cooking


Believe me, I’ve tried not to talk about this.

But for the past month or so, I’ve been drinking a green smoothie every day…and I have become somewhat addicted, I’m afraid. I hate talking about it because–well, I’m all too aware that people (and by people, I mean family members) are rolling their eyes at me. I know what they’re thinking: this is just the latest of my little obsessions.

Okay, I admit that I do have obsessions. A few years ago, for five straight months I woke up every morning and ate half a can of pineapple. I can’t remember why this was a good idea, but it had something to do with getting enough chromium, so the pineapple had to come out of a can. Fresh pineapple, delicious though it might be, wasn’t an option. We had stacks and stacks of cans in our pantry. One day I decided I didn’t want anymore.

I’ve also had some hair issues (read: obsessions) from time to time. I’m the only person in our family with blond hair, and as anyone with blond hair can tell you, the color is NEVER precisely right. It’s always either too gray-looking (hairdressers call that “ashy”) or else it’s too gold (“brassy” to the professionals), and sometimes, defying all logic, it can be both at the same time. You can have ashy hair when you catch a glimpse of it in the rear view mirror of your car, and then the most horrifyingly GOLD hair in the bathroom mirror. When that happens to you, you NEED family members to assess and report on what THEY see. It’s difficult to keep them from backing away from you, though, when you attempt to explain what’s going on and impress upon them the importance of their evaluations. At times, they will run out of the room to escape your questioning.

And I’m not even scratching the surface of my health interests. For instance, I was once told by my yoga teacher that I am totally misaligned in ways that were going to lead to pain, bad knees and sloping shoulders–and so he recommended that I perform an exercise which involved lying motionless on the floor for forty-five minutes a day with my legs at right angles on a chair, and my head perfectly forward and my arms at my sides. Forty-five minutes of motionless lying about! I wasn’t even permitted to fall asleep, which would at least be a good use of the time, because then I would collapse myself into my old misalignments and grow even more crooked! And I couldn’t use the time to make phone calls or even watch educational things on television, because all you can really do when lying motionless on your back is stare at the stains on the ceiling.

But I did this–for a while, at least. My family members were quite amused. But no one joined me in this attempt to become a better aligned person. And now that I have quit doing it, they are polite enough not to bring it up again. It’s been filed away in the catalog of my oddities, I’m sure.

But this brings us to green smoothies. Despite what you might be thinking, green smoothies aren’t green TEA smoothies. They are green because that’s the color of the smoothie itself, since it it is chocked full of green vegetables. Like handfuls of baby spinach, to be exact.

What you do is take some frozen strawberries–a lot of them, but this is not exact science, so just put as many as you like–and two bananas and the handfuls of fresh baby spinach and you put all that in a blender along with some water, and then you turn on the blender to its best ICE-CRUSHING setting, and then watch as the whole thing turns a slightly horrible-looking green color.

A warning: You will not look at it and think, “Wow! I have GOT to drink that thing, because it looks so good!” But when you taste it…wow. It tastes mostly like strawberries, with some creaminess due to the bananas, and a kind of fresh, crisp taste from the spinach. It definitely does not taste like spinach, so you don’t have to worry about that. But when you drink it down–I have two large glasses of it every day–well, you can’t believe, frankly, that anything that bad looking tastes so WONDERFUL.

The best part of it is that just this blenderful of goodness contains, like, a bazillion servings of vegetables. You know how recently they decided that it wasn’t enough for us to get five servings each day, like they’d always been recommending, but that now we needed, oh, at least NINE? And I remember thinking, “Well, THAT’S never gonna happen!” But now I think I get nine servings just thinking about the green smoothie each day.

No, no. Here’s the really, really best part–and now you’re going to think I’m just bragging. The other day I went to the doctor, and of course they always insist on weighing you at the doctor’s office, no matter why you’re really there. Usually I try to ignore this aspect of doctorhood, because it’s just a quirk that they can’t help. But–holy smokes! I had lost FIVE POUNDS without even trying. Honestly. I still eat all the food I normally do, whenever I’m hungry. I’ve just added this green smoothie to the mix–and five pounds has somehow melted off without me noticing. (I feel that five pounds that leaves in April is worth about ten pounds any other time of the year, because this is the time of the year when a person is starting to think about the bathing suit problem coming up.) AND! I can take my jeans off without unbuttoning and unzipping them. In fact, I have trouble getting them to stay up! I’m actually going to have to buy a belt. I found out I lost two full inches in my abdomen, just from drinking green smoothies for five weeks. My stomach is flatter than it’s ever been.

So you can see why I can no longer keep quiet. Thank you, bloglily, for telling me about green smoothies being practically the National Beverage out there in California. And, by the way, does my hair seem ashy to you?

Last fall we ate this, like, twice a week. And now that the weather looks like it really is committed to being cold, it’s time to start making it again.

Just don’t do what I did and put cans of chilies in there without making sure they’re current. (See previous post about sad tale of having to throw out a whole pot of chicken chili after slaving over a hot stove for perhaps twenty minutes of chopping time.)

Anyway, this is easy and so good you’ll love it!

INGREDIENTS:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut up into bite-sized pieces

large chopped onion

2 cups chicken broth

3 cans chopped green chili peppers

3 cans cannellini beans, undrained

garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon or so of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon of chili powder or however much you like

2 teaspoons of smoked paprika

a bag of frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe’s (optional)

 

In a large skillet, brown the chicken and the onion in vegetable oil. Drain and set aside.

Then in a dutch oven, bring the chicken broth and the green chilies to a boil, stir in the cans of cannellini beans, the garlic, cumin, chili powder, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika. Then add the chicken and onion mixture and let it all simmer together for a while so all the flavors fall in love and get married to each other. I have a confession to make. Due to the fact that I am from the South and therefore not afraid of such things, I often add cream of chicken soup to the whole thing, just to thicken it up and give it some additional flavor. (An even worse confession: sometimes, instead of plain cream of chicken soup, I even use the one that it cream of chicken soup WITH HERBS.) I have even been known to put sour cream in it when it’s all done and eat it with Saltine crackers.

 

I woke up with a radical idea today. I WOULD COOK DINNER.

A real dinner, not the kind where you just open the freezer and toss a frozen something into the oven or on top of the stove. It was a beautiful day, and I have been running around like a crazy person lately, between interviewing people for my newspaper job, teaching a Creative Writing workshop, writing my novel, PREPARING my mind for writing my novel, hanging out on Facebook which is the same as publicizing my new novel so it is really work and technically not fun even though it looks like fun (and if you wanted to go there and "friend" me I would be delighted).

So you can see I am tired from all the friending and preparing and sometimes actual writing that I am doing.

Nevertheless, everything about this day said: COOK BLONDE CHICKEN CHILI.

I actually sang in the kitchen, sort of in a Donna Reed kind of way. I didn’t have the heels and the dress and apron, but I was wearing regular clothes and not my usual ratty bathrobe. I browned chicken breasts, I sliced and cooked onions until they were transparent, I opened cans of white beans and green chilies. I assembled spices and vegetables. It was, you know, like real cooking. Like people do!

It smelled wonderful while it was cooking, and I felt very noble indeed.

But then I went to rinse out the cans of chilies to put them in the recycling, and that’s when I noticed that the inside of one of the cans had some problems. It had all kinds of mottled black areas in it. Very suspiciously black, gross metallic things. So I did what anyone would do: I called up the company, waited for a long time on hold, and then got somebody who wanted to know the secret code number on top of the can. I gave it to her and she went off to check with all the scientists who were hanging around on standby just waiting for consumers’ questions.

She came back to the phone a little breathless. "Good news!" she said. "Gobs of black metal inside the can simply means that the can had a defect and that the contents of the can were exposed to things in the metal, and that turned the can black in spots. But it’s okay to eat. Although, according to the code you read me, those chilies WERE supposed to have been eaten before June 2007."

Now, I ask you, sane people of America, how is this GOOD NEWS? Is this woman training to do spin for a political campaign or something?

And when nearly every day some new food is found to harbor things that kill people and give them E. coli and worse, is there a chance in hell that I am going to eat chilies out of an expired can with black things inside it?

I think not. I told her I wouldn’t trust my good health on this, and she said, "Well, ma’am, that’s up to you. But it probably won’t hurt you."

So it’s pizza for dinner. Again. 

It’s time for a recipe. Lately, between playing free rice and writing my novel (I’m actually using my outline and writing five pages a day), I’ve been been reading recipes and trying to come up with the perfect white chicken chili.

I’m ready to share this one, although if you make it, you should feel free to make alterations to it. Every time I make it, I love it more than I did the last time, and I suspect that’s because I never  make it the same way twice.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 pounds cubed boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 chopped onions

2 cups of chicken broth

3 cans of chopped green chile peppers (when I gave this recipe to my friend Leslie, I mistakenly said “3 cans of chopped jalapeno peppers, and nearly killed off several of her family members, for which I apologize) 

3 14.5 oz cans of cannellini beans

clove or so of minced garlic

1 tablespoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon of smoked paprika

2 teaspoons chili powder

cream of chicken soup

bag of frozen corn (if you can get the Trader Joe’s roasted corn, that’s the best)

some dollops of sour cream (I like a lot of it)

 

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the onions until translucent and then add the chicken, stirring occasionally until all the pieces are evenly brown. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, over medium heat, bring the chicken broth and green chile peppers to a boil. Stir in the cans of cannellini beans, corn, garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, smoked paprika, and chili powder. Stir in the chicken and onion mixture. 

Let cook for a long time, at least a half hour, and then add the cream of chicken soup.

I usually put the sour cream in it after it’s cooked, although if it seems to need thickening, I add more. I apologize for the can of cream of chicken soup. I usually hate recipes that call for canned soup, but once I made this recipe and left it out, and…well, it didn’t taste as good. I’m sorry to say this, but it’s true. I suppose a more ambitious person could create their own cream of chicken stuff that would be just as good, but this recipe has the advantage of being quick, easy, and tastes wonderful on a cold evening. And it’s even better the next night! And by the third night, it’s the best thing you ever put in your mouth!

Today I woke up late, drove 30 miles to pick up a friend to go to a goal-setting workshop that took three hours, (my goals were not to be in such a hurry all the time), then stood in a thirty-minute line for lunch, took her back to her house, drove home, went to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make Thai soup for dinner, rented two movies, drove back home, and then drove 30 more  miles to pick up my daughter from her babysitting job, drove to a second grocery store to get the rest of the Thai ingredients that I couldn’t find at the first store, and then drove home, decided the Thai soup was going to take too long to cook when we were all so hungry so I made chicken curry in a hurry instead, and then washed the dishes, and then came downstairs to work for a little while, sending out a bio for a talk I’m giving in April and tracking down sources for a story I’m working on for the newspaper.

And I came across this quote, which seems to sum why I still feel in such a good mood:

Leonard Bernstein said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”

Like most people, I’ve been recovering from Thanksgiving–which was fun and all, and shouldn’t require any recovery. Except that we handed out head colds along with the turkey dinner, and so it’s taken everybody a little bit of extra time to get over the festivities.

Which must mean that it’s time for another recipe!

Whenever I look at my blog statistics (which is a fun thing to do) I see that most random users seem to find me because they are looking for a pot roast recipe, which I wrote about here, in case you’re in need of a good pot roast (and who isn’t?)

But today’s recipe is for dinner rolls. They are called Gladys Elviken’s Potato Rolls, and they come from the Bentley Farm Cookbook, which was published in 1974.

“Strong men have been known to weep for joy when first biting into one of these,” said Virginia Bentley–and she is right. My kids all refer to these as the crying rolls, because of the weep factor. They are that good.

And they’re good because not only are they made with mashed potatoes (to keep them light as a feather) but also they’re sweetened with maple syrup, which is a perfect foil for the earthy taste of the potatoes.

Here goes:

Ingredients

2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (you will mash these)

1 package of active dry yeast

1/2 cup lukewarm water

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

4 large eggs, well beaten

2 teaspoons salt

approximately 6 cups of all-purpose flour

 

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of potato water, and mash. While potatoes are cooking, dissolve the yeast in a small bowl in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water until foamy, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, mashed potatoes, reserved warm potato water and maple syrup. Let stand in a warm place until spongy, about 1/2 hour.

Using a wooden spoon, stir into the yeast sponge the butter, eggs, salt and enough flour to make a soft dough. Mix thoroughly, turning out the dough onto the counter and mixing with your hands to combine completely. Wash out bowl, dry and butter it lightly. Place the dough in the bowl and cover and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2-3 hours.

After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly. The less flour you use, the lighter the rolls will be. Roll dough out about 1 inch thick and cut into rounds with the rim of an inverted glass. Place rolls on two buttered baking sheets, about 1 1/2 inches apart to allow for rising. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake rolls in middle or top rack of oven for 10-12 minutes, until tops are pale golden brown. Serve hot, and keep the Kleenex nearby.

 

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My cousin Jennifer IM’ed me today. I was sitting on the back porch with my friend Nancy who comes over to write with me. We write together because it helps to have someone notice when you’re getting up too many times and perhaps not writing your novel. If she weren’t here, as I told her today, I would most likely be at the store. Or I might be wanting to plant things in the dirt patch that needs to turn into a garden.

Instead, I’m working, and that’s a good thing.

But Nancy is sitting across the porch from me, and so she doesn’t notice when I check my email or when someone IMs me…and today that someone was Jennifer who reminded me how when she lived in Boston and would come over to visit, we would often make the best chocolate cake anybody had ever heard of.

Every now and then a person needs to remember that there is chocolate cake in the world…and that even though it’s right now nobody’s birthday, you can still make one.

We agreed that we would both go make chocolate cakes, in solidarity with each other. And because it’s spring and we don’t live close together anymore.

And well, because sometimes you need a chocolate cake.

Here is the recipe we’ve always used–and I promise you it’s good:

 

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake

4 oz. ounces semi-sweet chocolate

1 stick butter

1 cup water

2 cups sugar

½ cup buttermilk

2 eggs

2 cups unsifted plain flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla

Melt chocolate, butter, and water together in a saucepan. Set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine and beat sugar, eggs and buttermilk. Add flour, salt, soda, and vanilla alternately with liquid chocolate mixture. Mix well. Pour into two greased and floured cake pans. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until done. Cake should almost cool before removing from pans. Frost as desired.

Here is the frosting I use:

¼ cup butter

2 squares of chocolate

1 1-lb box of confectioners sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream

Melt butter and chocolate. Add sugar and vanilla. Add cream to obtain spreading consistency.

 

And oh, yes, I’m visiting the Night Owl Romance blog tomorrow (Friday). Lots of hunky guys on the covers of the books.

 

I am supposed to be blogging about writing, and life. But what is life without chicken curry–and how is one supposed to spend good quality time writing when one is going to need recipes that can be made in the blink of an eye?

Let’s face it: sometimes when you are too busy, you get sick of living on peanut butter crackers.

Last month I wrote about the best pot roast ever–and it is wonderful, but it takes a long time to make. If you love curry but you don’t have a lot of time, here is another recipe from Mark Bittman, this one from his book, “The Minimalist Cooks at Home.”

You’ll need:

1 tablespoon of canola oil

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons of curry powder, or to taste (we use a whole lot more!)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, in pieces

1 cup of sour cream

minced cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish (if you are in a truly big hurry, you might not care about garnish)

1. Place the oil in a large skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the onion, and sprinkle with some salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s tranlucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, sprinkle with about half of the curry powder and continue to cook for a minute or two.

2. Meanwhile, season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle it with the remaining curry powder. Move the onion to one side of the skillet and add the chicken in one layer. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, remove to a plate. (We often add cauliflower to this stage, just because we love the taste of curried cauliflower.)

3. Add the sour cream and stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture is nice and thick. Return the chicken to the skillet and cook for 2 more minutes, turning once. Garnish and serve with plenty of white rice.

No, not the world. The universe. This is the best pot roast in the universe.

At first I hesitated to talk about my pot roast here in the cybersphere. Like most of the people I know, I can be made to feel guilty about eating…well, meat. And beef in particular.

But when it is going to be 9 degrees outside (with a wind chill of below MINUS TWENTY), I don’t think it’s healthy for a person to keep resisting comfort foods.

And so I made a pot roast. Mainly I made it so that the house could be somewhat warm for a while, but a great side effect was that the house also started to smell WONDERFUL, and then there was a roast to eat.

The recipe is from The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated–and one of the best things about this cookbook is that it explains exactly how to make something and then tells you the five ways they tried to make the recipe that didn’t work out so well, so you really get an education in meat marbling and oven temperatures and the way collagen breaks down in meat–everything! Nothing is left to your own pitiful guesswork. They try it all out for you.

Okay, so here’s what you do–and I promise you, the people who come into your house while it is cooking will start to weep, and will not let you send them away until they’ve eaten their fill.

It’s that good.

Ingredients:

1 boneless chuck-eye roast (about 3 1/2 pounds)

salt and ground pepper

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped medium

1 small carrot, chopped medium

1 small celery rib, chopped medium

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 cup low sodium beef broth

1 sprig fresh thyme (I had to use ground thyme, having no sprigs.)

1 – 1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup dry red wine

First you adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the roast generously with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high until shimmering but not smoking. (Don’t you love this kind of detail?) Brown the roast thoroughly on all sides, reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the roast to a large plate; set aside.

Then reduce the heat to medium; add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally until beginning to brown, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and sugar; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and beef broths and thyme, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits. Return the roast and any accumulated juices on the plate to the pot; add enough water to come haflway up the sides of the roast. Cover with a lid, bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat, and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook, turning the roast every 30 minutes (here, they must be kidding! I turned the roast over whenever I happened to think of it, which definitely was NOT every 30 minutes)..until fully tender and a meat fork or sharp knife slips easily in and out of the meat, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Transfer the roast to a carving board; tent with foil to keep warm. (Make the dog go lie down.) Allow the liquid to settle about 5 minutes, then use a wide spoon to skim off the fat from the surface and discard the thyme sprig. Boil over high heat until it is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and reduce to 1 1/2 cups, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cut up the meat, pour 1/2 cup of the sauce over the meat–and go crazy with happiness.

I tell you–it almost makes the winter worthwhile. Because you’d never make this in the summer!

And here’s another thing: I’m not just the carrier of a divine pot roast recipe. I’m also an author! I have a new book out, KISSING GAMES OF THE WORLD, which you might like to read while you’re swooning over the pot roast you’re going to be eating for the next few days. Kissing Games of the World is the funny/poignant story of two misfits–a single mom who’s raising her asthmatic little boy, and a charisma-laden, world-traveling salesman who suddenly becomes a single father–facing death, loss, kids’ questions, and waaaay too many home renovation crises on their way to discovering what letting go of the past really means. (They even cook meals in the book!) If you like this pot roast, you’ll LOVE the book!! 🙂

My life has suddenly changed direction, due to a recipe I read in the New York Times’ Minimalist column, by Mark Bittman.

I’ve decided to spend the rest of the winter making and eating homemade bread every single day. I know there are lots of people who have turned their backs on bread in favor of a low-carb lifestyle, and all I can say is: don’t be crazy! It’s not too late to change! This bread will make you lose your mind.

The best part is, you don’t even have to knead it–not even for one tiny millisecond. All you do is combine the ingredients, and then let them sit for EIGHTEEN HOURS, and then you look at them, form the dough into a ball, let it rise for another two hours, and then bake it in a hot oven for about 45-60 minutes…and you won’t believe your eyes.

It looks like one of those loaves of bread that you might buy in a special bakery–only you didn’t have to leave the house. (Which, if I really do make this every single day, I’m sure I won’t be able to leave the house any more by the end of the winter!)

So, here’s the recipe:

Recipe: No-Knead Bread

November 8, 2006

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.