Risotto with Asparagus

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been in a sugar coma.

You may have noticed that many of my recent posts have been sweets. I have a ton more goodies to post, but I felt a tad guilty about posting so many recipes using processed white sugar, when my goal is to help people get OFF processed foods. Processed sugar is my one huge weakness (meaning: addiction). It’s also my kryptonite.

Unfortunately, when I’ve had the time and energy to make a fabulous blog-worthy dinner, I’ve rarely had the patience to hold off four starving kids and a starving hubby long enough to take pictures and such. Desserts are another story. I can make them any time of day and take pretty pictures.

But, I finally pulled it off and took some decent pics of this dinner before serving it. But, please forgive me if the next 20 posts are all desserts.

Risotto: risotto is a high-starch, short-grained rice. It is cooked differently than normal rice. It is first browned in oil, then cooked in broth, stirring continuously while adding the broth in small amounts. Honestly, the first time I made risotto, I said to myself “you’ve got to be kidding! that’s a lot of work!”, but it really isn’t that bad. I had a good book I was reading, and just read while stirring. You will find risotto rice, typically the arborio variety, in the specialty food section of your grocery store. My local store has an Italian section that has specialty items from Italy, like extra expensive olive oils, sauces and vinegars. That is probably where you’ll find the arborio rice.

RISOTTO WITH ASPARAGUS

1 pound of thin asparagus
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
7 cups chicken stock
3 cups uncooked arborio rice
1 TBS butter
1/4 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated (do NOT use the cheap powder stuff you get in a can, go to the cheese section and get real parm).
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and trim the asparagus. Do this by removing the bottom inch or so and discarding. An easy way to do this is to hold the spear upright and bend it down from the top until it breaks off. Where it naturally breaks off is where it goes from tender to fibrous. I usually do this to a few at a time, then put them back in the bunch and cut off the bottoms of the entire bunch where those few broke off. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it did to me as I was writing it. In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the asparagus and stir fry until cooked but firm (where you can fairly easily snap it in two with whatever utensil you are using to stir fry it, but before it becomes soggy). Remove the asparagus to a plate, reserving as much of the oil in the pan as possible. While cooking the asparagus, heat up your chicken broth, either in the microwave , or in a saucepan. Add the garlic and the arborio rice to the hot pan. Stir fry those with for 2-3 minutes, until they start to brown. Stir in one cup of hot broth. Start your timer, setting it for 14 minutes. Stir and cook until broth is almost completely absorbed. Add another cup of broth. You will continue to add the broth by cupfuls, stirring until each cup is absorbed before adding the next. You will use between 6-7 cups of broth, and the total time will be between 14-20 minutes. At about 14 minutes, start testing your risotto. It should be “al dente”, which means it still has some substance, it doesn’t dissolve or turn to glue in your mouth, but isn’t crunchy or chewy. If it seems a bit hard, continue adding broth and testing every couple of minutes. When you believe it has the right cooked texture, remove from the heat and add the butter and Parmesan cheese. Stir until both are melted and incorporated. Add in the asparagus and serve immediately. This recipe is about 6 main portions or 12 side portions.

REAL food alert: please, please, please use real parm cheese. Pretend you have never heard of Kraft canned parmesan powdery cheese. Trust me. Also, check your chicken stock for additives and msg.
ALLERGY alert: you can leave out the butter and cheese, but it won’t be as creamy. A non-dairy margarine could be used, or a dollop of coconut oil (though the taste may bug you).

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Spicy Honey Lime Shrimp

Do shrimp intimidate you? They used to intimidate me. I would only buy them cooked and pink, because the raw ones scared me a little. I eventually started cooking them on occasion to figure them out and discovered that they are one of the easiest and quick cooking protein sources to make. I mean, come on, they’re SHRIMP, even their name tells you how easy they are to conquer.

One thing about shrimp…the “vein”. Just so you know…that’s not a vein. It a digestive track. Yep. Think about it for a sec. Got it? Yessiree…That’s poop. No worries, though it’s contained in a little membrane and it comes out really easily. In fact, most raw shrimp that you buy is already deveined for you, and really, the poop is mostly dirt.

Shrimp are sold by the size. The number you see on the package tells you how many shrimp you would expect to see in a pound. Plus, they give each size a name. So, small shrimp have 51-60 shrimp per pound, and extra jumbo has 16-20 shrimp per pound. When you look at your shrimp to pick a size, remember that shrimp shrinks a bit when cooked. You have two choices when buying shrimp: cooked or uncooked. Cooked shrimp is pink. If you are selecting shrimp to cook and serve hot, I suggest you use raw. Shrimp cooks very fast, and gets rubbery quickly if cooked too long. Cooked shrimp is perfect if serving cold, in a salad or with cocktail sauce. Raw shrimp is typically just the tail, deveined and the shell is cut, then it’s frozen. To defrost it, leave it in your fridge overnight, or leave it under running COLD water for a while until it’s defrosted. Remember, it only takes a little heat to cook shrimp, so hot water will start to cook it, so will defrosting in a microwave. To remove the shell, hold it by the tail end and pinch it while you pull the meat out. Pinching the end should make the meat pop right out.

Now for the question: are shrimp REAL food. Well, of course. Right? Unfortunately, most shrimp you find in the store is coated with preservatives to keep it fresh, including sodium bisulfite, sodium tri-polyphosphate and sodium metabisulfite. You can read more about preservatives here. To find preservative-free shrimp, buy fresh (if you’re lucky enough to live on a coast) or buy from a natural foods market, like Whole Foods or Trader Joes. Be sure to read labels and ask questions.

Spicy Honey Lime Shrimp

2 lbs raw large, extra large or jumbo shrimp, rinsed, shelled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ” piece fresh ginger, grated (For info on grating ginger: check out this post)
1/2 cup raw honey
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 TBS chili garlic sauce (find in the asian section of your grocery store)
1/8 cup olive oil
2 TBS cold water
1 TBS cornstarch

Be sure your shrimp is defrosted, if you bought it frozen. Under cold running water, remove shells and devein them, if necessary.

In a large bowl, place garlic, grated ginger, honey, lime juice, chili garlic sauce and olive oil. Mix well. Add shrimp, cover and place in refrigerator to marinate for 1-2 hours. The lime juice will cook and toughen the shrimp if left too long.

In a pan over medium heat, place the shrimp and marinade. Cook until shrimp are pink and opaque, about 4-6 minutes. Remove the shrimp to a platter with a slotted spoon. In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch until cornstarch is dissolved. Bring the sauce in the pan to a boil and add the cornstarch, stirring continuously until thick. Pour over the shrimp and serve hot. Salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

REAL food alert: buy preservative-free shrimp. Check your chili garlic sauce for preservatives.
FREEZER alert: you can freeze this sauce and skip the marinating step, just cook shrimp and pour the reheated sauce over it.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

Ahhhh…Cream of Whatever soup…when you hear this, does it bring to mind thick, gelatinous condensed soups from a can? My mom was masterful with condensed soup. So was I: give me a miniscule grocery budget and some condensed soup, and I can perform miracles. That changed 6 years ago when we stopped eating soy and processed foods (read that story here). In college one of my favorite meals was cream of mushroom soup, from a can, condensed, with added water. It turns my stomach to think of it now. But, I still love an earthy, creamy Cream of Mushroom Soup. So, I set out to make one from scratch. I was a little wary, because I have two kids who don’t like mushrooms. One hates them. I was amazed when my mushroom hater asked for his third helping. (This is also my super-picky eater who loves nothing and strongly dislikes soup of all kinds). Every person in my family declared this one “a keeper”!

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP

makes 8 servings

12 ounces mushrooms, any variety
1/2 onion
3 cloves garlic
2 TBS fresh thyme (removed from stems)
2 TBS olive oil
3 TBS butter
1 TBS worcestershire sauce
3 cups chicken stock
4 TBS cornstarch
3 TBS water
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups milk
sea salt
cracked pepper

Prep: Chop mushrooms up finely. Dice your onion. Mince or press your garlic. Remove thyme from stems and measure out 2 TBS worth.

In a pot, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and thyme and cook an additional minute. Add mushrooms and worcestershire. Cook, stirring occasionally about 5 minutes, until much of the moisture from the mushrooms (say that 10 times fast) has come out into the pan. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water and add it to the pot. Cook, stirring, until mixture becomes slightly thick. Add cream and milk and heat through. Salt and pepper each bowl to taste.

REAL food alert: check your worcestershire sauce for additives. The only brand I found with no additives was Lea & Perrins (the kind in the ostentatious paper wrapper). Check your chicken stock for msg and other additives. Check your cream for additives.
ALLERGY alert: worcestershire contains anchovies. You can just leave it out if you have a fish allergy. To make this dairy-free, substitute a plain alternative milk for the milk and cream. Plain almond milk would be a good flavor match. If it isn’t thick enough, you can add more cornstarch/water at the end, just be sure the soup is very hot when you add the cornstarch in or you may get lumps. Also, use all olive oil and leave out the butter.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegetarian, sub veggie stock for the chicken stock. To make it vegan, see the dairy subs above.
NOTES: The dairy portion of this recipe is flexible. 3 cups of any dairy will work. I used whole milk, but you can use skim with the cream, or half and half. You could use skim for  the entire 3 cups, it just won’t be a very creamy soup. Skim evaporated milk is an option as well, if you are looking to lower fat content, but I’m not a huge fan of the flavor. In my opinion, the way it’s written is how it tastes best, but make it work for your family how you need to and it will still be delicious. 🙂

recipe adapted from season with spice

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps

There are a million recipes out there for chicken lettuce wraps. They all use the typical ingredients, some are peanutty, some are super spicey, some have minced mushrooms, some leave out the water chestnuts (which in my opinion are absolutely necessary), and most use ground meat (typically chicken, turkey or pork).

This is my favorite recipe for lettuce wraps, and there are certain things I like that I include, but may not matter to others. First, I don’t like the texture of ground chicken for my lettuce wraps. I like actual pieces of chicken, but ones that are chopped finely. To accomplish this, I use my food processor and chop the chicken, but don’t turn it into ground mush. If you don’t have a food processor, you can do it by hand, or use one of those food choppers. Yes, it’s time consuming. If you don’t mind the texture of ground meat, just use ground chicken, but the eating experience will be different. Second, water chestnuts. This is a texture thing as well. I think it’s important to have the hard crunch of water chestnuts to offset the soft chicken. Third, the sauce. I like a kick, but if it has too much of a kick, the kids won’t eat it. This recipe has the perfect mild kick for my family (the last time I made this my six year old ate FIVE lettuce wraps). If you like more of a kick, up the amount of chili sauce. I also enjoy the peanut butter base. You could use a different nut butter if you’re allergic to peanuts. I also leave out the soy sauce, as we have soy allergies in our house. Trust me, you won’t miss it in this recipe. If your family loves these, or you have a larger family, double it. You will thank me. This really only realistically serves four. Plus, the leftovers are awesome.

A few technical notes: fresh ginger will make all the difference in this recipe. To prepare it, I peel one side of the ginger, then use a box grater, using the one that looks like a shredding blade, but is smaller. (Does that make any sense?) Basically, my grater has a slicer side, a shredder side: the side you would use for cheese, then a side that is really small, like a zester side, and the 4th side looks to me like the shredder, but is smaller. I have seen this called the grater side (but I always think of cheese when I hear “grate” because we always got out the grater to “grate some cheese”, we never “shredded cheese”). That is the side I use. I grate the ginger, using the unpeeled side to protect my fingers. Then I scrape the inside of the grater to get all of the ginger and any juice. This takes some time, so I do it before cooking the chicken. The chicken cooks super fast. See the pictures if I have completely confused you.

ASIAN CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS

1 1/2 TBS natural peanut butter
1/2 TBS honey
2 TBS beef stock
1/2 TBS sesame oil
1 TBS balsamic vinegar
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tsp salt
1 inch knob of fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
4 oz water chestnuts
1/2 onion
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 TBS olive oil
Lettuce of your choice (we like iceberg or butter lettuce)

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat peanut butter and honey for a few seconds, just until warm. Add the beef stock, sesame oil, vinegar, chili garlic sauce and salt. Whisk together until well mixed. Set aside.

Prep your veggies: Grate your ginger (see notes above the recipe for helps if you’re not sure how to do this) and mince your garlic. Set aside. Finely chop your water chestnuts and set aside. Finely chop your onions and set aside.

Finely chop your chicken into small pieces, either by hand, using a food chopper, or using a food processor (use the ‘pulse’ button so you don’t completely pulverize it).

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until onion starts to soften and add the garlic and ginger. Cook for one minute and add the chicken. Cook, stirring often until chicken is no longer pink (this happens very quickly). Add the water chestnuts and sauce. Stir continually and cook until everything is well mixed and sauce is hot.

Serve with lettuce leaves. To eat, place a few spoonfuls in the center of a lettuce leave and wrap. Leaves closer to the center of the head of lettuce are naturally cupped and easier to use.

ALLERGEN alert: To make this peanut-free, sub almond butter or hazelnut butter for the peanut butter. For gluten-free, make sure the beef stock, chili garlic sauce and vinegar are gluten-free.

REAL FOOD alert: it is difficult to find chili garlic sauce without preservatives. If you need to, you can add an additional clove of garlic and red pepper flakes instead of the chili garlic sauce. Check your beef stock for additives and msg.

Curry and Forbidden Rice

I declare this to be the summer of adventure!!!!

I have decided to buy a new type of produce and/or a new grain every time I go to the store. Our local grocery store had “tamarillos” which I had never seen before. They are a beautiful deep red, and look like a large oblong red plum. I was intrigued.

I came home, did some googling, surveyed my facebook friends and discovered that it (supposedly) tastes like a cross between a tomato and a passion fruit. There is a yellow variety, which is sweeter, and in either variety, you do not eat the tart peel, you scoop out the inside and eat it raw or cook it into a jelly (one facebook friend had only had it cooked, but didn’t tell me how she cooked it).  You learned in this post that I hate raw tomatoes, so I was wary, but curious. Here is a shot of the inside. Sorry that I didn’t get a shot of the outside, I hadn’t planned on blogging my tamarillo adventure:

It looks promising, eh? Well, it tasted nasty. Like poop-nasty. (Excuse my vulgarity). It was reeeeaaaaally sour, and had a sulfuric undertone. Two of my sons, who love sour things thought they were pretty good.

In keeping with my adventurous goal, I got some black “forbidden” rice last time I went to the store. I was trying to figure out what to make it, and I thought it was about time I actually wrote down a curry recipe. When I get the hankering for curry, I just kinda wing it. It’s always roux-based, but everything else varies, sometimes I add coconut milk, sometimes I don’t. This time it turned out to be some of the best curry I’ve ever made, so I’m glad I wrote it down!

The rice was great. It has the texture of brown rice, though a little chewier, and was a little earthier tasting than brown, but not noticeably different. One of my kids loved the ‘beetle rice’, once thought it was pretty good, and my squeamish one refused to eat it once brother said it looked like beetles.

We also decided as a family we we prefer straight-up potato curry. We were all digging for the potatoes and ignoring the chicken (which is why the picture is mostly chicken…I took it the next day of the leftovers). You can add whatever you’d like. Sweet potatoes would be tasty, or carrots, firm tofu if you’re a tofu type person. The amount of curry to add depends on your tastes, and the quality of your curry powder. 1 1/2 TBS was perfect for us, not too overwhelming for the kids, not too underwhelming for us. If you’re new to curry or not sure, start with 1 TBS, you can add more at the end if you need to.

CHICKEN AND POTATO CURRY

3-5 red potatoes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
4 TBS butter
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 TBS flour
1-2 TBS curry powder
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups (one can) coconut milk
1 tsp salt

In a large pot, boil water. Add potatoes and cook until fork tender (when a fork inserted will slide in easily), but not falling apart. Remove and drain. Set aside. Cook your chicken if needed (I usually use leftover chicken for this, but you can cook your cubed chicken breast in a pan with a little water, covered, just until it is no longer pink in the middle and the juices run clear when you puncture it).

In a large sauce pan, melt butter. Add onions and cook until soft. Add minced garlic and cook for one minute. Whisk in flour and curry powder. Cook while whisking for one minute. Add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add coconut milk slowly, whisking continually. Add salt and whisk continually until sauce thickens. Add chicken and potatoes and cook and stir until chicken and potatoes are warm. Serve with rice.

ALLERGEN alert: to make this dairy-free, use oil in place of the butter. To make this gluten-free, instead of making a roux, omit the flour, and after adding the stock and coconut milk, bring it to a simmer. Dissolve 1 TBS cornstarch in 1 TBS cold water and add to the sauce. Stir until thick.

SPECIAL DIETS alert: You can make this vegetarian or vegan by omitting the chicken and adding whatever veg you want.

 

BLACK “FORBIDDEN” RICE

2 cups water
1 cup black forbidden rice

Bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Cover and lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 60-70 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed and rice is tender.

Two Tasty Tomato Dishes

My mom is an incredible gardener. My dad was, too. I am not sure yet if I’ve inherited this ability. My pinterest board is filled with great gardening tips and ideas. I have aspirations to have a gorgeous garden from which I can pick and make fabulous fresh dishes. Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and very forgetful. Our first garden attempt was dry and dead with in two weeks (I live in the desert, so gardening here takes a little more effort, care and *ahem* regular watering). I really want a garden, but I know two things must be in place before I can be successful: 1. I must be done with school. 2. It must be on an automatic watering system. When I can get these two things done, I look forward to a wonderful harvest and learning many new things!

If you already have a garden and are wondering what to do with your huge crop of tomatoes, here are two super tasty recipes for you! The sauce freezes well, and the soup is perfect with crusty grilled cheese. To be honest, tomato soup for me has always been an excuse to eat gooey grilled cheese sandwiches. When I made this soup, I ate one half of a sandwich. The soup was so good it didn’t need anything, so I left the sandwiches to the kids and had seconds of soup. The sauce goes well with some mild italian sausage, if you’re a carnivore, and piled onto a tender whole wheat pasta. It’s perfect summer comfort food with some grilled asparagus.

EASY CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

serves 4 (main dish) or 6-8 (side dish)

2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
1 TBS fresh basil, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook while stirring until they start to brown. Add garlic and cook and additional minute, or until garlic barely starts to brown. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add basil and cook an additional 5 minutes. Add salt and sugar and remove from heat. Pour into a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender to puree. Puree well, until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Heat on low until warm again. Serve. Garnish with fresh basil or croutons, if desired.

REAL food alert: check chicken stock for msg and additives
VEGGIE alert: to make vegetarian, sub veggie broth for the chicken stock.
ALLERGY alert: for dairy allergies, sub a non-dairy milk, like coconut or almond milk, for the heavy cream.
HEALTH alert: this recipe is only about 150 calories per serving. If you want to health it up even more, you can reduce the cream to 1/4 cup, and sub honey for the sugar, or eliminate the sugar.

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ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

3 pounds fresh tomatoes (about 6-10), cored and quartered
1 head of garlic
1 TBS fresh thyme, chopped
1 TBS fresh rosemary, chopped
salt
sugar
3/4 pound mild italian sausage (optional)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the tomatoes on one or two foil covered baking sheets, along with the head of garlic (do not separate the cloves, just remove any loose paper from the outside). Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the tomatoes. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until tomatoes are slightly charred. Rotate pans halfway through cooking, if they don’t both fit on the same rack in your oven. Remove from oven when done roasting. Pour the tomatoes and any juices into a blender or food processor, or pour into a bowl if you use an immersion blender. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut the root end of the garlic head. Pull the garlic head apart into three or four chunks. Squeeze the soft roasted garlic pulp into the tomato mixture and discard the tough exterior. Blend the tomatoes, garlic and herb mixture until desired consistency (we like minimal chunks, but you may like chunks in your sauce). Add salt and sugar to taste (if you have nice ripe tomatoes, you won’t need sugar, if you have grocery store tomatoes, you may need a pinch or two). The sauce is ready to serve with pasta. If you like meat in your sauce, brown sausage in a large pan over medium heat. Add sauce and cook for 10 minutes.

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Red Chile Beef

I thought I’d give you the low down on creating/adapting recipes by telling you my experience on this one. I should give a disclaimer that the pictures here are not from the recipe I actually ended up with. I’ll take new pictures and replace these….maybe. We’ll see how the day goes. (I just couldn’t stand not having new pics up, and the little one is napping..yippee!…so the picture above the recipe is the current picture of the actual recipe. The old picture is at the end, in case you’re interested in comparing the difference. Enjoy!)

I wanted a good beef recipe for Cinco de Mayo. One of my favorite dishes to order when we go out for Mexican is a shredded beef chimi. I’ve had them all sorts of ways, and generally, it’s mildly spiced shredded beef, sometimes with a few onions or tomatoes thrown in. What I always want is something with a sauce with some spice and flavor to compliment the beef, so I usually get it enchilada style, but I would love a plain chimi, with a red chile sauce mixed with the beef. So, I decided to find a recipe I could make myself. I wanted something that could be thrown in the slow cooker, and cook all day. I looked at several recipes, came up with a traditional flavor profile I like for the sauce (red chile base, with some garlic and cumin), and decided to make the sauce, and throw it all in the slow cooker. That’s what the pictures are of. The problem I ran into is that the roast creates too much liquid and fat. It results in a roast that is swimming in a liquidy, oily broth that mildly tastes like chiles.

Hmmm. I realized that the only two options I could come up with were 1. use a very lean cut of meat, and sacrifice flavor or 2. make the sauce separately, cooking the roast plain, then adding the sauce after the roast is cooked. I decided on the latter. One benefit of this method is that you can make the sauce the day before, or any time during the day. Another benefit is that you can set aside some of the plain beef for your picky eaters who don’t like the sauce. The final result is exactly what I wanted, a mild flavorful red chile shredded beef. I can’t wait to make chimis!

RED CHILE BEEF

3 pound boneless chuck roast
1/2 cup beef stock
3 ounces (about 12) dried new mexico chiles
1 TBS olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt

Place roast and beef stock in slow cooker and cook on low 6-8 hours, until tender and falling apart.

For the sauce: fill a medium pot 2/3 with water. Remove the stems and seeds from the dried chiles. Add the chiles to the water, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and place a small plate on the chiles to keep them under the water. Cover the pot and let sit for 30 minutes. Place the chiles in a food processor or blender along with 1/2 cup of the soaking water. Blend until smooth. Press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any seeds and remaining tough skins. In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook until it just starts to brown, about one minute. Add chile puree, cumin, and salt. Cook, while stirring, for one minute. Remove from heat.

When roast is done cooking, drain the liquid into a bowl and return roast to slow cooker. Pull the beef apart with two forks, removing any big chunks of fat or gristle. Mix 1/4 cup of the juices from the beef into the (warm) red chile sauce and pour over the beef, stirring to coat. Serve or keep on “warm” or “low” setting until ready to serve. Use this beef in enchiladas, tacos, burros or chimis, or serve with fresh tortillas and beans.

REAL food alert: check your beef stock for MSG and additives.

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The New Picture

The Old Picture.

Calabacitas con Crema (Zucchini with Cream)

There’s a song I learned in my 7th grade Spanish class. Here’s how I remember it (starting from the part I can recall): “cinco de mayo, seis de junio, siete de julio, San Fermin. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagareta. La, La, La, La, La, La, La. Hien a roto la pagara.” I sang this for my Brother-in-law once, who is fluent in Spanish, and he looked at me like I was crazy. After messing around with google translate, I’m pretty sure “hien” should be “quien”, but I am still pretty sure somewhere since 7th grade, the song has become warped. We called this the “Smurf Song”…you can guess why. I still sing it today (incorrectly)…every time I hear the words “Cinco de Mayo”. I live in the American Southwest, so Cinco de Mayo is a pretty big deal. We eat Mexican food on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but I still love to have a little themed dinner on May 5th, just for funsies. This particular dish is one of my favorites. It takes some prep, but it’s sooooo worth it. Plus, it’s fairly healthy to offset the refried beans, rich meat and stacks of tortillas that is normal Mexican fare. Try it for your Cinco de Mayo dinner this year! It’s perfect with soft tortillas, Garlic Pork Roast and Roasted Red Salsa.

CALABACITAS CON CREMA

2 ears of corn
1 large poblano chile
1 pound zucchini or mexican squash
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 medium sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place 2 ears of corn, still in their husks and poblano chili. Place in the preheated oven. Cook for 30 minutes, turning chili as needed to get a nice blister on each side. The blacker the skin, the better. While corn and chile are cooking, dice zucchini into 1/2 inch cubes. Toss the zucchini in salt and place in a colander. Put the colander in a larger bowl or over the sink or a towel to catch drips. The salt will draw out moisture, which you want to drain off. Let sit for 30 minutes, then dry zucchini on paper towels. Sometimes I have gotten 1/2 cup of liquid, and sometimes only a few tablespoons. Either way, I’ve noticed a difference in the texture of the zucchini after it’s cooked. Cut onion into thin strips. When corn and chile are done cooking, allow to cool, about 15 minutes. Take a paper towel and rub the chile, removing the blistered skin. The blacker the skin, the easier it is to come off. You may want to wear disposable gloves while you do this, as chile oil does not wash off easily and you will be in pain if you touch your eyes after the chile. Pull off the cap on top and any seeds that come with it. Cut open on side of the chile and flatten it out. remove any seeds and discard. Slice the chile into thin strips. Remove the husk from the corn and cut the kernels off.

When the zucchini, chiles, onion and corn are all prepped and ready, Heat oil and butter in a pan over medium heat. And the zucchini and fry, stirring frequently, until brown and just tender (cooked, but not mushy). Remove the zucchini to a plate, retaining as much oil and butter in the pan as possible. If the pan is dry, add another TBS of oil and wait for it to come up to heat before continuing. Add the corn, onion and chile to the pan and stir-fry until onions are soft and brown. Add the zucchini back in to the pan along with the cream. Heat until the cream glazes the vegetables. Remove from heat and serve immediately. If you don’t plan to serve immediately, after the veggies are cooked, combine with the zucchini and let rest. Right before serving, add cream and heat over medium until cream reduces to a glaze, about 3-5 minutes. This tastes best if made and served immediately, so I would suggest you do all the prep work beforehand, then leave this to be your last dish cooked.

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Adapted from a recipe by Rick Bayless.

 

Real Food Remake: Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (Slow Cooker)

Real Food Remake

I love finding a good slow cooker recipe.

The problem is that many of them, in the name of convenience, include cream soups or packaged mixes that have msg or other preservatives. A friend recently made this recipe, and I was excited that it didn’t include cream soups, but there were two things I didn’t like about the recipe. First, it used a rice-a-roni packaged mix that has autolyzed yeast extract (which is essentially msg), and second, it asks you to create a roux-based cream sauce on the stove top, add it to the soup and let it cook longer. I LOVE roux-based sauces, but it’s just an extra step that I don’t want to do on a busy day where I am using a crock pot recipe.

So, I changed a few things. First, I subbed the mix for real ingredients (seriously, it takes maybe an extra minute to measure out some spices than to open and pour a box). To avoid making the cream sauce, I added coconut milk to the soup. I picked coconut milk because it makes the soup dairy-free (shout-out to my allergic and vegan friends!!), plus it adds a nice flavor to the soup, especially with the turmeric. To thicken it, there is still an added step. At the end, you add a cornstarch mixture and let it cook and additional ten minutes. It’s still a lot less work than the cream sauce. If you’re allergic to corn, you can go the roux route, or simply take the lid off for the last 40 minutes of cooking and knock it up to high. It won’t be as thick, but it’ll be close.

When I served this soup, my picky one (who you met during this post) declared it “super-super awesome!” All of the kids loved it…until aforementioned picky kid said that the wild rice looked like beetles, then one of the others refused to eat it. So, use that knowledge to your benefit or harm, depending on the coolness factor of eating bugs in your family.

(Oh, I realized as I was typing this up that I completely forgot to add the carrots to the soup. We actually loved it without, and my kids hate carrots (I know, right?!), so I added it to the recipe, but it’s totally optional depending on your tastes).

CREAMY CHICKEN AND WILD RICE SOUP (Slow Cooker)

4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2-14 oz cans unsweetened coconut milk
4 oz package wild rice (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 c uncooked brown rice (not instant brown rice)
2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup diced carrots (optional)

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
salt to taste

In the slow cooker, mix together everything except the cornstarch and cold water. Be sure to shake the coconut milk cans well before opening, and whisk together well. Cook on low for 4 hours. Combine cornstarch and cold water, add to the soup. Keep the lid off and cook and additional 10 minutes on high, stirring occasionally. Add salt if needed.

REAL food alert. Check your chicken stock for preservatives and msg.

ALLERGY alert: see above notes if you are allergic to corn. If you are allergic to coconut, use 2 cans of evaporated milk.

VEGGIE alert: easily make this vegetarian by omitting the chicken. You can add any veggies you would like, like celery, carrots, root veggies. You could also add kale in the last 10 minutes for a green boost.

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Bacon Mushroom Chicken

Bacon is everywhere. In quiches, sandwiches, on burgers. Nowadays you see it in pancakes, cupcakes, even lollipops (which are gross, by the way). Jack in the Box even came out with a bacon shake.

I love bacon, but I’ve been (mostly) taking it out of my diet since we stopped eating cured meats (read here about nitrates and nitrites in cured meat). Every so often, I’ll make one of my favorite dishes, using uncured bacon. Because, honestly…what’s life without bacon? It’s one of the best creations ever…crispy, smoky, chewy, salty…mmm…

This dish is a family pleaser. One of my sons hates chicken. We have to force him to eat dinner when we have chicken. Tonight, I made this…he asked for seconds. (!!!!!)

BACON MUSHROOM CHICKEN

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, butterflied and cut in half to make 6 portions
8 slices of uncured bacon
1/2 onion, diced
6 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 TBS flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1/4 tsp salt

Start by butterflying the chicken breasts. To do this, flatten as well as you can, then cut the thick side from the inside and flatten it to create a thin fillet. You can also pound it thin, or have your butcher butterfly them for you when you buy it. See the pictures if I’ve confused you, hopefully they’ll help. Basically, you want them thin, so they cook quickly.

Place the bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium heat until crispy. Take out the bacon and drain it on paper towels.  Place the chicken portions in the pan with the bacon grease and brown on each side, until fully cooked through (inside is no longer pink and juice runs clear when cut into). Remove the chicken from the pan and place aside.

The pan should still have bacon grease in it. There needs to be about 4-6 TBS of bacon grease. If you have a hard time estimating, pour it into a glass bowl or measuring cup and measure it. Be careful! It’s hot! Put 4 TBS back into the pan. If there is less that 4 TBS, add butter or olive oil to bring it up to 4 TBS. This all sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. You should be able to look at the grease left in the pan and either pour some out or add some butter in…it doesn’t have to be exact.

Add the onions and mushrooms to the bacon grease and cook until mushrooms are soft and onions are translucent and starting to brown. Dump in the flour and stir vigorously until flour becomes light brown (you are making a roux). Add the chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously and stirring out lumps after each addition. Add the rosemary and salt. Continue to cook while stirring until it thickens. When it’s a thick sauce, add the bacon and chicken portions. This is great served with mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

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