Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Food Is Life and Life Is Good!

(my monthly column for HEARTLAND WOMEN)
February 2010

I’m back in the kitchen and cooking up a storm!

Oh, dear. I forgot. You probably didn’t know that I was ever out of my kitchen. I was. Well, not so much out of the kitchen, as out of cooking.

It happened before I really realized it. Ever so gradually, over the past several years, I’ve spent less and less time cooking. I didn’t give up cooking completely, and goodness knows I didn’t give up eating! But you know how it goes. Life changes and we adapt – for better or worse. I’ll just bet this sounds familiar to many of you.

The truth is though, writing about good recipes and interesting food has been the one thing that kept me in the kitchen – and not just because it’s where I keep my computer! But looking back, I realize that as the demands on my time increased, I allowed myself to be distracted from the pleasures of cooking and the healthy advantages of preparing good food at home. I got lazy about cooking at home – and bad eating habits took over.

I blame sports for taking me out of the kitchen and creating our bad eating habits. OK, I really don’t, but around the time I began shuttling my son to practices, away games and home games, my base of operation moved me out of my kitchen and into my car. We all know you can eat in the car, but, as it turns out, you can’t really cook in the car. At least, not while you’re driving.

So like the typical American family, we relied more and more on fast food for meals on the go. Luckily for us, with only one child, we traveled everywhere together and still managed family meals, even away from home, and we tried to avoid eating in the car unless it was absolutely necessary. We didn’t sacrifice all of our values!

Another good thing – besides being a good athlete, our kid was a very neat eater, so the interior of our car never looked like a minivan trashcan. You’ve seen them – you know what I mean!

Soccer season was followed by basketball season and then baseball season. As soon as baseball season ended, the kid went off for more fun at summer camp, first for four weeks as a camper, and then for the whole summer once he became a counselor. We, on the other hand, collapsed at home and enjoyed the down time. MFH and I were magically transported back to a time when it was just the two of us – pre-kid! We didn’t sit on the floor and eat at the coffee table like we used to back then, but we did enjoy home-cooked meals.

I loved those few short weeks back in the kitchen. Cooking was relaxing and fun again. I had time to search out new recipes and create whole meals from scratch – start to finish without a carpool run in the middle. We also took little trips together, which for me always included collecting local specialty ingredients and cooking inspirations to try at home.

Nothing good lasts forever though, so when MFH would go off to work for a week, there I was, completely alone in my kitchen. I got lazy again; thinking that cooking and clean-up for myself was not worth the effort. And part of that was true. After a lifetime of making family meals, I wasn’t even sure how to make the same dishes without making enough for an army. So when the freezer wouldn’t hold one more leftover, I just avoided cooking altogether and convinced myself that fancy frozen dinners or drive-thru sack-o-dinner was the easy answer.

So that’s how I came to live and eat outside my kitchen. Nothing good has really come of it though, and I have to take responsibility for letting it happen. I got out of the habit of cooking good healthy food by telling myself I was too busy and eating out was easier than cooking for one or two people. I’m smarter than that and I knew better. And the sad thing is, I know there are millions of us out there.

The funny part is my athlete and his wife now have their own home and their own kitchen – just the two of them – and they think cooking is fun. They may still be in the honeymoon phase of cooking, but they like to try new recipes and create their own, just like I did in my twenties. I like to think they learned to value good food from their parents. And I am grateful that they have good memories of cooking and eating together around the family dinner table.

There are two of us in this empty nest. So why can’t cooking for two be fun again? I’ve decided that it can be and it will be! Therefore, I am happy to report that Phase II of 2010’s Healthy Eating Plan is underway. I’m back in my kitchen to cook and I’ve already got some delicious new recipes for you! Remember, Season To Taste for 2010 is a whole year about eating healthy food -- and the best food comes from your own kitchen.

Since I always turn to cookbooks for inspiration, it’s no surprise that I’ve found a couple of excellent cookbooks to solve my first problem – recipes for one or two people, along with strategies for shopping and stocking the pantry for small-batch cooking. I really am excited about this new phase of cooking for me and I’m eager to share the recipes with other empty-nesters, singles and small-batch cooks. There will be lots of new recipes here, as well as in my Season To Taste cooking classes and my blog, Cora Cooks.

February means colder weather, snow days, the Super Bowl and, of course, Valentine’s Day. Healthy comfort cooking for cold weather or dinner for two are both a snap with a few good recipes and some simple ingredients! This month is geared toward hot meals, super snacks and sweet treats – a little something for everyone. Eating healthy is not about dieting or denial – it’s about delicious choices and living the good life, wherever you are in life.

(Adapted from Eating Well Serves Two)
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed
1 tsp. olive oil
6 oz. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 c. chicken broth
¼ tsp. dried rosemary
¼ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
¼ c. dry white wine
3 oz. low-fat turkey kielbasa, sliced into ½-in. pieces
¼ c. toasted breadcrumbs, optional

Place ¼ c. beans in a small bowl and mash roughly with a fork. Add remaining beans to bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add chicken in a single layer. Cook chicken, turning once, until brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Do not overcook! Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Add onion and garlic to the pan. Cook on medium heat for about 1 minute. Add 1 tbsp. of the chicken broth. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add rosemary, thyme and pepper. Cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine; increase heat to high. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits, until the wine is reduced by about half, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the remaining chicken broth, kielbasa, beans and chicken; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. Serve topped with toasted breadcrumbs.
Serves 2.
Approximately 420 calories per serving.

Toasted Breadcrumbs
1 slice bread (or coarse bread crumbs)
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Place bread slice in food processor and pulse several times to produce coarse crumbs. Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tsp. olive oil. Toast breadcrumb mixture in large skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until they are golden and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve on top of Chicken Cassoulet.
Print Recipe

(Adapted from Eating Well Serves Two)
3 tbsp. flour, divided
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 4-oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tsp. olive oil, divided
2 tbsp. minced shallot or onion
2 c. sliced mushrooms
¾ c. reduced-sodium chicken broth
½ c. dry white wine, sherry or Marsala
1 tbsp. chopped fresh or dried parsley

Combine 2 tbsp. flour, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge chicken in the flour mixture. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until golden and cooked through 3 to 4 minutes per side, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid burning. Do not overcook. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1 tsp. olive oil to the pan. Add shallot (or onion) and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the mushrooms with the remaining 1 tbsp. flour and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Pour in broth and wine and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasional, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in parsley. Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat with the sauce, and cook until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes.
Serves 2.
Approximately 290 calories per serving.
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(Adapted from Eating Well Serves Two)
2 tbsp. lime juice
2 tsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
½ tsp. sugar
3 c. thinly sliced napa (or other) cabbage
1 small red pepper, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. rice flour or cornstarch
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
½ tsp. five spice powder
10 oz. raw shrimp (21-25 per pound), peeled and deveined
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 jalapeno or Serrano pepper, seeded and minced
2 tbsp. chopped green onions

Whisk lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar in a large bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add cabbage and bell pepper; toss to combine. Combine rice flour (or cornstarch), salt, pepper and five-spice powder in a medium bowl. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring often, until they are pink and curled, 3 to 4 minutes. Add jalapeno (or Serrano) and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, about 1 minute more. Serve the slaw topped with the shrimp and garnished with the chopped green onions.
Serves 2.
Approximately 350 calories per serving.
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1 bag Kraft caramels, unwrapped
Pecan halves (three per caramel)
2 12 oz. bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cake Paraffin

On a baking sheet, place two pecan halves side by side (touching). Place a Kraft caramel on top of the pecans (in the center). Bake at 200 for 25 minutes. Place another pecan half on top, pressing down to smash the caramel. Refrigerate these for a while for easier dipping. In double boiler, melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips and paraffin. Dip turtles in chocolate and put on wax paper to set.
Makes 24.
Approximately 140 calories each.
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(Adapted from Eating Well Dessert Book)
¼ c. honey
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice (1 lime)
1 large sprig fresh mint leaves, plus smaller leaves for garnish
2 c. mixed berries – any combination of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or pitted Bing cherries
1 c. chilled Champagne (or other sparkling white wine)

In a small saucepan, combine honey, lime juice and sprig of mint; warm over low heat just until the honey melts. Remove from the heat and let steep for 5 minutes; discard the mint sprig. Place the fruit in a medium bowl, pour the honey mixture over and stir gently to combine. Divide the berry mixture between two individual stemmed glasses or dessert dishes and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 1 hour. Just before serving, pour Champagne over the fruit. Garnish each serving with mint leaves and serve.
Serves 2.
Approximately 145 calories per serving.
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1 comment:

MtnLvrLakeLvr said...

So glad to see you back in the kitchen. I have approximately three things that I cook well for a group of two, and that includes grilled cheese and BLTs as two of them. Looking forward to ideas from you.