Happy Hour – January 8th, 2021: The Martini and Mini Cheddar and Chive Popovers

Welcome to the first (of what I hope will be many) Happy Hour Posts. While each week my baby doll and I try to eat healthy and I at least am trying to lose weight, Friday night we tend to indulge just a little. I know many of you dieters out there are surprised by the indulgence and maybe even repelled by it.  But let me take a moment to explain.

My dieting is not about cutting out vast swaths of the world of food. I have no demon categories.  Mostly because if I knew I had to give up one category it would end up creating a craving.  Well before my dieting began, my babydoll and I would only go out to eat about once a month and the rest of the time, I cooked.

When he developed high blood pressure and his doctor told him to cut out as much sodium as possible, most of the prepackaged foods we kept in our home went out the door. And I made baking a loaf of sandwich bread a Saturday morning routine. I was personally shocked by how much sodium was actually in store bought bread.

But I digress.

My dieting was always about portion control and exercise. It wasn’t about cutting out all of the things I love.  Once of the things I love is the Friday night happy hour.  This is the Friday night ritual in our house.  Sometimes we would go out with friends, but mostly it was just me and my baby unwinding after the week with a drink and something nice to nibble.  Sometimes the drink is a glass of wine and the nibble is a good cheese or even charcuterie. Sometimes I will see a hors d’oeuvre recipe I have to try and we will scour the cocktail manuals to find something to accompany it. Other times I will pick up one of the small bottles of liquor in the store just because it looks interesting and we figure something out from there.

I get drawn in by liquor bottles just as much as perfume bottles. Although sometimes the alcohol is just a left over.  I picked up a small bottle of Chambord because a desert recipe required a few tablespoons to macerate some berries and now we will find a cocktail to help use up the left overs.

Our basic bar tools, A shaker a jigger with two sizes for easy measuring and a long bar spoon to stir right down to the bottom of the shaker when we don’t want to shake

When going out became a masking event, my baby and I delved deeper into our collection of cocktail books.  We have a collection that ranges far and wide. And of course there is the internet as well. Our weekly Happy Hour became more of a mental relief than usual.

However wide we range, I decided to start off this series of posts with my standard favorite, The Martini.  Not only is it my go to drink and the standard by which I judge bars and bartenders, but it is a good example of restrained indulgence.

And as silly as it sounds, just holding the glass makes me feel civilized.

The Martini was born in the United States. Some claim California and some claim New York.  I will not argue for either and just thank them both.  It is at first a relatively simple cocktail, but nearly everyone has a different way of preparing it.  In fact there is an old joke about a man being thrown out of a bar for ordering ‘just a regular martini’ instead of putting his own spin on it.

While I don’t think that is grounds for ejection from an establishment today, there are still many different camps.  There are two quite famous ones, one fictional and one real.  James Bond liked his shaken and not stirred and Winston Churchill suggested just bringing out an unopened bottle of vermouth and waving it at the gin.

With all due respect, I disagree heartily with both.

Shaking gin ‘bruises’ it, to use my grandfather’s phasing.  It tends to make it cloudy and while that isn’t a big issue, it does actually change the taste a bit. With so few ingredients, the taste of each matters. You may not mind the change in taste or you may not notice a change in taste.

I notice and I don’t care for it, so I don’t shake my martinis.

You may feel free to shake yours, I won’t report you for abuse.

As for Mr. Churchill, a martini with the vermouth waved at it is a glass of gin with a garnish.  There is nothing wrong with it there have been many a summer evening where I forgot to pick up tonic water and just had a glass with gin over ice and a twist of lemon.  It is a lovely way to sit on the back porch and watch the summer sun go down (just make sure to light the citronella candles or you risk becoming the happy hour bar for the local mosquito population). It is however a glass of gin and not a martini.

Again you can feel free to disagree.

my 3 oz martini glass

I know there are all sorts of martini recipes out there so I will just quickly give you mine:

One part Vermouth

Two Parts gin

A splash of olive juice

Add all to a shaker, stir with a bar spoon add as large an ice cube as possible atrain into a martini glass and add an olive.

Sounds simple really, doesn’t it?

For those of you wondering why I put one part and two parts instead of actual measurements, that is because glass sizes vary greatly, especially in the world of martini glasses.  I have seen delicate ones and ones that look like they could actually hold a liter of liquid in their confines.  I always find drinking out of any glass with a rim bigger than my face a bit daunting.

a jigger to make measuring a snap

My set of martini glasses is in keeping with my theme of restraint, although I picked them up in a thrift store mostly because I liked the look of them.  The martini glasses I use are from a set from the 1950s.  They have the traditional stem with a triangular shape and some rather sweet little etchings on the side. They can also hold (at a maximum) three ounces of liquid.

the unstuffed olive. I picked up the reusable skewers at a Home Goods Store a while back

By contrast my martini shaker is enormous, I know.  I keep meaning to pick up a smaller shaker mostly because the amount of liquid that goes into the shaker for my week’s end martini looks rather sad in the large one. The reusable cocktail stick was one of a set I picked up quite a few years ago. They are really nice not only for drinks but for small appetizers as well. they have seen a lot of use since purchasing. However with a lot of use and several moves this is the last of the set remaining in my drawer so when i seek out a smaller shaker I will look for a replacement for them as well. Thus far I haven’t found a set that I like.

On Friday, I will have one, or if it has been a long week whose passing needs celebrating, two. Which given the size of the glass, is still a relatively small amount and an acceptable indulgence for the calorie conscious.

I personally like my martinis dry and dirty.  The dirty refers to the splash of olive juice. With olives, I recommend getting ones that are not stuffed with anything so that the stuffing won’t affect the flavor. For the dry, I go with dry vermouth instead of sweet. Mostly because I like the taste.  My vermouth choice is Noilly Pratt. I have occasionally tried other vermouths, but thus far none of them have been able to replace the slim green bottle. It is my tried and true.

With gin, my favorite is Plymouth (just be aware there is Plymouth gin and Navy Strength Plymouth gin when you go shopping. The Navy is significantly stronger and can easily get you into trouble if you aren’t careful). I do change out gins periodically.  I have in fact tried quite a few that I enjoy. Each has its own botanical arrangement and most of them go well with my favored vermouth. I love tasting the variety of herbals that go into gin. I do get in the habit of stocking Plymouth, but I am trying to remember to branch out and sample other gins.

But what is happy hour without something to nibble (besides the olive of course)?

My choice this week was mini cheddar and chive popovers.

Popovers are composed of a thin batter that you bake in muffin tins.  They pop up and are a hollow shell that is crunchy and delicious. I use a mini muffin tin to keep them small. The batter is quite simple.

½ cup AP flour

Pinch of salt

¾ cup milk (room temp)

1 egg (room temp)

1/2 tablespoon melted butter

The rest is flavoring.  For my flavoring this week I went with cheddar and chives, but I often make them with blue cheese crumbles.  I just really liked the sharpness of the cheddar and the herbal bite of the chives with the gin. plus I am overwintering a pot of chives in my sunroom and need to snip them periodically to keep them healthy throughout the winter.

To make the batter you mix all of the (non-flavoring) ingredients together, whisking to make sure there are no flour lumps.  Then you heavily grease the muffin tin (whether mini or regular sized).  I use a spray oil for this as you need to get every nook and cranny of the tin. Put the batter into the greased tin, filling each cup only half way up. 

I took the picture before I sprinkled the chives

Then take your flavorings and drop them in the center.  For this I used less than one ounce of really sharp cheddar cut into really small squares and placed them in the center of the batter then sprinkled with chives. You really don’t need much.  In the over the cheese melts and coats the inside of the popover so you get the flavor in every bite. The trick to these is in the baking.

Start off with a 450 degree F oven (220 C) place the pan on the center rack and bake for ten minutes.  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR.  After ten minutes drop the temperature of the oven to 350 F (180C) and bake for another ten minutes or until browned on the edges.  You can either eat them hot right away or pop them out and set them on a napkin to cool and then eat later. (the napkin absorbs the grease.  It isn’t a problem with blue cheese but it is with cheddar.  Also the chives help cut some of the fat of the cheese.

I personally like them hot.

popover

I know some of you are tempted to open the oven door mid bake.  Try to resist.  My baby doll is one of those people who has to open the oven door to peer in to see how things are going. If you do this the popovers will not pop.  They will fall flat and while still delicious, they will be more muffin like.

So this is the Happy Hour my baby doll and I will be enjoying this week.  Given the state of the news, I expect this will be a two martini week.

As we don’t have any planned cocktail for next week (and are going grocery shopping tomorrow) while we sip martinis we will get out one of the cocktail books and flip the pages to find next week’s indulgence and figure out what snack to have with it. I can’t wait to see what we come up with.

Whether indulging in your own happy hour or just unwinding from the week, I hope you have a fabulous Friday night and an excellent weekend.


Daily Bread

our current loaf

I know I mentioned a while ago that because my darling dearest needed to reduce his sodium intake, I started baking bread. It is amazing how much sodium is in a loaf of store bought bread. Anyway, in our part of the world store bought bread has become a rare commodity with entire store shelves being barren, so even if we wanted to buy bread, we can’t. Also I find baking therapeutic.

So on the off chance you find yourself in a similar situation, I am posting one of my favorite recipes. It came from my Aunt. I have no idea where she got it, but it makes one loaf and is what we have been using. So on the off chance you want to try your hand at this, I’m posting the recipe below. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook the hardest part is waiting. even without, it isn’t that hard. So here we go,

Ingredients:

3 cups/384 g Bread flour (you can use all purpose, but it tends not to get as good a rise), keep a little extra flour for dusting the surface and in case you need to add more to counteract humidity.

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup water (warmed to 120 degrees)

2 tsp honey

2 T butter (unsalted)

1 T sugar

2 tsp yeast

1 tsp salt

Directions:

  • place yeast pinch of flour, and sugar and warm water in a bowl. Set aside until foamy (10-15 minutes)
  • put milk and butter into a bowl and put in the microwave for 30 seconds on high, stir and then do another 30 seconds to melt the butter. Once the butter is melted, you can take it out of the microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, put them in a pan on the stove top on medium to heat. If both are taken from the fridge, then when the butter melts, the milk will be warm enough.
  • If using a stand mixer with a dough hook: add three cups/384 g of bread flour to the mixer. Add honey, salt, warmed milk and melted butter and the contents of the foamy yeast bowl (essentially everything goes in). Start the mixer on low so things don’t go flying (abt 1 minute) when they are mixed up a bit set it between two and three on your speed settings and let it go for anywhere from 8-10 minutes or until it forms a ball. It doesn’t need to be a smooth ball just a cohesive dough. If it looks like it is too wet, add a little more flour (by Tablespoons) and continue with the hook until incorporated and it is a still somewhat sticky mass.
  • Then stop the mixer, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and give it a few final kneads until it is a smooth ball of dough.
  • If not using a stand mixer. Put all of the above ingredients into a bowl, blend with a silicone spatula until it is a dough, then turn out onto a flowered work surface and knead until it is a smooth ball of dough.
  • Once smooth, put into a greased bowl, turning once to oil all sides of your dough ball, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot for 45 minutes.
  • Once the dough has doubled in size, grease a regular sized loaf pan, make sure to get the corners. place the pan next to the bowl and remove the plastic wrap from the bowl (don’t throw away).
  • Lift the risen dough out of the bowl and place it into the greased loaf pan. Shape it so it fills the pan but try not to touch it too much.
  • Cover the loaf pan and dough with the plastic wrap and let sit for another 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Once dough has its second rise, take the plastic wrap off of the loaf pan and put the loaf pan with dough in the center rack of the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until you hear a hollow sound when you tap the loaf with a knife.
  • turn it out on a rack, making sure it’s right side up, let cool and slice as you want.

I like this recipe because it is super easy and you really don’t have to do much to the dough. You mostly just have to leave it alone. The bread has a good crumb and is substantial enough to support most ingredients. It toasts well and it freezes well. If you freeze it, let it cool completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap then insert it into a freezer bag for extra security.

I know this post is a little out of the ordinary for me, but hopefully you will find it useful.

Weight loss Regime Survival Tip #37: Play with your food

As I know I’ve mentioned a billion times before, my diet plan is based on more exercise and less calories. It’s pretty simple I know. No foods are marked as evil and banned from the house. I do this because I know how my brain works. as soon as I forbid myself to eat something I will start to crave it. hile the cravings will start off small and be easily ignored, over time they will grow. Then when I finally break down and go for it I will not just indulge, I will over indulge. If they aren’t banned then when I want them, I am much more likely to have a sensible amount because I know this won’t be my only chance to have them for a really long time.

Your brain might not work this way, but mine does, so this is my plan.

Whatever your plan, I’m sure it in some way deals with food. There may be a million different diet plans out there but in the end, we all have to eat, even if we are trying to shave some butter off of our bread.

One of the traps I’ve found is that I tend to eat the same meals week in and week out. When I make the meal plan for the week, ince I break out the calories of each meal so I can better plan, I tend to stick to meals where I have already broken out the calories. It is a natural inclination.

To figure out my meals calories, I’ve go through a recipe and figure out not only how many calories are in the version I make (which doesn’t always match the one established by actual chefs either because I couldn’t find the ingredient or it wouldn’t be appreciated in the household) and then figure out how many calories are in the portion size I typically consume from the dish that was made. It can take a while and once I’ve done it for the recipe I like to keep it in rotation a while so that I have at least one meal figured out. At this point I have a bunch of recipes figured out and tend to rotate through them.

The problem is that while it saves time, it gets boring. while I like to cook, making the same set of recipes gets old, not only with the repetition of making the food but in the eating. To change this up and combat the food fatigue I designated one day as new recipe day. While I can fall back on my favorite standards through much of the week if I choose, I pick one recipe that I have never made before and think looks interesting to break out for the following week.

I chose Wednesday for the break out meal because it is a small midweek excitement and schedule wise it is also my slowest day. Or at least the day that generally ends at the end of the workday with nothing planned for the evening.

This week I am making spring rolls. The cold Vietnamese kind, not the fried kind. I’m going with the shrimp version where each roll has one shrimp that has been bisected down the middle so that it can lay flat on the cold noodles and veggies. I am going for this recipe because it is more or less evenly portioned out (I suspect that as this is my first time making them uniformity may not be achieved this go round but there is a limit to how much can be put into one wrapper.) I have never made them so it falls into my new recipe category.

In addition the spring rolls are strangely hard to find here. All of the restaurants offering anything called spring rolls here only have the deep fried versions available and while the grocery story has packaged sushi and fresh spring rolls are usually offered along side them, here they are absent from the offerings. Perhaps there is a local ban I know nothing about.

It gives my dinner plans an air of danger, no?

One of the main reasons that I chose this is that both my baby and I love spring rolls. Despite his meat centric view on what constitutes a proper dinner, he can gorge himself on spring rolls and be sated. The trick is there have to be more spring rolls given to him then he would usually get in a package or a restaurant order. then he is happy, even if it is just one extra.

That appears to be his mental trigger.

I suppose we each have one.

So I am playing with my food in order to avoid meal time burn out. And while I do have to break out one recipe each week, I can fall back on foods I’ve already figured out on the other days. Plus, once I’ve figured it out, the food isn’t new anymore and I have an extra recipe added to my meal time planning stash. The more recipes I add, the wider the variety of my meal times. Plus I get to learn new skills and practice ones I don’t often use. Tonight I will julienne and feel like a professional (as long as I don’t cut my fingers off) and I will learn if wrapping a spring roll is anything like wrapping a burrito. I suspect there are differences.

This is one time when playing with your food is not only acceptable, but encouraged. And if any of you can think of things I might want to try as I branch out of my comfort zone, drop me a comment. As long as they are reasonably low caloric and I can find all the ingredients, I’m willing to give it a go.


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Weight loss Regime Survival Tip #29: Warmth

Sometimes you just need a little something warm

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I love food. It is partially what got me into a place where I need a weight loss regime in the first place. It has also been quite helpful in some respects as I work on my weight loss.

I actually had a somewhat funny moment early on where I looked at one of my personal food weaknesses, cheese. In an effort to convince myself that I should at least attempt to switch to the low fat, low calorie thing masquerading as cheese from other cheeses, I sliced two identically caloric portions of cheese. One was some variety of the aforementioned pretender which doesn’t bear remembering. The other was a wedge of Humboldt Fog.

If you have never tried it I highly recommend it, especially on a plain water cracker (so as not to distract from the cheese) and possibly drizzled with a thin line of local honey. Yum. Okay my mouth is watering and I am distracted.

Where was I?

Right, the test of the pretender.

Anyway I portioned them out, each portion with roughly the same amount of calories and I told myself that as I was watching my calories now I could either have the small piece of Humboldt Fog or the larger wedge of the other stuff.

Needless to say, Humboldt won and while that doesn’t sound like a diet victory, it actually was, because calorie counting became a lot less onerous once the greedy little part of my brain realized that I could actually still eat some of the things I liked (within reason) as long as I portioned them and could fit them within my daily allotted calories.

Counting calories became a tool by which I could not only control my diet, but justify some of my cravings. Because I knew if I had to give up all of my favorites, then I was destined for failure. Or to put back on everything I worked to take off once I stopped the monitoring. So portion control was key.

I can feel you getting restless out there. I can year you.

‘That’s great Mimsy, but what does that have to do with warmth?’

Patience my darlings, we will soon arrive at something resembling a point.

Promise.

Now, I started really rolling on my dieting adventure in this past Spring. While I technically started when the calendar was arguably Winter, I needed to figure a few details and kinks in the system before I got the hang of things.

By then the first of the early greens were poking up through my garden and let me tell you, if you have never assembled a salad by thinning the garden, you are missing out on a delight. Tiny but tender lettuce leaves, nips of thinned herbs, a few early pea shoots and whatever else you have growing combine to make an exquisite gardener’s delight that taste like nothing else.

Then, naturally, spring fades into summer and, among other things, fresh, just ripened tomatoes of various varieties, still warm from the sun are sliced, topped with freshly picked basil, julienned so it can be scattered over the tomatoes, and then dusted with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt and a little (measured, thank you very much) drizzle of good balsamic vinegar.

Heaven.

But then the winter comes. And while the freezer is well stocked with sauce and bags of frozen veg in various states of processing, many of the foods that saw me through the warmer months and made the dieting a not so harsh thing are gone.

I know, I can get a version of many of them year round in the grocery, but honestly part of my love of gardening is the little treats that I get once a year. In the colder months I like to think of them as I flip through seed catalogs and decide what I am planting when the time comes. I like the anticipation of the once a year treats as much as I enjoy the treats themselves. I’m okay with limiting that particular indulgence to enjoy the anticipation.

But I still have to eat.

And what I crave when the weather turns is something warm and toothsome.

My solution is soup.

Soup is warm and it contains (at least the varieties I choose) chunkier bits. The warmth and chew make me feel as though I am actually eating something much more caloric than I actually am. And it is that warmth that truly makes me feel satisfied in the winter.

Now sometimes on a weekend that isn’t too busy, I will haul out my stored garden bounty and make a cauldron of soup, potion it out (freezing most of it until needed, and enjoy. But usually when I start making soup, it is January and I am done with socializing for a while and looking to stay in (plus that’s usually when I realize the freezer needs to be cleared out before spring).

So I a lot of the time I go for canned, especially for lunch.

The thing is, cans are tricky.

Even when you read all of the ingredients, the portion size can still get you.

First of all, most cans contain about two portions. So even if you have been conscientiously reading the ingredients, you can be tricked. My solution to that is my lovely little bowl. In case you are wondering it is a ‘Souper Bowl‘ that is stoneware with a plastic lid. It is microwaveable and has a heat vent. I picked mine up at Tuesday Morning although they are sold in numerous places.

The one I use holds exactly one portion of soup. Once I figured that out, I no longer had to measure the soup so I was happy with one less thing to wash. Plus, once I’ve eaten my one bowl of soup, I can place the remaining portion in the bowl and put it in the fridge.

Because that’s how they get you on portion sizing even when you know it is more than one portion, because you read the label. You pour half of the can into the bowl (often a bowl too large for just one cup of soup, the correct portion size) and are then left with half a can of soup. If you have a bigger bowl, you often justify eating the entire can.

After all, you don’t want to stick the can in the fridge, cause you know it will just get pushed to the back and forgotten. And you don’t want to waste it. So the bowl helps. Mostly because I use the bowl often enough that stashing it with leftovers makes me wonder where it went and so I am less likely to forget the leftovers. So I generally have the same soup for lunch two days in a row.

Which is why I often take a while deciding what soups to buy when standing in the grocery and am confronted with a wall of cans.

I know it seems a little strange, but for me at least, having something warm at lunch time when it is cold really makes me feel satisfied. I also like that one bowl of soup (depending on the soup chosen) isn’t all that caloric.

In the winter, my dinners tend to be a little heavier than in the summer, mostly because when it is hot I keep meals lighter. I also live with someone who grew up in Montana and things winters are times to eat mass quantities and hibernate until spring or get as close to that as humanly possible. He also taunts the grass because it isn’t growing and he doesn’t have to mow it, but that’s a whole other issue.

So a lower calorie lunch helps out as well. I know this has sort been of a combination of a few food thoughts, but hopefully for anyone watching their calories it will prove helpful. Personally, until I tried it, I didn’t actually think temperature could make that much of a difference. Turns out it can. Who knew?

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Weight loss Regime Survival Tip #9: Herbs and Spices

Basil

You hear it all the time on cooking shoes. “Fat is Flavor.” You know what eliminates blandness? If you watch any cooking competitions you do. The answer is salt.

Fat and salt, two of the the things that make food taste good. I get it, I do. Fat helps us digest the nutrients in things like vegetables and helps us get the nutrition we need to run these big brains of ours that separate us from the lower primates swinging through the jungle. Salt helps us retain moisture so that our mostly water bodies don’t dry into dust in the hot hot sun.

I get it, I like my big brain and I hope it is many, many years before I turn into a pile of dust. In moderation, both of these things are good. The fact that in the past very little related to my diet was done in moderation is what got me in the shape I am today.

Lemongrass

So fat and salt are cut way back as I work towards finding a more sustainable daily diet. The elimination of those two things are why most people consider diet food to be bland and tasteless.

Actually, my big issue with diet food is usually the artificial sweeteners. Most of them are far too sweet for me even if they don’t have that chemical aftertaste. But as I mentioned before I am not much of a sweet person.

You know what I am though? A gardener.

More importantly I am a gardener who who loves the grocery store’s spice section. I have found that if I bump up my herbs and spices, I can generally cut down on a lot of my salt and fat. In addition, herbs and spices don’t generally have a lot of calories. While I still put a small pinch of salt in my rice when I make it (about half of what I used to use), I make it with water instead of chicken stock and when it is done I mix in chopped cilantro and squeeze a wedge of lime over it. I then top it with peas, and sprinkle with mint. Sometimes I’ll add a bit of feta, but I limit it because of the salt. As long as I appropriately measure the rice, it’s a decent lunch.

The chicken I had last night was coated in a mix of fat free yogurt blended with cumin, dried oregano from my garden, a bit of curry powder and a dash of cayenne before being baked. I served it with a salad with fresh mint and basil mixed in with the romain, cucumbers and fresh tomatoes. Let me tell you, It was yummy. Both the chicken and salad.

Mint gone Wild

Fat may be flavor, but if you are trying to limit your intake, reach for fresh herbs and spices. They can keep you from suffering bland, boring meals and as you mix and match both ingredients and amounts you can find something that is uniquely you and maybe something you haven’t tried before. I know that since I’ve been using more spices I generally search for ways to use up a jar I’ve already purchased.

I’ve found a lot of odd food combos and dishes that I never heard of. I’ll admit, some have proven disastrous. Others have become house favorites. Over all the good have outweighed the bad. Occasionally I still get strange looks at meal time, but the longer I push on, the more used to my experiments the rest of the house becomes. So I get seed packets and pots full of dirt to keep the herbs happy and peruse the spice aisle hoping to spot something I’ve never tried that looks like fun.

Do I still crave the salt and fat? Sometimes. And sometimes I give in. Herbs and spices aren’t better than fat and salt. Well health wise they may be, but not in taste. This isn’t going to taste better, but it does taste good. Its a change, but lets face it, if what I was doing worked, then I wouldn’t be on a diet.

At least with the new recipes and spice quest it is not a bland change. And it may be dieting, but it is also a bit of an adventure.