And the Oscar goes to…

Definitely not the roast chicken I made last night! Last night’s dinner was a clunker. The roast chicken was a little too salty and dry, the gravy was a lumpy disaster, and the garlic mashed potatoes with goat cheese didn’t seem to get anyone excited. I was so underwhelmed with dinner, I found myself struggling to even eat it. Last night also happened to be Oscar night, and as I was watching the drama unfold on the red carpet, I started thinking about how home-cooking is a little bit like the best and worst dressed on Oscar night.

For example, last night’s dinner should have been great. I’ve made it many, many times before, but for some reason last night it fell flat. Yes, it was edible, but no one will be talking about that roast chicken two weeks from now. It reminded me of Angelina Jolie’s dress last night. It wasn’t horrible or anything, because let’s be honest, it’s really hard for Angelina to look bad.

But the leg notwithstanding, who’s really going to remember this dress? When I think of Angelina, I think show-stopper. Remember this?

Yes, I’m comparing Angelina to roast chicken. Because it’s something you expect to always be good, so when it’s not, you feel doubly disappointed.

Not all my kitchen exploits leave such a bitter taste of disappointment. On occasion I can really wow the audience! A few years ago, my mother-in-law was in town for her birthday. So I decided to cook her a celebratory birthday dinner. That night we had pan-roasted salmon with a lemon-rosemary butter sauce, artichoke risotto (with FRESH artichokes, which I only mention because using fresh artichokes is a pain in the ass!) and grilled asparagus. And for dessert, I whipped out a chocolate cake with cinnamon-caramel ganache. I’ll be honest (if not exactly humble) and tell you that the meal was spectacular. And when I say spectacular, I’m talking Michelle Williams spectacular.

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She’s pulled off my two favorite Oscar looks EVER. I’m also partial to Michelle Williams because of my past obsession with Dawson’s Creek. But seriously, there’s no disputing the fact that when it comes to the Oscars, Michelle Williams isn’t just stunning, she’s memorable!

And finally, as it goes with Oscar dresses, so too it goes in the kitchen. Some things are just complete, unmitigated disasters. I will own up to the fact that I have turned out some un-edible eats during my years in the kitchen. They are fewer and farther between than they once were, but still memorable in their own right. You see where I’m going with this, I know you do. Who can forget Bjork’s swan (ostritch?) dress?

Bjork donned this um, ‘memorable’ dress in 2001, and I don’t think anyone has forgotten it! Much like one of the first meals I cooked for Scott soon after we got married (almost 15 years ago). I made chicken picatta that long ago night. There were so many things wrong with that meal, I hardly know where to start. Ultimately though, it boiled down (literally) to the lemons. I was not aware at the time that my husband had a strong aversion to anything citrusy in his food. However, I love all citrus, especially when it makes an appearance in my food. I’ll throw some lemon zest on anything and think it’s delicious. But I digress. This particular recipe seemed to call for an inordinate amount of lemon, sliced whole and added to the sauce. I think there were also some capers involved that I may have forgotten to rinse. And finally, there was the sheer amount of food I cooked. A whole 16oz box of spaghetti. Six whole chicken breasts. I know there were only two of us eating that night but hey… it’s what the recipe called for. When we finally sat down for dinner, we each took a bite and immediately spit it out. That picatta wasn’t just lemony, it was completely bitter. And inedible. So inedible, that six chicken breasts and a whole box of spaghetti ended up in the garbage. Awful, yet very memorable!

Despite what you might think, I’m not always trying to cook up an “Oscar-Worthy” meal. Most nights I’m lucky to get a decent, healthy meal on the table. Like tonight, I’ve been so wrapped up in my Oscar dress metaphors that I forgot to cook dinner completely! So by the time we get home from swim practice tonight, I think the best I’ll be able to do is to trot out old-reliable: breakfast for dinner. It’s not a show-stopper, but I know everyone will like it!

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The $20 Chicken

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I do all the grocery shopping in our family. I’ll be honest, I’m not all that budget-conscious when it comes to food – as sadly, it seems the healthiest choices out there are often the most expensive. However, I have been known to stretch a food dollar on occasion.

Over the weekend I took a chicken out of our freezer, with plans to roast it for dinner Sunday evening. For some reason, Scott (my husband) asked me how much I paid for that chicken. This chicken cost me $20. Scott realized that we had about 5 similar chickens hanging out in the deep freeze, and being the Math Whiz that he is, figured out that we had about $120+ in chickens hanging out in our freezer. He wasn’t pleased. So then I explained to him how these were ‘special’ chickens,  pasture-raised with love by a farmer friend of mine. Hormone and antibiotic free.  Not the mass-produced variety that you see in the grocery store. He still didn’t seem impressed. Then I told him out that $20 chicken would feed the four of us for dinner for 2 nights, plus serve as lunch for me for two days. That’s 10 servings from 1 chicken – which boils down to $2 a serving. Finally, the man was impressed. I should have also thrown in how I use the carcass to make stock that he’ll see in a soup or a chili somewhere down the road, but I figured I had already made my point.

Sometimes what seems like an expensive choice isn’t quite that expensive when you see how far it will go. For things like meat/poultry I always try and source locally, from farmers I trust. In the short term (as in when I write the check) it seems quite expensive. But in the long run, the math works out AND I know I’ve made the healthiest choice for my family and the environment.

So you might be wondering… what did I do with my $20 chicken? First I butterflied it (cut out the backbone) and marinated it a mix of whole-milk yogurt, lemon zest, shallot, garlic and a mix of herbs (I used parsley, thyme and oregano). I did this early in the morning so it would be nice and flavorful by the time I roasted it in the afternoon. Here’s what he looked like coming out of the oven. Sorry for the bad pic, but I snapped it with my iPhone. The best thing about butterflying a chicken is that even a big one like this (6lbs) roasts in just over an hour.  For dinner I served it with rice pilaf and sauteed asparagus coins.

Today for lunch, I took a little bit of the leftover chicken and made an outstanding salad with quinoa and arugula. Here’s a link to the recipe I used. I have enough probably for two more lunch servings.

And for dinner tonight, I’m going to toss the remaining chicken with our favorite BBQ sauce and we’ll have BBQ chicken sandwiches with some coleslaw, roasted potatoes, and corn.

Not bad for $20!

Football Food

I used to love football, all sports really, but mostly football. I’m pretty sure the reason my husband (a true sports nut) fell in love with me was because I bested him in a sports trivia contest. (thank you Babe Laufenberg). These days though, I could find myself caring less and less about sports, unless, of course, one of my children is involved. I just don’t have the time or the energy to keep up with it.

Every now and again, though, my interest in sports is renewed, and it usually has to do with food. The Super Bowl is fun, but what really gets me excited is Super Bowl (you guessed it) FOOD! The Kentucky Derby is the most exciting two minutes in sports, but planning the food for our annual Kentucky Derby Party has me excited MONTHS in advance!

So when my husband asked me to make chicken wings as a ‘snack’ for him and my son to eat while watching the playoffs, you can pretty well bet that he knew I wouldn’t be pulling a bag of chicken wings out of the freezer! A few years ago I was watching The Food Network and Sunny Anderson was making her chicken wings ‘3 ways’. Those wings looked GOOD! The secret, so said Sunny, was the addition of corn starch into the flour. Makes the wings extra crispy! She wasn’t lying! You can find the recipe here. I made the butter sauce and the bbq sauce but stayed away from the zest as the hubs hates anything too citrusy. You might also keep in mind, prior to making these wings, that if you don’t ventilate well your house will smell like Kentucky Fried Chicken for a week!

It was the best darn football game I’ve seen in years! Josh thought so too!

Kid Food

I think every kid loves chicken nuggets and french fries, and I think most parents do too, if only for the fact that it’s quick and easy, and you know your kids will eat it! I’ve often just pulled chicken nuggets out of the freezer (only Bell and Evans brand), but this time I decided to make my own. I had a bunch of random stuff in the fridge… buttermilk, the last few Kennebec potatoes I bought from a local farmer, fennel, celery. A plan began to take shape… homemade chicken tenders, roasted potato wedges, and a fennel, celery, and apple salad (recipe from epicurious.com). The only thing I needed was a package of chicken tenders (Smart Chicken Organic), so I made a quick trip to the Teeter on my way back from carpool.

When we got home, I dumped the chicken tenders in a bowl with some buttermilk doctored up with smoked paprika, salt and pepper and left those to marinate for about a 1/2 hour. While the chicken was marinating I put together the salad, I have a fairly cheap mandoline that made quick work of the slicing. I sliced the potatoes into large wedges, tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil and threw those onto a heated sheet pan and popped those in the oven to bake. And because every chicken nugget (or tender) needs something to take a dip in, I mixed up a quick honey-mustard dip. Equal parts mayonnaise and low fat Greek yogurt, a big squeeze of honey from the bottle, and a large spoonful of Dijon mustard. Wow, I almost ate it all right out of the bowl it was so tasty!

The kids loved the chicken tenders and the potatoes, especially when dipped in the honey-mustard sauce (which doctored up with a little olive oil and apple-cider vinegar reappeared as a salad dressing later in the week), but were less enthused about the salad. Fennel has a very assertive taste and I think that threw them off. The husband and I both loved the salad though… so I guess there was something on the plate for everyone!

 

 

 

And She’s Back!

Yes, it’s been a while, and quite a lot has happened since my homage to Pat and Martha. A few triathlons, a half marathon, and going back to work full time to name a few. But I’ve missed this little blog, and have often thought about picking it back up. It seems that there are just too many other time-sucks out there… Facebook (littered with my foodie pictures), Twitter (I tried gamely to participate, but just couldn’t love it), and Pinterest (God love the genius who invented that!). Despite all the change around here, one thing has definitely stayed the same and should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me: I still LOVE food. I love to think about it, I love to cook it, and I definitely love to eat it! As the name of my blog implies, I still try and keep the food as local (and organic) as possible.

As it’s winter, there’s not a ton of locally available produce (that my kids – all 3 of them – willingly eat) at the moment, but I still source all my eggs, poultry, pork, and beef through local farms. It’s easier than you think to get the majority of your food locally, and not only is good for you, it’s great for your local economy. Now that’s change we can ALL believe in! I believe checking out of the industrial food chain is the healthiest choice you can make for you and your family. In the past few years, we’ve had very little sickness around here – and haven’t made a single sick visit to the pediatrician in over a year. (knock wood…).

Ok, stepping off my soapbox… back to the food.I want my kids to love and appreciate good food as much as I do. I cook virtually every night and we’ll sit down to a family meal most nights, depending on the kids activities. My son, as evidenced by previous posts in this blog, is a pretty adventurous eater. My daughter, not so much. In an effort to try and get them both (but mostly Erin) more excited about food, I’ve taken to global travel on a nightly basis. If I’m a bit forward thinking, I’ll ask early in the day what country the kids want to visit. If I’m a bit behind the eight-ball, I just tell them what country we’re in, or let them guess once the plate hits the table. So, over the course of many, many meals we’ve visited quite a few interesting places: China, India, Jamaica, France, Mexico, and the good old USA. I’ve pulled in a few photos to document our dinner table travels.

Stir-fried noodles from China – this is one of Erin’s favorites! Loaded with bean sprouts, carrots, and cucumbers and just a hint of ground pork. Other visits to China include Fried Rice, and Stir Fried chicken with celery (WAY better than it sounds), and the always popular, if slightly more labor-intensive, Hainan Chicken (pictured 2nd). You can find the recipes I use here: Stir Fried noodlesStir fried chicken with celery,  Hainan Chicken

We took a visit to Greece through this Grilled Halibut with Fennel Tsatsiki (ok, it’s only the Tsatsiki that makes it Greek…) I served with some white rice and grilled vegetables. Grilled Halibut with Fennel Tsatsiki

India is a favorite of Josh’s. Our most recent visit had us eating Butter Chicken. I’m more fond of the Chicken Tikka Masala that I’ve made, but I can’t find the picture! However, this is one of the quickest, easiest, and tastiest ways to eat Indian! Indian Butter Chicken

Normally when we visit Mexico, it’s on Taco Friday, Josh’s favorite day of the week! But on occasion I’ll branch out from Tacos (no, I don’t use the McCormick seasoning packet), and try something else, like these Enchiladas. I think I used a recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but can’t recall. Besides, you have to pay to get most recipes off of their website. Boo. Hiss.

One of my favorite dishes from France, and a perfect winter meal… Daube de Boeuf aux Carottes.

That’s beef stew with carrots. And a whole lot of red wine! Your best bet when making this dish is to get a whole chuck roast, about 3-4lbs and cut it down yourself rather than using pre-cut stew meat. I like to serve it over mashed potatoes with a side of roasted broccoli. Beef stew with carrots and red wine

And finally, every once and again I keep it ‘local’ and cook something fundamentally American. One of the kids’ favorites is Chicken and Dumplings. Recently, and for the very first time, I fried chicken. I took a whole (locally raised) chicken and cut it into it’s various parts and fried it up. My house smelled like Kentucky Fried Chicken, but it was darn good. I also kept a fire extinguisher handy…
I don’t think I need to post a recipe. Take chicken parts, soak in buttermilk, coat with flour, fry.
One of my goals for 2012 is to try and keep this blog going. Not because I think so many people are just dying to hear about what I’m cooking and eating, but more so as an outlet for pretty much the only creative pursuits I can credit myself with: Cooking and writing. And perhaps I’ll manage to think about something other than food and write about some other topics on this blog. But in the meantime, if anyone has some suggestions for other countries I can visit with my family at the dinner table, please suggest away!