Comfort Food


I should be honest.  This isn’t a recipe.  Or, if it is a recipe, it’s one that everyone has in their head.  Who doesn’t have some standard recipe involving bell peppers, onions, and whatever protein happens to be handy?  For that reason, I wasn’t going to post this “recipe.”  The boy changed my mind.  He had a point: once upon a time, I did not have this recipe sitting in my head, waiting for a day when I was very hungry and relatively lazy.  It came from somewhere.  Plus, I like my version a lot, and it was particularly satisfying last night.  So, if you already have this recipe in your mental file under “low-effort, lots of yum ” then read no further.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read on.  🙂

One of my favorite things about this meal is how easy it is to adjust according to how many people you have to feed.  I tend to buy chicken breasts in bulk and freeze them in pairs, so it’s easy for me to make a chicken dinner for 2 or 6 (odd numbers continue to stymie me!).  My other favorite thing about this meal is how easy it is to adjust to what I have on hand – need to use up that stir fry beef you bought?  That’ll do.  Really, you don’t even need the meat.   Basically, this is the perfect after-work meal, or your-friends-just-called-and-said-they’ll-be-there-in-20-minutes meal.  Plus, did I mention it’s tasty?

Now, of course you could just serve this as-is; protein and veggies, what more do you need?  But, you know me, why leave well enough alone when you could pile that meal on a baked potato?  Or a pile of mashed potatoes?  Or a crusty roll?  Or some brown rice?  You get where I’m going with this…to make it the perfect, filling, quick-but-satisfying meal, I recommend serving it with a starch of some sort. Oh, and I use a mix of orange and red peppers, because I like the taste, and because I like the look of using two colors.

Chicken with Peppers
Serves 2, easily adjusts for more

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1-2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers (depending on size, I usually use 1 1/2 or so), thinly sliced
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Montreal Steak Seasoning (or something similar)
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (Lea and Perrins is Gluten-free)
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Salt and pepper the sliced chicken, then brown chicken on all sides.  Add peppers, onions, and garlic.  Cook, stirring (like a stir fry, keep the veggies moving) for 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softened (you don’t want to cook them until they’re gooey, just not crisp anymore).  Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, the steak seasoning, and Worcestershire sauce, stir to coat the chicken and veggies.  Lower heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes, stirring.  Adjust seasoning to taste (I like this really strong, so I almost always add an extra sprinkle of steak seasoning and a splash of Worcestershire at the end).

Keep in mind that if you use more or less veg (or protein), you’ll need more or less seasoning.  Use your judgment…I don’t measure anything for a meal like this…just sprinkle and taste, sprinkle and taste 🙂

My favorite way to serve this is over a baked potato.

This chili is not gourmet in any way.  I don’t care.  It’s delicious, it’s easy, ridiculously quick to put together, and it’s even better the next day. Plus, as with any crockpot meal, it’s lovely to come home at the end of the day and smell a delicious dinner bubbling away.

Growing up, I didn’t realize there were other kinds of chili.  Since I grew up in Northern Michigan, I only ever saw northern-style chili: tomato based, thick and stewy in consistency.  In my hometown, there was an annual chili supper held just before the big Homecoming football game.  I rarely went to this chili supper, but when I did, I was always slightly disappointed, because it didn’t taste like my mom’s.  Later, when I went to college in Texas, I was shocked by what they called chili.  This broth-based concoction looked nothing like any bowl of chili I’d seen.  I suppose if I’d grown up eating southern-style chili, I’d be posting a very different recipe, although, my husband (growing up in Texas) never liked chili until he had my mom’s.  So, it might just be that good.

The name of the game here is speed and convenience.  So, if you really want big chunks of stew beef, you can do that…but it will require more prep (ideally searing in batches before adding to the crockpot).  Pretty much everything comes from a can or a packet, and I refuse to apologize for that, because it is extremely tasty chili.  In my opinion it should always be served with corn muffins and shredded cheddar cheese.  Also, this is a very mild chili, so I serve it with a bottle of hot sauce for people who like a little more kick.

Mom’s Chili

1 lb. lean ground beef
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato soup
3 15 oz. cans kidney beans, drained (I prefer light, but it doesn’t really matter)
1 packet Chili seasoning (My favorite is French’s Chili-O, which is getting hard to find)
1 bottle beer, optional (a lighter beer is preferable to a darker beer, because a dark beer can get bitter cooking all day)

Brown beef in a skillet.  Drain.  Combine beef and all other ingredients in the bowl of a large crockpot.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-6 hours.

Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream for topping, and corn muffins on the side.  Have a bottle of hot sauce on hand for those who like their chili spicy.

So, this recipe was an experiment that started with the leftovers from the Snowstorm meal.   Usually I make chicken potpie with the leftovers from a roast chicken dinner.  I buy relatively small chickens, so I usually have around 4 cups of chicken leftover, but all in small pieces.   For some reason, eating the leftover chicken in that form isn’t terribly exciting to me.  What is exciting is the opportunity to turn the leftover bits into a stew and top it with pie crust.  When I’m feeling lazy, or just not up to rolling pastry, I serve it over biscuits.

So, for this version, I had leftover braised kale, which for whatever reason, also didn’t sound appetizing reheated.  So, I made my regular chicken stew, but added in the leftover kale.  The result was incredibly tasty!  The only thing I would do differently is to add the kale in at the very end.  I simmered it all together for 20 minutes or so, and the result was a very green stew.  Not terrible, but not necessarily ideal either.  If you didn’t have leftover kale, you could cook fresh kale in boiling water first, and then stir it into the stew for the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.   The best thing about this is that it’s easily adjusted to what you have on hand.   Depending on how much leftover chicken you have, you can scale back on the amount of broth and veggies.  I’ve used all kinds of veggies in this, but the classics are always good: corn, peas, green beans, etc.  But the kale was so good that I definitely encourage you to try whatever you have on hand – you never know!

A note on gluten content.  This stew could easily be gluten-free.  I thickened mine with a light roux (in this case, about 2 teaspoons of oil and 4 tablespoons of flour).  Just thicken yours with corn starch instead (I haven’t experimented with GF All Purpose Baking mixes…anyone know if they work for a roux?), and you’ll have a great GF version of this stew.

I served it over biscuits, but the boy, at least, believes that the biscuits are unnecessary.  Do what you will.  I like sopping. 

Chicken and Kale Stew

2 teaspoons oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken stock (I used homemade)
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon ground pepper
4 cups of cooked chicken, chopped
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup cooked kale
salt, to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the kale and the cooked chicken were plenty salty)

Heat oil or melt butter in a medium dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add chopped onion, and cook until translucent.  Add flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove all lumps.   Slowly add chicken broth, stirring constantly to avoid lumps.  (this works best if the chicken stock is warm.  Since I keep mine in the freezer, I microwave it to defrost it, which results in a warmish stock).  Add bay leaves, bouillon cube, poultry seasoning, and pepper.  Add chicken and frozen vegetables.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes.  Check seasoning.  Add kale, simmer 5 more minutes.  Check seasoning again.  Serve immediately, alone or over biscuits.

Ok, the final piece of this snowstorm meal: potatoes.  Oven roasted, crispy, and delicious.  These are a bit of an indulgence, but the oil can be kept to a minimum, and oh boy are they worth it.  I’ll warn you, roasted potatoes and I have an ongoing battle.  Basically, I want them to cook quickly while sharing an oven with my chicken (wouldn’t that be convenient?).  They want an oven to themselves, slightly warmer than the chicken wants.  Otherwise, they are oh so slow to get crisp.  I usually split the difference: put the potatoes on a rack under the chicken, roast for the first 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees.  Pull the chicken out (time it so it will be done), turn the oven up to 400 or 425 degrees, and finish crisping the potatoes for 10-15 minutes. 

In the summer, when I have fresh herbs in the garden, I add chopped rosemary to this.  It smells heavenly and tastes good too!

Roasted Potatoes with Garlic

1-2 teaspoons olive oil or canola oil (you can also use cooking spray here, be sure to spray the foil and the tops of the potatoes)
2 lbs of red potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch cubes (leave skin on)
5-10 cloves garlic, papery outer skin removed, tougher peel left on
kosher salt

(if you’re not already roasting a chicken, preheat oven to 400 degrees)

Line a large sheet pan with aluminum foil (non-stick is handy but not required).   Spread the cubed potatoes and the garlic cloves on the lined sheet pan.  Toss with the oil or spray, sprinkle liberally with salt.  Roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, turning after 25 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.

The Whole Snowstorm Meal:
Basic Roast Chicken
Braised Kale with Pancetta

Here in the midwest we had quite the snowstorm last night, and flakes are still falling today.  I braved the unplowed roads to get all the makings for a perfect roast chicken dinner.  After shoveling the driveway, the boy and I were more than ready for a hearty meal.  Also a side effect of shoveling the driveway was that I was completely exhausted, so I went with the simplest roast chicken possible.  Roast chicken is kind of a staple at our house.  It feels fancy and special occasion, but is really simple.  Also, once it goes in the oven, it requries no attention.  In the summer I use fresh herbs from the garden, but in the winter dried herbs work just fine.  Served with braised kale, roasted potatoes, and a glass of wine, this was a lovely meal for a dark and snowy night.  Last night I added a teaspoon or so of ground coriander, which was pretty good.  Play around!

Another plus of this meal is that as long as you have gluten-free spices in your pantry, it’s automatically gluten-free.  And with food this cozy and comfy, who’s missing the gluten?

A final note.  I’ve become obsessed with making chicken stock.  It’s so easy!  Ok, the way I make it is easy.  Follow the link at the bottom…for real, it’s easy and so worth it!

Basic Roast Chicken

1 3-4lb whole chicken
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium onion, quartered

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine oil, spices, and garlic.

Remove giblets from chicken (save for stock if desired).  Rinse chicken inside and out.  Place in roasting pan and pat dry.   Gently separate the skin from the breast of the chicken with your fingers.   Rub the oil and spice mixture under the skin, rubbing any extra over the top of the skin.  If you have a lot of extra oil mixture, place it inside the body cavity.   Place the quartered onion inside the chicken.  If you have kitchen twine, tie up the legs.  (I never have twine, and I never tie up my bird.  The world has yet to come to an end.)  Tuck the wing tips under the bird so that they don’t burn (or cover them with foil).

Roast chicken for 1-1 1/2 hours, until juices run clear and thermometer inserted between thigh and body reads at least 165 degrees.

The Whole Snowstorm Meal:
Roasted Potatoes with Garlic
Braised Kale with Pancetta

Easy Homemade Chicken Stock

I’m back!  I know it’s been a year and a half or so….sorry.  😦  As you know if you’ve been reading the site, it’s been a rough couple years for me.  Way back in the fall of 2007 I started have weird symptoms (severe arthritis, mental fog, etc).  Those weird symptoms led to a long round of doctor’s appointments, tests (mostly inconclusive), and treatments (mostly ineffective).  Fast forward to winter 2010: I have a diagnosis, Behcet’s disease, a rare autoimmune disease.  Since last writing, I worked a full-time job as a visiting instructor at a small liberal arts university (not a ton of cooking got done during that time), took time off to write full-time on my dissertation, and have engaged in an ongoing struggle to get on a stable medication regimen.  I think we might finally be there.  A combination of methotrexate injections, plaquenil (actually intended to treat malaria – go figure), and folic acid seems to be working.  It’s still a struggle.  I have a maximum of 5 good days per week (one bad day when my methotrexate is wearing off, one when it’s starting to work and making me sick).  I’m mostly off pain medication, but I still hurt most days.   I’m losing weight (again – I’d lost some and then gained back more during a bout of depression), and even exercising.

More importantly, given the topic of this blog – I’m cooking again!  I finally have the energy to cook and enjoy food again.  It’s good to be back!  So, yesterday I had the brilliant idea to make indian food.  I wanted Chicken Korma, and I wanted it to be bubbling away in the crockpot when I came home from work.  Sadly for me, this recipe just doesn’t lend itself to crockpot prep.  Oh, I did it.  But it took me almost an hour to prep.  Granted, I move slower these days, but to me, that’s just unacceptable.  I happen to not go to work until 3 or 4 in the afternoon – but normal people?  Unacceptable.  So, I’m giving the instructions here for regular preparation.  Let me know if you’re able to prep it quickly and get it in the crockpot.

The korma though, was wonderful.  I used chicken thighs, which sort of shredded themselves in the sauce while it cooked all day on low.  This was not undesirable, if unforseen.  Just a disclaimer – this is not like the korma you get in restaurants.  As much as I’d like it to be, it’s just not.  I suspect (based on its source and a number of other cookbooks I own) that this is a more authentic version.  But still, not what you would get in most indian restaurants in America.  It is, however, richly spiced and delicious.

A note on ingredients.  I use whole spices when I can get my hands on them.  If you don’t have whole spices though, just use ground.  In place of the plum tomatoes, I used about 3 frozen tomatoes (I froze them when they were fresh last summer).  Also, I did not use heavy cream, and since I like this dish as creamy as possible, I used homemade cashew cream (recipe follows).   Serve with warm naan.

Quick Chicken Korma
(adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking 2007)

Servings: 4

11⁄2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, divided
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
2-inch stick cinnamon
8 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
1⁄4 teaspoon whole black or regular cumin seeds
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 canned plum tomatoes, chopped
1-2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into small chunks
1⁄4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup cashew cream

In a blender, purée the ginger, garlic and 3 tablespoons water until they form a smooth paste.

Crush the cardamom pods lightly. (you can do this using the bottom of a jar or glass)

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high. When the oil is very hot, add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves and whole cumin seeds. Stir, then add the onion. Saute 3 minutes, or until the onion browns.

Transfer the paste from the blender to the skillet. Add the ground coriander and ground cumin, then sauté for a minute. Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté another minute.

Add the chicken, cayenne, salt and remaining 1 cup of water, tomato paste, and cashew cream.  Bring to a boil.
Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cover  and cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally, another 10-15  minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the cardamom pods, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cloves. Serve over rice if desired (I just served it with warm naan).

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Ok…so it’s not really a makeover.  But I did make a couple changes to my traditional beef roast.  I decreased the mushroom soup by one can, and added a bottle of Guinness and about a cup and a half of beef stock.  I also served it with mashed sweet potatoes (with just a touch of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon) instead of white potatoes, and sweet peas.  It was tasty.

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