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Previous Entry Bad Food, Good Music Feb. 11th, 2008 @ 11:54 pm Next Entry

So I decided to try one of the recipes out of my AHA (American Heart Association) cookbooks. I'm trying to live and eat healthier so that I can avoid a heart attack before I'm 50, so I figure why not. Surely, I can find something interesting here.

So I page through it, and I find a recipe for "Chicken, Spinach, and Pasta Casserole." I'm thinking, ok this won't be too bad. I like chicken. I like spinach. Pasta's good too. So, I hit Kroger and spend a good $35 on stuff for this thing.

Here's the recipe (I'm sure the AHA won't care if I post one of their fine, healthy recipes in my little blog)

Vegetable oil spray
8 cups hot water
4 oz Chevre (goat cheese)
4 oz Crumbled, non-fat feta cheese, rinsed
3/4 cup fat-free evaporated milk
1/2 cup fat-free or low fat plain yogurt
Egg substitute equivalent to 1 egg or 1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (with all visible fat removed)
8 oz dried angel hair pasta
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
2/3 cup grated nonfat mozzarella-style soy cheese or nonfat or part-skim mozzarella cheese (3 oz)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Spray 2-quart casserolle dish with vegetable oil spray (I fucked this up because 2 quarts was not enough and I ended up switching dishes but I forgot to grease the second one, so there was some sticking).
2. In a stockpot, bring water to a boil, covered, over high heat.
3. Meanwhile, cut chevre into eight piece and put in a large bowl; set aside. I messed this up too because the goat cheese didn't come out of its package very smoothly. :-(
4. In a small bowl, whisk (I don't have one, so I did the best I could with a fork) together feta, milk, yogurt, egg substitute, and pepper.
5. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into strips about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long. I used chicken breast tenders that met those measurements. It was the best I could find at Kroger.
6. Cook pasta in boiling water for 1 minute. Before draining pasta, remove 1/2 cup cooking water (I accidently dumpped it because I didn't read this part, so I had to use fresh water that I put in the same pot I cooked the pasta) and stir into chevre. Drain pasta, add to chevre, and stir well
7. To assemble, spread half the pasta mixture in casserole dish. Scatter spinach over top, sprinkle nutmeg, and pour half the feta mix over all. Cover with remaining pasta. Arrange chicken and cilantro on top. Pour remaining feta mixture over chicken. Sprinkle with soy cheese.
8. Bake, covered, for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes. I baked for 20 because the chicken looked pretty raw when I took it out, and well when you've had salmonella poisoning even once, you learn to be fucking paranoid about chicken. This however, caused the dish to be slightly overcooked, which made the chicken and noodles taste dry.

So, the chicken and pasta was dry and the frozen spinach was actually awful. Add that on top of the fake cheese, and this just did not turn out very well. I kinda felt sick after eating it, and I think it was mostly the spinach. It was all clumped and pretty soggy despite my best efforts to squeeze it dry beforehand. I guess I'm more of a fresh spinach person.

I don't think I'm gonna try this one again.


I know it's blasphemy, but Best Buy actually seems to have a pretty good music selection.
I managed to pick up a few new CDs that I didn't think I would find (well I knew I'd find Flyleaf, but that's because they're played on mainstream radio).

BTW, yes, there's a trend here. :-P
What can I say, I like me some female-fronted metal/rock/alternative bands


All Around Me - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdDJ6wp-MSQ
Fully Alive - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWVX9Yi4M5E
I don't really like "I'm So Sick" very much, so I was initially turned off by Flyleaf, but I've since heard "All Around Me" and "Fully Alive" and I like both of those songs.

Lacuna Coil - Comalies

Heaven's A Lie - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixxtnrWb17Y

I kinda dig Lacuna Coil. Also this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70GJzR4HdIs Final Fantasy Video) is one of my favorite songs, but it's not on that album nor is it on Karmacode, which I also have :-(.

Leaves' Eyes - Vinland Saga

A finish band, I kinda like. Though I'm only familiar with Elergy
Elergy - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNgOJDL9iyQ

Nightwish - Dark Passion Play

People have been giving Nightwish shit for firing Tarja.
(Example of Tarja with Nightwish: Nemo - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAsqNog7pmI). I get the impression they fired her because she was both a diva and hindering them to an extent. And people say that Annette sounds like Britney Spears. Honestly, I think Annette sounds fine (fuck at any rate, I can understand the words a little bit better, which is the one thing about Tarja that bothered me), and works really well with the group. I like the new album.

Eva - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBSx5xrVWkw (Fan Video)

Also the credits on this album are righteous. They hired a fucking orchestra (and credited them). They also hired a gospel choir and another choral group.


Some of you may have thought I was exaggerating with the whole heart attack before 50 thing. I'm not. I have high blood pressure and borderline high cholesterol, and not to mention a huge family history of heart disease and stroke. See why I don't smoke.

I've been trying (again) to work exercise into my life (it's not very easy at times), and to be a little more careful about what and how much I eat. I kinda feel healthier, and that's a plus. I've noticed my bp dropping too (I have to monitor it because my doctor wants me to - 122/87 atm, which is better than the 140/100 it was a month ago). What's really made me aware of this is my brother (biological). He has both high bp and high cholesterol, and the doctor told him flat out that if he didn't change his lifestyle, he would have a heart attack within 15 years. He's 25. Him getting shit like this, makes me worry about having shit like this. Of course, Todd's lucked out on not having some of the issues that I have. For example, he's asthma and allergy free.

Hopefully, I can keep to working out. There's just so many benefits to good exercise.
When I do it, I know it's worth it. But I also know that I have a tendency to be lazy and forgetful.
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Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: Nightwish - Eva
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Date:February 12th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
I know how you feel about your blood pressure. I've been taking a low dose of anti-hypertensives for a year now. I find that my blood pressure is affected by my stress levels, so I've been engaging in a lot of creative pursuits in order to convert anxiety into something more positive. And yes, any kind of physical activity helps.

I would say that the recipe you posted from the AHA thoroughly sucks, that it set you up for failure, so it's not your fault. Reading it, it sounds like the recipe author thinks you don't know how to cook and have no interest in learning, and so the author tried to figure out shortcuts for the average dope, which is what lead you to mediocre results. As you found out, fake cheese isn't worth eating. What you do is use real cheese, good flavorful cheese, but less of it. They told you to use angel hair pasta because it cooks quickly, but it's also very easy to overcook, and therefore a poor choice for a dish in which the pasta is first boiled and then baked. And you were right to fear salmonella with the way they had you add raw chicken to the rest of the ingredients.

Most of what I've learned about making pasta dishes I learned from Giada De Laurentiis. Many of her recipes are available for free online.

What will soon follow in the next comment is my suggestion for an improved recipe (I ran out of space to post it in a single comment). But first a couple of notes about it. Cooking the chicken breasts whole and then letting them rest a bit before cutting them up will result in juicier chicken. You can use extra-virgin olive oil if you like the flavor, but if you want a milder taste, go with the stuff that's just called "olive oil." For a vegetarian meal, use a can of chickpeas instead of chicken...drain, rinse, and toss with a little olive oil to coat, then warm them in the spinach after the spinach has cooked. You can use frozen spinach instead of fresh, but it's very important to thaw it and squeeze out as much water as you can (use an old dish towel). Or try broccoli or arugula instead of spinach. Don't fear the amount of salt or fat in this recipe because it's going to be much less than you would eat if you bought a packaged meal or ate at a restaurant. Olive oil is good for you and most of the salt in the pasta water will end up going down the drain...you just have to salt the water pretty heavily if you want any of it to get into the pasta (osmosis, hooray!).

Without further ado...
[User Picture Icon]
Date:February 12th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • 1 pound of dried spaghetti, (whole wheat or regular duram wheat)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra as needed

  • 1 or 2 fresh garlic cloves

  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes

  • 1 bag of pre-washed baby spinach (from the bagged salad section)

  • 2 oz fresh soft full-fat goat cheese, crumbled

  • 2 oz full-fat feta cheese, crumbled

  • coarse (kosher) salt and pepper

  • parmesean cheese (grated from a block, not the powder in a can)

Makes 4 servings, dinner for you and another lucky person, plus lunch for the next day...your coworkers will think you're a culinary genius.

In the largest stockpot you have, which should be at least 8 quarts, fill to 4 quarts. Cover and bring to a boil.

Set a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Drizzle the chicken with a little bit of olive oil, about a teaspoon should do. Use tongs (or two forks) to move the chicken around on the plate, to make sure they're evenly covered. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper on both sides. Space the breasts evenly in the skillet, making sure they don't touch, and then don't touch them again for five minutes. Clean the counter and wash your hands in the meantime. Flip the breasts and cook for another five minutes or until cooked through. Set aside on a plate covered with paper towels.

Once the water comes to a boil, add about a tablespoon of coarse salt and the pasta. Cook according to the instructions on the box, though I usually start testing the pasta after five minutes and about every two minutes thereafter until it is cooked how I like it. Just fish out a noodle with a fork, shake off the water, and take a bite. Before you drain the pasta, use a ladle to get about 1/2 a cup of the water, setting it aside in a glass measuring cup or coffee mug...you'll use this salted starchy water to make a light sauce later.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic. My favorite way is to put my chef's knife on top (blade facing away from me, of course) and give it a good whack with the ball of my hand. The skin will come right off and the clove should be a little broken up already. Then just run your knife through it to mince it the rest of the way. If you like garlic as much as I do, use two big cloves...if you only want a little garlic, use less. Set your skillet (wiping it with a paper towel first if there's a lot of oil in it, but you probably won't need to) to medium high again and add the two tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the garlic and red pepper flakes (feel free to adjust to your taste). You only need to cook it until you can start to smell it, probably about 30 seconds, then add the spinach. If your pan is big enough to accommodate all of it at once, go ahead. Otherwise, add a handful at a time, allowing each addition to wilt a little first before adding the next handful. Cook until wilted through but not mushy, which should only take a few minutes. While the spinach cooks, cut the chicken into bitesized pieces, and then add the chicken to the pan. Give it a minute or two for the chicken to warm up, then add the drained pasta and the crumbled cheeses...if your skillet looks too full to add the pasta, use your stockpot instead, that's what I do all the time. Toss to combine and add a splash of the reserved pasta water if it looks too dry. Give it a taste and add a little salt and pepper if you need to. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesean cheese.

[User Picture Icon]
Date:February 12th, 2008 06:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you Amelia. I'll give your recipe a shot. :-)
[User Picture Icon]
Date:February 12th, 2008 08:28 pm (UTC)
Sorry to go on so long...I spent a good long while staring at that AHA recipe and shaking my head. I was especially puzzled by the spice/herb combination. Nutmeg and cilantro? The nutmeg I think I understand, that combined with the dairy that perhaps they were going for a low-fat bechamel-style sauce (ahem, there is no such thing). But cilantro? Sure, that could have worked in an Asian noodle dish, but in a creamy baked pasta, no way! Perhaps they meant flat leaf parsley, but I'm still iffy on that.

Healthy cooking should be fun and there are lots of tasty recipes out there. I'm passionate about ethnic recipes that derive big flavors from fresh vegetables and spices instead of relying on salt and fat. I'm happy to swap recipes any time.
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