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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Random thoughts about chicken

Ever since my birthday dinner, chicken has been on my mind. These are some random thoughts about the various ways we fix chicken. Shhh! I’m not telling the hens who live just behind my cottage.
Fried chicken was not served in the home of my childhood. My Canadian father, always proper in a British way and a stickler for table manners, did not like food you picked up with your hands, except for a sandwich at lunch. Consequently, fried chicken was never on the table, and to this day I have never cooked it in my long cooking life.
Several years ago, good friend Carol Roark and I were going to lunch one day. She suggested Buttons Restaurant because she had a craving for good fried chicken. I followed her lead and ordered chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes. I was hooked, and fried-chicken lunches became a tradition for the two of us. The only difference was that I like dark meat, while Carol orders a half breast—too much dry meat for me. I confess I want more crust, less chicken.   But the restaurant changed hands and good, old-fashioned fried chicken disappeared from the menu.
Carol and I looked for a new place to get a chicken fix and decided on Drew’s Place, a soul food restaurant. Most restaurants, from upscale to fast food, serve boneless chicken, what for some reason is called chicken-fried chicken. It isn’t the same. Trust me.
We made a date to go to Drew’s Place on March 19 this year. Of course, by March 19 none of us were going anywhere if we didn’t have to, and we surely weren’t eating in restaurants. Drew’s Place got put off until one day a neighbor’s husband bought chicken for lunch. I was hooked again, and for my birthday I requested—and got—fried chicken from Drew’s Place with green beans and mashed potatoes. It was every bit as good as Buttons.
To me, the distinction between bone-in and chicken-fried chicken is major. So is the spice level in the coating. These days, spicy chicken—perhaps from a Cajun influence—is all the rage. We have a chicken restaurant near us, but several people have warned me it’s too spicy for my northern-raised palate. I like a bit of spice, enough to give flavor, but I don’t think chicken should set your mouth on fire.
Another option comes to mind—rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. It in no way compared to bone-in fried chicken, but I use it in salads and casseroles. Poaching chicken is tricky—I find I often get it too tough. I think it’s a problem of overcooking, boiling the chicken too long or too hard, Suggestions online for poaching vary wildly but most recommend bring water to a boil and then simmering. Most say put chicken in the pot along with seasonings—celery, onion, peppercorns, whatever—bringing the water to a boil and then simmering. Some directions say as long as fifteen minutes, but Martha Stewart calls for simmering three minutes and removing from stove. I’ll keep experimenting, but meantime I buy rotisserie chicken—and fuss about having to bone it.
Rotisserie chicken is tender, its texture right for everything from Cobb salad to chicken enchiladas, its flavor pure chicken. Several flavors are sometimes available. Central Market offers traditional and classic (I have no idea how they differ) but also lemon pepper, Tuscan, jerk spiced, tamale chicken, and Nashville hot. The flavor of all these spices is mostly on the skin, and its there that rotisserie chicken fails. It can’t compare with fried chicken.
Another random thought about chicken—salad, this time. Do you like chunky chicken salad or one with flaked meat? I first had “smooth” chicken salad in a now-gone restaurant and decided it was wonderful! I like a pure flavor and mix flaked chicken (use a food processor) only with chopped green onion and sauce it with a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream with a healthy dash of lemon juice. No grapes and pecans for me!
Got a wonderful chicken recipe? Send it to me at, and I’ll share it, with credit given.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

One for the road

DisneyWorld may have re-opened, but I think a lot of families will be avoiding the “big” places and taking “small” vacations this year because of the pandemic. My local family and I just got back from a three-day stay at a friend’s lake house, and our safe trip during quarantine made me realize a lot of people will be renting short-term vacation homes rather than staying in hotels and motels.
For us, going to someone else’s house involved a lot of planning for meals, because we wanted to take everything we needed. No ordering in, no daily grocery runs. So we planned what we wanted to eat and made endless lists of what to take. And I borrowed a trick from my Austin daughter who takes chili and spaghetti sauce on ski trips. She makes them at home, freezes them flat in baggies, and packs them in her luggage. Nope, no spills or accidents so far.
Jordan and I decided spaghetti would be a good choice for supper one night at the lake house. I happen to have a delicious and slightly unusual recipe from my good friend Carol Roark. It’s her mom’s spaghetti sauce. Feeds four nicely, but I made a double batch, so we’d have one in the freezer at home.
Getting spaghetti sauce into a baggie without decorating the entire kitchen is a challenge. I am one of those who gets that stain-prone red sauce everywhere if I just look at it. But Lisa, my Tomball daughter-in-law, gave me a gadget for Christmas that really helped (according to Christian who did the bagging). It’s a plastic frame that hold a baggie open while you carefully ladle the sauce in. I have no idea where Lisa got it or what it’s called if you want to look for it, but you might prowl Amazon or Pampered Chef.
The night we had spaghetti Jordan kept claiming she’d labored over the sauce all day, but we all knew better. Dinner—spaghetti, garlic bread, and salad was ready in less than half an hour. Rather than serve pasta and sauce separately, she put them together in a pot and heated the dinner. Result was delicious. I like a rather thick spaghetti sauce in generous amounts on my pasta—and that’s what this was.
Here's the recipe with a couple of my changes. Carol uses eight ounces ground turkey; I prefer ground beef and use a whole pound.

Carol’s Mom’s spaghetti sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed (I use my microplane these days)
1 lb. lean ground beef
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can tomato puree
½ tsp. each sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, savory, marjoram, and basil
Salt and pepper to taste
            Brown the meat, crumbling as it cooks, and set aside. Cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until onions are slightly softened. Add spices and mix thoroughly. (It helps if you mix all the spices in a small dish, so you can dump them all in at once rather than searching the cupboard and putting in half a tsp. at a time.) Add tomato paste, puree, and diced tomatoes, and stir well. Stir in the ground beef. Simmer on low heat for about three hours or in a slow cooker for six hours. Serve with your favorite pasta and fresh grated Parmesan or pecorino (my choice lately).
Happy and safe summer travels.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What are we having with that?

Summer Zucchini Bake
sorry, but I took a serving out before I remembered to take a picture
Choosing a side dish goes way beyond, “You want fries with that?” At my house, we plan meals ahead (not that we always stick to the plan) by making a list of main dishes—stir-fry, steak fingers, chicken casserole, fish, what have you. But too often we come right up on time to cook, and Jordan and I look at each other and ask, “What are we having with that?” The simple answer, for us, is almost always, “Salad.” But sometimes that’s not enough, and we want a real side dish.
Here are two that I find quick and easy yet light enough for summer. One is an old stand-by; the other something I just happened across.
The old stand-by is Louella’s Rice. This came from my oldest friend, Barbara Bucknell Ashcraft. (not her age that makes her old but the length of our friendship—we have probably known each other since sixth grade). Her stepmother was Louella, and she made this rice dish. Note that it is uses Minute Rice—I never use instant products if I can avoid it, but  it works best in this case. The recipe also calls for a prepared can of soup—again, I prefer to make my own, but the canned version works well here.
Louella’s Rice
1 cup Minute Rice, uncooked       
1 can cream of celery soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1 4 oz. can  chopped green chilies
Mix it all together and bake it at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until rice is cooked. Serves four nicely. Sorry, usually not any leftovers.
The other recipe makes use of summer’s abundant zucchini crop. Have you ever had a zucchini vine in your garden? If so, you know the desperation of what to do with all that harvest. Some have been known to leave bags of zucchini anonymously on the doorsteps of friends and neighbors. Next time, tuck this recipe with the bounty.
Summer zucchini bake
One medium zucchini, washed and slice in ¼” rounds
For the sauce:
1 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino
¼ tsp. salt
A good pinch of paprika
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. chopped chives (optional)
For the topping:
2 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan or Pecorino
1 Tbsp. butter
Lay zucchini slices in an oven dish in a single layer as much as possible. In a separate skillet, melt butter. Add sour cream, grated cheese, salt, and paprika, and cook over low eat until it is a smooth sauce (two minutes or so). Remove from heat and stir in egg yolk and chives if using. Spread over zucchini. It will look like there’s not enough sauce, but it really works out.
Mix breadcrumbs and additional cheese and distribute evenly over zucchini and sauce. Dot with remaining butter. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.
And that’s what’s for supper!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Cook with what you have

My adaptation of Cobb sald

Here are my secrets for cooking without recipes:

Know what you want to eat; keep it simple; Enjoy yourself.

Come to think of it, these are my secrets for having a good life, too.

Today the kitchen, tomorrow the world!

              Tod Davies, Jam Today

Several years ago I came across a little book entitled, Jam Today: A Diary of Cooking with What You’ve Got. I was entranced by the prose, the ideas, the food suggestions. Of course the author, Tod Davies, happened to be married to a man who kept a bountiful vegetable garden right outside the kitchen door, so all she had to do to see what she had was stroll out the door. Still, I think the principle works for those of us who must store what we have in the cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer. And a PS to my recommendation for this book – it’s where I learned about the high-quality, water-packed albacore tuna I order from a small fishing vessel in Oregon. So much better than what you get from the grocery store.

After reading those suggestions, I put the idea to work in my kitchen. One evening I was preparing to leave town the next day and decided to see what I could use up from the refrigerator. Prowling around, I found some good, thinly sliced ham left from a sandwich project, a stub of zucchini, and some asparagus that wouldn’t last much longer. I had spinach fettucine in the cupboard—just the right amount.

I sliced the zucchini thin, julienned the ham, and cut the asparagus into bite-size pieces. I used salt and pepper generously on the vegetables. Then a dollop of butter went into the skillet, and I sautéed the vegetables a bit longer than the ham—they needed to cook, and the ham was precooked and very thin. When the vegetables were cooked, I added the ham and well-drained pasta to the skillet, stirred, and heated on low until thoroughly warm. Just before dishing, I gently blended in a good-sized dollop (heaping tablespoon) of sour cream and some Parmesan. Surprised myself both at how good it was and how much I ate.

Night before last, we had Cobb salad (sort of) for dinner, again using mostly what was on hand. I did buy a rotisseries chicken, but beyond that I arranged plates with hard-boiled eggs, green beans (canned, because I couldn’t get haricort vert and had the canned on hand—Jacob and Christian like them a lot), cherry tomatoes, sliced hearts of palm, avocado, lettuce, blue cheese, and bacon. We splashed Paul Newman’s Own Vinaigrette over it—it’s the only bottled salad dressing I put in my fridge, and it happens to be Jacob’s favorite. Made an eye-appealing plate—my mom always told me food is half-eaten with the eye. A bonus to this meal was that Jordan and I could arrange each plate to meet someone’s tastes (some among us are fussy—no hearts of palm, no hard-boiled eggs, etc.).

Today I told Jordan we had quite a bit of chicken left over. “Why don’t we have chicken tacos?” We still have avocado and cherry tomatoes; there’s a can of refried black beans in the cupboard. We have plenty of cheddar to grate, and her cupboard has tostada shells. Christian and Jacob will be happy, and so will we. An easy meal, and healthy.

What’s in your cupboard? Take stock, use your imagination. I bet you could find a week’s worth of meals.

And for fun, read Jam Today!

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Let’s hash out the subject of hash

I’m on this big kick of fixing light food for hot weather, so it’s odd that I suggest hash. I’m sure my kids—several of whom would turn up their noses at the idea now—associate hash with holidays because it was my favorite go-to for using leftover turkey. Just mix up cubed turkey, some of those mashed potatoes, even some of the dressing, and stir in enough gravy to hold it all together. Fry and try for a crisp crust—that part often eluded me.

Or, being my offspring, they’d think of the canned corn-beef hash their grandmother liked so well—a taste their mother inherited. My mom would refrigerator a can until the contents gelled, open the can at both ends, and push out a perfectly round cylinder of corned beef hash. She’d then slice and fry it and serve it with ketchup, I have two problems with that—I can never get the hash to stay in patties, and I end up with hash that is—well, hash. And I never get that crisp crust Mom did. Now, one of my sons occasionally (very occasionally) takes me to Ol’ South where I order it. They don’t do patties, but they get a wonderful crust.

But those are winter hash, and today the heat index is to be 106—I do wish they’d stop telling us about the heat index and just give the temperature. Doesn’t sound nearly as bad, and I think in part comfort—or discomfort—in the summer is a matter of the mindset.

But at any rate, here’s a chicken hash recipe that I particularly like, partly because it is not so heavy. Pair it with a green salad for a simple summer super, or serve it topped with a sunny6-side-up egg for a stylish breakfast. No ketchup required.

Chicken Hash


1large Idaho potato, peeled and diced

2 Tbsp. butter

¼ tsp. dried thyme

1 small onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced (or use your microplane)

1-1/2 cups cooked chicken, diced

½ c. chicken broth

2 Tbsp. heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potato separately in cold water until just tender. Drain and set aside.

Melt butter in a skillet and add onion, thyme, garlic, and salt to taste. Sauté until onion is translucent. Add celery and continue cooking until celery is slightly softened. Add potato and let the mixture begin to brown, watching that it does not burn. Stir in the chicken, broth, and cream, and cook until dry.

Serves two but can easily be doubled.