Quickie Dinner & A Complaint

I just wanted to cook something, anything for dinner tonight. Something easy and fast. We are in desperate need of a fridge clean-out so I just grabbed a few things I knew weren’t very old.

Ingredients

3 boneless chicken thighs (1/2 a package, left over from camping)
1/2 jar tomato sauce
2 portabella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red onion, chopped
Garlic seasoning mix
balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
fresh basil
parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Season thighs with garlic seasoning mix or mix of your choice.  Brown thighs on both sides then remove to a plate.  Add onion and mushrooms to pan and saute for 3-5 minutes, until starting to soften.  Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to pan and use wooden spoon to scrape any bits up off the bottom.  Add tomato sauce and another 1 tsp garlic seasoning plus 1/2 tsp rosemary then return chicken to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Let cook until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens slightly.

While chicken with sauce is cooking, prepare pasta of your choice. When ready, serve chicken and sauce over pasta, garnish with fresh basil and shredded cheese. This made two servings for dinner plus one for leftovers.


It was quick. Since we have nice bright 100 watt lights in our house, versus the lantern and firelight I used on Saturday night, I was able to see these chicken thighs a little better. And I was appalled at how fatty they were. Fat on all sides plus some gristle on one. I tried to trim it off but this was seriously cutting in to my time limit. I almost gave up and used the chicken breasts we have instead. And I didn’t want to waste food just because I felt ripped off. I HATE paying for fat on chicken. Which is why I normally buy Miller Farms Amish Chicken. It is consistently the best looking pre-packaged chicken in any store that carries it. And you don’t get the fatty surprise when you open the package at home. I have purchased other brands (one that may or may not be named after a squeaky voiced boxer in particular) and ended up throwing out 1/4 pound or more in fat. Really, if I am buying boneless skinless chicken breasts, what makes you think I’d want it covered in fat?

I told Chris that next week I’m buying some chicken from the City Market. And otherwise, no more major mega-brands.

The garlic seasoning mix I used is from Garlic Festival Foods. We picked up the all-purpose seasoning plus some salsa at the Michigan Renaissance Festival on Sunday.

Living in a Decaffeinated World

Here’s the story. My doctor, I call him alterna-doc as he practices holistic medicine, wants me to eliminate a “few” things from my diet and follow this special plan for 1 month (28 days). Partly this is to determine if I have any food sensitivies (which I doubt) and partly this is to detox my body and eliminate some of the junk that’s probably clogging up the ole’ digestive system.

Today was day 1 of Week 1. During this week, I am to eliminate all gluten-containing starches and the products made from them. I can eat rice, quinoa, amaranth and spelt (I think). I am also not to eat any artificial sweetners- only brown rice syrup, stevia and molasses, oddly. No dairy. Only poultry, fish and legumes for protein. No soda- no diet coke- no caffeine.

Now, this is the real world, not the one in the little booklet so I didn’t go cold turkey today. I’ve cut back on the diet coke for the last few days but I still had a little today. It was either make it through the work day or turn postal (in my case it would be justal, judicial, justified?) And my lunch was a sandwich although not a bread-heavy sandwich. But other than that, I’m right on track. Which means I’m seriously caffeine deprived. Fortunately, I have little worry of falling asleep due to my altered state as I’ve had so much water today I need to run to the restroom every 20 minutes.

I’ve had this altered state song stuck in my head since about 10 AM

Living in a decaffeinated world
And I am a decaffeinated girl
You know that we are living in a decaffeinated world
And I am a decaffeinated girl

And don’t forget the backup vocals: Decaffeinated Decaffeinated Decaffeinated

I’m hoping this program won’t be too tough on me since I don’t eat that much junk anyway. I do however like me the cheese and the bread and the cream sometimes. I’m quite concerned the next two weeks will be quite tough on Chris as he prepares for exams. I’m trying to make sure that dinners are things he can eat or if I go vegetarian, he can add a little meat. Next week, its all vegetarian for me- only fruits, vegetables and rice (plus spices and oil for fat) supplemented with a protein-like shake.


On to tonight’s recipe

Veggielicious Ginger Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

1/2 onion, sliced
1 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 can sliced water chestnuts
1 cup fresh bean sprouts
3 green onions, sliced in 2 inch pieces, tops reserved for garnish
2 cups shitake mushrooms, chopped roughly
2 chicken breasts halves, pounded thin and sliced on the diagonal, seasoned with S&P
garlic,3 cloves mashed, chopped fine, etc
ginger, about 2 tsp mashed
sesame oil
tamari soy sauce
fish sauce, oyster sauce or Worchestershire sauce
rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Gomasio
salt & pepper
1/2 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 1/2 cup cold water
Rice or noodles for serving

Directions:

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil over medium-high heat in either a wok or large pan. I use an Everyday Pan from Calphalon although I do have a wok, somewhere. The everyday pan rocks:

Okay, heat the oil and then add the onions and bell peppers. Toss in about a clove of garlic, mashed. Then add the mushrooms and keep tossing everything around. Finally, add the water chestnuts and bean sprouts. Cook to your desired stir-fryness then remove to a bowl and keep warm. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the chicken. Its probably going to stick at first, unelss you have the pan really hot. That’s okay, just let it cook until the pan lets go. After the chicken is completely cooked through, add it to the vegetables in that bowl.

Return your pan to the heat and add 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to get all the good bits scraped up off the bottom. Add 2 cloves of garlic, the ginger, 1 tsp sesame oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce and a splash or two of the fish sauce. You could add a hot pepper in here too, now would be the time.

Cook to a light sauce then add 1/2 cup broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and let cook 1-2 minutes. This should be enough sauce (after thickening) for the ingredients above but you can always add more broth to stretch it out. Add the water-corn starch slurry and stir to combine. Return your vegetables and chicken to the pan. The sauce will thicken up and coat everything nicely.

I served our stir-fry over vermicelli rice noodles- very thing clear noodles that you often see in Thai soups. These are nice because you just soak them in very hot water for 10 minutes, drain and serve.

Notes

I use tamari soy sauce, the Japanese style, as I don’t think its overly salty and its low in wheat (sometimes wheat free, depending on the brand). Please, please, please don’t use soy sauce made from hydrolyzed soy protein. I don’t even really know what that is but you’ve ever had soy sauce that is watery and salty with no other taste profile, that’s probably the problem.

Obviously, this recipe could be made with any number of vegetables and protein choices. The multiple steps of cooking the vegetables then the meat and finally doing the sauce may seem a bit tedious but its worth it in the end. You get a nice sauce using leftover bits of meat and vegetables; it coats everything without overcooking the vegetables. Bear in mind, stir-fry veggies should still be crisp and have a nice bright color.

Tacos Supremo

Another one of Chris’s favorites, I like this dish because its pretty quick to put together and provides at least a day’s worth of leftovers.

 Taco Filling Ingredients:

1 lb (ish) ground turkey
1 8oz can tomato sauce
Chili Powder & Cumin
1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 onion chopped + more to garnish as desired
olive oil

Toppings:

avocado/guacamole
diced tomato and/or onion
shredded cheese
tomato
lettuce
sour cream
Tortillas

Directions:

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil to coat pan.  When heated, add garlic, 1 tbsp. chili powder and 1/2 tsp. cumin (I used seeds or ground, depends on what’s handy) and saute until it starts to smell really good.  Then add onion and cook until onions are starting to soften.  Add ground turkey, breaking up the meat into smaller chunks as it cooks.  When most of the turkey is browned, add another 1 tbls. chili powder and  1 tsp. cumin and the cayenne pepper along with the tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to low-medium until turkey is cooked through and sauce thickens slightly.

While the filling is cooking, chop up onion and tomato plus what ever other fillings you like. Last time, we had avocado (just diced), tomato/onion, cheese and sour  cream. 

You can either heat up the tortillas between two damp paper towels in the microwave (45-60 seconds on high, flip over half-way through) or heat them individually in a dry frying pan.

Served with Lazy-girl Salsa and chips.

TIps and Options

You can use a taco seasoning mix if you want.  Just try to find something that is mostly spices and not a lot of fillers.  I’ve done a combination of the two before- a packet mix and 1/2 the cumin and chili powder.

I generally use burrito size flour tortillas because that is what Chris prefers. Buy them from the refrigerated section or look for ones from a local shop. 

Feeling really ambitious?  Try making your own corn tortillas. I have the tortilla press which is really useful but just use a nice heavy skillet to cook them instead of the comal.  Don’t buy the expensive electric tortilla maker.  Its heavy, overpriced and the machine makes this horrible screaming sound when you press the tortillas.  (You can make your own flour tortillas but its a little less fun than corn ones, I think).

Adjust the seasonings to your liking- Of course!. Consider buying pureed tomatoes with jalapenos mixed in although I like the thicker sauce that comes from the tomato sauce.

Melt in Your Mouth Morel Risotto

Remember that non-homogenized cream I mentioned in my last post?  I used it tonight in making this risotto, served with chicken and more mushrooms plus steamed snap peas.

Risotto Ingredients:

1 cup brown short grain rice
3-4 cups water/broth/wine, hot
1 cup chopped onion
1-2 cloves garlic
10-15 morel mushrooms, sliced lengthwise and rinsed
several sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter
Heavy cream
Parmesan cheese, shredded or grated
olive oil, salt & pepper

Directions:

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pan over medium heat.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant then toss in onions.  Cook 3-4 minutes until onions are softened but not browning.  Add rice and continue to cook another 1-2 minutes.  Add approximately one cup of the broth or wine to the pan, stirring constantly.  Let the liquid mostly absorb then add the next cup of broth.  Continue until the rice is softened to your liking (we like al dente rice so 3 1/2 cups of broth/water worked great).

After you add the last cup of broth or water,  melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a separate pan over medium-high heat.  Add thyme, stripping it off the stems.  When the butter is melted, add the morel mushrooms and saute, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper.

When the last cup of broth is almost completely absorbed, add the morels and any juice or butter in the pan to the rice.  Allow the rice and mushrooms to cook together a few minutes then remove from the heat.

Stir in a couple handfuls of cheese (or 1 handful if its grated) and about 1/4 cup of the heavy cream.  Mix until the cheese melts. Add more cream based on desired consistency, season with salt and pepper.  Dig in!

To make the accompanying chicken with mushrooms:

Ingredients:

2 chicken breasts, tenderloin removed, pounded to an even 1/2 inch thickness if necessary
1 cup of shiitake mushrooms sliced (stems removed)
1/2 cup small diced onion
1 tablespoon butter
olive oil, salt & pepper
smoked paprika
fresh thyme
garlic
balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Add about 1  clove of mashed garlic.  Season chicken breasts with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Saute about 5 minutes per side until golden.  Remove chicken to plate and cover with foil to keep warm.   Splash a little balsamic vinegar in the pan to deglaze then add the onions.  Turn up the heat and cook until the onions get soft and most of the liquid is gone.  Add shiitake mushrooms and about 1/8 cup of water or broth.  Cook until the mushrooms and onions are soft and golden brown.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of cold butter to the pan to thicken the sauce.  Return the chicken to the pan, turn to coat and keep warm until the risotto is done.

Some tips:

  1. Rinse your morels after slicing them; grit and small bugs can sometime be trapped inside.  Pat dry with a paper towel.
  2. Taste the rice before you add the cheese and cream. You may need to add more broth and continue cooking until it reaches your desired consistency.  Expect it to take at least 45 minutes but an hour is more reasonable.
  3. I strongly encourage using a combination of wine and broth for the cooking liquid.  A medium-bodied Chardonnay with just a little oak would be a good choice.  Red wines work great, if you don’t mind red rice.  Avoid really crisp whites.  Any sort of broth will work, match it to whatever else you are making. Tonight, no wine on hand so I used vegetable broth and 3/4 cup of water.
  4. I used 2 pans for this meal: cooked the rice in one while in the other, I sauteed the chicken then the mushroom/onion mix.  I put the chicken and mushroom/onions on a plate, covered in foil then wiped out the pan to cook the morels.  I didn’t clean the pan so the morels probably benefited from some of the chicken/onion/mushroom bits but I don’t think it was signficant.  After I added the morels to the risotto, I put the chicken and onion/mushroom mix back in the pan and added the butter to create a sauce then kept it warm while the rice finished.
  5. Dish up your servings then quickly put the rest in the fridge. Not for food safety- to guarantee leftovers for tomorrow! Chris went back for seconds before he finished his chicken.

Again, Chris’s verdict is that I could make this a couple times a week. Its getting easier to cook for him since he keeps telling me that.  I can also make turkey tacos and Turkey-Mushroom Noodle Goodness and Balsamic Chicken (recipe coming soon) on a weekly basis.  With leftovers, that just about covers 7 days.