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The Summer of Bacon

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It’s official. Bacon is epidemic in the U.S.

Just like obesity.

It is not inconceivable that the two are related.

I can blame my friend who drew my attention to the world of evening TV commercials for my new-found amazement and bacon-fueled outrage. If it weren’t for him, I would have remained blissfully ignorant, bouncing out of my chair for every commercial break to putter about with minor chores like dishwashing or reading mail.

But now I stare, saucer-eyed, at the endless parade of sizzling, fat-striped temptations.

Ahhhh, bacon…how do we eat thee? Let me count the ways:

First, one I’ve already mentioned in a former posting. The forerunner of the lick-a-pig deluge: Little Caesar’s deep dish bacon-wrapped crust pizza.

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Now, as body-conscious, swimsuit weather progresses, the advertising industry has kicked into overdrive, churning out competition in the category of The Most Grease-Bang For Your Buck. So, bow before the obesity-altar and welcome:

Wendy’s Baconator Fries. Like deep-fried potatoes aren’t bad enough, this little culinary artery-clogger boasts the traditional bad-boy French fries smothered with melted cheese and lots and lots of bacon.

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But wait! There’s more!

The Baconator fries are intended as accompaniment, a companion side-dish to…wait for it…the Baconator and/or the Son of Baconator!

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Now, it’s my understanding that the original Baconator was a double-pattied burger layered with cheese, topped with bacon. Son of Baconator goes Daddy-burger one better (or worse, depending on your desire to live healthier and longer). Sonny-boy has added additional bacon between layers that were previously bacon-less. Why? Because they’re there. Or, as the commercial touting the Carl Jr.’s and Hardee’s burger layered with a hotdog and potato chips reasons: ‘Because…AMERICA!’

Somewhere there are think tanks and brain-storming sessions devoted to the riddle of ‘where else can we inject fat in this dish?’

I despair for our national health.

The only thing I can say on the positive side is: faced with a choice between any one of these grease-monsters or a doughnut containing Ariana Grande’s spit…I’d have to choose the grease.

The world of fast food has become a very scary place.

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The Deep-Fried Disgrace

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I was going to write something else.

Something about the lazy rhythm of a heat wave and the unexpected adventures it can bring. But then…this!

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It’s a deep-fried Big Mac drizzled with extra ‘secret’ sauce, which I think is another name for Russian salad dressing, and I decided the only response that made sense, other than retching and dry heaves, is another Lean Cuisine Salad Addition Wannabe: Cranberry and Chicken.

So, business first. This is for you kind folks at Nestlé:

Nestlé does not sponsor, authorize or endorse my blog or these recipes.

It’s not like they hate me, but if they saw me on the street, they’d pretend to be very interested in a window display until I’d passed.

Onward…

With each of these forays into Salad Addition Land, I learn something. That’s not as remarkable as it might sound, because what I know about cooking wouldn’t fill a thimble. But Cranberry and Chicken proved a bit problematic for one reason: the sesame stick croutons.

I searched through store after market after outlet. When sesame sticks couldn’t be found among the crackers, or the croutons, or the snacks, I found a substitute I thought would be perfect.

Billed as a new topping for salads (which gave me great hope), it contained dried cherries, grains, and granola. Since one of the ingredients Lean Cuisine used to tout for Cranberry and Chicken on the packaging was ‘a blend of grains,’ I thought it was a no-brainer. Perfect!

But sadly…no.

It became quickly obvious that this salad required a savory, salty embellishment. The dried cherry thing tasted more like a breakfast cereal. In fact, I ate it the next morning with milk.

The quest continued.

And then…Eureka! Wandering disconsolately, I discovered the buy-in-bulk section of a large market. Hidden among the jelly beans and raw almonds were…sesame sticks!! I bagged my quarry and trotted home, triumphant.

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So, Lean Cuisine Salad Addition Cranberry and Chicken.

You will need:

2 oz. broiled chicken breast meat

20 grams dried cranberries

½ oz. sliced red onion

1 oz. carrots, sliced or julienned

1 oz. broccoli florets

2 tablespoons of a raspberry vinaigrette salad dressing (I use Annie’s Naturals Lite Raspberry Vinaigrette)

8 sesame sticks

Lettuce to taste

Put the cranberries, onion, carrots and broccoli into that microwave-safe bowl that’s getting a lot of use in these recipes. Cover. Nuke on high for 2 minutes 30 seconds for an 1100 watt oven. Adjust time up or down depending on your microwave’s wattage. While the toppings are cooking, prepare your lettuce. Toss with the cooked chicken breast and the nuked ingredients. Drizzle with the dressing and add the sesame sticks on top.

It’s a sweeter salad than the others in the Lean Cuisine line, but the salty sesame sticks and the piquant onion save it from being cloyingly so. As with the others, you can set up a little kitchen factory and dump the chicken, cranberries, carrots, broccoli, and onion into freezer baggies. Then, when the mood strikes, empty the baggie into that bowl that’s becoming your single most-used dish, cover and microwave 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Add lettuce, dressing and sesame sticks.

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This comes in at around 280 calories before adding the lettuce…same as the one the Nestlé people used to sell. Which reminds me, once again:

Nestlé does not sponsor, authorize or endorse my blog or these recipes.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As for the deep-fried burger with extra sauce which will likely populate my nightmares now…you couldn’t pay me enough to chow down on something like that…

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A Tasty Fake: Lean Cuisine’s Salad Additions Asian Style

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As promised, my quest to recreate the now defunct Lean Cuisine Salad Additions continues…

After my last blog, Getting Mad; Getting Busy appeared, the folks at Lean Cuisine got in touch. They were very nice. I am told I may continue to push my versions of their salads as long as I make it crystal clear that they in no way support or have any connection with me, my blog, or my recipes. In fact, they suggested I post this ‘prominently’:

Nestlé does not sponsor, authorize or endorse my blog or these recipes.

Done.

Now, let’s move on to my second favorite Lean Cuisine Salad Addition…Asian Style.

I’m tweaking the ingredients a little to make it easier for non-cooks like me who shop in normal, everyday, un-gourmet markets. This is an adventure for me, because I start each quest by searching for the same things Lean Cuisine used to list as featured ingredients on their Salad Addition packaging.

For instance, Asian Style touts both yellow and orange carrots. After a long and arduous hunt, I did find a store that sold small bags in the produce section labeled ‘Rainbow Carrots.’ There were indeed yellow ones tucked in amongst the orange, an unusual reddish version, and a rather bleak-looking grayish-blue. And they were quite pricey.

No thanks.

So my Asian Style facsimile will use only the trusted and beloved orange carrot you can find anywhere.

The same went for the crispy noodles that Lean Cuisine uses in lieu of croutons. Sure, there are crispy noodles in the Asian aisle. You know, the aisle that also has Mexican, Italian, Indian and Kosher, with a sprinkling of exotica from other nationalities, like the British treacle. (Still not sure what treacle is, but my mind conjures visuals that are best left unexplored.) Anyway, the noodles I saw were too thick and heavy. So I chose something from the salad dressing aisle where croutons and toppings reside. Crispy wonton strips.

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So. Ingredients assembled. Here we go…

 You’ll need:

2 oz. broiled chicken breast meat

61 grams (about 8 pieces) canned pineapple chunks

50 grams frozen, shelled endamame

1 oz. carrots, sliced or julienned

2 oz. broccoli florets

2 tablespoons of a ginger/sesame/soy salad dressing (I use Paul Newman’s Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing)

7 grams wonton strips (I use Fresh Gourmet Wonton Strips)

Lettuce to taste

Put the pineapple chunks, frozen endamame, carrots and broccoli into your trusty microwave-safe bowl. Cover. Nuke on high for 2 minutes 30 seconds for an 1100 watt oven. Adjust time up or down depending on your microwave’s wattage. While the toppings are cooking, prepare your lettuce. Toss with the cooked ingredients. Drizzle with the dressing and add the wonton strips last.

Voilà! A really tasty Asian style salad that gives the extinct Lean Cuisine version a run for its money. This recipe clocks in at 263 calories as compared to Lean Cuisine’s 260 calories. Good enough.

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If you set up an assembly line type production, you can put the cooked chicken, pineapple, endamame, carrots and broccoli in freezer bags. For a convenient, healthy, delicious meal days or weeks later, empty the contents of the freezer bag into your microwaveable bowl. Cover. Cook for 2 minutes 40 seconds for an 1100 watt oven. Then add to the lettuce, dressing and wonton strips.

Enjoy!

And at this point I’d like to appease the Lean Cuisine folks by again boasting that:

Nestlé does not sponsor, authorize or endorse my blog or these recipes.

But I wouldn’t put it past them to try this at home themselves… hehehehehe

Next up: the Lean Cuisine Salad Additions Cranberry and Chicken!

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Getting Mad; Getting Busy

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Nestlé does not sponsor, authorize or endorse my blog or these recipes. They told me so. And said I better make that very clear on each and every blog about them.

The kitchen is not where I belong.

So when I find something convenient and palatable that takes a minimum of prep time, I stick with it. I embrace it. I engulf it. It becomes my staple.

So it was with Lean Cuisine Salad Additions.

Until…they disappeared.

I searched the local market for a year. Gone. No more.

Finally, I contacted Lean Cuisine themselves and asked what had happened. They replied that the sales didn’t justify the shelf space. In other words, people would rather buy gummy entrees like macaroni and cheese, or ones that imitate their unhealthy cousins, like beef steeped in sour cream, than make a salad.

I’m not surprised. My outrage for the eating habits which the advertising and food industries encourage continues to grow.

But I loved Lean Cuisine’s Salad Additions. So I determined to enter the foreign territory of the kitchen and see if I could duplicate them. I contacted the Lean Cuisine folks again and asked them if they’d mind my blogging the simple, tasty recipes for those who miss Salad Additions. They replied that my request had been sent to the appropriate department. That’s where it ended.

I haven’t heard back and I can’t blame them. If the product wasn’t profitable, why would they waste time responding to inquiries about it? That’s not good business when the bottom line isn’t health, but profitability.

So I’m posting the first of my favorite recipes for anyone who wants to fill the gap Lean Cuisine left wide open.

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You’ll need a small, kitchen scale you can get at most grocery stores, and a microwaveable bowl you can cover (I use a microwaveable plate as a cover).

This is my replication of Lean Cuisine Salad Additions Greek Style.

 

You’ll need:

2 oz. broiled chicken breast meat

3 pitted black olives, sliced

33 grams (approximately 1/8 cup) of canned garbanzo beans, drained

1 oz. carrot, sliced or julienned

1 oz. broccoli florets

1 oz. sliced red bell pepper

2 tablespoons of a cucumber/dill salad dressing (I use Safeway brand Tzatziki Cucumber Dressing)

Lettuce to taste

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Place the olives, garbanzo beans, carrot, broccoli and bell pepper in the microwaveable bowl. Cover. Microwave on high for 2 minutes, 15 seconds for an 1100 watt microwave oven. Adjust the time up or down a few seconds for different wattage. While it’s cooking, put your lettuce in a bowl or on a plate. Slice the chicken meat. Toss the lettuce with the chicken and the microwaved veggies. Top with the cucumber dressing. The salad toppings and dressing weigh in at 240 calories.

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It’ll taste delicious. You won’t miss Lean Cuisine at all.

After doing this twice, I was comfortable enough to make several servings at once. Put the veggies and chicken in freezer bags; one serving per bag. Whenever you want a healthy salad, empty the chicken and veggies into that microwaveable bowl, cover, and heat for 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Add your lettuce and dressing and thumb you nose at the food industry.

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If you do go the freezer route, it’s best if the chicken isn’t overcooked when you broil or grill or bake it. If you do overcook it’ll just be a little tougher texture than otherwise when you microwave the frozen meat. It’ll still taste great, though, in my opinion.

So, from a non-cook who’s outraged that the salad was discontinued and an ad just popped up on TV for a burger layered with a hotdog and potato chips…and the reason given for this revolting concoction is “Because…AMERICA!” ….bon appetit!

 

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Unless Lean Cuisine makes me stop… Next up: The Asian Style Salad Addition (yum…that one has pineapple in it!)

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The Bloating of America

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It’s a shameful, globally-known fact that America is increasingly obese.

Like most of us, I’m inundated with reasons and warnings spewed by the media via newscasts, public service announcements, and the odd government-sponsored commercial. The finger is pointed at all manner of modern conveniences that render tasks less physically demanding, or seduce us into hours of effortless, sluggish relaxation.

Leaf blowers, cell phones, video games, computers…all are given their share of blame.

The problem didn’t take up much of my concern until a friend told me he was trying to lose 30 pounds. The guy is over six feet tall. He carries weight well, but I applauded his goal and told him if he needed a pep talk or a walking partner or a good salad recipe, I’d be happy to help.

What did he ask for? Someone to talk to in the evenings so he wouldn’t watch TV.

I misunderstood. “You mean something to do besides sitting around? Some activity? We could go do something instead?”

“No, Cat. Someone to keep me from turning the damn thing on. It’s nothing but food all night long. All the stuff that’s death for dieters.”

I wasn’t sure I believed him.

I’m a terrible person to watch TV with. I irritate the hell out of everyone because I have a hard time staying still for a full hour. I’m up and down all the time. And I’m definitely bouncing around doing a hundred other things during commercial breaks.

So I switched it up. I let myself abandon the show and made sure I was there for the ads.

Holy cow.

My friend wasn’t kidding.

Wall to wall visual and audio enticements to eat.

And the food! The worst garbage you could stuff into yourself! I watched pizza parlors vie for who could present the most fattening, decadent, caloric version of the dish. The winner of Worst Thing You Could Eat was a deep dish, over-cheesed creation the perimeter of which was wrapped in bacon. Bacon measured in feet. And they were proud of this. It was a selling point.

Then came the burgers. Double, triple, quadruple patties of fatty meat laden with cheese and mayonnaise.

Then came the restaurant chains getting a jump on the breakfast business. Layers of waffles and pancakes mounded with butter and thick, cloying syrup. Plates piled high with eggs and towers of sausage and bacon.

Then were the buffets that set out their offerings like slop in troughs…touting ‘all you can eat’ as though the more you shovel in, the better.

And the people pictured enjoying these orgies of food are all slim, trim, toned specimens who I doubt ever set foot in the advertisers’ establishments in real life.

It went on and on.

All these images and lures shot into the viewing public’s brains where they will ferment until the compulsion to satisfy the urge placed by advertisers must be obeyed. The burger must be eaten. The pizza must be ordered.

If obesity is such a serious problem that the first lady is devoting a considerable amount of her time to fighting it, why doesn’t someone make the connection to the advertisers who seem to be in competition over who can supply the worst and the most of what your body doesn’t need?

It isn’t the inactivity of watching TV that’s the enemy. It’s the advertisers who’ve researched just when and how to hit their viewers where it’ll reap the most return.

It’s hitting below the belt. And unfortunately, for a lot of people, that belt is getting bigger and bigger and bigger…

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Grainless

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For the last couple of months I’ve been trying an experiment.

Spurred by unprecedented allergies spawned by plants and dust boorish enough to insist on occupying the same planet I do, I began searching for a solution.

I don’t like drugs. If a side effect is possible, it will find me. So, tossing antihistamines to the pollen-laden, dust-carrying wind, I sought something that would address the allergy issue from a more natural viewpoint.

And I thought I found it.

I was amazed at the proclamations that were made! The accomplishments touted! The rosy, healthful portrait painted! Imagine…no more allergies. In fact, uncounted physical and mental blessings would shower down upon me if only I would follow the plan.

So I vowed that for two months, I would embrace a grain-free diet.

We’re not talking just ‘gluten free,’ the buzz word that has spread it’s dry, wheatless fingers over our culture with unexpected tenacity. We’re talking no grains at all. The logic behind the diet was intriguing, if un-provable. I didn’t care about losing weight, so this clever plan hooked me with a dazzling array of other benefits.

I would give it a fair shot. I would jump in wholeheartedly.

I bought the book loaded with attractive grain-free recipes. I decided to try their version of ‘bread’ first. This necessitated a shopping trip.

Fine. I was going to do this right. One food processor, a hand mixer, a wooden spoon, various mixing bowls, and an array of hard-to-find-and-extremely-expensive ingredients later…I was ready to begin.

I made their version of ‘bread.’ I felt victorious when it looked like the picture. I figured I could get used to the odd taste…and I did. I was off and running. Allergy-freedom was a mere five days away. But I was warned that those five days could be grueling as my body labored its way through grain withdrawal.

I stuck it out. As long as withdrawal doesn’t involve vomiting and the shakes…I’m your girl. I found it encouraging when I did feel a little under the weather. It was like a promise kept. Surely the rest would come true, too.

Well, two months later I have to admit…the regimen dried up my sinuses. It also dried up my skin, my hair, my eyes, and whatever pads one’s joints to make movement fluid and painless.

“Maybe my body will adjust,” I croaked to myself early on as I awoke in the middle of the night for the seventh time, my throat parched, my skin itching, my eyes grating against their lids loud enough to be audible. “Maybe I just need more time.”

Yeah. Right. I stuck it out for two months.

I traded allergy angst for a full body malady.

I’m off the bloody program. My shopping list for tomorrow unashamedly includes bread, cereal, and a host of other items that will hopefully reboot and re-lube my entire system.

But I think the most telling indictment of this misadventure was when I brought the last loaf of ‘bread’ outside and left it for the host of wild creatures with whom I share my land. I set it out last night.

It’s still there.

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The Lesson Learned

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Every once in a while it’s a good idea to try something new. Kick your brain out of the lumpy, rutted, familiar ground it navigates without really taking notice.

It’s good to take a break from the keyboard. And the plot line. And the characters.

I’m not much of a cook. Okay…fine…I’m NO kind of a cook. Dinner is usually microwave popcorn and, if budget and circumstances allow, a glass of wine.

So, yesterday I decided to see if I could blaze a new trail through my limited nutritional repertoire, and maybe…I dunno…BAKE something. I’d been cleaning out kitchen drawers and cupboards (a foray into Creative Distraction…see previous post…while waiting for a kink to work itself out of a story I’d been laboring over).

I found muffin tins. I discovered various containers of spices that hadn’t yet caked in the moisture-laden air of the Northwest. I unearthed an old stack of recipe cards from someone who once thought I should be the owner of an old stack of recipe cards.

I plunged into my new adventure, trusting it would, if not open new vistas of  culinary aptitude, at least give that story-kink time to unknot as it lay in its own creative juices.

Here’s what I learned:

1. When the labels fall off of spice containers and you’re suffering from seasonal allergies, curry powder looks a lot like cinnamon.

2. If you’re going to make muffins, non-stick spray or those little, paper cup-thingies are kind of necessary. Unless you don’t mind digging them out with your fingers like a savage, eating them straight from the pan, leaning over the sink for crumb-control.

Side note: A male friend who should know saw me do this and commented, “You look like a bachelor.” No offense to bachelors…most of them fare better than I do.

3. Curry-by-mistake muffins are okay; they complement popcorn and red wine nicely, especially if seasonal allergies prevent you from savoring anything other than texture.

4. I belong behind the keyboard.

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