I Am That Girl Now

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bonus post: my new default dinner menu

I like to cook, except when I don't. There are some times when the creative aspect of it is the best part, and I go all crazy with an elaborate preparation... and then there's every other time, when I'm tired and really don't want to have to think, and go with one of my default menu items.

The new default menu: chicken, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Which sounds very bland and horrifying, I know, but WAIT, let me tell you how I make it!

In order of preparation:

The Sweet Potatoes: Totally my favorite thing right now. I put the oven on 400 degrees, peel the sweet spuds, chop 'em into little cubes, and then toss them (either by the Large Plastic Ziplock-style Baggie method or the bowl method) with a tablespoon of olive oil, salt, and-- this is key-- cinnamon*. I put a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet (because really, I hate dishes and we have no dishwasher) and spread the spud-cubes out on them, then bake for 20 minutes, stirring them around at about the half-point or whenever I remember to do it, whichever comes first. Since these take the longest of anything, they get started first.

* The more fragrant, the better. We tend to grind our own cinnamon by chucking a stick of the stuff into our never-really-used-as-a-coffee grinder and zapping it a few times, because it smells FANTASTIC and really cannot be beat, but determined scraping with a microplane grater gets the same result (albeit with a lot of very annoying work) and, okay, theoretically pre-ground cinnamon could be used but please remember that it doesn't have a great shelf life so the newer the package, the better.

The Chicken: I thaw two chicken breasts, usually by the chucking-in-a-bowl-of-water-in-the-sink-with-cold-water-running-for-convection's-sake method, which I get going before starting the sweet potatoes. Once they're thawed, I put a good heavy pan on the stove and get it heating-- no oil yet. Then I pound the chicken flat (use the pounding method of your choice; I tend to put it in a large baggie and then whack it with our cast-iron skillet), because flat cooks more evenly and it only took one time with not-quite-done chicken for me to get paranoid about it. I brush the chicken with olive oil and season both sides with a mixture of salt, garlic powder, dried dill, and ground black pepper. By this point in the process the pan should be space-shuttle-reentry hot, so I turn the heat down a bit and then put the chicken in to sear-- at least two minutes per side. This should get some nice brown crusties on there.

Then comes a wacky thing which may be my own invention (I'm not sure why, or when, I started doing this): once both sides of the chicken is seared, I get some water and chuck it into the pan. Not a huge amount, only like 1/4 to 1/2 of a cup. This is based on the sauce-making technique where you dissolve the bits of lovely carbonized food stuck to the pan into a liquid, only in this case I keep the chicken in the pan because a) it's not really that complex of a sauce, b) there's not a lot of it, and c) this not only makes the chicken look brown and tasty (it's like an instant dye process), but it gets some liquid back into it.

The Green Beans: While the chicken is searing, I toss frozen green beans in a bowl and add lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and either minced garlic or garlic powder (it really depends on how lazy I'm feeling), then nuke 'em until hot-- which in our little microwave is usually about four minutes. Stir halfway through the nuking process.

I'm fond of this dinner because I know about how long it'll take (about thirty minutes), I don't have dishes competing for oven/microwave/cooktop space, and a minimum of dishes are dirtied. My favorite dish of the three is the sweet potatoes, I have to admit, because I'd been casting around for a way to get them on the table faster and with a minimum of effort, and this does the trick. With the roasty-broccoli thing happening a few times a week, too, we're getting at least two of the magical very-good-for-you foods incorporated on a regular basis. My next goal is to get a good, fast, non-stinky fish dish going; I have a few possibilities lined up. Really, anything that's fun to eat, tasty, easy to prepare, and good for us is a good thing to have. Also on the list of things to experiment with: fast spinach sides, a return run at bulgar wheat, and my eternal attempts to make friends with winter squash.

In other phenomenal news:

1) THE COLD SNAP HAS BROKEN. Oh thank God. Today we walked to the train station like normal people, and walked across the Loop like we used to, and it was glorious. I can't even believe how little we walked over the past week and a half. It was crazy. I felt so cooped up and miserable, because even though we were going places it was always being in one place, then being in a car, then being in another place; there wasn't the transition time with the big sky above me. I love walking. Thank God it's back.

2) Trader Joe's has fennel bulbs for about $1.50. This is half the price of what they have at Jewel. As a result, we're getting fennel as a regular part of our foodage. Guys, I LOVE FENNEL.

3) My Hub has inhaled so much information on nutrition and exercise that he is now operating as the resident health guru among his friends, and several of them have started cleaning up their lifestyles because he talks so much about this stuff. I'm so proud of him. He's come so far after his shaky, nervous start when he was very tense about everything, and he looks amazing.

4) Frozen berries, particularly blueberries, are a good treat for sugar-free me. I accidentally made the best fruit salad ever: pomegranate seeds, oranges (I peeled the segments, because they were pretty tough; ah, winter), and mixed frozen berries tossed in and left to thaw and leak their juices all over. Ate the whole thing at our Superbowl party and had no regrets.

5) The elliptical machine is my friend. We must make a run to the gym directly after work today, because we are apparently due for a big sloppy snowstorm this evening. (Oh joy. Well, at least we're not in New York with the 11 feet of snow.) I throw on my Shuffle and rock out. It is all good, and oh lord can I feel the muscles it's working.

6) My Hub is determined to get us both new mp3 players for our anniversary. Not iPods, but something along that functionality. He's been all over the internet checking out reviews. Looks like I might get a new workout boost soon-- yay!


  • This is how much my perception of food has changed in the last 3 years - that doesn't sound bland AT ALL, it sounds delicious. And it's my exact same default dinner, except I often have broccoli instead of green beans. But I eat this meal 3-4 times a week.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 5:31 PM  

  • De-lurking to say...Trader Joes is the best!

    We buy their frozen tilapia fillets, slather them with TJ's garlic mustard and put them under the broiler for about 3-5 minutes. Keep a close eye!

    I'm going to have to try that sweet potato recipe. Will you remind me why sweet potatoes are better for you than regular potatoes?

    By Blogger Meem, at 6:13 PM  

  • Your meal sounds great! I've got to try those sweet potatoes.

    My favorite easy way to bake fish is in foil packets. Dishes=0! And most of the ingredients are in my cupboard/freezer.
    Spray large pieces of foil with cooking spray, place 4 oz-6 oz fish in center. Pat about a teaspoon of lemon pepper on each fish fillet. If you've got real lemons, adorn each portion with a slices, then squeeze the remainder over each fish portion. (A tsp or two for each) If you don't have fresh lemons, I keep lemon juice in the fridge, or you can substitute a tiny pat of butter. Add a few capers and some slices of red onion or shallots to each portion. You can add dill or fennel fronds if you have them. Fold foil around fish to make self-contained little packets. Bake at 500 for about 8-9 minutes.

    Each person can open their own packet on their plate, slicing it open to let the steam and fragrance escape. So good, and good for you!

    By Blogger Nina, at 10:54 PM  

  • Re: sweet potatoes vs. regular spuds:

    The main advantage that sweet potatoes have over regular potatoes is that they have twice as much fiber and thus digest more slowly, which means that they don't spike your blood sugar the way that potatoes do. Beyond that, they've got a nice hit of beta-carotene, and are a great source of vitamin C and a few other vitamins. Also, vitamin A (in this case, as beta-carotene) and vitamin C are great antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients.

    Regular potatoes, on the other hand, are highly inflammatory, can cause a mild allergic reaction in some people (they are part of the nightshade family, after all) and spike your blood sugar like WHOA, which is not good, because that just leads to crashing blood sugar and premature hunger pangs.

    Bonus: sweet potatoes taste awesome. They can swing sweet or savory, they can be boiled or baked or steamed, they can be a side dish or a pie. I love 'em. Hilarious, considering that I wouldn't have touched them with a ten-foot pole four years ago, but there you have it: healthy living changes yer taste buds!

    By Blogger Meg, at 11:17 AM  

  • I usually cook sweet potatoes savory, with southwestern type seasonings - cumin, a little cayenne pepper, a dash of hot sauce. I dice them up and cook in a pan, and sometimes then mash them with a little bit of yogurt for smoothness (DELICIOUS) and sometimes cut them in half lengthwise, and pile them up with black beans, red peppers, feta cheese, whatever I have on hand, wrap in tinfoil and bake in the oven. Also delicious. I've never liked them sweet, that might be why a lot of people don't eat them - try the savory versions instead.

    By Blogger M@rla, at 6:51 AM  

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