Monday, April 26, 2010

Bring Home the Bacon... Fry it Up in a Pan

In work and life, I kick ass and take names.

At home, I really want to sip on a glass of wine, listen to Billie Holiday and stand at the stove in an apron.

I am not a master chef. While my circle of friends is full of many accomplished cooks, I am a bit simpler. Hence last month's presentation on cooking naked. Note: cooking naked is "cooking simple" - see also: Jamie Oliver's body of work. If you're interested in discussing cooking in the nude, I have a few hard rules to apply to that scenario.


Cooking. I have a vast collection of cookbooks - three dozen all told. They cover desserts, quick cooking, Kentucky-themed dishes. I have an anthology of popular White House dishes and several of Martha's tomes. Hell, I published a cookbook.

The thing is, I love cooking on the fly. I just wish I was more dedicated to the vocation.

Being a single gal, sometimes cooking dinner is the last thing I want to do after a long day at the office and an evening meeting/happy hour/whatever.

Especially when the audience is only me.

I started losing weight a couple months ago and am sticking with my plan (which isn't a hard and fast plan at all, actually), which means eating cereal with skim milk for breakfast, a frozen/packaged meal for lunch and then either a reasonable dinner at home/out or nibbles at an event.

Rewind. Did I just say frozen/packaged meal for lunch?

I realize now this is the weak link in my strategy. Those meals are typically full of all kinds of preservatives and chemicals I can barely pronounce, much less know how they affect my body. And a recent evaluation of several offerings has exposed the completely inadequate proportion of carbs to veggies and protein.

Considering my doctor advises me to dial down my carb intake, this isn't a good thing in my book.

I'm trying something different this week.

Armed with a stocked freezer and a good assortment of dry goods in the pantry, I am making it my mission to cook meals at dinner with the intent of having leftovers for lunch during the week. I'm also not opposed to assembling fresh, healthy meals in the morning.

My goal is flavorful, fresh meals that accomplish my dietary objections, all while reducing my dependence on those ready-to-go packaged soups, frozen meals and other processed foods.

This is the latest facet in my diet reinvention. Breakfast was Step 1; Step 2 was drinking more water.

Hopefully I can make Step 3 a regular part of my routine.

Do you have any quick-healthy-tasty recipes in your back pocket that you think I MUST know about?

I'd love to hear it!

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Unknown said...

Bravo! I have to share my new favorite recipe.
Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain, and is also complete protein containing all 9 essential amino acids, not to mention high in fiber and very filling. My friend Stepfanie works for Sparkpeople, and here's her recipe for Black Bean Quinoa Casserole.

I lost over 60lbs this last year that I had gained as a result of a car accident that left me in crippling pain from a shattered pelvis that robbed me of the ability to stand/walk for more than 10 mins at a time. Eliminating processed foods from my diet is was jump started my weight loss and changed how I view food and eat now. May I suggest switching from skim-milk to grass fed, minimally pasteurized whole milk? You get the benefits of CLA Amino acids and Omega 3's in the grass diet that build lean muscle to burn fat.Ultra Pasteurized milk is dead milk; heating milk to 280 degrees changes the protein structure and compromises the nutrients. I went from thinking I didn't really enjoy milk until I tried Snowville's last summer at an Organic Fair and loved the milk so much I contacted the company and scored a gig with them as a milk advocate because of the food politics surrounding milk and the delicious taste. Not trying to sell you here, and I even encourage you to drink raw if you can get in on a cow share; just very passionate about food, keeping my body healthy and how animals are treated. Ok, I'll shut up now since this is not my blog. Congrats Slim!! :)

TGirsch said...

OK, so here's my suggestion. Fill your freezer with those "steam fresh" vegetable packages, where you can throw the whole package in the nuke for 5 or 6 minutes and have hot veggies. Avoid the ones with flavorings or sauces, because those have the unpronounceable ingredients in abundance. Side dish: check.

Now, for a main. This is going to sound like a lot of work, but stay with me. The goal here is to front-load all the work. The end product will be quasi-convenience food.

Go to your supermarket, and buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts. For best results, buy the fresh ones from the meat counter, not the frozen stuff. Armed with those, you need to make a brine.

The brine:

2 Quarts water
5 Tablespoons salt
5 Tablespoons honey
--- above = required / below = optional ---
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3-4 leaves sage
5 peppercorns
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme

Combine all ingredients in a large pot, bring just to a boil, then stir and remove from heat, allowing to cool completely to room temperature. Once it cools, put your chicken breasts into a large bowl, and pour the brine over the top, covering all the breasts. Cover the bowl (with a lid if you have it, otherwise plastic wrap) and carefully put it on the bottom shelf of your fridge overnight. Anywhere from 4-24 hours is fine, but longer is better within that range.

Soaking in this brine will effectively season and flavor your chicken breasts inside and out. When you remove them from the brine, rinse them off with water to get the brine off the exterior. You now have easy-to-cook chicken breasts. Grill them, or sautee them in a pan in a little oil, and you're good to go. No additional salt/pepper/anything is necessary.

Now, notice that I mentioned that you should buy a BUNCH of chicken breasts. You obviously won't eat all these before they go bad if you're eating alone, so here's where you up the convenience factor.

Line the bottom of a half sheet pan (often just called a "cookie sheet") with wax paper. Arrange the rinsed breasts on the wax paper so they're not touching each other. Slide the whole thing in the freezer overnight. The next day, you can pull the now-frozen breasts off the pan and transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag.

From then on, you can just pull them out one at a time the night before you intend to use them, and let them thaw in the fridge overnight. Or, if you're careful about it, you can just throw a frozen breast into a pan and cook it from there, though this takes longer.

Main course: Check.

Our favorite trick is to sautee up ONE breast (for the two of us), and slice it and serve it atop a healthy salad of mixed greens.

I should note that the brine trick also works brilliantly for pork chops. I have pre-brined pork and chicken in my freezer now, enough to last us several weeks. It makes healthy eating a LOT easier, if you're willing to put in the work on the front end.

And if you're feeling REALLY ambitious, you can brine a whole chicken using the same technique, and then roast it in the oven. I did one last week, but over a low charcoal fire, and my wife calls it the best chicken she's ever eaten.

Feel free to email with questions. My screen name at