Sunday, July 29, 2012

Vintage Art: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are just starting to come in...yum!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vintage Art Poster: Peaches

I just love the colors of this poster...don't you?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Better than Skinny Girl Cocktails

I tried the Skinny Girl Cosmo the other day - I shelled out $15 for 750 ml  of something that tasted like artificial sweetener.   I was a bit concerned because I don't tolerate Splenda very well - it gives me gastrointestinal distress. Since people call Splenda "natural", just like Skinny Girl cocktails are advertised, I looked for the ingredients list and there was none.  Evidently, alcoholic products don't have to list what's in them.   What I did find online indicates that it is "less than 100 calories per 4 oz. serving" and it is "sweetened with agave syrup", and the drink is about 24 proof - than means 12% alcohol.  And it got me thinking - couldn't I make regular light cocktails at home without resorting to funny tasting sweeteners?  And wouldn't it be more thrifty if I did?  The answer is a resounding "yes".

Each bottle of Skinny Girl should yield six  4 oz, drinks or so,  with a WW point value of 3-4 depending on the variety.  So that means each drink costs about $2.50!  Yikes.  It would appear that Skinny Girl is skimping on the vodka to minimize the calories because a shot of vodka is 4 WW points.   Also, vodka is 80 proof (40% alcohol), so to water that down to 24% proof, that means that roughly 1/4 of the drink is alcohol, instead of 40% or almost half.  Unless you are drinking shots, most alcoholic drinks are "watered down" in the same way.    For example, if I were to make a drink of diet tonic and vodka, here is how it would calculate, proof wise:

1 shot vodka (1.5 oz) (40% alcohol) = .6 oz alcohol
4 oz. diet tonic  (0 % alcohol)

total drink is: .6/4 = 15% alcohol or 30 proof. 

So the bottom line is that the consumer is paying Skinny Girl to water down her drink.   Why not make your own cocktails at home, and stick to the real ingredients that you want?  Not that I have anything against agave, but I'd just as soon sweeten my drinks with real sugar to avoid its metallic aftertaste.  And then, one can add your own water as she sees fit.....I like to add water by adding ice and club soda.   Another way to cut calorie corners is to make flavored simple syrups instead of sugary liqueurs to add to a drink.  Roughly, a shot (1.5 oz) of simple syrup is about .5 WW points. if you make your simple syrup a 50/50 ratio of sugar to water.   Flavor it with citrus peels and juice.    A liqueur like Triple Sec adds 3 points to a drink.  Here's my recipe for a great tasting simple syrup that can be used to flavor all kinds of drinks, from iced tea to lemonade to a lighter Cosmo...

Citrus Simple Syrup

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 lemon
1 lime

Juice the lemon and lime in a small bowl, and add sugar and water and rinds from citrus.  Stir. Microwave for 2 minutes, stir again and allow to cool.  Store in the fridge.  Another way to add lots of flavor is to use small amounts of thawed fruit juice concentrate. I like to use cranberry cocktail concentrate in all kinds of mixed drinks. 

Here's my version of a lighter Cosmopolitan.   Note that one of the key features of a Cosmo is that properly made, it packs a wallop because of it's high alcohol content.  A regular Cosmo is 11 WW points.   My recipe is only 6 points.

Better Than Skinny Girl Cosmo
(serves 2)

3 shots premium vodka, like Grey Goose or Ketel One
2 shots citrus simple syrup  (see recipe above)
1 shot Rose's lime juice
splash of cranberry juice concentrate
orange rind

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice.  Shake for at least 30 seconds.  Pour into martini glasses.  With a vegetable peeler, peel 2 small curls of orange rind for twist garnish and add to each glass.  If you need a little more vodka, go ahead and add another shot....some days are like that.

Here's another great cocktail for summer - my version of a sea breeze.  I think that the club soda makes it taste even more refreshing. 

Bubbly Sea Breeze

2 T thawed frozen cranberry cocktail concentrate
1 shot vodka
club soda
lots of ice

Measure concentrate and vodka in a 12 oz. size glass.  Fill to the top with ice.  Add club soda and stir.
5 WW Points Plus Points, if you are counting them for a 4 oz (or more) drink, depending on your club soda pour.

I also enjoy the premium rum cocktail called "Dark and Stormy", and while I generally don't like artificially sweetened products as my cocktail mixers, I've noticed that diet Vernor's Ginger Ale (a Detroit favorite) is more of a spicy (not so sweet) ginger ale and the ginger flavor tends to makse the unpleasant aftertaste.  Spring for the best dark rum you can find for this drink.

Spicy Dark and Stormy
1 shot dark rum
Diet Vernors Ginger Ale
Lots of ice

Fill a 12 oz. tumbler with ice, add rum and ginger ale, stir.  4 WW points

Another great summertime cocktail is the mojito.   I keep a container of mint growing on my back porch just for this purpose.   It's very refreshing and pretty to look at in the glass.

Fresh Mojito
2 sprigs fresh mint
1/2 lime
1 shot citrus simple syrup (see recipe above)
1 shot light rum
club soda
lots of ice

Muddle one mint sprig's leaves in the bottom of a 12 oz. tumbler.  Juice the lime into the glass, and add rind half.  Add syrup and rum, fill glass with ice and club soda.  Stir, and garnish with the other mint sprig.  4.5 WW points - I round down to 4 LOL.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Curried Cherry Chicken Salad

In the spring, I saw Anne Lamott speak in Grosse Pointe, and she said something that made me laugh about gaining weight - she said she was "tired of her pants passing judgment about her".   The fact is, my own pants were passing judgment about me, too.   I put on my summer shorts and noticed that some didn't fit anymore.   I don't own a scale, so I wasn't sure exactly how much I weighed, but I knew I probably had gained some weight.  So in May, I headed to a Weight Watchers at Work meeting. About 7 years ago, I lost 15 lbs. following the WW points program, so I thought I'd give it a shot again.  Plus they have a scale there, so I could get some facts about how much weight I gained. 

I was surprised and relieved to find out that my pants were passing harder judgment on me than I thought....I had only gained about 17 lb from my previous goal weight.  I thought it was going to be something like 30 lb.  Since even my max weight is still within the recommend goal weight guidelines of WW, it's up to me to set my goal weight myself.   And I have put it off because I have noticed that for me, I think it's a lot harder to lose the weight this time.  I can't really remember how long it took me the last time to lose 15 lb, but I think I lost about 2 lb a week, and monthly I'd have setback by gaining a lb or two.   I wasn't exercising much.  This time, the max I have lost is a pound a week, and the past couple weeks have shown me gaining a pound, losing it the next week and then staying even over the 4th of July holiday - it's taken me 2 months to lose just 6 lb.  Losing another 9 pounds seems darn near impossible - I keep fantasizing about telling WW that my goal weight is what I weigh right now and bagging the whole thing.   Clearly I am going to have to fit in more exercise this time around, but work has been crazy and to top it off, we're moving to a new office on Tuesday and I have barely begun to pack and my office is in shambles.   

The way I do WW is to only eat real foods - I don't eat convenience foods or "fake" anything.  I don't eat margarine, I eat butter.   I don't use Splenda, I use sugar.   This means that for me, WW makes me have to spend lots of extra time in the kitchen.  All of this requires thinking constantly about what I am going to eat next and taking the time to prepare it and shop for it, which is right up my alley.  However, when I get busy, things get really bad  and I end up with a day like yesterday, where I had to eat a McDonalds Breakfast Burrito for 8 points, instead of my usual hard boiled eggs and sliced tomatoes for 4 points.   I have barely exercised this week - I did manage to go for a long walk one day at lunch.  Sigh...

All of this thinking about food has had some benefits, however.   The good people at Whole Foods asked me to pick up some of their cherries and develop a recipe.  Unfortunately, they weren't able to get Michigan cherries this year because of the crop failures due to our weird weather, but I did get some nice Bing cherries from Washington.   One of the best WW tricks I can share is to try to remember to eat at least one fruit and vegetable at each meal.     So, I decided to use my cherries in a chicken salad with celery to do this all in one dish. Here is the result...

Curried Cherry Chicken Salad
Makes six servings

1 1/2 c pitted sweet cherries
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1/2 c fat free Greek style yogurt
1/2 c toasted pumpkin seeds (I used dry roasted with sea salt)
3 cooked chicken breasts, diced small
2 t curry powder
2 T honey
1/2 t kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for a few hours so the flavors intermingle well.  This is a recipe that tastes even better the next day.   I like to eat it rolled up in a low carb lavash bread with some lettuce.   In case you are wondering, the WW Plus Points value of this chicken salad roll up would be 5 points.    Gotta run for now - I have only an hour to fit in a bike ride before I head off to church this morning.   Wish me luck - I've got to find time to spend in the kitchen and exercise more.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mustard Beans

 I can't remember how I first came upon the notion of mustard beans, but this year, I was looking for something different to do with my green beans besides my usual pickled green beans.   There's not a lot of recipes for them out there on the interwebs; I think it is because most of the traditional recipes call for flour and nowadays, the USDA doesn't consider canning recipes with flour in them food safe.  The reason is that the flour changes the food's density enough that there is a risk that the temperature of the food at the center of the jar will not reach 212 F to kill off all of the bad stuff.  A few years ago, I heard that the USDA was on the path to softening it's stance on this position about flour, but I haven't seen anything yet.   The notion seems a little silly to me - I can understand their reasoning for thickening low acid foods like beef stew, but this is essentially a pickle, so the acid in the recipe will certainly handle the job of killing off the "bad guys" - that is why the USDA approves pastuerization instead of the regular water bath canning method for pickles.   Mustard beans are like corn relish in that they are essentially a "salad in a jar".  I love water bath canning recipes that are more than just a condiment, because they are great to have in the pantry come January.

There is a product out there to thicken canned food called Clear Jel, but it's not found in stores here in Michigan.  I understand that the bulk food stores regularly carry it on the shelf in Utah, because those Mormon gals are way into canning in a big way as part of their preparedness ethic.  In Michigan, we have few Mormons, so I asked my friend Matt at work about this. I like to tell him he is the only Mormon I know outside of Donnie and Marie....

He good naturedly answers all my Mormon questions, such as "Do Mormons celebrate Halloween?" (the answer is yes) and "Why are there so many Mormons in Boy Scouts?" (he doesn't know, but he is an Eagle Scout and so are his sons).   I asked him about the canning thing and he said yes, it's true, and even joked that when a Mormon takes you on a house tour and shows you the guest room, he'll open the door and it will be full of canned goods.   Of course, Costco provides a solution for those that aren't into canning - it's a pallet full of food to feed a family of 4 for 12 months at a mere $4500!   So the Mormon ladies are very often into the canning thing if they don't have some spare $$$ available for the Costco solution, so I guess it makes sense for the stores to carry Clear Jel.    I didn't want to have to order anything off the internet, so I went without for this recipe.  I guess that the final product should have a thicker mustard sauce than mine, but that's okay.

I found a recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, thanks to a new tool I have been trying out called Eat Your Books, which enables you to index all of your cookbooks.   All I had to do was type "mustard beans" in the search of my library, and I found it easily.   Now, I just need to organize my cookbooks in some logical fashion so I can lay my hands on them.  LOL  I adjusted Ball's recipe by reducing the sugar and omitting the Clear Jel.    Here's how I did it...

Makes about 7 pints

2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 c dry mustard
1/4 c picking salt
1 T ground ginger
1 tsp ground tumeric
2 1/2 c white vinegar
1/2 c water
4 c chopped onions (about 4 large onions)
1 1/4 cup finely chopped and seeded red pepper (about 1 large)
11 cups chopped (1 inch pieces) trimmed green beans (about a half a peck)

Prepare canner, jars and lids.   Add all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.   Ladle bean mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.   Process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.