Life of Megan

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Moroccan Stewed Chicken

I cheated when I issued my cooking challenge. Judson and I had already done our shopping for the week. We were planning to use all those items (and more) already.

Tonight's dinner was Moroccan Stewed Chicken.

These days, I am generally cooking without a recipe per se (though I am often inspired by what I see at Bitten), but this time, I cooked from a script. Tonight's dinner was one of the Epicurious/Nutrition Center's "Healthy Dinner Tonight" suggestions. Want to make it yourself? Go here. I get these recipes through an RSS feed (using Google Reader). I used canned whole tomatoes instead of diced tomatoes. I used freshly ground cumin (ground cumin seeds in my spice mill--far more flavorful than even fresh pre-ground cumin), and I probably used twice as much as the recipe recommends. I didn't have any thyme, fresh or dried, so I left it out. And I added more salt and lots of pepper. I sweated the onions instead of sauteeing them (leaving them translucent instead of gold). I think there's already plenty of sugar in this dish, and that it may be too sweet with caramelized onions.

Oh, and thanks to the GreenStar, I have the option of buying 3 cardamom pods. I'd be surprised if that's the case most places. If you want to try this recipe out, I'd probably substitute about 1/2 tsp ground cardamom. Alternatively, I think it'd be great if you omitted the cardamom and threw in a cinnamon stick.

I used my large Le Creuset casserole. I would recommend that if you do not have a very large casserole or skillet, that you make this recipe in an actual pot, because there is a ton of food. Finally, I recommend removing all the chicken after browning, then stirring in the tomatoes and using the juice to deglaze the pan. Then add everything else. This way, you get all the crusty, cuminy deliciousness into the sauce. Also, cook things by how they look, smell, feel, and taste first. Only use the times as a suggestion.

I definitely think this serves four. I had plenty to eat; Judson got seconds; and I think there's still half of it left.

Although the whole thing was time consuming, it was absolutely worth it. The flavors were delicious, and it was filling. I will definitely be making it again.

Wondering what else we're eating this week?
Saturday: Penne and sausage
Sunday: Pork in garlic sauce, Asian slaw, brown rice, gingered, sesame broccoli
Monday: Beef Burgundy, roasted green beans, lentils
Tuesday: Chicken with squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and dried apricots
Wednesday: Cannellini bean and kale soup (made with uber-gelatinous chicken-feet stock!)
Thursday: Mushroom and barley soup, homemade bread, salad
Friday: Cannellini beans, tomatoes, spinach, and basil with a touch of pancetta

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Down with Fake Food!

I have always loved cooking, but in the last year or so, it's become a much more serious hobby. Judson and I are cooking as much as we can with local ingredients from the Farmer's Market. This makes us hippies in one sense and annoying trendy people in another, but it's really working for us. We have discovered (or rediscovered) foods that we probably wouldn't have tried otherwise, including: beets, rabbit, daikon, kohlrabi, broccoli raab, chard, celeriac.

Since May, I've been losing weight. I just decided one day that I had really gotten too chubby. I'm not on a diet; I just count calories. I aim for a deficit of 750 calories per day: that's supposed to translate to 1.5 lb per week. I use Calorie Count Online, a free online tool to estimate how many calories I've burned and how many I've eaten. I like this approach. There's no voodoo, no guessing, and it's effective. Plus, I can eat whatever I want. I suppose the Weight Watchers points system attains the same end result, but simply watching calories does not involve strange formulas. Plus, I don't want to feel guilty for the occasional 480-calorie breakfast of a large chocolate-chip muffin with coffee instead of Cheerios, milk, coffee, and fruit (clocking in with roughly the same calories).

Anyhow, at some point, I thought it'd be a good idea to sign up for the Hungry Girl daily email. Now, I'm stuck in a vicious cycle, reading the e-mails every weekday and then feeling stabby for the next 20 minutes. I like the idea behind Hungry Girl... It seems to be all about finding ways to enjoy the foods you love while still losing weight. But the fine details are a little disturbing. Dinner recipes have a constant theme of coating in crushed Fiber One cereal and baking for a fried-dish substitute. Desserts inevitably involve Egg Beaters and flavored coffee creamer powders. Apparently, noodles made out of tofu are tasty. Powdered peanut butter that you reconstitute with water is supposedly just as good as the real thing but only has half the calories. It's okay to eat an Olive Garden dinner that's low in calories but somehow contains 2,700 mg of sodium (note: that is more than a teaspoon--a palmful--of salt in a dish for one person). People are perfectly happy to trade in a real margarita for one made with Crystal Light lemonade and Sierra Mist Free. I have to admit that I'd find it a bit disturbing if my margarita was fizzy.

Don't we deserve better?

I can't help but feel that all these fake foods and far-reaching substitutes either numb the taste buds or contribute to the huge number of failed diets every year. If you want some creme brulee, have REAL creme brulee--just don't eat too much of it, and don't eat it too often. Teach yourself how to cook. You can save yourself hundreds of calories by learning how to like vegetables. And you know the secret to tasty vegetables? FAT and salt (and/or vinegar). You'd be amazed how good vegetables become when you add a small amount (1 tsp per person) of olive oil or butter to them. And proper seasoning is key. Vegetables are practically calorie-free. Eat more of them and less pasta and meat, and you're well on your way to a decent calorie deficit for the day.

Sure, cooking is often inconvenient. It can be time consuming. You generally have to plan ahead. And for many people, it's downright scary. But you know what? The worst that happens is that you throw it all out and order a pizza or get subs or cook eggs and toast.

I think cooking is one of those things that grows on you. To be a good cook, you have to practice cooking. To enjoy cooking, you have to practice cooking. As you understand where your food comes from and what you can do to bring out its flavors, you will see why low-cal, sugar-free, fat-free, non-dairy creamer powder does not belong in your coffee, much less in your creme brulee.

Try to stop using "diet food" and other processed foods as crutches. Go to your kitchen and cook yourself something delicious. You deserve it.

I'm issuing a challenge. Make something that uses one of the following and write a comment about how it turned out: cabbage, dried apricots, kale, spinach, winter squash, celeriac (celery root), sweet potatoes. You get bonus points if you use two or more of them.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

DMB Killed the Radio Star

I'll always have warm fuzzies when I think about WSBF, Clemson University's radio station. I was never on the staff there, but many of my friends were, and my time at Semantics left me next door. My freshman year, we helped WSBF end an era as all the student media groups moved from the old building with the smelly couches to the new, less smelly, more sterile student union. My brother has been active with WSBF since his own freshman year at Clemson, rising the ranks to senior staff and to station engineer. He works with many of my old friends there.

Now, it seems that WSBF is poised to end another era with a change that will have a bigger impact on the rest of Clemson than a change in setting. The station will be expanding its playlist, allowing DJs to play music by top-40 groups if those groups have not yet attained a gold record.

I'm not sure that the difference between a Top-40 ranking and a Gold Record is a big one. Maybe it's not. But on a visceral level, I don't like the change. I don't understand the change. A college radio station that plays almost entirely unknown, strange, indie music is never going to appeal [as a first-choice station] to the listener who still gets pumped up over the occasional Brittany Spears, pre-crazy, song. And to those who actually listen to college stations, this change could be a bad thing. Stuff White People Like got it right--there's huge appeal in music no one else has heard. College is about growing up, experiencing new things, getting smarter, and being weird. A college radio station should reflect all that.

I can see the opportunities behind going more "mainstream." The local college station here, WICB, mixes in popular music all the time, and they're up for an MTV music award.

But I'd take WSBF over WICB any day, even though I have never heard Scremo on WICB. I always feel so sad to hear a music block consisting of REM, Radiohead, and Incubus. It doesn't matter to me that I like the more popular songs. There are two or three other stations here that are doing the same thing. Give me more Sun Kil Moon please.

People will talk about that new take on "Wasn't that a Mighty Storm" and how bummed they are that they can't find it on YouTube. No one cares that you heard the newest Radiohead song for the fiftieth time today.

College kids, please keep radio weird.

Recent Food Experiments

This week, I learned that I like red cabbage. I braised it, mostly following a recipe in Tom Colicchio's Think Like a Chef. So there was onion, red wine, a little sugar, and some vinegar. I cooked it on Monday, and I think we're still farting, but it was good stuff.

Judson made a super-delicious "tarte alsacienne," which is not a quiche with sauerkraut, but is actually an apple-custard pie (at least according to Anthony Bourdain). As you should be able to guess from the inclusion of apples and custard, it was (and is) delicious. This pie actually caused a little tension, since I would basically starve myself in order to have a piece in the evening (while maintaining a calorie deficit for the day). If you know me, you know what I'm like when I'm hungry. Eek.

Judson also made a tasty acorn-squash and tomato soup. Mmm.

Then, tonight, I made a mushroom risotto. It was inspired by an article in Bitten that mentioned making risotto without chicken stock. And we have these dried porcinis, so it seemed like a good idea. It was delicious!

Tomorrow, we're going out for dinner. If you have any suggestions, let me know.