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and other joys in life

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Big Ass Cab, Peking Chicken and Bison Quesadillas

First things first.  I love wine.  Particularly I love cabernet.  Once upon a time I was an easy wine drinker; not picky, was satisfied with the cheap stuff.  Not so much anymore.  I don’t like to label myself as a wine snob, but some may call me that.  It all started this summer on our trip to California.  Good wine from wine country will do that to you.  We were visiting Tyler’s aunt, who I will call a wine snob 🙂 (in a nice way of course).  Let me tell you, she drinks some great 

wine.  We had a glass (or 2) every day with her.  Then Tyler and I spent a day in Napa Valley. Of course we toured all  of the great wineries and tasted them all.  Our last stop was Del Dotto, and it was the best of the best.  I will spare you the details, but we left a couple hundred bucks poorer (and only bought one bottle).  It was a gift, and she was impressed.  Since those great wine experiences, I don’t enjoy the cheap stuff.  I certainly don’t buy the $200 bottles on a regular basis, but try to find the good ones that are still reasonably priced.  Anyway; that was a long introduction to my point… we had a fabulous wine the other night! It wasn’t too expensive; about $20 from Mama Jeans.  Big Ass Cab.  Yep, that’s the name.  And it lived up to that name.  Very robust and bold, just like we like it.
Now on to the food.
No-Peeking Peking Chicken.  I have a dilemma with chicken.  Tyler doesn’t like it; it’s too dry.  I do like it; I think it tastes good and it’s a great source of lean protein.  My biggest problem is that I refuse to buy ‘conventional’ chicken.  There are a few brands that claim to sell cage free chickens without adding steroids or hormones.  Problem is, when mass produced and sold in a store like Wal-Mart or even Hy-Vee I question if these unregulated claims are true.  Therefore, I haven’t bought any chicken in months.  Until the other day… when I bought some from our natural food store, Mama Jeans, that came from a local farmer.  I chose the bone-in wings .  Raw chicken, especially the kind I have to ‘clean up’, really grosses me out.  But, I pushed through the blood and sliminess and created something beautiful.  Peking duck is a traditional Chinese dish that has crispy skin and is eaten with ‘pancakes’.  We saw a special on the Food Network about a New York restaurant that injected air between the meat and skin so the duck’s skin could get really crispy when slow cooked, keeping the meat moist.  My chicken was not ‘real’ Peking, but had the same flavors.  From Rachael Ray, here is the clifnotes version of her recipe:
Season about 4 pounds of chicken, skin discarded, with pepper and put in a slow cooker.  In bowl, combine ¾ cup chopped green onions, 4 cloves garlic, ¼ cup soy sauce, 3 tbsp. honey, 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger(I used powdered), and ¼ tsp sesame oil.  Pour this mixture over the chicken and cook on low heat until the chicken is cooked; about 4 hours.  I served this chicken shredded over some brown rice with sautéed carrots, peppers, green beans, onion and garlic; drizzled with pan juices and sprinkled with some green onions.
If you like Asian cuisine, you’ll love this dish.  The chicken was actually incredibly moist and flavorful.  They say that when you leave the bone in, the chicken remains moist (or in Rachael’s words, “produces more succulent results than boneless”)  Skin on is also supposed to keep it from drying out, but since this dish is slow cooked and has lots of juices, it is not necessary.
Bison & Beer-Cheddar Quesadillas.  One night, Tyler wasn’t home but I felt like having something yummy anyway.  We had some extra bison leftover from meatloaf and tortillas.  I came up with quesadillas, since I also had some yummy ‘beer cheddar’ from Osceola cheese.  It’s incredibly simple; I just browned the meat (grass-fed beef is yummy on here also) with some garlic and onions.  Then, I shredded some cheese on the (whole wheat) tortillas, sprinkled some meat on them and topped with some chipotle Tabasco.  Put another tortilla on top, and pop in the oven until they get crispy (on 350 or so).  For the guacamole on top, I mashed some avocados and added some lemon juice! Easy as pie J  As a side, I heated up a can of black beans (usually I use dry, but didn’t have them ready).  To the beans, I added some ‘taco’ seasoning (paprika, pepper, cumin, chili powder and tumeric), corn and fire roasted tomatoes.  Let me tell you, I am not typically a fan of Mexican food-especially when it’s authentic.  But this was so delicious.  The quesadillas only had a few flavors, so I could really savor the richness of the bison, the creaminess and unique taste of the beer cheddar, and the fresh avocadoes.  Put that all in a crispy tortilla, and you get a little slice of heaven in your mouth.
As a side note to the above- bison is a great alternative to beef; not only does it taste incredibly rich, it also has less ‘bad’ fats, and more of the good kind.  And there is another healthy part you may not think of, tumeric.  It is believed to reduce inflammation and could help ward off cancer.  And, we all know the wonders of beans (seriously) and tomatoes.  And avocadoes, and garlic and onions…  So yes, good tasting food (even easy food) can be good for you!

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A Delicious Weekend

It all started with some more spaghetti squash on Friday.  I made a shrimp  and tomato sauce and mixed it with the squash.   The recipe was from Giada De Laurentiis, Shrimp Fra Diavolo. I followed this for the most part, of course adding the spaghetti squash.  This was pretty good, but not great.  For leftovers, I mixed this with a little vodka sauce, and it was excellent!
Saturday, we had some pumpkin pancakes for breakfast.  Tyler thinks I eat too much pumpkin; he doesn’t love it as much as me.  I think you can never have too much pumpkin!  Before going to our favorite restaurant, Kai, we had a great day of hiking.  Now, let me brag for a moment- Max and Daisy have so much endurance it amazes me.  Friday they went for a 6 mile run with me.  So, I figured they’d be tired on Saturday.  Nope, they kept up during our entire 4.5 mile, difficult hike.  Once home, they were still running laps in the house.  Oh, and if you are a friend of his, ask Tyler about the GIANT spider that jumped on Daisy’s back…
Anyway, Kai is the most delicious amazingness… mmmmm.  I had the sweet potato soup, which was rich and creamy and sweet; it had dried apples on top.  We also had the Kai Tower, which if I remember correctly had cream cheese on the bottom, then layered mango, avocado and tuna.  They give you some homemade chips to dip in this.  It is so fresh and creamy!  Then we got our beautiful rolls.  Our favorite was the American Beauty:  a “shrimp tempura roll with spicy tuna topped with cream cheese and crab”.  Doesn’t sound like anything too extraordinary, but it was the best I’ve had in this part of the country.  Next was Miami Vice.  This one was so amazing also.  “A deep fried roll with smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado.”
And finally, Dante’s Peak (A.K.A. Volcano).  This one was literally on fire! Presentation was great, it was served in a giant clamshell with flames surrounding it.  “California roll topped with grilled scallop and crab”.  It was yummy, but not our favorite.  I think we prefer cold rolls…
If you think eating raw fish sounds less than appetizing, you just wait.  I once had that opinion.  If you would’ve told me a couple years ago I would be eating raw fish, served in a clamshell and on fire, I’d say you need to go back to the mental institution.  And here I am, raving about how much I love it.
Sunday was a lazy day for us.  I made Tyler’s favorite, meatloaf.  I have to admit, I really love my meatloaf also.  Nothing special; but I did use bison meat this time.  And, I usually add chopped carrots, but tried sweet potatoes.  I just mix that with some onions and garlic, oatmeal, an egg and a tiny bit of ketchup and spices (pepper, Blues Hog dry rub seasoning, oregano and sage).  Mix that all together and bake for about 40 minutes on 350 degrees, depending on the size.  This time, I made a few mini meatloaves instead of one big.  I just mold them into mounds and put on foil in a baking pan.  Oh, and I made some cranberry sauce for the topping! Yum.  With this, we had some acorn squash and broccoli, and our favorite bread.
I made some banana bread, and hummus.  I love hummus.  I’ve never made it before Sunday, and was a little afraid to do so.  But, it turned out better than store bought!
It tastes fresh, and you can add and change ingredients according to your taste preferences.  The recipe was from Dave Lieberman, and I followed it for the most part.  I just left out the salt and halved it.  Don’t be scared, it really is so easy! I think next time I may try to add some roasted red pepper and/or chipotles.
Go forth and create!



Soup Soup Soup

Have I mentioned that I LOVE fall? My favorite part of the season is, of course, the food!  As much as I love salads and the like, there is a special place in my heart for warm, feel good foods!  Like soup.  I would love to share two soups I made this week…

Chicken Noodle.
Not to toot my own horn, but this was quite possibly the best chicken noodle soup ever! J  The recipe was actually from, titled Slow Cooker Chicken and Pasta.  But, I tweaked it a little.  Here is what I did to this oldie yet goodie:
Cut cup about 3 carrots, an onion and a couple cloves of garlic.  Put them in a slow cooker along with some olive oil (I used garlic-herb olive oil) and lemon zest and juice.  Added ~8 cups of chicken broth, diluted with some water.  I then seasoned 2 chicken breasts with a tiny bit of salt and some pepper, and put them in broth mixture.  This cooked for about 6 hours on high.  I then added some peas, fresh dill and ~1½ cups of orzo in the soup and tore apart the chicken.  This all cooked for another 25 minutes or so to cook the peas and pasta, and we ate it with some farmer’s wheat bread! Yum yum yum.
The reason I love the taste so much is the lemon and dill.  They are both pretty mild, but add something a little different than your typical chicken noodle soup; yet it still has that good, warm feeling that chicken noodle soup brings!  And, it is good for you, because it is relatively low calorie, includes veggies (you can also add spinach or another green, but I didn’t have any around), the pasta is small, and there is some chicken for protein; yet not too much of it.  Oh, and for broth, I get some MSG free chicken stock base from a local natural food store (Mama Jeans).  Just make sure to avoid the ones that are filled with sodium and have all kinds of unknown stuff added to them.  And last but not least, it is so easy! Just cut up your veggies and put it all in a slow cooker to do the work for you.
PS- Did you know that chicken noodle soup really does help with the cold and flu? Tis the season…  Even the Mayo Clinic recommends it as a cold remedy! Chicken soup has vitamins and minerals that may help the immune system, may have an anti-inflammatory and mucus-thinning effect.  If nothing else it is soothing to the throat and provides fluid (as long as you watch the salt!).  So, if you need another reason to try some homemade chicken noodle soup… I can probably brainstorm a little more.
And Butternut squash soup!
Like I mentioned before, I love squash! Here’s what I did with this one:
Roasted 2 butternut squash in the oven (cut in ½, brushed with EVOO and sprinkled with pepper, in oven flesh side down 400 degrees, 35ish minutes).  Then, I cut up some onion, garlic and carrots and sautéed in EVOO.  Once those were soft, I scooped out the EVOO and added enough chicken stock to cover all the squash.  I added a pinch of cayenne pepper, and that all simmered for about 40 minutes.  Finally, I added some cinnamon, allspice and ginger and used an immersion blender to smooth it all out.
And then I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂