Category Archives: Food

Hack This Recipe: Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

I love to cook. Nothing makes me happier than spending time in the kitchen with a glass of wine and a Cook’s Illustrated recipe, dirtying every one of my pans in the pursuit of a good meal.

Most of the time, however, I do not have the time or energy to meticulously craft a meal for our party of seven, so I “dumb down” recipes for large-family use. It occurred to me that this might be useful for other families as well.

I love a good chicken and wild rice casserole, but I’d never made one myself until this week. After reviewing several options, I decided to use this one, from Better Homes & Gardens, as my starting point.

First step: Double that action. “Serves 4” sometimes means “serves 4 skinny people as a side dish.” Plus, leftovers are glorious.

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Second step: Halve the meat. (Or, since we just doubled the recipe, keep the meat the same.) Add a vegetable to make up for it – in this case, mushrooms and carrots.

Now let’s look at the ingredients! I’ve mentioned before that I don’t use single stalks of celery, so that’s right out. I also try not to use “cream of” soups, because I have very limited pantry space and making your own is easy. In the summer I grow basil, but in the winter I’m not paying $4 for a handful of basil so I can use 2 TB of it. Dried basil it is. And while I sometimes cook a big batch of chicken to have on hand for recipes, I didn’t this week, so I needed to factor in the chicken cooking time.

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Next, the method. If I cooked chicken, made cream of chicken soup, and followed the recipe, that’s four pans. I looked for ways to consolidate. I was kind of SOL on the rice, but reasoned that it could do its thing while I was cooking everything else. I decided to cook the chicken, then saute the vegetables, then make the soup, then assemble per the original recipe.

Here’s what I ended up with:

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Weeknight Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole

Serves 8

2 6oz. packages long grain and wild rice mix
2 TB olive oil
1 chicken breast, sliced in half (butterflied)
Salt and Pepper
4 TB butter
1 large onion, chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. minced garlic
Celery salt (about 1/2 tsp.)
4 TB flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup milk
2/3 cup white wine
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. dried basil
1 cup Parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)

Preheat oven to 350.

Prepare rice mix according to package directions.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook about 4 minutes a side, or until cooked through. Remove to plate. Add the butter to the pan, then the onion, mushrooms, carrots, garlic, and celery salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add flour, stirring until  totally incorporated into the vegetable mix. Add chicken broth, milk, and wine to skillet, stirring until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Turn off heat, add sour cream and basil. Chop chicken, add to pan. When rice is finished cooking, add that to the pan as well. Adjust seasonings. Transfer mixture to a casserole dish and top with Parmesan. Bake at 350 until bubbly, about 20 minutes. This recipe can be prepared in advance – adjust cooking time accordingly.

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January Highlights

January 1: After 37 years, I have finally managed to properly cook rice. Yes, rice. Up to this point, my rice has been mushy, sticky, and unattractive. But tonight, it was glorious. I used Alton Brown’s technique, which didn’t take any additional time or dirty any additional cookware. It was a win for everyone, basically.

January 10: I stopped buying the hype. Some time over the last few years, I began believing that baking soda and vinegar was a clean-all miracle that would Save The Children From Exposure to Evil Chemicals and Probably Also Get Them Into Harvard. I used it to clean my shower, my kitchen sink, my jewelry, my coffeemaker, etc. In some of those applications – most notably the jewelry cleaner and the shower scrub – it performed admirably. But on two notable occasions, the baking-soda-vinegar combo let me down. Way down.

The first time was in the laundry room. When we moved, we inherited a set of front-loading, stacked laundry machines. The washer, as is common with front-loading washing machines, was pretty nasty. I washed it and washed it with vinegar and baking soda and my tears, to little avail. Finally, wedged in among the well-lit photographs and amusing mommy anecdotes on Pinterest, I found a woman who was brave enough to state a truth. Every week, she washed one load of whites with 1/2 cup of bleach. (Bleach! I couldn’t clutch my pearls fast enough!) Her machine never got moldy and never smelled bad. I gave it a try. It worked perfectly. Now we have sparkly whites and a clean washing machine. LIVING. THE. DREAM.

The second instance was in my oven. I cook a lot, so my oven gets a ton of (ab)use. I made pastes with baking soda and vinegar, I sprinkled and sprayed and scrubbed and cursed. Nothing was getting the gunk off the inside of my oven.

You know what gets gunk off ovens fast? Easy Off Extra Strength Chemical Shitshow (TM). I cleaned the new oven for the first time today, after spraying it in last night and letting that funky junk do the hard work for me. Clean oven. Zero tears. Beautiful.

January 29: After looking at photographs of my freshly-painted foyer, it seemed a little austere. So I spent some time re-hanging a gallery from the old house, and creating a new grouping by the front door. Here are the updated results:

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The front door group includes an antique barometer. FANCY.

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On to February!

 

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A Bushel and a Peck

Saturday we ventured into south Georgia for an agricultural field trip.

First, we picked blueberries at a friend’s grandmother’s house. Hazel LOVES blueberries. She ate them off the bushes, after several reminders to only eat the blue ones. Jason would dump a handful in his bucket, and she’d scoop them up and shove them all in her mouth. Despite her best efforts, we still managed to pick nine pounds of blueberries.

Nine. Pounds. Of. Blueberries. That’s a LOT of fruit.

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We then headed to a u-pick tomato farm. Picking my own produce always reminds me of this delightful post from Stuff White People Like, so it was with a mixture of chagrin and amusement that I headed off down the rows with a five-gallon bucket.

The farm had several varieties of tomatoes, and we got a mix of beefsteak and Roma. I had visions of pasta sauce, BLTs, and caprese salad.

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Do you know how many tomatoes a 5-gallon bucket holds? Answer: A ridiculous amount of tomatoes.

It was not even lunchtime, and we had gathered an absurd amount of fruit. By the end of the day, we added six pounds of zucchini, several squash, and one cucumber to our haul. Our friends were probably laughing at us. Okay, definitely laughing at us.

Jason also tried to pet the cows on the farm. It went about as well as you’d expect.

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We returned to suburbia and got to work putting up our bounty.

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First up, I began freezing the blueberries. After a quick wash, I spread them out on baking sheets in two-pound batches and stuck them in the freezer. After an hour or two, they went into (labeled!) Ziploc bags for long-term freezer storage.

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After that, I shredded two of the zucchinis and froze them. I put two cups of shredded zucchini in a sandwich bag, flattened it, and put five such sandwich bags in a gallon freezer bag.

Then I turned my attention to the tomatoes. By this time they had exited their bucket and were plotting a bloodless coup.

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I took two pounds of the Romas, halved them, scooped the seeds, and put them in the oven to dry. They spent most of the day at 200 degrees.

For dinner, we had a tomato tart.

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After dinner Hazel experienced what can only be described as a Blueberry Blowout.

The next day, I used fifteen pounds to make an epic batch of pasta sauce, and oven-dried another two pounds of Roma tomatoes.

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I cored, scored, and blanched the sauce tomatoes, then put them in a ginormous stock pot with aromatics (sauteed onions, garlic, oregano, Italian seasoning, wine, and bay leaves) and let them simmer.

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After a few hours, they were starting to break down.

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I used my immersion blender to smooth things out a bit.

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After that it was a matter of reducing the sauce to the right consistency, letting it cool, and portioning it out into gallon freezer bags. We got six quarts of sauce.

…..and that took care of about half of the tomatoes. We’ve been eating the rest as fast as we can, but I have a sneaking suspicion I have Tribble tomatoes in my kitchen. Every time I walk through, they’ve multiplied.

So if you see us looking a little pink around the gills, it’s not sunburn – it’s tomato fever.

 

 

 

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Pro Tip: Croutons

We have three school-aged children at our house, so we run through bread at a rather alarming rate. Like almost every other kid ever, they don’t like to eat the bread ends. I hate to waste food, so I’ve come up with a couple of ways to put those ends to use. I store them in the freezer until I’m ready to implement either of these strategies.

Make breadcrumbs!

Remove bread slices from freezer to thaw. This takes about 10 minutes, so don’t go anywhere. Put the slices in your food processor. Turn it on. Ta da. Breadcrumbs. You can use them to coat chicken, stir them into meatloaf, or top a casserole.

If you make more breadcrumbs than you need, store the extra in a Ziploc bag in the freezer.

Make croutons!

This is a new discovery for me, so I remembered to photograph it.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Cut your bread into squares.

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Throw them in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and toss them until coated.

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Spread the croutons out on a baking sheet, and bake at 300 for about 30 minutes, until the croutons are dry and crunchy.

Now they’re ready to be deployed in a salad.

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Unused croutons can also be stored in the freezer.

Yeay for saving money and avoiding waste!

 

 

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Gumbo for Beginners

For Diana Briggs, because she asked.

Many people mistakenly believe that gumbo is a mysterious dish requiring a thick Louisiana accent, possibly the carcass of an alligator, and a large cauldron bubbling in the woods. Not so. Gumbo is a straightforward dish, but does require the cook to get up close and personal with his or her stove for a good chunk of time. Don’t let that dissuade you.

I’m going to share how I make gumbo. I almost always make a chicken and sausage version, because it’s most popular at my house. But if you’d prefer seafood, go for it. Shrimp and chicken? Sure. The mechanics of the dish remain the same.

First things first. You’re going to want to fix yourself a drink.

Then gather your ingredients. Let’s break them down into four groups:

  1. Meats – I usually use 2 chicken breasts and a pound of andouille sausage. Can’t find andouille? Super. Use kielbasa. Prefer skin-on, bone-in thighs? Awesome. You do you. Season your chicken with salt & pepper, and slice your sausages.
  2. Vegetables and Accessories – The Holy Trinity of New Orleans cooking is bell pepper, onion, and celery. I refuse to buy celery on principal (I use one stalk and end up tossing the rest), so I chop up two green bell peppers and one big sweet onion. Put these in a bowl with a big spoonful of minced garlic and a couple of bay leaves. I also add a bag of frozen sliced okra at the very end of cooking, but keep that in the freezer for now. The dish is garnished with sliced scallions and/or parsley.
  3. Liquids – Homemade chicken stock, canned chicken broth, beer, water, canned tomatoes with juice, whatever. You’ll need about 8 cups of liquid, so mix and match. I like to use 12 oz. of beer and chicken stock for the rest.
  4. Roux – this is the foundation of the dish. It’s equal parts flour and fat. I like to use 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup butter, and 1/2 cup flour. Again, if you want to go all butter or all oil, you’re not going to hurt my feelings.

Ready? Let’s do this thing.

Heat a couple of TB of your preferred fat in a big Dutch oven over medium heat. Add your meats and brown them for a few minutes. You don’t need to cook them all the way through, just get some color on them. When they’re done, move them to a plate to hang out.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Next up, add the rest of your preferred fat to the Dutch oven. When it melts, add the flour. YOU ARE NOW MAKING A ROUX. TRY NOT TO PANIC. I use a whisk for my roux; others use a wooden spoon. Either way, don’t make any plans, because this is the time-and-attention portion of your gumbo.

Remember that drink you made? Be sure it’s handy.

The roux will start out a pale tan color. Keep whisking. You don’t have to be quick, just keep everything moving. After 10 minutes or so, you’ll notice the magic happening.

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The roux is now the color of your favorite novelty coffee drink. Ta-da!

Keep stirring. After several more minutes, your roux should approach the color of milk chocolate.

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It will smell deeply nutty, almost smoky.

Once your roux has gotten nice and dark, add the bowl of vegetables, switch to a spoon or spatula, and stir that mess around to distribute the roux. Let the vegetables soften for 5-10 minutes, then add the meats back in, followed by your liquids. If you want more heat, add some Cajun seasoning or cayenne pepper.

Like any other thickener, roux only works once the mixture has reached a boil. Crank the heat up to medium-high and wait for the bubbles. Once your gumbo has boiled, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for, um, a while. You can simmer it anywhere from an hour to all day, just make sure to add more liquid if it looks dry. Make some rice and chop your parsley and green onions.

When your stomach starts rumbling, add the bag of frozen okra and fish out your chicken pieces. Remove the skin and bones (if you went that route) and shred the meat, then return it to the pot. Test the gumbo for salt, pepper, and cayenne.

Gaze into its majestic depths.

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A word about gumbo file (pronounced FEE-lay): File is made from ground sassafras and was banned by the FDA in 1960 because some parts of the sassafras plant are possible carcinogens. Blah blah blah. If you feel that your gumbo experience is not complete without sprinkling some on your finished product, then by all means get some. But don’t beat yourself up over it. Gumbo is a spectrum, not a single dish – everyone makes it a little differently. I tossed my jar of file a few years ago when it expired and haven’t replaced it.

To serve, spoon the gumbo into a bowl. Top with a scoop of rice, sliced green onions, and chopped parsley.

The hands-on portion of gumbo takes at least half an hour, so you might want to save this one for a weekend. But I assure you the result is worth every minute.

 

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Cocktail of the Month: July

You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Or perhaps that I got carried away in the testing phase of a new cocktail recipe?

Nope!

This month’s cocktail is another gin drink. When I posted May’s libation, a friend’s dad recommended I try “three parts Hendrick’s, one part St. Germain, cucumber slices.”

I have searched the internet, and I can’t find evidence that this drink has a name.

While I’m trying to come up with something clever, you should go make yourself one. As with last month’s margaritas, please be sure to use small glasses.

Like, itty bitty.

What should we call this? The flavor can best be described as classy – cool and clean. The St. Germain takes the edge off the gin without making the drink overtly sweet. The drink’s preparation is straightforward – while researching this drink, I found variations that included making one’s own cucumber water, muddling mint leaves, and other fussy tasks. This can be ready to go in just a few minutes.

I think we should call it the Dowager Countess.

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Cocktail of the Month: June

It’s summer. Time for margaritas!

Margaritas will always be near and dear to my heart, because they played a guest-starring role in one of our favorite honeymoon adventures. Jason and I went to Cabo San Lucas for our honeymoon, and one night we decided to order a pitcher of margaritas with dinner at a local restaurant. The pitcher came with two very small glasses, which I thought odd. We quickly realized that these margaritas were authentic, i.e., super strong. No margarita mix involved. But we’d paid for the whole pitcher, and by God, we were going to drink the whole pitcher.

We took a cab back to the hotel that night.

Anyway.

Step one for making delicious margaritas is: throw away your bottle of fluorescent green margarita mix. You don’t need it!

You will need: Tequila, Cointreau (or Triple Sec), Lime Juice, and Simple Syrup.

First off, mix together some lime juice and simple syrup. I like about 2/3 juice to 1/3 syrup, but it’s up to you. If you like a sweeter drink, add more syrup. If you like to pucker, add less.

The drink ratio is as follows: 3 parts tequila, 2 parts Cointreau, and 1 part sweetened lime juice.

Probably a good idea to mix up a pitcher right now. Just make sure to serve it in small glasses.

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