed them in the fridge. Tuesday morn, I dumped those in the pot, added the corned beast (trimmed of some of the fat), the little seasoning packet that came with it (allspice? peppercorns?) and a couple of bay leaves. Finished it off with a cup of Guinness and some water, and let 'er rip. I kept in on high for the hour or so that I was home, turning it to low before I left.

I returned ten hours later, sniffing nervously for the scent of charred flesh, only to be greeted by the lovely aroma of a slow-cooked brisket. I was afraid that it might not have cooked long enough to fall apart but my SO discovered that wasn't a problem when he went to pull it out of the put and it broke in two. So I didn't screw it up after all!

Instead of the usual accompaniments, I got a wild notion to serve Colcannon, where the cabbage and potatoes and carrots are combined into one dish. We have it occasionally and I can't believe I haven't written it up for Project Weeknight, although I did mention it here and here. Go figure.

So here's my latest version of an old Irish dish.
St. Paddy's Day Colcannon
inspired by several recipes

Serves 3-4

4 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/4-1/2 cabbage, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1/4 tsp mace
butter, milk, salt, and pepper as needed

Put the potatoes on to cook in the usual manner for mashing.

Meanwhile, heat 2 Tblsp oil or butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and a dash of salt and saute until onions are translucent. Add cabbage, carrots, mace, and another dash of salt. Stir until everything is coated with fat, then lower heat and cover, steaming for 5-10 minutes until carrots are cooked through, stirring occasionally.

Mash potatoes in the usual manner, stir in veggies. Check seasoning.

Serve, and be disappointed when there aren't enough leftovers to fry up in patties; only just enough for one lunch the next day.

The amount of cabbage is dependent on how much you like cabbage. I had a large cabbage and used only 1/4. But I was only serving three. I think we've decided we like the cabbage better than the kale. If I wasn't serving it with corned beef, I would have used a slice of bacon for flavor.

Dinner was on the table on time, and there was enough Guinness left for us each to have a small glass. And it was good.

I also made Irish soda bread but there was no way we'd have room to eat it with dinner so we had it for dessert, spread with butter and honey. It was just as good as it sounded.

A Project Weeknight-compliant St. Pat's Day feast! Who'd'a thunk it?



Discovery of the day: Less than stellar moment

I have been going to physical therapy three times a week for the last month or so. Today I had to do some exercises standing up and the tech wheeled over a full-length mirror so I could watch my positioning.

Oh. My. Gah.

First thing I thought was that I really need to get rid of these jeans, or at least put them away until I get the latest 6 pounds off. Let's just say they're not exactly flattering. But if I do that, I'll have only two pairs that fit. I wear jeans every single day, so that means I'll have to shop. Ick.

Next thought was that my SO's scale -- the one that weighs 6.5 lbs heavier -- is probably correct.

Lastly, I realized that there is a reason I do not have a full-length mirror in my house.

(Notice that nowhere in there was the thought that I needed to start exercising again!)

I keep forgetting how disproportionate I am, even when my weight is not in the red zone. I blame thank my dad's family for this. I am a bona fide pear shape, a good size larger below than above, although as I get older and pack more weight around the middle that gap is closing fast.

Since I doubt I'm going to be running any time soon, I should probably cut my self (and my community) some slack and buy some jeans that fit well. A mis-fitted pear shape is not a pleasant sight.

In other news, our houseguest is leaving this weekend. I'm ready. Ten days is a l-o-n-g visit, no matter who it is, but it has been nice not to have to cook.

Next week I hope to climb back on the Project Weeknight wagon and find a few more for you. In the meantime, have a nice weekend and keep thinking those Spring-like thoughts.



Discovery of the day: Houseguests rule!

I am very lucky that our houseguest is a foodie and enjoys the same sort of foods we do. Since my SO and Guest are home this week while I toil away here at work (snort!) they are in charge of planning and executing dinners. I win!

Sunday they made this Barley Soup with Mushrooms and Kale from the NY Times. Instead of dried porcini, they used some of the pounds of dried shiitakes I bought at Costco many moons ago. We had extra kale (about 13 oz) and added a can of diced tomatoes and some chopped carrots. I was surprised that we already had everything on hand except the fresh mushrooms. That was pretty cool.

It was darned tasty, and I didn't have to make it! Next time I would either use just the recommended amount of kale, and/or increase the liquid. Lets just say there wasn't a lot of available broth when all was said and done. Also, Guest it very sparing with the salt and I would probably use more, especially at the beginning to build the flavor. This soup did put a serious dent in my chicken stock stash, though. Next time I'll use a quart of stock and the rest water.

Speaking of stock, my initial batch is down to one lonely 2 cup bag in the freezer already. Next time I might make a double batch, if I have a pot big enough. Sounds crazy, but I just might -- SO used to brew beer. Once I get that batch done I'll post my recipe, I promise.



Discovery of the day: Salad!

I figured it out! The way to get me to start eating salads again is to have a houseguest make them. I had two salads this weekend, which may well be more than I had the entire month of February. It was a little embarrassing -- one of the bags of romaine hearts in my fridge had a 'sell by date' of Feb 1st. It was mercifully discarded, unopened. The other, dated Feb, 28th, still had some life left in it and proved to be quite tasty.

Our guest is here for the rest of the week, so maybe I'll get a few more salads in me. After that perhaps I'll be ready to take responsibility for my own greenery.




Discovery of the day: Emergence

I'm trying to emerge from my cocoon but it's slow going. I have to shake it off! It's March now; I can no longer blame February for my lack of... everything.

So here I am, trying to get back into it.

I do have a few interesting things to share. First, a Lemon (Egg) Soup w/Garbanzos from Epicurious. My SO made this (with a few changes) and it was quite nice. He added some cooked rice (1/2 cup?) and swapped the proportions of turmeric and cumin, since it was so out of whack it must've been a typo. Then he made this lovely Split Pea Soup w/Bacon & Rosemary. The only note here is to be SURE to chop/crumble the rosemary. Seriously.

Also I finally got around to making chicken stock! It was a serious hassle, but the end product was amazingly wonderful. I modified a recipe from my sister, who modified it from Cook's Illustrated 'Best Recipe' cookbook. I ended up with maybe 3.5 quarts of stock, just shy of a gallon, some of which I used to make chicken dumpling soup that night. It was fabulous! I froze the rest in two-cup portions in zip-top bags.

I really dislike handling raw meat, the fact that I am considering doing this again should emphasize how great the stock came out.

To cut down on the hassle factor, I'm thinking that next time I'll steal a page from Mark Bittman's book (so to speak) and roast the chicken pieces in the oven instead of browning them in batches on the stove.

I'll post my recipe after I have it tweaked just the way I want it.

In other news, I'm still not eating enough veggies, but I think the weight gain has tapered off. Part of my problem -- and I haven't wanted to admit this -- is that I think I have been courting another ulcer. I noticed I was eating more frequently throughout the day because my stomach hurt. Last time this happened, my doc said that's called 'feeding an ulcer.'

I started my acid-reducing meds a couple of weeks ago and am starting to feel better. Maybe now I can cut back on my snacking at work.

Now I just have to get back into the salad thing. I haven't yet figured out why I've been so resistant to it lately.

Small steps; painful, bloody steps.