So, Dale and I bought a house and got married, and a ton of other stuff has been going on. It’s been insane. Obviously, for the Alaska contingent, the 365 Days of Cooking project has been abandoned wholesale, for quite some time. The other contingents have been quiet, but I would guess they’ve been trucking along?

As for us, well, now we have the house, most of the work on it is done, we’re done getting married, we’re through with the most immediate of the unpacking, and there’s time to get back to work on projects such as this one. I’m restarting, with a goal of eating restaurant food no more than once a week. I’m not, however, going to worry about the weeks when I’m away on travel or whatever. Or weeks when social engagements make restaurant avoidance impossible. My goal is for Dale and me to eat at home whenever we have the option. A saner approach will no doubt make success more, um, possible. ūüôā

To get started, I did a bunch of fiddling with an old favorite recipe (favorite to eat; I’ve only ever made it a handful of times). I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling the Internet about it!

Chicken Divine (heavily modified; originally from Joseph Ney’s lunchroom, circa 1960)

  • 20 oz broccoli spears, cut long and thin (fresh, frozen, whatevs)
  • 3 chicken breasts cooked and boned
  • 2 “cans cream of soup” (cream of chicken or cream of broccoli recommended)
  • 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice ( I use lime)
  • 2 tsp – 1 Tbsp curry powder (I use the full Tbsp)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cups very sharp cheese

Cook broccoli in salted water til bright, then drain well. (Don’t overdo this step, but also don’t skip it completely. Uncooked broccoli doesn’t bake through enough in 25 minutes; trust me.)

Arrange in 11×7″ or 13×9″ baking dish. Place chicken on top.

Combine soup, yogurt, lemon juice, curry powder, and pour over chicken. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees, 25-30 min.

Serve over egg noodles, traditionally, though it would be good over rice or whole wheat pasta, too.

Works well to make ahead.

Using nonfat milk and nonfat yogurt and also 3/4 cup of cheese (because let’s not kid ourselves), this recipe makes 6 servings of 376 calories apiece; each serving has 14.5 grams of fat, 22.4 grams of carbohydrate (3.8g fiber), and 39.5 grams of protein. If each serving is combined with a serving of egg noodles, it’s 521 calories, 16.1g fat, 49.4g carb (4.8g fiber), and 44.9g protein.

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We eat at home for most meals, most days. We’re eating out less than once a week. I’m proud of how well we’re staying on track with this– it has really become a way of life.

I thought it might be interesting to post our “staples,” especially now that we’ve found a great source for local, ethically raised chicken, pork, beef, and turkey.

Food we generally have on hand:

  • Meat
    • Chicken breasts (2lbs/week)
    • Pork breakfast sausage (0.5lb/week)
    • Pork chops (3-4 chops/week)
    • Ground Turkey (2lbs/week)
    • Something novel (sausage, steak, etc, every once in a while)
    • Fish (salmon or whatever is on sale, ~4 fillets/week)
    • Turkey or Ham Lunchmeat (1lb/week)
    • Frozen venison (roasts and ground)
  • Vegetables
    • Red onions
    • Small yellow onions
    • Spinach
    • Broccoli
    • Sweet potatoes or Yams
    • Bell Peppers
    • Mushrooms
    • Garlic
    • Small red potatoes
    • Frozen corn
    • Frozen peas
  • Fruits
    • Apples (usually Granny Smith)
    • Bananas
    • Lemons
    • Something novel (recently cantaloupe and mangoes)
    • Tomatoes
    • Avacados
    • Juice concentrate
  • Dairy
    • 1% milk (1qt/week)
    • Soy milk (I get it for free but don’t use it that often)
    • Sour cream
    • Shredded cheddar or Mexican blend
    • Shredded mozzerella
    • Grated or shredded parmesan
    • Sliced or block cheese for sandwiches
    • Half and half
    • Eggs (1 doz/week)
    • Butter (~1lb/week)
    • Breyer’s Chocolate Ice Cream (our terrible addiction)
  • Pantry
    • Peanut butter
    • Jelly
    • Red Beans
    • Black Beans
    • Tuna
    • Diced tomatoes
    • Tomato paste
    • Coconut milk
  • Grains
    • Pasta (generally Barilla Plus spaghetti, but also elbows, egg noodles and various others)
    • Rice (Brown rice and Jasmine or Basmati. Tilda rice if I’m splurging.)
    • Couscous
    • Quinoa
    • Homemade bread OR¬†Store-bought bread or rolls
    • Tortillas
    • Pre-made pie crusts
    • Breadcrumbs (I recently bought a big cannister of these after admitting to myself that I was never going to make my own)
  • Baking
    • White Flour
    • Whole Wheat Flour
    • Sugar
    • Brown Sugar
    • Baking Soda
    • Baking Powder
    • Salt (Kosher and Regular)
    • Cornmeal
    • Cocoa
    • Yeast
    • Honey
  • Sundries
    • Spices (We use cumin, garlic salt, and the Italian herbs most often)
    • Curry paste
    • BBQ sauce (Chris is partial to Johnny Harris which we stock up on when we visit Savannah)
    • Cholula
    • Salsa
    • Olive Oil
    • Canola Oil
    • Balsamic Vinegar
    • Pickles
    • Condiments (Three different kinds of mustard…)
    • Soy sauce
    • Kalamata Olives
    • Pecans, Cashews, Almonds, Pepitas, Sunflower seeds, Ground Flax (Okay, I bought the ground flax months ago and haven’t even opened it yet… but someday I’ll want it!)
Did I miss anything you find essential for your everyday cooking?

I’m still cooking, though. ¬†Since I started working so much, and still volunteering with kids, I’ve seen a drastic reduction in the amount of time I have to play in the kitchen. ¬†I’ve even bought pasta and bread! ¬†The slow-cooker has been my trusty friend. ¬†I made a nice batch of rich stock with turkey bones that have been in my freezer since December, and made a few pots of vegetable and bean soup with it, kicked up with dandicut peppers. ¬†Each pot gives us dinners for a week. ¬†We add a little cheese and eat it with corn chips. ¬†It’s been tasty, and we’ve been feeling good and losing weight. ¬†We’re also eating lots of nuts, whole grains, and fruit. ¬†I’ve always got my yogurt in the fridge (I added some DanActive to some Oikos for a nice array of bacteria), and I am the hummus-bringer for parties.

I found some discounted ground beef, and experimented a little with burgers. ¬†Those were fantastic, but not something I will make regularly. ¬†I also made my first ever quiche, and that was really good, even without a pastry crust. ¬†Last week I made a Pad Thai, which is always tasty. ¬†I experimented about a month back with coconut beer-battered shrimp, and I’m not happy with the deep-fry process. ¬†I made onion rings with the same batter (but no coconut). ¬†Just using a pot and a deep-fry thermometer was a pain. ¬†It took a lot of time, the oil temperature fluctuated a lot, and it was very messy. ¬†My only other deep-fry experience (same pot, no thermometer) making ricotta fritters was much easier and cleaner.

It is finally Spring again, so I got my annual sourdough starter up and running.  Tomorrow I will make the first batch of my famous banana chocolate chip sourdough pancakes for the year.  I am excited about that.  I may also have time this weekend to try a loaf of bread.  I think it will work out much better this year than last year, since I am able to measure things more accurately now with my new food scale.  My starter has been thriving better this time than in previous years.

I made a bowl of pizza dough last weekend (3 pies worth), and tried 50/50 whole wheat and bread flour. ¬†It is not working for me. ¬†My crusts were way better with 100% whole wheat flour. ¬†These have been too gooey and bready instead of thin and crispy. ¬†Mushrooms were on sale, so I’m making sauteed mushroom jalepeno pizzas, and we have salads on the side.

I am looking forward to the warmer months and piles of cheap fresh veggies!  I could go for a pasta primavera and more variety in my soups.

I admit, I haven’t been anywhere near meeting the goal of cooking every day, or even most days, for the past few weeks. I don’t really want to go into the reasons for it in any detail, other to say that stress levels have been high and moods have been low. And we’ve had very little time or patience for cooking.

But the cooking is back on an upswing. Last night I made pho, at home, for the first time ever. This super friendly guy at the awesome Korean store helped us get everything we needed, including Thai basil that had been growing in Hawaii the previous morning. (Now, I might have broken my meat rule. The rib eye was cut super thin and was so convenient that, I admit, I didn’t ask whether it came from a grass-fed cow or not. I’m hopeful, since local places often do get locally-raised beef. But I’m not honestly sure. And I’d put money down that the meatballs were CAFO-raised. We’re not going to do the meatballs again, once we use up the ones we bought: the rib eye is better, anyway.) I might post a photo of the jar the “beef stock” came from, so that anyone else who wants to try making pho can do so. ūüôā

And we signed up for a CSA again. This one lets you buy a box that they claim feeds just a bit more than 2 people, every other week, and you can add exclusions. I added the heck out of some lettuce and dandelion greens, as well as eggplant (don’t like it), kiwi (super allergic to it), and okra (intimidated by it). We’ll see how it goes, but I’m pretty hopeful. We definitely need to increase our fruit and veggie intake, so the CSA should help.

So, here’s hoping that I’ll get my act together and get more home-cooked food made!

I went on a vacation for a week, so I mostly ate out and other people’s cooking, but I did get to help make ice cream and a dinner. ¬†After the vacation I was sick for a week, and didn’t do much cooking. ¬†I’m better now and back on my game.

I made the best chili ever. ¬†Just a pound of ground beef, cooked in a big pot, then drained most of the fat into my fat jar, and put the meat aside. ¬†I sauted onions and fresh garlic in the beef residue, then added six arbol chilis and four dandicuts (60,000 SU peppers from Pakistan, hot and delicious!, from Penzy’s Spices), a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, a can of rinsed black beans and a can of rinsed kidney beans (organic from Trader Joe’s). ¬†I added the meat back in and let it all simmer at 150 F for a few hours. ¬†This was about 6 bowls for $5 (the beef was way on sale). ¬†I served it hot topped with Cabot’s habanero cheddar cheese and some tortilla chips. ¬†I should have entered this in the chili contest.

My wife cooked last night: habanero cheese on scrambled eggs with a side of asparagus.  Simple, but good.

I got a package of chicken thighs, took off the skin, browned them in my skillet (I should have patted them dry with paper towels first, but I forgot, and they didn’t brown as well as I wanted), then put them in my slow cooker. ¬†I deglazed the skillet with some chardonnay and a little tomato juice, and added that to the slow cooker with a big can of crushed tomatoes. ¬†That’s running right now, and in a bit I’ll add sauted onions and carrots.

I’m also baking whole wheat bread today, and I’m still making lots of yogurt out of organic nonfat milk. ¬†I’m about to whip up another batch of garlic and yogurt mashed potatoes, too. ¬† We are eating more beans than we used to, but we could still do more. ¬†We also are inconsistent with salads, but carrots and onions make it into a lot of meals. ¬†Broccoli is the most green that we eat regularly, and spinach, but we’re not close to the recommended quantity of veggies.

I think I’m pretty much recovered from the holidays (and my birthday). 2011 is well on its way, and I’m finding my groove. I’m also finding myself making some compromises. “Maybe it’s OK to eat Orowheat buns. They’re HFCS-free, high fiber, and low calorie. And darn if they aren’t the right shape for burgers.” “Come to think of it, salmon burgers from CostCo are pretty healthy, on the whole.” “That recipe looks like it would hit the spot, even if it does call for a roll of croissants.” And so on. Still going whole-grain where I can, still going for unprocessed, homemade, and organic foods where it makes sense. Still going CAFO-free on meat, organic on milk, and cage-free+organic on eggs. But I’m approaching it all with a little bit more of a sense of balance.

And you know what? I’m happier.

So may it go with the “no sugar until the end of February” thing, too. I’ve had ketchup in restaurants (regular Heinz has HFCS), and I even had a hot buttered rum with a little bit of whipped cream, on Saturday. (The scandal!) I can’t make myself feel too guilty for that. I think “I’ll mostly avoid processed sugar” would have been a better rule. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but the fruit salad I’m eating (with plain Greek yogurt! yum!) has a few canned fruits “in light syrup” in it, so it’s totally not allowed. But it’s fruit–at least, mostly fruit. I drained off the syrup and put in as many “canned in juice,” “canned in water” (bleh!), and frozen fruits as I could. If I were to follow the rule to the letter, I would not be eating fruit and yogurt right now. And what could I possibly be eating, instead, that would be healthier?

Anyway, as far as the Challenge goes, I find that if I don’t have some easy things around, I fail. I am trying to eat homemade every day, not spend every day cooking. So I spent Sunday cooking up a storm. I now have a bunch of black bean burgers (do follow the commenters’ suggestions about draining everything REALLY WELL; also, I use oats instead of bread crumbs, to good effect) joining those salmon burgers in the freezer, plus those sandwich buns on hand to eat them with. There’s also a batch of pineapple carrot muffins (I can post the recipe if anyone wants it—they’re super easy!) in the freezer for quick breakfasts/snacks. I cooked up a package of chicken for some chicken tetrazzini (I used whole wheat spaghetti, regular parmesan, nonfat evaporated milk, fewer mushrooms, and some peas, but otherwise followed the recipe as is–it’s quite good) and put the extra in the freezer, to grab and throw into sesame noodles (add a couple of handfuls of chicken and broccoli, and split that recipe in half for a tasty one-pot entree for two) or maybe chicken noodle soup, in the future.

I also made the brunch bake I linked to in the first paragraph, roll of low-fat croissants and all–I used 5 largish strips of bacon, instead of the sausage, and I think I need to add an egg or two to make up for the smaller mass of meat-product; as it was, the crust made up about half of the bulk. But it was good! We enjoyed it on Sunday, and I’ll eat the remaining four servings over the next few days, for breakfasts. It can’t be an every week thing, but it is definitely going in the rotation!

You’d be amazed at how much calmer I feel with all of this stuff in my freezer, to be pulled out and warmed up with minimal difficulty (or waiting!) on low-energy evenings. I have more than a week’s worth of meals planned and ready, and that feels good. I mean, yes, it’s fine and healthy to do this Challenge, for its own sake. But I’m glad to be gaining some strategies and figuring out what compromises I need to make with myself so I can continue these good habits past October, too.

I’ve done a pretty good job over the last two weeks. ¬†Here are some of the meals I made:

  • Baked salmon (wild caught Pacific) with capers and rice.
  • Pineapple chicken stir-fry (same as my great pork recipe, just with chicken)
  • Slow-cooked chicken with rice (I make a lot of rice, brown with homemade chicken stock)
  • Panfried catfish ($2.59/lb for the fish was an irresistible price)
  • Chili with ground bison and ancho pepper (this was a practice batch for an upcoming church contest, lasted five days)
  • Chicken and pineapple pizza
  • Squash curry with spinach, mushrooms, and onion, on rice

Half of those lasted a few days.  We did get Chinese food one night, and were taken out to dinner one night by relatives, but we generally hold well to 6/7.  We still make lunches from homemade bread, have oatmeal for breakfast each day, and a perpetual pot of yogurt for snacks and desserts.

I’ve been looking at more food books from the library, and nutritionists really seem to push beans heavily. ¬†I don’t mind them, and I usually put them in my soups and chili, but the gas can be a problem. ¬†Is it true that the body adapts to a high-bean diet and stops farting so much? ¬†I’m going to make a big pot of lentil soup this week with a hambone my mom gave me.