Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Cookies

Well, the cookies are done, and packed, and ready to take a trip to Florida or be shipped to Chicago, and I simply hope that they all make it intact. I am worried about the lace ones. They are tasty, but fragile. I couldn't find great cookie tins so they are in boxes. I lined each box with saran wrap, then layered cookies in between paper towels, and then closed up the saran wrap at the top before putting on the lid. I *hope* this serves to keep them fresh as well as cushioned. My husband said it reminded him of his 5th grade project where he had to prep a box such that an egg would survive a fall.

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies were by far our favorite of the bunch, so here is the recipe (from WW, with my changes):

3/4 cup all purpose flour
2T unsweetened cocoa (we used Hershey's Dark Cocoa)
1t baking soda
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/2 t salt
3/4 c butter at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
3/4 c packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 1/2 c uncooked oatmeal (we used quick oats)
1/2 c dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cut any large cherries into 2 or 4 pieces. This is tedious but it will give your cookies a more uniform amount of cherriness.
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl using a paddle attachment and beat until fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl.
Beat in eggs one at a time until incorporated. Slowly add flour mixture and beat until incorporated.
Stir in oatmeal and cherries by hand until incorporated and uniform looking.
Drop rounded teaspoons of dough onto a nonstick pan or silpat but DO NOT USE A BAKING STONE BECAUSE THEY WILL STICK AND YOU WILL CRY.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, but if your oven has been on all day and you are baking lots and lots and lots, then check them after 8 minutes because they will probably bake fast.


(and 2 points per cookie)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cranberry Madness

About a day and a half after filling my freezer with fabulous goodness from Dinner Zen, the compressor died on my refrigerator. I noticed because none of my new food was frozen yet, and other things were actively defrosting. After a panicked day, and $350 in repairs later, I have a working fridge and freezer again, but some things were defrosted beyond re-freezing, including a bag of cranberries.

I quickly went to the Weight Watchers web site and looked up cranberry recipes. They had a 1-point recipe for cranberry meringues, and on closer inspection I learned that they were actually 4-for-1-point recipes, and who can really argue with that? It called for egg whites, cream of tartar, cranberry sauce, and dried cranberries. A quick lookup online showed that the cream of tartar could be replaced with some white vinegar in a meringue, and I was on my way.

First the cranberry sauce. Since this was for making cookies, I didn't do anything weird. Just plain cranberry sauce. If you don't know how, here it is:

Plain Cranberry Sauce
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 cups cranberries

Bring water and sugar to a boil. Add cranberries. Bring back to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and chill. You won't use it all for the cookies, so plan on some turkey or chicken the next day.

I had about 2 cups of cranberries left, so I decided to dry them. I don't have a dehydrator, so I did it in the oven. Just sprinkle cranberries with sugar, place on a baking sheet (best to use parchment paper, which I didn't have, and now I have a mess of a baking sheet!) and bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours.

Once all that was done, I was ready to make my meringues! Here is my version of the recipe, which came out great and which did not change the points value at all:

Cranberry Meringue Kisses
3 egg whites
1/4 t white vinegar
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c cranberry sauce
about 80 dried cranberries (obviously this will work just as well with Craisins as with the homemade kind!)

Preheat oven to 200

Beat egg whites and vinegar until stiff peaks form. You really really really want to do this in a stand mixer. It will take a long time. Also, they transform faster if you start them at room temperature. Once stiff peaks form, add sugar, 1/4 cup at a time, and continue beating until the mix is glossy. Gently fold in cranberry sauce.

You will probably need 2 large cookie sheets. Either line them with parchment or spray with cooking spray. Drop Meringues in teaspoon sized "kisses" and top each one with a dried cranberry. You should have about 80-85 kisses. Bake them at 200 degrees for 2 hours, rotating the cookie sheets after an hour. Allow them to cool completely before removing from the pans, and store them in an airtight container. Try not to eat them all at once.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Freezer is Now Full

Dinner Zen trip happened this morning and my freezer is now full! We had a great group of people -- 7 orders and 9 people (2 husbands came!) and some people made a small amount of food and others (like me) made a great amount of food. Jolie, the owner, served scones that were so yummy I prefer to call them cookies, along with coffee and tea for all who attended. We have pretty much all agreed that next time we have to do a private party. If we got 7 orders we can surely get 12! We just need to spread the word a little more.

As it was, I did most of my own meal prep, though Amy only did 8 meals so she made my Chicken Marsala. It was great fun, as usual, and we even remembered to leave something out of the freezer to eat today, this time. We had the shrimp scampi, and boy was it fabulous. YUM. Tomorrow we'll have one of the quiches, too, because although I did some great freezer prep, I actually did run out of room. (I would not have run out of room, but on my way out I checked the Grab and Go freezer, and they had a few fabulous sounding dishes that I could not pass up--so I ended up with 3 additional meals that I was not counting on!

SO!! In the next several weeks, we will be eating:

Big Bleu Chops--a lot of them, because I made 2 full batches
Mexican Lasagna
Raspberry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin
Shrimp Scampi
Sundried Tomato Shrimp Scampi
Chicken "Wellington"
Chicken Marsala
Taco Chicken Tenders
Asian Salmon Cakes
Quiche Florentine
Two Mustard Tilapia
Honey Curry Chicken (picked up out of the Grab and Go Freezer)
Slow Cooked Cranberry Orange Roast Beef (also out of the Grab and Go)

I mean, with options like that, how can you not pick up those extras at the last minute!? I mean, unless you don't check the freezer!

SO... Certain things were surprising to me. I have found that a lot of meal prep items are fairly easy dump recipes, but a lot of these were really work intensive. For example, the Chicken Wellington had us working with puff pastry. The Big Bleu Chops have a cheese stuffing stuffed into pork chops. Not so much just dumping into a bag for those!

I do like, though, that if you are making chicken tenders, for instance, you get a set of chicken tenders ready to pop in the oven or fry. When I got a package of meals from Let's Dish, I had to crumble the tortilla chips and do the dipping into the chip breading at home. I'd rather take the extra time to do it there, even if the freezing method is in a tray rather than in plastic bags.

Every thing I made this time made me excited for dinner. I also commented that every time I go the tilapia filets look bigger than the previous time. Two of them really feeds the three of us, and I have no complaints about that!

So, next time will probably be February, and we're thinking private party. Can we get 12 people to place orders? Who wants to join us next time?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Trip to Dinner Zen

In preparation for my Saturday trip to Dinner Zen, I have been rearranging and eating out of my freezer. Tonight, Micah and I will be sharing the final tilapia filet from my last trip, and after that I have 2 squash wraps left from that trip. They will be fine lunches next week, or maybe even a dinner.

For those of you who are going with me this time (we have a group of 8 and may become 9 soon), here are some freezer tips for getting your freezer ready for a DZ trip:

1) In the future, you'll realize that freezing liquids takes up a lot of room if you freeze them in hard tupperware/rubbermaid containers. Freeze soups, broths, stews, and sauces in freezer bags, packed flat. You can fit a lot more in the freezer that way. If it's too late, it's time to eat or use your soups, stews, and sauces to make room for your meals :)

2) If you have giant bags of frozen foods (like perogies, fish filets, etc), you can re-package them into freezer bags. Package by however many you need for a family meal, and then you can fit them into small spaces left over by your large meals. This is a good way to use the unused door space.

3) Suck the air out of stuff. If you don't have a vacuum sealer (I don't!) then just close your freezer bag nearly to sealed, stick in a straw, and suck out the remaining air before closing the seal. You'll save a lot of space that way.

4) Repackage if you have to. Dinner Zen and a lot of other places have meals prepared into a tin for baking. When you bring your food home, you can pack everything in to over-full, then take out the tins and repackage into freezer bags. Don't let your packaging take up valuable food space! When it's time to make some of these meals, you can get out a reusable/washable pan, and defrost it into that pan.

I'm really looking forward to this trip! They have Big Bleu Chops again, and based on our last experience with them, I ordered 2 full orders of them! Yum.

OK, off to check on dinner.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Orange Chicken with Singapore Seasoning

I've been branching out and trying my hand at mixing perhaps surprising ingredients. Today, it was a great success! I did use two specialty items, but I'm pretty sure you could replace them if you needed to (that is, I used the Pampered Chef Covered Baker and Penzey's Singapore Seasoning.

Orange Chicken with Singapore Seasoning (serves 2)

2 four-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
one onion, sliced thinly
one navel orange, cleaned well, and sliced thinly
5 cloves garlic, sliced in half.
Penzey's Singapore Seasoning
Pampered Chef Covered Baker

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line the bottom of the Pampered Chef covered baker with oranges. Place chicken breasts on top of oranges, and sprinkle lightly with salt and liberally with Singapore Seasoning. Place remaining orange slices on top of chicken, top with onions garlic. Cover the baker, and bake for 45-50 minutes. (You can actually leave it in longer if you need to if you use the covered baker; we were in a conversation with a friend and it went over an hour and was still awesome).

Serve chicken breasts topped with oranges, onions, and garlic. We had this with some broccoli on the side and it was lovely.

Aaaaaand.... according to Weight Watchers' Recipe Builder, it's 5 points per serving!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cranberry Cous-Cous fabulousness

WW has a recipe for Cranberry-Sage Cous Cous, and it is remarkably good. I was actually planning to make this for Thanksgiving but ended up making stuffing instead.

This is sweet and savory and tart all together, and it's 3 points per 1-cup serving, so I foresee making it again soon. We had it with cider-glazed pork chops and glazed apples. I changed a little bit from the original recipe and my changes are reflected here (they do not change the points values)

Cranberry Sage Couscous.

2 cups fresh cranberries
5 oz whole wheat couscous (Trader Joe's has this)
1 cup fat free chicken broth
3 sage leaves, chopped finely
1/2 an onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
salt & pepper
1T olive oil

Boil cranberries in water until several have popped, and drain. At the same time, boil the chicken broth and pour it over the couscous.

Saute onion, celery, sage, and salt/pepper in olive oil until onion softens. Add the cranberries and couscous, and mix well. Pour into a baker (spray with a little cooking spray first) and bake at 350 for 3o minutes.

WW says that a serving is a little more than a cup (think a heaping cupful!) It's a lot and it's filling and delicious!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holidays and Weight Loss

I lost a pound the week of Thanksgiving, which is, frankly, amazing, as I went 18 points over my weekly allowance points, completely by accident, because I didn't go to a restaurant prepared beforehand.

That said, I did go to Thanksgiving dinners (both of them) prepared for just about anything, and I even offered to make the sweet potatoes and stuffing for the first one so that I could control the ingredients. The stuffing didn't come out so great (I mean, it still tasted great but I would do it differently next time) but here's the sweet potato recipe:

Maple Sweet Potatoes
3 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite sized pieces (leave skin on)
1 large onion, sliced thinly
3 T maple syrup
2T olive oil
salt, pepper, and fresh thyme for seasoning

Mix all ingredients, place in a large baking dish, and bake for 1 hour, stirring around the potatoes at least once.

Serves 10 people, 2 points per serving (according to WW's recipe builder), and it's much more interesting than plain glazed sweet potatoes or ones with marshmallows on top!

There are, of course, more holidays coming, and I want to do a mix of enjoying myself while not gaining back all of the weight I lost up to now. We are going to my parents in Florida for Christmas, and that will also, of course, include Disney. Fortunately, there's a lot of walking there to help out on the eating front!

SO here's to the next month being as successful as the last one, and I'll be sharing food ideas as I have them!