Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day Memories

With this Sunday being Mothers' Day I thought it would be fitting to recreate one of my mom's best dishes and share with all of you. My mom is no longer with me, but she is in spirit and I know she's be tickled to see me share and brag about one of her "Erika Only" specialties. I call this dish that because I have never heard a recipe quite like it- a lot of very similar dishes, but just nothing like Mom's.
Mom, me, and my daughter Debbee

My mother was a funny little gal. Born and raised in Germany she had a mastery of the English language one can only acquire living near a lot of American GIs in the 40s and 50s. She cussed A LOT, and often didn't realize you probably shouldn't use THAT word in THIS instance. She was a young girl during World War II and remembers the people welcoming the Allies to her hometown of Weisbaden, which had been badly damaged by bombings, people were hungry, many homeless and destitute. Shew grew up and later married an American soldier from Minnesota, my dad, and together they moved from Germany back to a teeny tiny town in Minnesota, where I would be born several years later.
Mom was a waitress at Johnny and Kay's waaaay back in the 70s
Because she came from a family of very modest means, they ate very simply. Meat on Sunday, soup and other inexpensive and easy-to-stretch foods the rest of the week. She was not a gourmet German cook by any means, and many of our meals growing up were very simple meat and potatoes dishes. The occasional German foods but not as much as just everyday normal American food. Her spaghetti sauce was legendary, her chili like no other and her lentil soup is by far my favorite food on this entire planet. But any time Mom asked if we wanted something special for dinner, this was my most requested dish, and I can't help but think she is probably looking down, hoisting her beer stein high and saying "Salut" as I type.

Mom's Chicken Paprika

chicken (whole, parts, breast only- whatever you prefer, I used boneless skinless thighs this time)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery- I use the leaves also
coupe gloves garlic, chopped
chicken stock or broth
1 bag frozen noodles or about 1 lb homemade
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper

In deep stockpot place onion, celery, garlic and chicken. Add chicken stock to cover chicken, add a couple grinds black pepper and a big pinch of salt. Cover pot, bring to boil then reduce and simmer until chicken is very tender and falls off the bone.

Remove and strain broth (SAVE THAT BROTH!!!) and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from the bones and cut into bite sized pieces. You CAN use boneless chicken but you definitely get better flavor with chicken on the bone, if you have time to cook it. Otherwise, leftover roast chicken and a can of chicken broth is a good quick substitute.

** Note- you CAN skip straining the brother if you are able to get all the chicken bones and skin and yuckies out if you want to leave the onions and celery bits in the broth. I sometimes do.

Return meat to pot, bring to boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, adding more broth if necessary. You want the noodles to soak up most of the liquid during cooking, you don't want a soupy consistency. Stir OFTEN to prevent noodles from sticking or burning.

When noodles are done, remove from heat, drain off any excess liquid that might remain, and stir in the sour cream and 1-2 tablespoons paprika. Mix well, and serve.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What does a vegetarian zombie eat ?

Ok.....wait for it....... and you have to say it with me in your best zombie impersonation......


Silly, I know, but I thought it was cute. And it also happens to be the subject of today's story and tonight's menu- grains. I've been experimenting with different grains for a couple years now, of course the old standby, rice, LOVE wild rice (although technically it's grass seed, not a grain), quinoa, which I love, and today it's farro.

Farro was a tough one for me to find around here !! A lot of the "better" stores don't carry it, heck even quinoa, as popular as that is, isn't in some supermarkets. Since I live way out in the country it's a roadtrip to Des Moines if I want something unique. I found farro at Williams Sonoma just by chance. The Chef and I were at the mall (something that NEVER happens) and I dragged him in there so I could drool over the cookware and Wusthofs. They have a small food selection and voila !! Farro was among the selections. A bit pricey for our budget but I really wanted to try it.

So anyway, a lot of research went into this grain. It's origins, how to cook it, how it's served, recipe after recipe. I found lots of great ideas, but I am an experimenter in the kitchen. I am going to create something new. So let's get to it.

Garlic Butter Chicken with Vegetables and Farro

1 cup uncooked farro
2 1/2 cups water
1 tb good quality chicken base
herbs- I used a mixture of parsley, thyme, chive, chervil and black pepper

Bring the above to boil, cover and let simmer. I've read cooking time ranges from 30 to 90 minutes so I tasted a grain at about 30 minutes, still pretty firm, at 45 minutes I thought it was nicely done but NOT very bulked up so I did the unthinkable and threw in about 1/2 cup long grain rice in there to bulk up the quantity (told you I was into experiments). Next time I'd use 2 cups farro.

For the rest of my dish-

3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
8 oz package fresh mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
1 medium onion, cut in thin wedges
1 bunch fresh asparagus, tips trimmed and set aside, stems cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 olive oil
same herbs as above

Using the herbs, garlic and olive oil, toss the chicken, set aside to marinate while farro cooks.

When farro is nearly done, heat large skillet or wok, add a little more oil and stir fry vegetables adding the tips at the last minute or so, set aside in large bowl.

Stir fry chicken til done through,  melt 1/2 stick BUTTER- do not use margarine- lecture to follow. Heat until butter is melted but NOT browned, pour over vegetables and farro and toss and serve.

I also added about a handful of chopped red bell pepper- we stock up in the summer and freeze it to use later so I had it on hand- just tossed it in the bowl and the hot veg and meat thawed it out.

This makes a BIG bowl of yumminess, so either have friends over or enjoy leftovers for a day or so.

The dish reminds me a lot of risotto. The butter binds everything together in a creamy saucy texture. I kept my seasonings kind of French-style but you could definitely go with an Italian twist, some sliced peppers, maybe Italian sausage instead of chicken- it's very flexible. Add what you like, leave out what you don't.

I've also found a couple other grains I have been researching and can't wait to try, kamut, which requires presoaking and some planning ahead and millet- birdseed to most people but I found it in a gourmet grocery shop so I'm going to eat it.

Now for the lecture. Margarine- filthiest word in the kitchen. NEVER ever ever substitute margarine for butter in a recipe. EVER. For one thing, it's disgusting- nothing but chemicals and harmful saturated fats. I don't care how light or healthy your product claims to be, it's nothing but chemicals and water- leave a pat of butter and a pat of margarine out on a few warm days and see which grows mold.  Besides the chemical grossness, it contains so much WATER which will alter the texture of your finished dish, whether it's a sauce or baked goods. It even makes your toast soggy. Yuck. So stick with my advice here and go with butter all the time.