Spring Teases Us and a Refresher on How to Cook and Extend a Roasted Chicken

To say this week has been busy would be a severe understatement. In addition to my regular work, I’m learning how to do web site design. It’s really fun, but lots to learn and do. When I have this kind of a week, I tend to focus more on cooking my old standards and less on experimenting with anything new. Are you like that?

I did take a needed break on Monday and went for a walk to enjoy an amazing spring-like day. It was just a tease, though, as the temps have now returned to more normal and winter-like cold, but there were definitely signs that spring is on it’s way. Let me share a few pics to brighten your day:

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Last Friday there was a sale on whole organic chickens, and faced with that lovely prospect, you know I couldn’t resist. Yes, roasted chicken was on the menu. And much like in the Tale of the Little Chicken That Could, posted a couple of years ago, I made an Herb Roasted Chicken first. The next night, I stripped off the remaining meat and instead of making the Individual Chicken Pot Pies, I used the meat to make my Easy Chicken Enchiladas Verdes for the next two nights’ meals. This chicken made exceptionally good enchiladas.

Last night, I combined the stripped chicken carcass with veggies, herbs and water to make a rich Homemade Chicken Stock, which you can see in the photo at the end of this post. I’ll use it to make a lovely risotto and/or a soup later in the week, and share that in my next post. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll click on the individual dish title links in bold above, and check out ideas for cooking and using chicken, as well as enjoy the story I wound around the dishes—if you haven’t read it already.

Here’s my study partner in all of her almost 15 pound glory…Miss Thumbelina, for a giggle.

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New dishes will be on tap for the next post, I promise. Have a great week and may spring be on its way for us all!

This stock has such a rich color and taste...I can't wait to use it in my next dishes!

This stock has such a rich color and taste…I can’t wait to use it in my next dishes!

Mock Maque Choux (Gesundheit)

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Today’s post is literally short and sweet, and just in time for the Labor Day holiday here.

It’s another little recipe for using fresh corn off the cob, one based on a traditional Cajun recipe, but mine took a small departure with the ingredients I had on hand, and hence its name: “Mock” Maque Choux. For one thing, I wanted some of that smoky flavor you get with using sausage or pork in this dish, but I had no sausage. What I did have was chipotles in adobo, and since the adobo sauce has some smoky heat that goes so well with sweet…how about that as a substitute?

In the end, this is a vegetarian version that acts as more of a side dish, but you could easily add some andouille sausage or tasso, or top it with some grilled shrimp to this if you like. Meat or no, it’s a wonderful, sweet, spicy and rich corn preparation, perfect for a holiday grill out or any time.

“Mock” Maque Choux
Makes 6 servings

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ears of fresh corn, husks and silks removed
1/2 of a peeled and finely diced red onion
1 cup of finely diced celery
1 small orange bell pepper (or you can use red or green), seeded and finely diced
1 1/2 Tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle chilis
2 Tablespoons of finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt A few grinds of fresh black pepper
1 1/2 cups small diced grape tomatoes
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves
Additional chiffonade of basil leaves for garnish

Cut the kernels of corn off the cob with a sharp knife into a bowl, cutting about 3/4 through each kernel. Take the reserved cobs and scrape the back of your knife down the cob to extract any milk, letting it run into a separate small bowl. Reserve the corn milk.

Melt the butter in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat. Add the corn, onion, celery, bell pepper, adobo sauce, thyme, a couple of grinds of black pepper and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic, tomatoes, corn milk, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, if desired, and a bit more freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a garnish of more fresh basil and enjoy!

*****

This is our other kitty girl, Cinderella. She is very flighty and hard to snap. She's pretty disgusted with staying in the basement while the workmen are here.

This is our other kitty girl, Cinderella. She is very flighty and hard to snap. She’s pretty disgusted with staying in the basement while the workmen are here.

Pizza Bolognese

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Seriously, I could eat this pizza every day and be a very happy camper! It is the ultimate comfort food.

When you have a really busy day or work day and you find yourself facing starting dinner at 7:30 p.m., what do you do? Well, you can go out for dinner—and sometimes that’s the best way to decompress from your day. Or you can make what you’d planned to make and eat at about 9:30 or 10 p.m. But, if you have some pre-made pizza dough or crust in your fridge or freezer, a delicious pizza can be only a few short minutes away. I love making pizza, either planned in advance or as a quick go-to because, much like a frittata, it is a great way to use and enjoy leftover meats and veggies in your fridge.

The pizza I’m going to show you today, however, happens to be one that is far from using leftovers, because this little pizza features the most amazing bolognese sauce I’ve ever tasted. And why wouldn’t it be? After all it’s a family recipe from one of my favorite bloggers, Chicago John of the Bartolini Kitchens, and I really encourage you to click on his Sugo alla Bolognese to see how to make it for yourself. John’s instructions are easy and thorough, so I will just show you the three stages of my sauce below, the beginning meat and veg, the middle simmer and the decadent and rich finished sauce. It’s a relaxing process, one during which I felt almost like I had John and Zia in the kitchen with me looking over my shoulder, and the result is SO worth the time. Making this sugo has completely changed my ideas about how a truly great pasta sauce really deserves a homemade pasta to go with it. So now I’m looking forward to trying John’s method for different homemade pastas and breaking in my new pasta machine…stay tuned.

Meanwhile, back to how this sauce and the pizza came together. I made this fabulous bolognese for the first time last weekend and we enjoyed it so much that it was hard not to just eat it straight out of the pot when it was done! After we feasted on this sugo with purchased pasta, I froze some for later (hopefully to go with my own homemade pasta) and I also put about a cup or two of it in the fridge to have ready for a quick lunch or dinner when I needed it. Then I started thinking about all the dishes I’d ever tasted that involved Bolognese sauce, and how inferior they were to the real deal. Most recently, I’d had a pizza “Bolognese” from a local pizzeria, which was nothing of the sort since it didn’t actually have a meat sauce on it. That’s when it hit me. I could stretch out my cup of sauce by trying it on a pizza. (John, I hope this doesn’t make you cringe.) And it was truly transformative! Even using a pre-made crust on a busy night, it tasted better than you could possibly imagine…unless you’ve made this bolognese sauce yourself.

So here’s my version of a Pizza Bolognese, and I hope you will try it by making some of John’s Bolognese. It really ticks all the little comfort food boxes for me. From now on, whenever I make Sugo alla Bolognese, there will be a portion assigned to a pizza, too!


Pizza Bolognese
Makes 6 slices

1 – 12-inch ready to use pizza crust
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup of Chicago John’s Sugo alla Bolognese, warmed, (or in a pinch, you can use a high quality purchased bolognese meat sauce, or a marinara with your own cooked and crumbled Italian sausage added to it, which will be good, but not Pizza Bolognese!)
6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and small diced
1/3 to 1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced crosswise
4 oz. white button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
4 oz. buffalo mozzarella cut into small pieces, about 3/4 – 1 inch in size
A fresh grating of fresh parmigiano reggiano (optional)

Garnish: A sprinkling of fresh arugula leaves (optional)

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees F with your pizza stone in the center of the oven, or if you’re using a cookie sheet or pizza pan, place your rack in the center of the oven.

Place your prepared crust on a pizza peel sprinkled with a little cornmeal, or directly on the cookie sheet or pizza pan, if using that. Sprinkle the olive oil onto the crust and rub it around the edges with your hands and over the surface, distributing as evenly as possible. Next, spread your Sugo alla Bolognese sauce evenly over the pizza. I like to spoon mine out in quadrants, then spread it. Sprinkle the sun-dried tomatoes evenly over the sauce, then the red onion slices, then the mushrooms. Top the pizza with the mozzarella, spacing it evenly across the surface. Grate some parmigiano reggiano over the top of the pizza, if you like, it is terrific with and without.

Place the pizza onto the hot stone (I usually sprinkle a little more cornmeal on the hot stone before I place the pizza on it to bake), or place your cookie sheet or a pizza pan with the pizza into the oven. Bake the pizza for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese has browned but not burned and the crust is a golden brown, too. Remove the pizza from the oven (with the peel if you’re using one), and slide it onto a cutting surface. Cut into 6 slices and serve.

Note: If you like a little salad on your pizza, you can sprinkle the top with a few leaves of peppery fresh arugula…again it’s nice with, or without!

If you like, you can add a sprinkle of fresh arugula leaves to the finished pizza for a little peppery bite!

*****
And on another note: Tomorrow we actually start work on replacing the chimney…two weeks after I said it would begin. All should go fast now, relatively speaking, which means about 4-5 weeks of work and contractors coming and going. Fortunately we have our kitty kids to help us put this in perspective!

When your feeling stressed and like your world is upside down, it's good to have Thumbelina help you put things into perspective!

When you’re feeling stressed and like your world is upside down, it’s good to have Thumbelina help you put things into perspective!

Longer Days, Lighter Meals and a Little Anniversary!

Kicked back watching the fisherman on Lake Winfield Scott.

Kicked back watching the fisherman on Lake Winfield Scott.

The longer and hotter days of Spring and Summer always make me feel that it’s time to start lightening up a bit! While I like fall and winter produce and the dishes inspired by those seasons, I do so look forward to this sunny time of year and all the juicy fruits, berries and summer vegetables that come with it. I get very excited anticipating the delicious and more veggie-and-fruit-centric dishes I can make and eat for the next 3 or 4 months.

Recently, my husband and I decided that eating more fruit and veggies during the day, and adding meat and dairy to that with our evening meal, is a great way to help us stay healthy. Mark Bittman*, a respected American food writer, one of my favorite cookbook authors and a columnist with the New York Times, has just published a book to that effect called VB6 (Eat Vegan Before 6). In the book, he proposes that eating a mostly plant-based diet can have massive health benefits for people and the planet, and his sustainable approach for achieving this goal is to eat no animal products or by-products before 6 p.m., then eat whatever you want after that. Of course there’s a bit more to it, but that’s the concept, plain and simple. If you find this idea as intriguing as I did, you can read more about his strategy in his book or on his website. We all know that eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains is good for our bodies and may aid in maintaining our weight or even losing some, so spending two-thirds of my eating day focused on that idea as a habit, then getting my cheese and/or meat fix at dinner—possibly with a dessert or an adult beverage—sounds like a win-win situation to me!

If left to my own devices, I will end up looking just like this!

Getting enough sleep is important, too, as is rolling around on ones’ back.

Perhaps what I like best about Mr. Bittman’s sensible approach is that he recognizes the fact that we all know we will stray sometimes…like when you’re on vacation or have circumstances where you just can’t eat this way for a day, or a week. Or you may find that you stray all the time because you just can’t live without dairy in your coffee and nut milk doesn’t do it for you. And that’s okay, it’s a personal choice and part of enjoying your life and food, in general. My take away from all of this is that it’s something I can easily enjoy doing, something I think I can live with and hopefully enjoy some health benefits in the process.

All this to say that you may, or may not, notice a slight sea-change to the recipes featured on this blog. In fact I think that mostly you won’t notice much change, other than perhaps a higher fruit and veggie-to-meat ratio within certain dishes as time goes on.

Unless, of course, we are on vacation, in which case all bets are off!

So vibrantly colored...and vibrantly flavored, too!

So vibrantly colored…and vibrantly flavored, too!

Today I’m sharing a version of the universally beloved Tabbouleh salad, for which everyone has their own variation. This one is slightly adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe and it’s terrific for lunch or dinner, has lots of flavor, texture and crunch. We took this on our annual June mountain trip for my husband’s birthday this past weekend—along with some cheese and sausages of course—and enjoyed it picnic-style while lounging near Lake Winfield Scott in North Georgia. Add some fish or meat to this dish if you like, but I generally prefer my Tabbouleh either straight up as a salad, as a component of a mezze platter or as a side to a meat, chicken or fish entree. Regardless of how you choose to eat this, I hope you enjoy.

*Please Note: I am not promoting Mark Bittman, his book VB6, or being compensated to mention either one! I’m just sharing because I want to do so.

Tabbouleh (Slightly adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe)
Makes 4 generous servings

3/4 cup medium-grind bulgur
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice of two juicy lemons
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
1 dry pint grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 large English cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 large celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
6 scallions, thinly sliced white and pale green parts, plus 2 tablespoons of green
10 pitted green Greek olives or other, chopped
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan with a cover. Remove the water from the heat, stir in the bulgur and cover. Allow it to sit until the grain is tender, about 15 minutes. If any water remains in the pot, strain it, pressing on the bulgur to remove as much water as possible. Place the bulgur in a large mixing bowl and toss with the olive oil and lemon juice. Add the salt and pepper and toss again. Add the remaining ingredients and toss well to combine and coat. Taste for seasoning and add a bit more salt and pepper and lemon juice if desired. Serve at room temp. Keeps in the fridge for 3 days.

Thumbelina and Cinderella say "Happy Anniversary, Mom" and "Keep the dairy coming!."

Thumbelina and Cinderella say Happy Anniversary, Mom, and keep the dairy coming!

And on another important note, this week marks my 2-year blogging Anniversary!

Wow, how the time does fly. I do hope that you all have enjoyed the first two years of this blog, and that you will stay with me for another two and see where the trail leads us next. Here’s a look back at some of my favorite dishes from this past year with links to the recipes, just in case you missed a few. Cheers!

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?

Did I mention this is great for breakfast, too?

Blackberry, Lemon and Almond Snackin’ Cake!

Lentils

French Lentilicious Salad.

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Now THIS is a southern plate of food that makes me grin like a Cheshire Cat!

Firecracker Slaw and Corn with Chipotle butter…perfect for the 4th of July!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

With such a fiesta of color, this dish just has to be good!

The now infamous Betsy’s Famous Black Bean Mango Salad…a pot luck special.

Fresh from the oven, Clafouti is puffed and bubbly!

Fresh from the oven, Clafouti is puffed and bubbly!

Julia Child’s classic Clafouti with cherries was a perfect way to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

I look at this and all I can think about is making the next one!

I look at this and all I can think about is making the next one!

This Summer Squash and Tomato Galette features some of my favorite veggies and an olive oil crust to boot.

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Betsy’s Retro Cheese Olive Bites and Martha Stewart’s Bacon Wrapped Dates, the MOST pinned recipes from this past year!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini...need I say more? But I will!

Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini…need I say more? But I will!

Probably my second most pinned recipe from this past year, Tarragon Pecan Chicken Salad on Brioche Crostini.

The color change of the layers in the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph, but you can see whatever it is, it's a pretty color in candlelight!

The color change of the layers in the Kir Royale are so subtle, they are hard to photograph, but you can see whatever it is, it’s a pretty color in candlelight!

Kir Royale…a very celebratory cocktail.

Almost ready!

Almost ready!

Kitchen Sink Sloppy Joes…great for camping!

chili1

Spooktacular Beef and Italian Sausage Chili is a great dish for Fall…and a little bit scary, too…it’s so delicious.

Home-styled comfort from the cold...or a cold!

Home-styled comfort from the cold…or a cold!

My homemade Chicken Noodle Soup, for whatever ails you.

These are a classic!

These are a classic!

My mom’s fantastic Drop Sugar Cookies are a traditional holiday fave.

Is there anything more inviting than a freshly baked pie? No, perhaps not.

Is there anything more inviting than a freshly baked pie? No, perhaps not.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie…well, there you go!

*****

 

Into each life, some rain must fall…hopefully!

We’ve waited and waited. Weeks on end without rain and with record high temperatures, close to or in the 90’s, and dry as a bone. Then finally this weekend, some rain!

Our house in the forest, by artist Jeanie Holland.

A time or two now, I believe I’ve mentioned that our property is mostly shaded. And by this I mean we practically live in a forest of 80-year-old and 100-foot-tall pine trees, with an understory of dogwood trees, Japanese maples, shade-hearty shrubs, and various perennial plants and ferns.

From the get-go, I knew my desire to have a vegetable garden of any type was an exercise in futility, but I pursued it anyway. And this spring, on top of having no sun in my yard, we’ve struggled with having very little rain at a time when we usually get the bulk of rainfall we’re going to for the next few months. The clouds tease, the forecasters make promises and all the moisture goes right around us. I’ve watered, only just enough to keep everything going and within our watering restrictions, but city water with all that chlorine just isn’t what the plants want. Then Friday rolls around, and what’s this? We have moisture coming from the sky…ta da! Suddenly everything is growing again. Continue reading

Winter’s Welcome: Things to Love About the Season

Last year's snow.

As winter is fully upon us by January and I’ve done posts on summer and fall, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about those things that I love most about this season. One of the things I love about winter is snow…probably because we have so little of it down here in the south. And if it does snow? Every man, woman, child, dog and cat…we all as one become excited little children when it snows here, taking great delight in our snow days off from work or school, making snowmen, snow women and snow angels, following the trails of icy footprints in the snow. And then there’s the sledding…even if we only have the tiniest bit of snow or ice, southerners will sled on cardboard boxes, garbage can lids, plastic saucers and of course, sleds. I can hear the chuckles of you seasoned masters of the icy stuff in the more northern and snowy climes. Yes, I know we’d feel differently if we really had snow to deal with, but understand, even the mere mention of a snow flurry can shut this southern metropolis down in it’s tracks…willingly! Alas, we’ve had none so far this season, but hope springs eternal. Continue reading

Reflections on Fall…and an Award!

I’ve said it before: Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s a busy time, with holidays each month and the preparation of the home and garden for winter, but such a lovely time for those reasons and so many more. I can’t let this season go by without a moment to reflect on a few of the things that I love about it, so I’ve compiled some thoughts and a little list to share with you.

But before I continue my fall-ish thoughts, one thing I’d like to share is that I’ve just been honored with my first blog award…sweet! Many gracious thanks to Eva from Kitchen Inspirations, who kindly nominated me for the Liebster Blog award. She’s a fellow in the graphic design field, a food lover, cook, and brave croissant maker(!!!) from Canada, whose blog I recently discovered and have really enjoyed following. Do take the time to check her out!  And please scroll down to see more details about this award…as well as find out who my own nominees are, as I pass along the baton!

The Liebster Blog Award is given to recognize your favorite up-and-coming bloggers who have fewer than 200 subscribers, and that you feel deserve more. It’s a cool way to meet more folks and learn some new things…and generally expand your horizons, in my opinion. Continue reading