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Lemon Grilled Chicken

17 Jun

lemon chicken

No question–summer is grilling season. And much as I love the convenience of tossing chicken into a bowl of premade marinade, the lists of ingredients on those bottles are often a big turn-off. I can’t pronounce half that stuff. Doesn’t make a lot of sense to make healthy grilled food doused in chemicals.

This is a really simple alternative. It’s a very light, fresh lemon marinade that took me about three minutes to throw together from fresh ingredients in my refrigerator and pantry. And the best part was that everyone liked it. We served it with some yukon gold potatoes sliced thin, sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and dill, and roasted at 425 for about half an hour (until they get crispy on the outside), and simple steamed broccoli, and the grown-ups paired that with some sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with balsamic vinegar. It was a great summer dinner.

Next time you’re thinking about one of those bottles of marinade, try this. Couldn’t be easier. You need:

Chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, halved crosswise (I used about two pounds–we’ll have leftovers tonight)

2 tbsp finely minced onion

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c white wine (you could use chicken broth)

1 tbsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp salt

Zest and juice of one lemon

Dash of sriracha or other hot sauce

Put your chicken in a bowl or zip-top bag.

Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the chicken. Let it sit for a few hours (mine sat all day), stirring or turning every so often.

Heat your grill, throw the chicken on there, and cook until it’s done (165 internal temperature).

 

Missing It

13 Jun

You are not managing an inconvenience.

You are raising a human being.

-brilliant plaque I saw online

 

Sitting in a Boy Scout troop parent meeting last night, I stifled a big urge to shake people. Not the boys–the boys rock my world, loud and fast and smelly as they are. But because of the same scenario I saw play out four or five times during my tenure as school room parent this past school year (side note: that, my friends, is an eye-opening experience).

Our boys are going to summer camp, as they always do, and the troop needs parents to shuttle them to and from a bus depot at the start and end of camp. As they always do. A troop leader went through the equipment checklist, answered questions, and then said, “We’ll need drivers to and from the bus on Saturday morning. It’s about 20 minutes away.”

Parents physically recoiled. I watched it. Eyes that had been straight ahead hit the floor. Moms started rummaging through purses. Dads fiddled with phones or doodled on agendas. Silence blanketed the room. It was all I could do to not stand up, take them each by the shoulders, and hiss in their ears,  “You’re missing it.

It happened with every field trip this year. Getting parents to volunteer to spend the day with their kids was pulling teeth without painkiller. I saw it in Girl Scouts, saw it in church activities, saw it in birthday parties and playdates. Drop and run, baby. I’m not naive–I know we work and have more than one kid and there’s only so much time and blah blah blah. I do all that, too. Job, kids, house, dog, things to do, places to go, endless list. And I’ve done it, from parties to carpool to daytrips. Get out of my car! All but booted them out in morning carpool, soles of my feet on their butts, just for those seven precious hours of quiet. Preaching to the choir.

Here’s the thing: We get one shot at this. Our kids are kids one time–no do-overs I had a kindergartener yesterday, and I blinked and he’s going into eighth grade and we’re looking at high school. High school! After that is college and boom, we’re done. My younger just finished fifth grade, which is the last year of little-kid-dom. Sixth grade is middle school, and everything changes. Blink and they’re in high school and definitely too cool to have a parent (OMG, totes embar!), and blink again and they’re gone. All those days and nights, eyes on the floor, emails deleted, sleeping late on Saturday because we can, and we missed it.

I’ll drive the boys to the bus, and I’ll hear hilarious conversations and great stories and get a lot of insight into the kids my kid is hanging around.

I’ll take an extra lunch duty at school and laugh at the way they explain the world when they don’t know an adult is listening. I’ll work late that night for sure, but it’s a fair trade.

Field trips, wow. My favorite. Loud and stressful and stinky and sweaty and a pain, (and the overnights are sleepless and cold and lumpy) but those six or eight or 24 hours in my child’s world doing something hands-on and new and different and exciting? The memories of these days alone–totally priceless. This only comes around once.

My kids’ teachers…God bless them. With few exceptions, they have been patient and loving and kind with both my kids and me. They always thank me for taking an hour or a day to help (I suspect I’m really in the way, but they thank me anyway), and it really should go the other way round. They get my kids in a different world. They get a completely different picture of my children than I do. They hear their jokes and see their work and get to know them on a different plane than their dowdy old mom. I should be thanking them for those moments in that world and on that plane. The scrapbook between my ears is overflowing with wonderful memories of those lunches and parties and trips. And yeah, a big part of me would rather be getting my nails done or clearing my desk, and I’ve questioned my decisions more than once burning the midnight oil Working For the Man to make up for the time. But as that time goes, I know each hour with my kids is such a gift.

So yeah, my hand went up last night. I’ll drive. Both ways. Haul my aging butt out of bed and drag my sleepy self and my coffee to a parking lot and fill my car with sweaty boys and fight traffic. I’ll be on the field trip. I’ll take lunch duty. Moderate the club meeting. Sleep in a tent with 15 of my favorite 12-year-olds. Sign me up. Wouldn’t miss it. Ever. For anything.

One shot.

You’re missing it.

 

/endsermon

 

 

Cheaters’ Celebration Peanut Butter Pie

12 Jun

pbpie

Yesterday was the last day of school, praise God and all the angels above. Not that I don’t love our school (I do, mostly) and not that the kids didn’t have great years (they did, for the most part, usually, sometimes), but the math homework and the projects and the needing some obscure thing at 7:30 in the morning sorry I forgot mom, and the not-invited-to-camp-or-the-party drama and the runningrunningrunning all get to be a bit much by June. Right? If you’ve got a kid older than five, you’re nodding with a big hell yeah (if not, well, you’re either a remarkable parent, terribly detached, or on the verge of an intervention).

DH was traveling for work, which is not all that unusual, and the kids wanted lasagna for dinner. Fine–no worries. Lasagna it was and it was good and all were happy. But I needed a dessert, too. Something fun and unexpected and worthy of the occasion. We made it. But also really simple and easy. I’m tired.

A few weeks back, we celebrated a family birthday at one of our favorite restaurants. The place was crowded and not prepared and our food took a long time to arrive, and in an act of pure class that will keep me coming back forever, the manager came over and offered us all dessert on the house with his apologies–and we didn’t even complain. What we got, though, wasn’t a traditional peanut butter pie. This was a layer of graham cracker crumbs, a layer of vanilla custard, a layer of whipped cream, and powdered peanut butter on top.

Seriously among the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. That peanut butter powder works miracles on the layers below and it’s a thing of beauty. Like, I took a picture of it so I wouldn’t forget later.

Last night, I made it. And I have to say, I’m sort of embarrassed to pass this off as a recipe, because it’s so stinkin’ simple. Takes five minutes to put together. As a recipe, it’s totally cheating. But boy, it’s good. Really, really good. I see a summer staple born. You just need:

1 graham cracker pie crust

1 large box instant vanilla pudding mix

Milk, to the recipe on the pudding mix box

1 container whipped topping (or make your own)

3 tbsp powdered peanut butter (look near the real stuff in the grocery store–one brand is PB2 but there are several out there)

Mix your vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box and stick it in the fridge for about five minutes to let it set up a bit.

Once that’s set, spread it into the pie crust.

Smooth the whipped topping over that.

Sprinkle the peanut butter powder over that.

Cover and let it hang in the fridge for a few hours.

Honestly. Doesn’t get easier. Or yummier. I think it’s calling me right now, actually…

 

 

Meaty (Meatless) Mushroom Pasta Sauce

19 Feb

sauce

Three things:

  1. The first thing DH asked me after he took a bite of this last night was whether there was meat in it. Answer: No. But the texture is just like a very hearty meat sauce. And my kids, who won’t touch identifiable mushrooms, ate some. Which was awesome.
  2. The next thing he said was that it may be the best pasta sauce he’s ever eaten. Score, ladies and gentlemen. Score.
  3. It’s super easy, very fast, and uses stuff you probably already have in your pantry. And it’s healthy.

I cannibalized this recipe from one in the defunct Gourmet magazine, which I miss very much and wish like heck would come back on paper or the iPad (did you know the iPad version is dead too? Sad, sad, sad.). Their recipe had chicken and rosemary and arugula and whole tomatoes and fancy-schmancy gourmet mushrooms and seemed like a bigger pain than necessary. I didn’t want chicken last night. I don’t like arugula despite its current trendiness. God made chopped tomatoes in cans and boxes for a reason (have you seen the boxed chopped tomatoes? My new favorite thing–they are amazingly good). I am a tightwad. And I don’t keep rosemary in the house. So improvisation was necessary.

We had this with pappardelle pasta, which is my favorite noodle of all time. The kids think it’s fine and DH isn’t much for it. You can’t win them all. This would work well on ziti or rotelle or shells, too. I am having more for lunch today, and am already smiling thinking about it–it’s really yummy.

pasta sauce

To make this, you need:

3 tbsp olive oil

1/2 a small onion, diced (I like Vidalias, but whatever makes you happy will work)

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp black pepper

8 oz mushrooms, roughly chopped (I started with sliced button/white mushrooms and cut them into quarters).

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth (you can use water if you don’t have this, but the broth gives it a hint of extra yummy)

2 tsp dried basil, divided

1 28-oz can or box diced tomatoes, undrained

Pasta of your choice

Grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a large pan over medium heat and coat the bottom with the olive oil. Cook the onions until they’re soft but not brown–about 2 or 3 minutes if your pan is hot.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook until the mushrooms start to brown. They’re going to shrink and they’re going to give off their liquid. Do not panic. It’ll soak back up after a few minutes. When the mushrooms look like they’re starting to cook, stir in the chicken or veggie broth and let it go for a few minutes.

Once your mushrooms are brown, use the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan (stir it in and scrape up all the yummy brown bits o’ goodness up and into the mushrooms). Cook until the vinegar is thick and sticky, which is only a minute or two.

Stir in the tomatoes, pepper, and 1 tsp of the basil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens up a little bit. Stir in the rest of the basil, adjust salt and pepper, ladle over your cooked pasta, and top with grated Parmesan.

Dear Grocery Store Manager

5 Feb

An open letter to grocery and big-box store managers.

Dear store manager,

I came home from your store this morning with a list of things I have to go somewhere else to buy.

Again.

We’re an average family of four. I buy a lot of food. I do not buy anything exotic or hard-to-find (theoretically, at least).

I have no loyalty to your store simply because it’s so frustrating to visit time and time again and leave without things, having passed shelves over because they were empty, blocked, or stocked with food that was less than fresh. And I would love, with all my heart, to find a food store I could rave about and love and patronize regularly, knowing that the experience will be positive.

I think maybe you don’t shop for your own family in your store, or you’d see what I see (and what everyone else in town sees…and talks about). Now, I’m no retail manager, but making shopping less frustrating for customers doesn’t seem all that difficult. May I offer a few suggestions, having been a consumer for awhile now?

  1. Be open when you’re open. If the doors are open and no blizzard or hurricane has knocked out the supply chain, have food on the shelves. Turn the escalators on so customers can easily access both floors without asking someone to press the switch. Have cashiers at their posts from minute-one, in case a customer just wants to get in and out quickly with a few items.
  2. Check the dates and condition of fresh food. I regularly find mold on “fresh” produce on the shelves. Last I checked, we are not a third-world nation. There’s simply no excuse for selling spoiled items. Today, I found eggs that expire in four days (which is pretty darn old for eggs) and milk that expired yesterday, all still for sale. You were out of seltzer water and pancake syrup. That shows me a lack of attention to detail, which means I have to pay extra attention to it and then drive somewhere else to finish. My time is valuable.
  3. Make your store accessible. A team pep rally that blocks aisles at 8 a.m. is a serious pain to shoppers (see #1: Be open when you’re open. Move the rah-rah to a stockroom or have it at 7:50 if the doors open at 8. And by the way, I hear the upsell motivation as I walk by this daily event, which makes me feel a bit ripped off if we’re being honest. Keep it out of earshot.). Stocking carts that block shelves during business hours mean those shelves may as well be empty–I can’t reach what I want.
  4. Tell your employees to love their jobs, at least when I can see and hear them. Its super frustrating to see/hear a gaggle of uniformed workers shooting the poop in a corner while things I need are missing. And I don’t want to hear how awful their manager is or how much their jobs suck. It’s a downer for other workers, and it’s a downer for customers, too.
  5. Train your cashiers to bag merchandise. I know–it’s not rocket science. But if my bag weighs a lot, it’s difficult for me to handle at home and the things I just paid for get smashed or spilled, and the plastic bag I wanted for trash or dog doo is ripped and useless. If I have things on the belt in order (refrigerated things together, fragile things together), please see that your workers notice and bag them that way, too. And the first rule is: the bread goes on top. Yes, I apparently have to say that. No, I shouldn’t have to. And I also don’t want to talk about my tampons, ice cream, or cortisone lotion–no comments on the merchandise, please.
  6. Watch your lanes. Ask customers who have 25 items in the express lane to relocate so those of us in a hurry can keep moving, rather than refuse to offend the idiot while inconveniencing everyone else. And before you install eight self-serve lanes and close manned stations, see if your customers like them. Most of us don’t–they’re slower than regular cashiers, they jam up, and quite frankly, we don’t work there. Finally, fear not opening more lanes when things are busy. Nothing is more frustrating than standing in line for 15 minutes during a rush while the two adjacent lanes stand empty and silent.
  7. Shop your own store. Ask your friends to come in anonymously and give you honest evaluations of what they find. Hire secret shoppers. Early and often. You’d be amazed how your business looks to those of us who don’t work for you.
  8. Provide your employees with a smoking area that’s not near the front door. Nothing, and I mean nothing (besides maybe the moldy tomatoes I passed up in the produce department this morning), is as disgusting as leaving a grocery store with fresh food and walking through stale smoke stench to get to my car. Really, it’s gross.

At the moment, I have no brand loyalty to any store in town. I would love to develop it and give you the benefit of my entire grocery budget. I would love to come home less than frustrated and having to copy half my list onto a new one for another store. And I’m sure you’d love for me to stop complaining.

Give it some thought. Please. Make me love you. Or at least, make food shopping less of a dreaded chore.Love,

Your customer

De-Vegetarianized Three-Bean Chili

22 Jan

IMG_1101

It is flippin’ freezing here in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. My handy-dandy LL Bean thermometer tells me it’s currently 18.2 degrees outside my back door, and the wind is whipping like Harrison Ford in a pit of snakes. (AND the Ravens are going to the Superbowl! Yahoooo!!!) Which means, of course, that it’s a fantastic week for chili.

This is a recipe I cannibalized modified from Cooking Light. Theirs originally had squash in it. Nobody in my house likes squash (yes, we’ve tried. Many ways. Many varieties. Not happening. Sorry.). I tried it with chunks of sweet potato. I loved it; nobody else did (*sigh*). So I did what any red-blooded American mom did when she wants a mostly healthy meal on the table that nobody will complain about, and added bacon.

You heard me. Bacon. To the bean chili. Which is decidedly no longer vegetarian, but is super delicious and very easy to make.

(If you don’t have or don’t want bacon in your dish, get yourself a bottle of smoked chipotle Tabasco sauce and add about a half-teaspoon to the chili instead to give it a similar smokey flavor.)

I made a big pot tonight and am saving it for tomorrow, because this is one of those recipes that gets better the longer it hangs out in the refrigerator. It has joined my list of go-to meals to share with people who could use a home-cooked dinner dropped at their door. Everybody Most of my family loves it (nine-year-olds are impossible to please and I am not taking it personally). And it’s mostly healthy.

One quick note: I am going to tell you how to make roasted red peppers. It is super easy and they’re fun to peel when they’re all crunchy and black, and they’ve become something of an obsession with me lately. If you would prefer not to share my joy in this particular department, go ahead and buy yourself a jar of roasted red peppers and chop a half-cup or so for your chili. I won’t tell.

I hope your house is cozy and warm, and I hope you’ll try this yummy chili, even though it’s not at all what I’m sure the good editors at Cooking Light intended when they came up with the first version. You need:

2 red peppers (or a jar of roasted red peppers already done)

3 slices of bacon, chopped up

1/2 an onion, chopped (I use Vidalia, but any yellow onion is great)

2 tsp ground cumin (roasted if you can find it–McCormick makes one)

1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (smoked chipotle if your market has them)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp chili powder

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups chicken broth

1 28-oz can or box chopped tomatoes

1 15-oz can red kidney beans

1 15-oz can cannellini beans

1 15-oz can black beans

Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and spray it with olive oil. Toss your chopped bacon in there and let it crisp up.

While that happens, slice your red peppers into four slices each. Cover a baking sheet with foil, spray it with oil, lay the pepper strips skin side up on the foil, and stick that under the broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes, until they’re all black. Remove them with tongs from your baking sheet, seal them up in a plastic zip-top bag, and let them hang out in their own steam for about 15 minutes.

Once your bacon is all crunchy, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon, set it aside for later, and drain most of the bacon grease from the pot. Then, dump in your onion, stir it around, and let it get all soft–about 10 minutes.

After your onion is all cooked, add in the spices and garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, being sure to scrape up the yummy brown stuff from the bottom of the pan while you stir it in, and then your tomatoes.

By now, your peppers have worked their magic. Carefully remove them from the bag, lay them on a cutting board, and peel the black skin off with your fingers (chuck it). Chop up the roasted pepper that’s left, stir it into the pot, cover, and let that mixture simmer for 15 minutes or so.

Rinse your beans well, and then stir them into the pot along with whatever bacon you didn’t eat already. Cover again, let cook for about 15 minutes, shut off the heat, and either eat right away or stow in a covered container overnight (I highly recommend letting it sit overnight for best flavor). Enjoy.

Accidental Chicken

16 Jan

**peeks around corner**

**clears throat**

Happy New Year!!

Yes, I’m still here. No, I’ve not been ignoring you all on purpose. Again. Life has intervened, interrupting both my creative and kitchen mojos. But the fog seems to be lifting, I’m cooking again, and we’re going to give this another shot if you’ll still have me (please say yes!).

So. Let’s talk chicken.

DSC02568

Let’s talk about buying a chicken and happily setting it out on the counter to roast on a night your husband is away (because you love, love, love roast chicken and he pretty much hates it) and then remembering that you’d cleaned out the frig and freezer recently and had none of the lovely things you normally stuff inside and set around a bird before it goes into the oven. You have, of course, two choices: sadly put the chicken into the freezer for another time and have cereal for dinner, or improvise.

I chose #2. Because I really had my heart set on roast chicken that particular night. Improvising won, and I rummaged around and put my chicken in the oven with the stuff I had in the house, and he cooked up and cooled off and I carved him up, and guess what?

Best. Chicken. Ever. Seriously–I am in love with the way he got all moist and aromatic and delicious and perfect, and the fact that this was way less work than the usual way I cook a whole chicken, and Accidental Chicken is now my go-to recipe for nights the roast-chicken-hating spouse (freak) isn’t home for dinner.

So now, I’m going to stop rambling on and tell you how to make amazing chicken with a minimum of ingredients or fuss, and I hope you’ll give this a try. OK? Cool. You need:

1 chicken, giblets and guts removed (Thou Shalt Not Cook the Plastic Packet o’ Yuck Inside)

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt

2 small oranges (or 1 large orange, or 1 orange and 1 lemon–whatever floats your boat)

4-5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled

1 onion, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices

1/2 cup white wine

1/4 cup (ish) water

About 1 tbsp of butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large roasting pan or casserole dish (I use a 9 x 13 Pyrex dish) with your nonstick goodness of choice. Pour your wine and water into the dish so it covers the bottom (add more water if you need it). In the middle of the dish, lay your onion slices and garlic cloves–this will be the rack your chicken sits on.

Rub the inside of your chicken with the salt and thyme. Cut your citrus into quarters and shove it all down in there. Gently rub the outside of the bird with the butter, and lay it on top of the onion and garlic, breast-side down. Like this:

IMG_1059

Stick your meat thermometer into Mr. Chicken’s thigh and pop him into the oven, being very careful not to slosh your wine/water out all over the place. Let him roast for about an hour or until that thermometer says his thigh is 165 degrees. Take him out of the oven (careful!) and let him cool for 15-20 minutes before you carve him up. You can also enjoy those onions and garlic down in the pan, which I think are God’s own vegetables, if you want.

 

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