Home Alone: A Mother’s Fantasy

Back at the end of January, The Husband bought a barn on eBay. No, I don’t mean like a barn and some property, I mean just the barn, 5 hours from home. He finally started taking it apart and bringing home the pieces in March and has been going back up to it every nice weekend he can. The first weekend he went alone, then he took Tartlet 1, another time he took Tartlets 1 & 2, another time it was Tartlets 2, 3 & 4 (Tartlet 1 was in her glory having Mom without competition!). This weekend he has taken all four Tartlets! So I am having a wonderful quiet day alone.

I’ve done the sorts of things it seems every mom I know does when the kids are gone — clean and organize without interference. Tossing out little plastic toys that no one will miss if they don’t see them going into the trash, straightening some drawers, laundry, laundry, and more laundry. Finally it was time to take a break and find some nourishment.

Many times when The Husband is gone, I don’t really cook. Either I get some take out or I scrounge leftovers. Knowing I would be sans car (no take out) and wanting something that celebrated the adult moment of being home alone, I bought some mushrooms and asparagus before the family left. I added a sprinkling of feta, some onion, a little long sweet red pepper, and seasoned it with a little fresh garlic and dried basil and oregano and tossed it with mostaccioli.  Mmmm, adult food!

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Aptly Named

Everyone, it seems, goes through a phase in which they detest their given name, wondering what possessed their parents to give such a truly horrid name when it could have been something sooo much better. I used to hate my name, Melody, which implies a musical ability that is utterly lacking but is actually my great-grandmother’s maiden name. I was a kid when the show ‘Mel’s Diner’ was on TV and I used to be so annoyed when people would say ‘Hey, Mel, how’s the diner business?’. Me: Oh, that was original! No, wait, you said that yesterday too. 😛  I used to think life would have been far better if my mother had used the ‘Rachel Nadine’ that was her second choice. Instead I used those names for a couple of my favorite sheep while in high school. 😉

Now I get to watch my kids go through this. Tartlet 1 would have preferred Eleanor, Tartlet 2 has picked Beth Kate, Katie Roelle and a few others for her future stage names, Tartlet 3 likes Daisy or wishes we would change her name to Emily since most people screw it up and call her that anyway, and Tartlet 4 just wants ‘Princess’ in her title, the name after it isn’t as important.

But these little delightful bites of chicken yumminess are definitely sporting the correct moniker, ‘Delicious Chicken Bits’. I first made these last week and have already made them a second time, doubling the recipe both times. The younger kids prefer less spice and certainly by decreasing or leaving out the pepper you can adjust the heat, but my eldest loves this. I served them first with toothpicks to pick them up and tonight I served the leftovers with some yellow rice and peas. Mmm, good stuff. The chicken is amazingly tender and tasty.

Delicious Chicken Bits
(from Quick and Easy Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey)

1 1/4 lbs boned, skinned chicken breasts (4 breast pieces)
1 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 t. ground turmeric
1/4 t. cayenne pepper (I didn’t have this on hand so I used dried chipotle)
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. dried thyme or 1/3-1/2 t. ajwain seeds (which she says are difficult to find but I didn’t even bother to look as I had plenty of thyme)
1/4 t. garlic powder
1 t. bright red paprika
3/4 t. salt
1 Tbsp. oil (I didn’t add this either time and it was just fine)

2 Tbsp. oil for cooking

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Cut each chicken breast into thirds, lengthwise, and then crosswise into 3/4-inch to 1-inch segments. Put in a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and set aside for 10 minutes or longer. (I put this in a zip bag and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours while I did some cleaning.)

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large, nonstick frying pan over very high heat. When the oil is very hot, put in the chicken. Stir and fry quickly until the chicken pieces are lightly browned or turn opague on the outside. Put in a baking dish, cover loosely with lightly oiled waxed paper (which should sit inside the dish and directly on the chicken pieces), and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the chicken pieces are just cooked through. If not to be eaten immediately, remove the chicken pieces from the hot baking dish to prevent them from drying out.

Hay, Hay, It’s Donna Day In Deuces!

How did we get so lucky? In the last HHDD event (the wonderful tribute to Donna Hay facilitated by Bron Marshall) there were two winners, so each selected a recipe for twice the Donna Hay pleasure (and even in two languages)! Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey? (perfect blog title!) chose a chicken satay for us, while Tartasacher of Mil Postres (thousand desserts, I love it!) selected a lovely grilled fruit with yogurt. It was the perfect pair for our lunch today.

At our house, anything that screams ‘Meat On A Stick’ sounds like a winner. I tweaked the Donna Hay recipe slightly to match what I had in the kitchen and it turned out so perfectly I’m afraid the kids will ask me to make it again and I won’t be able to repeat it! Tartlet 1, who naturally tends toward carnivorous behavior, ate *six* skewers of meat (seriously, that’s as much as pictured above!). Instead of cashews I used pistachios and I added some grated lime rind to the marinade, giving the resulting skewers an odd green tinge that wasn’t entirely appetizing at first look, but the taste was wonderful. My other modifications were minor. Thank you Meeta for choosing a winning recipe that is sure to be repeated in our house.

For the grilled fruit and yogurt, I had intended to make something slightly different but the bottle of nutmeg that I *know* I purchased this week could not be found. No doubt someone will find it in the potato bin next week or in the drawer with yogurt cups or something absurd! Instead I used the cinnamon as called for in the recipe but found other ways to make it unique.

Because I was using my homemade yogurt, made this time with whole milk, rather than a thicker commercial yogurt, I didn’t mix it with cream. I added the sugar and cinnamon and then grated some orange rind into the bowl, not bothering to clean the grater after the lime I had used in the chicken marinade, so there were bits of lime zest also. It had a lovely flavor. The kids who thought they weren’t going to like this dessert at all were practically licking their plates to get the last drops!

The sugar grilled fruit would work fabulously for dessert for two, but was a bit more time consuming for six. I was using a smallish pan and opted to only clean it after every two batches rather than after each one. I was also finding the sugar was not adhering symmetrically to the fruit so after a couple of batches I started just sprinkling some sugar in the bottom of the pan, placing the fruit slices on top, and sprinkling the tops with a little more sugar. That worked very well for me. I chose two varieties of apples — Jazz (oh, YUM!) and Pinata (not as spectacular but good), pears, and peaches for my fruit. Although I originally chose those because I like them with nutmeg, they also work fabulously with cinnamon and orange. As I said, we were all scraping up the last bits of our dessert today. Thank you, Tartasacher, for a fabulous simple dessert that the kids have already requested that I not only make again, but teach them to make also!

Recipes after the jump. Continue reading

Fruit: It’s Not Just For Dessert

I know it seems like we just dine out or eat desserts all the time around here, but, honestly, we do eat other things! 😉 I bought a new Foreman Grill just before Christmas and have used it several times already. Most recently, I used it to grill a large flat of boneless chicken breast. Because I was serving it with BBQ sauce initially, I did not season it all before grilling it. After dinner and a lunch of leftovers, there were two chicken breasts left — not enough for the whole crew for lunch by itself, but, by turning it into chicken salad, I had enough leftovers for another lunch for myself the next day! A perfect way to stretch out the menu. This wasn’t made from a recipe, but from simply tossing in this and that, whatever was on hand.  It’s a little bit of summer to shake the winter blues.

Chicken Salad
2 grilled boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1 apple (Jonagold in the picture), cored & chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1/3 – 1/2 c. chopped pecans
1/3 – 1/2 c. dried cranberries
1-2 Tbsp. finely minced onion
2 Tbsp. low-fat mayo
1/4 c. (or more, depending on your taste) Ranch dressing (mine was made by mixing a dry packet with plain yogurt)

Toss all ingredients until well mixed. Great plain, on a sandwich, or on a bed of greens.

Toffee Bars

The remainder of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, frozen, or made into soup and now the Christmas baking and party season begins!  The next couple of weeks I plan to highlight some of my favorite recipes for cookies and party fare.  Some foods really do take a long time to prepare to have a good looking presentation and excellent flavor.  These bars do not.  These bars are a hostess’ friend.  They are made of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen, probably yours too.

Toffee Bars

1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Stir together flour, sugar, and butter. Press into the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until golden.

Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and allow to melt. If there are some that don’t melt, put the pan back in the oven for a minute. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with pecans. Cool completely before serving.

Dinner Made Easy

I have mentioned my on again, off again relationship with the slow cooker, but this recipe could keep the love flowing. After reading several versions of this, I settled on using my own style. Since this was meant to be a time-saving dinner, I used jarred spaghetti sauce rather than homemade. The end result was pretty runny served hot from the crock. After it had cooled I pulled the liner out and stored it in a large bowl in the fridge overnight. The leftovers were reheated in the microwave, still in the liner inside the bowl, and the layers were firmer and attractive. It wouldn’t work to put it in the cooker and leave it all day, but I think you could cook it on low for 6 hrs since I did high for 3 hrs.

Slow Cooker Lasagna
1 lb ground meat, browned and drained (I used part chicken and part beef and cooked it with a little onion and garlic)

24 oz. ricotta
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese
2 c. mozzarella, shredded
1 egg
parsley

~ 40 oz. spaghetti sauce, fresh or jarred
8-10 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 c. mozzarella, shredded

Brown the meat and set aside (or leave it out if you prefer a vegetarian dish). In a large bowl, mix together the cheeses, egg, and parsley.

Line the slow cooker, if desired. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the bottom. Make a layer of dry noodles on top, breaking them as needed to fit. Top with more sauce, meat, and cheese. Repeat layers ending with noodles and sauce. Cook on High for 3 hrs. Top with remaining mozzarella; let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Less Than Amazing

We went to a cookout with some friends and I thought I had a great idea for dessert. But my mental experiments resulted in a miscalculation. It tasted great, but it could have used a little help in the beauty department. I made my own graham cracker crust, filled with a cream cheese/French vanilla pudding mix, and topped with strawberries. In order to keep the strawberries from making the top runny, I decided that I’d try a little pectin in the topping, but I forgot how long it takes for pectin to set when you don’t cook your fruit, so mine didn’t set up. It would have been better had I just served strawberries on the side, scattered some whole on top and brushed with some apricot jelly, or something other than what I did. But everyone agreed it had a good flavor, so if you want to try it, I’d suggest just serving strawberries alongside the pie.

Graham Cracker Crust

1 sleeve graham crackers, finely crushed
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Stir together ingredients and press into pie pan. Bake for 5-7 min or until golden. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Filling:
8 oz. pkg cream cheese
1 pkg. instant French vanilla pudding mix (small size)
1 1/2 c. milk

Beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the pudding mix; beat until smooth. Slowly add the milk while beating until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3-4 minutes. Pour filling into prepared pie crust.