Monday, March 3, 2008

Sometimes It's Not About The Food -- But Today It Is!

(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
March 2008

The wind is raging outside (late February), but the snow has finally melted and as I sit down at the computer to compose this March column, I am clueless about a topic. That happens sometimes. Must be time to check email and stall a little longer . . . er, I mean brainstorm. Notice I do not say clean the closets to stall a little bit longer. Cleaning closets is the final stall of desperation, and I am not there yet!

There is email from my sister-in-law, Janet, who lives in Chicago and is enjoying her new role as stay-at-home mom. She is sending a correction to a recipe for the cookbook I am working on at the moment. Grant, my son, is getting married in May and my book club is continuing their tradition of creating a cookbook for our children when they marry. I have compiled and formatted the previous books for the brides, and now I am doing our first edition for a groom. I know you are thinking that my whole life is a giant collection of recipes and it is, I guess, because I am also at work on a menu for a cooking class I am teaching next week.

A second email just in from Janet has a recipe for cauliflower she has received in her morning email from a friend. OK, I love cauliflower, but it is only 9 a.m. – and that is even a little early in the day for me to contemplate the flavor, not to mention the aroma, of cauliflower!

It turns out this email is just what I have been waiting for – the answer to my writer’s block. Janet’s friend, Patricia, has sent out a plea to 44 (I counted them!) friends at 9 a.m. on Monday morning. She is frustrated and tired of the problem that has faced millions before her and will continue until the end of time – “What’s for dinner tonight?” At her urging, women all across cyberspace have quickly dashed off a familiar recipe in response, and hit “reply all” to send it out to the whole list. What a great idea!

No one wants to face five o’clock and the inevitable staring into an open refrigerator, attempting to mastermind yet another spontaneous culinary triumph in five minutes or less, while simultaneously fending off a famished family. Those days are over for me, but still, I can appreciate the courageous attempt by these eager women, so early in their day, to seek solutions as a group. This is networking at its finest hour – the dinner hour!

As I say, it’s been a while since I faced the particular challenge of feeding a family every night. In fact, for the past several weeks, my only dinner challenge is choosing from an impressive collection of Lean Cuisines stacked in my freezer. I have advanced through the ranks to the Mother of the Groom stage of life, which has created my desire to lose weight and a need (notice no desire!) for more exercise.

Even though I seem to live in a perpetual state of recipe mania, the fact is, when it is time to cut calories, I have to remove myself from the whole process of cooking – with all of its delicious and tempting possibilities. My safer choices are portion-controlled Lean Cuisines (yeah, I know . . . evils of processed food . . . excess sodium . . . blah, blah, blah – no pun intended.) Of course, I balance things out with fresh fruits and vegetables, skim milk, low-fat yogurt and the occasional Smart Ones dessert. I just do not cook!

I am not a slave to this regimen – life does go on! But it is helping me to recognize portion control and consume fewer calories. Less time spent thinking about what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner leaves more time to contemplate exercise. I am also keeping track of my calorie intake and my calories burned – yikes! – on a website called The Daily Plate.

There is little chance I will be a thin MOG by wedding day – or probably ever! – but, I will be trimmer and smarter about my eating habits and lifestyle. I am already convinced that smaller portions – and greater amounts of exercise – are a necessary and permanent part of my lifestyle. Stay tuned to see how I translate that to my own cooking, when I am back in the kitchen again.

So that is where I am this morning, waxing nostalgic about the inside/outside-the-home working mom dinner dilemma and wondering where that time went. Whether we are looking for fast and easy meals for a family or a healthy lifestyle change, most of us find ourselves in a dinner rut every now and then. My mother had several recipes she relied on during the food-for-young-palate years, like a very simple one we loved and called Skroodles. And, while I am subsisting on a limited variety of minimally prepared flavors, few of us can bear the monotony of life for very long without something new and delicious to tempt our taste buds.

The secret to keeping the joy in cooking is adapting to your own varying lifestyle requirements and searching out nutritious new food experiences. Janet and her friends have found it never hurts to reach out for support. Check their recipes below to see if there is anything new that can answer the “what’s for dinner” question at your house.

Julie Marchant from Patricia Lux
3-4 boneless chicken breasts or thighs
1 jar salsa
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix

Place the ingredients in a slow-cooker on low and go to work or get a massage and manicure/pedicure, or whatever. Come home, break up the chicken with a fork, and you have shredded Mexican chicken. The beauty of this is that, if you taste it and think you need more seasoning or salsa, you can always add it. We make tacos and burritos with this, and I put any leftovers on shredded lettuce for a salad. 


Eileen Cadigan
3-4 lb. pork roast

16 oz. bottle hickory smoked barbecue sauce

1 medium onion

1 envelope dry onion soup mix

Place pork roast in slow-cooker; cover and cook on Low 6-8 hours. Remove roast to platter and shred using two forks. Return shredded meat to cooker; add remaining ingredients and cook for another 2 hours. Serve on sandwich rolls or alone.


Beth Felicelli
4 chicken breasts
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. apricot jam or preserves
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Chopped dried apricots – Patricia’s addition!

Bake chicken for 20 minutes at 350, uncovered. Mix remaining three ingredients. When chicken is ready, pour sauce on chicken and bake an additional 10 minutes. Beth uses low-fat sour cream and low-sugar jam, to make it a healthier recipe. Note: Patricia, the email recipe requester, made this for dinner tonight, with brown rice and broccoli. Rating – delicious!


Beth Felicelli
1 head fresh cauliflower
Olive oil

Cut cauliflower into smallish pieces and spread on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and salt. Bake for a half hour at 350 degrees -- this caramelizes the cauliflower, making it less bitter and gives it almost a sweetness. Some spots get dark brown, but it’s the caramelization and that’s the best part -- it doesn't taste burnt.


Laura Sagami

Can be made the night before and while preheating your oven, take it out of the fridge to get the chill off before placing it in oven. You may need to add 10-15 minutes to cooking time as well.
1 lb. boneless skinless chicken (we use thighs)
1 bag mixed frozen veggies

1 can cream chicken

2 cans cream potato

Refrigerated pie crusts (comes 2 per pack)

Salt and pepper

Dash of hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil chicken in water to cover, for approx 11-13 minutes. 
Cut and cube chicken. Mix together soups, veggies, chicken, salt, pepper, hot sauce
 and pour into pie crust. Cover pie with second crust and cut slits in top to vent. 
Place on baking sheet to prevent messy spill over (although it has never happened to me.) Bake for 1 hour; let rest for 15 minutes before serving.


Barbara Robertson
1 tbsp. oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 small minced jalapeno
1 lb. raw or cooked shrimp
1 c. coconut milk
1 tbsp. lime juice
pinch of red pepper
cooked rice
chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

Heat oil in pan; add minced garlic, minced ginger and minced jalapeno and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 pound shrimp – if raw cook, 2 minutes – if cooked, go straight to next step. Add coconut milk, lime juice and pinch of
red pepper. Heat until it boils. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with cilantro, if desired.


Therese Porter
5-6 lean pork chops
1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 10 ¾-oz. can chicken and rice soup

Dredge chops in mixture of flour and dry mustard. Brown chops in large skillet. Put in slow-cooker. Add can of soup. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours.


Marilyn Odaniell
1 box rotini noodles
1 lb. ground beef
1 can tomato soup
Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain and reserve. Brown and crumble ground beef. Add tomato soup and cooked noodles to ground beef and stir to combine. Simmer until heated through. Serve with Parmesan to sprinkle on top. Note: This dish is bland enough to appeal to the youngest member of the family. Spice it up with other ingredients – Italian sausage, ground turkey, herbs, onion, garlic, etc. to suit the tastes of your family. It will still be quick, easy, and satisfying.


Cora from Nancy Murphy
1 unsliced loaf French bread
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 c. finely chopped onion
1/4 c. chopped olives (green or black)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 lb. ground beef
4 tomatoes, cut into 16 slices
4 green or red pepper rings, cut into 1-in. pieces
8 oz. cheese slices (your choice - American, cheddar, provolone, or mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut loaf in half, lengthwise and place on baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine tomato paste, Parmesan, chopped onion, and olives, salt and pepper. Add meat and mix well. Spread meat mixture on top of bread halves. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from oven; top with tomato and pepper slices. Cut cheese slices into strips and lay crisscross on top of tomato slices. Bake 5 more minutes, until cheese is softened. Cut into slices to serve 4-6. Note: This recipe easily adapts to your favorite pizza toppings and other breads, like English muffins.

1 comment:

Diana said...

Glad you're back. So we are referred to as MOGs when our son's get married. Not sure about that one. And I think the cauliflower recipe sounds interesting. I've roasted all other vegetables this way, but not that one. Will give it a try. And you are right. The "What's for dinner?" dilemma can happen whether you are feeding one or twenty-five. Counting down the days till I get to see you in person. I know I'm not Julia Child, but I can make you laugh!