Monday, September 28, 2009

National Book Festival = Nirvana for Librarians

Originally uploaded by librarianjill
Tess, Catherine & I made a Librarian's Pilgrimage to the National Book Festival this past weekend. It was pure book-loving awesomeness. We went by Metro, and had a minor mishap when the farecard machine ate Catherine's husband's money and didn't give him a farecard in return. It did rain a bit, but not torrentially, and we had umbrellas so it was all good.
We waited in line more than an hour to get our books signed by Mo Willems, the author of some of our favorite picture books, and when we got up to the front I got to talk to him a for a minute and tell him about our plans for a "Mo Willems book party" at the library soon. He laughed and looked delighted and said, "Sounds like fun!" Sigh...
(Dear readers, you must understand that for a children's librarian like me, meeting Mo is like meeting a rock star. Only better.)
We also went to his talk/reading later in the afternoon.
See that book Tess is holding? That's a copy of "Big Frog Can't Fit In," which is a brand-new book by Mo that was on advance sale at the festival. Not available yet anywhere else! We all got one, and Mo signed them. It is a pop-up book. It is awesome.
I had such a good time with my librarian friends!
Special thanks goes to Catherine's husband Greg, who braved the incredible crush of people in the Book Sales tent to get us those 3 books, while we waited in the book-signing line. Above and beyond the call of duty, that was, and we love him for it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Deep Dish Pizza
(Meaty Version)

See also Veggie Deep-Dish Pizza. I often make one of each.
  • 1 C water
  • 1/4 C olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 C lukewarm water
  • 3/4 C cornmeal
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
  • 2 28-oz cans Italian style diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper ground
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 C mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage, cooked & sliced
  • 1/2 lb pepperoni, sliced or diced
  • 4 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 C Parmesan cheese, shredded
For crust:
In work bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine dry ingredients. With mixer running on medium-slow speed, drizzle oil in a slow stream and mix until combined. Add water in a slow stream, only as fast as flour can absorb, until dough forms and begins to clean the sides of the bowl. Increase speed and knead for several minutes until smooth and elastic. Dough may be quite soft, but if it is too sticky knead in a bit more all-purpose flour. If it is too stiff, and more water, a small splash at a time. Remove the dough hook and gather the dough into a ball. Allow to rest about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425° and prepare 2 12-inch round deep-dish pizza pans. If using stoneware bakers, no preparation is needed. If using metal pans, brush with oil. When dough has rested, divide in half and press evenly over bottoms and up sides of the pans. Prick all over with a fork. Bake in preheated 425° oven for 5 minutes
For sauce:
In large skillet, saute onion, peppers, herbs, and spices in olive oil until peppers and onion are tender. Stir in well-drained tomatoes & mushrooms. Cook lightly, then remove from heat.
To assemble:
For each pizza, arrange half the sliced sausage and half the pepperoni in the bottom of the pre-baked crust. Cover with a layer of half the mozzarella, then spread a layer of half the sauce. Top with half the Parmesan. Use the second half of the ingredients to assemble the second pizza. Bake the pizzas 20-30 minutes in at 425° oven, or until bubbly and golden-brown.

Italian Chicken Thighs

Great over pasta (such as spinach fettuccine) or garlicky smashed potatoes.

12 skinless bone-in chicken thighs, about 3 lbs
1 14.5-oz can Italian-style diced tomatoes
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1/2 C chopped onion
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients except chicken and stir well. Place chicken in slow cooker; pour sauce over chicken. Cover and cook on high 1 hour, reduce to low and cook 4-5 hours more. Remove chicken pieces, and use a fork to pull meat from bones. Return chicken meat to sauce and stir to re-combine. Serve over pasta or garlicky smashed potatoes. 6 servings.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Delicious! This is my preferred sauce for dressing pasta. It also makes a great sandwich spread. Use a whole pepper from a jar of roasted red bell peppers, or if you're up to the task, roast your own. See also regular Pesto, & Pesto Tomato Sauce.

  • 1 C fresh basil leaves
  • 1 fire-roasted red sweet bell pepper
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, or 2 tsp minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender, and puree into a smooth and creamy sauce. If too thick, or won't combine smoothly, drizzle in additional olive oil. Keep in airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or freeze (also airtight, or your whole freezer will smell like pesto!) up to 6 months.

Pesto, Made w/ Walnuts

Pesto makes a delicious sauce for pasta or pizza, and a great spread to dress up sandwiches. Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but V & I prefer walnuts, which are far less expenive and make a creamier, sweeter pesto. For make-ahead convenience, freeze leftover pesto in ice cube trays, then store the frozen pesto-cubes in a zip-top bag in the freezer. You can take out and thaw one or two cubes as needed for weeks! Variations: Pesto Tomato Sauce; Roasted Pepper Pesto.

  • 1 C fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 C walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, or 2 tsp minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a mini-food processor or blender, and puree into a smooth and creamy sauce. If too thick, or won't combine smoothly, drizzle in additional olive oil. Keep in airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or freeze (also airtight, or your whole freezer will smell like pesto!) up to 6 months.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Really Good Hot Chocolate

This makes just about the yummiest hot chocolate you can make at home. It is more involved than opening a packet and adding hot water, but once you taste it, you'll never go back.

3 heaping spoonfuls sugar
1 heaping spoonful dutch-process cocoa powder
scant 1/8 tsp salt (a pinch)
1/8 tsp cinnamon (a generous pinch)
very tiny pinch (just a few grains) chili powder
1/8 tsp vanilla extract (the real thing, not that nasty imitation stuff)
~1 Tbsp water (just eyeball it)
~1 1/2 C milk (again, eyeball it, depending on the size of your mug)

In the bottom of your cocoa mug, combine the sugar, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, & chili powder. Mix them thoroughly so that they are uniformly combined- the cocoa powder will want to stay separate in the bottom of the mug. Add the vanilla and just enough cold water to stir the dry ingredients into a thick slurry, again being sure to incorporate all the cocoa powder. Add the cold milk but do not stir. Heat the mug in the microwave until piping hot (60-90 seconds, depending on your microwave), and then stir. For extra points, sprinkle the top with chocolate shavings or mini marshmallows, or top with whipped cream.

If you find yourself making cocoa often, it may be worthwhile to mix up a larger batch of just the dry ingredients, using the same proportions, so that you need only add the water, vanilla, & milk whenever you need a warm, chocolaty cuppa.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Peach Salsa

I love Trader Joe's. There isn't one around these parts, much to my sadness, but there is one quite near the home of my friend V. Whenever I visit her, we go there. Whenever we go there, I stock up on my favorite things, like Rosemary & Garlic Crackers, Cuban Black Beans, and Peach Salsa. Alas, last 2 times I went, there was no Peach Salsa to be had! V reports that it has since re-appeared, but I was spooked enough that, in order to ensure a continuous supply, I have set out to replicate what, in my book, is the Best. Salsa. Ever.
I have scoured the interwebs for peach salsa recipes, and read and re-read the back of my last jar of the good stuff for clues. Today I made my first attempt. It does not taste like Trader Joe's Peach Salsa, but it is really good. I think the basic recipe is right; what's missing are the mysterious herbs and spices that are probably unique to the TJ's brand. I know cumin is in there, but not what else. Anyway, what I made was tasty, so here's the recipe as it stands after one attempt. You could and probably should use all fresh tomatoes, but I didn't have enough, so I used part canned. Most of the recipes I used as source material called for cilantro, 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but I despise cilantro and so left it out. If you like cilantro, by all means add it back in.

Peach Salsa
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion,
2 large red, yellow, or orange sweet bell peppers
4 gloves garlic
4 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
5 large peaches, ripe but still very firm
4 largish roma-type tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes (plain, without Italian seasoning or other herbs)
1/3 C white vinegar (could substitute apple cider vinegar, probably would be an improvement)
2 Tbsp honey

Before beginning, prepare all your ingredients and place them ready in bowls near the stove:
Remove the seeds from the bell pepper(s), and dice into small pieces. Peel the onion and mince. Peel and mince the garlic, finely. Remove the 4 chipotle peppers from the adobo sauce, and slit them open. Rinse under running water to remove the seeds, which contain most of the heat (if you like really hot salsa, leave some or all of the seeds). Mince the chipotles very fine, almost making a paste.
Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Fill a large bowl 2/3 full of ice water. Use a slotted spoon to place the peaches into the boiling water, leave them 30-60 seconds, then quickly remove them to the bowl of ice water for several minutes. Use a paring knife to make an x-shaped pair of slits in the peach skins on their bottoms (opposite the stems), and use your fingers to peel away the skins, which should now come off easily.
To peel the fresh tomatoes, first make a small x-shaped cut just through the skins on the bottom end of each tomato, then treat like the peaches by placing first in the boiling water for 30 seconds, then removing to the ice water to quickly cool. The skins should then peel right off with little effort.
Slice the peaches in half, remove and discard the pits, then dice the peaches into half-inch pieces. Quarter the fresh tomatoes, then scoop out and discard the seed pulp, leaving only the flesh. Dice the tomatoes a little smaller than the peaches. Drain the juice from the canned tomatoes, dice them smaller if need be, and add them to the fresh tomatoes.
Measure out your spices and liquid ingredients.
Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in the bottom of a very large pot or kettle. Add the bell peppers, onion, and garlic, and saute, stirring often, several minutes until softened and the onions turn clear. Add the chipotles and the spices and continue to saute and stir for a minute longer. Add the peaches, stir, and bring the pot to a boil. Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring often.
To taste for seasoning, dish out a small sample into a small bowl or cup and allow to cool briefly, then taste with a tortilla chip. Adjust the flavors according to your taste. If you are not planning to can the batch, cool it completely and store in sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. I didn't try freezing yet, but I'd bet that the salsa could be frozen with minimal loss of quality.
Or, to preserve for up to a year, can the batch of salsa while still hot in sterile canning jars, using the water-bath canning method and carefully observing all the sanitary rules for home-canning. (This salsa recipe is a high-acid food, so pressure-canning is not necessary, and would only over-cook the salsa). Store jars of canned salsa in a cool, dry place away from direct light.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Huli-Huli Chicken

Last May, V & I went to Hawaii. It was a fabulous trip, not least of all because while we were there, V met her sweetie-pie, Sonny. A year and a half of arduous long-distance relationship later, they are still together, and we all think he is pretty certainly The One for her. Yay!
Another lovely thing that we encountered, besides Sonny, was Huli-Huli Chicken. It's sold all over Oahu, at roadside fundraisers and in supermarket delis (on the mainland we have rotisserie chicken in various flavors. In Hawaii, it's Huli-Huli). A kind of barbecue that's kind of sweet, kind of tangy, and other than that, hard to describe, Huli-Huli was also hard to replicate once I returned home. There are lots of recipes out there on the InterWebs, but none of them are quite the same as what we ate almost daily on our Hawaiian picnics.
The one I've found that comes the closest so far is this one, from Rachel Ray's Everyday magazine. I followed all the directions, except I grilled on a barbecue grill instead of broiling it. Even though it wasn't exactly the same as the real thing, all my friends (who haven't been to Hawaii) love it. Thanks, Rach! Here is Rachel Ray's recipe for Huli-Huli Chicken:

One 4-pound chicken, cut in half
2 cloves garlic, peeled
One 1½-inch piece ginger, coarsely chopped
¼ cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons chicken broth
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons frozen pineapple juice concentrate

Loosen the skin of the chicken breast and season underneath it with salt. Season the exterior of the chicken with more salt. Let the chicken rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Line a broiler pan with foil and preheat the broiler.
Using a food processor, pulse the garlic and ginger until finely chopped. Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, broth, rice-wine vinegar and pineapple juice concentrate and process until well combined. Strain the marinade into a bowl, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract all the liquid. Discard the pulp.
Blot the excess salt and moisture from the chicken and place the halves skin side down on the broiler pan. Broil, turning the chicken with tongs every 5 minutes for the first 20 minutes, until the raw surfaces have cooked. Continue to cook, turning and basting with the marinade every 5 minutes, until well browned, 20 minutes longer; cover loosely with foil for the last 10 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve.

Guinness Stew

This recipe traces its origins to a misadventure. While on our Grand Adventure Road Trip, V & I, fatigued from travel and a long, hot day in New Hampshire, forgot one of the Road Rules that had kept us from disaster thus far. Following hand-made signs indicating "Quilts for Sale," we deviated from the directions on The Clipboard, turned off the highway onto a gravel road that did not appear on the map, and proceeded to make numerous turns down unmarked gravel roads without making any notes on our route.
We did locate the quilt shop, in a very nice lady's front room, but then on our way back to the highway, became hopelessly lost in a vast maze of un-marked, identical, intersecting, looping gravel logging roads through dense forest. Our tummies began to growl. Hunger and fatigue dulled our wits and sharpened our tongues, and we began to snap at one another for only the second time in a month of living in our car. Storm clouds gathered, and a terrifying thunderstorm struck. The gas light came on on the dashboard. We recognized landmarks that told us, not the way out, but that we were going in circles. Stormwater sluiced down the roadside ditches and over the gravel, and the huge trees writhed like living creatures. It grew dark in the stormy woods. We were lost as we had never been lost before. There were few houses, far apart, and none of them looked like anyone was home. This was before the days of GPS, which probably wouldn't have helped us on these unmapped logging roads anyway.
At last, we did locate a house near the road with many vehicles outside and and with lights on. We asked for and were given directions, back to paved roads and the nearest gas station. The storm abated as we found the blacktop, bought fuel, and re-oriented ourselves to the map.
Ravenous, we headed back toward our campsite but wisely realized that we would die of hunger before getting a fire going and preparing a camp-cooked meal. So we turned into the tiny village, only to find no restaurants open (it was a weekday evening in the off-season of an area that only really comes alive for ski season).
Desperate, we headed back out of town, and stopped at a chain hotel with a restaurant in the parking lot. It looked like a cheesy faux-Irish pub, and we did not expect great things, but we were starving. We told the waitress a brief outline of our story and asked her, "what can you bring us right now, without waiting for something to cook?" Soup, she said. There were two soups that day, and one of them was Irish Stew. V ordered the other soup, and I had the stew. As the waitress brought it to our table, the last of the stormclouds outside parted, the setting sun broke through, and a rainbow appeared (I'm not making this up- just ask V!). The Irish stew at that tacky hotel pub was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted in my life.
Long after the Road Trip ended, I was obsessed with replicating that stew. I collected recipes and tried them, one after another, with endless variations. One day 2 or 3 years after the trip, combining at least 3 recipes from different sources, I came up with this one. It is the perfect stew. Rich, meaty, filling, and utterly delicious, it gets rave reviews from everyone who tastes or even smells it.
Guinness Stew is even better as re-heated leftovers than when first prepared. It freezes well, also.

2 1/2 lb beef chuck, or other stew beef, cut in chunks
1/2 C flour (to coat beef)
4 to 6 potatoes, washed (not peeled), & cut in chunks
4 to 6 carrots, washed (not peeled), & cut in chunks
3 Tbsp bacon fat or oil
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 tsp tarragon
1/4 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 can or bottle dark Guinness
salt to taste (you will need much more than you think. too little, and the stew will taste flat)

Coat beef chunks with flour. Melt bacon fat or heat oil in large, heavy kettle. Brown floured meat on all sides. Add 1 C Guinness & the Worcestershire sauce; simmer 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Add 1 C water, herbs & spices, & remaining Guinness. Simmer on medium-high 10-15 minutes. Add potato & carrot chunks. Add enough additional water to barely cover. Simmer on medium at least an hour, stirring occasionally. Or, transfer all to a large slow-cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours. If needed, thicken broth with a small amount of flour-water slurry. Add salt to taste and adjust seasoning; remove bay leaves before serving.

Samosa-Spiced Mashed Potatoes

Don't let the long list of ingredients intimidate you- this recipe is as easy as it is delicious. It's a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes, or whip up a fresh batch just for this recipe. Serve as a starchy side to Indian or Middle-Eastern main dishes. Especially good with Country Captain Chicken, or Garam Masala Lamb Chops.

3C hot mashed potatoes
¾ C cooked green peas (optional)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 med onion, peeled & finely chopped
1 clove garlic
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 ½-in. piece fresh ginger root, peeled & finely minced or grated
½ tsp tumeric
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp salt
2 tsp lemon juice
½ tsp coriander

Prepare the mashed potatoes and peas; set aside to keep hot. Measure and combine the spices in a small bowl or ramekin. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic & spices. Cook gently 5 minutes or until onions and garlic are soft and clear, and just beginning to brown. Add mashed potatoes and peas, then stir in lemon juice. Mix well, remove from heat, and serve.

Garam Masala Lamb Chops

Serve with Samosa-Spiced Mashed Potatoes or Indian Spiced Couscous

1 1/2 Tbsp prune baby food
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
4 4-oz lamb rib chops (about 1 inch thick), trimmed
1/3 C dry bread crumbs
nonstick cooking spray

Preheat broiler. Combine 1st 4 ingredients into a paste. Coat lamb chops w/ prune paste, then dredge in crumbs. Coat crumbed chops w/ cooking spray; spray broiler pan w/ more cooking spray. Place chops on tray and broil 3-4 minutes per side or to preferred done-ness. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. 2 servings of 2 lamb chops.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Just Not Fair

It's just not fair. I have a long weekend, what with the Labor Day holiday on Monday and a comp-time day off on Tuesday. Here in Maryland, we are having some of the most breathtakingly beautiful weather of the year to date.
Here is what I had planned to do with my time these 4 days:
  • Work 4 1/2 hrs on Sunday (the price of that full day of comp time on Tuesday- Sunday hours are worth extra comp hours)
  • Find someplace new and lovely to take my kayak for a solo paddle, with picnic
  • Buy a small chest freezer during the Labor Day sales
  • Hit up the farmers' markets for produce now that everything is at its peak quality, and prep pounds and pounds of lovely things to freeze for winter in my new freezer
  • Spend time in my hammock with books, or napping
  • Spend time on my beach with books, or wading
  • Work on my travel scrap-books
  • Possibly drive up to visit my bestest friend V, who will feel lonesome once her sweetie-pie departs early Monday for a long separation.
Here is what I am actually doing with my time these 4 days:
  • Working 4 1/2 hrs on Sunday
  • Blowing my nose
  • Coughing
  • Whining
  • Taking a cocktail of Tylenol, Mucinex, and either Benadryl or Claratin (depending on time of day) every 6 hours
  • Napping and/or lying about feeling stuffy, achy, and clammy
  • Whining some more
  • Feeling generally sorry for myself
It's just not fair. I am sick enough to be medium-miserable most of the day, but not quite sick enough to call out of work (on a weekday I would, but Sundays are always minimally staffed, so someone else would have to be called in on short notice to cover my station. My conscience would only allow me to do that to a colleague on a holiday weekend if I were at death's door.) I'm with-it enough to be bored and antsy lying about the house, but not quite up to doing much else. Also, my head aches enough that even crafts and scrap-booking are unpleasant. My neighbors are all outside riding bikes and puttering in their gardens, or carrying chairs and coolers down the path to the beach. It's just not fair.

p.s.- No, it's not Swine Flu, thank-you-very-much. It's a run-of-the-mill upper respiratory infection of the non-specific variety, not helped at all by the sudden explosion of Fall-season pollen in the air.

Chicken Enchiladas

A little more work than Chicken Enchilada Casserole, but more richly flavored.

3 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp flour
1/4 C chili powder
2 C chicken stock
10 oz tomato paste
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

3 C cooked chicken, shredded
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mexican spice blend
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sm. can green chiles, drained and minced fine
sm. amount tomato sauce
2 C shredded cheese
16 flour tortillas
1-2 C enchilada sauce

For sauce:
Heat oil and add flour, stirring and smoothing w/ wooded spoon. Cook 1 min. Add chili powder and cook 30 seconds. Add remaining sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes. Sauce will thicken and smooth out. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
For enchilada filling:
Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add chiles and saute 2 minutes more. Add chicken and seasonings and stir to combine; heat through. This is the filling.
To build:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F). Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. Spread a ladleful of suace over the bottom of the pan. Dip each tortilla in the remaining sauce to soften them, then divide the filling among the tortillas- making a thin line down the middle of each tortilla. Divide half the cheese equally among the tortillas atop the filling; reserve the remaining half of the cheese. Roll up the tortillas and arrange in the pan. Spread the remaining sauce evenly over the rolled tortillas and top with the reserved cheese. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until bubbly and delicious and the cheese forms a golden crust. Allow to rest at least 5 minutes before serving with hot Spanish rice and beans.

Country Captain Chicken

A delicious slow-cooker recipe from my friend Ben. Be sure to use Madras curry powder, as regular curry powder becomes bitter with long cooking times. Traditional garnishes include any or all of the following:
sliced toasted almonds, shredded coconut, diced Granny Smith apples, and diced bananas. Serve over long-grain rice, or a with a generous helping of Samosa-Spiced Mashed Potatoes.

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 pounds), excess fat trimmed
Salt and Pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped coarse
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped coarse
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
5 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (9-ounce) jar chutney, such as Major Greyʼs
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Madras curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown both sides, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken to plate, allow to cool slightly, then remove and discard skin. Transfer chicken to slow-cooker.
Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return pan to medium-high. Add onions, bell pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and tomato paste and, using wooden spoon, scrape up browned bits from pan bottom. Simmer until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in chutney, garlic, curry powder, paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Pour mixture into slow-cooker to cover chicken pieces.
Cover and cook on low until chicken is tender, about 6 hours. Turn off slow cooker, remove lid, and gently stir sauce to recombine. Replace lid and let stand for about 15 minutes before serving. Serve with rice and choice of garnishes.
Serves 6 - 8

Indian-Spiced Couscous

1 C water
1/2 C dried fruit bits (apricots, raisins, etc)
2 tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp tumeric
dash ground cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C whole wheat or plain couscous, uncooked
3 tbsp thinly sliced green onions

Combine 1st 8 ingredients in a medium saucepan; bring to boil over med-hi heat. Stir in couscous & return to boil. Cover & reduce heat to low; simmer 2 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat, add green onions, cover, & let stand 5 minutes. Fluff before serving.

Faux Chicken Cacciatore
(slow-cooker version)

A ridiculously easy faux-cacciatore recipe for when you are really time-crunched, or lazy. The deliciousness is directly correlated with the quality and flavor of the sauce you use.
Bone-in chicken pieces can also be used, but you will have to fish them out of the pot when done, cut/pull the meat off the bones, and return the meat to the pot. Pull off the skin before cooking, or the result will be quite greasy.
This recipe is an excellent use for frozen bell pepper strips, often sold with onions as "pepper stir fry blend"

1-2 lbs boneless chicken breasts or tenderloins
1/3 C chopped onion
1/3 C bell pepper, chopped (or 1/2 C strips)
3 C or 1 large jar of very yummy spaghetti sauce

Ridiculously Easy Directions
Add onions and peppers to bottom of slow cooker, then chicken, then pour sauce over all. Cook on low 7-9 hours or on high 4-5 hours. Serve over pasta, with salad & garlic bread.

Chicken, Apple, & Cheddar Empañadas

If making fresh pastry dough is too fussy for the time at hand, substitute prepared pie dough, canned crescent roll dough, or simply make quesadillas using the filling below and flour tortillas.

1 sm. Granny Smith apple, diced 1/4"
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp butter
1 sm. red onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 3/4 tsp dried)
2/3 C sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt & pepper to taste
pastry dough (recipe follows) or 2 cans crescent roll dough

Mix apples & lemon juice. In medium skillet on medium heat, melt butter and cook onion and garlic until soft (3 min). Add apple & cook until just softened (2 min). Add chicken and cook through. Dump mixture into a bowl. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Shred chicken; mix in cheese and seasonings. Fill small folds of dough (about 3-4 inches) with 2-3 Tbsp of filling, crimp shut with fork, and brush with beaten egg. Do not over--fill, or filling will leak out! Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, or until golden.

Pastry dough for empañadas:
3 3/4 C flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
6 Tbsp shortening
12 Tbsp butter
1/2 C + 2 Tbsp ice water

Cut shortening and butter into flour, salt, & sugar. Add water 1 spoonful at a time, stirring gently until a dough just begins to come together. Press together into a ball and knead the minimum amount needed to form a cohesive dough. Roll out on floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Use a biscuit cutter to form 3-4 inch circles, or a pizza cutter to form 3-4 inch squares. Fill with small amount of filling (2 Tbsp is usually enough), and fold in half; crimp closed with fork.

Chicken Enchilada Casserole

This recipe has several steps, but is still relatively easy (easier than rolling individual enchiladas, anyway!), and the results are delicious. Assembly is very much like making lasagna. You could easily add more/different vegetables such as squash and/or beans to the chicken mixture, or even make a completely vegetarian version.
Enchilada casserole keeps well as leftovers, can be frozen before or after baking, and makes a great take-along dish for pot-lucks.

1 28-oz can tomato sauce
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried cilantro
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

4 C fully cooked chicken, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mexican spice blend
2 Tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced fine, with some of the sauce
1 tsp salt
2 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
12 large tortillas, cut into 3-inch wide strips

Combine sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally, to combine flavors.
Meanwhile, in large skillet, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until clear. Add spices and minced chipotles, saute 1 minute more. Stir in chicken & heat through, remove from heat, and stir in 1 1/2 C of the cheese. This is the filling.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Spray the bottom & sides of a 13x9-in pan. Spread a ladle of sauce in the bottom of the pan. Arrange 1/3 the tortilla strips in an even layer, followed by half the filling, then spread 1/3 of the remaining sauce; repeat another 1/3 of the tortillas, the remaining half of the filling, another 1/3 of sauce, the last 1/3 of the tortillas, and finally the last of the sauce. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/2 C of cheese. Bake at 400° until bubbly, golden, & beautiful- about 30 minutes.

15-Minute Beef Stroganoff

An old favorite from my childhood. Found this in my recipe folder on a yellowed piece of scrap paper, in Mom's handwriting, spattered with what I really hope was gravy ;-D

1 pound beef round steak
1 3-oz can (approx 2/3 C) sliced mushrooms with their liquid
2/3 C water
1 envelope beefy-onion dry soup mix
1 C dairy sour cream
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
6 C cooked egg noodles


Trim fat from beef; reserve. Slice beef diagonally across the grain into very thin strips. Heat a large skillet and render the fat from the beef trimmings; remove trimmings leaving melted fat in skillet. Add enough butter to the beef fat in the skillet to make 3 Tbsp. Add the sliced beef and brown.

Stir in mushrooms with their liquid, water, and soup mix, bring to boil. Meanwhile, blend together sour cream and flour. Reduce heat under skillet to low simmer, and gently stir in the sour cream mixture. Simmer gently, stirring constantly, until sauce is smooth and slightly thickened- it will still be runny. Serve hot over cooked egg noodles.

Low-Carb Variation
Omit flour and serve over cooked shredded spaghetti squash. Sauce will be runnier, but it's still yummy!

Homemade Breakfast Sausage

This recipe comes from my friend and co-worker Amy. I have not yet tried it myself, but she assures me it is delicious. I'll be sure and post an update when I do get a chance to try it.

1 1/4 lb fresh ground pork
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp rosemary
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)


Thoroughly combine all ingredients. Form into patties and cook on a medium-hot griddle or skillet until browned and no pink remains in center; drain on paper towels. Or, layer uncooked patties between waxed paper and freeze in airtight zip-top freezer bag.