Monday, January 30, 2012

Morrocan chicken

Hi all,

This super yummy recipe diverges from I consider "traditional" boonies fare. It is based on this recipe from Bon Appetit. It may seem exotic, but with the exception of the spices, almost everything in it is probably already in your pantry and freezer. I've adjusted the recipe to my tastes by adding more spice and some dried fruit, and leaving out some of the onions. I also use one of the value packs of chicken that comes with 8 thighs and 2 breasts, rather than 8 thighs and 8 drumsticks.

Don't be afraid of the spices in this recipe - it adds so much flavour, but it's not "hot" at all. Spices may be expensive to begin with, but as long as you're not cooking like this every day, I think it's a manageable expense. Don't bother with the fancy out-of-the-ordinary spices (like Hungarian sweet paprika) in the original recipe. Your everyday spices will work just fine.

This recipe calls for an eggplant, which is a delicious luxury if you can get it, but it doesn't store very well. If you manage to pick up a nice, fresh eggplant during your shopping trip, try to make this recipe right away (within a day or two). There are some tips for freezing eggplant on the interwebs, but I suspect the poor thing will be significantly worse for wear if you freeze and thaw it. Although I love it in this recipe, it's ok to leave it out if you don't have it. You could even try it with something less exotic, like zucchini.

First, if you did manage to get a decent eggplant, chop it up into 1" cubes and toss it with some olive oil. Spray a cooking sheet with olive oil, spread the eggplant cubes on it, and pop it in a hot oven (400°F) for about 20 minutes. The eggplant will brown and get this delicious creamy texture.

Next, slice up one large onion and 4 or 5 cloves of garlic and saute them together with some olive oil in a large, deep pan (I use a big wok) over medium heat. Once they've softened, add all of your spices. This will make the onions lovely and fragrant. Stir for a minute, then add a large can of tomatoes, 1 cup of water, and 3 tbsp of lemon juice. Bring this mixture to a boil and add your chicken pieces. I like to heap a bit of the sauce on top of each piece of meat so it gets all the benefit of the flavours. Turn the heat down to medium low, cover, and let it cook for about 15 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over about half way through.

While that's cooking, coarsely chop some dried apricots and/or some dried, unsweetened cranberries and toss that in with the chicken.

Finally, take your eggplant out of the oven and toss it in with the chicken when it's nearly done, mixing gently. You can garnish this with toasted, slivered almonds, fresh cilantro and serve it with rice and a nice salad or steamed greens (don't forget to eat green things!).

Here is my modified ingredients list:

1 large eggplant, chopped into 1" cubes
1 value pack of chicken, deboned and skinned (roughly 8 thighs and 2 breasts)
1 large onion, sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 tbsp paprika
0.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp ground coriander
1.5 tsp whole fennel seeds
several turns of fresh ground pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
0.5 tsp ground ginger
1 large (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1 cup water
3 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup dried apricots and/or unsweetened cranberries

slivered almonds and fresh cilantro (optional) for garnish.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Healthy 10-Minute Meal

Roast chicken, root veggies, potatoes and chard - this is a hearty meal that will warm up any night. It's perfect for winter because it uses vegetables that store very well and provide you with lots of great nutrients. As a bonus, this takes about 10 minutes of active prep time, and one hour to cook.

Chard is probably my favorite leafy green - it grows really well in the garden, lasting well into the fall (even through a hard frost). It also stores well in the fridge - just wrap the stems in a damp paper towel and store a bunch in a plastic bag in the crisper. It will stay crisp for at least a week, and is excellent steamed or in salads. The taste is similar to spinach, but a little more flavorful. Usually, I only see it in the organic section of the grocery store, but like I said - it's easy to grow in the garden, so you can enjoy it all summer and fall.

Potatoes, carrots, and parsnips store very well in a cool, dark place - months, if you keep them well ventilated and cool, so buy or grow them and store them in a root cellar, crawl space, or shed (as long as it doesn't freeze).

The recipe for the chicken is the easiest, tastiest one I know. It comes from and easily feeds a family of 4. Buy whole chickens when they're on sale, preferably in packages of two or more. I got 2 at the wholesale for $14. Separate them out in ziploc bags when you gets home and freeze them.

For the chicken, you'll need:
- one whole chicken
- salt
- dried thyme

Rinse the chicken inside and out, and dry it off really well with some paper towels. You want to make sure it's as dry as possible, inside and out.

Place it in a roasting pan and truss it up. Then take about 1 tablespoon of salt (or the salt shaker) and "rain" salt down on the bird so it's evenly coated on top. This will make a nice, crispy skin.

Then throw that sucker in the oven at about 400° (the original recipe says 450°, but it always seems to get too dry when I cook it that way - could be my oven though).

That's it. Don't baste it, don't look at it.

While it's cooking away, cut up some parsnips, carrots and potatoes into large chunks. You want them to be about the same size so they all cook in the same amount of time. 2" cubes work. Once the chicken's been in the over for about 30 minutes, throw all the root veggies in the roasting pan with in and put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.
Adding carrots, yams and parsnips

Finally, prepare some chard. Rinse each leaf and tear the green parts off the stem in chunks. Put about 1" of water in a large pot, and put the chard in a steamer basket over the water. If you don't have a steamer basket, just put the chard in 1" of water - you don't want to cover the leaves with water, just have enough in there to steam them. Leave this until the chicken is done.

When the chicken is finished (check with a meat thermometer, or stick a fork in the side and make sure the juices run clear, not pink), take it out of the oven and remove the root veggies from the pan with a slotted spoon. Crush about 2 tsp dry thyme (not ground) into the juices, then baste the chicken with the juice and let it sit.

Cook your chard over high heat for about 5 minutes until it all wilts. You can serve it with a bit of butter, or just plain.

Now serve it all up!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Spaghetti and meat sauce

This first recipe is a no-brainer for me as far as cooking in the boonies goes. Most of the ingredients are things you probably keep in your cupboards anyway, and you can make several substitutions based on what you have on hand.

This recipe is heavily adapted from the recipe in the Four Roses Cookbook (1960's version). It's been a family staple since I was little. The base of this recipe includes ground meat, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and spices. You can use almost anything for the meat - beef, pork, turkey, or even moose or venison if that is what you have. Canned tomatoes can be diced or whole - I prefer to add my own spices, so I always just buy plain, unspiced tomatoes and sauce. This year, I'd like to get a greenhouse going so I can grow and can my own tomatoes.

The additions to this recipe include almost any vegetable that is in your fridge. This is a great recipe for getting rid of "almost-gone" veggies. You know - the ones that are kind of brown, wrinkled or wilty? In a sauce, you never notice that they're not perfect.

To start with, mince up a generous amount of garlic (I use 3 or 4 cloves) and chop up an onion. Chop up any other veggies that you plan to include (mushrooms, celery, carrots, bell peppers, etc..). You probably want 1-2 cups of veggies in addition to the onion. If you don't have anything fresh, you can use a drained can of mushrooms, or some frozen zucchini, or nothing at all (if you want a plain sauce).

Brown the meat until there's no more pink showing, then drain any excess fat. Add the onion, garlic and veggies and stir fry until everything begins to soften (it doesn't have to be totally brown - things will continue to cook in the sauce). Now add a large can of tomatoes, a small can of tomato sauce, and a small can of tomato paste and stir. You can also add about 1/2 c. red wine, water, or broth if it seems too thick.

Add the spices to taste and allow the whole thing to simmer while you boil a pot of spaghetti. A large pot of this sauce will make at least 6 servings, probably more.

See below for detailed recipe and instructions.

500 g (1 pound) ground meat, thawed. (Beef, pork, moose, turkey, or ??)
1 large onion
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 cups of chopped fresh, canned or frozen veggies (mushrooms, celery, bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc.)
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes, whole or diced.
1 small can of plain tomato sauce
1 small can of plain tomato paste
1/2 cup of red wine, beef broth, or water
1 tbsp. dry or 1/4 c. fresh basil
2 tbsp. dry or 1/3 c. fresh oregano
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
salt and pepper to taste.

Brown meat and drain off excess fat.

Add garlic, onions and veggies and cook until veggies begin to soften and onions are translucent.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and liquid and stir until combined.

Add spices, tasting as you go. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

Allow to simmer while you bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

Serve with parmesan cheese. If you have picky kids who don't like veggies, use a blender to liquify the sauce so the kids can't see the veggies. They'll never know ;)

1/52 post-workout dinner

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


You know how food blogs and recipe books have a million great ways to eat healthy? Now look out your door - if, like me, you can't see a Whole Foods, Safeway, or Costco within a days' drive, you might think your recipe plan is doomed. Have no fear, I'd like to share some tips on eating healthy (and cheaply) in the boonies.

To be clear, I'm not a chef. Not even close. I'm pretty good at following directions, and can manage most recipes that come across my kitchen. I like to make new things, and try to regularly introduce new items to the kitchen table. I don't live in the most isolated part of the world, nor do I live within walking distance of a fancy organic food store, greek deli, or any specialty. If it's not in Safeway, I don't have a chance.

I'll tell you what I'm about though. This year, I made a silent resolution to do a few things: save money on food, plan my meals better, cook in season, and help others in need. I see a load of people living here, and in places more isolated, who rely extensively on pre-packaged, processed food with limited nutritional value. Every time I see it, I want to shake them up - don't you know? You can eat healthy things! It doesn't have to take a long time! You can do it with the stuff in your local grocery store! Argh! So that's why I started this blog. I hope to share recipes (not necessarily mine) and ideas for eating using the foods most available near you. Hope you enjoy it!