Monday, January 31, 2011

One-Sentence Journal: 1/31/2011

Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. 

Pasta With Clam Sauce


     Looks like a pan full of... pasta.  The secret is hidden in plain sight: a light sauce with minced clams.   When I read through the recipe, I feared that the clams would overpower the pasta.  No worries!  It tastes great!  Each bite brings a bit of the ocean, a touch of garlic, and a sprinkle of parsley.  Yum.

     Best of all, it's easy and fast.  Prep the pasta sauce while the pasta cooks and dinner is on the table in 30 minutes.  I eat a 1/2 cup of vanilla Greek yogurt for dessert and I'm full.  Enjoy!

Pasta With Clam Sauce
Inspired by Linguine With White Clam Sauce at Allrecipes.com
Makes 5 Servings

Ingredients:
16oz whole wheat rotini
2 (6.5 oz) cans of minced clams, with juice
1/4 cup clam juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Bring a pot of water to boil.  Add the rotini and cook al dente.  Drain the pasta and set aside.

2) Heat a large, non-stick pan over medium high heat.  Add the minced clams, with juice, the additional 1/4 cup clam juice, garlic, and parsley.  Heat everything through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

3) Add the pasta to the sauce and mix well.  Heat through.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Nutrition Information Per Serving*:
Calories: 457, Fat: 6.2g, Cholesterol: 50mg, Sodium: 114mg, Carbohydrates: 69.7g; Fiber: 3.1g, Protein: 31g

*The original recipe used regular linguine pasta; I didn't not recalculate the nutrition based on whole wheat pasta.


Canned Clams on FoodistaCanned Clams

Sunday, January 30, 2011

One-Sentence Journal: 1/30/2011

"Life expectancy would grow by leaps & bounds if vegetables smelled as good as bacon"~
Doug Larson

Apple Cupcakes With Marshmallow Frosting


     These are like eating single serve apple pie bread topped with marshmallow goodness.  They are more like muffins but "muffins with frosting" didn't sound as good.  The muffin-like texture may be a one-time issue; I accidentally used baking powder instead of baking soda.  Whoops.

     Thank goodness for my food processor and stand mixer because making these cupcakes were a lot of work.  I had to peel and core an apple, then shred it using the shredding disk on my food processor.

    The cupcakes also had chunks of dried apples (yum!) and I wish I had used the food processor to dice them.  Instead, I chopped the dried apples and the chunks just weren't appealing, texture-wise.  They didn't taste bad, just unexpected.

     The stand mixer made mixing the dough a snap--especially with the chunky bits of shredded fresh apple and chopped dried apple.  The next time I make this, I am going to experiment with unsweetened applesauce instead of the fresh apple.  It will make the prep much easier and faster and it might help to lighten up the texture of the cupcake.

     In the end, I think these are worth the effort.  They taste great; the frosting makes these cupcakes.  And they are truly healthy, not just a "healthier" cupcake.  

     Try them and tell me what you think!

Apple Cupcakes With Marshmallow Frosting
From EatingWell.com
Yield: 12 cupcakes (I only got 10 from my first batch.)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups shredded, peeled apples (about 1 large apple)
1/2 cup diced, dried apples
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, plus 3/4 cup, divided
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided
1/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt
1/2 cup nonfat buttermilk
Cinnamon Marshmallow Frosting

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line 12 muffin cups with muffin liners or coat with a thin film of cooking oil.

2) Combine shredded and dried apples in a bowl with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside. Beat oil and the remaining 3/4 cup brown sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined. Beat in eggs one at a time until combined. Add vanilla, increase speed to high and beat for 1 minute.

3) Whisk together the cake flour, baking soda, coarse Kosher salt, and 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl. 

4) With the stand mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter.  Start and end with the dry ingredients.  Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.  Once all of the dry ingredients and buttermilk has been added, continue to mix until everything is just combined.

5) Stir in the apple mixture until just combined.  Fill the muffin cups to the tops of the liners.

6) Bake for 20-22 minutes.  A toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake should come out clean.

7) Place the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool--wait one hour prior to frosting with the Cinnamon Marshmallow Frosting.  The un-frosted cupcakes can also be stored overnight and frosted the next day. 

Nutrition Information Per Cupcake With Frosting:
Calories: 267, Total Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 35mg, Carbohydrates: 48g, Protein: 4g, Fiber: 2g, Sodium: 188mg,
  

Cinnamon Marshmallow Frosting


     Wow.  I made marshmallows today.  From scratch.  And I didn't even intend to do it.  I thought I was making frosting.  Healthy frosting at that.  But when the frosting set, the texture was much closer to a marshmallow.  Cool.

     It tasted phenomenal.  Vanilla and cinnamon with a satisfyingly rich mouth-feel.  I think that this stuff would make great divinity.  I will definitely revisit this for Christmas-time!

     I have two cook's notes about making this frosting:

     1) I had to rig up a double boiler because I had to be able to use my hand held electric mixer to beat the frosting while it cooked.  It was  bit awkward but totally doable.  It consists of my largest sauce pan, an oven-safe ramekin, and my metal mixing bowl.  I filled the sauce pan with enough water to cover the ramekin.  The mixing bowl sits on top of the ramekin.  And then I put everything over medium-high heat to bring the water to a simmer. The mixing bowl got a little warm to the touch but never hot.



     2) The frosting starts out as an unappealing brown slurry.  Have faith.  Once all of the ingredients are in the mixing bowl, use the hand held electric mixer to beat it.  And beat it.  Keep going for 5 minutes; I set a timer so that I could see that there was an end in sight.  The brown slurry slowly transforms into a cream-colored, glossy frosting.


     I have no idea what the nutrition information is for the frosting because I didn't make a note of how much the recipe made.  I'll have to do that the next time I make it.  However, it is the frosting for my Apple Cupcakes (post forthcoming) and those are some healthy, delish cupcakes!


Cinnamon Marshmallow Frosting

From EatingWell.com
Makes enough to frost 10 cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons dried egg whites, reconstituted*
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of coarse Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions:

1) Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with enough water so that the top portion is sitting the water.  Bring the water to a simmer.

2) Combine the light brown sugar and water in the top portion of the double boiler.  Using a hand held electric mixer, mix the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.

3) Add the reconstituted egg whites, cream of tartar, and coarse Kosher salt.  Again, using a hand held electric mixer, beat the mixture until it becomes cream-colored, thick, and glossy.  It will take about 5-7 minutes.  Setting a timer is very useful.

4) Remove the top portion of the double boiler and continue to beat the frosting for another minute, to let it cool.


5) Add the vanilla and cinnamon and beat just enough to combine.  This frosting sets pretty quickly so have your baked good ready to frost, otherwise the frosting will be too thick to spread.

*Do not substitute fresh egg whites here.  The frosting does not set up correctly with fresh egg whites.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

One-Sentence Journal:1/26/2011

A question: What's your favorite comfort food? (Mine's Mac n' Cheese.)

Macaroni and Cheese: 30 Days, 30 Ways

     Macaroni and Cheese.  If it's on the menu, I will always order it.  I have five recipes for mac n' cheese, including one that's actually healthy and another one to make Panera-style gooey-goodness.

     And now, I have discovered the ultimate source for mac n' cheese recipes.  The "30 Days, 30 Ways" blog, sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.  It's a wonder that a board with such a name could have spawned such an awesome blog.  But it's true, this blog is mac n' cheese bliss.

     I've just discovered this blog tonight so I haven't made anything...yet.  The top three on my list are:

     1) Wisconsin Three Cheese Macaroni and Cheese: I had this for the first time last fall, at a restaurant called Noodles.  Fabulous meal. 

     2) Macaroni and Cheese With Red Pepper Volcano and Dinosaur Trees: This looks like it would be so cute and fun to serve at a kid's party!

     3) Black Truffle Mac n' Cheese: Black truffle butter in mac n' cheese = high-class pasta.  Who knew?  Never mind, it sounds divine.  

     Oh, and here's the link for the Panera-style Macaroni and Cheese.  It's from the blog, "Victory or Death In the Kitchen."  Last but not least, below is the recipe for the healthy mac n' cheese made in the slow cooker.  It's the mac n' cheese that's pictured above.

Macaroni and Cheddar Cheese
Created by Elaine Patton of West Middletown, PA
From "Fix- It and Forget- It Lightly: Healthy, Low Fat Recipes For Your Slow Cooker" by Phyllis Pellman Good
Makes 7 servings

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups fat-free or 2 % milk (I substituted vanilla soymilk)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp kosher salt
ground black pepper to taste
3 cups shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
8-oz package of whole wheat macaroni, cooked al dente

Directions:

1) Combine all ingredients except for the macaroni in the slow cooker.

2) Cook on HIGH for one hour.

3) Add the macaroni.  Cook on HIGH for one more hour. 

Nutrition Information Per Serving:
Calories: 170, Total Fat: 4.5g, Cholesterol: 40mg, Sodium: 400mg, Carbohydrates: 15g, Fiber: 0g*, Protein: 17g

*The original recipe is made with regular macaroni and I did not re-calculate the nutrition info to reflect the whole-wheat macaroni. 




Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Recipe From the Archives: Avocado Salad


     The Superbowl is coming and the Bears won't be playing.  In spite of that disappointment, I will probably still have the game on.

     I am marginally more interested in football after going to see the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.  My friend, Jim, is slowly, slowly....slowly...getting me into sports.  The University of South Florida won!  One of my alma maters!  Woot!

     The game was fun but I will admit I was much more interested in watching the two marching bands. And trying to figure out why there were cheerleaders AND a dance team and two (exactly TWO) baton twirlers.  Oh, and a flag corps for each team.  Altogether, there were about 100 scantily-clad nubile young women on that field.  I guess that was reason enough for a portion of the spectators.    

    The Superbowl = Food.  What to make for the game?  Something healthy but tastes decadent.  Ahhhh, yesss...a recipe I made for the 2009 Superbowl, my Avocado Salad.  Great flavors and textures are at play in this salad.  (Did you notice how I incorporated the use of "play" right then?  So appropriate for a Superbowl post, yes?)  The tomatoes are tangy, the avocado is smooth and creamy, the corn is toothsome and the vinaigrette ties everything together.  Delish!

Avocado Salad
Inspired by EatingWell.com
Serves 8

5 Haas avocados, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 tomato, roughly chopped
1 tsp dried cilantro, or to taste
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, roughly chopped
1/2-1 tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp diced onions
raspberry vinaigrette, to taste

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for 30 minutes to blend the flavors.  Leftovers are great the next day!

Amount Per Serving
Calories 247.9 Total Fat 18.1 g Saturated Fat 2.4 g Polyunsaturated Fat 2.1 g Monounsaturated Fat 10.7 g Cholesterol 0.0 mg Sodium 359.8 mg Potassium 727.4 mg Total Carbohydrate 22.8 g Dietary Fiber 8.9 g Sugars 4.5 g Protein 3.5 g



Avocado

One-Sentence Journal: 1/25/2011

My new toy!

(What should I make first?)

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Blueberry Smoothie!



     I love how the blueberries make this smoothie electric purple!  The color is much more vibrant and intense in real life.  The color pops, Andy Warhol-like.  This is a power drink--I should be able to fly after wards.  Though I can't defy gravity after drinking it (darn), it definitely "powers" me through the morning.  It's high in protein so it keeps me full.  Add two slices of high-fiber whole-wheat toast and I've got a complete breakfast that's also portable.  Awesome.  Enjoy!

My Blueberrie Smoothie
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients:
1 cup fat-free Greek Yogurt, vanilla flavor*
1/2 cup vanilla almond milk, skim milk, or low-fat vanilla flavored soy milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Directions:  Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until everything is liquified.  Pour into a tall glass or insulated cup and enjoy!

*I used my homemade Greek yogurt and added 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tbsp of vanilla to 2 1/2 cups of yogurt.

Nutrition Information per 1-cup serving:
Calories: 238.5, Fat: 0.9g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 78.3mg, Total Carbohydrates: 45.8g, Fiber: 1.3g, Sugars: 43.5g, Protein: 10.4g


One-Sentence Journal: 1/24/2011

God bless fleece pajamas.  Amen!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chicken and Couscous


      OMG.  This is the best meal I've made this year.  Yes, it's only January but I predict that this will be my favorite for quite awhile!  The key ingredient is curry and the dish smells SO good.  It tastes even better.  The flavor of the curry is complemented by the smooth texture of the couscous,  as well as the carrots and zucchini that are cooked al dente.  I hate over-cooked veggies.  My only exception is edamame.  Ginger gives a spicy kick and for those who like very spicy food, there's even a jalapeno pepper involved.  I didn't add the jalapeno because I don't do spicy.

     If you're not familiar with couscous, it looks like a grain but it's actually a tiny pasta.  I used the Near East brand; it cooks in five minutes flat.  It's brilliant.  Add a cup of soup or a side-salad for a very filling meal.


Chicken and Couscous
Inspired by Chicken With Couscous Recipe at Allrecipes.com

Makes 5 servings

Ingredients:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped
pinch of salt and pepper
1 cup of hot water
1 tsp of Wyler's Instant Chicken Boullion, fat-free and sodium free
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 large zucchini, diced
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (optional)
pinch of ground red pepper
1 tbsp grated ginger root
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cornstarch
1 package Near East Couscous, original plain flavor, prepared as directed on the package using water and butter

Directions:

1.  Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat.  Spray the pan with oil. (I use a Misto sprayer.)  Lightly season the chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Add the seasoned chicken to the pan and cook until barely lightly browned on the outside; the centers will still be pink.  Remove from the pan and set the chicken aside.

2. Dissolve the Wyler's Instant Chicken Boullion into the hot water.  Add 1/4 cup of the chicken boullion to the pan.  Set aside the remaining 3/4 cup. Immediately put the carrot, zucchini, and green onions in the pan and cook over medium-high heat.  Cook until the vegetables are cooked but still firm to the tooth, i.e. al dente.

3. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the partially cooked chicken and toss to coat the chicken.  Set aside.

4. Mix the jalapeno pepper (optional), pinch of ground red pepper, grated ginger root, curry powder, and coriander with the reserved chicken boullion.  Set aside. 

5. Add the cornstarch-coated chicken to the vegetable mixture in the pan.  Then add the reserved chicken boullion-spice mixture.  Stir to combine everything in the pan.  Continue stirring until the liquid starts to simmer.  Reduce heat if necessary to maintain the liquid at a simmer.  Stir until the liquid thickens slightly. Remove the pan from the heat.

6. Prepare the Near East Couscous as directed on the package, using water and butter.  Add the couscous to the chicken-vegetable mixture in the pan.  Return the pan to medium-high heat.  Mix everything in the pan thoroughly and make sure everything is heated through.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste. This can be served immediately; the leftovers also taste great when re-heated.

Nutrition Information Per Serving:
Calories: 300, Total Fat: 1.8g, Cholesterol: 26.3mg, Sodium: 46.5mg, Total Carbohydrates: 50.7g, Fiber: 3.5g, Protein: 19.1g

Couscous on FoodistaCouscous


One-Sentence Journal: 1/23/2011

And now I wait.  The winner of Three Minute Fiction is announced March 27, 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Voice? What's That?


     Have you heard of "voice" in the context of writing?  Does it confuse you? Because it confuses me.  But lo, Fran MacDonald, of Staying on Story, has written two good articles about "voice."  Click on the links and check them out,  Voice is the soul of writing and The Voice trick.  Are you listening closely?
    

One-Sentence Journal: 1/20/2011

I'm having a hard time writing a joke for my Three Minute Fiction entry.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

10 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer, From copyblogger

1. Write.

2. Write more.

3. Write even more.

4. Write even more than that.

5. Write when you don’t want to.

6. Write when you do.

7. Write when you have something to say.

8. Write when you don’t.

9. Write every day.
 
10. Keep writing.
 
 

One-Sentence Journal: 1/18/2011

Cooking dried kidney beans, round two, was another FAIL. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Writer's Manifesto

Photo from PublicDomanPictures.net

 
     "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"  

"Practice."


     I learned to sing relatively "late" in life.  I was 25 and I wanted to audition for a musical at the local community theater, Carrollwood Players in Tampa, FL.  I had never sung before, not even in the chorus during high school.  But I love musicals and I really, really wanted a part in this musical.  Let me repeat that: I wanted to be in this show.  The musical was "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and I love all things Sondheim.  I took voice lessons and I practiced.  And practiced.  And practiced.  I should also mention that I was then a full-time student and working part-time.  I also lived with my Mom.

      My Mother thought I was nuts.  She actually told me that I could not sing and that I was wasting my time.  Thanks, Mom.  I kept going.   The auditions came.  At the auditions, I was surrounded by "real" theater people.  I thought, "What am I doing here?"  My name was called and as I walked to the stage,  I was literally shaking from head-to-toe.  I opened my mouth and I bungled the first line.  Stopped.  Asked to try again and I sang my song.  Not well but at least in tune.  Finished the rest of the audition.  I would get a phone call if I got a part.  I went home.  Two days passed.

     Miraculously, I got a phone call from the director.  I was offered a part in the chorus, Tintinabula.  Yes, yes, yes, I'll do it.  Tell me when and where.   Rehearsals for a musical are life-consuming.  There are lines, songs, and dances to learn.  I used every spare minute either studying for school or practicing for the show.  My Mother watched all of this and was a Deputy Downer.  She never came to the rehearsals.  She said I wasn't even getting paid for this...what was the point?  The point was: I was having a glorious time.  Where else would I be able to perform in a musical??  I was exhausted but it was worth it.

Cast Photo, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum."  I am third from the left, in the black wig and the purple costume. 


     Opening night.  The show was a hit!  Eleven amazing performances.  We were voted the best show of the season!  I was nominated for "Best Supporting Actress"!!  I didn't win, which was not a surprise, because I didn't have a speaking role.  Today, I still sing and my friends tell me that I have a beautiful voice.  To which I always respond with a heartfelt, "Thank you." 

     This brings me to my writer's manifesto.  Anyone can be a great writer.  Anyone.  I am learning how to write, I mean really write.  To quote Fran MacDonald of the blog, Staying On Story: "If you want, you can be a great writer.  You can write exactly the story or poem or song or article or book that you most want to read.  Listen to [your] passion instead of your imaginary friend... As long as you have the nerve.  Develop your own style, and develop it to the max.  Don’t compromise on this."    

     I have taken Fran's advice to heart.  I work full-time in a demanding job.  I enjoy the work.  But I love writing.  So I come home and I'm exhausted.  And I write.  Every night.  It takes me two hours to write a post.   Slowly, I am getting better.  Slowly, I am learning the craft of writing. 

     I want to write the stories that are living inside of me.  I want my readers to connect to my stories, to feel the gamut of emotions and to walk away satisfied.  That is my goal.  And I am having a glorious time.

One-Sentence Journal: 1/17/2011

I've decided to submit an entry to NPR's "Three Minute Fiction" contest.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

One-Sentence Journal: 1/16/2011

Damn, I almost got a Kitchenaid stand mixer for $90. 

Love It: Silicone Cooking Tools


     I love cooking with silicone utensils because they are easy to clean.  I own a basting brush, a whisk, a spatula, and a bundt pan and I will keep them all forever.  I hate washing dishes and cleaning a regular brush and whisk is just torture for me.  Cleaning these tools are a breeze; they only need rinsing with water then put them into the dishwasher.  If only my other dishes would clean so easily.  The bundt pan is one of my favorite finds.  Because food doesn't stick to it, removing cakes from the pan is painless! No need to oil or dust the pan with flour.   In addition, silicone is virtually indestructible.  All of the tools that I own can withstand very high temperatures.  They won't break or discolor either.  The only downside to silicone bake wear and utensils is that they aren't pretty.  I would use something else to serve food for a dinner party.
     Silicone bake wear and cooking utensils aren't as popular as they were a few years ago, but I still find them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Amazon.com.  If you have any silicone cooking tools, please write a comment!  I am very interested in reading about your favorites!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sweet Potato and Turkey Casserole


     This recipe came through my email from the EatingWell.com website right after Thanksgiving.  It was originally designed to use up leftover turkey but I was excited about the use of sweet potatoes.  Most recipes with these potatoes are desserts and they are far from healthy.  This was also a new way to serve up my favorite root vegetable.  Awesome.

     There was an interesting mix of sweet and savory in this meal.  I am not a fan of sweet things in my meals (desserts are a different story) so I was a little hesitant when I saw the ingredient list.  Apples and onions?  Lemon juice?  Do those flavors taste good together?  Well, it got good reviews on the EatingWell.com website, so I decided to make it.


    I didn't have any cooked turkey so I used ground turkey instead.  I forgot to measure out the requisite three cups and just used the entire package.  It was 19oz anyway...close enough. 


     I also used my homemade, fat-free Greek Yogurt instead of the sour cream!  (Check out Home-Made Greek Yogurt Part I and Part II


     And there's a secret ingredient: thyme!  I've never used thyme before and it has a pungent, salty taste.  It was an excellent companion for sweet potatoes.


   
     The original recipe called for the ingredients to be pre-cooked before the final assembly, so I lightly browned the ground turkey and then cooked the chopped apple and sweet potato as directed.  



     The sweet potatoes, veggies, and Greek yogurt then got mixed together.  I used a gentle hand here, as I didn't want to mash the cooked sweet potatoes.  


    In the original recipe, this was cooked entirely on the stove-top, to make separate patties.  I saw no point in doing that as the mixture was rather dry.  I just didn't think it would form patties.  So I made it into a "casserole" by cooking it in a casserole dish.  Whatever.  Here's a funny little story: I had this mixture in the casserole dish and in the oven when I turned around and saw the plate of onions sitting on the counter!  Shoot!  I forgot to mix them in!  I quickly sauteed them, until half of the onions were barely translucent, then mixed the onions into the casserole dish.  Now it was ready for the oven!


     I didn't know what temperature to bake this at nor for how long.   I decided to cook it at 375 Fahrenheit for 20 minutes after a quick review of similar recipes at Allrecipes.com.  I just needed to make sure the turkey was cooked through.  It looked done when I pulled it out.
     It didn't look like much, honestly, although the aroma was fabulous.  I put it under the broiler to brown the top.  I checked it every minute.  I didn't want a charred casserole after I spent so much time on it.  I left it under the broiler for 5 minutes and finally decided to pull it out of the oven.   Annnnd...it didn't look any different.  S'okay, it still ate good.  The next time I make this, I am going to slice the potatoes using my food processor and layer them across the top, like a scalloped potato dish.  The presentation will be much nicer that way.  I bet this would be a great casserole for a pot-luck.  I'd love to read your comments!  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato and Turkey Casserole

Serving Size: 1 1/4 cups
Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients:
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
1 medium apple, cored and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 tablespoon canola oil (I didn't use this much as I have an oil mister)
19 oz ground turkey
1/2 cup fat-freek Greek yogurt (Chobani and Stonybrook Farm both make Greek yogurt.  Use reduced- fat sour cream if you cannot find the yogurt.)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt*
ground pepper to taste

Directions:

1) Pre-heat the oven to 375 F.  To make the sweet potatoes easier to chop, cook them in the microwave in 2-minute intervals until they are firm but not rock hard.  I test mine by making test cuts through the sweet potato.  The sharpness of your knife and your own strength determines how much time in the microwave is needed.  Chop the sweet potatoes into approximate 1/2 inch pieces.

2) Heat a large pan over medium high heat and add the chopped sweet potatoes and chopped apples. Cover with lightly salted water (about 1/8 teaspoon of coarse Kosher salt).  Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes until the apples are soft but not mushy.  Drain and place the mixture in a large mixing bowl.

3) Return the pan to the heat and lightly oil it.  Add the ground turkey and saute it until it is just starting to brown.  Add the chopped onion and continue cooking  until the turkey is lightly browned and the onions are slightly translucent.  Add the meat mixture to the sweet potato mixture in the mixing bowl. 

4) Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, thyme, coarse Kosher salt, and pepper to the mixing bowl.  Gently stir to mix everything.  Scoop the mixture into a 9 x 13 baking dish, spreading it out evenly.  Put the dish into the oven and cook for 20 minutes.  

Nutrition Per 1 1/4 Cup Serving:
Calories: 214, Fat: 7g, Cholesterol: 56mg, Carbohydrates: 15g, Fiber: 3g, Sodium: 262mg**

* Coarse Kosher salt has less sodium in it than regular table salt.  Using table salt in this recipe is fine but be sure to use a little less or you risk over-salting the casserole.  Start with a small amount and "add salt to taste."

**I might have lightly salted the ground turkey when I sauteed it.  I usually salt meat when I'm cooking it but I just can't remember if I did it with this casserole.  So, this recipe may actually use a full teaspoon of coarse Kosher salt and the sodium content would of course be higher. 

One- Sentence Journal: 1/14/2011

I need to mainline caffeine today.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Build a Character By Using an Outline

     I have trouble creating new, unique characters.  So far, the little niblets of characters that I use in my writing exercises are either extensions of my own personality or they were inspired by people I know.  I know that real life is a source of inspiration for new and experienced writers alike.  For instance, it's rumored that the Evil Boss-Lady in "The Devil Wears Prada" is inspired by the head of Vogue magazine.  However, I want to develop a character that is wholly the product of my imagination.  I also want her to feel real enough to "cast a shadow."*  But I don't know how to get there--I don't know how to move a character from flat to fully dimensional.  I have since discovered the "character outline."  This is a great tool to brainstorm information about my characters.  It consists of a very long list of questions.  Everything from their physical characteristics (Does she have a crooked pinky toe?) to their personality (Does he organize his socks by their fabric content?) to their favorite memory. 

     At first the length of the list looks intimidating and it feels like I am working harder rather than smarter.  In end, however, I am always glad that I have completed it because I know my character much better and he is realistic when I write him.  The character outline also becomes my reference as my character and her story develops.  I know that  she doesn't like birds because one took a dump on her head when she was ten years old.   It's also easier to maintain consistency because she's already written down.   I remember that her lisp comes out when she sings.   Making consistent changes becomes easier as well.  What  if she needs to be 55 instead of 32-- does that still mean she has young children? 

     The following character outline is from the Gotham Writer's Workshop (GWW).  It is free to the public; you can see this questionnaire and one other by clicking here.  Kitty Felone also has a great character outline on her site, DeviantArt.

1.      What is your character’s name? Does the character have a nickname? (I answer this question last, as I have a much better understanding of my character by then and I can think of a name that fits his personality.)
2.      What is your character’s hair color? Eye color?
3.      What kind of distinguishing facial features does your character have?
4.      Does your character have a birthmark? Where is it? What about scars? How did he get them?
5.      Who are your character’s friends and family? Who does she surround herself with? Who are the people your character is closest to? Who does he wish he were closest to?
6.      Where was your character born? Where has she lived since then? Where does she call home?
7.      Where does your character go when he’s angry?
8.      What is her biggest fear? Who has she told this to? Who would she never tell this to? Why?
9.      Does she have a secret?
10.  What makes your character laugh out loud?
11.  When has your character been in love? Had a broken heart?  
12.  What is in your character’s refrigerator right now? On her bedroom floor? On her nightstand? In her garbage can?
13.  Look at your character’s feet. Describe what you see there. Does he wear dress shoes, gym shoes, or none at all? Is he in socks that are ratty and full of holes? Or is he wearing a pair of blue and gold slippers knitted by his grandmother?
15.  When your character thinks of her childhood kitchen, what smell does she associate with it? Sauerkraut? Oatmeal cookies? Paint? Why is that smell so resonant for her?
16.  Your character is doing intense spring cleaning. What is easy for her to throw out? What is difficult for her to part with? Why?
17.  It’s Saturday at noon. What is your character doing? Give details. If he’s eating breakfast, what exactly does he eat? If she’s stretching out in her backyard to sun, what kind of blanket or towel does she lie on?
18.  What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?
19.  Your character is getting ready for a night out. Where is she going? What does she wear? Who will she be with?

 * The quote is from the book "Gotham Writers' Workshop Writing Ficton. The Practical Guide From New York's Acclaimed Creative Writing School."  Written by the Gotham Writers' Workshop faculty and edited by Alexander Steele.

One-Sentence Journal: 1/13/2011

"Anything you do, let it come from you, then it will be new." --Stephen Sondheim




Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Creative Writing 101: Use Conflict to Hook Your Reader and Keep 'Em Reading


     People like to read about conflicts; they want to find out how the story is going to end.  They like to watch conflicts and see how they play out--watching Simon Cowell on American Idol was addictive because the controversy he created was a conflict in the making.  I wanted to see how the other judges and the contestants were going to react.  How is this conflict going to turn out?  Readers like a happy ending but reading about someone who is perfectly happy with their life is also perfectly boring.  Yawn.  One of my favorite series is the Harry Potter series.  The central conflict of the story was this: How is a young boy who has no idea that he is a wizard going to defeat the most powerful dark wizard of all time?  Talk about conflict!  

     Conflict is not necessarily two people fighting.  Although that's a great example of a conflict...there's nothing like reading about two men rolling in the dust to win the woman.   That particular example is an external conflict, literally!  External conflict is something that is exists outside of the character and that prevents her from achieving her goals.  For example: Mandy is running late for work but she discovers that her car battery died overnight.  Crap.  Another example: John is in love with Mandy, but they work together and workplace policy prohibits inter-office romances.  Boo-hiss.  A great example:  Luke Skywalker wants to learn how to be a Jedi Knight but Darth Vader wants to kill him.  Holy Jesus.

     The flip side to external conflict is internal conflict.  Internal conflict is slightly hairier to explain clearly.  I think of it as a mental struggle, i.e. Jack made a New Year's resolution to lose weight but macaroni and cheese is on the lunch buffet today and that's his all-time favorite dish.  He knows he shouldn't eat it but he LOVES mac n' cheese!  Some people would call that motivation but this is really internal conflict.  He has two opposing internal desires and he needs to make a decision about which desire he wants to satisfy.  However, internal conflict is not necessarily a "mental struggle" as such.  Take for instance a child who stutters.  You betcha that kiddo doesn't want to stutter anymore.  He gets nervous about talking and Oh God, he has to present an oral book report next week in school.  The obstacle to his happiness is internal: He has to overcome an organic problem and speak without the stutter.  (Disclaimer: Yes, kids can definitely learn to overcome a stutter but it takes longer than a week.  Sorry.)

     Characters can face both internal and external conflicts.  Remember John, who is in love with Mandy?  Well, John is also a shy man so even without the work-place policy he still has to screw up the courage to ask Mandy out on a date.  John would rather be eaten by sharks than ask her out and possibly be rejected, or worse, have her laugh at him.  Humiliation is never fun.

     I've established the basic concept of conflict, so now I'll show it in action.  First, an opening paragraph without conflict.

     Mandy woke up for work on Monday morning.  She hummed quietly to herself while she got ready for work.  She checked her appearance in the mirror after she ate breakfast and walked out to her car; it was a routine start for a normal day.

Total yawn, right?  Now here's the paragraph with conflict.

     Mandy hit the snooze button for the fourth time and then looked at the time.  Crap, she thought, I'm late for work.  She bolted out of the bed and ran into the bathroom.  Pulling her hair into a quick ponytail, she brushed her teeth while she got dressed.  There was no time for breakfast, instead she grabbed her purse and keys and ran out to the car.  She threw open the door and jumped into the seat.  She swore when the engine didn't come to life.  Then she noticed that the toggle for the headlights was in the "On" position.  Her battery was dead!  Great, this is exactly what I need on a Monday morning, she thought.

     Much more interesting, yes?  The story has momentum.  And even better, I escalated the conflict even as it looked like it was resolving.  How quickly can Mary get her battery jumped?  How is this going to affect her at work?  What's going to happen next?  I bet you want to keep reading and get the answers to all of those questions.  (And even if you don't, you get the point!)

One-Sentence Journal: 1/12/2011

Yawns are contagious but so are smiles. : )

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Home-Made Greek Yogurt, Part II



     Compare the two pictures above, they are both Greek yogurts.  One was made at home, one was the Oikos Greek Yogurt, made by Stonybrook Farm.  Can you tell which one was made at home?  No?  Fantastic.  (The home-made yogurt is on the left.)  I'm very proud to say that my Greek yogurt tastes very, very good.  It's tangier than the store bought too, because it's fresh.  It's very easy to make, if a little messy. 

     To refresh your memory, I had a pan full of freshly made yogurt at the end of Home-Made Greek Yogurt, Part I.  I knew the milk had turned into yogurt when I tilted the pan and it didn't move.  
    I scooped the yogurt into a large bowl that was lined with cheesecloth.  I bought my cheesecloth at Kroger; I believe most large grocery stores carry cheesecloth.

    I then brought up the corners of the cheesecloth and secured the top with a rubber band.  Yellow liquid will start draining out of the bottom of the cheesecloth almost immediately.  The liquid is called whey; the stuff that remains inside of the cheesecloth is the curd.  Yes, "curds and whey" like in cheese-making (or Little Miss Muffet).  Greek yogurt, or strained yogurt, is just a very soft cheese that does not get aged.  (In fact, the second time I made my Greek yogurt, I let it strain for almost 20 hours and I made yogurt cheese by accident!)  But back to the topic at hand.  The cheesecloth-wrapped yogurt was then suspended from a couple of chopsticks in the glass container of my blender.  I liked the blender because it had a handle and it fit easily into my refrigerator.  


     I checked on the yogurt about once an hour at first and drained off the collected whey as needed--the yogurt should not touch the whey, otherwise it will just reabsorb back into the yogurt.  

      For a very smooth Greek yogurt that has the consistency of sour cream, allow the yogurt to strain for 3-5 hours.  The length of time depends on the initial volume of yogurt.  The picture at the top of this post strained for about 5 hours.   The final volume of the Greek yogurt is about 1/2 of the initial volume.  Scooping the yogurt out at this stage is pretty messy, I recommend straining it for at least 12 hours.  The yogurt is more solid and it is much easier to scoop out of the cheesecloth.  To make the yogurt thinner, just add the whey (or milk) back into the yogurt. 

     For yogurt cheese, allow the yogurt to strain overnight.  This was what mine looked like after straining overnight.  It was so firm that it made cute little balls of cheese!  It was actually too firm for my purposes so I added some milk back into it, to make it the consistency of sour cream.   

 

    This yogurt was very easy to flavor and sweeten up.  I added 1 teaspoon (I have a huge sweet tooth) and small handful of blueberries to 6oz of yogurt;  The flavor was out of this world!   I've also used this yogurt to make a blueberry smoothie and it was one of the best smoothies I've ever made.  Greek yogurt has a higher concentration of protein, because the liquids are removed.  Thus, eating Greek yogurt or mixing it into a smoothie will keep you fuller for longer; that is a great asset for any diet.  

     I had a great time making my Greek yogurt.  If you make this at home, I'd love to read your comments!  

Nutrition Information Per 4-Ounce Serving*:
Calories: 63, Fat: 0g, Carbohydrates: 9g, Fiber: 0g, Sugars: 9g, Protein: 23g (!)

*I used the nutritional information for the Oikos Greek Yogurt, made by Stonybrook Farms.  






One-Sentence Journal: 1/11/2011

I've discovered something worse than snow: black ice. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Home-Made Greek Yogurt, Part I

     I don't like regular yogurt but I love Greek yogurt for several reasons.  It's thick and creamy--see how it stuck to the spoon in the picture above?  The taste is also more complex, being tangier and slightly less sweet than regular yogurt.  I decided to make this yogurt at home because it's expensive to buy and the process to make yogurt at home looked easy.  I'm happy to report that making Greek yogurt was very easy, but it did take a lot of time.

     On a side note, in Greece this kind of yogurt is actually called "strained yogurt," because that is how it is made.  Regular yogurt is piled into a cheesecloth and the liquid (or whey) is strained off over several hours.

     This was definitely a weekend project.  The entire process, from milk- to- strained yogurt, took 12-18 hours.  However, most of that time was "hands-off."  The majority of the work was in the very beginning, when I was preparing the milk to be cultured.  After that, I only needed to check on it every 30 minutes to make sure the temperature was in the correct range for the culturing to occur. Culturing milk needs to be done at a specific temperature range, 110-115 F, otherwise the live cultures in the yogurt (i.e. the "good" bacteria) die from the heat.

      The ingredient list for home-made yogurt was blissfully short: milk (use any fat content), powdered milk, a bit of commercial yogurt to use as a starter, ice-water, and plenty of time.  Regarding the milk, a high fat content will produce thicker yogurt but since I was straining it anyway, I decided to use skim milk.  The addition of powdered milk also helps to produce a thicker yogurt.  I decided to add it, despite the fact that I was straining it, because I had a box of powdered milk that I needed to use up.  I read that yogurt can be made without powdered milk but the consistency is thinner than what most people are used to as compared to commercial yogurt.  I was briefly concerned about using regular cow's milk--I have a mild lactose intolerance but I don't have a problem with commercial yogurt (obviously).  However, I wasn't sure if making the yogurt at home would "eat up" enough of the lactose sugar in the milk such that I could eat it without a problem.  I decided to go ahead since I didn't have a problem with commercial yogurt.  Thankfully, I didn't have a problem with my final product!

     In regards to using the commercial yogurt as a starter, I decided to use yogurt with several strains of live cultures. (It's really bacteria but bacteria has such a negative connotation.)  This was important to me because eating yogurt helps keep the balance of "good" bacteria in the gut, and I wanted as many strains of "good" bacteria as I could get!   I wanted to use Chobani Greek Yogurt because it has five live yogurt cultures but Kroger didn't have the plain flavor in stock that day, so I bought the Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt instead.  Oikos is made by Stonybrook Farms and it has three live cultures.  

     Now to culture the milk.  I needed to create a water bath; this is essentially a container inside of a container.  The outer container holds the water, thereby bathing the inner container.  I also needed a container that would maintain a temperature range of 110-115 F.  I read on the Internet that I could use my oven or even a heating pad but I didn't want to tie up the oven and I was using the heating pad for other purposes.  That's when I decided to use the slow-cooker to create the water bath.   It worked beautifully.  Slow-cookers take a while to heat-up, so I filled it with an inch of water and inserted the inner container, which was a glass loaf pan in the picture.  I then set the slow-cooker to WARM.  I let it preheat while I prepared the milk for culturing; that process took me an hour, which was the perfect length of time for the slow-cooker to warm up.
 

      When making yogurt, I needed containers that were non-porous: metal, porcelain, or glass.  These materials are easy to sterilize.  I didn't think that plastic would survive a dip into a boiling pot of water or a 100-plus degree water bath for 4-6 hours.  The first time I made this yogurt, I used glass baby-food jars.  They were six ounces each and they made perfect serving sizes for yogurt.  This recipe needed 6 jars to hold everything.  For my second round, I used a glass loaf pan since I was going to strain the yogurt.  It was much easier to empty the yogurt from the loaf pan than from the little jars!  Home-made yogurt is freeze-able and if you do so, you have to remember NOT to freeze any glass containers!  They'll crack.


Once the milk was ready to be cultured, I poured it into the inner containers (I used a funnel to fill the baby food jars without spilling).  Then I added additional water to the bath so that the top of the water came to the top of the milk in the containers.  You can kind of see it in the picture.  I discovered the hard way that empty glass containers float and tip over in a water bath that's too full. 







And that was it.  I set the lid of the slow-cooker ajar because the water bath got too hot otherwise.  The lid on my slow-cooker has a tiny opening for a probe and it happens to fit my meat thermometer perfectly.  If you look carefully, you can see that the tip is in the water bath, right next to the loaf pan.  I checked it every 30 minutes to insure that the water bath was the right temperature; I turned the slow-cooker off or to WARM to adjust accordingly.  The length of time to culture the yogurt depended on the kind of containers I used but it generally takes 4-6 hours.  The loaf pan needed 5 hours; the baby-food jars only took 4 hours.  I had read that one should not disturb milk in any way while it is culturing; it will make runny yogurt.  I took that to heart!

At the end of 4-6 hours, the yogurt didn't look different from the milk... 




   ...except when the pan was tilted.  Look, it didn't move!  It was definitely yogurt!




Home-Made Plain Yogurt In the Slow-Cooker
Inspired by Home-Made Plain Yogurt Recipe at Allrecipes.com

Yield: 1 quart

Ingredients:
1 quart skim milk
1/4 cup non-fat dry milk powder
ice water, enough to fill a large mixing bowl about 3/4 full
3 tablespoons plain yogurt with active cultures

Directions:
1.  Preheat the slow-cooker by turning it to WARM or LOW (whichever is the lowest setting on your slow cooker).  Fill with enough water so that the depth is 1 inch.  Insert the sterilized containers you will use to hold the milk for culture.  Suggestions include glass baby food jars or a glass loaf pan. 

2) Heat the skim milk over medium-low to medium heat until it starts to steam and the temperature reaches 180 degrees.  Stir the milk constantly while you heat it so it does not burn on the bottom.  The milk will reduce slightly.  Add the non-fat dry milk powder and stir to mix completely.

3)  Place the bottom of the pan in the mixing bowl full of ice-water.  Make sure the bottom of the pan is immersed in the ice water.  Add more ice water if needed.

4) Constantly stir the milk mixture and monitor the temperature of the liquid as it drops.  Once it is between 110-115, take it out of the ice-water.  Scoop out a cup of the warm milk and mix in the commercial yogurt.  Mix the yogurt completely into the milk then return the milk to the pan and stir it in completely.

5) Carefully place the yogurt container in the water bath.  Add more water so that the water is level with the top of the milk mixture.  Lightly cover the water bath and monitor the water temperature so that it remains between 110-115 Fahrenheit.  Turn the slow-cooker on or off as needed.  Culture the milk mixture for 4-6 hours.  It is done when the top of the yogurt is firm to the touch or when it doesn't move when the container is tilted slightly.

Nutrition Information Per  8-Ounce Serving*:
Calories: 110, Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 160mg, Carbohydrates: 15g, Fiber: 0g, Sugars: 15g, Protein: 10g, Calcium: 40% RDA. 

*The nutrition information is actually for the commercial yogurt that I used for as my starter, the Oikos Greek Yogurt made by Stonybrook Farm.  I couldn't figure out a way to get the nutrition information for my home-made yogurt so I decided that the commercial nutritional information would be close enough.

One-Sentence Journal: 1/10/2011

Holy Jesus, the volume control on my iPhone fell off.   


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Love It: Edamame Beans



     Edamame look like lima beans but they have a slightly sweet, mildly nutty taste, and an almost creamy texture.  They are baby soybeans and they grow in a pod, like peas.  They are featured on menus in Japanese restaurants and they are very, very good.  I discovered edamame beans last Spring, when I went vegetarian for 40-days during Lent--no poultry, beef, pork, or fish.  I was a big carnivore prior to that experience so going without required a major change in how I thought about protein.  I knew that beans were a good source of non-animal protein but I didn't (and still don't) like beans enough to eat them week after week.  I also don't like tofu, although that has improved slightly because of my Lent experience.  Where else to get protein?  Enter edamame.  



     My first experience with them was in Egyptian Edamame Stew, a recipe from EatingWell.com.  To be honest, I thought they were okay.  I didn't mind eating them but I wasn't in love with yet.  The reason?  I had undercooked them; they were still "al dente," to mix some cultural metaphors.  The first time I had properly cooked edamame was at a Japanese restaurant last fall and I was in love after I popped the first bean into my mouth.  Edamame has had a prominent part of my diet since then.  It is my go to snack after work- outs or when I have the munchies.  They are a great finger-food as the individual beans are about the size of a peanut.  Edamame is high protein, high fiber, and low in fat; I've included the nutritional information below.  If you like edamame too, I'd love to read your comments!

Nutritional Information Per 1/2-Cup Serving:
Calories: 120, Fat: 4.5g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 5mg, Carbohydrate: 8g, Fiber: 6g, Protein: 12g