Is it one thousand degrees where you are?

OK, so maybe it’s not 1000° here, but it is certainly well over 100° and has been for many days and most likely will be for many more – like until after Halloween.

If I don’t get the boys out to the park or the zoo before 10am, then we aren’t going.  We spend a lot of time at the air-conditioned playgrounds around town, swimming and doing anything else inside.

So, I’m pretty reluctant to turn on the oven.

Enter crock pot.

This dish has made the cyber rounds on all the recipe sites for quite some time. I’ve made it a number of times and it’s just so simple you won’t even feel like you are cooking. Really.

Ready?

Place several celery stalks in the bottom of the crock pot.

Put a whole seasoned chicken on top. Throw in some herbs.

Then locate a large amount of garlic. Like a whole lot of it.

Then throw it all in.

Cover it up and walk away.

Come back about 8 hours later and serve dinner from a relatively cool kitchen.

See? Hardly cooking.

I like to use the garlic in mashed potatoes…or you can smear it on slices of crusty bread…whatever floats your boat. Here’s the official recipe in case you want to include the gravy part (making the gravy will definitely make it feel more like cooking, by the way.)

40 CLOVE GARLIC CHICKEN

1 large broiler/fryer whole chicken (as big as your crock will fit)

thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley

salt

fresh ground pepper

40 cloves unpeeled garlic (as you can see from the photo, I peel mine…do as you wish)

2 stalks celery, washed and cut into 3 inch pieces

baguette or french bread slices, toasted (optional)
Place the celery slices on the bottom of the crock. Season the chicken in and out with salt, pepper, and generously with the herbs. Place on top of the celery. Place the cloves all around and on top of the chicken. Cover and cook on low 8 hours.

Remove chicken and celery to serving platter. Remove garlic to small bowl.

GRAVY

1/4 cup cream

2 – 3 tablespoons cornstarch

salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Skim the fat off the liquid in the crockpot. Turn to high. Add the cream. Mix cornstarch with a small amount of water until smooth and add to liquid. Stir, cover and heat until thickened. You can pour some on the chicken and put the rest in a gravy boat.

Serve with noodles or garlic mashed potatoes made from some of that wonderful roasted garlic in the pot. The roasted garlic can also be squished out of its skins onto the toasted bread.

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Moroccan Chicken and Couscous

I had clients to see this afternoon and one of my most favorite people on the planet was going to watch the boys. So I threw together a quick dinner for them (and so I wouldn’t have to cook when I got home!)  There was even enough left to jazz up the boys’ lunches for tomorrow, too.

Moroccan Chicken and Israeli Couscous

This recipe is simple and a nice flavor change from the usual one-skillet dinner. And with the chicken and onions and mangos and almonds, it’s got a little bit of everything.

So a little more on lunch box lunches…don’t worry, I’ll get tired of these before we’re halfway through September!

Lunch for the littlest pumpkin is chopped up chicken and couscous, apples and grapes, ham and cheese, banana-flavored puffs and mandarin oranges.

And the other lunch is strawberries/apples, chicken and couscous, rice cakes, wheat thins with almond butter and cheese with a pickle. He loves the sour/dill/pickle thing. Always has.

And yes, I’m aware…not enough green vegetables. We’re working on it.

Moroccan Chicken with Israeli Couscous

slivered almonds (I used about 1/4 cup)

1.5 lbs chicken, in chunks

2-3 TB seasoning – see note below

olive oil

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

14 oz chicken broth

1-2 mangos, cubed (about 1 lb)

10 – 12 oz. couscous (I use the large pearl Israeli kind)

fresh cilantro, chopped, about 1/4 cup

Mix the chicken chunks with a TB or so of olive oil and 1-1.5 TB of the seasoning. Let this sit for as long as possible to “marinate.” Over medium heat, toast the almond slivers for 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

Add a TB or so of olive oil to a pan over medium high heat – until it is shimmering but not smoking. Add chicken chunks and cook for 4-5 minutes, until there is no more pink. Set chicken aside and keep warmish.

In same pan, sauté red onion slices until almost caramelized, about 5-6 minutes. Mix remaining seasoning with chicken broth. Add to onions and be sure to scrape up any brown bits that might have been in the pan. Bring broth to a simmer. Add in chicken and mango and couscous. Cover, turn off heat and let sit until couscous absorbs all the liquid. Before serving toss in the toasted almonds and cilantro.

*Seasoning mix: I used a pre-mixed “Moroccan Seasoning.” However, the recipe said you could substitute curry. That doesn’t really seem an adequate substitute to me, so here’s the list of ingredients: spices (that’s helpful, huh?), raw sugar, salt, paprika, onion, lemon peel, soy sauce, garlic.  When I taste the seasoning mix, I mostly taste the curry, paprika and sugar…oh, and the lemon, too. Hope that’s helpful.

Get yourself a belly dancer and enjoy!

Single Girl Cooking School: Manicotti

I have a very dear friend who we’ll call “Lolly.” (That’s what my boys call her, Aunt Lolly.) We’ve been friends since the first grade. I will NOT calculate how many years that has been. She is beautiful and smart and her family is super duper fun. And, for some reason, she’s also single. Do not ask me to explain that…I haven’t the foggiest.

Every once in a while I get a phone call from her asking for a date menu…you know, she’s got some new guy coming over and she’s going to cook dinner. Something she doesn’t really do all that often…which I can totally understand. I mean, if I were single, I would likely subsist on microwave popcorn and the occasional avocado. Anyway, I LOVE these little cooking lessons because she comes to my house with bottles of wine and we sit in my kitchen and walk through a recipe…and catch up…and then we eat it.  If it passes the taste test, then she’s all set to fly solo.

I try to keep the recipes fairly simple and, of course, date-worthy. Also, when possible, I prefer recipes that allow her to do most, if not all, of the work ahead of time. She was here last week and we made manicotti.

I know that chicken looks a little pink - it wasn't. It's my very-poor-for-food-photos lighting.

This recipe is a great way to use left-over chicken…or pre-cooked/pre-grilled chicken that you make ahead to use for the whole week (great time saver.)

You mix the chopped chicken with the other filling ingredients: cream cheese, spinach, mozzarella, breadcrumbs.

Cream cheese with fresh basil and onions

Now here’s why this is such a great single girl or building-your-repertoire recipe: you can make this as simple or as complicated as you want. So, as your cooking skills grow, this recipe can grow with you. Example: the original recipe calls for chive and onion cream cheese…which is tasty and simple. However, I happened to have a garden full of basil and a crisper full of tender spring onions…so, I made my own flavored cream cheese and changed it up a little bit. The possibilities for variation are endless.

Once your filling is complete, you start stuffing the pasta. Again, you could use shells for this and spoon it in. You could use lasagna noodles and cut them to size and make rolls with them. You could use manicotti and squeeze it in with a pastry bag or open it up and spoon it on like pictured.

One thing I was curious about was the difference between cannelloni and manicotti…since I hear them used interchangeably. I found a variety of answers, some conflicting. Some say it is about the sauce: manicotti gets a red sauce and cannelloni gets a white or bechamel sauce. Others said it was about the pasta itself: manicotti is a tube-shaped pasta and cannelloni is more like a crepe or fresh handmade pasta that gets stuffed/rolled. (There was the most disagreement about this component.) The most widely accepted distinction was the stuffing: manicotti gets cheese (namely ricotta) with herbs and possibly spinach while cannelloni are stuffed with meat and other goodies.

So….I suppose since these have chicken in them, technically, I should be calling them cannelloni? Although the box of pasta I purchased to make them said manicotti. Call them what you want. I call them yummy.

There’s about 1/2 cup of filling in each roll. And, as you can see, it’s really important they are laid out neat and perfect in the dish. No, it totally doesn’t matter because they are going to get slathered with a red pepper Alfredo sauce.

Which you won’t get to see.

Lolly and I had each had a glass of wine by that point and we were deep into an important conversation about her most recent date…with someone she met online! I love it!

I couldn’t be bothered to stop and take another photo. So, you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that the sauce is a beautiful orange color and super simple to whip up in your blender. And is another example of how you can make this recipe more complicated if you want: the sauce is roasted red peppers (which you can buy or roast yourself,) Alfredo sauce (which you can dump out of a jar or make yourself) and Parmesan cheese. Really. Three ingredients. That’s it. But go ahead, spice it up – throw in some herbs or different kinds of cheese…it’s flexible.

So here’s another shot of not-so-neat rows of stuffed pasta to make up for the missing photo of the sauce:

Use whatever kind of pasta you want. Pour on whatever kind of sauce you want. Call it manicotti. Call it cannelloni. Just make it. You don’t even have to be single! (But if you are, it’ll certainly help get you another date…)

Chicken Manicotti with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

1 8-oz. package manicotti shells (or other stuffable pasta)

4 cups finely chopped, cooked chicken

2 8-oz. containers chive and onion cream cheese (or your own!)

1 10-oz. package frozen, chopped spinach – thawed and well drained

1 cup (8 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

1 tsp pepper

¾ tsp garlic salt

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (recipe below)

Chopped basil or parsley, for garnish

Grated Parmesan, for garnish

Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain.  Stir together chicken, cream cheese, spinach, mozzarella, bread crumbs, pepper and salt – mix well. Cut pasta shells lengthwise through 1 side.  Spoon about ½ cup chicken mixture into each shell or rectangle, roll gently pressing the cut sides together.  Place, cut side down, in lightly greased baking dish.  Pour sauce evenly over shells and bake, covered at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through.  Garnish with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan, if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

2 7-oz. jars roasted red bell peppers, drained (or your own roasted peppers)

1 16-oz jar creamy Alfredo sauce (or your own Alfredo sauce)

3 oz shredded Parmesan cheese (I like a blend of Parmesan and Asiago)

Process all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Should yield about 3 ½ cups. Note: I always think it looks like too much sauce for one pan of pasta, but it really will soak it up. If you don’t like that much sauce, you can store the excess for 7-10 days in your refrigerator and use it on plenty of other things. This recipe also freezes very well, so if you are in the mood…make one to bake and one to freeze.

And if you know a wonderful man who lives in the Austin area and really digs brunettes and live music and you think he’d like to eat this with Lolly…let me know…I can hook him up!

More Food to Share

Another meal I made to take to my grandmother…easy to double, easy to freeze, easy to make, easy to share.  Really, you should have this in your repertoire.

Chicken Chili

This is so quick to make, I didn’t even have time to take any proper photos.  Somehow I managed to click some shots as I was packaging it up…but you’ll still be able to see its deliciousness, I have faith.

This recipe is adapted from a Pampered Chef recipe.  I’ve made it roughly four hundred and thirty-two times. Toss some corn bread in the oven and dinner is both simple and yummy.

White Chicken Chili – adapted from The Pampered Chef

3 heads of garlic (roughly 48 cloves)**

salt

3 TB olive oil

2 poblano peppers, finely chopped

1 onion, diced

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced

2 TB southwest seasoning blend*

2 cans (15.5 oz) Great White Northern beans, drained

1 jar (16 oz) salsa verde

Slice off 1/4 inch of the pointed top of the garlic heads, exposing the cloves. Place the heads in a microwave safe bowl.  Sprinkle with 1/4 teas. salt and 2 TB oil. Microwave, covered, on high for about 3 minutes – until garlic is soft. Set aside to cool.

Heat remaining oil in large skillet or Dutch oven.  Saute onions and peppers in oil over medium heat until soft.  Add seasoning blend. Cook for a minute until seasoning is well blended.  Add chicken and saute until no longer pink.

Meanwhile, squeeze the cooled garlic into the bowl. Discard skins. Mash with a fork or with one of my favorite tools. Add beans and salsa to garlic and mix well. Add to chicken mixture and heat through. You can thin with some chicken broth if you prefer.  (If you like a little more heat, add diced jalapenos to this, too.)

We serve this with grated cheese and sour cream and tortilla chips. A squeeze of lime would be nice, too. Some cilantro maybe. It’s up to you.

** I know, I know, you are thinking “THREE heads of garlic?”  Sounds like a lot?  It’s not really – very subtle because it is cooked.  Come on, really?  Such a thing as too much garlic?  No way.

* If you don’t have a southwest seasoning blend, you can substitute the taco seasoning powder.


So go ahead: make a vat of it.  Eat some. Fill your freezer. Make friends.

“Real Chickens” as my mother would say…

I have to explain a little something about my mother.  For as long as I can remember, she’s been making up terms for things.  She doesn’t invent new words, it’s more like she reassigns a definition to words we already know.  My father used to say he was going to start keeping a list of them all and someday we could have a Cindy Dictionary.  As far as I know, he’s never done it.

This is what my mother would call a “real” chicken.  It’s real because it came from a farm where you could have seen it running around in the grass before you cooked it.  Once recently when I was at her house she informed me that the eggs in the refrigerator were “real eggs” from her neighbor who keeps chickens.  (I’ve often wondered why she doesn’t call grocery store eggs and chickens “imaginary,” but alas they are just regular old eggs and chickens.)

My apologies to this real chicken for such an unflattering shot

Since we are trying to get all the grocery store meat and produce out of our lives, we happen to have had a stock of real chickens recently.  There’s just something about a whole bird that makes me want to keep them whole.  (And no, it’s not that I’m too lazy to cut them up!)  And since I’ve been without a working oven since before Thanksgiving, I didn’t need much of an excuse to haul out the rotisserie.

Nothing fancy here.  Rosemary, tarragon, thyme, garlic cloves and lemon slices are stuffed into the cavity.  The legs are trussed and the skin is patted dry and salted.  That’s it.  Into the little turning oven it goes.

I think normally I let the skin get a little darker than this.  But I was so paranoid this chicken was going to be tough and dry I pulled it off as soon as the juices were clear.  (And in spite of the constant assurances from my husband that this “free range yard bird will be as tough as leather,” I thought it tasted delightful.)  He actually said that it tasted just like regular chicken, which, of course, it did.  I’m convinced its flavor was more “chickeny” than what we used to eat, but he says it’s all in my head.  What I do know is that it was yummy and I felt pretty good about handing my three-year-old a “real” chicken leg.

And speaking of whole chickens, I just have to share this other recipe with you.  I’ve had this in my stack of “Want to Try” recipes for over a year…and it did enjoy some internet fame over a year ago, so this may be old news.  But it fit the bill for my “whole-chickens-no-oven” situation, so I finally gave it a go.

CROCKPOT 40 CLOVE GARLIC CHICKEN

-1 large broiler/fryer whole chicken (as big as your crock will fit)

-thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley

-salt

-fresh ground pepper

-40 cloves UNPEELED garlic

-2 stalks celery, washed and cut into 3 inch pieces

-baguette or french bread slices, toasted (optional)
Place the celery slices on the bottom of the crock. Season the chicken in and out with salt, pepper, and generously with the herbs. Place on top of the celery. Place the cloves all around and on top of the chicken. Cover and cook on low 8 hours.
Remove chicken and celery to serving platter. Remove garlic to small bowl.


GRAVY

-1/4 cup cream

-2 – 3 tablespoons cornstarch

-salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Skim the fat off the liquid in the crockpot. Turn to high. Add the cream. Mix cornstarch with a small amount of water until smooth and add to liquid. Stir, cover and heat until thickened. You can pour some on the chicken and put the rest in a gravy boat.

Serve with noodles or garlic mashed potatoes made from some of that wonderful roasted garlic in the pot.

The roasted garlic can also be squished out of it’s skins onto the toasted bread.

(I can’t remember where I got this recipe since I’ve seen so many different versions of it.  I thought I got it here, but her recipe looks different. Another site said that the original recipe was from Rival and came with the crockpot booklet.)

I actually used sliced onions instead of celery – partly because we didn’t have any celery and party because no one in my house really likes it.  And I don’t have an “After” photo because I came home after six straight hours of shopping (which is akin to a root canal for me) to a house full of hungry people. It was already dark and in my brain-dead state it took all of my organizational skills to just give instructions on mashing the potatoes and setting the table.  But the chicken just fell right off the bone and was probably some of the most tender I’ve ever had.  My husband said, “This is a keeper.”  I also recommend going easy on the fresh herbs – they can easily overpower the dish and the gravy – you don’t need much.

Yippee for “real” chickens!

When “clean” doesn’t really mean “clean.”

I have several other posts half-finished and waiting on photos…roasted chicken and the yogurt update…they are coming.  But I wanted to share this link about supermarket chickens.  Since we are heading out to a nearby farm to pick up chickens this weekend, the article seemed timely.  (thanks to Jennifer, my parents’ neighbor, for sending it along!)

photo by Bryan K. Oliver

The bottom line: the “cleanest” of the supermarket chickens were still contaminated HALF of the time.  Yikes.

Check out the full story here.

And then go find a farmer with a yard full of chickens and make friends.

Left-over Chicken

So remember the roasted chickens from Saturday?  There were quite a bit of leftovers.  Yesterday was beautiful and we were all kind of wanting a picnic dinner in the park.  So, I used the March issue of “Cooking Light” to help me do something with cooked chicken: Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken.

Spicy?  Not so much (needs some adjusting in that department)

Asian? I guess so.

If you have these items lying around, you can give it a go yourself and see what you think:

Ingredients: Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken

So, that’s sesame oil, ginger, garlic, cilantro, green onions, rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili paste (or heat of your choice,) chicken (cooked and chopped,) rice noodles and chopped peanuts.

Now, I have a hard time following a recipe exactly.  Always have.  But if it’s a new one, sometimes I can manage it.  This one, I actually did follow pretty closely.  And, considering it only took about 20-30 minutes to throw together and the only real cooking involved was boiling the water for the noodles and quickly sauteing the ginger/garlic…it’s not bad at all.  Certainly a reasonable “throw together meal” when you have left over chicken* to use.

spicy-asian-noodles-and-chicken

Spicy Asian Noodles with Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1  tablespoon  dark sesame oil, divided
  • 1  tablespoon  grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2  garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups  chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2  cup  chopped green onions
  • 1/4  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 3  tablespoons  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2  tablespoons  rice vinegar
  • 2  tablespoons  hoisin sauce
  • 2  teaspoons  sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste)
  • 1  (6.75-ounce) package thin rice sticks (rice-flour noodles)
  • 2  tablespoons  chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Preparation

1. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Place in a large bowl. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon oil, chicken, and next 6 ingredients (through sambal).

2. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water; drain. Cut noodles into smaller pieces. Add noodles to bowl; toss well to coat. Sprinkle with peanuts.

Nutritional Information

Calories:381 Fat:8.1g (sat 1.5g,mono 3.2g,pol 2.7g)  Protein:27.5g  Carbohydrate: 47.1g Fiber: 2.3g Cholesterol: 60mg Iron: 3.1mg  Sodium: 614mg Calcium: 55mg  David Bonom, Cooking Light, MARCH 2009

My suggestions:

Needs more spice, for sure.  I did not rinse the noodles in cold water as I wanted the heat from them to warm everything through.  I also mixed the liquids together first before adding them to the bowl so they would be more homogeneous.  And because I’m a big fan of Pad Thai, I also garnished with lime slices before serving.

*Left-over Chicken: stay tuned for some serious tips on cooking large batches of chicken ahead of time and making dinner prep easier than ever…”Power Cooking” is on its way!