Slow-Cooked Supper: The Comfort Food Edition

Based on the recipe “Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Potpie” in the Feb 2012 Real Simple; I’ll type in their original, with my changes in parentheses and notes.

8 oz cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and halved if large (I used all the mushrooms delivered to me this week in my produce box , leaving the stems on because they were small and tight and quartering them)
4 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces (I used three big handfuls of organic baby carrots and just chunked them in whole)
1 medium onion, chopped (we don’t do onions at our house, so I left this out)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 sprigs fresh thyme (I used several shakes of the dried thyme I keep on hand for red beans, plus a couple of shakes of dried marjoram)
1 bay leaf (two small ones)
1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 8 (I used a little over 2 pounds, about 11, because that’s how the packaging of the organic boneless skinless chicken thighs from Costco worked out)
salt and black pepper
1 sheet puff pastry (half a 17.3oz package), thawed
1 c frozen peas (I don’t do peas, so I left these out)
1 c frozen green beans (I really don’t do green beans, so these would never be anywhere in my house to begin with)
1/3 c heavy cream (I actually had some left in my fridge from the holidays, but it had crossed over to the dark side and I just used a couple  glugs of half-and-half)

1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, mix together mushrooms, carrots, onion (X), flour, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 c water. Place chicken pieces on top of this; season with salt and pepper.

2. Cover and cook until chicken and veg are tender; 7 – 8 hours on low, or 4 -5 hours on high (my slow cooker just needed 6 hours on low, so pay attention to what yours does).

3. Thirty minutes before serving (whatever), heat oven to 425. Using a 4.5″ cutter or large glass, cut pastry into 4 circles. (I used my giant fleur-de-lis cookie cutters, and then just had fun with twisting up scraps in little bits and shapes. I can imagine using various cutters at various times.) Place on a baking sheet and bake til golden, 8 to 10 minutes (mine took 8).

4. Ten minutes before serving, add peas, green beans, cream, and a little salt to the chicken mixture (you’ll have to take this on faith, as what I did was curse the very idea of peas and green beans once again as I glugged in the half and half); stir to combine. Cover and cook on high or low until heated through (I found that it was heated through as quickly as I stirred it), 5 to 10 minutes. To serve, place chicken mixture in bowls and top with pastry rounds (shapes).

It was TASTY. Comfort food at its finest. I toyed with the idea of sprinkling a little pecorino over the pastry before baking to make cheesy pastry, and still might do that next time. M devoured it and said “Keep this recipe.” I will say, I do like my slow cooker. Particularly when our dinnertime comes right after all the time we spend feeding/bathing/nursing/putting to bed our boy. Mama don’t like eight p.m. dinners.


January 19, 2012 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

The Slow-Cooker As Mama’s Best Friend

The dinner hour has turned into two or three hours of baby care… Thomas eats between 4:30 and 5, which takes half an hour to an hour, and then we have a little play-and-digest time, and then we have bath time, and then bedtime takes a half an hour or so, which means from 4:30 to 7 or so I’m not in the kitchen cooking.

This leads to many a dinner of leftovers from weekend cooking marathons, jazzed-up frozen pizza, scrambled eggs, or 8 p.m. mealtimes. But when I remember the slow cooker, or when Real Simple runs a slow-cooker recipes article, we get a fresh hot meal that needs hardly any attention between 4:30 and 7.

The last two slow-cooked suppers both made use of organic boneless skinless chicken thighs from Costco. Slow-Cooker Chicken Pot Pie, and Slow-Cooker Soy-Glazed Chicken & Butternut Squash with Stir-Fry Greens. I’ll post the chicken pot pie recipe later, but here is the Soy-Glazed Chicken. It’s based on a recipe from the February 2012 issue of Real Simple; I’ll post their original as is, and note my changes in parentheses.

1/2 c packed light brown sugar (I had dark)
3 T low-sodium soy sauce (I used my organic wheat-free tamari)
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 T Asian fish sauce (finally, keeping that on the condiment carousel pays off!)
1 T grated fresh ginger (I’m sure I used a bit more, since I love ginger)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (I just did several squirts of Sriracha while I was on my condiment carousel)
1-1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 8 (I used about a pound; it was the third packet from the three-pack of organic ones from Costco)
(1 butternut squash, or 2 if they’re small like mine was, or even 3 if they’re as small as some others that have come in my produce box; peel and cube)
1 c long-grain white rice
1 T canola oil
(here is where I diverged 100 percent; Real Simple stir-fries a bunch of good vegs, and I saute greens)
3/4 lb snow peas, trimmed
2 heads baby bok choy, leaves separated
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
black pepper
(I used mustard greens, turnip greens, komatsuna and mizuna; wash them well)

1. In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, mix together sugar, soy sauce/tamari, lemon juice, fish sauce, ginger, and crushed red pepper (Sriracha). Add chicken; turn to coat. (Add butternut squash cubes; work into the sauce for coating also. I had less chicken than the recipe called for but as much sauce, so I had enough; you might want to do just a little extra sauce.)

2. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 7 – 8 hours on low or 4 – 5 hours on high (mine wound up being about 3 hours on high and then another hour on warm).

3. Twenty minutes before serving, cook rice according to package directions.

4. Meanwhile, transfer chicken and butternut squash to a plate, reserving cooking liquid/sauce.

5. Real Simple says to stir fry the vegs. Here’s where I heated the oil and sauteed my greens instead. Real Simple says to drizzle the cooking liquid over the finished rice/chicken/veg when you serve; I poured the cooking liquid over the greens once they had wilted down, let them bubble for a few minutes, drizzled a tiny bit of Steen’s over for depth, and sprinkled a little cornstarch over to thicken at the end. With the soy-glazed chicken and squash, this was GREAT. Just typing it in makes me wish I had a crisper drawer full of greens again.

January 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm Leave a comment

Cooking for three

Alas for the moribund state of this blog… I would love to be the mama blogger who can keep up with a baby, two dogs, three cats, a part-time graphic design contract, and dinners for grown-ups and children, all while shooting daily photos for the baby’s photo blog and managing to shoot photos of food and write about it, with bedtime before midnight.

That hasn’t been me.

Thomas came along in February, and I am not sure *what* I cooked for the first three months. There were a lot of Soup Peddler and Kashi meals. Scrambled eggs. Frozen pizza (the Archer Farms brand from Target makes a few veg pizzas that are pretty good even before you jazz them up with condiments from the back of the fridge). Then we got our Greenling subscription started up again and there were raw ingredients for roasting and sauteeing and salads. Then Thomas started adding Plum and Sprout and Ella’s Kitchen baby food to his nursing menu, and I started to get inspired about mixing things up to keep him from getting bored.

The slow cooker came out of the cupboard. The freezer was restocked.

 And yesterday, Thomas had his first feed-himself finger food, tortillas at Hula Hut, followed by buttered toast sticks at home with Mama today at lunch, and pureed leftover slow-cooker chicken pot pie for supper.So now I expect to start cooking even more, trying to find suppers and lunches that I can share with both husband and baby. And I would dearly love to find the moments to type it all in, to photograph it even. To tell you about dishes like that slow-cooker chicken pot pie, or the pumpkin flan I made at Thanksgiving, or the amazing turkey gumbo created at Christmas. I’ll try. Wish me luck.

January 18, 2012 at 2:39 am Leave a comment

“in the next week or twelve…”

Week 31, Day 4

Well, as promised at the end of the previous post, just barely making the twelve-weeks-later cutoff, a quick update. All through the second trimester and now into the third, the urge to cook comes and goes, the ability to eat comes and goes (though is mostly here to stay), and the energy for cooking, eating, photographing, and writing fluctuates more than a little.

But in the last three months, I’ve been very conscious of trying to eat a variety of things whenever possible, just in case it has any influence at all on Little Dude’s palate. Among the dishes that seemed to make him hop and wiggle:

* A plain brioche and a hot chocolate at Croissant d’Or in New Orleans

The bun on the plate and the bun in the oven, at Croissant d'Or in New Orleans

* Also in New Orleans, one single perfect raw oyster at the original Drago’s, from the Cvitanovich oyster beds, the only raw oysters in the world I would eat while pregnant

* A grilled sandwich of house-cured bacon, Swiss cheese, and sauteed collard greens with pickled-pepper aioli and fabulous spicy bread-and-butter pickles on the side at Cochon Butcher in New Orleans (some of those pickles came back to Texas with us)

* Still in New Orleans, all on the same quick trip, Italian peach ice from Angelo Brocato’s, one of their last few quarts left after the summer, made with Alabama’s Chilton County peaches which are the Very Best Peaches Anywhere In the Universe (and I am proud to say I made the introduction between the peaches, from James and Pat Jones of Durham Produce in Jemison, and the parlor)

* My best friend Pam’s shrimp remoulade, at our New Orleans baby shower, with my sister-in-law’s special sugar cookies for dessert (using her great-grandmother Sweet’s recipe)

In addition to Pam's shrimp remoulade and Nicole's sugar cookies, the shower spread included all kinds of favorite foods, including Logan's etouffee, Nicole's spinach-artichoke dip, mini muffalettas (another hit with the Little Dude), and a completely beautiful cake (in another room)

The incredible Buckboard Bacon Melt with amazing pickles at Cochon Butcher... this pregnant mama ate half at lunch and then took the other half to have as leftovers. Collards on a sandwch turn out to be perfect.

* Crawfish boulettes at Pat’s, a restaurant in the Atchafalaya basin, on the way home from the shower

* My homemade pumpkin pie, using fresh-roasted pumpkin from Greenling, whose organic produce deliveries have saved many a meal for us these last few months

* Lamb vindaloo with tamarind chutney (he especially seems to groove on the tamarind chutney) from Tarka, whose take-away has been dinner a few times

* Bread and butter and sardines (hey, Omega 3s are very good for the little guy)

* Organic honeycrisp apples with an oat cracker and a piece of Wisconsin brick cheese sent by my grandmother

* Handfuls of walnuts and Texas pecans

* This year’s Christmas fudge recipe variation, Fuego Fudge (in small doses)

* Sauerkraut, especially on sandwiches

* Trinidadan roti from my friend Lisa

* Spicy roasted chickpeas

* More collard greens, whether chiffonaded and cooked down like my great-aunt Helen taught me or in this cool slaw that Whole Foods sells

* Heirloom russet apples from Whole Foods, sadly only available for about a week but a true highlight of my pregnancy cravings

* Scrambled eggs and oat toast, made by Michael

* Brisket from Franklin Barbecue (again with the ever-important pickles on the side)

* Hot biscuits with homemade blackberry preserves or local sorghum or red-eye gravy from the country ham that was also on the plate, at Loveless Cafe in Nashville while there for my friend Alonso Duralde’s book tour in support of his new book, Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas (shameless plug, awesome book, great movies)

* Sugar-and-spice pancakes with cinnamon syrup at Pancake Pantry in Nashville, the perfect plate after 18 years’ absence from the joint

* Spanish almonds

* Big green olives

So you can see that I’m trying to keep the variety going, trying to balance salty and savory and sweet, trying to introduce flavors of his ancestors from Germany, Wisconsin, New Orleans, Texas, Alabama, and so on. Not to mention what a great excuse to eat some of my own favorite foods. Now I’m off to the kitchen to make my holiday shortbreads, which I’m not at all worried about the Little Dude liking his whole life long.

December 23, 2010 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

The perils of the pregnant plate

Week 19, Day 1

So, the last entry here came shortly after I found out I was pregnant, and it was all about the interesting combinations I was putting together in response to earliest-pregnancy cravings. Shortly after that — say, about 10 minutes after that — the energy I had for cooking, shopping for cooking, and thinking about cooking just vanished, perhaps going into hiding from the perpetually unsettled stomach that appeared just five minutes after that.

And so it’s 15 weeks later, and The Dinner Hour is still awaiting an update. But as of this weekend, I managed to cook not one but two meals in a row. Meals involving a nice balance of protein, carbs, and vegetables. Meals with flavor that didn’t make my stomach flip. Meals that even resulted in leftovers.

The energy level is back enough to cook, but not quite enough to cook, blog, and photograph all at the same time. And I will confess to having had some help in the sourcing department; a marinated tenderloin from Central Market’s butcher counter, two pieces of salmon from Central Market’s to-go case, and a big basket of organic vegetables from Greenling. Without those head starts, we probably would have been looking at more Kashi meals or another plate of scrambled eggs.

Instead, on Friday, to go with the salmon, I took three organic Japanese eggplant, roll-cut them, and put them in a big glass baking dish with two stalks of organic broccoli trimmed into florets and discs, all tossed with a little canola oil, a little sesame oil, organic tamari, and a few splashes of mirin, then roasted them at 400 for 25 minutes. Some basmati rice and the warmed salmon with a little peanut sauce and we had a nice dinner. I put all the leftovers together  in one glass storage container, and wound up having them for a lunch with a handful of green tea soba noodles. (Somehow, eating with chopsticks keeps me on an even keel.)

Then for Saturday’s dinner, that big glass baking dish was pressed into service again. Butternut squash cubes, dried cranberries, and pecans, with a very little bit of olive oil and just a drizzle of agave syrup. I put the ancho-coriander marinated pork tenderloin on top of the squash and put that in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes. Earlier, I’d started cooking Greenling’s fresh pinto beans with garlic, a chopped Hatch chile, and a bottle of beer. After half an hour or so, I added a bunch of organic collards to the pot, chiffonaded like my great-aunt Helen was doing long before the Lee Bros. were even a gleam in their daddy’s eye. A bit more water and the lid and I walked away until everything was done. Those leftovers made a great Sunday supper.

None of this is to say I have any idea what I’ll manage for dinner tonight. But I’m starting to feel like I’m on the way back. If this keeps up, I might even wind up making and freezing ahead for right after our little sous chef makes his appearance in February.

Note: Once again, for convenience sake, cross-posted from my pregnancy blog, Forty Weeks. But my goal here is to get some unique posts up in the next week or twelve. Promise.

September 27, 2010 at 6:18 pm 3 comments

The menu changes daily

Not as much blogging going on here as I’d hoped, mostly because I’ve been pregnant. It’s a wonderful excuse for everything from naps to, well, naps. This is today’s food post.

Week 4, Day 4

I’m trying to avoid the worst of morning sickness by eating small amounts frequently. This has led to many small plates, including some interesting snacks that I’m not sure I would have put together without being pregnant.

So far, I’ve been enjoying:

* Hard-boiled eggs
* These really good multi-grain/dried fruit/flaxseed omega-3 energy bar things from Costco
* Pickled herring
* Cucumbers (including a terrific cucumber-lime-kefir smoothie I made yesterday when I got overheated at the Food Bank staff picnic)
* Fresh fruit with granola and kefir
* Ry-Vita pumpkin seed crackers with a little schmear of light cream cheese and some Dai Due sauerkraut (alternatively, this also makes a good half-sandwich on Oroweat Health Nut bread)

A great sour snack: home-pickled Dai Due sauerkraut and light cream cheese on a pumpkin seed Ry-Vita.

I’ve been doing pretty well getting vegetables into the equation. Tonight, for instance, I made an egg in the hole with a fresh farm egg and a slice of multi-grain bread, and off to one side in the pan I sauteed some organic spinach. This week we’ve also had roasted cauliflower, broccoli, and a yummy Tecolote Farms chard saute (all organic).

Tecolote Farms organic swiss chard with a mix of flaxseed, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds, with chicken meatballs on a brown rice-quinoa mix

Things that aren’t working out so well OB-gastronomically include spicy things (including, sadly, the Dai Due chorizo from the farmer’s market last Saturday, though M is enjoying it for both of us as he did tonight in his chorizo & farm egg scramble), anything too sweet, or anything chocolatey. Blue Bell Strawberries & Original Homemade Vanilla, however, sometimes with organic strawberries on top, always in a very small bowl, seems to be going okay.

June 18, 2010 at 2:49 am Leave a comment

Green Beans: A Love Story

Let me say right off the bat that I do not ever remember going hungry. So calling this a “hunger story” would be a little bit misleading. It’s more of a “how my mother kept hunger at bay” story, and it has everything to do with what a parent will do to make sure a child has something to eat on her dinner plate.

When I was eight, my father, a major in the Army Corps of Engineers who was a 20-year-man with three yearlong tours in Southeast Asia, found himself on the very last list of names of soldiers who were being cut to help lighten the defense budget during the difficult economic days of the mid-to-late 1970s. He found work in a small town in the Ozarks, overseeing a construction project. We moved into a small farmhouse on about a half-acre lot, high up on one of the Ozark hills. After a couple of months, the owner of the project needed something for his nephew to do, and my dad’s job was it. So there we were, early 1977, national recession going on, high unemployment and inflation, and no income coming in.

My mother did two things. She had my dad till almost the entire backyard into a garden, and she went down to the Best Western and got a job waitressing. She planted corn, tomatoes, green beans, and strawberries, and she spent several shifts a week making sure that complete strangers had beautiful breakfast plates with fluffy eggs and special garnishes. Her tips were tremendous, not least because she was 30 years old and awfully pretty, and that income plus my dad’s unemployment let us meet the note and keep food on the table.

These were the days when, for a special treat, my mom would divide a stick of Juicy Fruit and give one half to me and one to my little brother. When so many people were facing such hard times that the cafeteria workers at my elementary school would put out big bins of slices of white bread and big bowls of peanut butter, separate from the lunch line, so any kid could come up and make a sandwich without having to worry about paying for it. But I don’t remember the times as hard. I remember my mother telling funny stories about her shift, about the regular customers who made sure to sit in her section, and I remember running up and down the garden rows watching the corn come up and the strawberry plants start to pile themselves into little mounds. I remember trees and blue skies and a creek down the hillside running over the rocky shallows where we’d splash and play the afternoons away.

It was shortly after the strawberry harvest that my father found a job. In Alabama, at a paper mill. He took my brother and me on down to the little south Alabama town where he’d found an apartment, and my mother stayed behind to sell the house. While she was waiting, packing up the house and finding a buyer, the green beans came in. She picked them all, froze them in batches so we’d have them to eat later. During her two-day drive down to rejoin us, the green beans thawed, but rather than throw them away, she put them back in the freezer. Times were going to get better, but food was food, and she wasn’t going to waste it. Several nights a week for the next several months, those frozen-thawed-refrozen green beans would make an appearance on our plates, next to a hamburger or a chicken leg, sometimes with some mashed potatoes. I don’t remember much about the dinners except for the beans, which managed to be both tough and mushy all at once. Never a picky eater, I started to refuse.

And I didn’t stop refusing. To this day, I can hardly stand the sight of a green bean. Maybe in a three-bean salad, though you could leave them out and chock that salad up with chickpeas and black beans and tomatoes instead. Not even roasted, despite Mollie Katzen’s wonderful method for making any vegetable sweet and essential. The fresher they are, the more clearly picked from some garden, the worse it is.

So my can of green beans from the Hunger Awareness Blog Project is still sitting on the kitchen counter, and probably will until it goes into my sack for the Stamp Out Hunger food drive next Saturday. But as I’ve looked at it this week, every night, while deciding what to cook, I’ve thought how much I hate green beans. And I’ve thought about my mother, about all the time and effort she put into growing that garden and saving her little crop to make sure her children would eat, about how much she must have wanted to be able to put something else on our plates. And I’ve thought about how much love was piled on those plates alongside those tough, mushy, freezer-burned beans.

April 30, 2010 at 7:47 pm 3 comments

Older Posts

Some of my cookbooks

In no order except for how they appear in my LibraryThing cookbook catalog: True Women Cookbook: Original Antique Recipes, Photographs, & Family Folklore, Janice Woods Windle (1997) * Made in Texas; H-E-B's 100th Anniversary Cookbook (2005) * The Texas Cowboy Cookbook: A History in Recipes and Photos, Robb Walsh (2007) * The Silver Palate Cookbook, Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins (1982) * In the Land of Cocktails: Recipes and Adventures from the Cocktail Chicks, Ti Adelaide Martin & Lally Brennan (2007) * Braise: A Journey Through International Cuisine, Daniel Boulud (2006) * Moosewood Cookbook : Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant, Mollie Katzen (1977) * Crescent City Cooking: Unforgettable Recipes from Susan Spicer's New Orleans, Susan Spicer (2007) * Saveur Cooks Authentic American: By the Editors of Saveur Magazine, ed. Colman Andrews (1998)

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