Melting in the Heat

or no new recipes due to lack of oxygen...

So I do actually have a few new recipes coming up, but right now my breathing has been strained by the heat waves we have been suffering - and when my breathing is strained my brain doesn't take too kindly to writing.  So, instead, I thought I'd pass along my survival tips for cooking in the heat - cook less often but larger amounts, enjoy colder foods, and use the crockpot (slow cooker)!  This has been my strategy and it has been working perfectly, though I have realized that I need more slow cooker recipes that involve a protein other than chicken, but more on that another time.  The slow cooker dinner is always one of my favorites, for ease of meal time as well as decreased heat and overall mess.  I rounded up a few of my favorites to share with you here...

For "colder" food, I'd like to recommend sampling my no heat needed soup

Sweet Meets Savory Watermelon Gazpacho

Here are some of my favorite slow cooker recipes for your main attraction

Go with the Flow Potato Soup

Slow and Sweet Honey Ginger Chicken

And to close out the meal, there's no baking necessary with my "colder" food option for dessert

Trio of Trifles

Check out the tabs at the top for some more ideas...  Enjoy!


Lazy Days Faux Roast Chicken (via the slow cooker express)

or a figure friendly, full of flavor, and ready when you are chicken dinner

It's no secret if you read this blog that comfort foods are one of my great loves in life.  They fill you up both physically and emotionally, they bring a sense of peace to the day (if only for a few minutes), and they are just down right tasty.  But that's just my opinion, you'll have to have to decide for yourself.  Now, I am always looking for shortcuts to that "comfort food" flavor that either take out some of the effort or some of the time and what I have for you today does both of these quite nicely.  It makes the process incredibly simple and the food is prepped ahead of time so it can be waiting for you later in the day when you are ready for dinner.  Enter - the slow cooker.

The slow cooker has many merits, and I sing them out every chance I get as you may well know just by looking through some of the recipes in my collection here (see top tabs).  One interesting thing about this recipe in particular though, is that it did not come about in a pre-work prep flurry of activity like most of the ones I use do.
It came about on a Sunday afternoon when I was craving some delicious comfort food and was sufficiently lazy in regards to my desire to do much, if any, prep work.  So I pulled out my slow cooker, a few chicken breasts, some stock and a touch of butter for moisture, some onions as a physical and flavor base, a few spices for that soul warming taste, and there you have it!  So simple, so delicious.

Just check it out, I think you'll agree:

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp light butter

Slurry - 2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tsp water

Hardware: Slow cooker

1.  Toss the roughly chopped onions and minced garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker, add the chicken stock and lay the chicken breasts on top in a single layer, it's ok if the press against each other to get all snuggled in.

2.  Season the tops of the chicken evenly with the spices and place 1/2 tbsp of butter, cut in half so there are two pieces, on top each.

3.  Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.

4.  Gently remove the chicken to a plate.  Then strain out the onions with a slotted spoon and discard.  Turn the slow cooker to high, if not already on that setting, and whisk in the slurry to create a gravy.  Serve the chicken topped with a spoonful of gravy.

If you like dark meat, you can toss in some boneless and skinless chicken thighs too at the start but you may need to do one less chicken breast to fit them (depending on the size of your cooker).  This pairs perfectly with baked potatoes and some fresh steamed veggies, or even a scoop of mac and cheese for the kids - or the kids at heart.  You can adjust the seasonings as you like, I find that the combination of Rosemary and Sage really work as an earthy note of comfort but your tastes may lead otherwise.  As always - take into your home, give it a chance, and make it your own.  Enjoy!


Michigan Cherry Upside Down Cake

or a deliciously light and indulgent treat for the body and soul

Growing up, my mom used to take me and my sister out to the orchards and farms to pick strawberries, raspberries, and cherries.  We had just as many stressful memories as happy ones from those experiences, red stains from the fruit on our clothes and joking about being weighed on the way out for the berries we sampled along the way, but the happy ones will always hold a special place in my heart.  I love how I feel nostalgic and get a sense of childhood joy just being out among the cherry trees now, it takes me back to those times when my biggest concerns were finding the darkest sweet cherries possible and not getting caught while climbing the trees.  That kind of peace of mind is hard to come by, and when I can find it I try to go back there as often as I can so every Spring/Early Summer you will find me out at the orchards for at least one glorious morning - just enjoying the moment (and stocking up on "you-pick" cherries of course).

In Michigan the sweet and tart cherry season overlaps ever so slightly, providing the perfect opportunity for locally grown produce based sweet and tangy treats.  I usually try to can the sweet cherries that I pick but this year I had some health problems that started the day after our trip to the orchard so I was not able to properly process them.  Instead they were frozen (some in light syrup and some sugar packed) for further use, after I consumed a fair amount to start.  Well now that tart cherries are in season, I have managed to acquire a fair amount of those from the orchard as well and am happily well-stocked in the cherry department.  I always make my mom's cherry cobbler with the first batch of the season, and that was as always delicious, but I wanted to try something new.  

I haven't experimented with desserts in a while, so the idea was exciting to me.  One dessert that I've always wanted to rework was pineapple upside down cake - I'm really allergic to pineapple and therefor unable to enjoy this delightful looking treat.  So since I had heard that there are other recipes out there for using peaches or apples instead it got my mind to working, and as you might guess it drifted towards the piles of sweet and tart cherries I am now in possession of in my freezer.  After a slight "mistake" in application of the intended recipe, using half the original amount of butter, I actually found that it resulted in a surprisingly light and delicious cake recipe in the end.  My husband immediately declared after tasting it that I was not to share the rest "his" cake with anyone else, and that was all I needed to call this a success!  Here's what I found:

1 cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
2 eggs
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 ½ cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

⅔ cup buttermilk, low fat

¼ cup butter, melted
⅔ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 ½ cup pitted sweet cherries
¾ cup pitted tart cherries

Hardware: 1 round cake pan

1. Cream together softened butter and sugar. Once whipped smooth, add the eggs one at a time. Still using the electric mixer or stand mixer, add in the vanilla and almond extract and mix well.

2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt to a separate bowl and mix well.

3. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the initial base. Mix well to blend thoroughly as you go until all is incorporated.

4. Spread the brown sugar over the bottom of the cake pan and top evenly with the melted butter. Spread the cherries over top, either in design or in another manner that equally distributes the sweet and tart varieties.

5. Pour the batter evenly over top and bake for 40-45 min on 350 degrees.  Flip out onto a parchment lined dish and allow to cool before serving.


Creamy Southwest Inspired Slow Cooker Chicken

or a bare pantry friendly flexible main dish with a kick

With the holiday weekend quickly approaching one would think we would be well stocked in the food department, prepared for BBQs and gatherings of various kinds, but one would be decidedly wrong.  And it would seem that this state has existed in my kitchen for a couple weeks now.  Due to unpleasant health conditions this past week, I have been unable to come up with very many - or any really - new culinary experiments.  So I thought I'd share with you one that came about a little over a week ago when, believe it or not, my pantry was actually even less well stocked then it is now.  It uses a few staples from the seasoning cabinet, one from the pantry (the last tomato product standing), a couple essentials I keep in the freezer, and a new product that I had bought on a whim.  So I imagine that most of this will likely be easy to access around your kitchen as well since my staple foods aren't terribly unique.

What we have here today is also, in part, a result of my husband's ongoing requests for some way to make chicken based tacos.  They are not pictured as tacos because, as I have said, our pantry was pretty bare and we had white rice on hand.  It was delightful with white rice and I can only imagine its conversion to "finger food" by way of soft taco shells would only equally as good.  I'd like to note that I labelled it as "Southwest Inspired" chicken because that is the flavor base I drew from, but was not particularly loyal to when it came down to it.  You can adjust seasonings to find a truer flavor as you go if you would like, but we were pleased with the balance that this combination produced.  This really is a quick recipe, it actually only took me about 5 minutes to throw together before work in the morning, and that is a great base for its appeal in the stress reduction category.  It also works well with people with different tastes since it can be enhanced in so many different ways depending on what you top it with to serve, making it more hands on for those who like to play around with their food and more appealing to the picky eaters among us.  All in all, how can you go wrong?  Check it out:

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 can of petite diced tomatoes
½ bag of frozen corn
½ tsp oregano
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika
salt & pepper
1 tbsp dried minced onion
1 container of garlic Philly cooking cream

Hardware: Slow Cooker

1. Spray the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick spray and add the chicken in a single layer.

2. Top evenly with the diced tomatoes, all of the spices, and the dried minced onion. Spread the cooking cream over the top in a layer with consistent depth.

3. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

4. Shred the chicken with forks and mix well. Heat the frozen corn in microwave before draining and mixing in if serving right away, or add the still frozen corn to the pot about 40 min before serving. 

Serve over prepared white rice or as a taco base. Top with sour cream, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, black olives, hot sauce, etc., as desired.  Enjoy!