Breakfast recipe: Muesli?

I’ve looked at various recipes for muesli, and it’s confusing.  Some people mix uncooked oats with other dry things and store it until they’re ready to use it, at which point they treat it as cold cereal.  Other people mix uncooked oats with water, milk, or applesauce each time they want a serving.  As far as I can tell, everyone is making different things, but they all call it muesli.  So, I’m going to call this muesli because that’s what my recipe card calls it, because apparently no one is going to stop me, and because it sounds much more appetizing than “lukewarm oatmeal,” which is kind of what this is.

Muesli

Mix 1/3 cup quick oats with

1/3 cup hot (but not boiling) water.

Let rest for 12-15 minutes.

Add anything else you want.  Options include fresh or dried fruit, nuts, milk, jam, and honey.

The main thing I like about this is that it makes a smaller, thicker serving than a typical serving of oatmeal, so it’s easier to work protein into the meal.  I would not eat a bowl of oatmeal and a bowl of yogurt (too much wet stuff), or a bowl of oatmeal and an egg (too weird), so I end up eating oatmeal, fruit, and a muffin, which is something like two and a half servings of carbs.  Then, my blood sugar plummets right around the time I want to go running.  Muesli is much thicker than oatmeal, so it’s not as weird to have yogurt on the side.  Yogurt saves my blood sugar.

(Did you know that oatmeal is supposed to prevent the blood-sugar roller coaster effect?  It doesn’t work for me, but it might work for you, especially if you can add some milk.  Try oatmeal for breakfast if you’re prone to mid-morning hunger pangs.)

My nephew likes his oatmeal with yogurt stirred into it, which is undeniably healthy, but oh my goodness, the things his parents are getting away with.  He’s too young to know how disgusting this is, so nobody tell him, okay?  With any luck, he won’t find out until he’s married.

Back to the muesli.  My only complaint is the temperature.  If I took the pre-mixed cold cereal approach, it would be fine — cold throughout.  But then I’d be eating totally unsoaked, uncooked oats (as with granola), which isn’t the best thing.  Does anyone know how to create muesli that’s cold like dry cereal, but not totally uncooked?  Do I have to soak and dry the oats and then store them?

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Recovery food: yogurt

It seems I’m always reading somewhere that the ideal post-workout recovery snack is a glass of chocolate milk.  They talk about the excellent balance of carbohydrates and protein, and how it promotes weight loss and stuff.  I’m sure this is all more or less true.  I would take issue with their constant emphasis on low-fat dairy products if I weren’t so distracted by the way no one ever ever says, “By the way, plain milk is fine too.”  Why it needs to be chocolate, I don’t know.  Just because it’s more palatable?  And why does no one ever mention that if you drink the milk plain it contains less sugar, and is therefore even more nutritious?

I can’t bring myself to drink a glass of milk, even if it’s chocolate, so after a run, I generally eat yogurt.  I make my own, according to these instructions for making homemade yogurt.  I incubate mine for a full 24 hours to make sure the bacteria have eaten up all the lactose, otherwise it makes me sick.

Sweetening yogurt sort of cancels out its pro-biotic benefits, unfortunately, so I rarely put even honey on mine anymore.  If I want to sweeten it I sprinkle some granola on top, which of course, does contain sugar, but at least then I’m also eating oats.  24-hour yogurt will be pretty tart, especially if you’re accustomed to Yoplait.  If you’re not sensitive to lactose, you can incubate the yogurt for 4-6 hours for a sweeter product.

You can read more about yogurt’s extensive health benefits here.  People who tell you that yogurt isn’t the amazing health food everyone says it is are talking about the wrong kind of yogurt, I think (or they’re just tired of hearing the word “pro-biotic,” which I totally understand).  Unsweetened whole milk yogurt is wonderfully nutritious, and I would say, a better recovery food than chocolate milk.  Or plain milk.  Because they won’t tell you this, but it doesn’t have to be chocolate.

The hierarchy of muffins, with a recipe for sweet potato muffins

Every morning my husband eats two muffins for breakfast.  I make a batch or two of muffins every week, and in the mornings, he microwaves and eats two of them.  I may eat one or two myself, depending on what other food is available.

These are not exciting muffins, full of chocolate chips, or with that fancy, big-crystal sugar on top.  These are boring, healthy muffins, but we like them.  After a great deal of experimentation and research (here is an excellent tutorial on making good muffins), we have developed a little hierarchy of breakfast muffins.  I asked Th. to help me rank them in order of excellence.

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The grocery budget: beyond buying low

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working hard to keep our grocery budget low.  It’s not as low as it could be, but there isn’t much wiggle room either.  Sometimes I have to resist buying something unnecessary (soy sauce, chocolate chips), so I can make an occasional expensive purchase (the big container of ground coffee, or the big container of ground beef, on sale).  It’s easy to believe that self-control in the grocery store is what it’s all about.

Once you learn your prices, you can determine if a sale is really a sale, if the big container is really cheaper, and so on, but I know I tend to forget about all that once I get home.  Feel free to laugh if you’ve already figured this out, but I’ve just begun thinking about it.  So, here are three ways to watch your “spending” once you get the groceries home.

1. Eat more of the cheaper items, especially if the nutritional value is comparable.  For example, where I shop, I can find carrots for $.50/lb.  Apples, in season, don’t usually go below $.70/lb.  I buy lots and lots of apples when they’re this cheap, and late in the season, I’ll pay up to $.99/lb.  It’s tempting to think, “Oooh, apples are so cheap!  We can eat all the apples we want!”  I must remind myself that carrots are still cheaper, so for lunch, I should eat carrot sticks, not apple slices.  I don’t like them as well, but if I don’t enforce (on myself — Th. doesn’t eat carrot sticks), a carrot-sticks-at-lunch policy, we run out of apples, and there aren’t enough to snack on, let alone bake with.  I have actually found myself wishing I could buy more apples, but there isn’t room in the budget.  And why?  Because I hogged all the apples!

This brings me to… 2. Don’t over eat.  Unfortunately, I can’t find the exact spot, but somewhere on her blog, Money Saving Mom advises readers to simply eat less.  I’m not sure I’ve seen this brilliant piece of advice anywhere else.  Stop when you’re full, or if you’re like me and you’re never full, stop when you’ve met your daily recommended value.

Again, an apple example.  When my husband comes home from work, or sometime shortly before dinner, I give him some apple slices as an “appetizer.”  I do this because he usually doesn’t eat produce at breakfast or lunch.  I, on the other hand, eat produce at breakfast, produce after my mid-morning run, produce at lunch, and sometimes produce for an afternoon snack.  Plus whatever vegetables we have with dinner.  (I eat way more than my husband.  Not just more produce, but more food.  But that’s not the point.)

The point is, I don’t need an apple before dinner, even if I’m a little hungry and they’re only $.70/lb.  I will not starve, and if I were really and truly about to faint from hunger, I could eat a carrot (or, you know, something more substantial — boy, did that sound meager and pathetic).  But he needs an apple, so he can have one.  I would give him two if he asked.

It comes back to my preferences.  I try not to let them control me at the store, so why should I let them control me at home?  Perhaps I would enjoy an apple before dinner, but so what?

And finally, 3.  Think about the cost of the recipe.  I must remember that even though most things in our kitchen are “cheap,” carrots are cheaper than apples, rice and potatoes are both cheaper per pound than pasta, and almost everything is cheaper than cheese!  I’ve discussed this briefly before, but I’ll just add a couple of examples.  If I need bread for dinner, I lean toward something that doesn’t require yeast, eggs, or very much butter.  Soda bread is mainly flour and buttermilk, and since I make my own buttermilk, it’s not that expensive.  I have also found that if I start making my focaccia bread half an hour earlier, I can use just a teaspoon of yeast, rather than a tablespoon.  If I were really dedicated, I could calculate the cost of each recipe and put it on the recipe card, and then rank my menus by cost.  Other ladies have done this, and I think perhaps I ought to.  Actually, here is a link to the calculator I downloaded ages ago, with such good intentions.  She seems to have lots of other useful tools that I’ll have to look at.

Again, you may already know all of this.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.  Do those of you who are much wiser than me have other suggestions?

For dunking cookies

On Sunday evening, I needed a warm beverage to accompany oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  I had already eaten two cookies earlier that day, hot from the oven, with coffee, so more coffee was out of the question.  I don’t drink milk, and a cookie with just a glass of water is so sad.  But I found the perfect thing.

I can hardly believe I’m recommending this, as it totally contradicts what I just said, but what sounded good to me at the time was, of all things, warm milk.

Gross, right?  I learned about sweetened warm milk from some Spanish exchange students in college.  They drank it for dessert.  I was disgusted at the time, but if you think about it, it’s just like cocoa, only vanilla-flavored.  Sometimes they stirred in hazelnut-flavored coffee creamer.

So, this is what you do.  Heat about a quarter of a cup of milk in the microwave.  Add a teaspoon of sugar, some vanilla extract, and a dash of cinnamon.  Serve with cookies. 

This works well if you don’t like milk because you don’t really have to drink it.  Just dunk the cookies, eat them, and move on.  There’s very little milk wasted.  Because there are other flavors in there, you can pretend it’s not really milk.  But, I admit — I drank it.  Yes.  And it had little bits of cookie floating in it.  I don’t know what came over me.

Cocoa is wonderful, and back home, that’s what we had every night, even in the summertime, with cookies if they were available.   But sometimes it’s too much, depending on what kind of cookie you have.  You cannot eat double chocolate cookies with a cup of cocoa.  Not even my mother does that, and she has a super-human tolerance for chocolate.

So, has anyone else tried this?  There are lots of ways to go.  This recipe calls for nutmeg instead of cinnamon.  You could add instant coffee or any other flavor extract you have around.

Autumn and its nutritional pitfalls.

I wrote this several days ago, but I guess I never posted it.  It applies very well to my situation today, as we’ve had the heat on for almost twenty-four hours now, and it’s only gotten about six degrees warmer.

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It has been cool and damp here for the past few days.  Coolness and dampness call for extra coffee, I think.  Around this time every year, I begin to feel justified drinking extra coffee, and eating extra baked goods if they’re available, which, when I’m the cook, they very often are.

It begins on an especially dark Thursday, when I realize for the first time that the reason it’s so dark every morning is that we’re now getting up before sunrise.  How exciting!  No, really.  It’s exciting!  And I say to myself, well, for goodness sake, just turn on the lights.  So it’s cozy in the house, and I feel like having an extra cup of coffee.

But then the next day, it’s dark and cool again, so I might have a cup of tea in the afternoon.  Then, in the evening, it’s dark before the dishes are even done, and we sit around and say to each other, “Boy, it’s sure getting dark early now.”  You have to say that every few days until the time change (which is when?  do we know?).

After a week or so of extra cups of coffee and tea, served with wonderfully dense apple-y baked goods, I begin to think, “Why do I feel so crazy?  How much coffee have I had?”  This is not sustainable.

So, in case you’re like me, and looking for less calorically-dense and caffeine-laden ways to celebrate the cooler weather (or comfort yourself, if it depresses you), here are some things you can do to feel warmer but not so jittery and frenzied.

1. Go for a run.  If you come back from church, and your house is cold, and you’re too cheap to turn on the heat or the lights, and it’s not yet lunch time, you may be tempted to curl up in a blanket and stare at the wall.  Don’t do it.  Go for a run.  Or a walk.  But do go outside and do something.  It will warm you up better than anything else, and the weather will seem more pleasant afterwards.

2. Turn on the lights already.  Or even the heat, if necessary.  This is a hard one for me because I’m cheap.  It seems unreasonable to me that I should have to use lights during the day, but sometimes it is necessary.  And sometimes it’s just nice.  Maybe you are normal and already do this, but I mention it in case you are also wandering around in the dark and the cold, muttering about how Caroline Ingalls would have been grateful for far less than you have, blah, blah, blah.  Guess what?  Scrooge didn’t use lights either.  Think of that.

3. Cook something with a strong smell.  It doesn’t have to involve sugar, apples, or pumpkins.  Roast some garlic, or make chicken stock.  This makes the house feel warm and comfortable, but it doesn’t lead to any extra snacking.

4.  Drink lots of cold water.  Somehow this makes me less interested in coffee, in the same way that brushing my teeth immediately after dinner makes me less interested in dessert.  It won’t make you warmer though.

5. If all else fails, and you find yourself staring longingly at the coffee pot at two in the afternoon, at least resolve to drink it black.  That is enjoyable in its own way, it adds no sugar to your diet, and you will probably do it less often.

Chicken and Biscuits, or Chicken Pie

On Tuesday I made chicken pot pie for dinner.  I don’t understand why it isn’t called simply Chicken Pie.  Does anyone know?

I felt pretty good about the pot pie even though I fear Th. didn’t really enjoy eating it.  I used meat from chicken leg quarters that I bought for $.69 or $.79 per pound, the broth I made from the meat, and the fat from the broth (in the crust — just to save money on butter, which has become so expensive!).  I felt very frugal, and it worked just fine.  I only used one or two tablespoons of chicken fat, and the rest was butter.  This works okay for a meat pie, but of course I wouldn’t do it for a fruit pie, or my goodness, for a chocolate pie.  Can you imagine?  I also threw in some small red potatoes that I found on the reduced produce rack, along with a carrot, which I bought at full price.

Anyway, how frugal I feel is hardly important.  It actually was frugal, and that’s what counts.  I feel frugal when I make a meatless meal, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily is frugal, especially if, at the last moment, I cover my virtuous, self-denying casserole with a layer of cheese.  I ought to have recognized long ago that cheese, even on sale, costs at least $1.00 more per pound than I would ever spend on meat.  Alas.  Now I shall have to add this to the list of things I wish I didn’t know.

Anyway, I made a pie crust topping to practice my pie crust-making skills in anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but Th. said he prefers a biscuit topping, so I think I’ll stick with that in the future.  The biscuit topping has oats and an egg in it, which I think is weird, but it tastes good, and oats are also virtuous.

In fact, and unfortunately, I think what Th. wanted to say but didn’t was that he would prefer that I didn’t make this meal so often at all, no matter what the topping is.  It would be inconsiderate to pretend I don’t know this.  But I do recommend chicken and biscuits, or chicken pie, to you, as long as your family hasn’t silently begged you to stop making it.  Here is the recipe.

Chicken and Biscuits, or Chicken Pie

1/2 stick butter (Or, you can use chicken fat for some portion of this.  Scrape it off the top of homemade stock.)

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1 carrot, diced

(optional : 4 small, red potatoes, cubed)

1 cup cooked, diced or shredded chicken  (Use up to 2 cups if you’re not including potatoes.  It is good to use dark meat in this recipe.)

1/4 cup flour

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups liquid (Some portion of this should be chicken broth, and the rest cream, half-and-half, or milk)

thyme, marjoram, salt, & pepper

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onions, carrots, potatoes, thyme, and marjoram.  Cook until the vegetables begin to soften (less than 10 minutes).  Add the chicken and stir.  Sprinkle flour over the mixture and stir again.  Cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly.  Pour in the liquid and bring it all to a slow boil.  Allow the mixture to thicken.  Continue stirring constantly.  When it’s thick, add salt, pepper, and any more seasoning it needs.  Pour the mixture into a casserole dish or a pie pan.

For the crust: make 1 9″ round pie crust and lay it over the filling.  Bake at 375 for 40-50 minutes (I think), or

for biscuit topping:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup quick oats

2 tsp. baking powder

salt (1/2 tsp? I’m not sure)

6 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (Or, you know, salted, but then leave out the salt above)

1/2 cup milk

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Mix together the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter until you have crumbs.  Add the milk and egg and mix it all up.  Drop large spoonfuls of biscuit dough all over the top of the chicken filling, until the whole top is covered.  Bake uncovered at 425 for 25-30 minutes or until filling bubbles and biscuits are golden brown.

You should allow time for the final product to cool before serving, so it can “set up” a little.  Solidify.  Congeal.  Or, simply use a slotted spoon when serving, as it will be soupy.