Sore Fingers and Stocked Freezers

The flip flops have been exchanged for Ugg boots, and cold weather is here to stay for the next several months.  As much as I’ve complained about the looming cold weather’s effects on my Summer garden, the dip in temperatures has given me an opportunity to practice one of my favorite Fall activities…..

Squirreling everything possible away like a crazy and deranged food hoarder!

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I have no idea why, but I love getting everything squared away for winter.  I guess it’s just nice to make the best use of everything.  Somewhere between Labor Day and Halloween I start to act like an old time-y prairie grandma, and I feel an overwhelming responsibility to “put everything up” for the winter…..and I don’t feel bad about that at all!

One of my least favorite tasks of pre-winter hoarding is sorting out all the herbs.  It’s easy, and so important because I do cook with them all winter long, but it does lead to cold, damp, and slightly sore fingers.  My preferred way of preserving my herbs is to freeze them.  It works quite well, and is faster than drying I think.  Plus, I have a secret tip that really saves a ton of prep work time when you need to use the herbs.

First, you’ll need to gather up all your herbs.  I had thyme, oregano, and cilantro that needed to be dealt with this year.  The cilantro was the easiest.  Just cut off near the soil, wash well, and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Once the cilantro is frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and try and remove as much air as possible.  Pull out as needed for Mexican nights or game day guacamole.  I find the beauty of freezing them is that they tend to behave very similar to fresh once you add them into recipes.

The thyme and oregano takes a bit more work, but it isn’t hard.  If you have a delicate, wispy thyme plant you might be able to get away with freezing everything whole.  I am apparently some sort of thyme miracle worker and managed to grow a small herb tree.  No one wants twigs in their tomato sauce, so I have to pluck all the leaves off the stalks.

I like to place a freezer bag into a quart sized, wide mouth canning jar, and then just strip the leaves off directly into the bag.  Pinch the base of each twig and gently pull towards the thinner end.  For large, multi branched stems you will need to probably pluck each stem singularly.  With a little practice and patience you should end up with a bunch of tiny thyme leaves in the bag and a garbage can full of naked….or nearly naked mini trees.  Close the bag, leaving some air in, and toss in the freezer.  Once the leaves have frozen, crumple them slightly to break them up and remove the air from the bag.

Follow the same process for the oregano as you do for the thyme.  Here comes the time saving secret!  Once the leaves have frozen…..give them a really good crumpling and crunching.  Ta da…..instant chopped oregano leaves!  Thyme is so small it doesn’t matter, but basil and oregano leaves can get quite large and in charge.  The post freeze crumple is much faster than chopping everything before freezing!

If you’re looking for a tasty and filling way to use up some of your frozen herbs, might I suggest Chicken Pot Pie Soup!  I made it this week and it was a massive success….AND I DON’T EVEN LKE POT PIES!

Soup is one of The Engineer’s favorites, and even though he would eat soup when it’s 100 degrees outside, I refuse to make it.  This chicken pot pie soup will certainly become a standard in our winter rotation, and it’s easy enough to whip up quickly on a school night!

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

  • 8 oz butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp fresh frozen thyme
  • 2 tbsp fresh frozen oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 cups half and half or milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups rotisserie chicken meat, cubed
  • 1/4 pound deli ham. sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Once melted, add the garlic and onion, cooking until fragrant and translucent.  Slowly add in the flour, whisking vigorously to form a smooth rue.  Cook the flour for a few minutes being careful to stir so the mixture doesn’t burn.  We need to cook out the raw flour taste, so just keep an eye on it and let it go a bit golden brown. Whisk the chicken stock into the rue being sure to get out any lumps.  Add the potato, carrots, and spices and cook until the veggies are tender.

Once you potato and carrot are tender, add the peas, ham, chicken, and half and half.  Drop the temperature to simmer, and just let everything warm through.

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Serve up hearty bowls of this you’re sure to keep the chilly temps at bay.  For regular nights I would serve it up with a nice loaf of crusty bread for dipping.  Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy….or like me, you have some spare pie crust sitting in the freezer…..you can make some crust crisps to give it a more traditional “pot pie” feeling.

I just rolled my dough into a large rectangle, cut thin strips, and twisted into fun little pie sticks.  I topped with a bit of sea salt and baked at 375 for 20 minutes.  Some of them did come untwisted in the oven, but they were still flakey and delish!

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Herby, warm, and delicious!

Chicken…..It’s What’s for Dinner

It’s been a few weekends since I saw my Main Squeeze, but he came to visit this weekend…..so, naturally I had to feed him!!  Our running joke is that he only eats chicken, because that’s all he wanted to eat the first weekend he came to see me.  Before I fed him, he decided he needed to take me out on an actual date, so Friday night that’s what we did.  We headed downtown for pizza and drinks……nothing like a night on the town with my Squeeze!!

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Saturday night was chicken dinner at home before some quality time with my Squeeze, my Bitch Faced Bestie, the Hubby in Law, and Cards Against Humanity.  A easy and favorite recipe is Chicken Parmesan, so I decided that I’d make that and some fancy Pinterest inspired garlic pull apart bread.  It’s one of those recipes that comes out of the oven looking fancy, but it’s really quite simple to put together.  Best yet, it’s fast.  It takes about half an hour for me to get it all prepped and in the oven baking away.

We waited a bit late in the day to start making dinner, so we were hungry by the time it came out of the oven.  I didn’t stop to take pictures of the finished products…..sorry about that!

Things you will need:

  • 1/2 Italian Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Package Chicken Breasts or Tenderloins
  • 1 Jar of Spaghetti Sauce
  • 1 Pound Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Italian Spices : Basil, Thyme, Garlic Powder, Cayenne
  • Small Loaf of Bread
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil Plus More for Frying the Chicken
  • 3 Tbs Butter 

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I bought one of the “Bake at Home” loaves of bread, so I threw that in the oven for 15 minutes while I got the chicken prep ready.  Honestly, I’m not sure it did much of anything for the bread, and considering that you’re stuffing the bread with yumminess and putting it in the oven, I’d probably skip that step when I do this again.

Get your chicken started by setting up your breading station.  I like to add salt and pepper to the flour and jazz up the bread crumbs by adding a good dash of all the Italian spices.  Even if I buy the “Italian” breadcrumbs, I still add extra spice!  Crack the egg into a dish, add a splash of water, and beat to mix.  Then just process your chicken through the three stations.  Flour, egg, crumbs!  Place the chicken in a large pan with a generous amount of olive oil over medium to medium high heat.  Cook just to brown up the breading and create a nice crust.  Don’t worry about cooking the chicken through, the oven will take care of that.

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Open the sauce and add a thin layer to your favorite baking pan.  I find a normal 9×13 to be a bit large for a single package of chicken, but it would certainly work.  I have a smaller Pyrex baker I use.  I have to squish the chicken in a bit, but it works just fine!  Once the chicken has been browned on both sides, place it into the baking pan on top of the sauce.  Continue the breading, cooking, placing process until all of you chicken is in the baking dish.  Use the remaining sauce to cover the chicken, and top with about 3/4 of the bag of shredded cheese.  You could get fancy and top the chicken with a mix of Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, but I didn’t have any Parm in the house.  Bake at 375 for about 30-35 minutes until the cheese is melted and browned, and the chicken is cooked through.

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Using a bread knife…….which I don’t actually own…..slice the bread in 1 inch diagonal sections twice, you’ll end up with small diamonds that you can pull out and eat.  Just don’t cut all the way through the loaf, just go down to the bottom crust.  I’ve decided that I think it’s impossible to keep the bread looking nice and poofy and cute once this is all done.  Just accept the slight visual fail because it tastes the same, even if it’s a bit smooshed.

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Place the minced garlic, butter, and 2 Tbs of olive oil in a small sauté pan.  Melt everything together and cook the garlic slightly, stirring often to ensure the garlic doesn’t burn.  While that’s going, stuff the remaining 1/4 pound of shredded cheese, or cheese blend, into the slices.  Place the loaf on a piece of foil, and drizzle the garlic oil over the whole thing.  Tent with a piece of foil, and toss the whole thing into the oven.  Cook 10 minutes covered and an additional 5-10 uncovered to brown up the cheese.

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It was an easy and cute at home date night.

Yes, you’ll end up with garlic breathe, but at least you’ll have garlic breathe together!

I Need to Remember I Own a Crockpot

The other day I was scrolling around Buzzfeed and found a collection of crock pot recipes. I rarely make any of those recipes, but one stuck out to me.  It’s from fellow blogger Tieghan Gerard, and her blog Half Baked Harvest.  Her recipe for Crockpot Italian Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Chili sounded like the perfect thing to have cooking away while attempting to brave the last few frozen months of winter on the Northern Plains.

I didn’t change much about her original recipe, but I did make a couple minor adjustments:

  • I have a smaller crockpot, so I used probably a pound and a half of chicken
  • Only three cups of stock, although I will add more when I make it again
  • Just a couple good sized splashes of balsamic vinegar
  • All the other spices and ingredients I used were the same
  • I did substitute chopped kale for the broccoli rabe, but only because I eat kale salads often during the week so it just fit better with my regular food routine.

Her recipe was perfect!  I baked up some dinner rolls, and tucked in on the couch with Scout for some Netflix and way too much food.  It’s healthy, but it’s flavorful and spicy enough that you don’t mind that its healthy.  Plus, that’s just an excuse to eat more, and on cold winter nights that’s what you need!!

I will defiantly being going back and digging through the archives on Half Baked Harvest to find other yummy treasures!

 

 

In totally unrelated news, my poor little MacBook did indeed die last Friday night.  According to the repair dude, it had a major hard drive malfunction.  So, needless to say, I’ve been heming and hawing all week about whether to keep the brand new MacBook I bought on sale at Best Buy, or repair my old one for about half as much.  Side note…..apparently being a mid-2009 model number makes my MacBook vintage…or so I was told!!!  :/

I did eventually settle for fixing the old one.  So the Mac is getting a new battery and a fancy new hard drive, and they promise me that I’ll end up with basically a brand new computer in my old case.  The downfall of this, is that because the old hard drive crashed so hard, they aren’t able to get any of my old photos and documents back.  Let this be a lesson to you kiddos……always use your Cloud Drive!