Feeling Strangely Fine

Adventures in New Foods-Polenta

I recently watched Food Inc and am currently reading The Omnivores Dilemma both of which describe America’s dependency on corn among other topics. I hadn’t ever put much thought into how much our diets consist of corn product in some form, be it actual corn, meat from corn-fed animals, or corn syrup and a laundry list of other ingredients found in almost all processed foods. I would recommend both the documentary and the book as interesting media to think about where what we eat really comes from and what it really is we’re eating.

I’m not giving up corn or suggesting anyone else should, as can be seen by this week’s new food choice.  Polenta is basically cornmeal that can be prepared creamy or permitted to harden then baked or fried. I’ve been meaning to try polenta for some time now but have not been able to find it in the grocery and didn’t want it bad enough to hunt someone down to ask. I finally found the small box of quick cooking polenta in the pasta aisle amongst the collection of specialty Italian foods.

For my first polenta attempt I decided to go with a creamy preparation to accompany some cajun shrimp in honor of Mardi Gras. I spiced the shrimp similarly to my last spicy shrimp prep with some alterations. This time I mixed 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper with 1 teaspoon each of black pepper, salt, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and oregano. To the dry spices mixture I added 2 tablespoons of oil, a splash of sriracha, white cooking wine and tomato paste. I coated the raw, thawed shrimp and let refrigerate for a few hours before cooking. For the polenta, I prepared as the package directed but used chicken stock instead of water.

Success!  The polenta was yummy and very easy so now I have another starch choice to add to my repertoire.  As for the shrimp, perhaps I should have cut back on the cayenne or skipped the sriracha.  If you plan on trying this one, consider yourself warned they are super spicy; I love spicy food and had to quit halfway through.  The flavor was there though, so I think with some minor adjustments this will hit the spot.  At least dinner cleared my sinuses!


Adventures in New Things-Skiing???

A long weekend leaves me procrastinating until Monday for my Week 6 posts.  So far 2010 has been the snowiest year I can remember and even I, who loves the pretty white stuff, am over it.  Week 6 began with 28 inches of snow followed by a mid-week pummeling of about 20 inches.  Now, as Week 7 starts with a President’s Day vacation day, we are expecting more snow tonight-only 3-5 or 4-8 inches depending on who you believe; anything less than a foot is a mere flurry.  All of this snow and the Winter Olympics are making me think skiing should be my next new thing of 2010.  Nope, I have never been on skis or a snowboard.  Sleigh riding, snow tubing and fort building are the extent of my winter fun.  I should point out that I am not the most balanced creature God has made (just ask my Wii fit) and graceful is not a word that has ever been used to describe me so I really don’t see me and skis as a good fit.  It could be entertaining for whomever wishes to join me on this adventure. 

I do envy the Olympians.  I am a fearful, intellectual person that carefully weighs the benefits and risks of situations before committing to pursue.  I would not risk lifelong injury for a sport or adventure.  Every four years people around the world sit on their couches and watch hours upon hours of these extraordinary humans who literally fly, and race, and attack their environments with grace, courage and fearlessness.  They don’t think what their sport will do to their young bodies over time, they live for today only.  I am jealous of their fierce drive.  At the very least it should inspire me to at least stand on skis and fall my way through a bunny slope!  Who’s in??  Now, off to practice Wii slalom.

The Tally_Week 5

I’ve moved!  Well, the blog has anyway.  Since I’ve been consistent with this whole blog thing I’ve decided to stop squatting at my old World Leader Pretend site and relocate to Feeling Strangely Fine (brownie points if you know the source)  Those of you reading on facebook won’t notice any difference, I’ve changed the import settings so it will keep magically appearing (hopefully, one can never tell when facebook decides to misbehave).  

Week 5 has come and gone already; though I’m still slacking on exercise I have tried lots of new recipes this week so not too bad.  The epic storm left me wanting to bake and cook while keeping warm and watching the pretty snow through the window.  Some were successful and others not so much.  I’ll refrain from whining about the beets again and share the good stuff…

Parsnips/Apple Mash was really good, especially as an accompaniment to the pork roast.  Simply peel the parsnip and apple (equal parts) and cube, add to boiling water and simmer for ~30 minutes, drain and mash with butter, salt, pepper and a little bit of milk.  The apple flavor is very subtle and this was a nice change of pace from the typical mashed potatoes.

Veggie-Full Frittata was another success that made for excellent lunches.  I followed the recipe but added baby bella mushrooms, scallions and some fresh herbs (oregano and basil).  

I decided to give cheese another try.  If you’re new to my posts, I do not like cheese…at all…unless it is in a cannoli.  Since I like cannoli’s I figured I’d start with ricotta. Butternut squash tortellini with ricotta and parmesan made me gag after a couple of bites.  I did get the first couple of bites down though, so I guess that’s an improvement.  Luckily, I had made half sans cheese and they were yummy.  Lemon ricotta cookies were delicious and totally satisfied my lemon craving.  Apparently I need sugar added to my cheese.  

I also made the old stand-by Jam Thumbprints to take in to work.  To change them up a bit I made them into little hearts, or started to and realized it was a pain in the ass so went back to simple rounds.  The recipe is simple: 1 cup butter, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 cups flour.  Cream the butter and sugar then add the flour and beat until the dough becomes pea-sized crumbs.  Take tablespoonfuls and roll into a ball and indent with thumb making sure there are no cracks or jam will leak out.  To make hearts I made two 1/2 tablespoonful sized balls and indent each, then push them together and smooth out the center to form the heart.  Fill indentation with jam or preserves of your choosing (jelly will boil and leak out) bake at 400 degrees for ~10 minutes.  Cool on foil and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Adventures in New Foods-Beets

According to the New York Times beets are a “nutritional powerhouse” high in folate, potassium and manganese. Continuing my way through the Everyday Food  issue I bought last week, I made beet chips and beet/carrot slaw this weekend to give them a fair shot. I will agree with the NY Times assessment of beet’s taste:

“Beets have an earthy, hard-to-define flavor like no other vegetable’s”

I think this is just another way of saying they taste like dirt. The good thing about beets being this weeks new food was that it enabled me to buy the mandoline I’ve been meaning to get for some time now. So much easier to evenly cut, slice, dice and julienne! The beet chips were just sliced thinly, tossed with olive oil and baked. The beet slaw consisted of julienne cut beets, carrots and the beet greens tossed in olive oil, orange juice, red wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. In defense of the beet I did overcook the chips a bit, but I don’t think that was their downfall.  The slaw looks better than it tastes; I don’t mind the greens but still not loving the beet.  The greens are high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, and calcium so not a complete loss.

I have one beet left and will take suggestions on prep and give the earthy little sucker one more try.

Week 4

OK there will be no tally since it would be a big fat 0.  Yes, that’s right not one workout all week, not even a second of Wii hula hooping.  The brick wall was tall and wide or maybe there was just one little brick that I was too apathetic to step over so I complacently made a deal with myself to start over Feb 1 since it just seems reasonable to restart on a Monday that happens to be the first day of a new month.  I’d like to claim that I ate well and just slacked on exercise but there weren’t a lot of meetings at work this week so my colleagues and I went to PF Changs for lunch one day and Wegman’s the next (where I skipped the salad bar and ordered a burrito).  Oh well, Feb 1st is tomorrow and feeling rejuvenated from yesterday’s couch-day I went back to the kitchen with all new recipes to try.  

I bought Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Light Issue as a checkout line impulse buy last week and am pleased to say there are many recipes in here I plan on trying (a rarity, usually I buy these things then never make anything in them).  I wouldn’t say I’m a big Martha fan,  I can’t stand to watch her shows because she comes across as so obnoxious.  That said she is a shrewd business woman and has good ideas (or hires people who have good ideas).  

Anyway, there was a section on cooking in parchment paper that included a salmon recipe.  So last nights plate was lemon pepper salmon with brown rice and veggie salsa.  The verdict: easy, tasty and no clean up = perfect.  This was somewhat of a new food; I had tried salmon once at a work convention because it was the most edible sounding thing on the menu.  It was dry and tasteless but that’s to be expected from hotel catering so it was worth a second shot (my home prep was much better).

I’ll be trying another recipe from the issue tonight, parsnip and apple mash instead of mashed potatoes as my side with pork tenderloin.  We shall see.  Of course, you can’t be healthy all the time.  I am currently enjoying the smell of fresh baked banana muffins, can’t wait for them to cool a moment so I can try!

Adventures in New Foods-Spaghetti Squash

  This one I actually enjoyed. I figured it must be spaghetti-like given the name but wasn’t expecting it to look as much like spaghetti as it did. The squash I bought had a little sticker on it claiming you should microwave for some undefined period of time to “soften the skin” then cut it in half and place cut-side down in a pan and roast for an hour. I warn you that if you try to do this you will become violent while cursing and ruining your knives trying to cut the f%@! thing in half. Eventually I successfully had two halves of spaghetti squash and got them in the oven only to later read on the inter-web that you should pierce the squash several times and roast it WHOLE then cook and cut.

Note to self: roast THEN cut.

But I digress, once done you just run a fork through the squash and ta-daa spaghetti!  While the squash was roasting, I sauteed some shallots, peppers, zuchinni and yellow squash in olive oil then added a can of Muir Glen fire roasted tomatoes and herbs then let simmer until ready to top my squash.  I also experimented with a Panko Meatball recipe I found online.  I followed the recipe except used fresh herbs and left out the cheese (some day I will have to make cheese a new food-this could be a problem considering the few I’ve tried have made me gag).  As for taste, it was really good. The squash is a different texture than you other types of squash or spaghetti for that matter; it has a crispness to it that was quite nice. The meatballs were yummy too.  There you have it, lots of veggies, some protein from the meatballs and not too heavy on the carbs.

Adventures in New Food-Prunes

Since my evenings were occupied with knitting (and EA Active Sports!) I didn’t have my computer on all week and never looked into a new food/recipe.  So this week I went right off the shelf with prunes.  I had never had a prune and am not a big fan of any dried fruits beyond raisins or cranberries.  I do fondly remember my Pop-Pop would make a smiley face in his breakfast cereal with prunes, so this weeks food adventure is dedicated to his memory.   The verdict: they’re not bad if you can get past the look and chewiness of them = I’d eat them again but probably won’t become a staple of my diet.

Since there’s no recipe to go with this weeks adventure, I’ll share this one from Cooking Light (which you could easily add prunes to) that I made for breakfast this morning.  It was good and filling and a nice change from your standard oatmeal but be warned it is a different texture and a bit chewier (I probably didn’t soak the oats long enough, who knows).  It’s also easy as long as you remember to soak the oats and barley overnight.  This I will try again.

Overnight Honey-Almond Multigrain Cereal

Steel-cut oats and barley soak up water overnight so they’re ready to go in the morning. Use a big bowl because the grains will expand.

1/3 cup steel-cut oats (such as McCann’s)
2 tablespoons uncooked pearl barley
1 1/4 cups water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon sliced almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon honey

1. Combine oats, barley, and 1 1/4 cups water in a microwave-safe 4-cup bowl. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

2. Uncover bowl, and stir in salt. Microwave, uncovered, at HIGH for 6 minutes or until most of liquid is absorbed, stirring well after 3 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg. Top with almonds and honey.

The First Thing I Ever Knitted

It ain’t pretty but it’s mine!  My very first scarf, a full scarf, hell I’d even wear it in public 😀  Knitting is no longer the great mystery it was when I was a child watching my mother and grandmother work their needles with yarn by their side.  It’s actually not that difficult once you get used to holding the needles and working the yarn.  Granted all I’ve done is a simple scarf (very simple, only knit stiches no purls).   With great confidence I will attempt my next project: a ribbed scarf with both knit and purl stitches, wish me luck.  I don’t foresee sweaters in the near future but I’ve succeeded at my first new adventure of 2010.  Now what to do for the other eleven….

The community college is offering a wine brewing and tasting course but it’s nearly $200 for a handful of classes.  With my job still in limbo I am in search of cheaper ventures to occupy my winter.  I got the local high schools adult evening school schedule in the mail the other day and there may be some options worth exploring that are less than $100.  Now I just need to decide between kickboxing, aquacize (no swimming offered, boo), Japanese cooking or belly dance.  I’m also thinking volunteering might be a good way to try something different while meeting people and saving money.  Any other ideas?

Week 2_Adventures in New Food_Swiss Chard

A friend posted the NY Times article The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating on facebook and I am pleased to report I eat most of them already!  I decided to give one of those I’ve never tried the honor of being this weeks Adventures in New Food topic.  Congratulations Swiss Chard, this is your week.  The best part, it was easy to prepare.  I sauteed shallot, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil and added the swiss chard.  After it reduced down a bit I added some grape tomatoes and baby mushrooms.  I had it as my veggie with beef roast and fingerling potatoes.  To mix it up during the week I set half the veggies aside and added some pasta, olive oil and a chipotle spice blend I got from pampered chef.

There you have it swiss chard two ways.  Thanks to last week’s Bharta I’ve tried tumeric so maybe I’ll make next week beets.  I don’t think I’m ready to be giving sardines a try.

Week 2-The Tally

I survived Week 2 of the new year despite some waning enthusiasm.  Lunches are my downfall, I can only eat so many salads and what other healthy options are there really??? Seriously, I am open to suggestions.  Thanks to Mom’s over-abundance of roasting chicken, this week will be chicken sandwiches-I’ll try to limit the mayo but make no promises.  I did have a somewhat successful adventure in cooking as I attempted to prepare Indian eggplant puree (Bharta).  Of course if you try to search for a recipe a bunch show up and they are all different so I just added what seemed right from the different versions I saw.

1 eggplants
1-2 shallots chopped
 1 tbls. of chili powder
1 tbls. of garam masala
1 tbls. cumin
1 tbls. turmeric
1 tbls. ground coriander
1 finely chopped tomato
Drizzle of olive oil

Make a few slits in the eggplant and roast for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.  Remove the skin and mash.  This is where I had trouble; eggplant does not seem to like being mashed and it put up a good fight.  I mashed as best I could then cut what was left into small cubes.  Saute the shallots and olive oil then add the spices, eggplant and tomato.  I added some water because the consistency did not look right form what I’ve had at restaurants.  Add the peas and serve with basmati rice and naan.  The verdict:  it was good, very good even but there was too much of some spice and not enough heat.  I don’t know Indian spices enough to know which was overpowering.

This and Chili have been my dinners this past week.  It’s been so cold that nice, spicy comfort food seemed in order.  On the fitness front I am still enjoying EA Active for Wii and only missed one day; boxing and tennis on Wii sports are pretty fun too.  Now, to get ready for another work-week, at least it’s only four days this week!