Like most of America, and in particular anyone who is a parent, I have been gut-wrenched in ways that continue to evolve as more details about Friday’s shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, emerge. I work part-time in an office located in the town next to Newtown and the tentacles of that crazy day have reached into the office where I work. One of the teachers who died protecting her students is the daughter of a copy editor in the newsroom of my part-time office, and my design director lives in Newtown. Thankfully, her children were not students of Sandy Hook Elementary.
I do not know how you go on when your child dies, much less is senselessly murdered by a deranged person in a place you once thought of as safe. I suppose this is just another example of how God or Biology or Whatever so wisely made breathing part of the autonomic nervous system; it happens whether or not we want to make it continue and so, under moments of extreme horror and sadness, we can’t literally choose to stop breathing.
I am the mother of older children. They are in the 20s and on their paths. And yet, I continue to worry, depending on the moment, on where they are going and how they will get there. I read something recently that made total sense to me. An older woman was handed a baby. After tickling her and hugging her, she turned to the mother and said, “When they’re young, they sit on your knee. When they’re older, they sit on your heart.”
And so, when our youngest child, Sam, was in the air on Saturday, winging his way home from a semester in Prague, I was more worried than I usually am when someone I love is in the air. And when he happily arrived and I hugged him for the first time in four months, I took a deep breath and for just a moment relaxed.
Sam loves bacon and ranch dressing and cheese. It was a no-brainer to make this recipe for his first dinner home.
Bacon and Cheese Slow-Cooker Chicken
from Make It Fast, Cook It Slow
2 tablespoons olive oil
4-6 chicken breast halves or equivalent number of thighs
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
12 pieces cooked bacon, crumbled
Pour the olive oil in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the chicken pieces on top.
In a small bowl, combine the teriyaki sauce and ranch dressing. Whisk together and pour on top of the chicken. Add the shredded cheese and bacon pieces, trying to place in between chicken pieces where possible. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high 3-4 hours.
I know, I know my new love for my slow cooker is as annoying as young love with completely obnoxious PDAs that make older and wiser folks in relationships just want to gag. Someday, they think to themselves, you will get over this Romeo and Juliet thing and just get back to basics.
But that day is not now and not yet. I make something with my slow cooker every single week and it is without exception amazing — from the very beginning where I only use one pot!!!!! to the end wonderfulness where I walk in the door and dinner is done!!!! and tasty!!!!! (Jeez, all those exclamation points are even making me a little nauseous.)
Anyway before I go on to a few things I’ve made that you can make too, some business. We have two cookbook winners to announce. Mari is the winner of Sweet & Easy Vegan by Robin Asbell and Grace is the winner of Roots by Diane Morgan. Congrats to you both and happy cooking from Rachel and me.
Okay back to slow cooker wonderfulness. This maple dijon chicken comes from a terrific cookbook I bought after buying my slow cooker: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow by Stephanie O’Dea. She’s the founder of A Year of Slow Cooking (the name explains itself) and is the queen of straightforward cooking. (Added bonus if it matters to someone in your cooking life: her recipes are gluten-free because someone in her life needs to eat that way.) Anyway I recommend the book and the recipe….as well as a ton of others she’s included in the book. Happy slow cooking!
Every time I make something in my slow cooker, I shake my head at what a fool I was as a young working mother who pooh-poohed this concept as just oh-so-middle-class-Midwest. I can’t even believe how much easier my life would have been!!!!! I was a snobby idiot!
When visiting Rachel last week, I asked her how her slow cooker life was going, especially now that she’s working outside the house full-time. She talked about how she had plans to start using it more, that she’d read about taking some time on a weekend afternoon to do some of the prep required to actually get a meal going (it’s true; slow cookers do the cooking but a human still has to do some prep depending on the recipe) because that would make it easier to use it. So here comes a moment of mother love that kids really appreciate: DO IT RACHEL!!!!! Don’t repeat my idiotic behavior.
Okay. Got that out of my system. Now on to a terrific chicken recipe that got some rave reviews in our house. Hope you enjoy it!
I really miss my mother. And I’m surprised. She’s been dead, after all, for 11 years, and our relationship was a complicated one for sure. So I’ve been touching this rediscovered scab, thinking about how it feel when I scratch certain parts, and I think I’ve figured out where it’s coming from: This is the first Christmas where Peter and I will not see two of our three children. At all. And for the first time, I understand and feel in my very core my mother. I get why she was so (often annoyingly to me) needy at different points — “What do you mean you’re not going to spend Mother’s Day with me, Janet?” — and why she seemed so desperate at others. She saw the clock ticking and like that Salvador Dali clock knew her time was melting, ever so quickly.
We had good friends over for dinner and Susan (she of Fake It Til You Make It fame) requested enchiladas. I blithely said sure and kept this little secret to myself: I had actually never made enchiladas before.
I know, I know, it seems incredible after this many decades of cooking but so it goes. I had made tacos and burritos and even fajitas but never enchiladas. I also had never eaten an enchilada — none of which I was going to share with Susan. After all, she can still whip out the Cool Whip story on any given day in front of anyone. (See same post on Fake It Til You Make It.)
My brother, S., gave me a cookbook for Christmas that I’ve been meaning to dive into as soon as I found myself with a little leisurely time. The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg is unlike any other cookbook we own. Instead of recipes, as one might expect, it offers flavor combinations, ingredient by ingredient. So cool! So often I find myself cooking and unsure of what to pair with what absent a step-by-step recipe. This book is just the ticket for such moments.
I’ve been wanting to make soup for a while (ok, all winter). With the aid of The Flavor Bible, I concocted a totally delicious chicken, mushroom and white bean soup in a lemony garlic broth.
To start, I made chicken stock. I’m yet to find a store-bought version that comes anywhere near the homemade stuff and so, for the time being, homemade is how we’re rolling when it comes to chicken stock in our house. I piled a stockpot full on chicken bones and one complete breast, big hunks of celery, wedges of onion and halved carrots. A few bay leaves and brimming with water, I let the stuff simmer for hours until our whole house smelled warm and welcoming. I strained the vegetables and bones out, shredded the chicken from the breast and set it aside in the fridge along with the strained stock until evening.
The trick to making your own stock, as I learned from my Great Uncle David, is to leave time for it to chill in order for the fat to solidify on the top. Then, before you put it back on the stove to generate your soup, you can scrape the fat from the top quite easily. It is far preferable to the oily skimming I’ve done in the past, both in terms of ease and effectiveness.
For the soup proper, I diced up half an onion and a few stalks of celery and sliced three carrots. Into a saute pan they went until they were browned and softened, at which point I added them into my stock pot. Then I sliced and sauteed mushrooms, adding these to the soup once they were browned along with the shredded chicken and the juice from one lemon. I minced a few cloves of garlic and thinly sliced another lemon (a la my grandmother’s chicken soup), tossing these in towards the end along with a rinsed can of white beans. I simmered the soup a bit longer, adding a generous dash of hot sauce and salt and pepper to taste until everything came together. John (using store-bought pizza dough) whipped up some breadsticks (rolled in parmesan and fennel seeds and other delicious things that he can’t recall…he doesn’t need The Flavor Bible‘s help the way I do) which finished baking just in time for us to heap soup into bowls and sit down for a cozy dinner on a rainy night.
Mike the Gay Beer Guy is back for his monthly posting on fabulous pairings with beer. Up this month, a delicious chicken dish. You don’t have to brew your own beer to make this, of course, although if you’re inspired to take that one, Mike’s the guy to show you how…
Hi Janet and Rachel -
First off, I have an announcement to make! Due to the GREAT success from my entries in LTIR, I have decided to start my own beer blog. Basically, it comes down to this: I have received so many great comments about my posts, but so many folks read the beer lingo like a foreign language. In order to go into more beer related detail (and to cover a wider range of ideas), it became necessary to go down a new avenue. Of course I’ll still be writing for LTIR once a month, but I’ll make sure the focus is food related.
Check in at mikesbeerguyblog.blogspot.com regularly for posts about beer, brewing, eating, and everything else out there!
We’re in the middle of a full-on nor’easter here in New England. It’s been snowing all night and shows no sign of letting up. Peter, S and G are all snug in their beds upstairs while I, chronic semi-insomniac, am up.
I am a fan of winter overall, at least in the beginning. Talk to me in March and I’ll tell a very different story. But today, with the snow falling and everywhere whisper-quiet, and the house feeling as cozy as a favorite sweater, I feel content. It’s a perfect soup day, don’t you think? Just the right antidote for those still crazy enough to shovel their driveways (that would be us, thanks to an odd Luddite anti-snowblower/plow streak in my husband) or for young children who come in fresh from playing in the snow or, if you plan to spend your wintry day indoors (sensibly) by the fire, for just the coziness factor. Nothing warms up the stomach and soul like a good homemade soup.
I’m not sure what I will make later today but soup is definitely on the agenda. I made this creamy leek soup a couple of weeks ago inspired by a recipe in Every Day with Rachael Ray, though, and it was delicious and I offer it up to you in case you’re on the soup prowl. If you don’t have all the ingredients, don’t worry — improvise! Happy slurping!
Creamy Chicken and Leek Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, white and green part split lengthwise and then sliced crosswise
4 ribs celery, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 32 ounce container chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into small chunks
1 pound fresh gnocchi
1/3 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon paprika
In a large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks, celery, and salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are softened over medium heat, about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken and cook about 5 minutes until the meat is lightly browned. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Stir in the cream and lower the heat to simmer. Add the gnocchi and cook about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley, sherry and paprika and serve it up.
For the first time in a year, everyone is home. The holidays are over and while a number of people are still calling for command visits by or to Miss M and Rachel, in between our family is grabbing moments together. The “Just Us” has changed forever of course, as it absolutely should. But I am enjoying watching our children engage and reconnect — over a game of Monopoly, in a video game face-off and just sitting by the fire bantering.
We had a little unexpected moment tonight because we had Rachel all to ourselves. G and S were headed to a basketball game and M was in bed so dinner was the three of us. I lit candles in the dining room and made a tasty dish from Rachael Ray’s new cookbook, Look + Cook, which I’ve been planning to try for a while. It was tasty but I think I will always remember it because the three of us had a brief moment together again of just being. And then Miss M called
Chicken Cutlets Brasciole
serves 4 (I reduced everything a bit to make it for 3, using 3 chicken breasts)
1/2 cup very hot tap water
handful of golden raisins (I didn’t have any so I used five prunes)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (I forgot this and it was still tasty)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 slices white bread, torn into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO in Rachael speak)
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups tomato sauce
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped (I used dried and about a teaspoon)
Put the raisins in very hot tap water. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium low heat. Watch them so they don’t burn. Set them aside to cool. Place the parsley, lemon zest, garlic, bread, cheese, raisins and nuts into a food processor and pulse into a stuffing.
Butterfly the chicken by cutting into and across the breast, but not all the way through. It opens like a book after that. Pound out the cutlets and season with salt and pepper. Fill the breasts with the stuffing, roll and secure with toothpicks.
Heat the EVOO and butter in a large skillet over medium-heat. Brown the chicken all over for 7-8 minutes. Then remove from the pan and deglaze the pan with the wine. Scrape up the drippings, stir in the tomato sauce and tarragon and return the chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until cooked through. Slice and serve. As Rachael would say, “Delish.”
So, innovations in our kitchen are few and far between these days. We largely stick to tried and trues and, more often than not, these are pretty basic.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, one of the go-to dinners in our house is something along the fajita-taco-burrito-quesadilla lines. The other night I went the taco route, using chicken (as you might’ve guessed from the above photo). I diced tomatoes and sauteed onions and quartered a few limes. This was all par for the course.
The little innovation occurred, however, when I grated half a head of purple cabbage and tossed it into the skillet, adding a dash of oil and then salt and rice vinegar to taste.
It was so yummy! Like, seriously, I’m always going to do this from now on, I think. It added this nice different flavor to the whole meal and, a tartness and texture that we both really enjoyed.
Plus, the cabbage didn’t give M bad gas (as it did when she was teeny), so successes abounded.