Monday, August 20, 2012

Semantics

Or, What exactly is a serving anyway?

So, when I started out thinking about today's post, it was going to be about juice.  When I was young, we had juice with a meal.  Not everyday meals, honestly.  But Sunday supper, or restaurant meals, or when we had company, we served a small glass of tomato juice.  In the restaurant, a meal order always included the question, "orange, apple, or tomato juice?" along with the usual questions of "soup or salad, baked or fries".

I've wondered, on several occasions, when that tradition stopped.  I mean, it was gradual in the family, with death and siblings growing up and moving out to start families of their own.  But I can't really say when it stopped happening at restaurants - fancy dinners out weren't that frequent, and stopped for the same reasons as the big family dinners ended.  Fast food restaurants seemed to become the "norm" for dining out.  But even today, I don't even see juice listed on the menu, unless it is as a breakfast choice.  And then, it is nearly always limited to orange juice.

Anyway, that got me thinking about the Canada food guide.  And how a glass of juice with a meal is probably a good way to increase the fruit and vegetable intake.  And how, since I'm working toward eating more real food, that it might be something I could reinstate as a regular part of at least some suppers, even though there are only two of us.  I was thinking about how tomato juice now comes in "single serving" cans, as well as the big ones.  So it is possible to have it occasionally, without worrying about the remainder going bad in the fridge.

And thinking about the food guide, and servings, reminded me of how much I think the word "serving" is horribly ambiguous.  For example:  when I make myself oatmeal, the package has directions to make different quantities.  It usually has one that indicates, "4 servings".  Reading the fine print, it turns out that a "serving" is one half cup.  Now, to me, a "serving" is a bowl full.  A cereal bowl, not a fruit nappy.  So I make the four serving size, and pour it all into one bowl, add a little brown sugar and some milk, and eat the entire bowl myself.

A "serving", to me, is the amount you are served.  So, if I were to have chicken for supper, to me, a serving is 2 thighs, 2 spoonfuls of potatoes, and 1 heaping spoonful of vegetable.  The "spoon" in question being one of those nice big serving spoons.  If I have seconds, let's say another thigh and another spoonful of vegetables (especially if it is corn or peas) then that, to me is a second serving.

Many years ago, when it first came out (not sure if it is still around, though) I bought some Shake 'N Bake for Potatoes.  After using two boxes/4 packets for one meal, based on the instructions for the appropriate number of medium potatoes that one packet would coat, I phoned the 800 number on the box.  After some discussion, it turned out that what they consider a "medium" potato is what I would call a very small potato.

I've searched out various resources, attempting to get an idea of what a "serving" is according to the food guide.  Because I've always worried if I really eat enough of the various things according to the guide.  So far, about the only useful thing I've come across is reference to servings of "grain" in terms of number of slices of bread.  I'm not a fan of bread, though, so would love to get my grains in other ways.  (such as oatmeal - LOVE oatmeal - )  But without a useful gauge, I have no idea what a "serving" of a lot of foods is, by their definition.

To clarify my spoonfuls of things like potatoes and vegetables, I guess if I went with the "half cup" idea, well, I would say I have two servings of most vegetables, and three of potatoes.  But what of the meat?  I've read the suggestion that a serving is the size of your fist.  Well, my fist is smaller than my husband's fist, for one thing.  So who's fist do I use?  And, a chicken thigh is about the size of my fist, but includes the inedible bones.  So, does that make it less than a serving?  What about sliced meat, like from the chicken breast?  (I don't like white meat, but I'm staying with the overall example).  If I only have two slices, should I ball them up first to see how big it becomes?  This is an example of the ambiguity and uselessness of some of the so-called "servings" of food.

I wish I could find my old version of the Canada Food Guide.  The one they gave us back in school, in Home Ec class.  That old style one had more meaningful descriptions on it.  And broke up the food groups into Meat and Fish, Dairy, Cereals, Vegetables, and  Fruit.  Now, the fruit and vegetables are lumped together.  And eggs have been moved to the meat category out of dairy, as has nuts (used to be with grains).  

So, the end result is, I don't know if I'm eating the recommended amount of food.  And I honestly don't know if I should worry about it.  I mean, I keep getting a clean bill of health from my doctor.  And I don't seem to be hungry or anything... So I must be getting enough food.  And I'm not really overweight.  Well, maybe ten pounds or so, for my size age and body type.  But nothing the docs seem to be concerned about.

I have noticed that my body will sometimes tell me if I need something - I sometimes get cravings for certain foods, that usually happen during certain upsets to my routine.  If I've been avoiding potatoes or other starchy foods for more than a few days, I'll suddenly feel like eating toast or having a slice of bread with supper - something I rarely ever do, since I'm not fond of bread.

So, again, maybe I don't need to think so hard about the food guide, or serving sizes of what I eat.  I just wonder if I'm getting enough of the fruits and vegetables... which might be why tomato juice is on my mind.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Slow Cookering

Ok, so probably that isn't a word.  But, to just say, "slow cooking" isn't quite accurate enough.  I mean, you can cook slowly in the oven, but in my case, I used the slow cooker.  So, slow cookering. :)

I have owned a slow cooker (or we have owned) for probably 30 or more years.  Way back when I bought a Crock Pot for my husband. He wanted one for - well, to cook with.  I can't say as I recall him ever actually using it - maybe, *MAYBE* once, when he made chili.  But I could be misremembering that...   I know that I used it when making chili.

I think, honestly, that I've used that particular slow cooker more often for making home made baked beans.  The actual crock part comes out for "easy cleaning", which also makes it quite handy to use as a bean pot. :)

Some years later, a relative gave us a slow cooker for Christmas.  It didn't last long, before the element burnt out, and it wouldn't heat up.  It was a sealed all-in-one unit...which I took apart, so I could use the crock part.  Unfortunately, though, it has a plastic lid, so it is only partly useful.  Until its death, I did use it a few times, to transport chili or stew (and one time, mashed potatoes) to potluck dinners.  I also used it for keeping soup and/or sauces warm at dinner parties.  When it died, I realized that it was a good thing to own two slow cookers, so requested one for Christmas.  A more modern version of a removable crock. Larger than the first one, too.  And, one time, while browsing at Superstore, discovered a very affordable slightly smaller slow cooker.  It, too, has a removable crock.  It also came with a nice large rubber o-ring, that wraps around notches in the handle then goes across the (glass) lid to the other handle, to lock it down for transport to potlucks.  It has done its fair share of chili, too.

See a pattern forming?  I own three slow cookers, but I don't do any real cooking in them.  I decided a year or so ago, that it was time for a change.  I have been checking recipe books at the library, at thrift stores, and I've been searching the internet for some.  But I never really did anything more than keeping chili or stew warm without burning.  Until yesterday.

I finally got brave.  I took a chicken out of the freezer yesterday morning, gave it a quick three minutes on defrost in the microwave to make it easier to get out of the wrapping, then I seasoned it with a couple different seasoning mixes, dropped it into the cooker, poured in some chicken stock, dropped a glop of butter on top, and let 'er go.

Slow cooker roasted chicken.

At the end, while I made gravy, I put the chicken on a cookie sheet and stuck it under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp up the skin.

When cutting some, my husband said the meat was dry - which made me concerned I over-did the broiling.  As soon as he put the first bite in his mouth, though, he admitted he was wrong, and that the chicken was indeed moist and tender :)  I think he was fooled when the meat was falling apart instead of being easy to slice!

Anyway - here's the slightly more detailed (only slightly, as some things I never really measure) "recipe".

Turn slow cooker on high to pre-warm, while seasoning chicken.
Small whole chicken, still frozen (roughly 5 pounds- I buy the whole chickens in a bag from Superstore, that work out to about three chickens in a bag for about $20, or 2 for around $15, so about a $6 chicken)
Seasoning to taste:  I shook on some "Keg Steak Seasoning" and some "Club House Smoked Applewood" seasoning.  I also chopped four small cloves of garlic, and dropped them in on top of the chicken.
Add butter (depending on how "fatty" your chicken is - if you use that "DunnRite" brand, I wouldn't add any extra fat; in fact, I would thaw the chicken, and remove the excess fat that is always in there.  I have never had such nasty greasy chicken as I have from that brand!) to taste, placing it on top of the breast.  In my case, I wanted to wash the butter dish, so I ended up using about a quarter cup.  It seemed to be just about right, though.  Pour one cup of (home made) chicken stock into the bottom of the cooker.  Place lid on, and allow to cook on high for several hours.  I started the chicken from frozen between 10 and 11 am.

After four to five hours (I did it around 3 pm) ladle off the excess liquid, reserving it for gravy.  Continue cooking the chicken until it starts to brown, and begins to "slouch". (touching the chicken with the ladle knocked one wing loose; the legs soon slipped down from the body).  Reduce heat to low/warm.

When ready to serve, remove from cooker, and place on baking sheet, place under broiler in oven for five to ten minutes, to crisp up and further brown the skin.  Serve.


To go with it, I made rice, steamed green and yellow beans from the garden (a gift from a dear friend's garden) and the gravy - I poured off the layer of fat into a pot, added flour to make a kind of "roux", then added the rest of the juices from the chicken.  Whisked it in, added a little bit of salt to taste (I don't cook meat with salt anymore; I learned it dries it out fast!!) and cooked until thickened.  Gravy on rice sounds strange, at least to me, but it sure tasted good!! :)


And one of these days, I'll remember to take pictures of the food!!  Before it becomes a pile of leftovers on the serving dish or in the pot... ;).  We don't get so formal as to use the fancy serving bowls and platters for just the two of us; it is usually just help your self from the cooking pots ;)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New (to me) Recipe for Onion Rings.

I should be posting more, just haven't had time! I'm gearing up for a pig roast in a few days - but that deserves its very own post.  For now, I want to rave about a recipe I found last week.

Pinterest has been a fascinating website.  First, I appreciated it for the fact that I could save all the cute kitty pictures I find without using up my hard drive space.  Then, I started discovering all sorts of cool design ideas for my home.  Then came the recipes.... I've been trying all sorts of new things, and this time, it was a different recipe for onion rings.

http://www.canadianliving.com/food/beer_battered_onion_rings.php

I have a recipe for batter that I got from my Joy of Cooking.  The cookbook was a Christmas gift from my (then) soon to be sister in law.  Great reference book - anything you want to know about any food item, you can probably find in it.  As for recipes --- well, honestly, I find many of them convoluted or specialized in a way that makes them impractical for everyday use.  Especially for a young wife, still learning her way around a kitchen.  However, there are some good recipes in there, that I've used over and over and over again.  Spilled food and stains on some pages attest to the best ones!  One of those that I've used many times is the "fritter batter".  A favourite when making Chinese food such as sweet and sour chicken balls.  BUT, even though the book claims it is good for many savoury purposes, I have found it not so good for onion rings, or many other fried veggies. Too heavy.  I have another recipe from a friend, for a tempura type batter, that I now use when fondue-ing.  But it would be too thin for onion rings, I think.  Sometimes, I feel a little like Goldilocks ;)

So, when I discovered the Canadian Living recipe, I figured I'd give it a shot.  It differed from the Joy recipe in that the beer was to be used fresh, not flat.  And the standing time was a lot shorter than I'm used to.

I did do some things not exactly as written - I didn't dredge the onions in flour first, but ended up with nice crispy rings anyway.  And I don't have any cayenne in the house - what I do have is "extra hot chili powder" that I buy in bulk from Superstore.  Hotter than cayenne, to tell the truth... I was nervous substituting, but I couldn't even taste it.  (May get brave next time, and do the heaping spoon thing).  Also, the recipe says "1 bottle beer" - well, we buy canned beer right now, so I measured it out, looking to get close to 341 ml instead of the 355 the can claims to be.... I used the whole can.  :P

The verdict - I found this batter to be "just right!"  Not too heavy, not too thin.  And the onion rings turned out perfect! (except for one batch that I had to step away from for a couple of minutes, so they got well browned!).  This recipe is definitely a keeper.