Solving a Mystery and Making Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

It’s not about winning or losing, but love and respect. Max Lucado

Our little friend Twiggy is visiting us this week.  We thought Lou would enjoy having some company since he lost his pal Keats a few weeks ago. And truth be told, we needed the company as well.  Twiggy’s a tiny dog – she weighs abut 15 pounds and stands about a foot high.  She’s a mixture of Italian Greyhound and Rat Terrier, and so sweet! She loves running around in our fenced-in yard.  And when I say “fenced-in” I mean a 6-foot fence that extends into the ground.  So after she’d been here a day or two, my next door neighbor came over to report that Twiggy had been leaving “presents” in her yard. Which completely puzzled me, because we have a fenced-in yard. And just to reiterate, when I say “fenced-in” I mean a 6-foot fence. We talked for a bit and she added that the neighbor who lives behind us, across the alley, had chased her out of his yard several times. Now Twiggy can jump pretty high – she easily jumps up 3 feet onto the table by the window – so I thought she may have been getting out by jumping up on something by the fence (like the summer lawn furniture which is now stacked for the winter).  But I couldn’t understand how she could get back in if she was escaping. And frankly I was pretty sure there was another small black and white dog running around, because our neighborhood is full of dogs.  And neither neighbor had been able to catch her, although it was weird that it seemed like the only time there were “presents” was when Twiglet visits us. 

Well, yesterday I left Twiggs in the house and Lou and I went outside.  I was trying to see if there was somewhere she could get out. Jim decided to let her out because she was raising such a ruckus. She came shooting out the back door and jumped the fence.  THE SIX FOOT FENCE. Sailed over it like a bird. I was so shocked I almost didn’t believe what I had seen – but luckily the other neighbor and Jim both saw it.  Apparently the little fart’s been just jumping in and out at will, and apparently she doesn’t like to use her own backyard as a potty. Honestly, I can’t remember being that surprised – at least not for a very long time!! Unfortunately, she’ll jump over at any provocation, so now I’ve got to put her on a lead when she’s outside. And it has to be set up just right so she can’t jump the fence – I sure don’t want her hanging there if she tries it (not to fear – she’s got a harness so we don’t hook up to her collar).  But I need to keep her safe. There are lots of fast cars in our neighborhood.

Okay, it’s finally COLD out. We’ve had an absolutely amazing fall here in Minnesota, but like they say, “don’t like the weather in Minnesota?  No problem, just wait 5 minutes”. Today I went out for lunch at about noon – it was practically balmy at almost 50 degrees and sunny!  No wind to speak of, just a beautiful day.  I needed to have the window in the car open.  Five hours later I left work, and it was so windy and cold that I couldn’t even stand outside for a few minutes to talk to a friend! We even had to put a coat on the Twiglet since she’s practically naked.

And to add insult to injury, it’s dark out very early now (since daylight savings time switched over). I know it’s terrible, but I’m counting down the days until 12/21 – the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year. I love that day – the very next day the days start to get longer.  If you aren’t from Minnesota you may not understand the impact this has on being able to get through the coldest and snowiest part of the year. We’re being told this winter is going to be similar to last winter – when we broke records for snowfall amounts. After the Winter Solstice, as early as a month later, you can see a real difference in the light. My mom and step dad started wintering in Florida about 10 years ago.  At first I couldn’t understand why – but now, I completely see the point! I really think I’d love to live in Alaska in the summertime, when it’s light out for almost 24 hours. But Minnesota is a truly beautiful place to live, even in the dead of winter.

So tonight it’s going to be a chilling 23 degrees for the low temp. A perfect soup night! And one of my favorite soups is  Greek Lemon Chicken soup. You may recall that I made this for my Girl’s Games and Giving group in September.  It was a big hit, and I decided to make another batch.  This soup has a lovely lemon flavor.  I believe I found this recipe on All Recipes but I’m not sure. I do know that the original recipe called for double the amount of lemon juice, but I like the lemon flavor to be a bit more subtle.  Experiment – you may enjoy a more intense lemon flavor. I love to make BIG batches of soup when I do make it, because it’s great freezer food – I can take a frozen container for lunch and it acts like an ice pack in my lunch bag – but by the time lunch rolls around it’s thawed quite a bit, and I just have to nuke it for a minute or two.  This soup freezes nicely as long as you freeze it without any additions like rice or noodles.

Start with these simple ingredients.

Dice the onions and celery and grate the carrots.

You’ll need some white pepper (watch out, it’ll make you sneeze!)

Mix the veggies, pepper, chicken base, lemon juice and chicken stock together in a large heavy saucepan.  Cook until the veggies are tender – about 20 minutes or so.

While the veggies are cooking, you’ll need to gather eggs, flour, cooked chicken and butter. You can use rotisserie chicken if you like, or just cook some chicken breasts (I like to rub them with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and bake for about 45 minutes at 350°).

Separate the yolks from the whites, and save the whites for something else (you can freeze them!)

Beat the egg yolks until they lighten to a lemon yellow.

Mix together the flour and butter, and gradually add it to the soup, whisking constantly. After it’s mixed in thoroughly, simmer the soup for another 10 minutes or so to thicken it. Take some of the hot soup and pour slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly – this will temper the eggs so they won’t scramble.  Pour the eggs back into the soup and heat through.

Dice the chicken and add to the soup – heat through.

This soup is wonderful “as-is”, but I like it even better with rice. I make the rice separately and I don’t add it to the soup – this is because I like to freeze it – and cooked rice seems mushy to me after it’s been frozen.

Add the soup to the rice, and you have some warm and filling yumminess!

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh or reconstituted lemon juice (fresh is always better!)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 3 tablespoons chicken base (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken
  • cooked white rice

Directions:

  1. Combine the onions, celery, carrots, lemon juice, white pepper and chicken stock in a large, heavy saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Mix the flour and butter together into a smooth paste.  Gradually whisk this mixture into the simmering soup.  Continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes.
  4. Beat the egg yolks until they turn a light lemon color, about 60 seconds. Very gradually add about 1 cup of the hot soup to the egg yolks, whisking vigorously and constantly.  This tempers the eggs so they don’t scramble from the heat. 
  5. Pour the egg/soup mixture back into the the saucepan and cook several more minutes until heated through, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the chicken and heat through.
  7. Serve alone or over cooked rice.
  8. This soup can be frozen.

 

Chicken and Mushrooms – A Perfect Pairing!

Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a  few nuts. Unknown

My aunt Gail and uncle Larry from Oregon are here visiting my uncle Dave. Uncle Dave and uncle Larry are my Dad’s brothers.  Because my dad has been gone for many years, it’s really neat to spend time with his brothers. And auntie Gail is wonderful – we like a lot of the same things.  I don’t about other people, but I absolutely love interacting with my relatives as an adult with all the wonderful memories I have from being around them as a kid.  Larry and Gail visit about once a year, and it’s cause for many ruthless domino games.  I mean these boys are cutthroat!  Dominoes is a game of chance and strategy and the more players you have the harder the game gets. So you can imagine the table talk and insults that fly around as we’re playing. 

So today we had a hot and heavy series, punctuated by a hot meal and a fun dessert.  I wanted to make something special, but I completely lost my mind yesterday and spent the day being lazy. Actually, Jim went up north to my mom’s house and I stayed behind with our older dog, Keats, and our little visitor, Miss Twiggy.  I had every intention of baking all day long and getting ready for today, but having the house completely to myself somehow caused me to temporarily lose my mind, and the only thing I got done was washing and changing the bedding, and washing the couch cover.  Suddenly the washer was sitting in large pool of water; and while I suspected the issue was probably a clogged up lint screen, it seemed like a sign that I shouldn’t do anymore laundry. In fact, it seemed like a sign that I should lay around all day reading and taking naps.  So, I went with it.  I did take some chicken out to thaw, which turned out to be a very good thing.

I got home from church about 12:15, and since our original plan had been to eat at 2:30, I had to get cracking.  I decided to make one of my favorite meals – Chicken Breasts in Sherried Mushroom Cream Sauce – a recipe I found on the Internet several years ago.  And I was going to make a bar version of a banana cream pie but realized I wouldn’t have time, so instead, I made apple dumplings (the naughty kind made with Mountain Dew – naughty, but always a huge hit).  

And of course I was totally distracted while I was making this because my company was here and I was trying to be a good hostess, so there is a picture or two missing. But I don’t think it’s anything that will adversely affect anyone’s ability to make this!

Start with some boneless skinless chicken breasts and a meat pounder.  I like this part, it’s fun! You get to make a lot of noise and even work out some aggression.

 Now, here’s a small confession.  I forgot to take a picture before I pounded the chicken breasts, so this is a staged photo after I had already flattened this baby.  I just sort of bunched it up to make it look good.  And you know, chicken is just so…gishy.  I love eating it, but don’t really like touching it.  And not to be a freak, but I am crazy about cleaning up when working with chicken.  With bleach. I don’t touch the faucet with my dirty hands, and I have one of those automatic soap dispensers. I don’t want anyone getting sick.  So, put the chicken breasts (you can do two at a time), in a heavy duty Ziplock gallon bag. I like these because you can seal them, and it keeps little bits of chicken gish from flying around and getting stuck on everything.

Now, using the flat side of the pounder, flatten that chicken.  You don’t have to hit it really hard, but be firm.  This tenderizes it beautifully.  They should be about 1/4″ thick. When you get to the last two, put some butter and olive oil in a pan and heat it up over medium heat.  Preheat the oven to 200°.

Salt and pepper to taste, and dredge in flour on both sides.

 

Now saute them, but make sure not to crowd them in the pan.  Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until nicely golden brown.

Just like this. Mmm, they smell wonderful. Put them in a pan and put that pan in the oven to keep them nice and warm.

 Okay, now once you’ve got the chicken browned, get out these ingredients.  Dice up the shallots and brush and slice your onions.  Also, pretend there’s a container of chicken stock in the picture.

Leave a little oil in the bottom of the pan and throw in the shallots.  Cook them for a minute or two over medium high heat.

 Then put in the mushrooms and cook about three minutes. I know this looks like a lot of mushrooms – but keep in mind I tripled the recipe.  Next, put in the sherry.  Look back at the picture of the shallots. See all the brown stuff in the bottom of the pan?  That’s called “fond” and it’s just a fancy way of saying “cooked on bits”.  Fond adds lots of flavor, but you have to get it off the bottom.  And alcohol does that job perfectly – that’s called “deglazing”.  Plus the sherry adds a beautiful flavor and depth.  You’re going to cook it until the sherry’s almost completely evaporated. Now here’s where I kind of lost it – because sometimes I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, and I had a house full of company.  No picture, but now you pour in the cream and the chicken stock, and let it reduce for about 10 minutes.  Finish by pouring it over the chicken, and serve.

And here’s the final product!  I served it with sticky white rice and green beans with shallots sauted in olive oil.  And then we finished up with apple dumplings.

Chicken Breasts in Mushroom Cream Sauce:

  • 4 boneless/skinless chicken breast halves
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sherry
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

Directions:

Place the chicken breasts, two at a time, into heavy gallon sized zip bags.  Pound with the flat side of a meat tenderizer until about 1/4″ thick.  Alternatively, use a heavy skillet.

Place the butter and olive oil into a large heavy sauce or frying pan and heat over medium high heat. Preheat the oven to 200°, and get out a 9 x 13 casserole pan.

Salt and pepper to taste and dredge in flour, and then place in the hot pan.  Don’t crowd the chicken breasts.  Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. When done, place in the casserole pan and put the pan in the oven to keep warm.  If they are going to be in the oven for more than 15 minutes, cover tightly with foil and reduce oven temperature to 175°.

Without cleaning the pan the chicken was sauteed in, add the diced shallots and cook for a minute or two. 

Add sliced mushrooms and cook for two or three minutes, then add the sherry.  Cook until the sherry is almost completely gone, and then add the whipping cream and chicken stock.  Cook an additional five or ten minutes, allowing the whipping cream to boil and thicken.

Pour mushroom sauce over the chicken and serve.


Hey, That’s Nacho Nacho That’s My Nacho

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.  Romans 15:7

My cousin Troy and his beautiful bride Nickie work for the government, and they get postings in all sorts of exotic locales.  For about the past year they’ve been living in Doha Qatar, which when pronouned sounds like “dough ha cutter”.  Qatar is an Arab emirate (ruled by an emir) in the Middle East, sharing a border with Saudi Arabia.  It’s fascinating listening to the stories about how different it is there. 

For one thing, there’s very little greenery.  Grass or lawn is really hard to come by, and it’s a hot property. Apparently it’s not unusual for someone to take the lawn when someone moves out of their home. They actually had to have someone watch their house so no one would take their lawn!  And of course, there are different rules about how to dress – women cannot show their bare shoulders or their knees. And you can’t get any pork there – they have beef bacon instead of pork bacon.

So you can imagine how much they miss the food they grew up with, and the restaurants they love. There are fast food restaurants in Doha, but not great “sit-down” restaurants.  So when my cuz and his wife were here for 3 weeks, they had a list of restaurants they wanted to visit.  Nickie’s a foodie like me, but she’s young and slim.  She’s an awesome cook and I sure love talking to her about recipes and such. One of the places on the list was Green Mill, and we all went out to dinner there one night.  Actually, we were celebrating a rather momentous occasion – it was my Uncle Dave’s birthday!

I haven’t eaten at Green Mill for quite awhile, and, as usual, the food was wonderful (as was the company).  We had some appetizers, including these outstanding nachos.  They were made with pulled chipotle chicken and they were scrumptious. I’ve been craving them ever since and decided to try to make my own version. And they turned out to be really good!  I made the tortillas from scratch because they’re so much better that way (I love them fresh off the griddle with butter and sugar – kind of a corn version of lefse which is another favorite).  You can whip up a batch of tortillas in about 30 minutes or less, but since I screw around while I’m cooking it takes me longer to do stuff.

So thanks Green Mill for the wonderful inspiration; and thanks to Olha at Food.com  for the Chipotle Pulled Chicken Recipe.

For the tortillas, all you need is a tortilla press and some fine ground masa (corn flour).  You could use a heavy pan as a press if you like, but I really like the tortilla press and they’re relatively inexpensive – around $15.00.  If you’re going to make them frequently, it’s worth it to buy the press. Add a little salt if you like, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Mix about 2 cups of flour with about 1-3/4 cups of water.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt if you like. You may need more water.  You don’t want the dough to crack when you’re working with it -then it’s too dry.  But you don’t want it so sticky that you can’t get it off your fingers.  It should be the consistency of Play Doh.  Mix it together and knead it a bit.

Roll them into balls, about the size of a golf ball.

Cover them with a damp paper towel.

 Put a piece of plastic wrap over each side of your tortilla press, and place a round of dough on the bottom slightly offset toward the hinge.

 Press down, and put some muscle into it!

Yup, you did it!  Now peel that beauty off the plastic and put it on a hot griddle (I use my non-stick pancake griddle preheated to about 375°, but you could also use a frying pan over medium high to high heat). 

Let it get some nice brown spots.

Now let’s make the chicken.  Start with chicken breasts, chicken stock, salt, onion, garlic and cilantro.

Chop some onion and garlic (I like to use a garlic press because I’m lazy and I don’t have to peel the garlic!). Onions don’t have to be too fine.

Put the chicken breasts, chicken stock, onions, garlic, some salt and a few sprigs of cilantro into a pan and simmer for about 20 minutes until the juices run clear.

While the chicken is cooking, gather up some salt, oil, diced tomatoes (or whole, doesn’t matter), some chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, some garlic, and some onion. Ignore the cilantro, I just got carried away (I LOVE cilantro – isn’t it funny, it seems like people either love it or hate it, no real middle ground there – but the smell is heavenly!).

Finely chop some onion, crush the garlic, and cook all of it in a couple tablespoons of oil over medium heat, until the onions and garlic are translucent.

In the meantime, in a blender or food processor, combine the tomatoes, tomato paste, and chipotle peppers.  Now, there is one caveat.  I don’t like it when the peppers are so hot that you can’t taste the other flavors.  So I take the chipotle peppers out of the can, and scrape the seeds out.  That way I get spicy but not too hot.  If you like it hotter, leave all or some of the seeds in.  I also add a couple spoonfuls of the adobe sauce which is also spicy but adds a wonderful smokiness that I really enjoy.

Puree until smooth, and add it to the onion mixture. Cook over medium heat until it reduces by about half. It’ll get nice and thick.

Take the chicken out and discard the broth, onions and cilantro.  Let it cool for a few minutes.

Use two forks to pull the chicken.

Make a big pile!

Mix the chicken into the sauce.

Mmmm mmmm my my.

 Heat up some peanut or vegetable oil in a large frying pan.  When it’s hot, cut the tortillas in half and fry them until they’re light golden brown. 

 Drain them on paper towels. You can salt them a little when they are still hot (I didn’t, but you can!).

 Make some Pico De Gallo – use equal amounts of onion and cilantro, and slightly more tomato.  Add as much jalapeno as you’d like (again, with seeds, much hotter – your choice).

 

 Squeeze in some garlic – a clove or two…

Some fresh lime juice – 1/2 to 1 lime – and salt to taste.

Grate some pepper jack, monterey jack and cheddar cheese.

Place the tortilla chips on a pan (I covered it with non-stick foil – easy peasy clean up!) and pile on some chipotle chicken.

 Add some of each cheese and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted.

Serve hot with pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole. Now you will notice there is no guacamole here. It was late, I was hungry and lazy and I chose to just eat slices of avocado.  Now this was good, but it would have been better with guacamole. Just so ya know.

Chipotle Chicken Nachos

Ingredients:

Tortillas:

  • 2 cups fine ground masa flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, if desired
  • water

Chicken:

  • 1-1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Chicken stock
  • 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of cilantro
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt

Chipotle Sauce:

  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  •  1 – 28 ounce can of tomatoes
  • 2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pico de Gallo
  • 1/2 finely chopped onion
  • 2 medium size tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1 chopped jalapeno, with or without seeds depending upon your individual preference
  • 2 cloves minced or crushed garlic
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Nacho Assemblage Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup each monterey jack, pepper jack and cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onion

Directions:

Tortillas:

  • Heat electric griddle to 375°, or use a frying pan over medium high to high heat.
  • Mix together fine ground masa, salt and water.  Knead well.  The dough should have the consistency of Play Doh
  • Roll into golf ball sized rounds.  Cover with a damp paper towel.
  • Press balls of dough using a tortilla press lined with plastic wrap or using the bottom of a heavy pan covered in plastic.
  • Carefully peel the tortilla from the plastic and cook until golden brown. 

Nacho Chips:

  • Cut the tortillas in half.  Heat about 1″ of oil in a medium to large frying pan, and fry the tortillas until golden brown. 
  • Drain on paper towels.  You may add salt at this point if you like.

Chipotle Chicken:

  • Combine chicken breasts, roughly chopped onion, 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh cilantro, and salt in a heavy medium size saucepan.  Cover with chicken stock.
  •  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a heavy simmer.  Cook, covered, for about 20 minutes or until chickn is cooked through (juices will run clear).
  • Remove chicken breasts from pan and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  • When cool, use 2 forks to pull or shred the chicken.

Sauce:

  • While the chicken is cooking, begin sauce assembly.  Combine finely chopped onions and minced garlic in a frying pan with about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Cook over medium heat until the onions and garlice are translucent. 
  • Combine the tomatoes, tomato paste, cseeded hipotle peppers, adobe sauce and salt (if desired), in a blender or food processor and puree.  If you want the sauce hotter, use the chipotle peppers without removing the seeds and add additional adobe sauce from the can. You could also add additional peppers if desired.
  • Pour the tomato mixture into the pan with the onion mixture, and bring to a simmer.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced.  Add chicken and mix well.

Pico de Gallo:

  • In a medium size bow, mix together the chopped onion, chopped cilantro, chopped tomatoes, minced garlic and chopped jalapeno.
  • Add the juice of 1/2 a lime (or more if you like) and season to taste with salt.  You can make this a couple hours ahead of time if you want to let the flavors blend a bit, but it’s also great right away).

Assemble the Nachos!

  • Heat oven to broil and line a baking sheet with non-stick foil.
  • Place tortilla chips on the baking sheet without overlapping, and add about 1-/2 tablespoons of chipotle chicken to each.
  • Put about 1/2 tablespoon each of monterey jack, pepper jack and cheddar cheese on each chip (or more if you like them extra cheesy!)
  • Broil for 1 to 2 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  When the come out of the oven, transfer to a plate and sprinkle with chopped green onion.
  • Serve warm with sour cream, pico de gallo and guacamole (also salsa if you like).  By the way, these are pretty good cold the next day, too!

 

You Say Tomato I Say Tomahto

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

I get a real kick out of cooking for people.  It gives me such joy to prepare a beautiful meal or a special treat for the people in my life and watch their faces light up if they like what I’ve made.  And I really appreciate honest comments about what I’ve made – I want to know if it needs work.  I also love cooking for my husband, who is an awesome cook in his own right. He’s an interesting fellow, to say the least. He’s older than me, and he’s kind of an old hippie (and trust me, I mean that in the most loving way).  He’s certainly taught me a lot about reusing stuff (possibly we have gone too far in that particular direction).

Here he is in the ’60s on a bike he built. Do you see what I mean about hippie? I love it.  Wish I had known him then!

Jim, I think, would eat dog food if I used enough onions and garlic.  But on the same token, he can be really picky. He gave his Mom a load of grief one morning while we were all up at the cabin  – she had made the mistake *gasp* of using margarine to cook hashbrowns.  Jim’s discerning taste buds realized the deception immediately (actually, he saw the margarine box on the counter). Now, his mama was small, but she was feisty.  I loved her to death and still miss her terribly. But, back to the story.  So Pat (his mom), tells Jim she’ll make a new batch just for him with BUTTER and the rest of us will torture ourselves with the horrible margarine hashbrowns.  He watches while she puts a big dollop of butter in the pan and starts cooking the hashbrowns, then he heads outside to do something or other with the boat while he waits for his breakfast to get done. The second he’s out the door, Pat dumped in a big dollop of margarine along with the butter (and then looked at me and cackled).  He never had a clue (that is until now!). 

And for goodness sakes you DO NOT want to be at a restaurant with this guy when he starts quizzing the waitress about whether or not they have “real” butter. “Do you serve real butter here?”.  “Yes, we do.”. “Not that stuff that’s whipped, but real butter”. “Well, our butter is whipped but it is real butter” (this said with a sort of question mark at the end because now he’s confusing her). “No, I want the butter that comes in pats – real butter”.  “Let me check and see if we have any”(at this point she’s nervously edging away from the table as subtly as possible), then, “Do you serve real maple syrup?”. You get the picture.

One day I made Swedish meatballs and I’d doctored up the recipe a bit because I was trying to recreate a recipe from a restaurant we used to go to when I was a kid. Jim gets home, and starts eating them (and the man can eat – he’s rail thin and tall and I have truly never seen anyone who can pack it away like him – I would love to have his metabolism). He literally ate about 40 of them (they were pretty small, but still) and raved about how good they were.  About a month later I told him I would either make homemade chicken pot pie or meatballs, and he said, “Not the meatballs, I didn’t care for those that much”.  I had to explain to him that it’s okay to tell me if he doesn’t like something, preferably WHILE HE’S EATING IT, not weeks later. At least it was good for a laugh!

I love almost any recipe that includes tomatoes (fresh, cooked, sun-dried, roasted, it simply doesn’t matter).  Sometimes I make a deconstructed BLT – using croutons, mayonnaise (with a little lemon for a pop of flavor), crumbled bacon, lettuce, and of course, tomatoes!  Lovely tomatoes!

A while ago I found a recipe on the Williams-Sonoma website (www.williamssoma.com) and just slightly modified it.  It has a similar feel  to my deconstructed BLT salad, but I’m sure it’s miles healthier. Well, maybe not because it can involve fried chicken.  Also, I almost always add nice crispy crumbled bacon to this recipe because it’s so yummy!  I made this one the other day and I was out of bacon (can you imagine!) but it still tasted fab.

Start with this stuff – you can certainly make your own croutons, but I really like this Texas Toast brand. The basil is missing, but Jim (again) went to the store for me.  He is so good about that and I am such a dork. Also, I didn’t take a picture of the oil, but you’re going to want to fill a large pan with about 2″ of oil and heat it to about 350°.

You’ll also need chicken and bread crumbs.  Does anyone else get a little yuckked out with chicken?  I don’t know, I love to eat it but it’s icky to handle.  To quote Owen Meany, “It gives me the shivers”.  But once it’s cooked – yes ma’am.

Cut the tomatoes into bite size or slightly larger pieces.  Do you know we’ve already had a tomato from the garden? That’s a reason to be grateful for hot summer nights! (* I know there are other reasons but this is G rated blog, kids). Add some rough chopped basil to the tomatoes.  Mix up the dressing and pour about 1/2 of it on the tomatoes and mix well.

Cut the chicken up into uniform cubes, about 3/4″, and roll them in the bread crumbs. Cook them in the hot oil until golden brown – I did about 1/3 at a time so they would cook evenly. I didn’t take a picture because I’m not tall enough to hold the camera high enough over the pan, and I didn’t want to get oil on it.  And there is no way I’m going to balance on a chair over a pot of boiling oil.  I’m just sayin’.

The original recipe mixes everything together, but I like it separate like this.  Pour additional dressing on it before eating it.

Here it is all mixed up!  Like me!

 Tomatoes and Bread with Chicken Bites*

*If you’re in a big hurry, you can use cut up fried chicken from the deli counter

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups croutons, homemade or ready made
  • 6 large tomatoes, cut into bite size pieces or slightly larger
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 6 slices crisp cooked bacon, crumbled
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • Plain bread crumbs
  • Vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Pour 2 inches of vegetable or peanut oil into a deep frying or saute pan. Preheat to 350°.
  2. Mix together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and sugar.  Shake or stir well.
  3. Pour half the salad dressing over the tomato basil mixture to marinate.
  4. Add bacon if using.
  5. Cut the chicken into bite size pieces, about 3/4″ cubes, and roll in the bread crumbs. If you like, you can season the chicken first with a bit of salt or seasoning salt. 
  6. Fry the chicken in 3 batches in the heated oil until golden brown.  Drain on a paper towel lined plate.
  7. Either mix the chicken, croutons and tomatoes together in one bowl or serve as a deconstructed salad with a pile of each on the plate.  Drizzle additional dressing on the croutons and chicken.


Big Chicken Salad

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. And are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:26

June 21st is long gone, and that means we are losing daylight bit by bit, which I’ve started to notice – especially in the morning.  It isn’t much, but when you get up very early in the morning like I do, it’s definitely noticeable.  My favorite part of spring and summer is the early sunrise coupled withe the sound of the birds chirping like crazy in morning.  It reminds me of all the summers I’ve enjoyed and it’s a wonderful way to wake up.

My least favorite sounds are thunder and fireworks.  Now don’t get me wrong – I love a good thunderstorm (although I almost always sleep right through them if I’m not disturbed by someone else) and fireworks are just a fabulous part of warm weather fun. That is, unless you happen to have a big hairy dog who is terrified of storms!

We adopted Lou from Midwest Border Collie Rescue – a great organization.  Lou was about a year old and he’d had a rough time of it.  It took a long time for him to come around and feel confident, but he’s never gotten over his fear of storms.  He’s a little hard of hearing which is a bit of a blessing when we’re dealing with storms or fireworks.  And every city around here has some kind of “days” – Duk Duk Days; Crystal Frolics; Whiz Bang Days…you get the picture.  And they all shoot off fireworks.  We can deal with that, because they’re always done by about 10:30 and we can keep Lou occupied with a tennis ball.

Let me get off track here and tell you a little about Louie’s almost complete OCD obsession with tennis balls.  Anyone who has a border collie probably knows exactly what I’m talking about – there aren’t any sheep to herd so they have to find a substitute.  But even among border collies, Lou’s tennis ball obsession is legendary. Shortly after Lou came to live with use, the rescue organization had a get together/fund raising event for everyone who wanted to attend.

One of the things they did to raise money was to sell numbered tennis balls.  The idea was that they wrote down your number, and then all the balls were spread out in a field.  Then you send out a border collie to get one and bring it back, and whoever owned that ball won a prize.  The obvious choice for optimal tennis ball retrieval was Louis.  So I sent him out into the field of tennis balls, confident he would be back very quickly with a winner.  What no one counted on was Lou’s reaction to being in a field of over 200 tennis balls!  He’d pick up one, drop it, pick up another, drop it, pick up another, drop it – I think you see where I’m going here.  After about 20 minutes it was obvious we had cleverly laid a trap to drive the poor bugger completely nuts!

My point is, that no matter how scared Lou gets, we can always get him to ignore the scary stuff if we play ball with him.  The trouble is, there is no one in my house who wants to toss a tennis ball to a strung out border collie at 3AM! So, we drug him.  I give him Benedryl.  Now, before you get freaked out by this, I have the blessing of the vet and I have done extensive research on it – it’s very nearly impossible to overdose on Benedryl, and I only give him 2. It just takes the edge off a little bit so he can go to sleep.

So today I was thinking about what a big chicken he is and how glad I am he’s here, because he’s also a big cuddly guy who loves to be loved. So in honor of Louie, I made a yummy chicken salad.  Now I need to warn you, this is one of those recipes that I’ve been making forever and it changes based on the ingredients that I have, so the recipe is not super precise.  But I’ll try.

These are the ingredients I decided to use this time. To cook the chicken, I drizzled some really good olive oil over it, and added a little salt and pepper.  Then I baked it for about 50 minutes at 350°.  Delish!

I chopped up some green onion and celery, grated some Jarlsberg cheese, and mixed it with some Marcona almonds and some dried cranberries. Now, you may wonder why I would use dried cranberries considering I hate raisins. I believe the only thing that cranberries and raisins have in common is that they are both dried. Raisins are yucky, dried cranberries are not. Also, just for the record, I’m not particularly fond of fresh cranberries but I do love grapes – especially frozen grapes!

  Then cut the chicken up into bite sized pieces.  Mix some mayo with lemon juice (fresh is always better and you can add some zest, too but I was out of lemons so used the kind that comes in a bottle).  Add some basil – again, fresh is better but I was out, so I went with the dried kind. Make sure to crush it in the palm of your hand before you put it in the mayo – this helps release the oils and makes it more flavorful.  By the way, I just want you to know that as I’m typing this we are having a very loud thunderstorm.  I have to keep pushing the ball off the table to keep Lou occupied. In the meantime, brave little Keats just casually went outside for a few minutes.

Okay, this is really good.  Really really good.

Here’s a close up – mouth watering!

Chicken Salad

Ingredients (all are approximate, adjust to your personal taste):

  • 2.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (or whatever parts you prefer)
  • 1 bunch of green onions
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 3/4 dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup Marcona almonds (substitute whatever nut you prefer, or leave them out entirely)
  • 1-1/2 cups grated Jarlsberg cheese
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice (if using fresh lemon, add some zest, too)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons crushed dried basil; or fresh basil – chiffonade
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook chicken – drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and cook at 350° for about 50 minutes or until the juices run clear.  Let cool completely, and cut into bite size pieces.
  2. Mix together onions, celery, cranberries, almonds, grated cheese and diced chicken.
  3. Mix mayonnaise with lemon juice, lemon zest (if using), basil, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with the chicken mixture.
  4. You can enjoy this right away, or refrigerate it for an hour to allow the flavors to blend.  This is wonderful with a side of fresh fruit.