chicken pot pie muffins

A few days ago, during one of my many moments of searching the kitchen for something healthy and portable to grab for lunch, I had an epiphany. OK, it wasn’t as dramatic as all that, I just started wondering if I could make a muffin that was more like a lunch. Originally, I was thinking something along the lines of turkey bacon and spinach and onions. But then last night, when I finally got around to trying it, I realized I didn’t have bacon or spinach and I was much too lazy to go to the store.

However, I scrounged around in the refrigerator and found some other things: a leftover chicken breast, some frozen peas, a few aging mushrooms. What if I made a chicken pot pie, but as muffins? I knew it could all go terribly wrong, but I thought I’d give it a try. I took a look to see what else I had. The shallot might work, those soggy green onions, the parsley. Radishes? Probably not. I almost tossed in some watercress but chickened out at the last minute.

What I ended up with was surprisingly tasty, portable, and low in WW points. Well, maybe it’s low in points. I calculated it on the site and each muffin seems to be only about 3 points. But the site’s been having technical difficulties, so don’t hold me to that or anything.

Here’s what I did:

Sauteed the following (medium heat; I used a little cooking spray on the skillet):

1 shallot, chopped
3 garlic gloves, minced
1 carrot, shredded
5 white mushrooms, chopped

Once that was all wilted, I threw in some:

chopped parsley
fresh thyme
fresh rosemary
salt and pepper

Then I added a splash of dry Riesling and let it simmer for a few minutes. Then, I added:

1 chicken breast, shredded
1/4 cup grape tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 green onions, chopped

And just warmed it all through.

In a bowl, I mixed together:

1/2 cup egg beaters
1/2 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
1 cup mashed potatoes (I made some instant, since I didn’t have the patience to make real ones)
the chicken mixture

In another bowl, I mixed together:

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbl sugar

Then, I combined the wet and dry ingredients. I spray two muffin tins with cooking spray and then added spoonfuls of the batter. (I ended up with 12 muffins.)

I baked them at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. It was completely an experiment so I had no idea how they’d turn out, but they were pretty good. I would probably omit the tomatoes next time. They didn’t really add anything and seem to detract a little. I think these basic muffins could be made with whatever leftovers happen to be around. Well, maybe not any leftovers. I really wanted to figure out a way to incorporate some leftover white gravy, but I just couldn’t see how to do it and keep everything portable. I’ll keep thinking about how I might do that next time though.

Apex Chardonnay 2002

We’re not really sure where this wine came from. We must have picked it up somewhere, although probably not from a random trip to the grocery store, because we never get Chardonnay that way. It’s just not an impulse purchase for us. We didn’t visit the winery either. Maybe this was from a wine tasting at a wine shop? No idea. Generally, we remember how we came to own wines, but maybe this means we’ve accrued a few too many bottles. Is there any such thing as a “few too many?” Surely not.

In any case, we could tell this wine was made in the style of the typical California Chardonnay (although it hails from Washington), but it wasn’t over the top buttery or oaky. It had nice acidity to balance it out. Probably this is why we got it. We tasted it somewhere and thought, “this isn’t bad for a Chardonnay” (before we knew that there are other kinds of Chardonnay than the oak and butter kind). It had a slightly metallic undertone, but not anything like the Poet’s Leap Riesling did. It simply added to the complexity of flavors rather than made the wine taste like a tin can.

I’m finally beginning to understand how the winemaking process affects the wine. As for this one?

Clear-settled juice was put into a combination of new and used French oak barrels. After fermentation, the wine remained in the barrel “Sur Lee” and was stirred frequently for a ten month period. Ninety percent (90%) malolactic fermentation was attained. A final blend was made that eliminated any barrels that did not contribute to the ideal cuvee.

Northwest Wine says:

Smoky oak aromas with right-on acids make this a delicious and delightful wine that would be an excellent accompaniment with a variety of seafood or creamy chicken dishes… The rich wine has an attractive golden hue in the glass and a complex array of aromas including citrus, honey, spice, pineapple and sweet oak. Upon sipping, the wine lingers on the palate with food-friendly acidity and a round, buttery texture, the flavors following from the bouquet.

And what does Apex winery have to say?

From the beginning, the concept behind Apex wine has been to produce a limited quantity of reserve wines so special and so outstanding that they represent the ultimate in winemaking, “ne plus ultra.” … The commitment to exceptional quality for making wines of this caliber begins in the vineyards. Winemaker Brian Carter works with the growers to select the most promising vines and to make sure they produce exceptional grapes. The process continues through every step of the winemaking process, including aging for an extended period in oak cooperage… The result is wine that can be enjoyed now or cellared for additional depth and complexity. This is wine exceptional enough to bear the Apex brand… Today Apex Cellars is one of Washington’s most respected wineries. Its three brands, Apex, Bridgman and Apex II, cover the spectrum of wines from superpremium to super ultrapremium.

Price: $17.00

Poet’s Leap Riesling 2003

P. picked up Poet’s Leap Riesling the other day at our favorite wine shop based on a recommendation by the owner. He said that it was a little sweet, but not too sweet, and was very good. Wine Advocate gives it 89 points:

Pears, flowers, candied apples and underlying minerals can be found in its highly expressive aromatics. . . it offers an off-dry, medium-bodied character packed with linden, verbena, honeysuckle and hints of white pepper. Lush, suave and creamy-textured, it is an excellent, fruit-forward offering.

The Poet’s Leap winery is part of a consortium called Long Shadows that wants to help Washington become acquainted with famous winemakers. This wine is made from grapes grown in Washington, but was made by Germany’s winemaker Armin Diel of Schlossgut Diel.

The winemaker’s notes are:

This 100% Riesling has classic pear and grapefruit flavors which lead to a crisp and seductive mouth feel. The natural acidity well balances the delicate sweetness with an enormous charm. All ends with a dazzling clean and tangy finish which last for a long time.

It was very light in color (expected for a 2003 Rielsing) and did indeed have a pear aroma. But the taste? I first could taste the acidity and sweetness, but was then hit with a long finish of… metal. It had a really metallic taste in my mouth not unlike you sometimes get with light beer from a can. P. said he didn’t taste metal, but he didn’t think it tasted very good either. Was it the tangy finish I was tasting? Was it the underlying minerals? I just know that I didn’t like it.

However, on researching this wine, I find that others thought it outstanding. The Seattle Times called it “a perfect embodiment of the riesling renaissance that is now a fait accompli.”

So maybe it’s better with food? Or maybe, like all wine, it’s just a matter of personal taste.

spinach artichoke dip

OK, so I also made spinach artichoke dip last night, which I pretend is a vegetable side dish. Spinach! It’s good for you! Actually, this recipe isn’t bad at all — 2 WW points per serving, assuming 6 servings. I adapted this from Alton Brown’s recipe, although I’m sure he would take the recipe away from me and never let me make it again if he saw how I make it. Without the fat, how can all those chemical reactions and phsyics and geeky things he talks about that make him so sexy happen? I know, probably they can’t.

On the DVD for his Cheesecake episode, he reads letters that he got about the episode and answers questions. When he reads the letter asking about making a low-fat cheesecake, he says that if you’re looking for something low fat, you should just make something else. And probably this is also true of this dip. But I really like it the way I make it, even though I’m sure it’s nowhere near as good as the original. I’d rather not try the original, really, because then my version wouldn’t taste as good.

1 package chopped frozen spinach
1 jar artichoke hearts, packed in water (or frozen hearts, or whatever)
6 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat mayo
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 cup parmesan cheese, grated
red pepper flakes

Defrost the spinach. Boil the spinach and artichokes in water for a couple of minutes until soft. Drain well. (I squeeze it all out by hand.) Put into a bowl. Add all of the other ingredients and mix together well. You can sort of mash up the artichokes a little as you mix. Put into a baking dish (I use a pie plate) and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes until it’s all heated and melty.

Serve with sourdough bread.

spaghetti bake

I seem to pick up cookbooks wherever I go, and then they just sort of sit in my bookcase until I discover them again. Which often takes years. Last night, I was thinking I wanted to make something low fat, but I was tired or looking in the same Weight Watchers cookbooks. And then I saw Lean and Lovin’ It : Exceptionally Delicious Recipes for Low-Fat Living and Permanent Weight Loss by Don Mauer. I picked this up at Half-Price Books who knows how many years ago, but I don’t know that I’ve ever made anything from it.

The author lost over 100 pounds and then managed to keep the weight off by just modifying foods he already made so that they were lower in fat (and also by working out and that kind of thing). He makes a good point in the introduction that when he first lost the weight, he sought out low-fat cookbooks, but realized he could not commit to eating the foods they suggested for the rest of his life. And it does take a lifetime committment of healthful eating to keep the weight off, so he decided to figure out how to make the foods he liked low fat.

That said, this first recipe I tried looked a little bland on its own. So, I substantially revised it, keeping the general ideas that made it low fat, and it was delicious. And only 5 Weight Watchers points per serving (assuming 8 servings). To be fair, you’d only get 8 servings for dinner if you served something else along with it. A big salad with lots of veggies would probably be best. We went with other things that I’d rather not mention, ‘lest they ruin my health-conscious image. Ha.

8 oz spaghetti
1 lb lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
6 oz can tomato paste
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
pinch sugar
splash red wine vinegar
8 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/3 cup chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 350.

Boil a bit pot of water and cook spaghetti until al dente.

In a large skillet, saute ground beef, onion, and garlic until cooked. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, then add seasonings and red wine vinegar to taste. I’m not sure if we actually used 1/2 tsp of oregano and basil exactly. I added some stuff, P. added some stuff. Eventually we liked what we ended up with.

Meanwhile, mix together cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, and green onions.

Coat a large baking dish with cooking spray. Add half the spaghetti. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the spaghetti. Add the rest of the spaghetti. Pour the sauce over the entire thing. Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then bake uncovered for 10 additional minutes.