Slow and Sweet Honey Ginger Chicken

or kicked up sweets in a weekday pantry dinner.

So, yeah, here we are again.  Back from a lovely vacation with absolutely nothing in the house to eat.  You've been there - pushing the trip up to right when you have to go back to work and then flat out refusing to end your time off with a trip to the grocery store madhouse on Sunday night to keep it from sucking out all the relaxation you managed to build up while away.  A quick run to the store after work on Monday yielded chicken thighs, three types of bread, and boneless pork chops.  Ok, not the best thought out trip but since I wasn't feeling well I considered it a success that I came home with anything!  Then I had drive through soup from the local Coney Island for dinner.  Don't judge, you know you've done it.

Back to work and it's day two: with my husband out working at their corporate office this week I couldn't rely on him to whip together some form of out of the box meal while I laid on the couch trying to recover from whatever this cold/flu season has so inconsiderately thrown at me, so I was stuck trying to come up with something the required minimal effort and could come magically from the nonperishable ingredients I still had in the pantry.  This time it actually helped that I was already hungry that morning.  I openned the refridgerator and pulled out the chicken and grabbed the soy sauce, rummaging through the pantry I came across some honey and rice vinagar, I grabbed the slow cooker out of the cupboard and set to work.  Ginger seemed like a likely compliment so I pulled it out of the freezer, I've found that a solid piece of fresh ginger keeps longer in a bag in the freezer and grates much easier - bonus - I get to add a little extra flair to my meals even when the supplies are running bare.  Then I set to work assembling what I hoped would be a satisfying dinner for the evening.  Definitely a different flavor than many of my meals but the sweetness of the honey with a bit of tang from the vinegar created a surprisingly subtle blend of flavors that I am now excited to make again.

6 chicken thighs, no bones or skin
3 tbsp dried minced onion
⅓ cup chicken broth
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp minced garlic
4 tbsp rice vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce 
Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp ketchup
White rice

1. I prefer to use homemade chicken stock that I store frozen in muffin cup sized portions so it makes for a nice base to "stand" the chicken on at the beginning.  If you are using stock that is already in liquid form  it will work just fine, but you may want to spray the interior of the slow cooker with non-stick spray before starting.  Place the stock in the slow cooker first then add the chicken in a single layer.  Season with the salt, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, and ginger making sure you cover the chicken evenly.

2. Next add the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion, and minced garlic. Cover the chicken evenly with the honey and sprinkle the rice vinegar over the top.  It should have a nice shine over the chicken.  Do not worry about mixing the sauce at this point, let each part have its independence and it will all come together in the end.

3. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  If you are going to be around the house feel free to flip the chicken halfway through, not necessary but if you don't want the top to get a bit of the caramelized crispy texture from the honey (one of my favorite parts) then this would help.  The chicken will be moist either way.

4. Remove the chicken to a separate dish and drizzle some of the sauce over top.  In the slow cooker, turn it to high and whisk in the ketchup until well blended.  This should help thicken the sauce a bit.  Return the chicken to the cooker and spoon some of the sauce over each piece.  Continue to cook on high for 10-15 min while preparing the rice.

5. Serve hot over rice with extra sauce drizzled on top.

The chicken pulls apart on its own as you lift it out of the sauce, this gives it the opportunity to pick up even more flavor as it makes its way to the plate.  Add more or less sauce depending on how strong you want the flavor to be, and don't forget to add some salt or soy sauce to taste if needed.  I like to sneak a pat of butter between the rice and the chicken, you can't eat rice without butter right?  Or maybe that's just me... Anyway, serve it up as you wish, add your own little twist.  But most of all, as always, enjoy!


Suburban Shepherds Pie

or comfort food by the spoonful, your inner Irish would be proud

The leaves are falling, the winds have turned, the chill is in the air - oh how I love Fall!  And then WHAM! out of nowhere, the hot weather comes brazenly back in just in time to disrupt a lovely weekend of orchards, farmers markets, and pure Autumn joy.  But we didn't let that stop us, oh no we are far too stubborn for that, we embraced comfort food season full force with a weekend full of canning (apples, jelly, pickles, tomato sauce), a hearty Sicilian pasta dinner, and bowlfuls of heartwarming shepherds pie.

Satisfying both ends of the spectrum of my heritage (Sicilian and Irish) in one weekend is pretty fantastic in itself, but add to that the ongoing reward of canned tomato sauce and several eagerly anticipated lunches of leftover shepherds pie and you have a recipe for satisfaction in your stomach, heart, and soul.  Now with that in your corner, how could the week possibly go wrong?  Well, that's another discussion entirely, but for now let's savor the moment shall we?  I can smell it now..

It looks like a lot, but it's not that bad really.. most of this you'll probably have in your pantry waiting for you:

Ground Beef - 1 lb
Carrots - ½ cup, diced
Celery - ½ cup, diced
Onions - 3 tbsp, dried minced
Butter - 4 tbsp
Flour - 4 tbsp
Garlic - 2 tbsp minced
Red Wine - ¼ cup
Beef stock - 2 cups
Worcestershire sauce - 1 tsp
House spice blend
Paprika - to season the top
Nutmeg - a dash
Kosher salt - 1 tsp
Pre-made or left over mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350°

1. Brown the ground beef in a large pan, if it is very lean or if you are using ground turkey you may need to add a bit of oil. Toss in the carrots, celery, garlic, and onions and continue to cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent the browning from getting out of hand.

2. Next stir in the Worcestershire sauce, spice blend, salt, and nutmeg. The aromas should really be filling the kitchen right about now.  Add butter and as it melts mix in the flour, stirring to combine thoroughly, and cook for 2 minutes.  It will look really thick at this point, trust me that's a good thing, just be cautious to not let it burn.

3. Pour in the beef stock and red wine.  Stir to combine with the existing mixture so it looks consistent throughout and simmer, reducing until the mixture thickens again.  It will not be quite as sticky as it was with just the butter and flour, but it should cling momentarily to the the pan when pushed to the side.

4. Pour into a 9x11 casserole dish.  Top with mashed potatoes, this works best if they are at least room temperature, and season lightly with paprika.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes. When done allow to set for 3-5 minutes before serving to allow it to firm up a bit, it helps the meat mixture to better bond with the potatoes.

Wait for it.. wait for it...  ok, dig in!  I highly recommend serving with bread and butter or fresh rolls to scoop up the sauce once the bowl is empty, and trust me - it will be empty.  It's a favorite of my husband's whenever cold weather hits, and a truer nod to our Irish heritage than my beloved corned beef and cabbage ever will be, I hope that you welcome it into your kitchen with the same loving embrace as we do in ours. With wishes of warmth and happy eating, enjoy!


Go with the Flow Potato Soup

or a spoonful of carbs helps the stress level go down (read to the rhythm of the classic Mary Poppins tune..)

This can not be good, there is no way that creamy delicious potato soup can be healthy.  Well, that may be true, but that doesn't mean that we can't at least take the sting off a bit with a couple "healthier" alternatives.  Remember - I only said a couple - but every little bit helps, right? 

I started the adventure with the bone from a pork roast I made a few days earlier.  I had been slowly making stock in the crock pot and was contemplating whether I wanted to freeze it or indulge in the newly arrived Fall season right off the bat with some type of soup.  As you can see, soup won.  So what exactly do you make with pork based stock?  Bean soup?  Split pea perhaps?  Not really in the mood for either, so I thought - what soups taste good with ham?  And there it was - potato!  And why not?  You often find bits of ham or crumbled bacon a top this rich, hearty soup.  So why did all the recipes call for chicken stock?  My guess - convenience.  But regardless, pork stock it was, and potatoes were the flavor of the day.  It's not terribly complicated, don't let the ingredient list fool you, just take it step by step and you'll be fine.

6 peeled and diced golden potatoes
2 leeks, finely diced
6 cups pork/ham stock
1 cup milk
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp dried minced onion
1/2 cup diced slab bacon
1 tsp minced garlic

1. Combine the potatoes, spices (celery salt, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, pepper), leeks, and stock in a slow cooker.Stir well until they all "get familiar" and then let them settle while it cooks on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4.  Now go away.

2. When you are just about ready for dinner, about 30 min or so before, take out a potato masher and work out those potatoes until smooth in the broth.  You'll need to use it to pull the mashed bits from the bottom and sides as you work your way through the pot.  If you like chunks, take a cupful or two out first or simply add some new very small diced potatoes at this time. If you were cooking on low, turn the heat to high.

3. In a small pan, cook bacon with minced garlic and dried minced onion.  Drain the fat and add to the crock pot, stirring to combine.

4. In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly until thick and rich golden in color, about 1-3 minutes. Gently stir in milk, as not to allow lumps to form. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.  If you have some clumps popping up here and there just pull out your whisk and break them up with a few times around the pot.

5. Stir the milk mixture into the slow cooker, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately. Season with salt and pepper to taste, top with shredded cheese and sour cream if desired.

(The picture looks a bit orange, but that's more the lighting.  It is a warm, beige color in brighter light)

Well, we took out the cream and replaced it with a roux (flour and butter) so that should help, right?  I couldn't part with the slab bacon, but I'm sure it would still be good if you decided to make it without that as well in the interest of better health.  Now, I used homemade pork stock and it had some additional base flavors from the garlic and onion I cooked with it, so you may find that it needs a bit more of those flavors if you use a pure store bought broth.  

This made a lot of soup, but it turns out that I actually like it better reheated for lunch the next day, so I take that as a win!  Hopefully sometime this chilly weather inspires you to pull out your own crock pot/slow cooker and that you try your hand at this hearty soup.  It's heavy enough for a meal or a perfect compliment to a salad at lunch.  I hope you give it a shot in your own kitchen, with your own little twists, because that's where the true joy comes in cooking.  Enjoy!