Banishing Mid-Winter Blahs

February 11, 2010 at 6:21 pm Leave a comment

   Ever suffered from the post-Christmas blues?  I generally cope by drawing up a list of the old year’s accomplishments and the new year’s goals, listening to upbeat music, and tweaking my diet and fitness routines to compensate for holiday excesses.  (Snow-shoeing, anyone?)  Planning a future social event can be helpful, too.  

Okay; got through January.  But it’s February, and now a case of the mid-winter blahs threatens.  Add low barometric pressures to overcast skies and early sunsets, and it can feel like you have ten-pound weights strapped to each limb.  My energy reserves depleted, a few nights ago I came dangerously close to crawling into the cocoon of my quilt-laden bed  at 8:30,  clutching a large bag of Sun Chips® left over from the holidays. 

It was a close one, but common sense, the dog’s need for a tinkle-trot, and my resolve not to succumb to destructive old habits finally won out.  I did a brisk 5-minute Tae-Bo session, bundled myself and the pup for a brief stroll under the street lights, brewed a nice cup of tea, and dished up some cubed fresh pears topped with vanilla yogurt, crumbled walnuts, and a generous dose of nutmeg.  A crunchily comforting snack, and I didn’t hate myself the next morning. 

As an added benefit, while munching I came up with the inspiration for the next night’s menu:  Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce, a whole grain take on Cheesey “Risotto” with Tomatoes and Olives, Fresh Baked Rustic Italian Focaccia, and a simple stir-fry of Zucchini, Summer Squash, and Onion.  The pear combo mentioned above would be a nice finish.  Mid-winter blahs, begone! 

I had a bargain-bin package of Calhoun Bend Mill® stone ground rustic Italian focaccia flatbread mix on my shelf, but I also found this relatively simple recipe at massrecipes.com: 

1-1/2 C bread flour                      1 1/2 C unbleached flour      2 tsp salt                                       1 TB sugar                                          1 1 (.25 oz) pkg instant yeast     1-1/3 cups warm water -110° 3 TB olive oil, divided           2 TB chopped fresh rosemary

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, sprinkle the sugar and yeast into the well, and carefully pour the water into the well. Let stand until the yeast begins to act, about 5 minutes. Pour 2 tablespoons oil into the well and – with a wooden spoon – stir the mixture in the center of the bowl, gradually taking in all the flour at the sides.  Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead just until smooth.  Pour 1/2 teaspoon of the oil into a clean bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn once to oil the top. Cover. Let rise until doubled, 30 to 45 minutes.

Punch dough down. Use 1 teaspoon of oil to coat a baking sheet, place the dough on the baking sheet, and gently press the dough out to a 1/2-inch thickness. Pour the remaining 1- 1/2 teaspoons oil over the dough. Using the handle end of a wooden spoon, dimple the dough at 1-1/2 inch intervals and then sprinkle with rosemary.  Place in a cold oven on the center shelf with a flat pan of hot water on the shelf below the bread. Let rise until doubled, 20 to 25 minutes.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until browned.

The pork chops require less time and effort:

4 large, ultra-thick (1-1/2″) bone-in loin chops    salt, pepper to taste

1 tsp onion powder                                1/2 tsp allspice                1 C dry white wine

1 C chicken broth                    2 TB dijonaise* mustard 

Whisk the salt, pepper, onion powder, and allspice together in a medium bowl.  Sprinkle mixture over both sides of chops then brown them on both sides in an oven-proof non-stick skillet over medium heat.  In the same bowl, blend wine,  broth, and dijonaise until well combined, then pour over chops and place pan in a 350° oven for 45-60 minutes, turning meat every 15-20 minutes.  Cover halfway through cooking if liquid threatens to cook away. 

*I discovered dijonaise about five years ago at my husband’s aunt’s table, and I’ve been a passionate devotee ever since.  It tastes super creamy, as if it were what the name implies – a combo of mayonnaise and mustard.  But it is pure mustard, so no fat and low in calories.  It’s become my new sandwich spread of choice. 

And for the “healthified” mock risotto,  simply cook brown rice according to package directions, with a few modifications: 

1 C brown rice                  2-1/2 C chicken broth                   1/4 C finely grated Parmesan 

1/2 C cubed Roma tomatoes                       1/4 C thin-sliced olives (optional)                                          

Combine the rice and liquid in a saucepan, cover, bring to a full boil, reduce heat, and simmer for up to 60 minutes, stirring frequently.  The divergence from standard brown rice preparation is in the substitution of broth for water, the amount of liquid used (at least 1 cup more than package directions call for), the frequent stirring, and the  slightly prolonged cooking time.   This approach seems to break down the starches a bit, yielding a much creamier final product.  Add even more broth toward the end, if your eye tells you to.  Right before serving, fold in the cheese, tomatoes, and olives.  Van Nuys, as my California cousin used to say. 

The vegetable stir fry takes about ten minutes and starts with 1/2 cup of slivered onion softened in a bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan over  medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes.  Toss in 2 cups of yellow (or summer) squash, washed and cubed; stir-fry for 2 minutes then add  2 cups of washed, cubed zucchini and toss for another 2 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

And if you find yourself bogged down with February fatigue, start planning a special Valentine’s or Saint Patrick’s day meal for those you love.  It’s a foodie-style approach to focusing on others that will pull you right up out of the dumps.

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Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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