Cooking Without Drama

Cooking Without Drama- Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables and Chorizo

I got on a Nigella Lawson kick recently.  I felt I was in a rut with cooking and wanted to do some new things.  Also, Dave and I had recommitted to our Paleo eating, so I wanted to have some new, tasty meals that did not involve grains or pasta.

The Origianl Recipe which is Spanish Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Chorizo can be found here.  However, since the Dave and the kids are not fans of chicken thighs, and white potatoes are not Paleo;  (I don’t think Chorizo is either, but its really used as a condiment-so its not bad), adjustments had to be made.

So, here is Roast Chicken with Root Vegetables and Chorizo

Roast Chicken With Root Vegetables and Chorizo (Serves 4)

2 Bone in Chicken Breasts

2 links Chorizo

3 Cups Chopped Root Vegetables

1 big red onion, Chopped

2 T Oregano

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

1. Heat oven to 425

2. Chop the root veggies into uniform sizes (I used turnips, sweet potatoes, new potatoes, and sunchokes) and place them in the bottom of a roasting pan so they will all be in one layer, add chopped chorizo.

3. Drizzle veggies with oil, salt, pepper, 1 Tablespoon Oregano, and toss so everything is coated

4. Place Chicken Breasts on top of veggies, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with Salt, Pepper and remaining oregano

5. Cover with foil and bake on bottom rack for 30 minutes,

6. Uncover, stir veggies and cook on upper rack for another 30 minutes or until Chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender.

This made a little more than 4 servings since the kids are not a fan of roasted root veggies, although Alex liked the Chorizo.  However, I will add some red bell pepper to the leftover veggies and make home fries with them as an accompaniment to tomorrow’s pork chops.  I also had a little chicken left over, which I will stir fry or use to make quesidillas for the kids.

photo (38)

Thanksgiving Prep Part I

 

Thanksgiving is four weeks away, which means that if you are hosting Thanksgiving, it is the perfect time to start getting into the planning.

Thanksgiving does not have to be a stressful holiday, you just need to plan ahead.   I am hosting Thanksgiving this year for the 1st time in years.  It’s not a big gathering, I am thinking about 6-8 people.   And while there will be appetizers, the main course and dessert, it won’t be as elaborate as my mom’s Thanksgiving.    A Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s could have up to 30 people ages 0-80+, which requires a big menu and a LOT of food.  Thanksgiving at my mom’s also included an extra bag of marshmallows since there may or may not have been a small fire during the final prep of the sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping.

I come from a big Italian Family (and after 6 hours of eating the family is even bigger-lol)

For those of you not fortunate enough to go to a hardcore Italian Thanksgiving Dinner, a little taste of the typical day.

12:30  Antipasto Course: This means about 6-8 different kinds of appetizers, cheeses, crackers and a veggie platter.  We never bother with salad during Thanksgiving dinner, since we figure it’s not worth wasting the stomach space on salad when there is so much tastiness around.

2:30 Pasta Course:  Nothing big, just a few pumpkin ravioli with brown butter-sage sauce, and fresh parmesan for everyone.  Really, it’s just a few ravioli, not ravioli dinner quantities of ravioli, and there may or may be some bread to go with the ravioli.

4:00 Dinner:  This is where we have the Turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, rolls and rye bread, stuffing, gravy, broccoli with garlic and lemon, and the green bean casserole with onion soup, which I think is disgusting, but someone eats.

5:30pm Dessert: We usually have several pies (apple, pumpkin, cherry), cookies, cakes and cannoli.

6:00pm Nuts, fennel and liquer: As a digestive to help the other food you’ve eaten digest.

The funny thing is that when we go to NY for Thanksgiving we usually stay at my Aunt’s house.  My aunt also hosts Thanksgiving, but she starts about an hour later, so by the time we get there, people are lingering over dessert.  So even though my Aunt is well aware of the eating marathon we just finished at my mom’s house, she always asks if we would like some dessert.  Thank god that both the kids can usually be counted on to have some more dessert, while the adults are debating if we will ever be able to eat again. (We usually are)

My Thanksgiving will be simpler. I am skipping the pasta course.  I will serve appetizers for lunch, because I am a finger food addict, and since I serve Thanksgiving close to dinner time, I still do need to provide lunch.   I also have a double oven, so I can cook the Turkey and still get stuff done while that Turkey hogs the oven.   Around 4pm I will serve Thanksgiving dinner, and then have a small variety of desserts.   And possibly a pitcher of crantinis which I will start drinking when the appetizer lunch goes out.

I will also not be serving salad.  I am not going to waste stomach room on lettuce when there is bourbon pecan sweet potatoes to eat.

So what am I doing this week?

1. Finalizing the guest list;

2. Planning the menu and writing up the shopping list.

3. Ordering my turkey from a near by farm.

4. Working on an initial schedule for prepping and cooking Thanksgiving Dinner.

If you are cooking Thanksgiving dinner, you NEED a schedule.  Trust me.  There are too many moving pieces, and you don’t want to sit down to dinner and realize you forgot the rolls to sop up the gravy, or the green beans, or you set fire to the marshmallow topping while prepping, set up the smoke alarm and wake the colicky baby who had finally decided to nap.

Since I am having a small Thanksgiving with mostly out-of-town guests, I do not have to think about the following:

1. Figuring out whether or not to use paper plates or rent plates  and silverware from a party place.  (No shame in the paper/plastic plates.  My mom always uses the really good ones and believe me, there are enough dishes to do as it is;

2. Decide who I will be delegating different parts of the meal to.

A word on delegation.  It’s usually a good idea.  There is a lot to Thanksgiving with its multiple sides and the fact that the Turkey can take up all your oven space.  However, you want to think carefully about who you are delegating to.   For example, don’t give the flaky person an important part of the meal to bring.  Also, if there is something that you really, really love, make it or buy it yourself so you know that it comes out exactly the way you want it to.

Come back next Thursday and I will tell you my menu, and what I am doing this week to prep for Thanksgiving.

Why My Mom Should Have A Cooking Blog….And Yours Should Too!

My grandma Mary (so was my grandma Rose) was a wonderful cook, and while she made a wonderful Sunday gravy  (pasta sauce) and a tender pork roast, her most memorable dish was the Antipasto tray that she would do for family parties.  For those not Italian, a family party could be counted as any time you had more than eight related people in a room at one time, which could me a weekly event.

Anyway, I remember that  she would always save some olives for me to put on the tips of my fingers and then eat them of, after watching them glisten on my fingertips, like fake nails.  She would also have salami, tuna packed in olive oil, tomatoes, provolone cheese and…..  I can’t remember.  No one really can remember everything that was in the dish.  We also apparently never took a picture of the dish, and my grandmother passed away without telling us.

My mother is a fabulous cook.  Actually, all of the women in my family are fabulous cooks, and most of the men were not too bad either.  I remember my dad made awesome baked ziti.    I led such a sheltered existence that I didn’t realize that everyone did not know how to cook, until my parents took us to the house of one of their friends and we were served spaghetti with a sauce that tasted like ketchup and american cheese melted on the pasta. (Its been a few decades since I was served that and I still shudder at the memory)

But back to my mother.  Night after night she would put wonderful meals on the table.  In addition to pastas and sauce she would serve breaded fish fillets, chicken, pork chops in applesauce gravy,  homemade chicken soup, pot roast, sloppy joes in pita pockets and a hundred other tasty meals, that she would conjure up quickly each night.

Once I was married and cooking dinner, I asked her what cookbook she got her recipes from.  She looked at me, sniffed and said, “Recipes are for people who don’t know how to cook.”  And for her this is true.  She is an intuitive cook, using a recipe as a starting point for proportions perhaps, but usually went off on her own.

And this is wonderful, until you want to re-create that wonderful dish at home.  And she is a very generous and willing to give cooking advice.  However, when you ask her for the recipes, she starts with “Get a bunch of chicken cutlets, and the chicken broth in the can”  and you are sitting there thinking, ‘How many is a bunch, what sized can?  Low Sodium broth?  Will the world end if I use the stuff in the box?

And I find that after years of watching my mom cook has led me to be an intuitive cook.  I have cook books and recipes pinned and recipe cards, but unless I am baking, I very, very rarely make the recipe as it is written.  Sometimes its because I get distracted while cooking and I leave something out, but usually its because as I am tasting and smelling as I go, I adjust things.  Including recreating my favorite recipes of my mom’s even though they never taste exactly the same.

However, my love for intuitive cooking makes it difficult for people who like my cooking and want my recipes. I am happy to share, but when I started to discuss the process, I find that I give guidelines as opposed to specifics.   So, I now record the recipes on the blog and force myself to measure and time things.   I am hoping my kids appreciate this later on.

For me, a lot of my family memories are tied up with food.  I remember wonderful meals growing up.  And the funny thing, that even though a lot of popular Italian foods contain the same basic ingredients, I can’t pick up an Italian cookbook and recreate my family’s sauce.  Heck, my mom and her sister don’t even make the same sauce.

Now that I am getting older, I want to have those recipes to make for my children, and hopefully my grandchildren (way in the future) and have stories to tell them about my cousins, aunts, uncles and assorted relatives.  My mom’s bout with cancer 5 years ago, and the fact that several of my aunts on my father’s side are hitting their 80’s remind me that my time to collect these recipes/memories are slipping away.

Which is why my mom needs a blog.  This way her recipes are there for me and my brother, and the other people who love her food.

If you are reading this and it sounds familiar to you, then perhaps your mom should have a cooking blog too.

One thing I do have, and I am eternally grateful for is a video of my mom, aunt, daughter, cousin and brother all making Cavatelli.  My mom is the one in the purple apron.

Cooking Without Drama-Perfect Crockpot Shredded Pork

One of Dave’s favorite dishes is pulled pork.  When we go out to eat, he usually orders a pulled pork sandwich and when I bring in BBQ, he is always happy to get a container of it.

I have tried making it at home before, but without much success.  The pork would be tough or the sauce would taste burnt.  However, after doing some research on the internet, I found the way to make perfectly shredded pork.  Once you start with this pork, you have many options.  You can eat it plain, or shred it and simmer it with the sauce of your choice and have BBQ pork, Mexican Pork, Italian pork-its really your choice.

Ingredients:

Pork Roast (I used a 2lb piece)
3/4 Cup Baby Carrots
Onion Sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled
Onion Soup Mix
12 Oz Beer
Chicken Broth
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil

I used my 4 oz crock pot

(Note: use 12oz beer for every 2 pounds)

Steps:

1. Salt and Pepper the Pork generously.
2. Heat Olive Oil in pan and brown pork on all sides (2-3 minutes per side)
3. While pork is cooking, place carrots in crock pot
4. Remove pork from pan, put in crock pot
5. Add a little more oil, put onions in pan and carmelize
6. About 1 minute before the onions are ready to come out, add the garlic
7. Pour onions and garlic over the pork
8. Put onion soup mix in pan and stir for one minute, add 1 bottle of beer
9. Bring beer to a boil and pour over pork.
10. Add chicken broth or beer until pork is 1/2 covered in liquid
11. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

With this you can be done. Pull out the pork, shred or slice and serve the pork and carrots with a salad and maybe some noodles.

Or you could then shred the pork with two forks and put the desired amount in a pan with the sauce of your choice (bbq, mole, tomato, picante) and warm through and then serve with rolls, tortillas, on pasta, wherever your imagination takes you.

We did BBQ Sauce and they were awesome. Also, the leftover later that week were even better than the original meal.

Paleo Without Pity-Detox Tea

In additon to breakfast, another issue I have always had with Paleo (or any diet) is the copious amounts of water you are supposed to drink.  I will be really good about the 64oz of water for a few days, but then I fall back into old habits, because I get sick of drinking water.

And when I write that I feel like the whiniest bitch on the planet, since so much of the world can only dream of having an unlimited supply of clean, cool water.  (Note to self-next week gratitude journal).

So I still need to get the water in because it keeps me hydrated, flushes the system, aids weight loss and the other 8 billion reasons a person needs water.  So instead of water, I make myself detox tea.

I have a Mrs. Tea that I use, and for the amount of iced tea that I drink, it was really worth the $15 investment.  However, if you do not have an iced tea maker, just buy tea and follow the directions on the box.

This tea is so simple, its barely a recipe, more like instructions:

1. Prepare decaf green tea according to manufacture’s direction.  (I have used other types of tea- but green tea has some special weight loss property I hear about)

2. When preparing the pitcher of ice, add,
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 lemon sliced
1 citrus fruit of your choice, sliced. (If using a grapefruit, use 1/2)

And thats it. Its quick and really delicious. I make a 3 qt pitcher and often finish it in a day.  And if you want to skip the detox affect and add some Absolut Limon or Citron, I’m not going to tell on you.

Paleo Without Pity-Breakfast Salad for One

When I started the Paleo diet my biggest challenge was breakfast.  My usual breakfast was usually pancakes, waffles, french toast or oatmeal with fruit.  I would also like regular toast.  These are all not allowed on Paleo, and I tired the subsitiutes and found them seriously lacking.

This means that  I usually alternate between scrambled eggs with veggies or plain greek yogurt with fruit. (I am on the side of Paleo that thinks a little dairy is ok.  With the exception of the plain greek yogurt, I mostly use cheese or butter as a condiment).

That being said, this can get a little old.  So I came up with a yummy breakfast salad.  As made this is quick, easy and vegan.  Also since the hubby and kids don’t enjoy greens, I make this salad for 1.

Breakfast Salad

Ingredients
Kale (I usually fill the bowl I am going to eat out of with kale until its overflowing)
Tablespoon of coconut or olive oil
100 Calorie pack of nuts (I’m using the almond walnut combo)
Small Apple
Tablespoon of dried cranberries (I use the fruit juice ones)

Instructions
1. Heat oil in pan, add Kale, cook until Kale is wilted (3-5 Min)
2. On last minute of cooking-add nuts.
3. Chop Apple
4. Add Kale and nuts to bowl, top with chopped apple sprinke with dried cranberries

If you wanted to add more protein, you could cook some bacon and saute the kale in the bacon, or after you put the kale in the dish, use the pan to scramble an egg.  Also, this is good with some chopped chicken or sauteed shrimp.

Cooking Without Drama: Healthy-Ish DIY Chocolate Little Bites

With school back in session I am now getting into the swing of preparing three sets of lunches and snacks everyday.Previously I would pack my husband’s cooler in order to help him stay on the healthy eating track, and pack a bag for my sweet boy.  However, since Princess E has graduated from her daycare/school (which provided breakfast, lunch & 3 snacks in the tuition cost), she now requires a bag of lunch and snacks.

And you can’t toss anything in there.  The food must require no prep, be easy to open, tasty, varied and packed almost every day.  Also the food should be healthy.

One of the kids favorite snacks is ‘Little Bites’.  Enteman’s makes them and I beleive Little Debbie makes a version.  They are basically mini-muffins.  They come 3-5 to a bag depending if you get the regular or 100 calorie, and for a box of five bags will run you between $2.50 and $5.00 depending if they are on sale.  And of course they are loaded with all the packaged food ‘goodies’

However, I make 12 bags of 5 little bites for $2.00 per batch or less. depending on coupons.  When I make them, the recipe actually yields about 72 mini muffins, however there is some snacking going on between getting them out of the pan and into the baggies.

They are also a little healthier than little bites.  Not huge, but enough to make me feel good about serving them.

Homemade Mini-Bites (Makes 72)

Ingredients
2 egg whites
1 can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 box chocolate cake mix
(If you are not trying to hide the pumpkin, feel free to use another flavor cake mix. I did do this with spice cake for grown ups once and they were yum!)

Special Equipment
Stand Mixer
Mini Muffin tins
Spatuala
Cooking Spray
Pancake Mix squirter (This is awesome. Before I had this, I would make the biggest mess.)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350. Spray mini muffin tins
2. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form
3. Add canned pumpkin and mix until combined. (This is the part where I rip off the label and clean the pumpkin can before the kids see. I’m a bad mom-sue me.)
4. Add cake mix and mix until combined.
5. Put mix in prepared muffin tin, filling 1/2-2/3 full.
6. Bake for 8 minutes at 350
7. Let cool for a moment in the pan, remove to wire rack
8. Cool completely and put in little bags

I typically freeze these and pop a bag into the kids lunches and they defrost in time for morning snack. They have never noticed the pumpkin taste and I can’t taste the pumpkin either.   From heating the oven to clean-up this took about 45 minutes, including taking some photos which involved clearing some counter space. If I had a 2 more mini muffin tins, I could knock about 10 minutes off of this and get it done in less than 30 minutes.

Make a batch for your lunches, I promise they will be devoured.

The Faux Foodie: So Easy Sangria

I know that a lot of you out there have a secret.  And no, it does not involve how many times you’ve read the 50 Shades trilogy.  It involves something you are even more reluctant to share.

You can’t cook.  Despite two cooking channels, Top Chef, and a bazillion magazines, cookbooks, websites and blogs, cooking terrifies you.

Whats worse is that you are surrounded by people who can cook.  People who love to talk about food.  People who not only know the difference between regular and extra virgin olive oil, but people who have spent more on the bottle of olive oil they used to drizzle on the tomato salad than you spent on your whole food budget for the week.

Well, help is here.  As they say, Fake it Till You Make It!  So I am here to help you fake it.  Whether or not you make it, is entirely up to you.

The easiest way to fake it is to have a few signature dishes that people love so much that every time there is a pot luck or you entertain, people expecting you to make that dish.

or of course, a cocktail.

So lets start with something easy- Sangria.  Sangria is easy, tasty and I bet that with a little bit of thought you could swap out ingredients all year and have a seasonal Sangria every month.   In fact, if I get 5 comments between the blog, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, I will even feature the Sangria of the Month, using the ingredients that are freshest or best symbolize the month.

Without Further Ado- August Sangria

In August the peaches are at their best.  In fact I am sure that there is a law stating that when fresh peaches are in season, you are required to eat one every day.  If not, I will run for President in 2016 and make it part of my platform.

August Sangria- Makes 1 Pitcher (8-10 Servings)

Bottle of Wine.  (I used a 750ml Spanish Red- Feel Free to use a white if you prefer)

2 teaspoons of sugar or 1 packet of stevia

2oz triple sec (others use gin, but I never have gin in the house)

1 Lemon, cut into 8ths

1 Lime cut into 8ths

2 peaches, peels on rough chopped

16oz sparkling berry flavored water (I’ve also seen ginger ale or tonic water used)

Here are the instructions-Brace yourselves

1. Pour Red wine, sugar and triple sec into pitcher-stir

2. Squeeze citrus and add to pitcher

3.  Add peaches to pitcher

4. Refrigerate for several hours to overnight (There is a make ahead element- but if you don’t serve with lots of ice- or pop in the freezer for 15 min before serving)

5. Prior to serving, add sparkling water.

And look at that.  Add a veggie and dip platter, and maybe some cheese and sliced baguette (the thin loaves of bread) and you have a party right there.

And the fact you bought the veggies, dip, cheese and baguette from the grocery store pre made and put them on your own plates and hid the evidence in the garbage?

Your secret is safe with me. 😉

Paleo Without Pity- Mexican Style Slow Cooker Chicken

Before I started reading the Blog A Year of Slow Cooking, I thought that my crockpot was primarily a winter thing, where I would make chili, pasta sauce, meatballs, etc.

However after being reminded that cooking in the crockpot means that you are not heating up your kitchen, I became a devotee and the pot comes out all year long.

I make some great chicken in a variety of ways.  It always comes out moist and is great to have for salads, stirfries, mixed in with paleo mayo and stuffed into a tomato or just eaten straight out of the bag.

I usually do 2 bone in chicken breasts and get 1 full dinner for 4 out of it, or I add 3 and have some for leftovers.  This chicken also freezes well.

Place the frozen chicken breasts into the appropriate sized crock pot.  I find its better to crowd the crockpot a little than have things too spread out, but you can get around that if you add more liquid.

I use chicken broth, 3 garlic cloves per breast and an envelope of  Simply Organic Spicy Taco Seasoning and a chili in adobo and toss it in the pot with the chicken.

Then I set it on low and cook for about 8-10 hours.

Then I shred and we eat.  And its yummy!

Recipe:

Mexican Slow Cooker Chicken (2 Breasts)

Ingredients
2 Frozen bone-in, skin on chicken breasts
Chicken broth to cover
Envelope of Simply Organic Spicy Taco Seasoning
1 Chili in Adobo
6 Cloves of Garlic

Directions
Place breasts in slow cooker
Combine broth, taco seasoning, chili and garlic, pour over chicken
Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours
Remove from slow cooker, remove the skin, shred and use.

Paleo Without Pity-Chicken Meatballs (And My Sitter is Better Than Your Sitter)

Everyone knows that the secret to sanity as a parent is to have a good baby sitter so you can go on dates with your spouse, which helps keep the marriage happy.  We have always been pretty lucky to have good sitters that we have found though the Daycare, but our sitter Lisa is really the tops!

She not only watches the kids and does fun art projects with them, but when we go away for family trips she house and dog sits as well.  Our dog is happy because she is not in the kennel, and we are happy because the kennel is expensive and Lucy is always mad at us after she goes there.

In addition to taking care of the house and dog, Lisa often cooks for us and leaves things in the fridge.  Before we went Paleo we used to come home to a couple dozen fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, but this time when we came home, we came home to awesome chicken meatballs and eggs and veggies in muffin cups.  I don’t have the egg recipe yet, but I have these perfectly paleo meatballs.

So Lisa, thanks for your awesomeness!  We will miss you when we move!

Turkey/Chicken Vegetable Meatballs (Serves 4-6)

1lb ground turkey or chicken

2 medium carrots (or a handful of baby carrots)

1 bell pepper (you choose the color)

5 large white mushrooms

handful of fresh parsley

1/2 yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

2TBS Italian Seasoning

1/2 tsp ground pepper

2tsp garlic salt (optional)

1. Heat oven to 350

2. Combine all veggies in a food processor or blender and process until small chopped

3. Empty veggies in lage bowl, add meat and seasonings, mix completely

4. Form into balls and bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until golden brown all over and fragrant.

I liked the meatballs as is, although the veggie chunks were too obvious for the kids.  I would not cook these for a long time in sauce unless you want a meat & veggie sauce, but I added a can of diced tomatoes to the meatballs in the fridge and microwave them briefly to warm and the tomatoes really add some nice flavor.

So there you go, perfectly paleo meatballs and indisputable proof that my sitter is better than yours (sticks out tongue)