Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Cooking with Animal: How to Slow-Cook a Chicken

My girlfriend, The Animal, lives in a faraway land and is a cooking neophyte.  Recently married, she and her husband, Thunder Chicken (TC), are looking to enjoy a few more dinners at home each week.  Upon her ecstatic request, I am teaching her how to cook via blog.  Enjoy!



Dear Animal,

If you really want to drive the hubby crazy, this is a great technique to try and you're going to laugh at how simple it is (but dont tell TC its easy-we want him to think you slaved a bit). 

Since he works from home, this will drive him nuts All. Day. Long.  You know the fastest way to a man's heart is through his stomach?...but please keep in mind-their stomachs are also wonderful torture devices for us girls to play with.

First a few words of safety:
  1. Be sure to wash your hands before handling the raw chicken and before handling something after touching the raw chicken.  Salmonella can be easily transferred.  Rule of thumb: when in doubt, wash your hands. 
  2. Be sure to thoroughly wash everything that has come into contact with the raw chicken.
  3. Chicken should be cooked until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is important that the end of the thermometer is not touching a bone.  I will check the temp in a few different places on the chicken to get an accurate read.
Here are a few thermometers I recommend:
So here's your chicken:
  When you go to the store you are looking for a 'whole roaster chicken'.  They are typically cheaper per pound than chicken breasts.  Five pounds is a lot for Levi and I, but this is the smallest they had that day.  I typically go for the 3-4lb size, but if you're planning to eat off of this for a couple days-go for a bigger size!

Next: cut this bad-boy open over the sink!  They add tons of water to these to inflate the size, weight and price.  Some 'free range' or 'local' farms wont add water, but more often than not-you are paying for excess water at some point.  I will take a serrated knife and cut the plastic off over the sink, then move the chicken around to ensure I have drained as much of the water from the orifices as possible.

Important Note: check the chicken's hole.  Water and possibly a bag of extra pieces (neck, liver, gizzards) will be in a little bag inside.  Drain the water and throw away the extra pieces for now (I'll show you how to do fun things with that later).    
Next step: Get out your crock pot.  Loosely crumple up some tin foil and lay it in the bottom of the crock.  We are making a little bed to lay the chicken on-only an inch deep.  This little bed will allow for the juices to drain off the bird so the bird can cook nicely.  If we cook him without the little bed, he will sit in the juice and boil in the juices.  Boiling the chicken causes it to fall apart and doesn't taste as good!
Lets flavor the dude!  Take your serrated knife and make a small cut (about 3 inches) around the edge of each chicken breast, one on each leg and one on each side of the back.  Use your finger to seperate the skin from the meat.  You're going to feel a little Silence of the Lambs doing this, but this is where the seasoning goes.  If you just dump the seasoning over the top, you won't taste the flavor in the meat because the skin is too thick for the seasoning to penetrate. 

How do you want to flavor your chicken?
  •   Lemon/Pepper: take a lemon and cut it into thin slices, pepper each slice and place them between the skin and meat.  Replace skin, salt/pepper skin.
  • Grill seasoning: season under the skin and over the skin using your hands to evenly distribute the seasoning.
  • Orange or with BBQ sauce: take orange marmalade and coat the chicken under and over the skin.
 Finally place chicken breast side up in crock-pot and cover with lid.
  • 4 hour cook time: Set crock pot to High
  • 8 hour cook time: Set crock pot to Low
  • 1 hour cook time: place chicken in baking dish, cover with foil, cook in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45min-1 hour.   
Serve with bread and a bag of steam-able veggies!
Enjoy!
~C
  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Authentic New Orleans Red Beans & Rice



In 2009 a friend and I made a road-trip to New Orleans in my car.  The drive was a quick 12 hours, allowing us to arrive around 7pm on a Sunday.  We decided to stay with my cousin while we were down there-they lived just East of the French Quarter, a quick 10 minute walk from the heart of the city.

French Quarter
Her 5-room shotgun had plenty of room for us all to stay, yet we congregated outside in the courtyard behind the house.  The fence was surrounded by lush plants and in the middle there was a trickling fountain.  The scene was serene and while it was late June, the heat was just a reminder that we were in the South.  Patio tables and chairs made a nice circle for us to catch up, drink from our pony-neck beers we purchased from a neighborhood grocer and smoke cigarettes.  People would stop-by and visit, drink in hand-often a reusable plastic cup, but if you had no drink or no cup-a stack of travelers had a permanent residence on the kitchen counter.

One night, a local musician, JD, came by the house for a drink and a visit.  He played the guitar for a time and told us stories about growing up in NOLA.  With him was a book that was recently published on Post-Katrina musicians and how the music scene had changed since the hurricane.  JD was interviewed and photographed for the book. 

I quickly go used to the NOLA way of life, although I never acclimated to NOLA-time (a two-hour delay)-5 days wasn't enough to take the high-strung from this Northerner.  But still, I loved how small this city felt. 
Drinking rose in the courtyard
How the people here still would 'stop-by' for a visit and a cold refreshment.  How the city is defined by the people and the people's credo is 'Be nice or leave' (I still regret not buying a Dr. Bob sign in the quarter).  I loved walking and taking bikes almost anywhere you needed to go.  Slowing down and enjoying.  When I came home, my friend and I took a serious look at our way of life.  He got a bicycle and I left my corporate job for something walking-distance.  We both wanted to bring NOLA back with us.  We wanted to continue to savor our moments of life.

I will say, I cycle between savoring and disregarding moments.  Food has always been, for me, moments of forced savoring.  The process is as rewarding as the result.  Red Beans and Rice is a great recipe to let you savor each moment.  In NOLA, its the special in almost every restaurant as Mondays were traditionally laundry days.  Red beans, was a fairly cheap dish and made a lot of food-perfect for large families.  It also takes about 4 hours to cook.  Since it requires some babysitting, its easy to get distracted with laundry for awhile and go back to check it.

This recipe was given to me on my trip by a born-and-raised NOLA man.  He made it each week and this was the first time he had ever written it down.

Red Beans & Rice
Serves 8-10

1 lb. Taso (smoked pork)
1 lb. Andouille sausage
1 lb. red kidney beans (dry beans)
2 med yellow onions - chopped
6 toes garlic - minced
3 celery sticks - chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley - chopped
5 bay leaves
1 Tblsp vinegar
Salt, pepper & cayenne

Directions:
Wash beans and put in a mid-sized pot.  Add water 1/3 from top.  Add sausage and Taso.  Turn heat to boil.  Add everything else and let boil 1 hour with top off, stirring ever 20 minutes.

After 1 1/2 hour, you may need to add some water.  Put top on and cook another 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, cook it with the top off until it thickens up (probably another 30min+).

Cook rice on a separate burner.

Serve over rice.

Enjoy!
~C
Drinking a beer in a grocery store-my favorite photo from the trip!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekend Wino: Stage's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon & Braised Beef Ribs




Its the weekend again!  Time to pick out a special bottle of wine to ring-in your days off and savor the fresh Spring air!  We have once again been working with Wine Chateau to 'uncork life' and taste luxury. 

This week I've had the pleasure of tasting Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley!  This medium bodied wine has a blend of fruit (berries and plums), mint and cloves-making it easy to drink alone or with food.  Anyone who enjoys a nice red with dinner will not be disappointed by what Stag's Leap has produced!

According to Wine Chateau's website- this wine can be stored for up to ten years!  A great collector's item! 

THE WINE: Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis 2011


Wine Advocate gave this wine 91 points!

Fun Fact: The main house at Stag's Leap Vineyard is a large stone manor and was a retreat in the early to mid 20th Century.  It was used by bootleggers, gangsters, gypsies and its thought a few ghosts have made themselves a home there.

Other types of dishes that would work with the Masi: This wine is very easy to drink and could be paired with something as light as fish or as heavy as steak.


Braised Beef Ribs with Red Wine
Serves 4


4 lbs. Beef Ribs
2 cups beef stock
2 cups red wine
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped celery
3 strips bacon
4 Tablespoons butter

Dry Rub:
1/2 cup Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon thyme


Directions:
Trim any excess fat off of ribs.  Mix dry rub together and rub all over ribs.  Let sit.  In the meantime, cut up
bacon into pieces, then add to Dutch oven over med-high heat cooking until all the fat is cooked out.  Remove bacon, set aside for later use.  Add butter and allow to melt.  As soon as the butter is melted, sear the ribs, one at a time in the liquid.  Remove ribs from Dutch oven and set aside.

Add onion and celery to Dutch oven.  Cook until softened.  Add stock, wine and bacon.  Add ribs.  Cover and slow cook in 250 degree Fahrenheit oven for 4 hours. Uncover and turn heat up to 400 degrees for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Meat should be pulling away from the bones.

You will be tempted to add BBQ sauce, but PLEASE try it without!  They are amazing as-is!  Be sure to handle carefully when removing ribs from Dutch oven as they will be tempted to fall apart.  Get a good grip with your favorite pair of tongs and you'll be in great shape!

Serve over buttered grits and carrots.


Enjoy!
~Carmen



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How Setting Goals For Your Garden Now Can Save You Over $500!



Central Illinois faced one of the worst winters it has seen in around 30 years.  I was amused by individuals who treated it as though Mother Nature had a personal vendetta out against them. This type of winter is what I remember about being a kid living out in the middle of nowhere.  It was often too dangerous to go anywhere and we were frequently snowed in due to the snow blowing over the flat plains.  Keeping the fire going in the fireplace (our primary source of heat) was paramount and if the electricity went out-it wasn't really that big of a deal.

With this in mind-now that I live in town I don't gamble with mother nature and often go to the store prior to any indication of poor weather.  There are people who make fun of those who feel the need to stock-up on groceries prior to snow-fall, but not I.  Protecting oneself by being a little extra cautious in severe weather-is just a form of preparedness Im willing to take.  This winter the schools called approx 6 snow days due to excessive snow and Arctic temps, we must not be too liberal with our own safety.

At the beginning of February, Levi and I made the decision that I was to leave traditional employment and pursue the lifestyle and occupational goals I have always dreamed of-working for myself, my family and becoming a yoga instructor.  Part of this dream included being more active in the garden my mother and I put together so we are able to put-up enough food to feed our families over the winter months.

Gardening is quite fashionable now as 'buy local' and 'eat organic' consume our conscious as we move our
carts through the isles of the chain store.  But in truth, gardening can be expensive, time consuming and rather frustrating.  The amount of work and maintenance gardens require often turn people away from this practice, and I don't blame them.  The gardens my family grow are large and bountiful, often too much product for us to manage and too much maintenance for my mother and father alone to handle.

But why should I throw or give the food away?  When cans of tomatoes are going for over $1/each and I use at least 2 cans/week-I can justify spending a day or two a year canning tomatoes to last through the following year.

Here are a few ways I save money with gardening:

  • Green bell peppers are going for about $1/each on average.  In one day, I can cut and freeze enough to last me a year.  I suspect I use at least 1 pepper/week. Savings: $52+/year.  
  • I can turn a single flat of strawberries into a years worth of jam-and since I use jam a few times a week, this is very cost effective.  I also give jam as hostess gifts.  One afternoon of work saves me anywhere from $50-100/year. 
  • Zucchini is a fabulous item to freeze and add to fritattas, quiche, stirfrys, or just saute and eat as a side dish.  The last time I was in the store, small zucchini were $2/each!   Freezing zucchini for the winter and making relish probably saves me $100/year if used once a week.
  • Pickled beets are one of my favorite snacks.  Beets themselves are pretty forgiving late in the season, and have a pretty flexible harvest schedule-just as long as the deer don't beet (haha!) you too them!  Typically, one years harvest of beets will last both my parents and I well over a year.  Irregardless of the health benefits of adding beets to your diet-snacking on something homegrown and homemade is saving one from a considerable amount of additives and calories.  I probably go through a jar of beets a week, it takes Mom and I a full day to do beets.  Estimated savings: over $100/year.
  • Green beans and sweet corn are two items that are less forgiving when its time to harvest them.  If you don't pick them right away, they will be quickly consumed by a less patient animal.  Both are fairly easy to can or freeze and make a popular side dish at dinner.  I often toss green beans and corn into soups and casseroles too.  I estimate putting-up these save me about $200/year.


I could keep going on, about tomatoes, jalapenoes, cabbage, berries, but I think you're getting the point.

In yoga, its important before each practice to set an intention.  Often I choose to slow my mind, get the ache out of my lower back or work on balance.  Gardening is not any different.  You need to set your intention and allow this intention to carry through the year.  Gardening, like yoga, is a lifestyle choice.

This year, my intention is to have enough tomatoes, green peppers, strawberry jam, zucchini, pickled beets and green beans to last me through the following year. 

Please share in the comments below your intentions for your garden this year!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Top 5 Tips from a Stay-at-home Mom turned CEO

I apologize it's been a few weeks since my last post.  Occupation changes breed scheduling changes and I'm still getting a handle on my day-to-day.  

Part of the reason I left was to help my family in their various businesses and start my own.  I have found my family to be a wonderful source of information as they have over 150 years of collective business experience.  Half of which comes from two women who we're stay-at-home moms turned CEO's of their own businesses.  These businesses are not Fourtune 500, but they allow for living the dream of having a business and a life.
 
Today, for example, I'm sitting  at the Orr Building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds as my mother, sets up shop (I'm helping, can't you tell?).  She has owned a gift/jewelry business for almost 20 years and travels about 10-20+ weekends a year to sell her heavily curated accessories.  Her setup is incredibly elaborate-so much so, I worry about her doing it without help.  But she loves to do it while meeting so many people from all over the country.  

I apologize for the photo quality-still getting used to my iPad. But there's my mom fussing over one of the purse displays!

 She's adorable isn't she?

A business developed from a hobby of jewelry making after her last child went off to school is a fairly typical story of the mom that wanted to stay home with her children.  Through her experiences living on a single income she developed the savvy skills (like many moms) required to stay in 'the black' and work frugally.

As I'm sitting here 'helping' today I started asking her about what kind of advice she would give a woman looking to go into business for themselves.  And this is what she had to say:

1. Do something you love.  

Quilt shows and jewelry were never apart of my upbringing, but after mom had a chance meeting with an artist who was willing to show her how to make earrings-beads  and wire began infiltrating the dining room during the days.

'I wasn't hooked right away, but then I started showing people what I was doing and the reaction was overwhelming.  So I started doing research and trying new things until I had enough product to set up a display at a show.'

2. Find mentor(s) in the same field

A mentor will give the advice you can't find or is hard to find.  They will guide you in the right direction and explain things you may not think about such as, which is a trend vs fad in your business and how to recognize them.  This saving you a lot of time and money.  



3. Do your research

'Take baby steps. I started making earring first, it's what I was comfortable with and what I felt good about.  My research was around earrings and eventually as I got my skills in place-the next natural move was necklaces.'

4. 'Don't get too big too fast.' 

Starting out, go with what you can afford.  'My initial investment into my business was $50. It's what I could reasonable gamble at the time and not lose sleep if it didn't work.'

Fifty dollars isn't reasonable for everyone, but having an honest conversation with yourself about what you can invest is always a good idea.  Increasing as you can afford to, without going into the negative is a good sign you're going in the right direction.  Too often we invest expecting to get the money back-that's not always how it works and being but is one of the least advised practices, because those advising it are often the ones wanting your money.  Go with your gut.

5. 'Sometimes you just have to put on your big-girl business pants.'

Running your own business can give some people the illusion you're various things: rolling in money-is often one of them.  Friends and strangers can try to take advantage of your good nature or generosity and your most frequent clients may not be your best clients.  

Establish rules and business practices for your business.  Allow yourself to bend if the situation calls for it, but remember to stand up for yourself in the end or you will go broke being nice. 


Vicky Shaffer owns Crystal Mountain Jewelry and Gifts and can be found on Facebook and at quilt shows all over Central Illinois.