Chicken Soup For a Friend

When a mama gets sick, she can’t call in to work. A full time mom doesn’t have the luxury of going to bed and staying there. And for a lot of full time moms, finances are just tight enough that they wouldn’t dream of asking hubby to stay home from work unless they were being admitted to hospital. So when I discovered that a good friend was down with the flu, and looking after two little ones, one of which was also under the weather, I offered the only help I could: Chicken Soup. This friend of mine is dealing with multiple food reactions in her children, so it’s not very often that I have things on hand that are safe for her family to eat, but Sunday I just happened to have all of the ingredients for chicken soup on hand, ready to go, and allergen free.

The best chicken soup starts with home made chicken broth. I sauteed up some diced veggies, and I happened to have a whole batch of crock pot chicken in the fridge from the day before. They are gluten free, so I have potatoes in the soup in leu of noodles.

Everything into the pot for a good simmer. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and a little thyme.

Here it is all packaged up and ready for delivery. Sweet heart, I hope you’re feeling better soon!

Fish Tacos with Baja Sauce

This is my mom’s recipe. My mom is a wonderful cook, and I’m thrilled any time I can re-create a dinner of hers.

1/2 C plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 C flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1 lb tilapia fillets
vegetable oil

1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp lime zest (optional – I never have actual limes so I usually skip this and it still tastes great. But the lime zest adds a lot of depth so use it if you have it)

Start by heating about 1/4 inch of oil in a cast iron pan. Pat dry your Tilapia fillets. Dip in yogurt and then dredge in flour. Place in oil and fry until golden brown. Use a fork and a spatula to gently flip the fish and brown on the other side. Be very careful not to splash oil when you flip the fish, nothing ruins a perfectly good dinner faster than a trip to the ER for 3rd degree burns.

Place on paper towels to drain excess oil. For the Baja sauce, mix sour cream, mayonaise, lime juice and lime zest.

Of course my favorite tortillas are home made, but with three kids underfoot that is often not realistic. Second best is Chi-Chi’s Whole Wheat tortillas. They’re nice and soft, and don’t brake when you fold them. I serve them ‘build your own taco’ style with all the condiments in bowls ready for the topping. Serve with Baja sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and of course Frank’s Hot Sauce. Everything is better with Frank’s.

Meal Plan 9/27-10/3

Time for another meal plan. Seems like I have to do this every week. It’s amazing how much I dislike a task that makes the rest of the week so much easier, but there you have it.

Leftovers to use: I did a pretty good job using up leftovers last week, and we ate most of what we made, so very little needs used up this week. Meat in the fridge/freezer = 1 5lb package of chicken breasts, 2 pot roasts, 1 pkg tillapia.

Monday: We had pasta and shrimp. The shrimp had been in the freezer and needed using, and I always have tons of pasta and sauce because I buy it when it’s on sale.

Tuesday: Fish Tacos using the tillapia, salad

Wednesday: Pot Roast with onions and potatos, salad

Thursday: Crock Pot Chicken, rice, stir fry veggies

Friday: Stew w/left over pot roast, potatoes, barley

Saturday: Pulled chicken sandwiches, chips

Sunday: Chicken and rice casserole

Homemade yogurt

I love yogurt, but it can be expensive. Especially if you buy it in those cute little individiual serving cups with the foil lids. Store bought yogurt often has preservitives, stabilizers, thickening agents and loads of sugar. And talk about excess packaging. Thankfully yogurt is very easy to make at home, and no, you don’t need any fancy equipment. Just a quart sized jar, a few tablespoons of prepared yogurt (either store bought or from a previous homemade batch) and a place to keep it warm.

If you’re using store bought milk, you’ll want to pasturize it first, to make sure there are no organisms present to compete with the yogurt cultures. Put 1 qt of milk into a small sauce pan and heat to 180*, stirring frequently. If you don’t have a thermometer, this is not rocket science. Just heat it to just before it boils, and then turn off the heat. Let it cool down to about 110*. If you’re using raw milk, just heat gently to 110* so as not to distroy the benificial enzymes in the milk. Once the milk is at about 110*, stir in about 1/4 cup of prepared yogurt. For your first time, it’s fine to use store bought yogurt. Just make sure you get one with live active cultures. Dannon is a good brand that’s easy to find. I like to use Brown Cow, found in Whole Foods or the healh food section of a regular grocery store. It’s easiest if you stir a little milk into the yogurt first, and then stir the thinned yogurt into the rest of the milk. Then pour it into your quart sized jar, and rubberband a towel or coffee filter over the mouth of the jar.

Now all that’s left is to find a way to keep it at about 110* for the next 8-18 hours. There are several methods for doing this. I have a gas oven with a pilot light, so I just pop it in there and leave it. Similarly, if you have an electric oven you can put it in with the oven light on. Beware with using your oven, if you need your oven to cook dinner, remove your yogurt before preheating your oven or you’ll kill your culture. In my last apartment my oven didn’t have a pilot light or an oven light, so I had to get a little more creative. I bought a heating pad (like for a bad back) for about $9 at a drug store. I would put my yogurt on the heating pad on low, and cover the whole thing with a dishtowel for insulation, and this worked fine. Some other methods are to use your crockpot on the warm setting with water surrounding your jar, or using a small insulated cooler with warm water, of find a yogurt maker at a thrift store and let it do the incubating. I haven’t tried any of these, but have heard good results from people who have.

The yogurt needs to stay warm from 8-18 hours. The longer you incubate it, the thicker and more tart it will be. I usually aim for about 10 hours, but the process is flexable. When it’s done, just pop a lid on your jar and toss it into the fridge. I like to flavor my yogurt as I’m eating it, so that I always have plain yogurt in the fridge for starting my next batch. I like to stir in maple syrup (as in the first photo) or honey. You can also use jam for fruit yogurt, and it wouldn’t be bad with a little chocolate syrup if you’re feeling particularly naughty.

Menu Planning 12/21/2008

Menu planning is one of the areas of homemaking that I really struggle to keep up with, but it makes such a difference when I take the time to do it. Menu planning serves so many purposes. It saves a lot of money by utilizing what you already have on hand and reducing the amount of waste. It saves time spent trying to decide what to have for dinner and being prepared with things that need done ahead of time. It saves frustration of not having advanced steps ready (ever forget to soak the beans or pull the chicken out of the freezer to defrost?) and it makes scratch cooking so much easier.

I always plan my weeks meals around what I already have in the pantry. First I check the upstairs freezer for any leftovers that need used up. Right now I have pork roast, chicken breast, turkey, and pinto beans in the freezer already cooked and just needing thawed and thrown into a recipe. If there is nothing suitable in the kitchen freezer, I check the downstairs freezer. It has whole chickens, one turkey, a few potroast cuts of beef, a little ground beef, and several packages of boneless skinless chicken breasts. I also plan for leftovers to be rolled into other meals. If I roast a chicken at the begining of the week, I plan at least two other meals that week that use cooked chicken such as soup or cassarole. AllRecipes and RecipeZaar are great websites for finding recipes to use what you already have in the house. Durring my weekly grocery shop, I shop to stock the pantry and freezer, not for specific meals. If there are a few ingredients or spices that I need for something specific I’ll go ahead and pick those up, but I don’t buy a whole meals worth of ingredients in the week that I make that meal. This saves a lot of money because I try to plan meals that use spices I typically have on hand, or just buy small amounts of spices/ingredients if it’s something i don’t use often. Also, say I was planning a chicken meal that needs boneless, skinless chicken breasts. These are usually $4.50/lb making them a fairly expensive (to our family anyway) cut of meat. But several weeks ago they were on sale for $1.88/lb, and I got 6 packages. So now I already have chicken in the freezer and don’t need to pay full price. So I plan all of my shopping trips around what’s on sale, and I plan my menus around what’s in the freezer.

This weeks menu:
I have pork roast, cooked diced chicken breast, and pinto beans in the freezer that I pulled into the fridge to defrost.

Sunday: Pork roast with gravy, sweet potatoes, peas
Monday: Crockpot pork and beans, popcorn cauliflower, applesauce
Tuesday: Chicken noodle soup, bread, kale
Wednesday: Christmas Eve dinner with family
Thursday: Christmas Day dinner with family
Friday: BBQ chicke pizza
Saturday: we leave on vacation. Cancun here we come!!

Applesauce Adventure

I love fall. I love apple season. I love apples. I know the harvest season is now over, but I discovered that one of our local orchards still has Gold Rush apples in storage so I picked up 20# for apple sauce. If I had to choose one tree to plant on our land when we buy a house, this would be the one. I love things that double task, and there’s nothing better than a plant that provides both shade and sustenance. These apples are the best tasting apples I’ve ever tried. They are very flavorful, sweet and tart. And properly stored they keep until June of the next season. I also picked up some Golden Delicious from the grocery to round out the apple sauce. I was looking for a sweet apple so I didn’t need to add much sugar, but if I were to do it again I would opt for a more flavorful apple like Jonathan.

The above picture is a great example of the franken-fruit developed by the commercial grower. I happen to know that these Golden Delicious were shipped to Ohio all the way from Washington state. And that is rare, because usually you have no idea where fruit in the grocery is from. Compared to the Gold Rush, the Golden Delicious are frankenishly huge, and unnaturally pristine. And wouldn’t you hate to be the person who’s job it was to put that little sticker on every single apple? The Gold Rush apples are smaller, and not nearly as pretty, but in all the chopping I did I really came to appreciate the natural beauty in the imperfect apples. And the difference in the flavor is amazing. Biting into a Gold Rush apple is like taking a swig of fresh apple cider. The Golden delicious were very bland, with a bitter skin and almost no flavor. So buy local and organic when you can, it really makes a difference.

So here are three batches of apples all going at the same time. I had my three largest pots on the stove, and I still had three batches after these were done. I need to keep my eye out at the thrift store for a larger stockpot. I’m really not one for recipes or measuring. I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” kinda girl in the kitchen, but I can give a general run down of how I turned these beautiful apples into yummy applesauce. After all of the apples are cored and sliced, they went into the pan with some water in the bottom, a stick of cinnamon, a dash of salt, a squirt of lemon juice (really brightens the flavor of the apple sauce) and some Sucanat (natural cane sugar). The lid goes on and they simmer for about 20 minutes, until all the apples are good and mushy. A quick turn through the food mill, which you can see in the second picture (thanks Rachel for letting me borrow it) and you’ve got this:
A huge pot of applesauce keeping hot while waiting for the water bath to come to a boil. If instead of canning it you let it continue on the stove, you get apple butter.
This stuff is so good it really should be illegal.

Thirty pounds of apples and 14 hrs later and I can sit back and gaze admiringly at my apple sauce. I turned out 7.5 quarts of applesauce, and 3 pints of apple butter. I think I’m in apple heaven. This process wouldn’t have take nearly as long if I had a canner that could handle more then 4 pint jars at a time. One more thing to keep an eye out for a the thrift store.