Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Almond Cookie Oatmeal (with Dates)

It's kind of funny, I had never actually had a date until I went to Tunisia. I mean, I had eaten the nasty flour-coated mouse turds in cereal that they claim are dates. (Sorry if I just stopped you from ever touching those again. Sort of.) But Tunisia exports a lot of dates, and people eat them often, and I'm willing to try anything. And whoa. My first thought is that they are like natural pastries. Especially when fresher, and not chilled, they have a texture and flavor that reminds me so much of baked sugary or honey-covered wonderfulness.

Apparently I'm not the only one to think so because the cookie flavors of Lara bars all have dates as the first ingredient. I usually get deglet dates since they're cheaper, but be sure they're not all dried by the time you get them. Medjool are the fancier, pricier kind. And usually more moist.

So today I have more oatmeal for you. Sorry if that's boring, but with the stove still sitting in my office, there's not much choice! I did make two more crockpot experiments, one of which may get posted here, but neither was fantastic. Yet. They could be improved. But this oatmeal is completely sugar-free and extra sweetener free! Ahhh, the magic of dates!

Almond Cookie Oatmeal
Serves: 1
Prep time: 3 minutes

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats (they are less processed than quick oats, but you could really use either.)
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup dates (the 5 pictured above happened to make 1/4 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Put oatmeal in a 2-cup microwaveable container. Add water to barely cover oats for thick oatmeal, or to cover by a lot for thinner.

2. Cook in microwave on high for 90 seconds.

3. Chop dates. I did this while the oatmeal was cooking.

4. When the oatmeal is done, add almonds, dates and cinnamon. Stir and enjoy immediately or move to a prettier serving dish :)

How I normally eat my oatmeal - fewer dishes!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fresh Chicken Stock (slow cooker)

When I made the successful chicken in the crock-pot the other day, I had seen someone recommend throwing the bones, etc. back into the pot to make fresh broth or stock or whatever you like to call it. I figured this was a cool chance and not to be missed. So, after I ate dinner, I pulled all of the meat off of the chicken carcass (as some call it) and put all of the bones, skin, etc back in the pot. Well, not quite true, I was looking at the bones and said aloud "whoa, look at its spine, that's cool." Mr. More Calories glanced at it and said "that's gross," in a very matter-of-fact kind of way. I still think it was cool, but decided not to take a picture. The recipe follows for you. This can be used in anything that calls for chicken broth or stock or bouillon or whatever you prefer to call it.

I am missing a lot of kitchen tools right now because I lived in a place that had everything for 3 years and am now in the process of getting my own. Fun, but slow so far. I used a colander instead of a proper mesh strainer, so my broth remains pretty... colorful. That's ok with me, but I'm getting a strainer next because it's not always good.

One word of caution, though - that stuff is HOT when it's done! I know that's obvious, but crock pots are not meant for pouring. That means when you go to strain out the bits, be careful. I had to re-wash my counter. And a patch of floor. And 'got' to feel how hot it really gets. Just be careful.

Fresh Chicken Stock in the slow cooker
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8-24 hours
Makes: about 5 cups

Inedible bits from 1 chicken
3 cups water

1. Make sure your chicken meat is all pulled off of the bone. You don't want to lose any of the stuff you can eat as-is!
No water added, just the chicken's own juices from cooking.

2. Put all bones, skin, etc. in the insert (the 'pot' part). Add 3 cups water.

3. Turn on crockpot to low (or simmer, depending on your cooker) for 8-24 hours depending on your patience and time available.

Pot after 24 hours
4. When it's done cooking, strain in a fine strainer, lined with cheesecloth if you really want all of the little stuff out.

Mine has a ton of floaty stuff because I don't have a strainer right now.

5. Put stock in a covered container in the fridge. The next day, skim off all of the fat that will rise to the top.

6. Use in your favorite recipe!

I actually don't have a strainer yet. And my cheesecloth is trapped in a cabinet in the construction zone. So I used a colander and will need to re-strain it to use it. I think I might make rice. Or Potatoes. Oooh, or soup. Yes, soup, that's it.

This is what was left over after the stock was strained off.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crockpot Chicken

I don't eat very much meat because I care too much about where it comes from. No matter what kind of chicken you're buying, a whole chicken costs about half as much per pound as the boneless, skinless breasts that have become standard fare for most of us. But whole chickens scare me. Or used to. I decided to take the plunge and just try a whole chicken with my new friend (a 3.5 quart programmable crockpot.) 

It was actually really easy! The hardest part was checking to make sure if there was a plastic bag of nasty bits inside (mine didn't have any.) From start to finish, including taking the ingredients out of the fridge and peeling my sweet potatoes with a paring knife it took me 23 minutes (must buy vegetable peeler!)

One of the cool things about this to me is that it was amazingly easy and will feed us (me & Mr. More Calories) for a few meals. More on that to come!

Crockpot Whole Chicken
Serves: 6 (chicken) or 2 (with sweet potatoes for dinner)
20 minute prep, 7 hours to cook

1 whole chicken (mine was 3.5 lbs)
2 small sweet potatoes (about 1 pound)
1 medium onion (about 1 cup)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning or rub (really, anything you like!)

1. Peel the sweet potatoes. Chop about 1/2-inch thick. Put in the bottom of the slow cooker.
2. Peel the onion and cut into thick wedges. Place on top of the sweet potato.

3. Take the chicken out of its plastic, make sure there aren't any surprises in the cavity (and if there are, ask someone else what to do with them!) I didn't even take off the skin. I'm not going to eat it, but it was easy and it will make a tasty stock. Rub with the poultry rub or seasoning and stick on top of the potatoes and onion.

4. Turn on the pot to low (recommended by my cooker for meats for long times, check your instruction manual to be sure!) and cook for 7 hours. This is what it will look like when it's done:

You see the liquid down there on the right? It's all from the chicken and vegetables, there was no liquid added. Big difference between cooked and uncooked, right? Ok, no, well here it is on a plate with some salad for my dinner. I went back for more sweet potatoes. And I know the onions aren't prettiest. At least they tasted good.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Apricot Almond Butter Oatmeal

I have been mostly gone for the last two years because I am a grad student (although I have been since I started this blog) and moved into a house of 100 students. I say house because we are all responsible for making sure the house runs smoothly - cooking, cleaning, discipline, all of it! For the first year, I was just any other student there, but for my second and third year, I was in charge of lunches and dinners. No, I didn't make them all. In fact, I helped actually make very few. I did find the recipes, translate them into 'new cook' and scale them to the proper size to feed hungry college students. After the dinners, I would sometimes need to check in with the cooks and make my version of 'new cook' match the reality.

One of the biggest things I learned was how intimidating cooking can be for some people. Some of my earliest memories are pulling out drawers in the kitchen to make stairs for me to climb up and stir a pot when my mom was on the phone (and I just realized how absolutely crazy that sounds on so many levels!) There's also a great story of helping with banana bread... but maybe another day. The thing is, I didn't realize how foreign a kitchen could be to others, that to some the freezer is a logical place to look for olives, that 'lentils' and 'split peas' are completely unknown, or that some don't see the point in measuring -- ever.

With this new information in hand, I return to my blog. I am moving out of my giant house this summer and hope to find time to continue here in the fall once teaching, learning, and research begin again in a structured way.

On to the oatmeal! I looove oatmeal. I used to it eat twice a day according to my little sister. She's probably not the best authority, and definitely at ramen twice a day for years. It's super quick, it's tasty (when done right!) and is also nutritional and filling with the right extras added in. I found out when a house mate had some extra almond butter, and my peanut butter ran out, that it is absolutely delicious in oatmeal! Like it was meant to be. So here it is for you.

Apricot Almond Butter Oatmeal
1 serving, 3 minute prep time

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats*
5 dried apricots
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
* - for me, this is about two handfuls. It's easier than trying to measure it :)

Start out by putting the oats into a microwave-safe bowl that holds at least 2 cups (big to avoid spilling over and making a mess in the microwave. 3 or 4 cup is fine, I make mine in the pyrex measuring cup.)

Add water. I add to just above the oats. This makes thick oatmeal. More water means thinner oatmeal.

Microwave on high for 90 seconds.

While it's microwaving, chop up the apricots. (I just tore them up by hand, but ended up wishing the pieces were smaller.)

When done, add apricots, almond butter and honey to the dish. Stir. Enjoy!

Nutritional information (with honey): 357 calories, 13g fat, 55.5g carbs, 10g protein
Nutritional information (no honey): 335 calories, 13g fat, 50g carbs, 10g protein