Friday, June 17, 2011

Have Stress, Will Cook

and clean. And work out. And walk the dog. And redecorate my room. And…trim the bushes in our front yard?

Yes - these are the things I have been doing to “get through” the last few weeks. Which probably sounds a lot more depressing than is really the case, because as it turns out I actually liked trimming the bushes. I gave them a nice round shape, and my mom even said they looked professional. Honestly, can’t disagree!

Here is the truth of the matter: losing people is hard, and no matter how many ways I find to keep myself busy there just isn’t a way to deal with loss (in a healthy way) that doesn’t involve pain. But I have found out that there are ways to keep moving forward while still keeping old memories alive - because really, would our loved ones want us to wallow? I kind of think not.

I’ve discovered that one of the ways I feel the most connected to happy memories of my grandmother is through cooking. We shared a love of creating in the kitchen, and lately I’ve found myself pulling out our old tin baking pans even more often than usual. Every time I dig through her old recipe box and read through her instructions, it’s like she’s still able to teach me something. I’ve also found out how much fun it is to invent my own recipes or put a new twist on something I’ve made before - an ingenue spirit that I know helped my grandmother to become the most famous cook in Tyler, Texas (if not the world).

So, if you’ve lost someone you love or just plain lost your mind due to work, summer school, a break-up or other natural disaster, try giving one of these recipes a shot. You won’t regret it!

We’ll start easy with semi-homemade, Southern style red velvet cupcakes.

Buy a box of red velvet cake mix from the grocery store (trust me, it’s just as good as the real-deal and so much easier). I like Duncan Hines extra moist, and judging by how fast these cupcakes went once I pulled them from the oven, I’m guessing my family does, too. Up the “fancy” and the homemade flavor by making the icing from scratch. Here’s the recipe I follow:

The Best Cream Cheese Frosting:

8 ounce package low-fat cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 cup + additional (by taste) sifted confectioners sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, cream together cream cheese and softened butter (I put the butter in the microwave for 30 seconds to help the two mix easier). Mix in vanilla, then gradually stir in confectioners sugar. Blend with electric mixer, whipping until well-blended and light.

Tip: if you don’t have an icing bag, here’s an easy way to make your own! Transfer frosting into large plastic ziplock. Release air and close. Cut a corner of the bag diagonally with scissors, working all of the icing to that end of the bag. Squeeze desired amount onto each cupcake, swirling slightly. Perfection!

Now for a medium-level recipe I tried recently and LOVED - lemony-blueberry muffins! Sooo good (almost too good) with a cup of coffee in the morning. Or night. Or as a snack…

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins: (from the Food Network pantry)

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups blueberries, frozen or fresh (I like fresh)

Preheat oven to 350, and grease muffin tins. In a bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Stir in eggs and milk. Add flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and lemon juice. Carefully stir in blueberries. Divide batter among muffin tins.

In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp. butter, and 1 to 2 tsp. lemon zest (the grated rind of a lemon). Sprinkle mixture on top of muffin to create a warm streusel topping. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

And now for the most difficult - but potentially the most rewarding - recipe that I’ve concocted as of late: THE chicken enchiladas of all chicken enchiladas. I found this healthy recipe in it’s original form on, then altered it with the help of my best friend to up the flavor even more. The result?

Karley and Morgan’s YUM-azing Chicken Enchiladas: (an all-out Mexican fiesta)

The Sauce

1 cup of baby roma tomatoes, halved

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

half medium onion, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 chopped/seeded jalapeno

handful of cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a baking sheet with oil spray. Place tomatoes, onions, and garlic on sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until union and garlic are golden and tomato juices have started to run. Remove vegetables from tray, transfer to a blender or food processor. Mix all dry spices in a bowl until well combined, then transfer to the food processor. Add jalapeno, cilantro, salsa, and salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Other Ingredients:

whole wheat tortillas

green chili sauce, store bought or prepared (we used Las Palmas from the international foods section)

2 cups pre-cooked rotisserie chicken

1/2 cup fat-free cheddar cheese

1/2 cup fat-free mixed Mexican blend cheese

Pull apart rotisserie chicken into finally shredded pieces, removing and tossing skin/bones. Should produce about two cups of chicken. Coat chicken with prepared sauce, turning with spoon until well-covered. Once coated, stir in 1/2 cup fat-free cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup fat-free Mexican blend cheese.

Turn oven temperature down to 350. Pour half of green chili sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking pan. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of chicken mixture into each whole wheat tortilla. Roll tortillas and place seam-side down into the sauce-coated baking dish. Cover tortillas with additional sauce, topping with a layer of shredded cheese. Bake for 17-22 minutes or until sauce bubbles.

Tip: saffron rice (find it on the international food aisle) and black beans complement these enchiladas perfectly, and a dollop of homemade guacamole makes the whole thing taste like a dream.

I promise, you’ll feel better after you pull something you’ve created out of the oven. And if you don’t feel de-stressed enough after an afternoon of baking, there’s always yoga. Or trimming the bushes.


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