Monday, September 26, 2011

Artichoke Florentine Chicken

This is a recipe I put together over the weekend, as I have been eliminating foods that cause inflammation from my diet.  I didn't figure the amounts for this recipe, but I know you can all figure it out just fine!  This freezes very well and is delicious!
chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
brown rice, cooked
artichokes, marinated, canned
garlic, minced
fresh spinach leaves, stacked and sliced into thin strips (add at the very end)

Cooking Marathon

(from our family to yours)
by Joyce in Virginia, September 11, 2011, Written for Heart to Heart by request

Note from Lois: I believe these tips and tricks will help make food preparation easier and more fun, providing more valuable family time for you.

Short Version: Prepare/grill/cook/freeze/vacuum seal ("food save")

Day One: Food preparation (thawing/marinating/sorting/washing/soaking/readying)

Day Two: Have food ready to go from frig or freezer to grill. I do the inside and my husband, Mike, does the grilling--team effort. The end result is a wonderful array of seafood and poultry, legumes or whatever fits your budget.

Mike is outside grilling while I am inside cooking (beans; marinated chicken breasts and breaded chicken breasts in coconut oil; whole chicken in a crockpot; lasagna). I coat the chicken breasts and the fresh whole chicken with organic mustard and Tone's Restaurant Black Pepper (ground slightly coarser eliminating dust). The cooked food has a bit of a kick but when cut up the outside enhances the inside. I do not put water in the crockpot with the whole chicken. The broth when cooled can be frozen in ice trays and later used in our Thanksgiving dressing recipes or as a base for soups.

I do most of the cooking downstairs in our basement where I have created a "makeshift" kitchen. I set up my electric fry pan there; and the big laundry tub is great for heavy-duty cleanup, which we keep to a minimum by all the quirky tricks we have learned. 

Upstairs I have a large crock pot of beans (northern/pintos/navy--sort/wash/soak  overnight/rinse/cover with water/season with curry/sage/Tone's pepper). Cook on High for two hours and on Low the rest of the day. A couple of hours before turning them off, add lentils/split peas/whatever is on hand (lentils and split peas do not require soaking so just sort/rinse and add to the crock pot of beans (these give the beans more texture and thicken the soup and the pepper is coarse enough to be seen and tasted..yummmm). I serve the beans inside whole wheat Pitas and sprinkle dried cranberries on top  (they always taste better if they run down your arm when eating them!!) Of course, they can also be served in a bowl with the cranberries. The flavors of the simple seasonings and the beans are enhanced by the flavors in the cranberries.  Carrots/onions can also be added. Let cool in the crockpot (at least an hour or more) spoon into large jars using a large canning funnel or spoon into bowls. I like the restaurant-size jars so I can just screw on the tops and keep the smells inside. The beans keep well for up to four days in frig.

I would love to have freezer container ideas for beans. I have tried several ways to avoid plastic; however, this works. Reusable plastic containers the circumference of a salad plate (the reason for this is that I want to go thin and not thick when freezing so it will take less time to thaw) or smaller is what I am using now, but they take up freezer space and only the bottom of the container is filled. Spoon the beans from the frig into each container in one serving-size portions. Don't worry that this leaves the rest of the container space empty because after they freeze, I can just set them out for a few minutes; turn them upside down; and the "circular serving" of beans just pops right out onto to a tray for food saving. The beans last in the freezer for months and months; can be thawed in the frig/microwave/heated/served. "Mike grew up on pinto beans and chow-chow over cornbread and that is still his favorite meal!! Could that be Mike's incentive to 'participate in our cooking marathon?!'"

Upstairs in our kitchen oven I have lasagna baking (thaw in the frig for at least a day so it will cook in less time with less energy). It can be freshly made; or Stouffers; or any large pan lasagna baked using the package directions. One tip is to remove the lid and clean all the sauce and cheese off and take a damp paper towel and clean all around the rim so when you "tent" the lid, all the sauce and cheese cook inside the pan and do not spill out into your oven. I bake ours on an Air Bake cookie sheet to prevent spills into the oven. Cook/cool/cut into serving-size squares/place on wax paper-lined trays; and freeze (one last wax paper between food and foil).

Day Three: I set up our "food saving" counter (can be at a kitchen island in front of the TV or downstairs on top of the chest freezer. If we time it just right we can do this at kickoff when the Virginia Tech Hokies are playing one of the ACC teams--another incentive for "Hokie Dad" Mike!! It takes two of us working together; one inserting the food into the "Food Saver" bags (make ahead of time if you use the rolls which is more economical) sealing/store/freeze. This can be done in stages, but "We train for this marathon so we go ahead and finish the race."

Supplies: Trays suitable for freezing (the best season to find plastic reusable trays is in the spring when the patio and picnic items are in stock at Target, Walmart, even the dollar stores). Line the tray with paper towels/wax paper/layer of food/wax paper (in that order) then wrap all your layers in tin foil for freezing--you will always have a protective layer between the food and the plastic trays. The paper towels soak up the condensation that forms when you remove the food from the freezer, but food will stick to paper towels. Parchment paper would be even better and provide easier cleanup, but is much more costly. Tin foil trays are okay but not as sturdy. Food rarely sticks to the wax paper as long as the food is cool. Layering reduces the number of trays.

Tip: Since condensation forms inside the foil and wax paper, before taking trays of food upstairs to food save, I strip off the foil and lay it out to dry/blot with paper towels/store and reuse.

Large jars (described previously): As the beans remain in the frig for a day, they thicken and are easier to spoon into containers. You may even add a bit of water when heating. The large pickle jars work great!

Food Supply: We buy natural organic foods from the Co-Op as much as possible; Walmart for Tone's Restaurant Black Pepper; Omaha Steaks (great quality/prices/sales/deals; see end of article for links and comments); also Sam's Club.
Recipes and Creativity: (the sky's the limit!) We love the simplicity of the mustard/pepper marinade and use it on salmon, chicken, even breaded chicken which tastes good on whole wheat bread with mayo and sliced pickles. I rarely eat red meat, but the Omaha Steaks grilled hamburgers/steaks/pork for Mike, when food saved, taste just like they came off the grill. We even grilled our first lobster tails that were in one of our seafood orders (those never made it to the freezer!!) Instead, we "refueled" to finish the race!!
Storing/Filing/Timesaving Our "marathon foods" would get lost in our freezer so we have learned to store "like foods" after sealing ("food saving") in labeled Hefty Jumbo zip lock bags in alphabetical order flat in our freezer. That way, we do not have to sort through all the Hefty's each time we want to find an entree (this must be the OCD in me!! pray for Mike!!).
Your Finish Line: You listened to your coaches/believed/trained/prepared/persevered/did a little grillin, "did a little freezin,' did a little food savin," and finished the race and you made it to the finish line!!

Congratulations!! Now, what's for dinner?!!

Rewards and Benefits: Prepared ready-to eat entrees without all the sodium and preservatives (add a veggie and salad) and "Dinner's on the table." Pop the food into a cooler when visiting kids and grandkids out of town or going to the beach. Save time/money/exposure to food borne illnesses. Healthy meals/less planning/more quality time with family. Fewer trips to the store saves on gas. Neighbor/friend/loved one in need? Just fill a small cooler and share a meal for later; or prepare and deliver the meal on a tray with a card and a rose bud and a loaf of bread from Fresh Market tied with raffia; and you will receive the blessing of giving!!

Links and Product Information for things that help us run our race:
Walmart: Tone's Restaurant Black Pepper ("ground slightly coarser eliminating dust.")

Omaha Steaks has good prices/sales/deals/clearance sales and frozen food is delivered right to your door. They have meats/seafood/vegetables/casseroles/desserts and so far everything we have ordered has been delicious. Watch for "Jill's Deals" on the Today Show during holidays, where I discovered Omaha Steaks. The food is shipped with dry ice in large recyclable coolers ready for the freezer. During our most recent "marathon," two of the packages of salmon had rips in the plastic packaging (uncharacteristic of their quality). I called Omaha Steaks customer service and within a few days a gift card to use on my next order arrived in the mail. Excellent customer service; might try negotiating for free shipping.

Trays: approximately 13" x 20"  The best season to find plastic reusable trays is in the spring when the patio and picnic items are in stock at Target, Walmart, even the dollar stores.
Air Bake: I used these when we needed a new stove and everything burned on the bottom. They are wonderful!! and they come in so many different sizes: go the the air bake site first and find all the choices and then look at Walmart/Target/Bed Bath & Beyond locally or order from Amazon:; Walmart: 11740709

About the Author: Joyce and her husband, Mike, are very involved in their church.  They have a grown daughter as well as a married son and daughter-in-law who have blessed them greatly with their first grandchild.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sweet Potato Fries

Thanks to Hope Helmuth in Virginia for this recipe!
Hope's husband hates sweet potatoes, but he likes these! - Used by permission

4 large sweet potatoes, cut into fries
Place in a gallon-size plastic bag.
Add 2 Tbsp. of Canola oil.
Flip and flip bag until fries are coated.

Mix together:
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (scant if you don't like things hot)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. seasoned salt

Shake seasonings into bag and flip over and over until fries are evenly coated.
Place onto a tray, making sure fries aren't overlapping.
Bake at 435 for 35 minutes, flipping half way through.
Ovens may vary, so just bake until they are soft inside and crispy on the outside.
Dip in
southwest sauce or ketchup.