Friday, November 25, 2005

Chicken Mushroom Casserole

I'm using the two pieces of breast meat that I cut off the chicken yesterday, for today's dish. This is an easy recipe, and it will allow you to clean out some of those frozen vegetables in your freezer or start using up some of the cans in your pantry that are coming dangerously close to the expiration date.

Biscuits that are pre-proved are so easy to use, and come in handy very often. You can find rolls of 6 or 10 biscuits in the refrigerator section of your supermarket, and some brands will even go lower than six, if you are cooking for one. At any rate, keep one or two handy at all times in your refrigerator, I'm going to use it in an apple-raisin pie sometime soon.

For now, cut your chicken in bite-size pieces. For this recipe you will need:

Chicken Mushroom Casserole

2 cut chicken breasts
2 cups of mixed frozen or canned vegetables, such as corn, broccoli, green beans, carrots etc.
1 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 medium size onion
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup of grated cheese
1/2 cup of white wine (optional)
refrigerated unbaked biscuits
olive oil

Heat olive oil in a pan and add the chicken. When the meat is not pink anymore, add the onions and mushrooms and stir until the onions are soft. Add the frozen, fresh or canned vegetables (drain juices) and stir all together, then add the can of mushroom soup, 1 can of water and the wine. Let simmer for 10 minutes, and salt and pepper to taste.
Pour mixture into casserole, cover with unbaked biscuits, put cheese on top and bake in oven at 375 until mixture is bubbly, cheese is melted and/or biscuits are golden brown.

For an extra bite, you can add a small can of green chillies :-)

Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, and leave a comment if you'd like a recipe for the leftovers!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Basic chicken soup

Safety first should be your key goal when freezing or thawing food. One of the reasons I use ziploc bags to freeze most of my food is because it allows me to lay the bags flat. That way the food spreads out thinner and freezes faster. The faster it freezes the less time bacteria have to settle in. And this goes the other way too, the faster food defrosts, the sooner you can use it and less time there is for all these bugs to go haywire. For more information on freezing and thawing, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website (http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/gen_freeze.html).

At this point I have a whopping six pound frozen whole chicken defrosting in the refrigerator. I packed it in a plastic shopping bag and wrapped it well before freezing, and that's how I am thawing it. On the bottom shelf of the fridge, in a deep plate so that no juices can spill over into the crisper. There is quite a bit of money to be saved when buying whole chickens, instead of chicken breasts, thighs and wings separately. From one chicken I can make three to four meals easily, and make a big pot of chicken soup to boot.

If you have never cut up a whole chicken, it takes a bit of practice, but it gets easier every time and you soon will develop a sixth sense of where to cut. When the chicken has thawed, remove the giblets, neck and other items from the cavity. Save the giblets to make dog cookies, and set the neck aside. Place the chicken belly up towards you, on a cutting board. No wood! The juices will seep into the woodgrains so make sure the board is plastic or glass. Pull the left leg towards you and bend slightly to the left. With your thumb and index finger, follow the bones in the leg, starting from the ankle to the "knee" (move the leg and notice the joint). Now move up towards the body of the chicken, there is another joint where the leg attaches to the hip. Make an incision in the skin and see where the bones connect. Cut through the joint and remove the left leg. Chicken bones are notorious for easy shattering so make sure you have a sharp knife! Do the same with the right leg. Put them aside. Follow the same procedure with the wings. Since I don't care much for all the fat, I remove all of the skin, and cut away as much fat as I can. I don't bother with saving it for anything so in the garbage can it goes, but if you have some great idea on what to do with it, do let me know!

Place the tip of the knife in the separation of the two breast and score the meat. This part is more difficult, but if you just carefully follow the bone structure in the chicken, you will be able to remove two nice pieces of breastmeat from this baby! Next time I cut up a chicken I will take pictures, for now you may want to go to this website to see for yourself: http://ianrpubs.unl.edu/foods/heg146.htm

The nice thing about having a huge pot of chicken soup is that it is so versatile. The first two days we eat it like a broth with vegetables and chunks of chicken, by day three I add a can of stewed Italian tomatoes and some vermicelli (like alphabet noodles or rice) or little potatoes. Be creative!

Basic Chicken Soup

10 cups of water
1 large onion
1 tomato
3 ribs of celery
1 whole leek
2 large carrots
2 chicken broth cubes
chicken neck, wings, carcass (for more meat add the thighs and the drumsticks)

Put a big pot with cold water on the stove and add a whole peeled onion and an unpeeled tomato. This will bring a bit more flavoring to the broth. (If you want a darker broth, just cut the top and the bottom of the onion and leave the skins on, we'll remove these later). Rinse the chicken neck, the carcass and remove the skin from the wings. Add to the pot. Let the water come to a boil and lower heat to simmer for two hours. Remove the chicken, the onion and the tomato. Filter the broth through a dish towel (cotton, not terry cloth!) in a colander, transfer it to a clean pot and add one or two chicken bouillon cubes to it. Cut the onion in pieces, remove the skins if you left them on and place it back in the pot, return the tomato as well. Wash and cut celery ribs to bite size pieces, wash and ring the leeks (you may want to add some of the more tender green tops, ringed as well) and chop the two carrots or use baby carrots. This your basic chicken soup broth. When the carcass has cooled down a bit, proceed to remove the meat from the bones, making sure you catch all the little bones! Return the meat to the pot and let it simmer.

Every day, make sure you boil the soup and let it simmer for at least ten minutes. All the ingredients are fresh and it would be sad to let this soup go to waste!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Breakfast Burritos

When I go out for Mexican dinner, very often I end up ordering fajitas, one of my favorite foods. But with this delicious order almost always comes a huge plate with rice and beans, and quite honestly, I hardly eat any of it. I'm too busy stuffing my face with hot steaming tortillas, filled with spicy beef strips and lots of grilled peppers and onions :-) My sense of practicality (or being downright cheap) has me taking home the beans and rice ever since I've found a great way of using them for a different dish. One of the things I love is something easy and simple to pop in the microwave for a quick pick-me-up, or when I feel like a snack. During the week I do not always have time to eat breakfast, and it's easy to have something hot to eat on my way to work. I use the refried beans and rice as a basis for Breakfast Burritos that are easy to make, easy to freeze and easy to reheat.
Unlike the guacamole and lettuce that often accompanies the fajita fare, refried beans and Mexican rice freeze well. And that is exactly what the three small ziploc bags contain that I thawed earlier (see yesterday's blog) today.
Depending on how much beans and rice you have, adjust the amount of tortillas and eggs. The tortillas I use are about 6 inches in diameter, and the amount of filling is approximately 2 full tablespoons of beans and eggs each.

Breakfast Burritos12 whole wheat tortillas
refried beans and rice
6 eggs
1 onion
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
salt and pepper
2 cups grated cheese

Thoroughly reheat the beans and rice, and mix them. If you have some hot sauce or salsa, you can add that to the mix. Beat the eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper. In the meantime, dice the peppers, slice the onion. Put a little bit of olive oil in a skillet and sautee onions and peppers until they are soft, add the egg mix and scramble the eggs. Now heat one tortilla at a time (in my microwave 30 seconds is exactly right), and place it in front of you on a cutting board. (Heating the tortillas will make it easier to fold them.)

Place two tablespoons of the bean and rice mix in the middle of the tortilla in a rectangular fashion, place two tablespoons of the scrambled eggs on top of the beans and add a tablespoon of grated cheese. Now fold the sides of the tortilla with your index fingers over the filling, use your thumbs to flap the front of the tortilla over the top and roll the whole burrito forward on the cutting board on top of the rest of the tortilla, hiding the filling from view. In the beginning, it will take a little bit of practice to get the amount of filling right. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the tortillas, letting the burritos cool seam down on a second cutting board. When you are done, place them separately in ziploc bags, folding the remainder of the bag over and pushing out the air. Since the burritos have cooled down quite a bit, you will not have as much condensation in the bags, and they will freeze easier.
To reheat, just pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and breakfast is served.
Enjoy!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Scrambled Eggs with Hash Browns, Sausage, Peppers and Onion

Sitting on the counter, defrosting, is my first UFO. Actually, there are three UFOs, but they all seem to contain the same type of food. In my "freezing fervor" I often forgot to mark the bags thinking "Ohh, I'll KNOW that this is beef stew/goulash/spaghetti sauce/etc etc." Let's face it, once frozen, they all look alike, one a bit lumpier than the other perhaps, and there is no way of telling which is which. By the way, I freeze most of my leftovers in ziploc bags so I can flatten them. They stack well and take up a lot less space than containers do!

At first glance it looked like these bags contained something unsuitable for human consumption and would look more in place in eh....dare I say it, a sick baby's diaper. But even in my most frugal moments, I cannot imagine having frozen something like that. I'll just have to wait till these bags thaw out! Ah...patience....it's a scarce thing to come by in this house.

In the meantime, I've located some other, more easily recognizable food items. A 3/4 full bag of frozen hash browns, a bag of pepper stir fry, 1/2 pound of breakfast sausage and 1/2 bag of grated Cheddar cheese. There's some eggs left in the fridge, so let's use those too. This will be great for an easy breakfast fix.

Scrambled Eggs with Hash Browns, Sausage, Onions, Peppers (cheese optional)

2 cups of pepper stir fry mix (you can replace this with fresh peppers and onions)
5 eggs
1 cup of grated cheese (optional)
1/2 pound of breakfast sausage

Brown the breakfast sausage in a skillet or stirfry pan, and pour off the fat. Add the pepper stir fry mix ( or fresh sliced onions and peppers), until the onions are soft, and add the hashbrowns. In the meantime, beat the eggs in a bowl (you can add a little milk for more fluff). When the potatoes are cooked thoroughly, add the eggs to the mixture in the pan and scramble until the eggs are done. Pepper and salt to taste. Sprinkle cheese over this mixture if you wish, I'm more of a cheese girl but some people love this dish with hot salsa. Also excellent on some whole wheat toast or one on of those sliced bagels from your freezer.

You can freeze the leftovers in ziploc bags, making single portions. Flatten them and refrigerate before freezing. They microwave very well and make it an easy fix for a quick breakfast or improvised lunch. Make sure you mark your bags with the date, the contents and instructions on how to re-heat the food. You may want to eat this breakfast food within six months.

Well, the bags on the counter have defrosted sufficiently and I know now what they are. More on that tomorrow!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Blueberry Crumble

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/) gives the following definitions for "flush":

1. Verb; to expose or chase from a place of concealment
2. Noun: a rinsing or cleansing as if with a flush of water
3. Adjective: filled to overflowing

Well, I can't say they're not appropriate. So today I am starting the daunting task of dealing with whatever it is that my freezers hold, starting with the items that I readily recognize......
The first thing I see when I open the top freezer door on our refrigerator is half a bag of frozen blueberries. I cannot for the life of me remember what I did with the other half but since I'm having friends coming over dinner today, I guess I can make a dessert with blueberries. I also spot a bag with two blueberry bagels, leftovers from a weekend breakfast some time ago.

By the way, if your supermarket sports a Quick Sale section for day old breads or bagels, grab a bag or two on your way out, as bagels freeze beautifully. Slice them, if they don't come pre-sliced, before you freeze them so all you have to do is pop them in the toaster and hey presto! fresh bagels for all :-)

Blueberry Crumble

1 cup (or whatever you have left) of frozen blueberries
2 apples, peeled, cored and wedged
2 blueberry bagels
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 stick butter, divided

Place apples, half of the butter, the cinnamon and ginger and one tablespoon of brown sugar in a microwave bowl and zap them for 2 minutes. All microwaves are different but the goal is for the butter and sugar to melt and soften the apples. If you are not sure how long that will take, go with one minute first, poke the apples with a fork to see if they've tendered, and if not zap them a little longer. When done, pour the apples with the butter/cinnamon sauce in a baking dish, and top with the frozen blueberries. In the meantime, cut the bagels up in little pieces and put them through the blender, until you have a coarse crumbles. Preheat the oven at 350F. Mix the bagel crumbles with the remainder of the sugar and cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. (I never said this was low-cal, no-carb!) Cover the blueberries with the topping. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

Hurrah! I've made a dent, albeit small, in my freezer surplus. By the way, you can vary this recipe with whatever you have available. Cinnamon-raisin bagels are great for an all apple crumble, and onion bagels really add body and taste to a potato gratin dish. Be creative!