Chicken Challenge Meal #1 – it begins with Caesar

First – we deconstruct the chicken.

I learned to do this while working on the farm of a sweet family in Ohio, the father showed me how to ‘cut up’ a chicken very tidily in just a few minutes.

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Viola. The chicken in pieces – ten to be exact, in less than five minutes. It’s really not that hard but it’s one of those things most home chefs feel intimidated by. *Someday I want to do a short video of how to do this and post it. What thinkest thou? I wish I could get Mr. Schlatter to do a guest post/video….*

Two breasts, two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, a back and a breast bone, and guts. Our plump frigid-aire guest is now ready to be Utilized. For this meal, I used half of one of the breasts, about four ounces worth, skinned and boned.


Meal: Chicken Caesar Salad

Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Calories per serving: 270 (figured out using a very reliable calorie-counting app)

Price Per Serving: Well, here’s the deal. I can’t find the shopping receipt which means, for this meal, I am estimating for everything but the chicken. I know, right? Lame. The chicken, per serving, was about 10 cents. Yup. Ten cents. The rest of the ingredients – all things I have purchased enough to have a good idea of what they cost, even if I don’t have the receipt – interestingly and roughly estimated, come to less than a dollar a serving. Wow.

Let’s do the restaurant comparison, can we? Just for fun? A popular restaurant offers this meal in its lunch menu for $10.50 with a calorie count of 610. Uh huh. Kinda gives me the same feeling I get when I bring my recycling to the center on Tuesdays…



Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a hurry, so pictures are lacking until the final product –  but I’m trying – there is a picture, and it does have chicken in it! The breast was sliced thinly and then sauteed in a splash of olive oil. I used an herby-lemon-like seasoning that was hidden in the back corner of my spice cupboard to adorn the chicken slices with flavor. While those were sizzling away in their frying pan, I chopped one head of washed romaine lettuce, a half cup of sweet red pepper, a grasp of black olives (about four large olives) and three artichoke hearts.

These got tossed together in a large bowl with four tablespoons of Newman’s Own Caesar Dressing, one tablespoon of parmesan cheese and some fresh ground black pepper. Just about the time all of these things were mixed up, the chicken was done and ready to be taken off the heat. I placed the slices on a plate to cool while I sliced four thins of baguette and placed them in the same frying pan the chicken was in. These cooked on each side about two minutes, or until crispy and brown (not burnt, Andi, not burnt) and I felt incredibly clever about reusing the heat, oil and flavor of the chicken to make the croutons… they were going to be croutons at that point, but ended up being little crispy toasts – just because I was tired. Alex and I went on an 8 mile bike ride up hills and down vales, in snow flurries. Yup. Springtime in Vermont. It took all my energy for crouton making. This simply seemed much easier at the time.

The last step was to mix in the now not-so-hot chicken and decorate with the almost croutons….




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Yum.

Chicken Dinner Number One was a success. We ate all of it.

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the great chicken challenge

“…. a challenge for only the brave at heart…”

 

Yes, that means you.

Hello, random reader. My arm is almost completely better (thanks to the life-saving efforts of my ever-lovely physical therapist, Darcy) which is good for me – bad for the blog. It means I am back to working part time (a mixed blessing, I suppose) and actually doing things like gardening, serious bike riding, knitting, tying my shoes, and other things that were virtually impossible three months ago.  This, reader, is why I haven’t been doing the writing thing so much lately.

I, once more, have a life which involves both arms.

Can I get an Amen?

This week at our angled apartment, we are embarking on a challenge having to do with the plump chicken now sitting in the frigid-aire.

How many meals can I get from one chicken?

You are about to witness something worthy of its own reality T.V. show.

2 people, 4 appetites (all this bike-riding and shoe tying has increased my desire to eat, and happily, my ability to!) 1 chicken. How many meals?

We start today; Friday, the 27th day of April, with a 5.8 pound bird that cost $1.59 per pound for a total of $9.22. Here are some of the questions I am challenging myself to answer:

1) How many meals can be prepared from this chicken, remembering that we both have hearty appetites. It was Alex’s request that I be *reasonable* (I am always reasonable…) and not do something like use the chicken skin to flavor a rice dish. Doesn’t count. We need meat, people. We need to feel Satisfied in the end – like we’ve had chicken!! The challenge ends when the chicken does…

2) How much money per meal, person and serving? This may be a little tricky, but I am going to try to figure it out the best I can and report back with my findings. What do you think? Should I go pound for pound? How picky should I be with counting the cost of ingredients?

3) Also, I would love to do a comparison using common restaurant prices. Exactly how cheap can we get while still ending up with a good, hearty, delicious meal? Hmmmmm??? How does *my* chicken alfredo match up with Olive Garden’s? I know every one says it’s cheaper to cook at home, but exactly *how much* cheaper?

4) Will we ever be able to eat chicken again after having it so often in a short period of time? This, I believe, will be answered by the variety of meals we have. I want to do very different tasting dishes each time so we don’t grow tired because, really, when you’ve grown tired of food, well – what remedy can be offered? I’m thinking chicken chili, grilled chicken, chicken nuggets, chicken curry, chicken soup of some sort, chicken pot pie – – we’ll see. It’s all about being creative.

5) Can I remember to take pictures of each meal? Probably not, but my intentions are noble as I begin with saying – “YES!! THERE WILL BE PICTURES.”

 


SO. There you go. The Great Chicken Challenge.

Are you with me?

Humbly submitted by – me.

no.i’m not. obsessing.

I think I have found the perfect food, that’s all.

Just saying.

The sky is moody and unsure today, I am dressed in my husband’s grimy highschool coveralls and painting in the kitchen. Painting kitchen shelves, to be exact. We inherited three  wooden box shelves from Alex’s mother that have been put to very good use over the past couple of months, and now that the weather is fair, we have emptied them and I am letting loose my frustrated interior decorator – paint flies. So exciting, but I’ve worn myself out and it’s time for lunch.

What to have, what to have?

I have been ever so slightly obsessing about my new favorite food, Caprese (chicken caprese, caprese salad, caprese panini.. anything caprese, really.) and finally have all the ingredients to make it – at home – oh my. Good things coming!


Ripe tomatoes (we paid a little extra and got locally grown hydroponic ones… ooo lala… absolutely worth it.)

Buffalo Mozzarella (Can I get a ‘yum’ from the crowd? Oh. My. WORD. This makes all other store bought mozzarella taste a little lame with its soft milky-ness…)

Basil (this I cheated a little bit and bought one of those tubes of fresh herbs. Who’s ever heard of that? Herbs, blended with a little oil and kept in a tube – it’s a little futuristic, but until our basil grows a little more it will have to do.)

2 slices of bread (because it is going to be a caprese *sandwich*)

a dribble of balsamic vinegar


I’ll be right back.


Ok, I’m back. It was superb, but next time I am going to skip the bread and just eat the mozzarella with tomato and basil by itself – I think it will be much improved. Here’s what I did: Placed a smear of olive oil in my little frying pan (lacking a panini maker, a frying pan *is* our only option) then laid down a slice of bread. On top of that I layered some slices of mozzarella (I ate a couple too, don’t tell…), some of the fascinating basil paste, slices of tomato, then the other slice of bread. Grilled on both sides for about 3 minutes (which was far too much!! I, of course, burned my sandwich – but we won’t talk about that now…) and then served cut in half with a drizzle of vinegar on top.

Yum.

I took some pictures while I was out there..

The mess that is my kitchen….




The shelves, which are painted, “Holy-Cow-That’s-Tarp-Blue” and “I-LOVE-GUACAMOLE!!-Green”  Loverly, ain’t they? *That’ll* brighten things up a bit!




My burned sandwich. Uglier than all its peers, it still tasted delicious to the one who charred it. Next time, definitely no bread…

final assignment: Why I Stay

I’ve been dreading it for 13 lessons, the final assignment and exam of The Creative Writing Workshop, and I had no idea what it was going to be except that other students posted their final ‘exams’ in the forums and they were all lengthy, well-worded short fiction stories having to do with a man named David in tears. Oh my.

Have I ever said how bad I am with fiction?

Nevertheless, I pressed through the course and did every little bit of extra ‘stuff’ I could find in order to delay the inevitable. And then I waiting. And fretted. And moaned to my dear husband. And finally, clicked the “Start Assignment” button on my class screen.

“Using all the elements you have studied, write a 1,000 plus word short story in which one of three themes is the base:

1)David sat down on the side of the road and began to cry

2) I was asked the most peculiar question last Wednesday

3) A woman who won’t leave her house due to an extreme phobia of dogs

Be as creative as you wish. Pay attention to dialog, plot, character development and setting. Final piece should have no errors, please proofread and edit carefully.”

I must say that this course has greatly improved my opinion of fiction. *Gasp* It’s been incredibly good for me to be forced to write things I would never choose, and to be forced to write them well – or at least try. Although it ground a little hard at first, I have enjoyed writing made-up dialog between sisters who haven’t spoken in seven years, or describing the short jog of a man on an early spring morning, or understanding the character of a woman who never leaves her house because she is afraid of being bitten.

So here it is, after weeks of teeth-wearing anxiety 😉 My Short Story…

 

 

***I still dream of teeth, yellow, pointed teeth sharpened into daggers, shining wet rows in dark red mouths, and they say I am crazy. This is the third reason why I decided to stay. 

My world consists of one bedroom, a kitchen, bathroom and a smallish sort of parlor where I do my deep-relaxation breathing in the evening. Everything is on one floor, connected by door-less doorways (I had the doors removed the winter I decided to stay) and short, picture-less halls (Why is it that no one thinks it strange that we frame dead images and use them as decoration?) but I like it. I know where everything is at all times. I don’t remember what color the house is outside, or what kind of landscaping clutters up the yard, nor do I care. My house is the last one you pass before you reach the dead end of the road, the one pre-teen boys come and stand in front of each Halloween, eggs held tight in trembling hands, taunting each other to throw the first one and earn their manhood. I watch them from behind my curtain, silently agonizing, always wishing they wouldn’t make the youngest, scrawniest of the group go first – he looks so petrified. But that’s the way it goes. The scrawny ones go first. Always. That’s the first reason why I decided to stay.  

I live here by myself. 

My name is Meg and I am, strangely enough, not as old as everyone says. I look in the mirror and see, not an old person, but a quiet one with smooth, pale skin and eyes that have always been too dark –  like small, perfectly round holes. My hair is black and straight and long and usually tied up in a bun on the back of my neck. I don’t think I am very tall, I fit in the house well and the sheets cover my feet, nor am I too short to reach things resting on the edge of the top shelf in the kitchen. The person staring back at me in the mornings is very clean and very calm. This is the second reason why I decided to stay – I like things to be orderly and calm. Noise distracts me. People disturb me. I don’t like how the world moves so fast, rushing over the calm, slow ones like me and the scrawny, young ones like the boy with the egg, tearing us apart with its teeth.

The third reason, as I mentioned before, are the dreams. I dream about teeth and the gaping wounds they cause. Foaming fangs, and the blocky ivory-colored ones you find in old cow skulls, and the smooth thin ones old people can no longer use – they all invade my sleep and my memory, and they say I am crazy. But I’m not. I’m just very quiet and calm and that’s what I remember best. The teeth. 

Every Tuesday someone brings me food. I’ve forgotten his name, but I think it was something like Henry or Frank. Sometimes I think about it and try to remember, but it doesn’t really matter. He comes and brings big bags full of vegetables and eggs and some milk or fruit and Captain Crunch cereal in its orange cardboard box. I like the peanut butter kind. 

“Hey Meg.” He says, and smiles too loudly. His name is Charles. Charlie. I look away. I don’t like him, I don’t like his smile and I suddenly remember why I have forgotten his name. He doesn’t fit in my house with his long limbs and messy hair, dark like mine, and gleaming teeth in two perfect rows. His boots are leaving crumbs of outside on my floor with every step. I think when he leaves I will forget him again. 

“How’s it going? You keeping well in here? Sure enough, it’s a lovely day out, you should get some sun!” He sets the bags down on the kitchen floor with a bang and eyes me from his squatting position, his knees askew as if he hadn’t a place to fold them properly, neatly. “You’re looking mighty thin, there, Meg. You eating enough? You need some more eggs or something?” He stands back up and stares at me. His checkered shirt is unbuttoned at the neck and his jeans have large, worn spots at the knees. The hems are frayed around his brown boots. 

“No.” I said, quietly, calmly. If there was a fourth reason for staying in here, it would be Charles and people like him. Every one out there is like him. Either loud or smiling or scrawny or pushy or mean and they’re all obsessed with the sun. And they all have teeth, and dogs with fangs that bite and leave bloody wounds. I think I will stay here. 

“You sure? Cuz I could get you some more eggs. I know this real nice farm, the people on the other side of town with the round barn, remember?” He waits for me to act as though I do. 

“No.” 

“Yeah, well, anyway, they just got another batch of little hens that are laying up a storm! I could get you all the eggs you want, we could run those chicks dry…” He must think this is funny because he bursts into a disorderly laugh and then wipes his eyes. His brown face seems young and wrinkled at the same time. He moves so fast. He goes from calm to hysterics to calm again in a matter of minutes.  I don’t understand him. He is quiet now and looks around. “You want me to open these curtains for you? It really is a nice day out, I think you’d like the sun…” 

“No.” I keep the curtains closed for a reason. There are windows in the bedroom, sky lights, and that is all the sun I need. I wish he would leave. The air feels crowded and upset around him. 

“Ok. Well then. If you ever want to go see those chickens, you just let me know, I’ll take you to get your eggs if you want… if you ever want, you know? I told them about you and they’d love to meet you…” He makes long movements through the hall to the front door as he talks. I stay standing in the kitchen, I don’t like being near the door when it opens. I wait until it closes, and then a moment longer to hear the lock slide into place from the outside before I come out of the kitchen. I walk over to the bathroom and look in the mirror. 

“I look thin.” I think. Dark eyes. Black hair. White skin. Quiet. Calm. Clean. Thin.

Another week passes as they usually do. I clean and read and eat and paint, watch the sun in the skylight in the afternoons and breathe in the evenings, at night I dream and then it’s Tuesday again. 

“Hey Sis!” It’s that noisy man again, he appears suddenly in the hallway and I can never remember his name. Doug. Robert. John. He smells warm and damp, it must be raining outside and he is carrying wet bags of groceries, they’re dripping over every inch of the kitchen floor. Cucumbers, milk, apples, peanut butter Captain Crunch cereal, and eggs. I start to unpack the bags and see that the carton of eggs has been re-labeled, there is a white sticker with a name and address on the top,

“McNoughton Farm
1436 Merried Lane

Oakwood, Ohio” 

The name seems familiar, I reach out to touch it, but it seems dirty and not quite right so I stop. Charlie watches me read it. 

“McNoughton. Remember? That’s mom and dad’s place, with the round barn – remember we used to play in it? They just got the new hens I was telling you about last week?” It all seems so real, as if I could remember it if it were, but I am not sure. I think I would rather stay here than remember. 

“No.” 

“Ok. Yep. Well I gotta run, ok? Try and get some sun now, you hear?”

Sun obsessed. And the dreams say that I’m crazy.***

 

this meal by any other name would taste the same

Hey folksies!

The sun is making its way behind the brick building next door, Alex is sleeping after a ‘late morning’ at work and I can smell dinner percolating in the crockpot.

I started out to make chili, but slowly migrated to the Caribbean and decided to make, as my father called it, “Rice and Beans”. My dad was not a terrific cook, but he was unfailingly charming and confident at the stove, making this soupy red dish for us over and over again, each time calling it by a different name.

“Rice and Beans”

“Beans and Rice”

“Rice and Red Meat”

“Beans and Red Sauce”

“Red Sauce with Potatoes and Beans”

“Red Beans with Meat and Sauce over Sticky Rice”

“White Rice, Red Beans and Meat Sauce”

And so on. You get the idea.

I haven’t had this meal in many years and although I was tempted to run simply on my  native Puerto Rican instinct and ‘wing it’, I decided to do an internet search instead. Smart lady.

It’s a little complicated, and I found myself scribbling notes on my legal pad as if my life depended on it, you really need to prepare quite a bit before you can actually get your pots dirty with the actual meal. I needed to make Sofrito – a sauteed seasoning made from vegetables and herbs, and  Sason – another seasoning blend made from herbs. I remember big batches of these being made in the kitchen, then packaged up and frozen in portions for future use. Ah so.


Sofrito –

2 green peppers

1 onion

2 cloves garlic

1 sweet red pepper

2 tomatoes (or some tomato sauce)

cilantro and parsley

All of this gets minced to death in the food processor before being sauteed in olive oil over medium heat – for a long time. No one really said exactly *how* long it should take, but I just cooked it until it seemed Done. Native Instinct – invaluable kitchen appliance that is severely underrated.


Sason-

Garlic

Onion

Bay Leaf

Oregano

Coriander

salt

I admit, I was pretty tired of reading and ready to get cooking, so my notes simply have a barely intelligible list of ingredients and scratched out directions to the local recycling center (I got a little sidetracked…) I decided to add the herbs to the big pot when I was ready…


But now for the Meal. Into the crock pot went two cans of tomato sauce and one of water, four potatoes chunked into bite-sized pieces, three half cans of beans (a half of a can of pinto, a half a can of black eyed beans and a half a can of kidney) which had been carefully and thoroughly rinsed (always rinse your beans. Always.), one whole cup of the sofrito, a smattering of oregano and coriander (about a 1/2 tsp each), three bay leaves, a kiss, and then I covered it and left it to work.

Green Olives are a traditional addition, but my husband is opposed to them, so tradition was thrown to the wind and we had olive-less sauce. Meat is also optional, and if this is your option, chunks of stew beef would be usable. Brown them before adding to the sauce. Because everything should be just a little bit fried… just a little.

The Meat-less Red Sauce with Beans has been cooking for hours, and will continue to cook a while longer, until everything is soft and lovely. Then it will be served over sticky, greasy white rice. When I was much, much younger, my dad would form the ‘sticky’ rice into small balls and feed them to us like that. We loved it. My parents raised a bunch of rice fiends – to this day I consider it a staple, a necessity of Life itself.

There you have it. No matter which name you call it, it is a filling and delicious meal you will be sopping up off your plate with small balls of rice…

pan-a-what-kin?

Pannekoeken. Pan. Na. Co. Ken. A fabulous dessert of Dutch origin, in my mind it is best described as an ‘easy pancake popover’.

Last night for Alex’s lunch I made a maple almond pear pannekoeken (I know, what a lunch, eh?)


Pannekoeken:

1/4 cup butter

3 large eggs

1/8 tsp salt

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup flour

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh fruit (I peeled and sliced two fresh pears for this)


You will need a smooth pan with rounded sides, or a pie plate. I used my big metal frying pan. Place the butter in the pan or pie plate and set it in the oven *when you turn the oven on* to 400 degrees. While the oven is heating and melting the butter *at the same time -I love multi-tasking!!*, swiftly beat the eggs, salt and milk together until well blended. Then, slowly add the flour, whisking until smooth, but not completely, there should be smallish sort of lumps in the batter – very much like pancake batter. By now the oven should be almost up to temperature and the butter melted. Remove the pan from the oven, pour in the batter and then lay the fruit on top, like so:

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Now, when the oven gets all the way up to temperature, stick the whole thing inside and wait. This is the hardest part of the whole dish…

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15 Minutes later, you should have a pastry that looks something like this.

It will puff up a great deal in the oven, rising high beyond the sides of the pan, smothering the fruit – or so it seems – but as soon as it it removed, it begins to deflate. This is a dessert best served *At Once*, adorned with nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of maple syrup *or* my special Maple Almond Sauce.


Maple Almond Sauce

1/4 cup almonds

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/8 cup brown sugar

small amount of butter

Heat your butter in a pan, then add the almonds. Cook them a wee bit, letting them brown before adding the sugar and maple syrup. This concoction should simmer for five minutes or so, be sure to stir frequently. This sauce can be poured over the finished Pannekoeken – it’s incredible.


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Slice generously and Enjoy.

so much of what i need to know about life

There is a loaf of banana bread in the oven and so far – it looks just perfect. Perfect. It smells just like the banana bread my mom would make for us and I am suddenly overwhelmed with missing her.

I think my oven and I have come to a mutual understanding; I won’t treat it as if it were ‘just another oven’, and it will refrain from burning the bottoms of my baked goods to charcoal. It’s a truce, hard won ’tis true, but we have arrived at last.

What has it been, four months? Four months next week since I moved into this angled little apartment downtown and almost immediately began fighting with the stove and I think that tonight – at long last- I have mastered at least one recipe. What can I say – I am slow learner. Thankfully, with things like food, you get the chance to redeem yourself as often as you get out the measuring cups and spatula. As long as we need to eat, I will receive ample chances to work on my culinary offerings.

It has been a bit humbling, sending desserts to church potlucks with the bottoms carefully cut off, serving pies or cakes that must be carved out with an ice pick because what appeared to be ‘light golden brown’ on top has permanently burnt itself to the pan, overcoming my terror of ruining yet another tray of cookies, telling my husband that he can have any of the too-dark ones he wants… but it’s been good for me. It’s become a rewarding challenge and I rather like my silly stove. I have a little more grace for my silly self as well – something I am always in desperate need of.

So much of what I need to know about life, I think my crooked stove is beating into me. Or, perhaps, *burning* into me would be a better analogy. It’s life in miniature, in brief, in practice. Don’t take it so seriously, give yourself a little wiggle room. Things aren’t always going to be as perfect as you want them to be – you have to really enjoy the part that isn’t burnt to the bottom. People *are* going to see your flaws, even when you try to do something good, always be prepared to have a goof or two – don’t be afraid to give it your best anyway. Have a little grace, for heaven’s sake! Keep trying. Sometimes you simply have to wing it and pray for the outcome to be edible. Don’t give up. If at first you don’t succeed, turn the heat down and have another crack at it. Pay attention. Slick the pan up real good. Patience makes for better endings. Think outside the box for once. Keep learning. Be flexible. Be Understanding. Love covers a multitude of over-done cookies. Husbands will eat and enjoy almost anything, bless them.

Amen.


Quick Banana Bread

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (this means different things to different ovens.. just do your best, be flexible and understanding…)

*Have all ingredients at roughly 75 degrees*

Sift together:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flou

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt


Blend until Creamy:

1/3 cup shortening

2/3 cup sugar

3/4 tsp grated lemon rind  (I used 1/2 tsp powdered ginger instead)


Beat in:

2 beaten eggs

1-1/14 cups ripe banana pulp


Add one third of the sifted dry ingredients to the wet ingredients then beat until smooth. Add another third, beat well, then add last third, mixing well so that the batter is smooth.


Fold In (Optional):

1/2 cup broken nut meats

1/2 cup finely chopped apricots


Pour batter into a greased bread pan. Bake for an hour, or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes clean. Cool before slicing.

 – Joy of Cooking

 
Raspberry Yogurt Spread
by Ann
1 cup thick Greek yogurt
2-8 tablespoons raspberry jam (depends on how much flavor is desired)
*You can obviously substitute any sort of jam you desire, strawberry
would be particularly scrumptous. 
Blend. Spread on fresh banana bread. Enjoy. Repeat.