In the van. My daughter was not prepared.
In the van. My daughter was not prepared.
I made a new chicken dinner and it is the chicken dinner to rule all chicken dinners.
Or so say I, aka Miss Humble Pants Know It All.
It irritates my husband to no end when I get all cocky with my food-love proclamations. The other day when I wrote about this chicken dinner and called it “THE BEST CHICKEN DINNER EVER,” the man got on my case.
“That’s a stupid thing to say,” he said. “You don’t know it’s the best chicken ever. You shouldn’t say those things.”
He’s right, I don’t know if it’s the best chicken ever. Just because I thought I’d died and went to heaven doesn’t mean I haven’t ever felt that way while eating chicken other times. What can I say. I’m a loose-praiser of chicken dinners. A chicken slut, if you will. Forgive me, World.
(My husband is going to blow his top when he reads that last paragraph. You don’t need to say all that, he’ll scoff. I’ll just ho-ho-ho and say, Read on, baby, and then he’ll read this parenthetical paragraph and get a wonky huge grin on his face. THE MAN HAS THE BEST SHEEPISH GRIN EVER.)
Earlier this week, me and a bunch of friends took our chatty selves out to dinner. We settled on Indian food, but when we got to the restaurant, it was closed. “How about Thai food?” someone suggested.
There was an awkward silence, and then I blurted, “I don’t really like Thai food.”
Gathered around the table at Indian Restaurant Take Two, I clarified. I do like Thai food, I said, but for some reason—maybe the restaurant?—all the food always tastes the same to me, sort of industrialized. (Am I the only one who thinks this?)
Anyway. One of the restaurant’s specials was butter chicken. I had no idea that my latest chicken dish affair was Indian! How could I have missed that important detail? (Especially since the recipe writer said it was Indian. Shame, Jennifer. Shame.) I toyed with ordering the chicken, just to see how my version compared with the real deal, but then I decided, Nah, I love what I made, and it’s easy. I’ll try something different. So I got something else that I can’t pronounce, plus na’an with paneer, and it was wonderful, but I think I prefer my butter chicken. Moral of the story: there is no need to spend twenty-six dollars at an Indian restaurant when you can just whip up a pot of THE BEST CHICKEN EVER from the comfort of your home.
Scratch that. The food was awesome and my friends were even more awesome because they tolerated me eating from their plates à la Helen Keller. Plus, we had ourselves a jolly blast, laughed ourselves silly, and left smelling like exotic spices. Totally worth the splurge.
Now for the chicken. Here’s what you need to know:
*My kids approved (though a couple were deterred by the heat, even with my chili pepper reductions, the wimps), and some of them LOVED it.
*I bet this could easily be made into a vegetarian meal: just use roasted cauliflower, carrots, and chickpeas (or zucchini, tofu, sweet potatoes, etc) in place of the chicken.
The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon of cayenne, but I halved it and found it plenty hot. I’ve read elsewhere that the sour cream can be substituted with yogurt (preferably Greek, perhaps?), and I think the yogurt might actually be more authentic (but I don’t know that for sure).
4 tablespoons butter
¼ cup minced ginger
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cubed
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 teaspoons cumin
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon chipotle (or cayenne) pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 pint tomato sauce
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup brown sugar
Melt the butter in a large pot set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger. After a couple minutes, add the chicken and fry for a few minutes until it starts to brown.
In a bowl, stir together the sour cream, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, chipotle, salt, and black pepper. Add to the chicken and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
Pour the whipping cream into a bowl and temper it by slowly whisking in a couple ladlefuls of the hot tomato-sour cream sauce. Add the now-tempered whipping cream to the pot of chicken and add the brown sugar. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering for another 25 minutes.
Serve hot, over rice, with na’an and some weeds.
This same time, years previous: the hard part, an evening together, the quotidian (5.26.14), the quotidian (5.27.13), the quotidian (5.28.12), questions and carrots, one dead mouse, we love you, Wayne, the ways we play, de butchery, and just the tip.
While puttering around in the kitchen first thing this morning, I caught sight of Velvet down by the chicken coop. She was acting weird. Every now and then, she’d charge the steers. When she wasn’t ramming at them, she’s park herself directly over the resting sheep, like she was standing guard.
“Come look at this,” I called to my husband. As we watched, one of the steers approached Velvet. Sure enough, her tail swished a warning and then down went her head, CHARGE. She really was protecting the sheep!
Soon after, my older daughter went out to care for the animals but soon returned with bad news: Scarlet, the littlest, friendliest lamb, had a broken leg. (Which makes me wonder: Did Velvet step on her, or did Velvet sense that something was wrong and that’s why she was standing guard?)
My daughter called my father and asked him to come over with the gun. There were tears. I hugged her and suggested she start digging the hole. “Call Papa and find out where you should bury her.”
But my husband said, “Um, can’t you splint the leg?”
Oh, right. Good idea.
There was a flurry of internet research, a visit to the neighbor’s house in search of aspirin, and a scrambling to dig through the medical supplies for wraps and such.
My father put down his gun and helped the kids set up a temporary vet station.
My daughter gave the lamb some crushed painkillers dissolved in warm water with a drop of molasses.
My son did the setting—shudder!—and then the wrapping.
He didn’t get the bone completely straight (it’s hard to tell with all the swelling), but it’s better than it was.
Hopefully, she’ll heal. This lamb is the one who almost didn’t make it in the very beginning.
If anything, she’s plucky.
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.25.15), rosa de jamaica tea, down to the river to play, the reason why, deviating from my norm, strawberry shortcake with milk on top, Aunt Valerie’s blueberry bars, and asparagus, goat cheese, and lemon pasta.
This same time, years previous: ice cream supper, Shirley’s sugar cookies, the trouble with Mother’s Day, the basics, more on trash, the quotidian (5.21.12), savoring Saturday’s sun, through my daughter’s eyes, chocolate-kissed chili, and ranch dressing.
Last week, my cousin-neighbor watched a couple of my kids while I did Something Or Other. When I picked them up, she said, “We planted a cover crop of lambsquarters. Would you like some?” And then she handed me a grocery store bag packed full of weeds.
I wasn’t completely thrilled, I must admit. Weeds sounded rather sub par. Inferior. Like trashy real greens. But I said Sure, and How do you cook them, and then I took the bag home and stuffed it in the crisper where I mostly forgot about it for several days.
But then Sunday noon rolled around. I was heating up leftover rice and chicken (a meal that I will be telling you about in very short order because it is THE BEST CHICKEN EVER), had pulled some na’an out of the freezer (a little shop in town sells real na’an, not that fake stuff Costco sells), and was fishing around for a vegetable that wasn’t green beans when I remembered the weeds.
What the heck, I thought, and grabbed a big handful of weeds and commenced a-plucking leaves from stalks. My hands got sandy-gritty from the leaf fuzz (though the plants didn’t seem that dirty), so I gave them a good washing and salad-spinner spinning before tossing them in a skillet along with some sizzling butter. The weeds cooked down lickety split. I sprinkled them with salt, gave them a hearty drizzle of lemon, and you know what? They were fabulous. Texture-wise, they’re like a cross between tender spinach and baby kale and something else…maybe celery leaves? Flavor-wise, they’re like any other mild-tasting, sweet green: utterly delicious.
We feasted on those weeds all week long. I cooked them up to eat alongside our beans and rice, and another time I threw a couple large handfuls of the chopped leaves into a pot of soupy beans, spinach, and salsa. I sautéed a bunch to use as a stuffing for a light sushi supper. And last night I cooked up the very last of the weeds and stuffed them into spicy pork-and-feta tortilla wraps.
Lambsquarters would be a splendid addition to countless dishes—think quiche and soup, for starters—anything that calls for cooked greens, really. Packed with protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin C, A, B1, and B2, they are super healthy, even more so, in some regards, than spinach and cabbage.
Moral of the story: If someone ever offers you a bag of weeds, snatch those babies up.
Sautéed Lambsquarters with Lemon
a large bowl of lambsquarters
1 tablespoon butter
Pluck the leaves from the thicker stems (just because they can be a little tough), but don’t bother to separate out the tender baby stems. Wash well and spin dry.
Sizzle a pat of butter in a skillet and then toss in a great mountain of the weeds. Push them around for 1-2 minutes until wilted and dark green. Sprinkle with coarse salt and lemon juice. Serve hot.
Add skillet-cooked (or steamed) greens to any number of soups and pots of beans.
Note: my cousin-neighbor said not to eat the lambsquarters raw. I can’t remember why, and since I didn’t taste them raw myself, I don’t know. Maybe because of the fuzzy texture? Or perhaps they have a bitter flavor? (Oh wait. Right here it says that the leaves have oxalic acid which can make your throat burn. So there you go.)
Just a few weeks after my husband finished putting in the fence, my husband’s co-worker purchased a bunch of steers and then offered to sell a couple of them to us. The timing was perfect, so we jumped at the offer.
It’s about time we put those couple extra acres to good use. For awhile there, I wondered if it’d ever happen. When I credited my husband’s farming plunge to his friend’s push, my husband said, “No, it’s not because of him. It’s because we finally have fence. I told you we’d get animals when I got the fence up.”
So now we have two steers, numbers 20 and 26. The plan is to sell them once they get big. Or maybe we’ll have one butchered for ourselves (and our beef-eating friends)? We’ll see. In the meantime, the field gets mowed and the animals get fat. It all feels terribly productive, but in a deliciously lazy sort of way.
My daughter wants to train the steers to do tricks and go over jumps. I wouldn’t be surprised if she figures out a way to ride them, too. Less than twenty-four hours after they arrived and she’d already coaxed them into letting her give them hugs.
We came home from the hospital to a stocked fridge, thanks to my sister-in-law. She had bulked it up with all sorts of nourishing casseroles and goodies, including a bag filled with six chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies. After lunch one day, I handed out the cookies to the kids for their snack before settling down on the sofa to eat mine with my coffee.
One bite and I was awash in regret. Why, oh why, had I shared the cookies? If I would’ve kept my big mouth shut and pretended they didn’t exist, the kids would’ve been none the wiser and I could have had them all to myself! But it was too late. The cookies were out of the bag, so to speak. So I settled for quickly tapping out an email recipe request to my sister-in-law in between bites.
She emailed right back. The recipe, turns out, came from my aunt’s cookbook. A quick skim of the recipe and I was on board. But from there, things went downhill. The recipe called for chocolate syrup of which I had none, and since I wasn’t about to run to the store for a bottle of sludgy chemicals, I had to make it from scratch. Then the recipe my mother recommended (from my aunt’s daughter’s—i.e. my cousin’s—blog) called for evaporated milk of which—you guessed it—I had none. So I had to make that, too.
At least I didn’t have to milk the cow.
The recipe did eventually come together, though. And one afternoon while a friend was visiting, I baked those cookies right up. My friend, bless her heart, took it upon herself to document the Jennifer-assembling-the-cookies moment with my camera. This is what I look like while making cookies and yakking my head off, thank you, friend.
The cookies remind me of whoopie pies, for obvious reasons (chocolate cookies with a filling, duh), but these—the cookie part, anyway—is completely different: chewy and tender, not at all cake-y. The cookies are rich and dark, and they do a dandy job of meeting the peanut butter-and-chocolate craving. The kids love them, my husband loves them, and I love them. Win.
Oh, and did I mention they’re one hundred percent whole wheat? ‘Tis true! ‘Course, doesn’t mean a thing, considering how sweet they are and all. But still, kinda cool.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
Adapted from Baking With Whole Grains.
I recommend making a double batch. In fact, I recommend it so strongly that I’m doubling the recipe for you, right here, right now. Freezers and friends exist for a reason, though you probably won’t need either in the case of these cookies.
For the cocoa, I used Wilbur Dutch Processed Cocoa. It’s delicious and devilishly dark.
for the dough:
2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons, butter
1 cup cocoa powder
½ cup chocolate syrup
¼ cup natural peanut butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the cocoa, chocolate syrup, and peanut butter and remove from heat.
Beat together the eggs and brown sugar. Add the cocoa-butter mixture. Stir in the dry ingredients. The dough will be slightly runny, like a thick brownie batter. Cover tightly and chill in the fridge overnight.
Dollop small scoops (or large, if you want giant cookies) of dough onto greased baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees. The cookies should be set in the middle, but just barely. They are chewier if slightly under done.
Cool completely and sandwich together with the filling. Individually wrap cookies in plastic before piling them into a bag and freezing.
for the filling:
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
5½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
Beat together the butter and peanut butter. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. This makes plenty of filling—I even had a little leftover—so be generous when assembling the cookies.
This same time, years previous: Captain Morgan’s rhubarb sours, crock pot pulled venison, people watching and baby slinging, help, a burger, a play, and some bagels, ’twas an honor, raspberry mint tea, garden tales, part one, garden tales, part two, and talking points rained out.
Just to drive home my point about the rain, here are two photos from yesterday. They were taken (by my daughter) about ten minutes apart in the early afternoon.
This morning I was playing with this first photo, thinking about switching it to black and white, and then I was like, Um, why? It’s already totally gray. Rain really does take the color out of life.
And then, a few miles down the road, brilliant green and almost sunny.
Virginia weather is crazy.
It’s scheduled to rain all next week, I hear. But the next week? TONS OF SUN. Can’t wait!
PS. It’s Friday and I’m still upright. I planned my week carefully, scheduling at least one social interaction for each day. My I-need-people plan continues through this weekend and right into next week. Go me.
PPS. This is sort of a non-post. I apologize. I will be back (who knows when) with cookies. Peanut butter and chocolate are involved. Sit tight.
PPPS. Come to think of it, maybe this is a good time, what with the rain and the upcoming weekend and all, to share book/movie suggestions? Yes? Okay then! I’ll go first.
Reading: Currently, On Acting, by Steven Breese, and next up, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (for book club) and A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith (reviewing it to see if it would be a good family read aloud).
Watching: Seinfeld (because some friends gave us a bunch of seasons for our broken-back son), Catastrophe (because a friend mentioned it on Facebook), and House of Cards (I’m a couple episodes short of completing the show). As for movies, I’ve recently seen Brooklyn, Spotlight, Concussion, and The Big Short, and I’m wanting to see The Lady in the Van, Eye in the Sky, and The Intern.
Your turn! What are you watching and reading?
Soon after we got home from the hospital, a nurse from our congregation phoned to make a suggestion. Back when she was a beginning nurse (or maybe even still in school?) this woman had worked on a floor for children with scoliosis. At that time, treatment for scoliosis consisted of requiring the children to lie flat on their backs for six months, can you even imagine?! These kids were given special glasses—prism glasses—so they could read books that rested on their stomachs while still lying flat on their backs.
“You might want to check them out for your son,” she said.
The glasses sounded like a joke. Prism glasses? I imagined frames with sun catchers in place of the lenses. How in the world could a person read through those?
But then I looked them up, and I was like, Oh yeah, mirrors. I ordered a pair straightaway, but I kept my expectations low. The glasses sounded gimmicky—they didn’t cost that much—and I doubted they’d work all that well.
Turns out, the glasses are amazing. You really can stare straight ahead and clearly read whatever it is you’re holding in your lap!
My son uses them all the time. I’ll walk into his room to find him flat on his back, his laptop balanced on his clamshell belly, watching a movie or studying his EMT text while staring up at the ceiling. It’s wild.
Prism glasses…who would’ve thunk it? (And why didn’t they tell us about these at the hospital?)
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.11.15), one more thing, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta, hummus, and the mother of his children.