Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Food: Crunchy Chicken Casserole

So I found a recipe for "Crunchy Chicken Casserole" in a cookbook I bought at a book fair at school, and made it a few weeks ago.  It was proclaimed adequate but not very flavorful, and the yield was quite small.  (When I make a casserole, I want lots of left-overs!)  Tonight I modified the recipe, part out of necessity and part because I wanted more flavor.  Here's what I came up with:

For the casserole filling:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 celery heart, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
the meat from two cooked bone-in chicken breasts, torn into small pieces
1 can cream-of-something soup (I used onion this time)
1 soup can of milk
1 cup uncooked rice (this is the risky part; the original recipe called for cooked rice; I added the can of milk to compensate)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
about 1 Tbsp poultry seasoning (I used a salt-free blend)
about 24 grinds of black pepper

Cook the onion and celery in butter until the onion becomes almost translucent; add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.  Remove from heat; dump into a 9x13" pan

For the topping:
Crush about 2 cups of Cornflakes in a zip-top bag.  Add 1Tbsp of melted butter (cooled) into the bag and squish around until all of it is combined.  Dump this mixture on top of the casserole and spread it evenly across the top.

Bake this mess at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until it's bubbly and delicious.  Remember that you need adequate time for the rice to absorb the liquid.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


At the present moment, I am in the throes of quite a nasty cold that has been floating around school, and one of the results of said cold is that I've completely lost my voice save for a whisper.  And not even a stage-whisper, but a real whisper.  For a motormouth like me, this is an interesting experience.  I have so many things I want to say, but it's either too painful (my throat feels like a bunch of rusty razor blades rubbing together every time I swallow, speak, or mouth-breathe) or it goes unheard because I have no volume.  Plus, in order for me to get back to work as a music teacher, I need to rest my voice so that I can speak, sing, and otherwise vocalize with the kiddos.  So I'm staying quiet for a few days.

Yesterday I visited my mom and my uncle and rasped through some conversation.  I was so excited to share my experiences about my new job that I didn't really pay much heed to the hoarseness that kept getting worse as our brunch went on.  I stayed quiet on my drive back home and made sure to gargle with plenty of throat-soothing things, but I woke up today completely voiceless.  I was pretty much completely hoarse last night and so my husband and I had a quiet evening (he's not much of a talker), and today has been eerily quiet.

I grew up in a home that seemed to hate silence.  At least my mother and brother did their best to fill the home with as much talk as possible.  My dad was always okay with quiet, but as we got older, my brother's constant talking became a presence in the house that we were totally used to.  (He even talks to himself if no one's around.)  When I met my husband, I found it odd that he could sit with his family in near-silence, just reading a book or watching TV, and we would all be the better for it.  At my husband's family's house, we didn't have to fill every silence with words or noise.  We could just *be.*

I still struggle with this concept of just *being.*  I am a born and bred motormouth, and I always want to say things, discuss things, ask questions, share stories, and converse with people.  I thrive on a certain amount of social interaction (though I like my alone time too).  But right now, I have time to sit back and listen and think, instead of being at the forefront of every conversation.  I wonder if it's a need for self-expression that makes me want to talk so much.  As it is I feel like I haven't really expressed myself all day, even through the text messages I've sent to my husband to tell him things he couldn't understand me whispering.

It's been a frustrating day, but also an educational one.  Tomorrow I will be silenced again, as my voice has not even begun to come back yet.  I hope by the end of tomorrow I can at least start to stage-whisper.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Food: Chili Love

Okay, so I have to recant a previous statement.  My previous statement said that I hate beans in any form except green beans.  I lied.  I like a small amount of beans in chili, and oh boy howdy do I love chili.

All my life my mom has made Cincinnati-style chili, and while I have loved the smell of the chili powder cooking away on the stove, putting it over spaghetti with onions and cheese did not appeal to me, and I refused to eat the chili and instead ate spaghetti with cheese on it for many of my growing-up years.

Enter Rosemary.  She is Winston's breeder and has become a dear friend to us.  One day, Joe and I went up to her home to visit her passel of ridgebacks and have dinner.  She had made chili, and I was about to eat it to be polite.  I didn't want to tell this friend who had worked hard to make something delicious for us that I refused to eat chili even though I liked the smell, so I dove in and took a risk.

It was amazing.  I liked it.  Even the beans, though I still think they are the weakest link in the chili-gestalt.

So I decided to make a pot of chili myself.  After experimenting a couple times and researching several NON-Cincinnati recipes, I came up with this recipe that I will use forever.

You need:
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced finely
2 large onions, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained exceedingly well
1 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes, not drained
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 12-ounce bottle/can of lager beer (today we're using Heineken)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 cup beef stock (not broth)
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
about 25 grinds of black pepper (from the grinder)
grated cheddar cheese for serving

First, brown the meats together in a pan until they are crumbly.  During this process, feel free to sprinkle the meats with chili powder, garlic powder, and pepper.  No salt though, or the chili will be too salty.

Add the onion, jalapeno, and green pepper, and cook until the onions are translucent but not brown.

Pour in the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, beer, and beef stock.  Stir.  Sprinkle with the cornmeal and stir in.

Season the chili with the seasonings listed above.

Simmer on the stove for several hours.  Today I am doing about 3 to 4 hours to let the flavors meld.  It's even better if you cook it one day, let it sit overnight in the fridge, and then heat it up the next.  But it smells so good today that I'm letting us have it today.

Serve in bowls covered with grated cheese.  It's also good over brown rice.

Note: this is pretty mild, one-alarm chili, but it's plenty hot for us.  We like mild Indian food, but we don't like our mouths to be on fire.  Instead we prefer richness of flavor and a touch of heat.

Happy Superbowl Sunday!  We are spending it eating chili and studiously avoiding football in all forms, American or otherwise.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Food: Rosemary's Pot Roast Chicken

My friend Rosemary, who hails from England, told me about a pot-roast chicken that she made for a friend who was sick.  She even put up a photo of it on facebook and made me positively drool.  Last Saturday I went to her house for dinner and got the "recipe" (more like a formulary, really) from her, and I made it yesterday.  And oh, man.  It was amazing.

Here's what you need:
1 whole chicken, giblets removed (I used a roaster, not sure about weight)
about 3 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters
1 pound small potatoes or large potatoes cut up
3 leeks, cleaned and cut into 2" pieces
2 large onions, chopped up into large pieces
1 mugful of white wine (I used a 12-oz mug)
fresh thyme or whatever herbs you like, to taste (I used probably 2 Tbsp thyme)
a couple tablespoons unsalted butter
seasoned salt
black pepper

Heat oven to 350 Farenheit.

Remove giblets if you haven't already.  This is a step I loathe, and I use rubber gloves for it every time I do it, even if the giblets are in a tidy little bag.  YUCK!

Layer the onions and leeks in the bottom of a large, oven-safe pot with an oven-safe lid.  Mine was a 5qt enameled cast iron Dutch oven, and it BARELY held everything; I had to do some very creative formatting to get it all to fit in.  Try for 6 or more quarts to make your life easier.

Add carrots and potatoes on bottom.  This is where I had to do creative formatting.  I put the carrots and potatoes around the chicken because otherwise the lid wouldn't shut and you need to cover this bad boy up.

Pour your mugful of white wine over the chicken.  Dot the chicken with the butter that you crumbled up or cut up (either way - I crumbled), sprinkle with the fresh thyme that you chopped up, and season with seasoned salt and black pepper to your taste.

Cover and bake for a long time.  My chicken took over 2 hours.  The rule is 20 minutes per pound I think.  But most whole chickens have instructions on the package.  Consult this.  I cooked mine until the handy-dandy pop-up thermometer thing in it popped up.  It may sound silly, but I am utterly lost without that thing, and that thermometer makes me cook a moist chicken every time.

During the cooking process, baste the chicken about twice with the liquid in the bottom of the pot.

For the last half hour, remove the lid of the pot so the chicken skin can brown on top.  I also turned up the heat to 400 because I was getting impatient and hungry, which yielded a nicely browned skin and moist bird.

Serve and try not to eat it all in one sitting.  It is delicious.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food: Roasted Broccoli ... and chicken.

Tonight I had big plans for dinner, oh yes oh my.  I was planning to roast a chicken to golden-brown perfection and roast some nice veggies with it (broccoli!) and have salad as another vegetable.  A nice, healthful meal and we would have a nice chicken carcass with which we'd make stock.  Off I hied to ye olde Wegman's to purchase said chicken and broccoli and salad greens (as our salad greens from before our Christmas jaunt up North had expired disgustingly in our refrigerator)... and other healthful options for us to nosh on this week.

Would you believe, that of ALL grocery stores in all of the world, WEGMANS would not have any plain whole chickens?!  I just about died!  Granted, I was at one of their smaller stores, not the usual flagship store in DeWitt that I normally patronize.  But still!  No whole chickens!

Upon further inspection I did see a little chicken "kit" that contained a whole chicken, seasoned with lemons and herbs, all tied up in an oven bag and in its own foil pan.  For an extra $3, of course.  Well, since there were no plain whole chickens and I wanted to roast this bad boy myself (not get one of those oh-so-tasty rotisserie chickens they sell pre-cooked), I bit the bullet and bought the chicken kit.

I am not a fan of oven bags.  It left the skin slimy, and it stuck to the skin on top so that I didn't even get my nice piece of seasoned chicken skin to go with my breast meat.  Not to mention it must have been a puny chicken, because once hubby took his (sizable) portion, there was only enough meat left on the bones for carcass-boiling.  Needless to say, I'm miffed and plan to go only to the DeWitt store from now on so I can always get my whole, big chickens that will render more than a carcass boil out of them.

I like saying "carcass."

On to the broccoli bit.

I wanted to make something a little more exciting than steamed broccoli to go with dinner, because I know that if I eat steamed broccoli, I will slather it in butter to make it palatable.  Not good for a FussyFoodie who wants to lose 50 pounds in the next year.  I asked a friend of extremely Italian heritage what she does to make her broccoli so delicious (she always has tasty broccoli) and she said "salt, pepper, and a bit of cheese."  Well, I had these ingredients.  I also had the idea to go a little hog wild and really make special broccoli.

So I took the frozen broccoli cuts and threw them in an 8x8 pan and drizzled them with about a tablespoon of olive oil.

Salt and pepper = seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper.  I did that.  I'd guess about a teaspoon of seasoned salt and an equal amount of pepper.

Parmesan cheese.  I sprinkled enough of this stuff (from the green can - I know, I'm a Philistine) on top of the broccoli to make it appear to have a meager crumb coating.  A mere dusting.  You could see that it was broccoli, but it was white-colored broccoli.


Then I added about a tablespoon of chicken stock to lubricate things better.  It helped disperse the spices and cheese evenly.

Into the oven it went for just over 25 minutes.  Maybe 27.  I put it in at about 6:35 and took it out about 7ish, but I know it was a couple minutes after.

It was still crisp.  It was flavorful.  It wasn't sulfurous at all.  I told FussyHubby that even *he* would like this broccoli.  He still staunchly refused, but he did admit that he would consume zucchini with a similar treatment.

I'm not going to Wegman's tomorrow though.  Not even for zucchini.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Food: Losing Weight the Tasty Way

So around Thanksgiving, the dear FussyFoodie Husband and I looked down at our stomachs in abject horror.  The problem: we both have a gut.  Hubby has only a tiny little paunch, being the exerciser that he is, but I look downright almost-pregnant.  My size 16 jeans are no longer my "fat" jeans.  Yeah, I'm admitting this because I have hope that there might be a single reader out there that is NOT a family member or friend of mine who knows who I am.  And family and friends who read this?  Yeah, you read right.  I am a whopping size 16, up from my size 00 days of high school.  I'm not humiliated to admit this, merely ready to get rid of it and get down to a healthy weight, say a size 8 or so.  00 was way too underweight, and I know this.  But 16 is too overweight.  8 was about right for my 5'8" frame, and it is my goal.

The official goal?  Lose a pound a week until next Christmas.  I have lost 7 pounds so far, but I virtually guarantee that I have a net loss of about 4 pounds now that the holidays have hit en masse in terms of food.  Yes, I have been careful, but it's hard not to have the occasional cookie or dessert.  Or prime rib (Boxing Day dinner!).  Or filet mignon (Christmas dinner!).  I did guard my portion sizes, and I can honestly say I have only had 6 Christmas cookies this year.  And I enjoyed every single one.

The secret to my willpower came from something the great and venerable Jim Parsons said on a late-night talk show appearance (the show eludes me right now) about how he quit smoking.  His doctor basically told him that he could still smoke, but to make sure to really enjoy every cigarette.  And he found that he was smoking less and less because he was taking time to be mindful of his smoking and his enjoyment.  Soon a pack a day became a cigarette a day.  And then the cigarette a day became a cigarette a week.  And then he forgot to smoke.  I am trying to do the same approach with food: every bite I put into my mouth I have to feel good about.  That doesn't necessarily mean skipping dessert, but it does mean REALLY ENJOYING every bite of dessert that I eat, and if I find I'm no longer really enjoying it, I stop eating.  Want to know the crazy thing?  It's working.  I'm eating less and less, and feeling good about myself.  Yes, I am eating more this set of holiday eating with larger portions than I normally have, but you know what?  If I gain a few pounds during the holidays, I know it isn't the end of the world.  I can always lose them again through maintaining smaller portions and urge-surfing after the holidays are over.

There is an interesting book out on this philosophy now called Eating Mindfully that goes into this philosophy more.  No, I haven't read the whole thing, but reading the synopsis of it on http://www.skinny-bits.com/ has made me aware that this is exactly what I've been trying to do.  I don't want to give up carbs forever.  I love carbs, especially pasta and sourdough bread and rice, oh my!  But I do want to be proud of my food choices and, as a FussyFoodie, live up to my name by enjoying food more.  I mean, have you ever REALLY concentrated when you ate a piece of excellent chocolate?  The experience is delicious.

And that, other than the 4 miles a day dog walk plus treadmill plus pilates, is how I plan to lose weight in the coming year.  I plan to continue posting in here with healthy recipes that taste delicious, restaurant reviews, etc.  And I probably will post as often as I have time.  In other news, now that my psychiatrist has found the right medication cocktail, I have this sudden urge to live life to the fullest again, and a lot of that means I'm not sitting at home surfing the computer as much, though my facebook friends might argue to the contrary.  (I'm still on there, just for smaller durations of time!)

May you all have a wonderful rest of Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psychology: Finding the right medication

For the past almost-year, my psychiatrist and I have been playing medication roulette.  Since I have been diagnosed with bipolar II, she has had me on several mood stabilizers and antidepressants, and just now we have finally hit on the right ones it seems.  But I want to share my experience particularly with Depakote, because it was so interesting to me... interesting in a not-so-good way.

Depakote was effective at keeping me from "flipping out" - that is, it kept my rages in check - but it also turned me into a walking zombie.  I had no motivation to do ANYTHING, and I was sleeping inordinate amounts.  Going into a terrible depression this past summer, while on the Depakote, only increased my desire to get off the darn stuff.  Not to mention the side effect of my hair turning brittle and falling out.  Not all of my hair - it just thinned dramatically and the texture is still pretty awful.  (Since going off the Depakote, my hair is no longer falling out as it was, but I will need to grow out the brittle stuff that grew while I was on it.)  I also had terrible gastrointestinal effects, in that I was "going" about 6 to 8 times a day, and it was to the point where I had to quite literally run to the toilet.  (sorry, gross.)  Since the stopping, though, my digestive tract is back to normal.  Signs from the Universe that the drug was bad for me?  Yup.

Please understand that I'm not trashing Depakote.  I know people for whom it has worked miracles.  It just happened not to be the miracle drug for me.  And my psychiatrist actually told me that I am the first patient she has ever had for whom Depakote is not effective.  Go figure - my family always said I'm a weirdo, ha ha.

I am now on Geodon and half the original dose of Cymbalta that I was on while on Depakote, and I feel fantastic.  Now that the drugs have reached therapeutic levels in my system, I feel like I can think clearly for the first time in many years.  And not just more clearly than I was thinking before: like my old self again, where I could pick thoughts out of the air and enjoy being highly creative.  I was scared that I was in the midst of a hypomanic episode, but I discussed how I was feeling at length with Psychiatrist, and she has deemed it to be NOT hypomanic, because I am not irritable and I am very rational.  All right!  I am thrilled!

That being said, I am ready to conquer this Holiday season.  I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, even the stress, because it is all about being together with family and sharing love with each other.  This year for Thanksgiving I was told that I may not bring anything to dinner because they have it "all under control," so I am responsible for the wine.  I'm bringing two bottles of French Chardonnay that was highly recommended by my local liquor store for a turkey and ham dinner.

What are you most looking forward to this Thanksgiving?