Monday, April 25, 2011

Karen's Kitchen Ambush

Hello again! Please check out my online cooking show, "Karen's Kitchen Ambush" where I make healthy and delicious dinner for a family from the ingredients found in their pantry and fridge. I was very lucky that this family had a variety of fresh items. I was totally expecting ramen noodles and ketchup! Maybe next time. I hope you enjoy it:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cooking with Karen

Well, hello there! I wanted to let you all know that I started a business called, "Cooking with Karen." My job as a Healthy Cooking Coach is to show busy folks how to shop, meal plan and cook healthier for themselves and their families. I work in the Washington, DC area, but will be providing classes via Skype soon! While my new website is being constructed, you can learn more by clicking "like" on my Facebook Fanpage. Search for it on Facebook under "Cooking with Karen."

I'm so excited about this new endeavor! I hope we can work together soon. Thanks for reading Test Drive Kitchen. I will be keep this blog up for now and transfer my favorite posts to my future website: I'll update this blog when the website goes live.

All the best,


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Roasterphobic, no more!

Over the past few years I was buying rotissere chicken at the market and trying to convince myself that is was tasty. Hey, it was easy and quick and poultry. How bad could it be, right? Well, I was definitely kidding myself. The real reason that I ate it was because I was pretty gun-shy about handling a raw chicken and roasting it myself. Okay, gun-shy is putting it mildly. It gave me the willies to think about it. I couldn't even imagine finding the packet of giblets inside the bird. I shuddered. I shoke. I was a serious roasterphobic.

But that's not me, anymore! I didn't even have to go to therapy. I just bit the bullet and started to do it. And I have tried every method under the sun. First, I bought McCormick's roast chicken spice packets, complete with a bag to cook it in. I just didn't trust myself to season correctly, so I left it up to the McCormick family to guide me. But then, I became more confident and started experimenting with different fresh herbs. And then, I bought a roaster pan and got rid of the roaster bag that basically just steamed the bird to submission. Okay, well I didn't buy the pan at first. Initially, I brushed off the incredibly expensive, nuclear fallout shelter-like-wedding present-pan someone gave us for our wedding and tried that. It was so heavy, I could barely move it into the oven. So then came the roaster pan with rack that I bought at Target. And I breathed a sigh of relief because I finally found my preferred tool.

So for about a year now, I probably roast a chicken twice a month and it usually lasts us only about 3 days. Ryan's a big fan of both white and dark meat, so the bird goes fast in this house. I can only 3-4 lb chickens at Whole Foods at about $8 a pop. Well, today I roasted a $19 bird. Yup. You read that right. Double the cost. But what does a $19 bird taste like? And why the mark-up?

Long story, short....My husband and I have been interested in supporting local farmers and organic, humane farming practices. After seeing the movie, Food, Inc., we knew we needed to make choices that reflected our values: such as knowing where are food was coming from exactly and how it was treated. We recently became members of South Mountain Creamery and received our first delivery of whole milk for Ryan, eggs, yogurt and a 5 lb chicken that has been humanely raised and handled. In the picture above, you can see the Whole Foods 4 lb chicken on the left and locally rasied chicken on the right.

Karen's Super Easy, Roaster-phobic No More, Roast Chicken:

Oven preheated to 350F and place the oven rack on the lowest level possible.

Here you go, you've got your dried herbs (sage, rosemary and thyme and salt and pepper), one whole lemon and your fresh herbs: sage, rosemary and thyme. I cut up whatever veggies I had on hand, but the most important to include are 1 sweet onion, a handful of garlic cloves, and celery. Just cut them up or throw in the cloves whole with the peel on! Today I added carrots and parsnips. But you can add anything. I usually have mushrooms and sweet potatos in the mix. Lay everything on the bottom of the roasting pan and season it with the dried herbs to your liking and a little salt and pepper.

For the chicken, reach inside the cavity (yes, if I can do it, so can you), take out the giblets, usually in a plastic bag and toss it or save it for the gravy. Now, this next part is controversial in cooking circles. It's perfectly okay to not rinse the chicken. The heat in the oven will kill all bacteria. But some of us were brought up a certain way and can't resist rinsing the chicken. I'm part of that crowd...I'm not proud of it, it's just what I know. So, take everything out of your sink first of all including the sponge, because no matter what you do, raw poultry juices are going to splash out that bacteria and you don't want it spraying the dishes. Rinse your bird, inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and cut up one lemon to insert inside. Take your fresh herbs and shove them in, too. Save a few to put under the chicken breast skin, too. Take about 2 T of olive oil and massage the chicken, then add as much dried herbs as you like. Put the rack on top of the veggies and place that bird breast side up just like this:
Roasting time? At 350F, it's 20 minutes per pound, plus 15 minutes at the end. Then, 10 minutes of resting before carving. For this 5 pounder, I roasted it for 115 minutes. Turns out, I probably should have shaved off 5-10 minutes. When time was up and I took it's temperature, I was a few degrees above where I should have been. Ideally, it's 165 F when inserted into the thigh. Mine was 170F. So, I quickly took it out and let it rest. The result? A juicy bird, but a touch too dry in my opinion. I think that every chicken has it's own personality and no two roast chickens come out the same. Even though I went by the book on this one, I probably should have checked it and taken it out a few minutes before. Lesson learned and I'll do it differently next time.
Resting for fifteen minutes and waiting to be carved...

And now it's time for the gravy!! Take the rack off the pan and set it aside. You have all this incredible flavor waiting to be turned into gravy that will rock your world. Grab a sieve and place it onto of a bowl. Carefully pick up the roasting pan and dump everything in and let the sieve separate your veggies from the pan juices. Set the veggies aside for a side dish later. Put the roasting pan onto two burners on your stove top and add 3 T of butter on medium heat. The butter will melt and pick up all the lovely bits of fat left behind. This is the base of your gravy. After the butter melts, mix in 3 T of flour and whisk it up.
Take 2 T of the leftover pan juices and add it to the pan. Save the rest of the juices for a later step. For now, bring the gravy to a boil. It will start to thicken up and become a paste. At this point, you'll need to add some chicken broth to the remaining pan juices sitting in the bowl and stir it up. Start by adding 1 cup of this broth/juice mixture to the roasting pan. Bring both burners down to a simmer. On a low heat, your paste/juice combo will start by looking like a thinner sauce, but will shortly thicken up to a gravy. At this point, taste it and add salt and pepper to season to your liking. If you would like, add more pan juices until you reach your desired consistency. You'll be keeping both burners on low at this point and the sauce will continue to thicken up. Here's what it will look like:

Okay, now it's dinner time at our house and Ryan is in his high chair waiting to taste this chicken. I'll let you know what the verdict is...
Happy Roasting!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog, that is the question...

Hello friends,

Wow, it's been almost a year since I've written on Test Drive Kitchen. The blog may have an inch of dust and a few virtual cobwebs, but my real kitchen (in desperate need of renovation) is getting an incredible workout everyday. My son is now 18 months old and I'm introducing him to all kinds of wonderful foods. He tries everything I serve from butternut squash to cauliflower to quinoa. I am so proud! Here's a video starring my son Ryan discovering an innovative way of eating Cheerios:

Besides running after a very fast toddler, there's been a lot of wonderful changes happening in my life over the last year and I'd love to share them with you.

I've successfully kept off over 40 lbs since May 2008! I feel like I have endless energy, I get wonderful, uninterrupted sleep, skin is looking fresh and glowy, but best of all, I learned so much more about myself. Ever since my appearance at "City Hall" in Annapolis where I lobbyed for calorie amounts at chain restaurants, I've become fascinated with food politics. Recently a change my family has made is to buy food from local farmers so we know where our food is coming from and how it is grown. On Thursday, we're getting our first delivery of organic milk, cheese, eggs and a roasting hen. I'll blog all about it!

Also, since April 2008, I've had a radio segment on a DC pop station called Mix 107.3 FM. You can hear me online or if you're local tune in on Monday nights at 8:50 EST ( The segment is called Mom Gone Wild and I tell real life, mostly humorous stories from mommyhood. It's part stand up and part improv. The DJ Tommy McFly is a friend of mine from when I performed at the DC Improv. I'm having a blast doing it.

I'm continuing to cook up a storm, but now I'm mostly doing my own recipes. I thought I should start writing them down and share them with you. As always, I try to get the most nutritional bang for my buck. So there will be less of testing other's recipes and more of testing my own.

And finally, I have a favor to ask you...I need your help. It's become clearer to me that my career path, while on hold for the moment while I live at Stay at Home Mom-ville, should be focused on helping families incorporate healthy cooking in their lives. Both my happiness and health have benefited greatly from changing my family's diet from processed foods to whole foods. I am tinkering with the idea of starting my own personal consulting business where I assess a family's need and particular obstacles first, then, work with them in organizing their pantry and fridge, take them shopping (in an economical way!) and teach them to plan and cook healthy meals. My husband suggested I start by going on a "listening tour" and ask people what they would find the most helpful from this kind of service. This is where YOU come in. I would love to hear from you via comments or email ( Tell me your frustrations, vent a little or a lot and tell me what your fairy godmother, er, healthy cook consultant could do to make your life easier.

Glad to be back and can't wait to hear from you!!



Wednesday, March 4, 2009

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!!

Yesterday, I put on my nicest suit, handed Ryan over to Daddy (aka Mr. Mom) for the day, and travelled to Annapolis, Maryland to testify on behalf of House Bill 601: legislation that would make all chain restaurants (fast food, not mom & pop shops) put the calorie count of each item on their menu boards. I walked into a huge hearing room full of 40 state delegates who had the power to keep the bill in committee or send it to the Statehouse for a vote. I wanted to share with you the written testimony I submitted. Here it goes...

Maryland House of Delegates
Health & Government Operations Committee
House Office Building, Room 241
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Chairman Hammen and members of the Committee:

My name is Karen *****, and I’m a Maryland mom in support of Delegate Niemann’s menu labeling legislation (House Bill 601). I’ve also struggled to maintain a healthy weight throughout most of my adult life. Over the last five months, through mindful eating and moderate exercise, I’ve lost 29 lbs. I’m a new mom with a young baby, and my life is both fuller and more frenetic than ever. I need every resource available to help me stay on track. I want to be a good role model for my son, as well as to stay healthy to see all that he will accomplish in his life. For me and for so many others, staying on top of what we put in our mouths every day helps keep us accountable and able to stave off weight related illnesses. For this reason, I believe it is imperative that Maryland pass HB 601 to ensure that chain restaurants show the calorie counts of every item sold on their menu boards.

Whether I’m working to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight, I look at calorie intake and output like a daily budget. When I make my food choices, I often think of them as line items. For instance, I have 500 calories to spend on breakfast. That breakfast needs to keep my hunger at bay for three or four hours before I eat again. When I enter an establishment, Starbucks for example, I want to be guided to make the best choice that I can for those 500 calories. If I see that one small muffin is equal in calories to a bowl of oatmeal with dried fruit, I know immediately that the oatmeal will get me to lunch. Alternatively, the muffin will most likely keep me satiated for only an hour. I’ve found that the key to staying committed to a healthy weight is not being hungry. I can accomplish this by making the right food choice for every meal and snack.

It is not enough for this information to be provided on a web site or for customers to have to ask for it in a brochure. Recently I visited a Panera restaurant. Since I hadn’t visited one for a while, I went online to research the options I had. I chose at least 5 menu items I liked that fit within my calorie budget and figured I’d make the final choice when I arrived. To my disappointment, NONE of the items I picked was available. And, of course, there was no nutritional information on the menu boards. With my baby son in tow and in need of his bottle, I needed to make a fast decision and chose a salad which did not look appetizing. In fact, it wasn’t appealing in taste or presentation. This particular experience was one I thought I had planned for well. There are times when I’m in an area I’m not familiar with or I’m stuck at a mall and have limited food choices. These are times when I’m hungry, and I haven’t had the opportunity to plan ahead. In these instances, calorie counts listed on menu boards are my only option to make good decisions. Of course, these are rarely available, and I must limit my food later in the day to make up for undesirable choices earlier. I’ll never forget the time I came home and searched the web to find that the single slice of Sbarro pizza I had eaten contained not only 710 calories, but also 27 grams of fat! Not only that, but the Sbarro website does not display this information. I had to search online for other websites that provided it. Because I do not have access to this important nutrition information, I cannot return to these restaurants until it is made available on their menus.

One stunning fact that is clear to me time and time again is how the power of knowledge affects our perception, as well as our decisions. For years, we’ve been introduced to items like 7 Eleven’s Big Gulp and McDonald’s Supersize fries. Our personal perceptions of appropriate portions were lost when these items became the norm. The simple solution is to offer nutritional information that is accessible and easy for everyone to see. Sometimes basic awareness will lead a person to take the action necessary to make one’s health a priority. In addition, the helpful sign nearby that explains that a 2,000 calorie daily diet is the general rule of thumb for healthy living will give additional perspective to the diner. Perhaps then 388 calories (or approximately 1/5 of an adult’s total calorie needs per day!) for a Big Gulp of soda will seem outrageous to most customers.

With all of this in mind, the restaurants that provide nutritional information on their menus have gained my loyalty. Isn’t creating customer loyalty the whole point of providing a service or a product? Shouldn’t this be in the business plan of all chain restaurants? By providing this information, I have a sense of good will toward the restaurateurs. They are showing me that they care about my health and that of my family. Clearly, they want me to return often.

Finally, as a new mom, I’ve been inundated with retailers telling me which formula is nutritionally the most sound, which bottle is the safest, and even which bassinet and crib will help prevent SIDS. Every commercial, every product packaging, and every radio jingle, promises to keep my child healthy and thriving. So tell me, why is this promise any less important when dining out? In the supermarket, I pick organic foods with wholesome ingredients and limited sugar. I’m able to do this because I read labels on each item before I buy it. Doesn’t it just make good sense for me to continue making these informed choices when ordering at chain restaurants? In conclusion, I need this information presented in a way that I find useful. Juggling a baby, a diaper bag and toys while leafing through a brochure just will not cut it. I need the nutritional information prominently presented next to the item I’m ordering.

I urge you to support HB 601.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Try couldn't hurt!

Now that I'm the "jewish mother" I've always longed to be, I'm going to nag you a little. Just a little, I promise. If you're working on your weight loss or simply trying to maintain your weight, trust me on this one. Have a cup of soup at least once a day. I have mine before my main meal, which for me is lunchtime. First of all, you can't stand up and eat soup. Though I'm sure many have tried. Instead, you'll find yourself sitting down and taking your time to savor the flavors. Soup forces you to eat slowly and enjoy your meal. I think eating slowly gives you an opportunity for your belly to tell the brain it's full. These natural cues for hunger and feeling satiated are half the battle when it comes to practicing portion control.

In a pinch, I've tried low sodium canned options like Amy's Organic soups - which are pretty darn tasty, but nothing really compares to the homemade variety. Here's one of my recent favorites. Picture & recipe by Weight Watchers.

Creamy Mushroom Soup


1 spray(s) cooking spray
1 cup(s) leek(s), chopped
2 medium stalk(s) celery, chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 pound(s) button mushrooms, sliced
3 cup(s) fat-free chicken broth, reduced-sodium
3/4 cup(s) fat-free evaporated milk
1/8 tsp table salt, or to taste
1/8 tsp black pepper, or to taste


Coat a large saucepan with cooking spray and set pan over medium-high heat. Add leeks, celery and garlic; sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms; sauté until they release juice, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add broth to pan and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and puree soup in saucepan using an immersion blender. Or puree soup in batches in a blender until smooth (be careful not to splatter the hot liquid) and then return to saucepan. Add milk to pan and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving. Points value is 2 per serving.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Stew & the slooooow cooker

Got ten minutes? Great. Then, you've got time to make a fabulous stew. I'm totally serious. All you need is a slow cooker and the confidence to let the cooker do the work for you. And if you've got nerves of steel, leave the house while it's on. I know, I know. That's what they're built for, but I'm a nervous nellie and I don't even leave lights on when I'm heading out the door. But I know YOU can do it. You're probably a lot less anxious than me.

Anyhoo, getting back to this fantastic stew from Weight Watchers. All you need is this:

Middle Eastern Lamb Stew (for the slow cooker) from Weight Watchers


1 pound(s) lean leg of lamb, stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup(s) canned beef broth
1 large onion(s), chopped
1 large garlic clove(s), minced
14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained
15 oz canned chickpeas
2 tsp ginger root, freshly grated
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Place lamb in a 5-quart slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients (add a pinch of saffron threads to tint stew orange & enhance taste), except lemon juice; stir well. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 7 to 8 hours. Stir in lemon juice and let stand for 5 minutes for flavors to blend.

Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving. Each serving is 6 WW points.

  • Seriously, the hardest part of this recipe was finding the stew meat. And that wasn't even so bad. I didn't see it out with the rest of the meat at the grocery store, so I just rang the bell for the butcher (insert visual of "Sam the Butcher" from the Brady Bunch) and he brought out a package from the back of the kitchen. He pointed out to me that some stew meat is "marbelized" with fat and that I should use meat that I can trim. Because getting fat out of marbelized meat is impossible. So pick wisely when you have choices.
  • If you don't have a microplane like me, then you easily pick up minced ginger (near the jars of minced garlic) in the produce section.
  • When you have a moment, check out I buy most of my spices there and I'm lucky to have a store nearby. But the majority of their customers buy online or through their catalog. I mention this because I truly believe that their cinnamon is superior to anything I've ever had before. And believe me, the scent of that cinnamon through the house while your cooking this stew is worth the price of admission.
  • For those of you following the Weight Watchers program, 1 1/2 cups of this stew is incredibly filling for 6 points. And the flavor is to die for. I can't wait for you to try it and let me know what you think.