Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pesto Chicken in a French Bread Loaf

This meal was inspired by my mom's original Reuban loaf and the need to use up leftover chicken, bread dough, and pesto. I used the rustic French bread dough and chicken from previous posts. Joe made the pesto. I've made this a couple of times now, and it is becoming one of our favorites. I will apologize now for the dark pictures. I am using my phone camera since my camera broke.

Step one: Use a rolling pin and roll out some dough. Place it one a baking stone or sheet sprinkled with corn meal. 

Step two: Spread the pesto in a strip down the middle of the dough. 

Step three: Place pieces of chicken on top of the pesto. 

Step four: Put a small stripe of ranch dressing on top of the chicken. I literally just go over the chicken once and then add a little to any area that was really skimpy. This just adds a little flavor and creaminess. It is not the main event so don't add too much. 

Step five: Top with mozzarella cheese and then a small small layer of cheddar. 

Step six: Use a knife to cut the dough every inch or two along both edges. This will allow you to braid the dough. 

Step seven: Fold the ends over the chicken, and then alternating sides, fold the cut pieces onto the chicken. This will result in the braided look you see above. 

Step eight: Place in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Some of the cheese may ooze out onto the pan. This is normal, don't worry. Allow to sit for five minutes before cutting with a bread knife. 

Pesto Chicken French Bread Loaf 

Bread dough or pizza dough
Chicken (cooked as you like)
Ranch dressing
Mozzarella cheese
Cheddar cheese

(Note that amounts are not specified. It's like making a pizza. The amounts are flexible according to your tastes.)

Preheat oven to 425.  Sprinkle corn meal onto a baking sheet. Roll out dough on a floured surface and place onto bakin sheet.  Layer pesto, chicken, ranch dressing, and cheeses down the middle if the dough. Cut the sides of the dough with a knife. Braid the dough enclosing the toppings inside. Bake for 20 minutes. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dutch Oven Chicken

Delicious! That's all the description that this dish needs. Normally I make this dinner using a whole chicken when I can find one on sale, but this week I found thighs and a few breasts on sale. I'm learning that really any variation of chicken works from chicken pieces to a whole chicken. It's the cheapest and most flavorful way to get some cooked chicken. Total honesty here too, I don't usually spend the extra money on organic food since I can't always justify the extra cost for the unquantified benefits. However, for this dish, I do wait for the free range organic chickens to go on sale because I've made it enough to know that in this case it makes the flavor ridiculously better. The meat also comes out noticeably softer, juicier, and just falls off the bone.  In a pinch, I use the regular Trader Joe's whole chicken which works almost as well.  But really, use anything you can get your hands on, it'll be tasty.

Joe and I have a nice chicken dinner the first night with this.  I take all of the leftover chicken off the bones to use in soup and enchiladas which I'll post later.  Then I put the leftover gravy, chicken skin and bones into a crockpot with onion, carrots, celery and salt for flavor and fill it up with water.  I turn that on low for the night and wake up to some awesome broth to use in my soup.  Just strain it and freeze it.  Use it when you need it! Really this is the dish that keeps on giving.

Dutch Oven Chicken

1 whole roasting chicken or chicken pieces (4 to 5 lbs)
2 teaspoons of seasoning of your choice.  I usually just use salt, but tonight I used the Wildtree lemon rosemary mix for something different.  Up to you!
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4-6 whole cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary (optional)
Juice from 1/2 a lemon


Preheat the oven to 250˚ and move the a rack to the bottom of the oven.  Place the dutch oven on the stove top and turn the burner on to medium.  Pat the chicken down with a paper towel.  Rub the seasoning into and under the skin of the chicken.  Melt the butter.  Once it is smoking slightly, add the chicken, breast-side down.  Sprinkle the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary around and on the chicken.  Sauté for 5 minutes on the breast side and flip.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  Turn off the burner.  Cover the dutch oven with aluminum foil and then the top.  Place on the bottom rack of the oven.  If you are cooking chicken pieces, bake for 60 minutes.  If you're making a whole chicken, bake for 80 minutes.  

Remove from the oven and place the chicken on a tray for carving.  Strain the drippings into a sauce pan.  Add the lemon juice and simmer.  Use as gravy over the chicken.  

One final note, we love to use the softened garlic and onion as a spread on fresh bread.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Gray and White Chevron Quilt with Polka Dot Backing

Chevrons are all the rage these days. They are cute and provide lovely contrast on a quilt. I saw a store-bought quilt of an adorable gray and white chevron quilt on Pinterest a few years ago. The link doesn't even work anymore, otherwise I'd provide it for you. I decided that I could make it pretty easily, and it really did go together quickly. I made the quilt top in about 3 days of working a few hours each time using this easy tutorial from the blog Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom. It took me longer to pin, quilt and bind the whole thing than to make the quilt top.  

When I started this quilt, I wasn't really sure who I was making the quilt for. I thought perhaps one of the many babies that my friends and family are having, then I thought maybe a family member. But in the end, I decided to keep it for myself because it's just so cute and cozy. If one of my friends or family members read this and would like one, please do let me know. It probably wouldn't take to much to convince me to make one for you or to help you make one on your own.  

If you even decide to make your own chevron quilt please do share a picture of it below. Happy quilting!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

I love Thai food, and Joe loves butternut squash.  This soup makes for a perfect marriage of our food tastes.  I lived in Thailand for two years and developed a palate for all the wonderful spicy fresh food they have over there.  I often find myself craving different Thai dishes wishing I still lived there so I could walk down the street and order whatever my heart desired for less than a dollar.  Delicious!  If we get take out in our house, it's always Thai.  Ok, we've only ever gotten take out twice, but it's always been Thai.  
On to the yummy soup I made last night.  Disclaimer: this is not an actual authentic Thai dish, but they do use red curry, and they do use pumpkin, but I don't think I ever had butternut squash over there and certainly not as a soup.  So if you're going for truly authentic, this is not is.  But if you just love the Thai flavors, this is your dish!
This soup is adapted from how sweet it is which she adapted from Cooking Light.

Dinner time
Frozen squash and Thai Red Curry Sauce

Have you ever noticed how there is always more squash then you can use at one time from one squash?  Learn how to freeze it here.
The original recipe I used called for straight up red curry paste.  After driving to three different stores in Pasadena I could not find any.  Really Pasadena?  Anyways, I was determined to make this soup, so I purchased this Kikkoman Thai Red Curry Sauce which seems to work really well and is actually available at most grocery stores.  

Simmering squash soaking up the curry flavors

The toppings.  Fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts

Since this soup was made with frozen squash from a previous cooking adventure, I did not have any of the squash seeds.  If I had those, you would not be seeing peanuts in this picture.  Joe and I love roasted squash seeds on top of all squash recipes.  Pretty much every recipe that I use for squash calls for the seeds to be thrown.  WHY?  They are delicious, healthy and really really not that difficult to make edible.  
After you cut the squash in half, scrape out the seeds using a fork.  This will get out the seeds while leaving that stringy stuff in the squash.  Soak the seeds in salt water for a little bit.  Drain and spread on a baking sheet.  Place in the oven at 300˚ for about 20 minutes.  Honestly I use my nose and ears to determine when they are done.  You will smell them turning golden and hear them pop when they are done.  You can always taste one to determine it's doneness.  I don't think I've ever had a batch that baked in the same amount of time as a previous batch.  You just have to watch them.  

Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 cup red curry sauce
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
4 cups uncooked butternut squash cubes
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk 
1 lime, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh cilantro roughly chopped for topping
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts for topping
Roasted squash seeds

Heat a large pot over medium-low heat and add coconut oil.  Once it's melted, add the onions, garlic and salt.  Cook until the onions are soft and translucent stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Add the ginger and curry sauce and stir until mixed.  Cook the curry and onions for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour in the stock and add the squash cubes, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Increase the heat to medium bringing to a boil, and cook until the squash is soft, about 20 minutes.

Once the squash is soft, turn off the heat.  You have a few options here depending on your tools.  I use an immersion blender right in the pot to blend the soup until it is soft and pureed.  If you don't have one, very carefully pour the contents of the pot into a regular blender and blend until smooth.  Pour back into the pot and turn the heat on to medium low.  Add the coconut milk and lime juice, and stir.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes until it's completely warm.  Taste and season additionally if desired.  Serve the soup with a garnish of cilantro and roasted seeds or chopped peanuts.

How to Freeze Butternut Squash

Joe loves butternut squash, well all squash really!  His love of the stuff has broadened my food horizons considerably.  I never realized how many different types of squash there are and how many different ways it can be prepared.  What I've also discovered is that most squashes are too big for the amount called for in a recipe.  At first I just put more squash in the dish than called for, but I realized that really masked the other wonderful flavors that are in the recipe.  So what to do with the extra?  Freeze it!  I'm sure this is not news to most of you, but it was an Aha! moment for me.
The next time you get one of those wonderful butternut squashes and you have more than you can use, give the freezer a try.  I did a little bit of "research" on the best way to freeze squash.  Google (isn't she great?) informed me that you just cube the entire squash like you would for most dishes anyways.  Spread the squash cubes out on a baking sheet with sides so that none of the pieces are touching.  I learned the hard way that sides are necessary if you don't want squash cubes all over your freezer.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours (or overnight) until the squash has a chance to freeze.  This step is important because it keeps the squash pieces from sticking to each other and creating one big frozen chunk.  Remove from the freezer and place in an airtight container.  I prefer a gallon zipper plastic storage bag because you can remove the extra air and conform it to the other things in your freezer.
That's it!  When you're ready to utilize that extra squash, take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to start thawing.  Cook with it in your favorite dish!
Next up, I'll be sharing what I made with our frozen squash pieces: Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup
What is your favorite butternut squash recipe?  If you have one, please leave a comment below sharing the deliciousness with all of us.  I'm always looking for new squash recipes due to the aforementioned LOVE of all things squash.