Roasted Chicken with Apples

I’m on my 5th day of recovery after having my gallbladder removed and things are progressing nicely.  I’m still rather tired and need to take breaks from sitting up to lay down, but the pain is subsiding and I hardly take any pain medication anymore.

Eating, however, is still a challenge.  I am voracious but can eat very little when I actually sit down to do so.  I’m not sure if that has anything to do with the surgery or because I’ve always had a small appetite.  But I’m craving everything – any food I see on the TV, on the internet, even food James is eating that I don’t usually care about I’ve been ogling with utmost longing.  Pepperoni pizza, not something I’ve particularly cared about giving up, has climbed to the top of the list of things I crave – but not yet, not yet.

After gallbladder removal you need to stay on an extremely low-fat diet: the doctor’s instructions say for 3 weeks (which would be exactly when I leave for Chicago on vacation), but I’m going to ask about when I can start introducing more fat into my diet at my post-op appointment.  Extremely low fat  is defined as 3g of fat or less, which is a very small amount and really very difficult to find.  Some chicken soups even have more than that, so I’m just trying to keep it in the ballpark.

In honor of this lowfat diet, I give you Roasted Chicken with Apples.  For a while now, doctors and nutritionists have been telling us that vegetables and fruits should take up more room on our plate than meat and starch – a good goal is half the plate and better yet to eliminate the starch completely!  Yet, I think most Americans find this hard to do: the meat + vegetable + starch formula for our dinner plates is hard-wired into our habits.  This was all the rage after World Wars I & II, because our soldiers were fed “3 square meals” a day when overseas, which consisted of just this formula – intended to keep our soldiers full of calories for the extensive physical feats that were asked of them.  When the soldiers came home, this is what they wanted to eat.  And a tradition was born that you still see in restaurants and dinner tables across the country.the_more_you_know_nbc

Don’t get me wrong, I love carbs – when I realized I couldn’t eat cheese, I declared that if you took bread from me, life would not be worth living.  And I am a great advocate of fiber from carbs and not purchasing carby foods for my home that don’t contain a good amount of fiber.  But I can also see the benefits of adding even more fruits and veggies to my diet and my dinner plate.  So when I saw this recipe for mashed, roasted apples, in place of the rice or mashed potatoes on a more traditional plate, I thought that was a good first try: apples are still carby but with more complex nutrients than others.  But I abandoned the recipe after a few tries.  The mashed apples took too much time and never really produced a consistency that I desired.

When James and I were searching for some inspiration a few years ago, he found the recipe in an enormous binder I keep of recipes that I’ve saved over the years: most of which I found intriguing, but never actually made.  When he attempted the recipe, he found the key: simply cut the apples into wedges, instead of small pieces, and season as usual.  What results is a very easy recipe to make but with a complex and interesting end-product: there’s still crunch to the apples but they absorb all the seasonings to become something entirely new and exciting.  Best of all, I mentioned low-fat: the recipe adds absolutely no fat whatsoever.  It uses the power of the chicken juices from the breasts to flavor the apples.

(Although, if you used a fattier cut like thighs or even bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, I’m sure that would also be delectable… Oh god, the hunger pains…)

Roasted Chicken with Apples

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups of apples, cut into wedges, about 1.5 pounds (easily found in a bag at the store for your convenience)20140521_185343
  • 1 tsp. dried sage
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (no thin-cut here, please. We tried it, but the chicken dries out before the apples have come to their truest roasting potential.)
  • more salt and fresh ground pepper for chicken

The Process:

Chop your garlic and add all seasonings for apples into a bowl.

Roughly chopped garlic - all the pieces of different sizes, and that's okay.
Roughly chopped garlic – all the pieces of different sizes, and that’s okay.

20140521_190746

Cut your apples into wedges.  We love to use this apple corer, which makes life so much easier.  I find that my apple corer does not slice cleanly through the other side of the apple skin, but applying some gentle pressure with my fingers releases each wedge.  Be careful – the edges aren’t knife-sharp but they ain’t dull either.

Position over apple's core.
Position over apple’s core.
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Flipped over, almost through the skin.
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Gently release the apple wedges.

Mix the apples with their seasonings and spread out onto a half-sheet pan.20140521_19133420140521_191346

Season your chicken breasts and lay them on top of the apple wedges.20140521_191451

Roast in the oven at 475º for 25 minutes or until chicken breasts are cooked through without being dry.photo 3

Voila!  Your dinner with starch AND fruit.  And everybody knows that chicken and apples go great together.20140521_200834

Enjoy, and if you’re eating ice cream on these early days of summer, enjoy some for me!  I’ll be here eating low-fat graham crackers.  Sure would taste great in some s’mores ice cream.  Sigh.

Gallstone woes

A few years ago, I got a salad from Le Pain Quotidien near my work.  It was a new restaurant near our theatre with remarkably different food, and although the prices were a little high for my non-profit paycheck, I would occasionally indulge in their rustic french fare.  I would lean towards the vegetarian dishes, which were usually a few bucks cheaper.

I can't believe I actually found a picture of this salad!
I can’t believe I actually found a picture of this salad!

On this particular day, which has been burned into my memory for the horror it brought this foodie, I bought an arugula salad with goat cheese medallions.  It was the kind of goat cheese that was a little gooey, with a sharp, salty bite just on the cusp of being overbearing and unpleasant but mellowed out by the rich dairy.  I had eaten healthfully up until this point that day, dug in and almost immediately my body reacted: a hot flash, a feeling of weakness and faint, and embarrassingly painful gassy cramps.  I looked down at my beautifully constructed salad, at the arugula, the tomatoes, the lemon vinaigrette and those gorgeous cheese medallions and I knew then and there: it was the cheese.

I’d always been a slow eater (I tell my friends that I prefer to dine rather than eat) and had been subject to these kinds of attacks since senior year of high school.  I can remember how I would invariably get sick after eating in a restaurant.  But at those times, it never occurred to me that the problem could be cheese.

And that’s because, that doesn’t actually make sense.  I’m not lactose intolerant, I still enjoy low-fat dairy products: it wasn’t the dairy, it was the fat.  High fat foods give me this reaction.

For a while, I didn’t think of looking into it with a doctor.  Although I love cheese, I figured this was a good thing: I didn’t NEED to eat high-fat foods, it was really better that I have a tangible excuse to avoid them, right?  Ah, if only it had been that simple.

After a virus I contracted in Greece last month, I tried three different antibiotics on my inevitable ear infection before I could find one that wouldn’t reek havoc on my digestive system and after that I was never really the same.  I had terrible heartburn and would have this hot flash/nausea reaction pretty much anytime I ate.  So I had to bite the bullet and see the doctor.

The doctor told me that I probably had gallstones and ordered an ultrasound.  Just as my ultrasound results came back, I started to experience stabbing pains in my upper right abdomen and it was determined that I did, indeed, have gallstones.  Since I was beginning to experience pain, my gallbladder would have to come out soon.  Fortunately, the surgery can be done laparoscopically with a very short recovery period.  And there are high hopes that without the gallbladder, I will be able to eat all the foods I love again.  If that’s true, I’m really hoping that the habits I’ve formed over the past few years hold so I can reintroduce cheese and other high-fat goodies into my diet in moderation.  Although I have told James that he can probably expect to find me at home some night with a wheel of cheese on my chest, gnawing away….

This is all my way of saying I’m sorry I haven’t been able to write for a bit.  I have been living on Utz Sourdough Pretzels and Outshine Raspberry Popsicles, although even those are starting to become difficult to stomach.  My surgery is scheduled for Wednesday and I am looking forward to being able to eat real food again maybe even by the weekend (but my diet must stay low-fat for a few weeks).

I can, however, hope to give you much more varied recipes and exploits in the kitchen if this surgery does everything it’s promising.  James and I are already fantasizing about which of my cheese recipes I’ll highlight first once I can get back to cooking.

I can also tell you all the things I’ve been fantasizing about dipping these pretzels in…

  • Chocolate
  • Ranch dip
  • Homemade Buttermilk ranch dressing
  • Peanut Butter
  • Nutella
  • Chocolate and Peanut Butter melted together
  • Onion Dip
  • Spinach Dip
  • Cream cheese
  • Sweetened cream cheese with cinnamon
  • Cream cheese seasoned with herbs
  • Really the possibilities are endless…

Thanks for reading.  Hope to have a good update soon!

“Reenie Cake”

I do not like birthday cake.  That light, sponge-like cake that comes in a sheet pan and is decorated beautifully, served at birthdays, served at weddings, served at retirement parties – eh.  It’s not just for me.  I usually decline, much to the HORROR of everyone around me, as if I am making some kind of silent protest or judging them for having cake at 3:00pm.  Yo, I’d dig in, too, if it were something worth the calories.  I feel similarly about cupcakes, even though they do tempt me more often with their creative flavors.  But no – too light, too airy, gone too quickly.

I like a cake that makes you work for it, one that satisfies you completely when it’s done.  A cake that requires a break before complete consumption.

This is because my mother spoiled me (unintentionally) as a child – my whole family, really – by making us Reenie Cake for every single birthday.  When your immediate family is 6 people, that means you get to eat Reenie Cake 6 times a year.  Then you branch out into the extended family (Mom was one of 9 children), because the cake was famous by this point and requested for all types of occasions, and you’ve got Reenie Cake throughout the year.  You are eating tons of Reenie Cake.20140406_145957

My Mom would want me to tell you that the recipe was NOT her own – she got it from someone else, made the cake, and rest was history.  It was demanded to be the only cake we would eat and would be known as Reenie Cake from that point forward.  Sorry Mom and sorry person who gave Mom that recipe – that’s just the way it goes.20140406_145951

So what IS this magical Reenie Cake you must be asking yourself? Truly – it is pound cake.  Simple pound cake, actually.  But, treated as a birthday cake by my mother, it was always frosted.  Frosted pound cake.  Yeah, wrap your head around that for a second.  You see why I never could get behind birthday cake after that?

My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie's miraculous creations.
My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie’s miraculous creations.

We haven’t had many visitors since we moved to DC, so when James’ parents were coming to visit a few months ago, I lost my MIND and decided the apartment must be spotless and that I needed to bake something.  James tried to stop me – he even told his parents so THEY could assure me it wasn’t necessary – but it was useless.  For some reason I decided I needed to get all Leave it to Beaver and have a fresh baked good for his parents.20140406_150102

Around that time, I had made the Buttermilk Brined Chicken and needed to use up more of that leftover buttermilk.  I was also in a very bad place emotionally, really missing my Mom and longing for some kind of connection to her.  Then I realized – I’d never attempted to make Reenie Cake before.  What a perfect solution – and a way to connect with my Mom in a way I never had when she was alive.

Just reading my mother’s instructions was satisfying: she had a way of writing exactly as she spoke and her enthusiasm and honesty simultaneously tugged at my heart strings and cracked me up.  A perfect example is how she tried to tell my sister-in-law how to make the famous frosting: “I used 4 tablespoons of butter (fat kind) and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, approx. 1/3 cup of milk, and 3 – 3 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar.  I just add the sugar and milk til it’s the right spreading consistency.  It should have also had 1 tsp. of vanilla, but I forgot to add it!”  Oh, how I miss her.

The experience of making her cake was strongly cathartic in a way I really didn’t expect.  I thought it would be nice, I’d remember her, I’d have yummy cake.  But the act of putting these ingredients together in this exact way brought up really powerful emotions.  When the batter started to come together, I jumped up and down in the kitchen proclaiming to James “It’s Reenie Cake!  It’s Reenie Cake!”  I have so many memories of my mother standing at the kitchen counter mixing together this cake and the pure childlike excitement (that, thank god, I never lost) of getting to lick those beaters and eat Reenie Cake came flooding back.  Even as health-conscious as she was, she could not resist offering us the beaters: she never could resist making anyone happy.  I can picture the look on her face, which was a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction.  The look in her eyes said “oh you’re such a weirdo for getting this excited about batter”, yet her smile hid nothing: she loved to make this weirdo excited.20140404_190241

In such a “Reenie” way, she never wanted Reenie Cake for her own birthday.  As long as I can remember, my Mom always requested Jewish Apple Cake… from the grocery store.  Every year, that’s what she wanted, which became a tradition on its own, and quite easy to accomplish because apples are perfectly in season during my mother’s birthday on October 23rd.  My sister-in-law, baker extraordinaire, had made the cake for her from scratch the last few years.  Below, you can see Mom admiring that masterpiece on the last of her birthdays we’d celebrate together.  I think I know what I’ll be doing to commemorate her this October 23rd.IMAG0510

Alas, when I attempted Reenie Cake, I did not frost mine.  There was not the time.  But now you have my Mom’s recipe above!  I made a vanilla glaze with confectioners sugar and milk (milk, I’ve found, tends to harden faster than ones made with water or lemon juice.)  But even without the frosting, it is a decadent, sumptuous treat that somehow seems as if it’s appropriate for breakfast…

So how can you, too, enjoy this jumping-up-and-down cake bliss?  I’m glad you asked!

“Reenie Cake”

Note 1: I should tell you that, although this is my third (and last) post in my series on buttermilk, Reenie Cake wasn’t made with buttermilk when Reenie would make it.  She’d make it with regular milk and lemon juice.  But I needed to use up the buttermilk, so that’s the only thing I changed about the recipe.  The cake tastes very much the same as I remember.

Note 2: The directions for this cake don’t exactly follow the rules I know about baking.  Yet, I went ahead and made the cake exactly as described and it turned out perfectly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure: (full instructions here, with pictures below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.)
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)

Procedure with Pictures

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan (I used the flat pan, not the kind with the decorative edges, as in traditional for Reenie Cake.)20140404_183347
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes20140404_18525220140404_185648
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next20140404_190003
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next20140404_185705
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined20140404_190225
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.20140404_191417 20140404_191508
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)20140404_204247
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.) 20140404_211119
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)20140406_150003 20140406_150058