This was a very busy week and I only cooked dinner twice. I made a simple pilaf with jasmine rice and quinoa; a recipe I got from the Spoonriver cookbook. This was for dinner on Friday and I made pork chops to go with it. The pilaf was good and the quinoa was mostly unnoticeable.
The second recipe I made was Quinoa Pizza Bites. I really wanted to try these, but I wasn’t sure what to server them with so I turned our dinner on Saturday into all finger food. We had pizza bites, breaded mozzarella sticks, and veggies with hummus.
I followed the recipe for half of the bites I made, but decided to get creative and make the other half with Italian sausage instead of pepperoni. I have to admit the pepperoni ones were better. In fact they were quite good and I could see making these again.
I only made a couple of meals with quinoa, but I can see the appeal. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own and just acts as a palette for the flavors that are added to it.
I’m not sure if it was the quinoa or just not eating my own cooking for most of the week, but I did manage to lose my pound and a half.
Gumbo is the second dish I made with okra, which makes sense because somewhere along the etymological food chain the word for okra is gumbo. You can pop over to Wikipedia if you want the full story, but it was a new fact for me that I was glad to learn. I have cooked jambalaya, mixed up some chili, thrown together a stew, but until this week I don’t think I have ever made gumbo. I doubt it will be the last time.
I used a recipe from my go-to cook book, The Commonsense Kitchen. The author, Tom Hudgens, begins the recipe with a story about learning to make gumbo in New Orleans from his grandfather. I thought this boded well and I was not disappointed. The gumbo starts with a roux that uses oil instead of butter, which was a new one for me. The oil and flour quickly took on a golden hue and I added the finely chopped onions and celery. I don’t care for celery in soups when it is used as a filler, but in the gumbo it is used for the base and only adds flavor, not texture. Next I added the green bell pepper, another item I usually stay away from , but as soon as I added the diced pepper the kitchen smelled like gumbo is supposed to smell. Six cups of chicken broth, a few spices, some andouille sausage, and the okra finished the recipe. One thing I learned was to cook the sausage whole and then cut it up right before serving. This kept the juices in the sausage and made a noticeable difference. The gumbo had some nice heat to it (probably from the red pepper flakes and dash of Penzeys Cajun spice mix I added), but it wasn’t overly spicy.
The last okra recipe I made was the classic, Fried Okra. Of course fried okra requires a meal of southern comfort food to surround it. I made chicken fried steak using round steak and a batter or butter milk and flour. The gravy and black eyed peas are store bought, but the corn bread is from scratch. Everything was delicious and I had to restrain myself from having seconds on everything.
This restraint paid off and I made my weight loss goal for the week. (Running 11 miles this weekend probably didn’t hurt.)
If you don’t know, I was born in Alabama. I lived there for a total of eight years as a kid and one of my favorite school lunches was chicken fried steak. I’m sure the “steak” I was eating in the school cafeteria started out as a frozen puck and was merely warmed by the nice lunch room ladies not cooked, but it had a crispy breading and plenty of salty country gravy poured over it. In those same cafeterias I also learned to enjoy black-eyed peas, corn bread, and yummy fried okra.
Of course Okra only really grows where it is warm and they didn’t have any at the grocery store in Minnesota. I might have been able to find a creole grocery store that imports it from somewhere, but these days my tolerance for driving to 17 different stores to find one thing is about the same as my tolerance for passing over dessert – gone.
I went with frozen.
It’s All Natural – says so right on the bag – so it must be good.
For Sunday’s dinner we had our usual meatloaf (made by Michael) with Kraft macNcheese as a side. For our vegetable I made roasted okra (I’m saving the fried okra for my chicken fried steak meal). It is a simple recipe, just some salt, pepper, olive oil and cut okra. I took a picture before I put the tray in the oven, but I probably should have taken an after picture because it looked tastier after the edges were a little crisp and the oil had cooked off. It’s been years since I’ve had okra and it was as delicious as I remember. I made each of the kids try the okra and they were about as enthusiastic as I expected. This unfortunately left more for me because I ate three helpings. It’s a vegetable right?
Almonds: For last Sunday’s dinner Sarah and I cooked our usual MacNCheese. I added almond coated chicken strips and a salad to make for another meal that everyone in the family enjoyed. For the chicken strips I used Rachel Ray’s Honey Nut Chicken recipe, but I changed the honey nut peanuts to smoked almonds and for seasoning I used Penzeys Forward! The chicken strips were delicious and I can see making them again. They were salty and smokey without adding any barbecue sauce.
Pine Nuts: I’ve cooked with pine nuts in cous cous and in pasta dishes, but I wanted to do something different. I was toying briefly with ‘N is for Nachos’ and came across this recipe for Nachos Caprese that puts pine nuts, basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella on tortilla chips instead of the typical Mexican toppings. I added some Italian sausage and they were awesome. It was sort of like eating a whole plate of brucshetta.
Cashews: With the cashews I did something I rarely do. I made some Cashew chicken by just walking into the kitchen and cooking without using a recipe. I used boneless chicken thighs and added baby corn, water chestnuts, red pepper, carrots, green onion, and cashews to the pan. While I was cooking I was a little worried that I was too heavy with the soy sauce and the Chinese five spice, but the result was one of the best stir fry’s I have ever made. It was just as good for lunch the next day.
Hazelnuts: For some reason I decided to make spring rolls and replace the usual peanuts with hazelnuts. Nothing fancy I just used to recipe on the back of the brown rice spring roll wrappers that I got at the grocery store. I discovered to my annoyance that this isn’t really a week night meal. It took me much longer than I anticipated to make the rolls and in the end they didn’t have much flavor. I could taste the hazelnuts a little, but in my opinion the rolls would have been a total loss without the spicy Thai chili sauce I poured on top.
Walnuts: I started off the week with a recipe for a creamy walnut sauce to be used on pasta, but the night I came home to make that meal I just couldn’t bring myself to cook anything complicated. Instead I just made some noodles and put some jarred sauce on them. This left me with some walnuts that I could use for Saturday dinner. I got ambitious and decided to make a quiche with a walnut pastry. I spent a good chunk of the afternoon making the pastry and remembering how much I hate baking. I made three small quiches, one with spinach, bacon, and onion, one with just bacon, and one with just cheese. They looked beautiful when I finally pulled them out of the oven.
But they did not taste beautiful. The crust was overcooked and crumbly. It didn’t look burnt, but the crust disintegrated when touched and tasted like ash. I might have used too much flour. Or not enough butter. Or something. Baking takes too much precision for me.
Aw Nuts!: A week of nuts may have been a tactical error where the diet is concerned. I like nuts and ate all the extra ones as snacks. No weight loss this week.
Top 10 things I liked about Mustard week
10 – I could pretend it is about leafy Mustard Greens and not creamy mustard.
8 – I made a batch of Annie’s Mustard that will be done fermenting in time for my birthday in May, shortly after I finish letter Z.
7 – I have a fancy bottle of Balsamic vinegar in my cupboard that I don’t use enough, but was able to use it for this recipe
6 – After cooking greens for the fourth time and reading up on them in the CommonSense Kitchen I have a new side dish in my repertoire.
5 – Despite the similar appearance the mustard greens did not taste like Kale.
4 – I got to “cook” with brandy – Chicken with Mustard Cream Sauce
3 – Both Michael and Sarah said that the Mustard chicken (see #4) was good. To have them agree on something is rare, to have them agree on a food item that isn’t dessert is unheard of.
2 – From my new friends over at Health.India I learned all about how healthy mustard is and that among other things it is supposed to help you lose weight. Something about riboflavin and thiamine speeding up your metabolism.
1 – Due to all of those riboflavins in the mustard I made my weight loss goal for the week and then some. (Not having any beers this week probably helped.)
Lentils are one of the oldest legumes known to man they have a history that goes back to the first hunter gatherers and they are the perfect food combining protein and fiber in one little bean. I haven’t been keeping exact count, but I think they are the 8th perfect food that I have cooked and blogged about so far.
I don’t love lentils. I don’t hate lentils. They are filler with no flavor and I don’t understand the fervor some people have for them. When looking for recipes this week I came across a lot of soup recipes. A LOT of soup recipes. I ignored them all and ended up focusing on recipes that were mostly meat replacements. I replaced the meat in our tacos with Super Veggie Lentil Taco “Meat”. It was OK, but didn’t have a lot of flavor. I also replaced the meat in a pseudo Spaghetti Bolognese. The recipe is called Lenticchie con Ditalini and it uses a can of lentil soup, some sautéed tomatoes and creamy cheese to create a very delicious meal. I will be making this meal again I’m just not sure the lentils were what made it good.
The real reason I did lentil week was so I could use the cotechino sausage that I ordered which didn’t arrive in time for new year’s eve. I paid more than I should have for the sausage. It was imported from Italy, but I only ordered it to have an authentic dish on NYE. I didn’t want to just make the traditional lentils and Cotechino so I decided to create a new Benedict dish.
I wanted to use lentils for the base of Benedict – the English muffin part. I wanted a sort of lentil I was inspired by a set of new dishes to make something that could be cooked right in dish. I used a recipe for Lentil Vegetable Loaf from the Spoonriver Cookbook. Instead of making a loaf from the mixture I made four individual cakes.
I cooked the meat per the instructions on the packaging, which is basically boiling the sausage in its own fat for about a half an hour. The meat was described as being like salami so instead of using poached eggs I decided to use hard-boiled. I then topped the whole thing with a Tomato-Basil Hollandaise. It was a savory, creamy, and beautiful creation, but you will have to take my word for it because I got too busy (and hungry) and forgot to take a picture.
It was a pretty lousy week for the diet. I ate out three nights this past week and had at least one beer on each occasion. I also had a few extra snacks this week; which may have not been so bad except one of those snacks was a half a bag of Doritos. With all of that I actually gained a pound this week. I am still ahead overall and on track for my birthday goal, but another week like this and I might be in trouble. The novelty of dieting has worn off in a big way. Also I feel pretty good with the weight I’ve already lost so it is hard to feel the urgency I did 20 pounds ago.