Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wedding, Wedding, and Family Reunion

Normally our summer's are filled with sun, the occasional beach trip, lake weekends, bbq's and a chance for a little rest and restoration. This summer has been a mixed bag of nuts for us.

We experienced Dad's death and subsequent gathering of the family for the week, dealing with Mom's "new normal" and all the financial and emotional changes death brings.
I had no idea how many details have to be taken care of nor how time consuming they would be. (And Dad was well prepared with an attorney as an estate planner, how do people unprepared do it?)

We had 2 joyous weekends for our nephew's out of town weddings, which became mini family reunions in addition to all the weekend festivities. It was wonderful to experience happy beginnings with so many people we love.

We will be gathering for a large extended family reunion this weekend (including delightful houseguests). I am sorry Son1 and his family can't be here and also sad Son3 is in New York, but that is just the way life goes.

In addition, we have a long weekend at the lake planned for Labor Day. We are hoping to enjoy some sun, some time on/in the water, bbq, homemade ice cream, sweet tea and even sweeter company.

Sometime in September life should return to some semblance of normal, whatever normal is.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house in the burbs I am still cooking nightly, but not cooking anything worth mentioning. Please forgive my absence in posting and bear with me.  I don't think anyone would get too excited seeing a piece of meat straight off the grill with a side salad, but hope springs eternal and the temperatures will drop soon, so I should be back just in time for football season and some game day foods.  Have a wonderful rest of the summer and Roll Tide Roll!

p.s. I have a paleo pie I am dying to try.  It might possibly be the next recipe I make.

Monday, August 17, 2015

More Spur of the Moment Fun With Chicken

Last night I was having a long phone conversation with an old friend.  I feel perfectly comfortable calling her an old friend since she is a couple of years older than me.  (You are only old if you are older than me.) One minute we were laughing and gabbing and the next thing I knew TheHub came in asking what we were doing for dinner. It was almost 8 and not only had I not started dinner, I had not even given it a thought. (Although during the phone conversation I had started cooking a batch of ketchup in the crock pot and made 2 recipes of spaghetti sauce for the freezer.)

I have been making a concerted effort to take 3 items out of the freezer every 3 days, so I will always have something thawed in the fridge meat drawer. When I use the last item I grab 3 more to thaw. Usually it is a random grab, just the first three things that come out of the freezer, but there is some organization to the randomness of it all.

I keep 7 colored bins on the freezer shelves at all times: 2 red, 2 white, 2 yellow and 1 blue. The reds have frozen "red" meat (beef or lamb) in them. The whites house "the other white meat, pork" sausages, brats and bacon. The yellows have all the chicken products (think sunny side up eggs for the yellow color) and the blue is seafood since it swims in blue waters. (Don't judge! I have to have some convoluted system that works for me)

I really know at least what sort of protein I will come up with on my grab, just not exactly  what the type might be.  I had grabbed a piece of a sirloin tip roast, 4 cooked chicken breasts and 4 more bone in uncooked breasts  on my last thaw session.  Since I had used the others, only the bone in breasts remained.  The only decision next was what to do with them that could be done quickly.

My first plan was to bone them quickly (reserve those bones to make bone broth for later) and sear them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I had a couple of cups of cooked cauliflower florets, a half a box of orecchiette pasta, garlic and about a cup of leftover chicken broth to start with.  While I was grabbing the garlic to mince, I knocked over a bottle of rose' wine I had used for cooking a few days earlier (wine cake anyone?) so I added that to my list of possibilities.  Now the only thing left to do was to put something together quickly.

Because I only had a relatively small amount of tiny pasta, I could use a smaller pot, so the water boiled a little quicker and the pasta was cooking by the time I finished browning the breasts. (I love my flash cooking burner!) There was nothing left to do but warm the cauliflower and figure out exactly what was going to happen with the chicken.

                                                          Rose' Chicken on the Fly

4 small boneless chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small cloves garlic
1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced (I used 1/2 cup dehydrated mushrooms)
2 cups Rose' wine (Use the cheap stuff)
1/2 cup chicken stock (1 cup if you have it)
1 teaspoon Italian seasonings
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce (coconut aminos to keep it paleo)
1 tablespoon arrowroot (use cornstarch if paleo is not an issue)
3 tablespoons water

Lightly brown the breasts in olive oil then sprinkle the minced garlic on top of it.  Stirring, let it slightly wilt before adding the fresh mushrooms. (If using dehydrated mushrooms skip to the next
step and add them with 1/2 cup water to the at the same time as you add the wine.) Pour the wine and the chicken stock in the pan, turn the heat down to a mid low, add the thyme and Italian seasonings, cover and let it braise for about 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. (If your chicken breasts are large you will need more cooking time and liquid.  Add water as needed to keep about a cup and a half of liquid in the pan)  Stir in the soy sauce (or coconut aminos) and add a little salt and pepper. (If you use soy sauce and salted broth this can become over salted quickly.  It is better to use less and adjust it at the table than to use too much in the beginning.

Blend the arrowroot/cornstarch with the water in a small dish until it is smooth.  Add it by teaspoons to the liquid, stirring well.  Cook it for a couple of more minutes and if the sauce thickens and becomes glossy you are through, if not add a bit more thickener and cook it a little more.  It generally takes me about half of what I have prepared, but I had rather have too much than to be right at the end of the cooking time and have to make more.

Serve this piping hot over any pasta (but the smaller stuff works better and holds the sauce better than larger pastas).  If you want to keep it paleo serve it over crumbled cooked cauliflower.

We had this with just a very simple side green salad and it was a great tasting later night meal. It was not heavy, but was very filling.  Everyone loved it and wanted more, but I told a half truth and said if they wanted to check the pan for anymore they were welcomed to it.  I had secretly put on breast in the fridge for my lunch later in the week

If you are in a panic about what to cook for dinner and have an opened bottle of wine on the counter (This would work with any wine actually) give it a try.  You might find it is something simple and delicious.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Zorba Chicken (Greekish, and Paleo)

So, as usual it was about 30 minutes before supper time and I had no clue what we were going to eat. I had defrosted 4 grilled chicken breasts earlier in the day, but had no clue which direction I was going. Looking through the fridge I found a carton of mushrooms that had to be used right then, some tomatoes, spinach and a lemon that had seen better days. At first I thought about doing some Italian florentine dish, but then I remembered I am full on paleo now, so no cheese or pasta for me. The only other thing I could think of was to do some free style interpretative Greek type one pan dish. ('Cause I am lazy and hate to do a lot of dishes when I don't have to, plus it is too hot to use the oven.)

I have to admit I only called this dish Zorba chicken because I am listing to Greek music while I write this post and The Zorba Dance just finished playing.  This is not true Greek chicken, since, as a friend once told me, I can never cook a real Greek meal 'cause I'm not Greek.  So we are going to call this a Greekish meal.  I made this paleo but by serving it over rice or a pilaf it would be a meal more than fitting for regular eaters.

                                                                 Zorba Chicken

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2, 3, or 4 cloves garlic, minced (Come on, be brave, it's Greekish)
1 carton white mushrooms, sliced (not really Greekish but I had them and needed to use them)
3 medium tomatoes diced (I probably should have seeded them first)
1-1 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley   (start with the smaller amount first)
1-1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano  (you will have to taste after adding the seasoning and adjust)
1/2-3/4 teaspoon dried mint        (use as much or little as you like)
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
4 small boneless cooked chicken breasts, sliced (or just 2 cups of chopped chicken pieces)
1 16 ounce bag washed spinach
sliced olives for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large pan with a lid.  Wilt the onions, but don't brown them. (We don't want that lovely caramel flavor in this dish). Quickly add the minced garlic to the onions.  Stir constantly for about 35 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and add the mushrooms.  Stir them off heat, using the radiant heat in the pan to wilt them a bit. Add additional oil if necessary. Put the pan back on the heat and stir constantly until the mushrooms are soft.

Toss in the tomato pieces and stir, adding the seasonings and the lemon juice. (If you seeded the tomatoes you might need to add a little water or chicken broth, if you didn't you will get a bit of juice from the tomatoes themselves.  Stir in the chicken to warm it well and add the spinach bits at a time on top of everything.

This is when the lid becomes critical.  I put as much spinach as the pan will hold, smush (a technical cooking term for Greekish not Greek food) it down and add more spinach.  Pop the lid on until the first bit of spinach wilts by half, add more spinach and repeat the previous process. Check your pan and make sure there is enough liquid in it.  Add water or broth as needed.

Continue adding the spinach until all the spinach is well wilted. Mix everything together and serve over basmati rice (for normal people people who eat everything) or alone (for people who are geekish eat paleo meals).  Sprinkle olive slices on top of it.  If I had thought about it, I would have chopped a little fresh oregano and mint to sprinkle over the olives.  It would have been pretty, but as it was, it was simply delicious just not properly adorned.

Everyone really did like this, it took about 20 minutes from prep to serve (exclusive of cooking the chicken, because I always have cooked boneless chicken breasts in the freezer).  If you have to cook your chicken add another 15 or so minutes to your prep time. (Or slice it into thin slices and cook it in olive oil in the same pan you are going to use. ) If it is sliced thinly it should be cooked through in about 5 minutes.  Then just remove it from the pan and follow the directions as above, or go crazy and add or subtract anything you think you might like to it. (eggplant? green beans? squash?)

I do know for the meal's simplicity with a big flavor bang, we will have this a couple of more times before summers end.  Try it and maybe you will like it too.

For your viewing pleasure (Unless you are so young you have no blooming clue who Zorba the Greek is):

Καλή όρεξη! (Trusting that this actually means Bon appetit)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Paleo (or not, your choice) Peach BBQ Sauce

Yesterday I was looking through the freezer, trying to get rid of inventory to make room for this seasons produce. I pulled out a package of chicken, but was still pretty unclear what I was going to do with it.  As usual, if I procrastinate long enough the universe gets tired of waiting on me and forces a choice.  That day it came in the form of peaches, 3 peaches to be exact that had to be used right then or tossed. They were mushy, but still very edible, yet I just did not want to eat 3 peaches.

I chopped them up and stuck them in a blender, thinking at first I might add some lemon juice to them, freeze it in portions and use it some morning as a smoothie base. But, wouldn't you know, I had no lemons.  Instead I added a little vinegar, hoping the acid would hold the color and it might have worked but it started smelling more saucy than drinky, so I changed the peach plan.

                                                              Peach BBQ Sauce

3 very ripe peaches, cut in small chucks
1/2 small onion, diced and sautéed in bacon fat or olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon coconut aminos (I would have used Worcestershire but I was out of the paleo stuff)
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (no substitution here for the hat and smoky flavor)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
shake of red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 scant shakes of cinnamon
1 scant shake of allspice

(Statement of truth here: I am going to list instructions as I should have done them, not as I did. Because I had already pureed the peaches, I put everything else in the blender and pureed it.  Then I put it in a sauce pan and cooked it and then had to blend it again.  It would have been much simpler to cook everything first then blend just one time.)

In a small saucepan cook the onions in bacon fat or olive oil until they are wilted.  I always have bacon fat in the freezer, so that is what I used and it did add a little smoky flavor to the onions. Add the chopped peaches and cook while stirring until the peaches have softened a little.  Mash the peaches with a potato masher and add the vinegar and tomato paste.  Continue cooking and stirring until the mixture is very soft and somewhat smooth (but it will still have some chunks in it).  Add the Worcestershire or coconut aminos and the mustard and stir well.  Toss in all the spices and seasonings and stir well.  Pour into a blender and blend until it is smooth.  I have a large blender, so I could leave the center piece out of the lid without food flying from it.  If you can't, leave a little airspace at the side of the lid and do the pulse, stop, stir, pulse, stop stir thing until it is smooth. Blending something really hot in a sealed blender can be a disaster, since often it wants to spew out of the top and all over the kitchen. (Learn from my past mistakes so you don't have to make them. We call it  "The Asparagus Soup Debacle")

To use simple skin the chicken and put the pieces skin side up in an oiled small baking dish. (8x8) Season the raw chicken with a little salt and pepper as desired since the sauce has very little salt. (Again I confess, I do not like a lot of salt.) Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and bake in a 350 degree oven until the chicken is ready. (I cooked 4 breasts and there was enough sauce for all the pieces) It cooked about 30 minutes, but the time will vary especially if you have some of those football size chicken breasts.

I served it with some asparagus, a simple lettuce and tomato salad and dinner rolls (And yes, I do know bread isn't paleo, but I am doing this paleo thing in steps.  First thing to go was sugar, then beans, then dairy and grains are next)  It was really delicious and especially good for a paleo dish. The chicken was moist and tender and the bbq sauce was terrific.  Next time I plan on cooking this on the grill instead of in the oven.  It should taste even better cooked that way. When I try it I will let you know!

The verdict was unanimous.  It was a very delicious and different flavor, and much better than our standard boring chicken.  It was so tasty, I plan to make several recipes while the peaches are in season and freeze them in individual portions to enjoy throughout the winter.  I will add some lemon juice to the recipe to hold the color, but other than that I will do it as written.  If you are looking for another way to eat chicken give this a try.

If you are not doing paleo you might try adding a tablespoon or so of honey or brown sugar before cooking the sauce.  Other than the sweetness it would caramelize better, since the sugars in food are what give it that lovely caramel glaze.  The peaches have natural sugar, but the additional sweetener would give it a little silkier richer texture and sheen.

Now it is about suppertime again and since I have nothing planned I guess I need to see what the universe has in store for tonight. Ciao!

Monday, August 3, 2015


I received a notification via the mail that my power would be out for 4 hours this morning. It was supposed to be from 9-1, but now the powers that be are toying with me.  It is currently 9:35 and the power is still on.  My coffee is made and in a thermos, I have already done my early morning energy requiring chores, but now they are tempting me to begin just one more project so they can pull the proverbial plug when I am mid-way through.  I feel like I am in a state of suspended animation.
Do I begin another load of laundry or not?
Vacuum or wait?  
Why are they doing this in hot August?
Why are they late? The day is just                                                                                                             going to get hotter.
                                                                                                        First World problems?