UnFoodie Bakes Beans

January 15, 2014

By Karen

I think it’s a New England thing to eat pork and beans with eggs for breakfast, and my father likes to do that. Beans are a great source of fiber, which I worry my parents don’t get enough of because my mother seems unaware of how important it is and doesn’t like or prepare many dishes that contain it (like beans).

So instead of letting Dad eat mushy canned beans, I make him some from “scratch” — dried Great Northern beans soaked in water overnight. But you can use any type of bean.


For this batch, I used 1 1/2 bags (24 oz.) because I wanted to keep some for myself.

After soaking the beans in cold water at least 12 hours, they more than double in volume, but they’re still hard. You have to cook them before you can do anything with them. Trust me on this, I once tried making this dish in a crockpot without precooking the beans, thinking they’d surely soften in 8 hours, but I was dead wrong.

Before cooking, replace the soaking water with fresh cold water that submerses the beans an inch or two. Then boil those suckers for 30-45 minutes, until they’re soft. You can add salt to the water, but I don’t usually because I’m trying to keep them healthy. The pot can be covered or uncovered; if the water gets low, add more. Here they are cooked and drained…


While the beans were boiling, I microwaved and broke up 8 slices of cooked bacon from Costco. It gives the beans porky flavor without so much fat.


I also diced and sautéed a large onion with 2 cloves of garlic until they were soft. And preheated the oven to 325°.


Now it’s time to throw the bacon, onions, and garlic onto the beans.

Next, I added molasses, mustard, ketchup, and BBQ sauce. These were the brands I had on hand…


As for quantities, I usually eyeball it, but ballpark would be 1/4 cup each of molasses and mustard, and 1 cup each of ketchup and BBQ (although you can go heavier on one of these last 2 if you prefer either one’s taste. I added more of both after I snapped this picture).


Mix it all together gently to coat all the beans, but try not to moosh them. At this point, I transferred them to my soup pot for baking.


Cover the pot and bake for an hour to give all the ingredients a chance to “get happy,” as Emeril would put it.

A 1/2 cup serving of plain beans has only 70 calories, yet 13 grams of fiber (that’s 2 Weight Watchers® Plus Points) and is very hearty. I’d guess everything else in them adds maybe 30 calories per serving, tops.

These beans freeze well and can be reheated in the microwave. I ate mine as a healthy, almost fat-free, guilt-free side dish with dinner every night for a week.

UnFoodie Discovers the Joy of Brining

May 8, 2013

By Karen

In spite of being a severely chicken-challenged cook, I eat a lot of it, mostly prepared from frozen bags. When I make it myself, it’s invariably dry and awful. But on a recent cruise vacation, I ate a melt-in-your-mouth chicken breast, and a fellow passenger suggested it had been brined.

That got me thinking…

I have this recipe for herb-brined, walnut-encrusted chicken that I mostly ignored (because I didn’t have the kosher salt; apple juice; ground coriander; fresh thyme, rosemary, and savory; and orange zest it required). But it gave me a basic plan of attack.

I bought 4 boneless thighs as a hedge against failure because they’re moister to begin with. I’ll tackle dry breasts another day.

Step 1: Make the brine.

Figuring sodium chloride is sodium chloride, into a saucepan I poured about 1/4 cup of sea salt into enough water to cover the chicken (4 cups maybe). Then I added a bunch of garlic powder. As an afterthought, I threw in dried rosemary and thyme, and some ground sage I’ve had for at least 20 years (it still had a smell, so, what the hell).

Heated the water just enough to dissolve the salt and garlic powder. Then I missed the instruction to cool it down with ice cubes before pouring it on the chicken. However, I did wonder if warm water would prematurely cook the chicken.

Step 2: Brine the chicken.

Laid the thighs flat in 2 Pyrex containers (with lids), then poured on the brine. The chicken edges did cook slightly. I put the covered containers in the fridge for about 5 hours. (Sorry the photo is blurry. New Nikon.)

As Emeril would say, this is when the chicken starts "getting happy."

As Emeril would say, this is when the chicken starts “getting happy.”

Step 3: Bread the chicken.

At dinnertime, I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, removed the chicken from the brine, rinsed in cold water, then patted dry with paper towels.

My wash was one egg white and a tablespoon of Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise, which immediately clumped and took a lot of stirring to smooth out.

I probably could have done without the glumpy mayo.

I probably could have done without the glumpy mayo.

After dipping, I slathered the chicken with panko breadcrumbs, about 3/4 cup.

Step 4: Bake the chicken.

The breaded chicken went on a Pam-sprayed sheet to bake for 20 minutes.

The crumbs didn't stick great, but well enough.

The crumbs didn’t stick great, but well enough.

Here’s the (blurry) finished product. (I need more practice with the Nikon’s “food” setting.)

Half-cup of rice, with 0-point tomatoes and a pickle on the side, Weight Watchers-style.

Half-cup of rice, with 0-point tomatoes and a pickle on the side, Weight Watchers-style.

Oh. My. God. It was a TOTAL success. So moist, I vowed on the spot to NEVER cook chicken again without first brining it. It wasn’t salty, and it held the spices’ flavors, which turned out to be DELICIOUS, ancient sage notwithstanding.

I had enough for 4 meals, and reheating it in the microwave or on the stovetop didn’t dry it out. Every piece stayed moist and tasty.

Consider me a brining convert.

UnFoodie Conquers Cauliflower

November 28, 2012

By Karen

Weight Watchers punishes you with points pretty severely for eating  white starchy carbs and fat (even “good” fats – a teaspoon of olive or canola oil are 1 point, and so is butter), so I’ve basically given up former mainstays of my diet — potatoes, rice, and anything fried in oil or butter.

At Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes and stuffing have always been my favorite things. Just pass me the gravy, and keep that dry-as-dust turkey breast. So to appease the WW gods this year, I decided to find out if I could make cauliflower replace mashed potatoes, or if it’s simply an urban myth circulated by carb-starved stick figures.

As a veggie, I’ve been OK with cauliflower, although you’d never catch me going out of my way to eat it if anything else is available. It’s so bland and white, it seems a nutritional non-entity (although I’m sure it has many fine qualities).

Here’s what I used:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup 2% shredded cheese (any kind is OK, but I used sharp cheddar)
  • 1/2 cup of water from boiling the cauliflower
  • some spritzes of butter spray (I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!®)
  • salt to taste

First, I made a total mess separating the florets from the stems, but it turns out you don’t have to be too picky about that because, once boiled, you really can’t tell the difference between them.

You should have seen the floor.

I dumped the florets into a big pot with enough water to submerge them about 2 inches and threw in the garlic. Once the water started boiling, I salted it.

See what I mean about how boring it looks? Like a pot full of albino brains.

The cauliflower needs to boil like crazy for 10-12 minutes, until it breaks apart when you stick a fork in it. I reserved a cup of the boiling water before dumping the cooked cauliflower into a colander.

Before beginning to mash, I added about ½ cup of the water, salted again, and gave everything a good spritzing of butter spray. Then I added the cheese.

At this point, my almost-new Cuisinart blender turned into a doorstop and dashed any hopes of puréeing, but using a whisk and a big spoon I managed to mash out the lumps.

Here’s my masterpiece, topped with more shredded cheddar and red pepper flakes.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was mashed potatoes, right?

This total dish is only 8 WW points (all coming from the cheese), so a generous 1-cup serving is about 2 points.

You know what? It tastes close enough to mashed potatoes to make me happy, and my family liked it. But, come to think of it, I don’t know if my mother had any — she’s never cooked cauliflower in her life. And it left me more room for stuffing!

(And for the record, my sister’s brined Trader Joe’s turkey cooked in a bag was NOT dry at all. A win-win all around.)

UnFoodie Makes Meatloaf

February 20, 2012

By Karen

My meatloaf, which I throw together and never make the same way twice, is usually delicious, but it falls apart, so I’m always collecting meatloaf recipes.

“Mom’s Amazing Meatloaf” came from the paper, but I never followed it too closely because some ingredients seem weird (milk, parsley, and parmesan cheese). But this weekend, I had just about everything on hand and decided to give Mom’s recipe a fair shake. Here are the ingredients…

1 ½ lbs. 93% lean ground beef

2 eggs
½ cup low-fat or whole milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 slices toasted hearty whole-wheat bread (for 2 cups cubes)
1 large onion (for 1 cup chopped)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper

½ cup ketchup (or more, to cover)

Preheat oven to 325° and cook for 1 hour, 15 minutes (for medium) or until done.

I’m not giving the nitty-gritty of assembling a meatloaf. You guys know the drill.

Anyway, I did make a few slight adjustments: My meat was roughly a pound’s mixture of ground beef, pork, and veal, so I used a tad less of everything. I used half and half instead of milk, and dried parsley instead of fresh. And I added half a cup of diced green bell pepper.

I mixed the wet ingredients first (noticing for the first time that it called for 2 eggs — I usually only use one — has that been the fatal flaw?), then dumped in everything else, with the bread last.

My 2-piece meatloaf pan is great. I cover the bottom with tin foil so I can toss the grease into the trash. And I tuck the meat in on the sides so the grease can drain down through the holes.

Anyway, this meatloaf came out PERFECT and stayed intact. It didn’t even fall apart when I lifted the whole thing to store it.

So, Mom’s meatloaf truly is amazing — and delicious! I feared the parmesan cheese would make it meatballish, but it didn’t.

Now, what are your favorite meatloaf recipes?

Pot Hooks the Unfoodie

January 23, 2012

By Karen

No, this is not about what you’re probably thinking…

This weekend was bitter, bleak and wet, and Food Lion had chuck on sale, so I decided to try another pot roast.

This time, instead of ancient bouillon, I had beef stock, drinkable red wine, and fresh sprigs of thyme and rosemary on hand (and I kept carrots and onions in the brew). The result was truly “fork-tender,” falling apart as I lifted it out of the pot.

But it was the POT that really got me excited. If you’ll remember, I cooked my first roast in a non-stick pot that didn’t need deglazing, so I had picked up a covered stainless steel Dutch oven at Big Lots — for $5.

Meet the new love of my life.

While searing this roast, I never expected the feeling of liberation that came over me. As I was struggling to turn 3 lbs. of meat with metal tongs and a spatula (so as not to pierce it and let the juices escape), I kept reminding myself it was OK to scrape the bottom of the pan. There was no non-stick surface to fear and coddle.

And then there were bits stuck to the bottom to deglaze with wine and my bamboo wok scraper!

My recipe calls for oven roasting at 275°, but I kept it on the stove and watched the action through the glass lid.

After 3 hours of simmering, things were pretty messy and I feared the pot might be totaled, but after just a few dabs with stainless steel, it’s good as new.

On the other hand, I’ve got this nice, heavy Emeril non-stick frying pan that’s all show — everything sticks to it. Now I’m thinking stainless steel is the way to go so I can start using “real” metal utensils again.

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