Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Pantry Magic: Chicken Enchiladas

img_1458The request: chicken enchiladas.

The problem: no one shopped for enchiladas this week.

The pantry, fridge, and freezer produce the following:

  • frozen chicken breasts and thighs
  • frozen turkey stock from Thanksgiving
  • bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese
  • half a wheel of Mexican fresco crumbly cheese
  • an absurd number of cans of chopped chiles
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 can of enchilada sauce
  • 1 can of Rotel tomatoes
  • 1 baggie of leftover soft tortilla boats and crunchy corn taco shells

And with this, I made the requested chicken enchiladas!

NOTE: while this particular collection of ingredients includes gluten and corn elements, it’s super easy to make this both corn and gluten free with homemade or Pacific stock and Harris Teeter Naturals refried beans or Natural Value organic refried beans. So far there are no flour tortillas that are both gluten free and corn free, and many contain soy. This is a great time to try your hand at making your own GF/CF flour tortillas with one of the many flour-based or cauliflower tortilla recipes available online; it’s a simple and quick process! I get around the tortilla issue by baking a small dish of the filling and eating over rice; it’s a great way to use up leftover rice from a previous meal or even takeout.

Boil the chicken for 15 minutes if boneless or a good 30 minutes if bone-in. While it’s boiling, get out a casserole baking dish and lay out the soft taco boats and the crunch taco shells so that you get the most in that you can. I was going for 8 taco boats and 6 taco shells. Since the chicken is still boiling, smear a spoonful or so of refried beans in the bottom of each boat and shell; add/repeat until you’ve used the whole can.

Should be close to time to drain and cool and shred the chicken.

Saute 1 chopped onion and 1-2 cans of green chopped chiles, no oil necessary. Yes, you can use fresh chiles, but this is about using what’s in the pantry and not having to go to the store to make dinner.

Whisk 1/4 cup all purpose flour (gluten free all purpose flour works too) with 1/4 cup of your favorite cooking oil or melted butter in a bowl and add the blend to the sauce pan on top of the onions and chiles on medium until the mixture bubbles briskly. Add 1 cup turkey stock (or chicken or vegetable stock from a can or box) and 1/2 cup of milk (unsweetened, not vanilla almond milk or soy milk will work, but not rice milk). This will make a “white sauce” or loose turkey gravy. Add about a cup of cheese and stir until completely blended; I’m using the crumbly fresco cheese.

Mix the shredded chicken into the pot.

Spoon the mixture into each boat and shell until you’ve used it all. If you’ve got some leftover, pour it into a small baking dish to serve over rice or dip with chips.

img_1459Top each boat with one or both of the enchilada sauces. I prefer the green, but we only had a small can of red enchilada sauce.

Sprinkle up to 2 cups of shredded cheese on top.

Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes to get the enchilada filling good and bubbly and all of the cheese topping lovely and melty.

Sometimes it really is that simple. Ugly, but incredibly yummy!

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Posted in Cooking, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Faux-sagna: Lasagna with help from Cheese Ravioli

img_1455I’m not anti lasagna noodle – whether the traditional cooked kind or the no-cook kind. But when I can combine two steps in the mixing and layering into just one, it makes assembling a lasagna so much easier.

And when you add using the delicious Celentano frozen gluten free cheese raviolis, you’ll have a wonderful, luscious lasagna to enjoy.

Today’s faux-sagna is vegetarian, makes 4 servings, and will be my lunch for this week:

  • 1 bag of Celentano frozen gluten free cheese ravioli
  • 1 jar of organic marinara (I’m using Publix Greenwise Roasted Garlic marinara)
  • 3 cups of chopped vegetables that you like (I’m using onion, tri peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini)
  • 1T preferred cooking oil (I use Pompeian Grapeseed Oil)
  • 2-4 cups shredded mozzarella (I’m using Publix shredded part-skim, low moisture mozzarella)

Boil your ravioli according to package instructions; drain and let hang out in the colander – it won’t hurt a thing.

Onions, tri peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.
Onions, tri peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, and garlic.

In the same pot you boiled the ravioli, heat 1 T cooking oil on medium and drop in all of the veg at once. Lightly salt and pepper your veg and cook for 15-20 minutes until onions are translucent, peppers and mushrooms are darker in color, and zucchini slices are soft and fold easily. Remove from heat and prepare to layer.

My layering protocol is (from bottom to top of an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish):

  • Layer 1 of Raviolisauce
  • ravioli (12 pieces)
  • veg
  • cheese
  • sauce (use a spoon to tamp down the lumps and smooth out the surface for beginning the next layer)
  • ravioli (9 pieces)
  • veg
  • One full set of layerscheese
  • sauce
  • cheese

Before topping with that last layer of cheese, use a spoon to tamp down the lumps and smooth out the sauce, making sure the sauce goes all the way to the edges. That’s key for ensuring the pasta doesn’t dry out when you bake it.

TIP: make sure you get all of the sauce out of the jar by adding 1/4 cup of red wine or balsamic vinegar. Cap the jar and shake well. Pour the sauce and liquid right on top of the lasagna.

Remember, as long as you get it all in the pan and you’ve got a layer of ravioli stabilizing it at the bottom, your layering game can’t be wrong.

Full to the top and ready to bake!If I’m planning to eat the first serving the same day I make it, I’ll pop it into the oven to melt the cheese and blend the flavors at 350°F for 20 minutes. Otherwise, it goes in the fridge until I’m ready, when I’ll cook it at 350°F for 30 minutes – it takes a little longer when it comes straight from the fridge. After the initial cooking, I’ll heat individual servings on a plate in the microwave for 2 minutes, check, and then perhaps 1 minute more, depending on the microwave strength.

Why this isn’t corn free:

  • the Celentano gluten free pasta uses blends/ingredients that contain corn starch, the BIG BAD dextrose (aka corn syrup), and white vinegar
  • all pre-grated cheeses contain corn starch, which is used to keep the shreds separated
Posted in Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Cream of Mushroom Soup

img_1452These days most people have relegated cream of mushroom soup, specifically the thickened condensed version, to casseroles, but I was reminded a few days ago of my love of cream of mushroom soup as a straight up soup, especially with an ounce of brie crumbled and melted into it!

Here’s my gluten free and corn free cream of mushroom soup, which I’ll put up in 1.5 cup servings for freezing.

Makes 4 1-cup servings or 3 1.5 cup servings. The 1.5 cup serving is comparable to 1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup frequently used in green bean casserole or creamy chicken and rice with peas.

If you’re serving as soup, don’t forget to crumble an ounce (or two) of brie into the steaming hot bowl before serving.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces baby bella mushrooms (whole or sliced, doesn’t matter)
  • 4-8 ounces of any other mushrooms you like (I add a wild mushroom blend available from Publix)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup gluten free, corn free all purpose flour blend (Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour)
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite cooking oil (I use grapeseed oil)
  • 1 cup whole milk or heavy cream (soy and almond milk will produce similar result; rice milk will not)
  • 4 cups mushroom or vegetable broth (I use Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth when I don’t have any or enough of my fresh-made veggie stock)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper
  • Optional: 1-2 ounces of brie per serving, to be crumbled into the hot soup to melt

Add 1 T of your favorite cooking oil and 4 cloves of garlic to your stock pot over medium heat. You’ll observe the medium setting or you’ll burn your mushrooms and have a bitter soup.

img_1441Finely chop the mushrooms in your food processor (Cuisinart). If you don’t have a food processor, borrow one. You’ll thank me after your first hand-chopped or too-big-pieces batch! I find it easiest and fastest to do this in three batches, basically one batch per 8 oz container of mushrooms. Dump straight into the stock pot as you chop each batch.

img_1446Cook the mushrooms and garlic on medium for 15-20 minutes. You’ll see a lot of liquid bubble up out of the mushrooms, and your goal is to get that gone. You’ll both see the dry pan and begin to smell a slightly beefy aroma from the pot. That’s when you’re ready for the next step.

img_1444While you’re waiting for the mushroom water to cook all out, whisk together the all purpose flour and the oil; this is roux (pronounced “roo” like kangaroo), used to thicken liquids into thickened broth, cream soups or gravies. NOTE: if you find the first batch not thick enough for you, next time increase both ingredients to 1/3 cup; the more roux you use, the thicker your soup will be.

img_1447Once you’re sure all of the mushroom water is cooked out, make a hole in the mushrooms and pour in the roux. Let it bubble up for about 30 seconds and then stir it around into the mushrooms. Add the cup of milk/cream and keep stirring. It’ll look a little oatmeally at this point.

img_1449Add your vegetable or mushroom stock by 1 cup portions, stirring to combine before adding the next portion, until you’ve added 4 cups. And since that 32 oz box of stock is 4 cups, you can certainly guess your way through this step and just pour straight from the box.

img_1451Bring everything to a boil and let boil and bubble for about 3 minutes, stirring. Lower heat to the lowest setting you can and simmer for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If you’re using gluten free flour, you’ll see a “scum” or skin form on top of the soup; this is what happens when you try to get milk fats to combine with flour that has no gluten. Keep the skin; love the skin; use a whisk to re-blend the skin into the soup. This is part of how a gluten free flour thickens liquids when it has no gluten.

Turn heat off, leave the pot on the burner, and let cool before prepping individual servings for freezing or storing in a large container for refrigerator storage.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking

Soy and Teriyaki Sauce Alternative – soy free, corn free, gluten free

I’ve got a growing group of friends who have straight up food allergies to corn, gluten, soy – and, Lord help me, all three! And that makes safe store-bought sauces that most think of as a single ingredient not nearly impossible but actually impossible.

Hibachi-at-home: steak, scallops, veggies (zucchini, carrot, onion, peas), rice.
Hibachi-at-home: steak, scallops, veggies (zucchini, carrot, onion, peas), rice – using this homemade soy sauce turned into teriyaki sauce.

Here’s my alternative to soy sauce when cooking for them – and now myself since I can control the sodium level so much more!

  • 1/4 cup strong beef or mushroom broth (use homemade or Pacific brand)
  • 1/4 cup organic apple cider vinegar (make your own with this recipe)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2 T molasses – be sure to get organic and check the label for corn syrup or corn-derived additives – I get mine raw from a local farm
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic – I recommend using a garlic press
  • 1/2-inch of fresh, finely minced ginger – I recommend using a cheese grater
  • 1/4 t finely ground pepper
  • kosher or sea salt – add in 1/4 t amounts until you achieve the soy sauce saltiness you like

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Did you know that Teriyaki Sauce is nothing more than a sweeter soy sauce? Add 1/2 to 3/4 cups of this soy-free soy sauce to a sauce pan with 1/2 cup corn-free brown sugar, combine well and simmer for 20 minutes.

Posted in Being Healthy, Cooking, corn free, gluten free, nut free, soy free

Comforting Beef Stroganoff Casserole

Recently, I found myself craving something beefy and comforting, so I put out a call for ideas on Facebook. Boy, did my girlies come through for me. Beef Stroganoff. It has a rich history as a classic Russian dish. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s got its own website! But essentially, this dish is beef cooked in a creamy mushroom sauce.

Having spent a delicious month in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1993, I know that, at least at that time, most Russians didn’t have regular access to good cuts of beef, and I learned that both of my Russian families made their beef stroganoff about the same way: cooking down wild, handpicked mushrooms and onions, adding some beef in to brown, deglazing with some water (making a bit of broth), and cooking this for several hours on low, then adding in some sour cream at the end to thicken up the sauce.

Sounds like the perfect crock pot recipe to me, but I wanted something a little more compact since I’d be at work all day and wanted my family to be able to put dinner together themselves. So I settled on a casserole that achieves the same purpose and delivers 4 healthy servings an no leftovers to junk up the fridge.

Ingredients (in order of preparation)

  • 1/2 bag of egg noodles, cooked and drained (for gluten free and corn free, use Lehman’s Gluten Free Homestyle Egg Noodles)
  • 2 large green peppers, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz sliced portabella mushrooms, chopped (alternatives: white button or baby bella)
  • 1 lb beef, chicken, or pork (cubed beef is traditional; ground is a great, less expensive alternative)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (for gluten free and corn free, use Pacific GF cream of mushroom soup or my homemade recipe)
  • 1 cup sour cream (or milk if you’re out of sour cream)
  • 1/4 t kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

You can see I’ve gone with a little help from the pantry rather than a totally-from-scratch recipe.

So I start with cooking the noodles. When they are drained, pour them into a casserole dish, lightly sprayed with cooking spray if you’re worried about sticking, which is not usually a problem.

Next I move on to the veggies…on medium heat and with 1 t of your favorite cooking oil, sweat the water out of the mushrooms and then add the peppers and onions for a quick saute; I’ve stopped cooking veggies in oil. I do these separate because I want to make sure they keep their crunch. If I put them in with the meat and sauce, they would cook down and have no texture left to liven up the casserole when it’s heated. Before they start getting brown, dump them in with the noodles and give it all a quick stir.

The last part is just as quick. We had some venison stew meat already cut up, so I tossed that into a pan with a little olive oil. When it gets just barely cooked through, dump in the cream of mushroom soup and sour cream, stir, and simmer for maybe 10 minutes, mostly to make sure the sauce comes together. Then dump this in with the noodles, peppers and onions, stir, and viola! Beef Stroganoff Casserole.

Now, certainly, you can pop this in the oven to finish and serve it up in about half an hour.

But I needed this as a make-ahead. And here are the instructions I’ll leave for the family to follow tomorrow:

To have dinner ready to eat by 6:30 pm, start at 5:45 pm

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Take the casserole out of the fridge and stir slowly and carefully
  • Cover the casserole with aluminum foil
  • Put the casserole in the oven for 30 minutes
  • Take the foil cover off and put in for another 15 minutes

As I’ve got Harris Teeter brown and serve rolls to go with mine, I’ll add the rolls during the final cook since they take 12-15 minutes. My folks will also be cooking up some sauteed squash and onion to go with this casserole.

For 8 nutritional servings or for 6 fuller servings, double the noodle, beef, and soup quantities; I also fully double the veggies, but that can be too much for many. Do not double the sour cream; there’s no need.

Posted in Cooking

Campstyle Eggs

My dad's favorite dinner for Veterans Day 2016.
My dad’s favorite dinner for Veterans Day 2016.

My dad grew up country and military, so he learned how to make something delicious out of nothing early in the life and from both his momma and his daddy – my Grannie and Papa Joe.

Between camping and hunting, Boy Scouts, and military life all using campfire cooking, a favorite campfire skillet breakfast is born: Campstyle Eggs.

Here’s the proportions for a 4-serving batch, which I made this evening for my Vietnam Veteran dad – Ed Mikell.

  • 1/2 lb breakfast sausage (Jimmy Dean Hot, one of my dad’s favorites)
  • 2 medium potatoes diced pretty small, or equivalent baby potatoes (we prefer yukon gold or red potatoes)
  • 1 small onion diced (sweet for us)
  • 1 small green bell pepper diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (optional and not a traditional ingredient)
  • 3 jumbo or 4 large eggs (subs: 1 cup Egg Beaters, tofu scramble)
  • 1 T milk per egg
Prep your potatoes, onions, and peppers before you start; this dish goes fast!
Prep your potatoes, onions, and peppers before you start; this dish goes fast!

Brown up the sausage on medium high heat, using your wooden cooking spoon to break it up into a fine crumble. Use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage to a paper towel, leaving all of the pork fat grease in the pan.

Drop in the potatoes, stir to coat in the pork fat grease well, and smooth into a single layer. Now leave them alone for a good 2 minutes (if diced really small) or 3 minutes (if diced a little larger) to get a light crispy golden crust on that one side. Stir gently to unstick the potatoes and roll them onto their other sides to continue cooking. I like the really small dice for this dish because you can crisp up the potatoes pretty quickly and get the whole dish done in under 20 minutes.

All the veg in the pan; all the meats waiting for their turn.

Once the potatoes have softened but may still have some crunch or bite to them still, drop in the onion and pepper to begin cooking. If you wait until the potatoes are completely and perfectly done, you’ll end up with half hard crunchy over cooked potatoes and half smushed potatoes, neither of which are desireable in the final dish.

Everything is in the pan, waiting for the eggs!
Everything is in the pan, waiting for the eggs!

While the potatoes, onions, and peppers are finishing, scramble 3 eggs with about 2 T milk; be sure to salt and pepper your egg scramble or the eggs will be bland.

 

I only had 3 large eggs, but this dish is very forgiving of amounts!
I only had 3 large eggs, but this dish is very forgiving of amounts!

When the potatoes, onions, and peppers have reached your favorite level of doneness (takes about 5 minutes for my family), add back in the sausage and stir well. Gently pour the egg/milk scramble over the whole dish and stir gently to coat everything with the egg as it is cooking. It’ll take about 1 minute for the eggs to cook and the dish to be ready to serve.

All done. It's not the prettiest thing, but it's delicious!
All done. It’s not the prettiest thing, but it’s delicious!

As soon as the egg is done to your liking (some like wet eggs, some like rubbery eggs, to each his/her own), take the pan off of the heat. This is important: do not leave the pan on the burner to “keep it warm” or you’ll overcook the egg and begin to burn the rest of the ingredients.

When we have this as a breakfast, this is it. As our dinner tonight, we enjoyed it with some local tomatoes sliced and fresh biscuits with butter and preserves.

Vegetarian/Vegan Alternative

  • Sub veggie crumbles or seitan crumbles for the sausage (will need to use an oil for the potatoes, onion, and peppers)
  • Sub tofu scramble or The Vegg Scramble for the egg
Posted in Cooking

Chicken and Dumplings

Boiled stuff…all together…including boiled dough. Only the countriest of country kitchens in the American South have been able to render boiled dough a culinary delight.

My Grannie's chicken and dumplings, one of my dad's favorites
My Grannie’s chicken and dumplings, one of my dad’s favorites

Many younger and even some middle-aged (like me) Americans believe a dumpling is the original creation of the Asian cuisines: a little pocket of dough filled with something. They seem to focus on the filled part and ignore the boiled part.

You see, country people got stuff to do. They don’t have time to roll and cut the dough and fill it with the chicken and vegetables from the stock before boiling it. But at the very root of things, country American chicken and dumplings are arguably a deconstructed Wonton soup. Hmmm, so it really is all in the presentation.

For me, I’ll stick with ugly yummy classic American chicken and dumplings:

Step 1: boil chicken and make stock – these things happen simultaneously

It’s important any time you are making a chicken stock or chicken soup that you use skin-on and bone-in chicken and that you use both white and dark meat. Why? That’s where the flavor lives: in the fat and in the bone. I promise that leaving the skin on will not make your stock oily, only that using the most flavor-filled parts of the chicken will make it rich and dark stock. That’s what you want: not golden or yellow but a light to medium brown color!

  • 1 whole split chicken (ask your grocery store butcher to do this for you or buy 2 split breasts and 4 split thighs with skin and bones)
  • 4 large carrots, cut however you want (I like 1-inch barrels) or half a bag of baby carrots
  • 1-2 onion family choices: white or sweet onion sliced, leek or green onion chopped to 1 inch pieces
  • 3-10 cloves of garlic – depends on how many vampires you’ve got hanging around
  • salt and pepper
  • hot water to cover the chicken completely

Turn on the sink faucet to the hottest setting to let it get hot. In the largest stock pot you’ve got (at least 8 quarts), place your carrots and onions and garlic on the bottom. Place the chicken pieces on top of this; smush it all down well. Liberally salt and pepper the pot, roughly 2 tablespoons of each; yes, it really needs that much salt. Cover with hot water from the kitchen sink, probably to about 1 inch from the top of the pot.

Place the full stock pot on your large burner on high. It’ll take 20-30 minutes to come to a full boil; be patient. Let it roil for 3-5 minutes, and then turn it down to medium low to simmer for 2-3 hours. You want to see a tiny bit of movement on the water; it should not be completely still. Turn the burner off and get ready for step 2.

Once you remove the chicken for picking (step 1), you may find that your stock fills only half of your pot. If you’ve followed my flavor instructions and your stock is a rich medium or dark brown, add up to 4 cups of hot water to dilute the stock for direct eating. I often have 2-cup servings of frozen stock in the freezer and may add one of these as well; my freezer stock is actually broth with much more vegetables and already diluted for immediate eating.

Step 2: Cool and pick the chicken

Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the chicken from the pot. I usually place mine in a colander so that it gets good airflow for quicker cooling. Once cooled, pick the chicken.

What, you don’t know what that means? Truly I know a lot of people who don’t know how chicken gets from pieces to shredded. Before you get started, make sure you have a chicken plate and a discard plate; I use paper plates for this step. So here’s how it goes:

  • pick up a piece of chicken in your right hand (reverse the hands if you’re left handed)
  • use your left hand fingers to grasp the chicken skin and fat flabs and pull them off; place them in the discard plate or bowl. Generally breast pieces will have less skin and fat than thigh/leg pieces
  • switch the piece of chicken to your left hand
  • use your right hand fingers to pull the large chunks of chicken off of the bone and place them on the chicken plate; discard the empty bone to the trash plate
  • take up the large chunks in your left hand
  • using a pinching motion, use your right hand fingers to pinch and tear the large chunks into many smaller ones
  • continue until you have picked all of the chicken off of all of the pieces

Now some of you reading have already rolled your eyes and dubbed me patronizing to be so specific, but I’ve had the pleasure of teaching my same-aged friends and their children cooking basics, and you can’t even imaging how difficult it is to employ these basic motor skills for the first time as an adult.

NOTE: some folks also remove the vegetable flavorings, but I like them so I keep them. Other traditional vegetable additions include celery and peas (see side note at the bottom).

When you’re about 30 minutes from serving time, you’ll take step 3.

Step 3: Make the dumplings

There are lots of styles of dumplings, but the dough is about the same. If your people have memories of fluffy round dumplings, you’ll want to keep the following dough pretty wet and sticky; these are biscuit dumplings. If your people have memories of long flat dumplings, you’ll want to add a little more flour to form a solid ball of dough to work with; these are pie crust dumplings. The basic recipe is the same:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (make this gluten-free by replacing standard flour with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour)
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 egg

Drop them all in a bowl together and use a fork to blend them; do not use a whisk or you’ll end up with a blob of unblended dough inside the tines of the whisk and it’ll be a pain to get it all out.

If you want the puffy biscuit dough dumplings, stop mixing as soon as everything is combined. Drop the dough into the boiling stock. Since dumplings cook through in about a minute, this is a fast process.

If you want the flat pie crust dumplings, keep dusting the mixture with flour (probably 2 T at a time) and mixing until the dough comes together into a ball that does not sag or flatten and the sides stay smooth when you tough them, not sticky or tacky. Sprinkle a handful of flour on your clean kitchen counter and coat both of your hands with flour. Pinch off a generous handful of the dough and, on the floured counter, use your fingers to press it into a long flat lasagna noodle shaped dough. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1 inch strips on the short edges (1-inch x 2-inch). Peel the dough strips off of the counter one by one and drop them into the boiling stock. Repeat until all of the dumplings have been dropped.

Add the picked and shredded chicken back into the stock and dumplings to warm for about 20 minutes. Serve piping hot!

 

Side Note: One of the most beautiful things about this recipe/technique is that it’s almost a chicken pot pie. Yep, use the same stock making, the same dumpling making, and use the stock to make the pot pie sauce. Really couldn’t be simpler.