Bachelor Food: Saturday Morning Coconut Pancakes

coconut pancakes syrupIt’s hard to write when you’re full. And that’s one thing these coconut pancakes do: fill you up. It’s all the fiber in them, I think. But they’re tasty, easy to make — and grain-free.

So here’s how this little adventure started out.

I love my carbs. Pastas, pancakes, pastries, crusty French bread… They’re the stuff of life. They’re also not great for someone keeping an eye on their blood sugars and lipids.

So I’ve been deliberately cutting out foods with added sugars, and consciously adding more fiber to my diet. (I quietly mutter “Sugar equals death” under my breath when I’m tempted by my favorite pastries, but you know, it kinda spooks the other customers in line, so I just wander away sad and unsatisfied, but feeling just a little bit superior.)

Anyway. I’ve made the switch to whole-grain everything as part of a lifestyle change. Breads with multi-whole grains, whole wheat flour for cooking, whole wheat spaghetti and pastas, and swapping out quinoa and farro (it’s kinda like corn) instead of rice as a side dish staple. All in all, a healthier exchange, since it upped my protein and fiber intake and reduced my net carbs.

But sometimes you just want a stack of pancakes for breakfast Saturday morning.

There are some cool recipes out there using buckwheat and barley, some using almond flour, stuff with a lower glycemic index and higher fiber to make you feel full and keep you from that post-sugar-high crash. Some of them seem a bit exotic (and pricey!), with ingredients I’m not likely to use for much else, so they didn’t seem worth the purchase. But, we’re easily influenced by media (at least I am), and I’ve seen a couple of really enticing photos of “paleo-pancakes” on Facebook recently, so I caved. (Not that I can even imagine a caveman whipping up a batch of pancakes, but hey …)

coconut flourHere’s the killer ingredient: coconut flour. Those crazy Americans. My bud, who lives in Malaysia where coconut is an everyday part of life, never heard of such a thing. Somebody over here, probably with too much time on their hands, thought it might be interesting to grind up coconut flesh and see if bread could be made from it, I guess. And, voila. A flour substance that’s high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, and lower in carbs than regular wheat flour.

Well, sign me up. So I ran out to my grocery store and picked a 2 pound container. Yes, you can even find it at WallyWorld. I figured if I liked it, I’d try it in other things (imagine making chocolate chip cookies!), so it wouldn’t just sit in my cupboard waiting for the occasional Saturday morning breakfast. And my conscience would be lulled back to sleep when indulging: “don’t worry about it; it’s healthy.”

I did do a bit of background reading, first, before I plunged into experimenting. Turns out, coconut flour is much more absorbant than traditional wheat flour, so it sucks up your recipe liquids (milk, water) leaving your batter a bit thicker. That’s okay. Don’t try to compensate by adding more liquid; your batter will just end up runny. And because it’s gluten-free, you gotta use more eggs as a binder. (Gluten, although it’s gotten a bad rap lately, is the go-to ingredient in wheat that holds all the stuff together when cooking.)* So, you can’t just substitute coconut flour for wheat four 1 for 1. Turns out, it’s more like 1/4 to 1. So, where I used to just whip up pancakes with 1 cup of flour and 1 egg, this time I had to use 1/4 cup coconut flour and 3 eggs.

They taste a bit like coconut, as you might expect, so they have a naturally sweet flavor. Several recipes I compared online added 1-2 tablespoons of sugar (or honey, to stay paleo), but I didn’t think they needed it. Especially if you’re about to pour 1/2 cup of maple syrup over them. One friend recommended adding ground crickets, which would double the protein (he was serious), but I’m not that extreme. Thanks, maybe next time, Shane.

This recipe makes a deceptively small amount of batter. But remember, it’s heavier, so a little bit goes a long way. It’ll make the same number of pancakes as a proportional wheat flour recipe will; the pancakes will just be a bit smaller. But, believe me, they will fill you up.

coconut pancake ingrs

Here’s what you need

1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 – 1/3 cup milk. (Use coconut milk if you want to stay purely “paleo” and avoid dairy; but I just used my regular 1% cow’s milk)
3 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (Or use coconut oil if you’ve got it)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder (This is the stuff that makes the cakes rise — and no, it’s not the same thing as baking soda)
dash of salt (Adds to the chemical reaction to help them rise, plus balances out the flavor a little)

And that’s it. See how easy that is? You’ve probably got all that stuff already in your cupboards — except for the coconut flour, which I’m sure you ran out and picked up, like I did, just to try this out.

Here’s what you do

Basically, you want to mix your wet ingredients first, then add in your dry ones.

So, crack your 3 eggs into a bowl, add the milk, oil, and vanilla extract, and beat with a fork or wisk to combine.
Next, dump in your coconut flour, and add the baking powder and salt.
. It doesn’t have to be perfect; some small lumps are fine.
Heat up a little vegetable or coconut oil, about a tablespoon, in your frying pan or griddle.  I’d avoid the “HI” setting if you don’t want to smoke up the whole kitchen. Just sayin’.
Pour about a 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake (I used the same measuring cup as a ladle). This batter is heavier than normal pancake batter, so it won’t bubble when it’s ready to be flipped like you’re probably used to. You’ll just have to peek at the underside using a spatula/turner and flip when the pancake is a golden brown. I had to flip mine twice to make sure they were cooked through, but you don’t want to overcook them. Nobody likes maple syrup covered hockey pucks.
coconut pancakes teaThis batch makes about 6 pancakes, 3-4 inches wide — enough for two people if you’ve got other side dishes, and definitely enough for one, with or without extras.

Depending on how much syrup you pour on, these puppies have a much lower carb/sugar count than traditional pancakes. And with just 1/4 cup of coconut flour and the 3 eggs, I estimated about 24g of protein and about 10g fiber.

Not a bad way to start an indulgent weekend. Enjoy!


P.S.  About using more eggs as a binder, if you have an egg-sensitivity, my friend Rita offered a solution.  You can substitute milled flax seed as the binder. For 1 egg substitute 1 T of milled flax seed and put it into 1 T warm water. Let it sit several minutes until it becomes stretchy. Then add that to the recipe.  I’ll try that out next time I make these …

photo credit: Stephen Schmidt

Bachelor Food: Spaghetti Puttanesca

pasta_puttanesca_ala_stefanoIt’s been a while since we’ve run a foodie post, but the other day when I posted a photo of my dinner on Facebook (yeah, I’m one of those people), a bachelor friend commented that he doesn’t know how to cook and wished I’d posted the recipe along with the photo. So, for you, Jay, here it is.

I’ve been a spaghetti fan since I was a kid. And it’s one of the handful of foods that almost every guy knows how to cook. No big recipe needed, no elaborate culinary planning or advanced shopping needed. Most of us have boxes of spaghetti and jars of sauce in our cupboards, and it’s not much more complicated than boiling water and dumping the pasta in. But after a while, that can get pretty monotonous. I’d begun mixing it up, swapping out tomato sauce for olive oil, using stir-fried vegetables instead of hamburger, and the evolution began. Lots of combinations. I eventually got it down to a savory concoction that I really liked, and made it almost every week for myself.

I didn’t realize it was ridiculously close to a traditional favorite until one evening when I was watching an episode of “Queer as Folk” on Netflix, and Michael’s mom, Debbie Novotny, invited Michael’s chiropractor boyfriend to join them for dinner. “Sit down. I made Puttanesca.” Recognizing it as another spin on my favorite pasta, I decided to look it up on the interwebs. Basically, it’s spaghetti with kalamata olives and capers, mixed in a base of olive oil flavored with hot red peppers, garlic, and anchovies. It’s spicy and fragrant, and if you do it right, it should smell up your whole apartment.

In fact, that’s kinda how the pasta got it’s name. It literally means “pasta of the prostitutes” (we all know the word, puta, right? Well, the Italian version is puttana.) Urban legend has it that ladies of the evening in Naples would lure clients to their doors by sauteing the ingredients in olive oil. The pungent aroma would attract hungry men … and paying customers could satisfy their hunger in multiple ways.

The basic recipe calls for kalamata olives, capers, red pepper flakes, anchovies (or anchovy paste), a few chopped tomatoes, and served with Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese. I’m not a fan (at all) of anchovies, and most of us probably don’t keep capers in our fridge, so I made a few substitutions. Here’s my bachelor version …

puttanesca_ingredients

What you need

  • dried spaghetti (I use the whole-wheat variety cuz it’s got more fiber and protein, and makes me feel like I’m eating healthy)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic (you can use garlic powder if you like, but the taste will be slightly different)
  • red pepper flakes
  • dried oregano or Italian herb mix
  • 1/2 medium onion (any kind)
  • sliced red and green peppers (optional)
  • black olives (instead of kalamata olives; I just used the canned variety)
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes — or some sliced cherry tomatoes if you’ve got ’em
  • grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)
  • sliced mushrooms (Portobellos have a rich, earthy flavor)
  • sliced pepperoni

Okay, these last two items are what I substitute for the anchovies and capers to give the pasta it’s “earthy” and salty kick.

Here’s what you do

1. Boil about 2 quarts of water in a saucepan. Add a little salt (which apparently is always the thing to do when cooking pasta) — say, about half a teaspoon. Throw in your dried spaghetti. The traditional standard for one serving of spaghetti is about the diameter of a U.S. quarter — just under an inch. So grab a bunch, and give it your best guess.

2. While your pasta is cooking, finely chop up your garlic, and slice your onions (and peppers).

3. Heat 4 or so tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. You don’t want the heat too high or you’ll smoke up the place.

4. Add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes to the olive oil (depending on how hot you like it), along with your dried oregano or herbs. Toss in your chopped garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes or until it’s slightly golden. The idea is to infuse the oil with the spicy heat from the pepper flakes, garlic and herbs.

5. Next, throw in your sliced onion, peppers, olives, mushrooms and pepperoni. (If you’ve got capers, you could add a teaspoon of them here.) They’ll saute in the flavored oil, about 5 minutes.

6. Once the vegs have cooked in the skillet, stir in the canned tomatoes, and bring to a low simmer.

7. By now, your spaghetti should be about cooked. You can test it by pulling out a few strands and chewing on them to see if they’re the firmness you prefer. Most recipes say till al dente — slightly firm — but I prefer it a bit softer. Umm, do I need to say NOT to use your fingers when fishing the pasta out of the boiling water?

QAF-213x3008. Using tongs or a pasta ladle, transfer the spaghetti from the water into the skillet. This will allow just a bit of the starchy cooking water to mix in with your sauce. Mix it all together until the pasta is well coated and your vegetables are evenly distributed. (I always end up adding more olive oil at this stage, but you may not like it as oily.)

9. Pile a generous amount on your plate, and top it off with some grated cheese.

Feel free to tweak the recipe to suit you. If you really like a salty tang, try adding a few finely chopped anchovy fillets (or 1-2 teaspoons of anchovy paste) as the original recipe calls for. Some of my friends swear by it — “It’s not puttanesca without the anchovies!” Me? I prefer the mushrooms. You be the judge.

Now, go dig up “Queer as Folk” on Netflix (the American version, not the British), and have yourself a relaxing evening. See you in Pittsburgh.


photo credit: Stephen Schmidt

Naan Pizza for One (or Two): Bachelor Style

pizza
Naan Pizza Supreme. Looks like a mess, but man, is it good!

“I love it that you have all these random jars of interesting things in your refrigerator.”

That was Jake. We were making dinner together one night last week, and I pulled out a jar of Giardiniera. It’s basically just pickled cauliflower, carrots, celery and peppers; you know, stuff to munch on while you’re watching TV, when you want something but don’t know exactly what. I suppose it goes well on the side with a sandwich too, but … you know, if you’re a foodie, you just gotta have all kinds of stuff handy.

That explains the jar of marinated artichoke hearts I had sitting in the bottom shelf, way in the back.

So I’m staring into the fridge again, wondering what to make for dinner. It’s a weeknight, and it’s been a long day at work. My brain is fried, so I’m not really in the mood to cook anything elaborate. I’d eaten out a lot recently too, and my wallet was feeling the pressure, so a quick run out for fast food didn’t seem like a good idea. And besides, aside from the predictably bloated feeling I always get after pounding down a burger and fries, I always feel like I just paid someone to poison me. (You’ve seen those YouTube videos on the meat slurry that goes into beef patties, right? Yeah, not fit for human consumption.)

naanAnd salad? I’m a huge fan, but please, not every night. Then I caught sight of the package of naan bread I’d bought from Wallyworld. Naan is an oven-baked flatbread, famous in Indian food, and it makes a great ready-made dough for personal-sized pizza. Just pile whatever you like on top, throw it in the oven, and voila! Instant dinner.

You can find all kinds of recipes for naan pizza on the web. Me? I’m not too selective. I just start pulling some of those “random jars of interesting things” out of the fridge, along with some fresh salad-fixin’s from the crisper, and start chopping. You know what you like (it’s the stuff you probably already have on hand), so use what you’ve got.

A few quick taps on my stove to get the oven preheating to 350°, and I grab a cookie sheet from the bottom cupboard. You can bake the naan right on the rack if you like, but my pizzas tend to be piled high and overflowing, and that can leave a big mess on the bottom of your oven  — and fill your house with smoke next time you try to use it — so the cookie sheet is my safety net.

pizza_ingredients
What? You don’t keep pepperoni in your fridge?

Brush a little olive oil on the flatbread, and start building.

• Some sliced onions,
• chopped red and yellow mini-peppers (gotta get your vitamins, right?),
• a handful of cherry tomatos, cut in half,
• sliced mushrooms (I am a mushroom fiend. It’s not pizza without mushrooms.) Canned mushrooms will work fine, if you’ve got ’em. I like to keep a ziplock baggie of fresh ones in the freezer cuz I think they have a better taste and texture.
• that jar of marinated artichoke hearts,
• a small can of sliced black olives,
• oh, and don’t forget the pepperoni. (That’s the protein — at least that’s what I tell myself.)
• Finally, sprinkle on the shredded mozzerella cheese. As it melts, it’ll hold all the stuff together on top.

I love me some oregano, too. Love the way it smells when it’s roasting. So I sprinkle some dried Italian herbs on top, a little garlic powder (you know that smells great when it’s cooking in the oven!), and we’re set to go.

10-15 minutes in the oven. Let the cheese melt and get all gooey. You can leave it in a bit longer if you like a crispier crust, but don’t let it brown too much.

And that’s it. Cut it in four pieces, and you’ve got manageable slices that won’t drop toppings all over your carpet while you’re clicking through movie selections with the remote.

NetflixTonight, for me: rewatching episodes from “House of Cards.” (When does Season 4 come out?) Enjoy your night in!

 

Quick Gyros, Bachelor Style

Gyro1So, there I am, in my usual position, standing in front of the fridge, staring into it, trying to figure out what to have for dinner. One can only eat pasta so many nights in a row before total pasta-boredom sets in. And I’m a pasta fiend.

“What do I want? What do I want?” Nothing in the cold light of the refrigerator pops out at me. Got some odds and ends in there I could throw together, and then I spot the flat bread. Yeah, I could do that. And suddenly, it all comes together.

And that’s the whole point behind bachelor food: quick and easy, with stuff I mostly have on hand already. Hey, planning is great. Wish I actually did that more often.  But most nights, it’s the blank stare and the final throw together.

This one is easy. Gyros / fajitas. Yeah, whatever – same concept, slightly different flavors. But the basic idea is some kind of thinly sliced meat (beef or lamb – even chicken tenders will work), stir-fried with some seasoning, some salad type vegetables (onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and maybe some greens), rolled into a flat bread (or pita, or even a tortilla) with some dairy sauce (sour cream or yogurt).

From my perspective, the main difference between fajitas and gyros is that with fajitas, the vegetables (onions and peppers) are fried up with the meat and served in the tortilla warm, topped with sour cream or guacamole; whereas with a gyro, the veggies (onions, tomato, cucumber) are piled on the pita cold like a salad and topped with yogurt. And yeah, the meat and seasonings are different, but they’re basically just different spins on the same concept. So just go with whatever you’re in the mood for at the moment.

I like to keep what I call “quick meats” in the freezer for rapid deployment. That’s chicken breast tenderloins and beef stir-fry — they thaw quickly in the microwave and cook up almost as fast in the skillet. I considered slicing up a lamb steak I had in the freezer for a more authentic taste, but that seemed like too much work. So I pull out the beef, and throw it in the microwave for a minute or two just to thaw. (Hey, this is run and gun, people.)  For real gyros, I’d need some kind of special Greek seasonings, like cumin seeds, fennel seeds, coriander, cardamom, ground clove, etc, but I generally don’t keep those on hand. Fajita seasoning is easier cuz they sell it in shakers at the supermarket. But in a pinch, I just use ye olde “Season All” seasoned salt. I use it on grilled steaks, grilled vegetables, heck, I’ve even sprinkle it on salad.

But I was in the mood for the flavor of tzatziki – that great cucumber-dill-yogurt sauce Greek food is famous for.  Any recipe worthy of the Food Network would require fresh dill – who keeps that? – but I do have dill weed in my spice rack, and that’ll work just fine.

gyro3So here we go.

What you’ll need

  • Stir-fry beef (or lamb or even chicken tenderloins)
  • Flat bread – pita or tortillas
  • Salad stuff: cucumber, onion, tomatoes, and (optionally) greens

 

For the tzatziki, you’ll need

  • 8 oz plain yogurt
  • ½ cucumber (see how I’m making this item do double-duty? Saves time.)
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (remember: a clove is a segment of the garlic bulb, not the whole bulb itself)
  • 1 tsp dill weed – or for a cooler, fresher taste, substitute a couple of mint leaves (fresh or dried)
  • A little olive oil, about 1 tbl
  • A little lemon juice, about 1 tbl. Ideally, we should be using juice freshly squeezed from a lemon, but again, I don’t keep lemons in the fridge most of the time. But I do keep bottled lemon juice, and that’ll do.

Do it

Do the tzatziki first. This will give all the flavors a little time to blend and “get happy” (as Emeril likes to say). The beef will cook up fast so we’ll do that last. One tzatziki recipe I found online a while back recommended just throwing all the ingredients into a blender. Sounded great – but what came out was a runny mess. Turns out there’s a lot of liquid in cucumber. Who knew? I learned the hard way, so let’s just do this by hand.

gyro4So to start, peel the cucumber, and then cut it lengthwise into wedge quarters so you can remove the seeds. Then cut into ¼ inch slices. Set aside about half for the gyro “salad”, and the rest, chop up finer (dice) for the yogurt sauce.

Chop up the garlic, or use a garlic press if you’ve got one. (Hey, if you’re a garlic fan, pick one of these up on Amazon or at the supermarket. They’re only a couple of bucks, and they’ll make dealing with garlic a whole lot easier.)  Combine the yogurt, chopped cucumber, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, dill weed or mint, and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. And that’s all there is to the tzatziki. Stick it in the refrigerator while you do the rest.

Now chop up the onion and tomatoes into bite-sized pieces.  I used cherry-tomatoes because that’s what I had on hand (they seem to last longer in the fridge than full sized tomatoes). A more traditional gyro might be served with shredded romaine lettuce, but I just used some mixed organic salad greens.

gyro5Do a quick stir fry of the meat in a little bit of vegetable oil, and season with … whatever you’ve decided to use: fajita seasoning, Season All, or your own concoction from the spice rack.  Depending on the thickness of the cut, the beef should cook up in about 5 minutes. Don’t overcook it or it’ll turn to rubber.

Then grab your pita or tortilla, and start loading up.  The whole thing took about 20 minutes from the time I started pulling stuff out of the fridge until I started stuffing my flatbread to eat.

Life should be this easy – and this good!

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

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Bachelor Food: Matzah Ball Soup

MatzahBallSoup2

I’ve got this habit – some might call it a bad habit – of posting photos on Facebook of what I’m having for dinner.

Okay, yeah. It’s goofy. Who does that?  Well, actually, probably tons of your friends do; but hey, at least it’s food that I made myself, not just some cool-lighting shot of a scone I bought with a Starbucks venti latte.

And oddly, I usually get complimentary comments on the stuff – along with questions about why I never cook for friends, or how come they’re never invited over for dinner. (Does the word “introvert” mean anyting to you?)  But as often as not, I also get asked how I made it. There are days when I don’t mind spending a little time in the kitchen chopping vegetables or experimenting with some impromptu Thai sauce I threw together with coconut milk, ginger paste and peanut butter (I’ll save that for another day).  But most times, I just want something fast and easy.  And before your mind goes where I know most of your minds are already going, I’m talking food here, not romance.  That’s the whole nature of “Bachelor food.”  Like a good date, it’s fast, it’s easy, it tastes good, and hopefully, there’s very little clean up afterwards.

So, this past week after getting home from work and staring into my cupboards for long hypnotic moments, I pulled out a box of matzah ball mix.  Yeah, I had that in there. I used to have a lot of Jewish friends, and got invited to a lot of Shabbat dinners. In fact, that’s where I first experienced this culinary delight. It’s basically peasant food. Meat substitute. And it’s even kosher, if that means anything to you. And it fits all the criteria I was looking for at that moment.

MatzahBallSoup_simple
At its most basic. Who can’t do this?

Matzah balls are basically just dumplings made from matzah. Think saltine crackers, only blander. And in fact, if you don’t happen to have matzah ball mix in your cupboard, you could probably just as easily substitute a handful of Zesta saltines.  Just crumble them up into … well, crumbs … add in a bit of onion and garlic powder, maybe celery seed if you’ve got it, and that’s basically it.

Then it’s just chicken broth. You drop the matzah dumplings in boiling broth where they’ll absorb all that chicken flavor, cook for 20 minutes, and out comes this incredible tasting ball of deliciousness, you’ll roll your eyes in disbelief that something so simple could be so good.

Like I said, it’s a soup, so you can keep it that simple (just chicken broth and the matzah balls) or you can do it up and add real chicken and vegetables.

And since it was a week night, I wasn’t in the mood to do much chopping, so I just pulled a can of sliced carrots out of the cupboard, and that was just fine. Oh, I did slice up some onion, cuz I always keep those in the fridge anyway, and I like them in soup.

So here’s the basic recipe.  Do it simple, or do it with a bit more cooking. Either way … it’s a very satisfying dish to enjoy when you’ve got a date with Netflix.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet matzah ball mix (or the handful of crumbled crackers and seasoning mentioned above)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 quarts of chicken broth (either instant, or the boxed kind from the supermarket. Get the reduced sodium variety, and organic if you can find it and are willing to spend a bit extra for it.)
MatzahBallSoup_2
With a few extras — but still “Bachelor friendly!”

That’s it for the basic recipe.  For a bit more substance, here’s what I pulled together Tuesday night:

  • ½ package of chicken breast tenders. I wanted some real chicken in that broth. You can just as easily use chicken thighs, breasts … whatever, just to get some meat in the soup.
  • 1 can of sliced carrots
  • ¼ onion, sliced
  • Whatever earthy herbs you prefer.  I added a bit of oregano, celery seed, and ground pepper.

When making chicken soup, you normally add onion, celery and carrots – the Holy Trinity of soup ingredients.  I had the onion, but no celery. The celery seed made up for that in flavor. (And guys, note: it’s celery seed, not celery salt.  Huge difference.)  The carrots – fresh out of the can.

Do it

Okay: preparing the matzah balls.  Beat the two eggs and the vegetable oil in a bowl, and then add the crumbs. Mix until the crumbs are moist. Then refrigerate for 15 minutes to give the crumbs time to absorb the egg – and give you time to prepare the chicken and get the broth boiling.

I thawed the chicken in the microwave, and then fried it in a skillet with salt and pepper and bit of vegetable oil.  It only took a few minutes to cook since the tenders where sliced thin. If you’re using chunks of meat (like whole thighs), you may want to cook them thoroughly in the microwave, before dropping them in the soup. Then just cook in the soup until the meat begins to fall off the bone.  They’ll add more flavor to the soup that way, but this time, I was just looking for some meat. The broth would have enough flavor on its own.

Dump the 2 quarts of broth into a decent sized sauce pan. Then add your chicken, chopped onions and the can of carrots (if you’re going that route).  Throw in your extra seasonings / herbs / whatever. Bring to a boil.

Take the matzah ball mix out of the fridge, and pinch off enough to roll between your palms to make ½ inch balls.  (They’ll swell up 2 to 3 times that size as they cook and absorb the broth.) Drop the balls into the boiling soup.  Depending on how large you make the balls, you should end up with anywhere from 6 to 10.  Put a lid on the pan, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 20 minutes. You want to give them enough time to absorb the chicken flavor and to cook thoroughly.

And really, that’s all there is to it. Broth and matzah balls. Chicken and veggies, if you want more substance. Simmer, and ladle into your soup bowl.  If you’ve got pets, they’ll probably be staring at you, trying to telepathically command you to share with them since the smell will be driving them as crazy as you.  You probably shouldn’t (share, that is), since all that salt (and whatever other seasoning you added) may not be good for them.  But you could probably cut up bit of that chicken just to give them a taste.

Pour whatever is left over into a covered bowl, and refrigerate. It makes great left-overs, since those matzah balls will just get better tasting overnight. And enjoy your dinner and a movie at home, bachelor style.

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

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Bachelor Food: Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cookies (No Bake)

Choco-PeanutButterCookies3
Okay, these may look a bit like charcoal briquettes in this photo, but take my word for it. They’re fantastic!

I’ve been single for about 2 years now, and I discovered something during this time of readjustment and recovering my identity: I still like to eat.

And, every once in a while, I actually enjoy cooking – when I have the time and energy, that is. And frankly, most days after work I just don’t. Add in the dinners out with friends, my new hobbies of running and yoga, and weekly church obligations, and that pretty much leaves me with just weekends to indulge in the kitchen.

And, like most guys (I think), I like having something to munch on when I’m unwinding in the evening with Netflix.  (“Netflix: a bachelor’s best friend.”) For a while I was stocking up on quick snacks, like granola bars or those single-serving sized cups of applesauce or fruit. But that gets old after a while. And sure, that cookie aisle at WalMart is kinda hard to resist, so my shopping cart would inevitably end up with some kind of name-brand cookie or sweet thing.  But, one of the things I’m trying to cultivate back into my life is healthy eating.  And those vanilla sugar-wafers (which I love) don’t exactly fall into that category.

Besides, have you looked at the ingredients in those things?!!!!  That stuff can’t possibly be good for you.

So today, on my weekly grocery run, I picked up a few items just so I could make “healthy” snacks myself.  – Yeah, I put quotation marks around that, cuz we all know anything with sugar in it probably isn’t really gonna be the best thing to chow down on before going to bed. But … whatever.  Ya gotta live, right?

And what I threw together when I got home turned out to be friggin fantastic.

So, here it is. If you like chocolate, if you like peanut butter (and isn’t that almost an obligatory thing if you’re American?), then you gotta try this for yourself.

Choco-PeanutButterCookies1And look!  Just a handful of ingredients.  And I know exactly what each one of them is, and how much I put in.  In fact, I took a basic recipe off the internet, but then cut the amount of butter and sugar in half.   #TakingControlofMyFood  #YayMe

So, just copy that photo to your phone gallery, hit the grocery store, and pick up those items for yourself, if you don’t already have them in your cupboards.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar (that’s about 240ml, for my non-U.S. friends) *
  • 1 stick of butter (½ cup, or 113g). Do yourself the favor, and use real butter, not margarine. And get organic, hormone-free if you can.  You’ll feel better about yourself.
  • ½ cup milk (125ml)  Ditto on the organic note.
  • 4 Tablespoons cocoa powder (60ml)
  • 1 cup peanut-butter (240ml)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (15ml)
  • 3 – 3.5 cups oatmeal / quick oats (about 750 – 850ml)

Hey, this isn’t rocket science, so don’t get all hung up about precise measurements.

Do It

In a saucepan, mix the sugar, butter, milk and cocoa powder, and heat until melted. Bring to low boil for about a minute, stirring until everything is dissolved and well mixed.  (I said “low boil.” You don’t need the stuff flying out of the pan and making a bigger mess on your stove. Nobody likes clean-up.)  Then add in the vanilla and peanut butter.  When that’s blended in nicely, add in the oats. Stir until well mixed, and then take off the heat.  And then just spoon out the batter onto wax paper (or aluminum foil if that’s all you’ve got), and let cool. They’ll firm up as they cool.  Makes about 3 dozen decent sized cookies.

And, voila!, as they say.  The stuff is amazing.

I’m thinking next time, just for variety (and to con myself even more into feeling that this is health food), I gonna swap out a cup or so of the oats with chia seeds.  It’ll probably make the flavor a bit more bitter and add more texture, but score one for added anti-oxidants, fiber, and Omega-3s!

Ya know what? This bachelor life isn’t all that hard after all.

—-

* One caveat with reducing the sugar. Yeah, it won’t knock your blood gluccose into the stratosphere, but the cookies don’t firm up as much when they’re cool.  You may need to keep them in the fridge if you don’t like soft and chewy cookies.

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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Mexican Chicken Soup, Bachelor Style

One of the first sentences I ever learned in Spanish was “Me encanta comer, pero no me gusta cocinar” (I love to eat but I don’t like to cook).

That was years ago in college, when I had my head stuck in computer science stuff and my friend was majoring in foreign languages. And like any good guy with an eye to the future, I tried to pick up as many language skills as I could, because … well, you never know. And this particular sentence had more chance of actually being used than the French one I learned which began with “Voulez-vous coucher…”

I didn’t realize at the time that it could become a life philosophy. (The eating/cooking one, not the sleeping one.)

Like I said, I love to eat. And it’s autumn, which means I’m more inclined to experiment in the kitchen on cloudy, grey Saturday afternoons.  Three months of salad can put you in the mood for some warm comfort food.  So, I decided to let my mad kitchen skills fly, and see what warm luscious thing would magically come out.

Soup is easy stuff. Pick a protein (by which I mean “meat”).  Cook it up a bit in a skillet or your soup pot first to “brown” it (and to prevent from poisoning yourself with salmonella), then chop up some of your favorite veggies. For soups, that usually means the “holy trinity”: onions, celery, and carrots.   Throw them all in a pot, add a liquid of some kind (the boxed chicken-, vegetable- or beef-broth from the supermarket always works well — and it keeps in the cupboard for a LONG time, meaning I have a greater chance of actually using it). And then you throw in whatever seasoning appeals to you. If you’re earthy, you throw in oregano, thyme, basil — or that Simon & Garfunkel stand-by, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”. Or, if you’re authentically a bachelor, you may just settle for the generic “Italian herb” mix we all have in our spice racks.  If you like things jacked up the thermometer a bit, some red pepper flakes, chili pepper work great, or just dump in some tabasco or Cholula sauce.  Umm, nice!  And then you gotta add some kind of carb.  Everyone’s got rice in their cupboard, so that’ll work fine. Couscous is cool too, but I don’t know many bachelors who keep that in stock. I had a little quinoa in my cupboard leftover from another culinary experiment a while back (it’s a South American grain, so it would fit the theme, right?), so I decided to throw that in with some rice.  Waste not, want not, right?

Nothing magical about it.  You don’t gotta be a rocket scientist or a Food Network chef.  Just willing to experiment.

So today was my day to play. It was chilly outside, so soup appealed to me. And, I gotta admit, I love the smell of something good simmering on the stove filling the house.  I looked in my freezer and pulled out some chicken breast tenders.  Easy.  Threw them in the microwave for a minute or two to thaw (yeah, I can hear the real cooks groaning already), then cut them in bite-sized pieces. Hey, when you’re impulse-cooking, who has time to let things thaw naturally?  (“Planning?” What’s that?)

A friend had posted something on Facebook about chicken and jalapenos (cuz I have foodie friends), so that sounded good. But I don’t normally keep jalapeno peppers in my fridge. But I do keep canned green chiles on my shelf, and that would work just fine. Not as spicy, but maybe even more flavorful in its own way.  And the rest is history …

 

What you need

½ pound chicken breast tenders — thawed in whatever way is convenient (and safe) for you

1 medium onion, any variety — I’m an onion fan, so I used both sweet yellow and red onion (and yes, they are both in my fridge)

4 stalks of celery — hey, these are great just to have in your fridge for any “health food” occasion

Handful of shredded carrots (optional) — leftover from the salad-days of summer

1 green pepper — more salad stuff

1 small can of roasted green chiles (4 oz) — or feel free to substitute a few fresh chopped jalapenos if you’re that adventurous

3 or 4 cloves of garlic, chopped or pressed — guys, a “clove” is a segment of the garlic bulb, not the whole bulb itself.  (just sayin’)

1 cup rice, pasta, couscous, quinoa — whatever works for ya

2 boxes of chicken broth (32oz each)

A little salt

A little cumin — it’s the secret spice (herb?) that makes everything “Mexican” tasting

A few dashes of red pepper flakes

And a small fistful of fresh cilantro, chopped — another secret herb for a “Mexican” or even “Middle Eastern” flavor

 

Then just do it

Cut the chicken tenders in bite-sized cubes, and throw into a pot or Dutch oven thing. Add a little oil in the bottom of the pan to let ‘em brown without sticking. Margarine will work just as well. Shake some salt on them just to add a bit of flavor.

When the chicken is cooked and nicely browned on the outside, toss in your onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and green pepper with a little more oil, and sauté for a few minutes until they soften up a bit and pick up some of that great chicken flavor.

Then dump in your chicken or vegetable broth.  That’s your basic soup, so now just add seasoning to your taste: maybe a bit more salt, a few shakes of red pepper flakes for kick, and sprinkle in some cumin (if you’re the anal type that needs measurements, start with ½ teaspoon).

Bring to a simmer, a low boil.  Then pour in your rice (or quinoa or …).  A lot of people will save the chopped cilantro for the bowl, almost as a garnish. But I love cilantro, so I want the flavor to cook into the broth. If you’re like me, now is the time to add the cilantro to the soup.

Then just let it simmer for a while, stirring occasionally, till the rice is cooked and absorbs some of the broth, and that wonderful smell saturates everything in your living room.

Flip on the TV, watch a football game (if you’re not me) or something on Netflix (if you are like me), and enjoy your Mexican-style chicken soup.  You made it. You should be proud of yourself.  Enjoy!

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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