Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Holiday Season Is Upon Us

This is the time of year in which many cultures and religions celebrate many holidays.  Typically, when holidays are celebrated there is a meal at the center of the celebration that brings people together.  Even in our 3 person family, we use food to celebrate the holidays.

This brings food to the forefront of an awful lot of thought for me.  Because I do love to bake and cook, I like to break out those recipes that I shouldn’t eat all year long.  It also gives me a great excuse to play in the kitchen and to try recipes I’ve stashed away all year waiting for a reason to try them.

This year I am not in a good place with my weight.  While I’m not brave enough to share the actual numbers of my weight with you, I will say that as of the typing of this blog that I am 8 pounds above the top range of what I would ideally like to be.  That top range number is not even where I like to be but rather a warning number for myself that I need to set the fork down more often than I am picking it up.

I don’t know what happened.  Usually summer is my nemesis.  The loose schedule of the summer leads me to places I should not be going with my food consumption.  I have learned this over the years and I managed to get through summer only 2 pounds above my high range weight.  I considered this an accomplishment because at the end of last summer I was 12 pounds above that number.  I think relief set in after I saw that and I relaxed a little too much once fall set in.  Last week I was exactly where I was at the end of last summer…12 pounds above that high end number.  The number that is supposed to keep me from getting in any worse shape.

I now find myself just a couple weeks before Thanksgiving with weight to lose and holiday food to prepare and eat.  I have been doing very well with staying on track and am in a very good state of mind regarding my food.  I know miracles will not happen and prefer the slower weight loss (did I just say that?) because I do know that ultimately weight lost in the proper (slow) way tends to stay off longer.  Therefore, I need to figure out what is going to happen Thanksgiving day. 

Today I planned my Thanksgiving meal.  It’s nothing fancy, I guarantee you, but it helps me to have a plan so I can decide how to tackle it regarding my weight and my preference of trying to do it in a more natural way.

Here’s what I have planned:

Turkey
Mashed Potatoes
Gravy
Stuffing
Butter Rolls
Apple Turnovers
Something Pumpkin

See, nothing special at all.  However, I need to look further and figure out how I can best keep all of this low in points for my Weight Watcher’s plan and on budget for my eating “more conscious” plan. 

I’ve done some research and here it goes…..

Turkey

While turkey is the easiest as far as Weight Watchers goes, it’s a hard go when it comes to being more conscious. 

I’ve done some looking around online and have found that there are no conscious turkey farms that are too close by.  Even if there were some close by, we are talking anywhere from $3.49 a pound to $4.99 a pound.  I do pay these prices for some of the meat that we buy but it is usually boneless and I can buy it in smaller amounts so it’s easier to handle financially. 

I found that the average Thanksgiving turkey is 12-16 pounds.  With those prices you are looking at anywhere between $41.88 (for a 12 pound turkey at $3.49 a pound) to $79.84 (for a 16 pound turkey at $4.99 a pound).  I know, I know…they’re free-range, organic, better for the environment and the farmer’s health.  I visited a community organic farm on a field trip with my son last year and I was so loving the vibe of the place.  This farm is about 50 minutes from my home, which I’d be willing to drive if the price was right.  However, they say they have few turkeys at less than 16 pounds and their members get first choice at turkeys so I would not be guaranteed a smaller turkey if I were to order one.  So let’s say that I have to get an 18 pound turkey at $4.50 a pound.  $81.00.  Say I have to take a 20 pound turkey.  $90.00.  I’m all for doing what I can to eat better and help the environment and keep the earth healthy but jeez Louise!! 

With all that said, I am buying a turkey from a local supermarket.  Maybe I will just have to settle with buying from a smaller, very local chain to feel better about my purchase.  At least I’m not going to a big chain.  Does it make much difference?  Probably not but I think that is all I will be able to do as far as my turkey goes this year.

Mashed Potatoes

At Thanksgiving I like to break out the Death by Butter mashed potato recipe.  Check it out.  I saw it on a local show that reviews restaurants.  Butter, cream, asiago cheese, more butter.  It’s absolutely amazing.  If I had my choice to die of anything, it would indeed be by these potatoes. 

Since my weight is not going to go anywhere but up if I make these, I will be passing these up this year.  I was going to try to modify it but it is the butter that makes these what they are.  I will probably do the skinny mashed potato thing where you boil the potatoes in chicken broth then mash them with some of the chicken broth.  I’d like to “fancy” them up a bit so perhaps some I will look to the other recipe for that.  Asiago is such a strong tasting cheese that a little can go a long way. 

I always buy organic potatoes and chicken broth so this is very easy to work with my plan to be more conscious.

Gravy

I don’t make gravy.  You know how some things you have the knack for and some you do not?  Well, gravy is in my “do-not-have-the-knack-for” list. 

We are very lucky to have Willow Tree Farm in this area and they sell their gravy at a close by supermarket.  It’s not all those conscious things I want it to be but it is at least local. 

A ¼ cup of their gravy has 30 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.  It tastes much better than the jarred and canned gravy I have bought in the past.  It’s $0.99 for a 2 cup tub of it. 

How can this girl who can’t make gravy go wrong?

Stuffing

This is not an issue for me as I don’t eat it. 

I will make homemade bread for the stuffing and buy as many organic ingredients that I can find for it which usually isn’t too hard. 

The chicken broth, as I mentioned above, I always have on hand.  Celery is often reasonable.  I will have to see what else my boys will want in it.  They are always willing to try a new recipe with different ingredients.  Once we decide on a recipe, I will better know how well I can do with this one but so far, I feel good about it.

Butter Rolls

Rolls, rolls, rolls.  This has always been the highlight of any holiday meal for me.  Bread is one of my huge weak spots. 

Because this is one thing I really enjoy, I will make what I want the way it is supposed to be made.  The recipe is out of a bread machine cookbook that I have from over 10 years ago and it is just what is says it is…a buttery roll. 

These have eggs, sugar and of course butter in them.  All those things that make a roll taste so wonderful.  What I am going to do is make the smallest batch of these with organic sugar, local eggs and maybe even organic butter.

I will not be making these in a bread machine but the good thing about the bread machine cookbook is that for each recipe they have the ingredient amounts for small, medium and large loaves or batches of dough for rolls. 

The small makes 8, which is plenty for the 3 of us.  That means I will eat 2 of these. If we each have 2 with dinner there will be 2 leftover and I will just let the boys have the extra 2 with their leftovers.  I usually make the “large” which makes 16 rolls so we have enough for all our leftovers through the weekend.

Apple Turnovers

On a whim I bought a box of puff pastry at Trader Joe’s a while ago.  I had no real plans for it but had read how good it was and since it was a frozen product, I bought it so I’d have it on hand to play with when the mood struck me. 

Just recently I saw a recipe for apple turnovers in a Prevention Magazine email newsletter.  Their emphasis was on portion control since it was still using puff pastry and sugar in the recipe. 

Portion control is my issue.  With having puff pastry on hand and a recipe for apple turnovers, I now have a solution for my portion issues. 

When I cut a pie we get about 6 slices out of it and it’s gone in a day with the 3 of us eating it.  Knowing myself, I feel that having a dessert that is already baked in an individual portion will help me with portion size since I cannot cut it too large, it’s the size it is.  Sure, I could eat more than 1 but I am less likely to this way. 

The apples I will be using for these are from a farm in Northborough, MA so they are local.  They are not organic but their website says they use integrated pest management.  This method controls the way in which they use pesticides so that they do not use as many of them…as far as I understand. 

The Trader Joe’s puff pastry has 5 ingredients in it that are completely recognizable; flour, butter, salt, sugar and water.  Pepperidge Farms puff pastry has 8 ingredients in it which include hydrogenated vegetable shortening and high fructose corn syrup. 

Something Pumpkin

Something pumpkin? What is this? 

Since I do not like pumpkin, I don’t consider this an issue for myself.  I let the boys figure out what they want and then I make it for them. 

I have canned organic pumpkin in my cupboard right now so that is about all I know about what I can do for this part of the meal right now.  Typically they ask for pie but I would like to see if I can do something a little different this year for them.  It will likely still be pie but there are a lot of pumpkin pie variations out there and I want to play with something new!


There’s my breakdown of how I plan for this holiday dinner to go down.  I know I can do it; I have in the past and plan to this year.  Sometimes the 3 day weekend after the holiday itself is harder than the day of the holiday.  What I have to remember is a saying that one of my favorite Weight Watcher’s leader said one year:

It’s a holi-DAY, not a holi-WEEK.

With that, I will leave you to consider what you might do this holiday season to help yourself out with your goals and priorities.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cranberry Raisin Walnut Beer Bread



I’ve been making beer bread for about a year now.  In case you haven’t tried it and are wondering, it’s wonderful.  It’s as easy as can be and tastier than you’d imagine for something that takes such little effort.  The coup de gras of this bread is the butter you put on top.  You see, you melt a bunch of butter (salted is my choice) and you pour it all over the bread before it bakes.  This results in the most fabulous buttery, salty crust E-V-E-R!

The recipe is simple enough and you can find a bunch of results when you search on Google for a recipe for it.  The basis of all of them is pretty much the same.  You will find one with self-rising flour and one without that adds a healthy dose of baking powder to compensate for not using self-rising flour.  There are many variations of this recipe-some savory and some sweet. 

I have no idea if this particular version of this bread is out there, I haven’t looked.  I am sure I am not the first person though to think of putting dried fruit and nuts into this bread.  It seems a good combination.  The tart of the cranberries, the sweet of the raisins, the crunch of the nuts along with that crust…did I mention how amazing the crust is?  Yeah, I am sure I have.

Here is the recipe.  Not sure who to credit it back to, as I said, it’s all over the internet.  So I suppose I can just say:


3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
12 ounces beer
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cups toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped*
1/4 cup salted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 375 and grease a loaf pan very well.

Put flour, baking powder, sugar and salt into mixing bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients together to incorporate baking powder, sugar and salt into the flour.  Have you ever eaten something and gotten a mouthful of un-mixed-in baking powder or soda?  If not, let me tell you...it’s not good. 

Crack open the beer and pour it right into the dry ingredients…don’t take a sip, you won’t have enough for your recipe.  Mix thoroughly. 

Add all the dried fruits and nuts into the batter and stir until they are evenly mixed in.

Pour all of this into your prepared loaf pan and smooth out the top of the loaf.  Take your melted butter and pour it evenly all over the top of the unbaked loaf.  You may need to get a pastry brush to even it out a little.  Don’t worry if some of it drips down between the batter and the pan.

Pop this baby in the oven for about an hour.  The crust will start to turn a lovely golden brown color and I use the toothpick test to check to see when it’s done…if your toothpick comes out clean, you’re done!  Cool in the pan for a little bit, about 15 minutes or so.  Turn out onto a cooling rack and try to resist cutting into it until it is cool.

*You can toast your nits in the oven or the stove top.  I choose the stove top because I tend to forget when they are in the oven.

To toast on the stovetop:  Put nuts in a skillet and stir over low to medium heat until they are toasted.  It doesn’t take too long and you want to be sure that you watch them carefully as it doesn’t take long for them to start to burn.

To toast in the oven:  Heat oven to 350.  Put nuts on a baking sheet and keep an eye on them, stirring every few minutes.  Again, it doesn’t take too long just make sure you pull them out before they go too far!


Here are my usual notes about what I used:


Sugar

As in the previous post for the pizza sauce, I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Sugar.  Their website is finally back up so you can check them out now.  I have not noticed any change in anything I’ve used this product with.  I really am glad I made the switch. 


Butter

I’ve recently switched to Cabot butter instead of buying the BJs brand of butter.  As with the Cabot cheeses I’ve used in previous recipes, I can find this for a good price at a small grocery store nearby.  Cabot is a farm co-op and their farmers pledge to keep hormones out of their milk.


Flour

I usually use King Arthur, as you may know if you’ve read previous baking posts on my blog.  However, with the new Wegman’s in the area, I have been buying 2-5lb bags of their unbleached flour each time we go there.  Until the end of the year they are only $0.99 at this new store.  They limit it to 2 per customer so I will keep buying 2 bags each time we go until the end of the year and will then switch back to my beloved King Arthur flour.


Dried Fruits and Nuts

As much as I would like to say these are all organic, they are not.  Have you seen how expensive nuts are lately?  They are not cheap.  I’ve never even looked for organic nuts but I am guessing Whole Foods has them.  Even so, I have a hard time forking the money over for them at BJs in a club pack so I am quite sure I’d gasp at the price of organic nuts!  As for the dried fruits, I don’t usually pick these out.  I do not like dried fruits to snack on or in baked goods so my husband usually picks out what he wants to put in his nightly snack of a mix of nuts, dried fruits and chocolate chips.  Dried fruit, other than raisins, can get expensive just like nuts can.  I will look into it next time I go shopping and see how it compares.  If it’s not a big jump in price, I may make the switch.
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