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.

 

Bourbon Street Chicken (soy-free!!!)

I wanted to have a big, long, entertaining thread about the history of a dish called “Bourbon Street Chicken”. But, in my scouring of the “interwebs” I have discovered that this dish is basically a mythical one-eyed unicorn. By that, I mean that no one knows the history and no one even consents on the recipe. Generally, it’s a chicken dish made with ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. People differ on whether Bourbon is a necessary ingredient. Some say it’s named after Bourbon because it’s made with it, others say it’s named after the street in New Orleans and bourbon is not an ingredient. Some say it’s a Chinese-American dish and some say it’s a Creole dish (I may be grossly ignorant of Creole cooking, but soy sauce+ginger+garlic says Asian to me). You’ll see it on menus at Chinese-American restaurants as well as various American restaurant chains. It varies in taste from a sweeter teriyaki flavor, to a sweet and spicy complexity.

I have been wanting to develop a series of asian-inspired dishes that are soy-free. A huge task, I know. Soy sauce is a staple in various dishes and there’s nothing conventional that really compares to the flavor. I thought that Bourbon Street Chicken would be a good recipe to try out my soy sauce substitutions, and boy was it!! This recipe is a winner. I have one son who is sensitive to soy and one son who loves Chinese food. They both loved this dish, although they said it was a little spicy. If your kids are sensitive to spicy foods, you can lower or eliminate the red pepper flakes, but I encourage you to make it with them for yourself sometime. It’s just not the same without that kick. I also opted to leave out the bourbon in this recipe. I think people are confusing Bourbon Chicken with Bourbon Street Chicken, and that the original recipe is without bourbon, but that’s just my guess.

BOURBON STREET CHICKEN

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, cut into large chunks
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS cornstarch
1/4 cup apple juice
1/3 cup beef stock
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS molasses
1/3 cup brown sugar (dark is preferable)
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, grated or minced
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

In a large frying pan, heat oil. Add chicken and cook until brown and cooked through (no pink on the inside, but don’t overcook). Meanwhile, whisk together the cornstarch and apple juice until smooth. Add in the remaining ingredients. When chicken is cooked, pour sauce onto chicken and stir until chicken is coated and sauce is thick. Remove from heat and serve with rice or quinoa.

REAL food alert: check your beef stock for msg or autolyzed yeast extract.
ALLERGY alert: if you are allergic to corn, simply eliminate the cornstarch and cook the sauce longer until it thickens.
MAKE AHEAD alert: You can make the sauce, minus the corn starch, and marinate the chicken in it. When you’re ready to make it, dump the whole thing in the pan and add the corn starch after the chicken is cooked. Be careful not to scorch the sauce, it’s high in sugar. You can also pre-make and freeze the sauce.

Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak

I love that “Salisbury” seems to have a superfluous “I” and I always pronounce it “SAL-is-burr-ee” in my head, and feel very British. We crazy Americans probably pronounce it wrong. When I was little, every once in a while we would be treated with T.V. dinners…we’d all go to the store and pick out our own Banquet brand T.V. dinner. (Funny how tasteless processed food was a “treat” from my mom’s delicious homemade cooking). I always picked out the Salisbury Steak meal, complete with a side of bland macaroni and cheese and apple dessert.

I make a slow cooker meal every Sunday. I love walking in the door from church and being hit with a delicious aroma and knowing that dinner is will be on the table as soon as we set it. Maybe we should start setting the table before we leave for church to eliminate that extra 5 minutes. This Sunday I decided to create a salisbury steak recipe in the slow cooker, complete with a savory mushroom sauce. I tried it two ways: breading the patties and pan-searing them before adding them to the slow cooker, and just breading them and stacking them in the cooker. I found that the difference in flavor was negligible and there was virtually no difference in texture, because the nature of slow cooking ruined any crispness I gained from the pan searing. I figured in the end, skipping the step and added oil was worth it to me. I also used panko bread crumbs, which adds more texture than your typical mushy bread crumb. If you have two slow cookers (hard core, I know…) you can pre-make your mashed potatoes and put them in your second cooker on “warm” or “low” if you’re out of the house, and you come home to a complete meal if you just add a salad.

SLOW COOKER SALISBURY STEAK

2 pounds ground beef
2 TBS dried onion
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 cup panko bread crumbs
6 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups beef stock

In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, the dried onion and milk. Form into 8 patties. Dredge each patty in the the flour, then coat with bread crumbs. Stack in your slow cooker, alternating so they are not right on top of each other. Dump the raw mushrooms over the patties. In a sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for a few minutes until the mixture turns a light brown. Slowly add the beef broth 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick. Pour over the mushrooms and patties. Cook on low 4 hours.

REAL food alert: check your beef stock for msg and autolyzed yeast extract.
ALLERGY alert: if you are allergic to dairy, gluten or wheat, skip making the roux with butter and flour, instead pour the beef stock into the pan and bring to a boil. Mix 3 TBS corn starch with 3 TBS cold water. Add to boiling stock and whisk until thick. Follow the recipe as directed. Also, substitute bread crumbs for a gluten-free bread crumb.

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Real-Food Remake: Celebration Potatoes (Funeral Potatoes)

There’s a recipe that has been used for generations in my family and the families of many that I know. They are called “Funeral Potatoes”. What a morose name.

They are called that presumably because they are a tradition dish made for luncheons served to the family at funerals. They are the ultimate comfort side dish, easy to make in bulk, filling and satisfying. Every family you know who makes this dish has their own twist. Some people add green onions, some people like bread crumbs or corn flakes on top. In our family, we not huge fans of green onions, and we like a simple cheese topping. The dish itself is basically grated potatoes and onions in a scalloped-potato style cream sauce and baked. Traditionally, the recipe calls for cream of chicken soup and sour cream. Simple.

However, some of us can’t (or won’t) have cream soups, which are absolutely horrible for you. When planning my Easter dinner, I really wanted funeral potatoes, which we typically only eat at my in-laws house, and decided I’d do a Real-Food Remake.

The first step in the tradition recipe is to use frozen hash browns. Frozen hash browns don’t turn color, thanks to an additive called disodium dihydorgen pyrophosphate. It is a chemical additive. Because we avoid chemicals, and because potatoes are dirt cheap (a little pun for your Monday Morning), I make hash browns from scratch. The trick to keeping them from turning colors is getting the excess starch off. After shredding them, put them in a colander and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. If you are grating them by hand, grate them straight into a colander under running cold water. You’ll see in the pictures that my hash browns are white as white can be, no brown or gray to be seen!

To replace the cream of chicken soup, I made my basic cream of chicken substitute sauce. You can use this sauce in absolutely any recipe that calls for a cream soup. I opted for sweet onion instead of the green, ’cause that’s how we roll. Then, I topped it off with cheese. You can use bread crumbs and dot it with butter if you’d like. This recipe is still full of dairy and definitely high on the fat content, but it’s still a step up from a chemical-filled traditional funeral potato recipe. Because of that, I changed the name to “Celebration Potatoes”. It kinda has a nice ring to it.  Forgive the non-professional looking pictures. My family was VERY patient to sit while I took quick pics of our Easter feast, and I left them in a tad too long, your cheese doesn’t have to be this brown. 🙂

CELEBRATION POTATOES

1 1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp seasoned salt (like season-all…a salt-free, msg free seasoning)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp pepper
4 TBS butter
6 TBS flour
2/3 cup sour cream
5-7 potatoes
1/2 sweet onion
1 cup cheddar or colby-jack cheese, grated

Mix the chicken stock, milk and seasonings in a bowl. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk quickly. It will be very thick. Cook the flour for one minute. Slowly add in the chicken stock mixture 1/2 cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Make sure you whisk out the lumps. Cook, stirring frequently, until thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add in the sour cream.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare your potatoes, rinse, peel and grate them. Rinse them under cold water until the water runs clear. Lay them in a 9×13 pan. Grate the 1/2 sweet onion and mix together with the potatoes. Pour the sauce over and mix into the potato mixture. Top with a layer of cheese. Cover with tin foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes, removing the foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

REAL FOOD ALERT: Check your grated cheese for additives, it’s better to grate your own. Check your sour cream. Always use a “natural” sour cream. Next time you’re at the store, compare the ingredients of the store brand sour cream and Daisy brand, or another natural version. The ingredients should be “Cream” and that’s all. Hash browns: frozen hash browns have chemical additives.

ALLERGY ALERT: to make gluten-free, eliminate the butter/flour step. Instead, put the broth mixture into the saucepan, bring to a boil. Mix 2 TBS cornstarch with 2 TBS cold water and add to boiling liquid. Stir until thick.

 

Peanut Butter Brownie Torte

Have you seen that post floating around pinterest? It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cake…it looks exactly like a humongous peanut butter cup. Well, I thought it was pretty awesome and my soon-to-be-nine-year-old decided he wanted it for his birthday cake. So, I clicked on it, planning to make it.

It wasn’t a recipe.

It was a cake.

To order.

From Williams-Sonoma.

For $80.00.

Seriously.

Okay, so maybe some of you don’t mind spending 80 bones on a birthday cake, but that is WAAAAYYYY outta my budget. (Yeah, I’m married to a teacher, after all. He has two masters degrees. Don’t get me started.) So, the next best thing is to recreate it. Not too hard: chocolate cake, peanut butter filling, milk chocolate frosting. But, (I thought in my devious-non-calorie-counting-inner-mind) maybe I could IMPROVE on the concept…switch out the cake for brownies (we’re not much of cake people, we tend to have pie for birthdays), keep the peanut butter filling, then cover it in a milk chocolate ganache. Mmmmmmm…I’m sold.

So, I HAD to do a trial run during spring break, so I could take pictures (otherwise my poor birthday boy would have to wait to indulge on his birthday until after my 30 minute staging and photographing fiasco. I figured that wasn’t fair). I learned a lot, and I’ll be making this again before the birthday to take more pictures, as I discovered that it really does need to be refrigerated before cutting into it, although it tastes divine without it, it’s very messy. The kids didn’t mind. So, enjoy the “messy version” pictures. I’ll post with nicer ones in a few weeks. And, as I discovered when I had a piece for breakfast the next day, it actually tastes better chilled. So, plan to make this a day ahead. It’s a little labor-intensive, but ooooooohhhhhhhhhh-so-worth it.

PEANUT BUTTER BROWNIE TORTE

Brownies:

1 cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 cup butter, melted
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two 9″ round cake pans with cooking spray. Line the bottom of each with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. Respray over the paper. This will ensure no problems getting the brownie out of the pan. In a medium bowl, mix together cocoa, sugar and eggs until well mixed. Slowly pour in the melted butter and mix well (be careful not to cook your eggs by pouring hot butter in all at once). Add the flour and mix just until blended. Divide equally between the two pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Do not over bake. Cool in the pans on a rack.

Filling:

1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine ingredients and beat with a mixer (whisk attachment if you have one) for about 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very smooth. Set aside until brownies are cool.

Ganache Topping:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups milk chocolate chips

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the cream until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat. Dump in the chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes. Stir well, until well combined and chocolate is completely incorporated.

TO ASSEMBLE:

When brownies are cool, run a knife or metal spatula along the edge of each brownie, loosening it from the pan, then gently turn each over onto a cooling rack. They should come right out. Remove and discard the parchment. Generously cover the bottom layer with filling. Align second brownie on top. Pour some of the ganache on top, until it starts to pour over the sides. At this point, refrigerate the cake and the remaining ganache. About 30 minutes later, remove the cake from the fridge and “frost” the sides with the ganache. Smooth over any bumps and garnish with Peanut Butter Cups as desired. Return cake to refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

REAL food alert: Thanks to this recipe, I discovered that our beloved Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups contain TBHQ, a preservative linked to stomach cancer. I almost cried. Okay, not really…but I was sad…and annoyed. I assume natural food stores have PB cups that are TBHQ free. Speaking of peanut butter, I use all-natural pb…meaning the ingredients are peanuts and salt. If you use conventional peanut butter, you may want to cut down the sugar a bit. aaand, last but not least: chocolate chips. Check for artificial flavoring in your chocolate chips.

ALLERGY alert: This can easily be made gluten free by subbing brownies with a gluten-free brownie recipe. Be sure to use soy-free chocolate chips if you have soy allergies.

HEALTH alert: are you kidding me? This is unhealthy…it’s a waste of time to health-it-up. Just eat a small piece and then go hike up a beautiful mountain.

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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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Technique Tuesdays: Double Boiler. Recipe: Creamy Lemon Curd

Technique Tuesday:

Double Boiler

Lemon Curd is a great companion to Irish Soda Farls that we make each St. Patrick’s Day. Curd is essential a fruit custard made with egg yolks. This recipe calls for a double boiler. I don’t know about you, I don’t know anyone who owns an actual double boiler. It isn’t even necessary as long as you have a sauce pot and metal bowl that fit together nicely. You’ll notice in the picture below the recipe my very dirty stove. You will also notice how the “double boiler” should look. You do not want the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Essentially, the point of a double boiler is to heat something using indirect heat, to avoid it scorching or curdling. It’s used to melt chocolate and make custards, among other things. The custard is heated by the steam created by the boiling water underneath.

This lemon curd recipe results in a creamy curd, not the gelatinous kind many use for a lemon meringue pie. It’s perfect for a topping for breads or as a spread.

CREAMY LEMON CURD

5 eggs yolks
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 TBS lemon zest
4 TBS butter, cut into pats and chilled

Fill a small pot with about an inch of water, place on the stove over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, in a metal bowl that fits on top of your pot, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk well, until light and creamy. For smooth curd, pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any pulp. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. When the water comes to a boil, quickly reduce heat to low, to keep to a simmer. Place bowl on pot and whisk continually until thick. This takes about 10 minutes, but will vary. You know it’s ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon or reached 160 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add in the butter, one pat at a time, stirring each until it melts before adding the next pat. Pour into a container or bowl and press plastic wrap against the surface of the curd. Refrigerate until cool.

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